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The Seven Wonders Of The World

The Seven Wonders Of The World are among the traditions of our childhood; and yet, it is a remarkable fact, that ninety-nine persons out of a hundred who might be asked the question, could not name them. These marvels of the ancients had, from being familiar, become forgotten, and treated as myths. Some sources report the "Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages" as the Coliseum of Rome; Catacombs of Alexandria; Great Wall of China; Stonehenge (prehistoric stone monument at Salisbury Plains, England); Leaning Tower of Pisa; Porcelain Tower of Nankin; Mosque of St. Sophia in Constantinople, and the "Seven New Wonders of the World" [of 1921] as Wireless; Telephone; Aeroplane; Radium; Antiseptics and Antitoxins; Spectrum Analysis; X-Rays.

There can be no doubt of the general desirability of having wonders, if for nothing but to relieve the monotony. Most people need to have the good pictures starred and double-starred for them in the catalogues; and Baedeker's list of the "chief sights" often brings peace to the troubled mind. To have seen these is to have acquired a part of the common language of intercourse, and learned some of the standard measures which civilization uses, and upon which society depends for an existence.

If society is to get on much, it must have some good staples to confer about beside the weather, and something to measure by beside the human body, with its feet and spans and elbow-lengths. Here wonders come in to play their part; and while there is no particular need of limiting their number to seven, it must be allowed that it is a great convenience to have a canon established, so that one may know when one is through — just as some might consider it a relief to have completed the circuit of the seven deadly sins.

Seven was not a peculiarly favorite number among the Greeks. Agamemnon seeks to conciliate Achilles with gifts of seven tripods, seven towns, and seven women; Ajax's shield has seven layers of ox-hide; seven years Ulysses tarries with the nymph Calypso: but ten and twelve were much more likely to be with them the round numbers. The Greek calendar had no week of seven days; for, as its moon was simply crescent, full, and waning, the threefold division of the month yielded approximately ten, and not seven, days, as did the Oriental calendar, with its four quarters of the moon. Seven planets helped the matter, too. Hence Cadmus's city Thebes and its seven gates have often been suspected of Phenician antecedents.

There is no clue as to whose handiwork it is, but its origin belongs in time to the century after Alexander's conquest, when East and West were intermingling, and in place to that new Greece or greater Greece of western Asia and the Aegean in which Alexandria, Rhodes, and Babylon were the great centers of life. There is no indication of the existence of a cycle of seven wonders until about the end of the second century BC. Then appears, in an epigram of Antipater of Sidon, an enumeration of seven great works, which prove to be the very ones later appearing as the seven wonders. Nothing is known about this Greek epigrammatist, who lived in the second half of the second century BC, beyond the somewhat enigmatic characterization by Meleager (fl. 100 BC), who collected epigrams.

Antipater of Sidon wrote "My eyes have looked on the Wall of Babylon and on the Zeus by the Alpheus [Olympia], and on the Hanging Gardens, and the colossal Helios [Rhodes], and on the high Pyramids, and the gigantic monument of Mausolus, but when I saw the vast Temple of Artemis \Ephesus\ soaring to the clouds, the others were all dimmed, for except in Heaven the Sun has never looked on like."

Within the next century, Varro, by his leisurely allusion to the septem opera, betrays that the saying had already assumed current proverbial form. Diodorus, in the second half of the same century (first BC), speaks, too, of «the so-called seven works *: and Strabo, a little later, uses the very phrase, «the seven wonders.» From this time on, at least, the septem miracvla have an assured place in all the common lore of Rome. Probably because rival lists were in vogue before crystallization had fairly set in, some variation appears in the tradition; but yet, thanks to its early fame, the Colossus generally maintains its place.

The little Greek treatise, «0n the Seven Wonders,» which has come down to the present in incomplete form, and under the name of Philo of Byzantium, an engineer of the second century BC, is really, as its style and artificial purisms amply show, the work of some rhetorician of the fifth or sixth century after Christ, and in no wise chargeable against the otherwise blameless record of the excellent man of facts and machines. Pseudo-Philo used a list which combined the walls and hanging gardens under one head, and added the Pharos of Alexandria.

A list which received wide acceptance in the Roman Empire, and was so handed down to the middle ages, is the one probably accepted at Alexandria. It restricts Babylon to one count by omitting the walls of Babylon, and gives Egypt two by inserting the Pharos of Alexandria. This is the standard list most commonly encountered today, with a fairly standard sequence:

  1. Pyramids of Egypt, of which it may be said of Cheops, the largest of them all, that it is 764 feet square at the base, and including 20 feet at the apex that have been removed, is 500 feet high. The pyramid contains 90,000,000 cubic feet of masonry, and covers an area ot over 13 acres. Herodotus relates that 400,000 men were employed 20 years in building it. It was the tomb of kings.
  2. The beautiful and immense Mausoleum which Artemisia erected in Halicarnassus to the memory of her husband, Mausolus, king of Caria. Concerning the tomb itself we know not much, but of Artemisia and of her excessive love for her husband, many stories are told, one of which is that her grief for his death was so great that she mixed his ashes with water and drank them off.
  3. The Temple of Diana, at Ephesus, the building of which occupied 220 years. The whole length of the temple was 425 feet, and the breadth 220 feet, with 127 columns of the Ionic order, in Parian marble, each a single shaft 60 feet high, and the gift of a king.
  4. The Walls and / or Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Sometimes the two are listed together, while on other lists one or the other is lited alone. The list of Antipater of Sidon listed them separately. The walls were said to be 337 feet, 8 inches high and 84 feet, 6 inches broad. Inside the outer walls was a second of equal height. The famous hanging gardens were 400 feet square. They were carried up on arches above arches until the height equaled that of the city walls. On the top the soil was made so deep that large trees could take root in it.
  5. The Colossus at Rhodes, a celebrated brazen image. It was twelve years in building, and was so large that it is popularly considered to have stood beside the mouth of the harbor, and that ships sailed between its feet. This, however, is doubtful. There were few persons who could reach round the thumb with both arms, and its fingers were larger than most statues.
  6. The Statue of Zeus Olympus. This was by the famous sculptor Phidias. The god was represented as seated on his throne of gold, ebony, and ivory, and the figure was itself of ivory and gold; and, though seated, yet of such vast proportions it almost reached the ceiling of the temple, which was 68 feet high.
  7. The Pharos, a lighthouse said to be 550 feet high, at Alexandria, Egypt. The Pharos was not on the list of Antipater of Sidon. Its light could be seen 100 miles out at sea. This tower was designed as a memorial of the King Ptolemy, who ordered his name to be inscribed on the pediment. The story goes that the architect, however, first cut his own name in the marble, placing over it, in. stucco, the name of the king. In a few years the name of the king was worn away, leaving that of Sostratus, the architect, to blaze forever on the front of the unrivaled monument. And yet, not forever, as no vestige of the monument has for ages been visible.

Another list is current, though the order of the Wonders is variable:

  1. The first was the Colossus at Rhodes. This was a statue of the sun, of an amazing size, commanding, as it were, the entrance of the harbor. To such an extent were its legs stretched, and so high did they reach, that a large ship could sail between them. An earthquake brought this statue to the ground.
  2. The second was the celebrated Temple of Diana at Ephesus. This temple stood in very great estimation. It was burnt by Erostratus.
  3. The third was King Mausolus' Sepulchre. Its beauty and size were equally wonderful. It is from this building that the word mausoleum is derived: all monuments more sumptuous and splendid than ordinary are called mausoleums.
  4. The fourth was the Statue of Jupiter, by Phidias, the famous sculptor. No one could gaze upon it without wonder and admiration.
  5. The fifth was the Great Wall of Babylon, built round the city by Queen Semiramis. It was of extraordinary height, thickness, and extent, and well fortified with towers.
  6. The sixth was the Pyramids of Egypt, where the Egyptian kings are supposed to have been buried. The other wonders have been swept away, or destroyed by time, but the Pyramids are standing yet.
  7. The seventh and last wonder was the splendid Palace of the renowned Cyrus, king of the Medes, so costly and magnificent that the very stones with which it was built are said to have been cemented together with gold.

The first six are safely canonical. Ancient historians, orators, and poets make mention in many of their books, of seven marvels or wonders of the world in divers places. All they that have written do consent to six, but concerning the seventh there are variable opinions, and likewise a great difference in placing one before another. Other rivals for the seventh place include:

  1. The Palace of Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians, was constructed with no less prodigality than judgment. The Palace of Cyrus is recorded to have been a splendid edifice, the stones of which were cemented with gold. It was built with the greatest skill and magnificence by an architect named Menon, a pupil of Phidias. Xenophon reported that the palace of Cyrus had a large park full of wild beasts, which Cyrus hunted on horse-back, when he had a mind to exercise himself and his horses. Through the middle of this park ran the river Meander, but the head of it rose in the palace. These parks, planted with stately forest and fruil-trees of every kind, well watered and slocked with plenty of wild beasts, were very deservedly In great request among the Persians.
  2. The Aesculapian temple at Epidaurus was dedicated to AEsculapius, or Asclepias, the most celebrated of the pupils of Chiron, the son of Apollo and of the nymph Coronis. His staff is an attribute of this god, because the sick require support; and the serpent is the symbol of rejuvenescence and of wisdom. The first temple to the honor of AEsculapius appears to have been erected by his grandson Alexanor, the son of Machaon, at Titanium, in Peloponesus. Many were dedicated to him in various other places. That of Epidaurus was the principal at first; but subsequently his temple at Cos, became the most celebrated. The descendants and the priests of JEsculapius established festivals to his honor at Epidaurus; these were celebrated every five years.
  3. The altar of Apollo at Delos was named Martial, for instance. In EP. 694. (Lib. Spect. i.), a eulogy of the great Colosseum latelv completed and opened by Titus, all the wondrous structures in the world, the poet says, are now eclipsed by the great Amphitheatre at Rome, — the Pyramids, the Walls of Babylon, the Temple of Diana at Eidiesus in Ionia, and of Apollo at Delos, and the Mausoleum in Caria. The altar of Apollo at Delos was constructed, according to the legend, by the god himself, of the horns of victims. The temple of Apollo, at Delos, was one of the most celebrated of its time in all Greece. Delos, now called Ilegi, was later uninhabited, or only the haunt of pirates ; but splendid ruins of its former magnificence yet exist.
  4. The Labyrinths of Egypt, situated in Lower Egypt, near Lake Moeris. According to Herodotus, it consisted of 3000 chambers; 1500 above ground, and the same number subterranean. It had but one entrance and so many intricate windings, that when once in, it was impossible to get out without a guide. It is said to have been built by 12 kings. All the opinions, with reference to its object, appear to yield in acumen and ingenuity, to that of Gatterer; who supposes it to be an architectural, symbolic representation of the zodiac, and the course of the sun through the same; one half being above, and the other below the earth; whilst the 3000 chambers have a symbolical reference to the precession of the equinoxes.
  5. The Labyrinth of Crete was said to have been formed by a king, named Minos, who lived several centuries before the Trojan war. The artist was an Athenian, named Daedalus, on his return from Egypt, full of the information derived from the contemplation of the wonderful works of that country. Among the antient writers who mentioned the Labyrinth of Crete, none gave the description of an eye-witness. The Labyrinth of Crete was noticed by most of the ancient authors who treated of the fabled history of the Minotaur or of Crete. Homer is, however, silent upon it, unless the passage in the Iliad, book 2, has reference to it, as some think. The early coins of Knossus, indeed, represent it; but they cannot date further back than the 6th or 7th century BC, if so early, and were consequently struck when only the tradition existed of such a labyrinth; and how vague even then was the idea of this labyrinth is shown by the varied representations of it upon these Cretan coins—some representing its passages in circular convolutions, others square, and also different in coins of different times. But Plutarch, in his Life of Theseus, gives a more natural explanation of the object of the Labyrinth than the story of the mythical Minotaur, and says it was a prison for the tributary youths of Athens.
  6. The colossal bronze statue of Athena Promachus in the Acropolis, was said to have been made by Phidias out of the "spoils of Marathon". Demosthenes says that the statue was made out of the wealth given by the Greeks to the Athenians, distinguished as the "spoils of Marathon" in commemoration of that one of the great victories over the Persians which had been achieved by the Athenians alone. There can be no doubt that it stood in the open air, between the Propylaea and the Parthenon, as it is represented on coins. It was between fifty and sixty feet high, with the pedestal; and the point of the spear and the crest of the helmet were visible as far off as Sunium to ships approaching Athens. It was still standing as late as A. D. 395, when it was seen by Alaric. It represented the goddess holding up both her spear and shield, in the attitude of a combatant.
  7. The Temple at Jerusalem, by the decree of Cyrus, should have been larger than that of Solomon; but circumstances did not allow these ambitious projects to be carried out, and it is certain that both in dimensions and splendor the second Temple was inferior to the first. The temple at Jerusalem was desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in December 168 BC. Rebuilding the Temple was commenced in the 18th year of Herod's reign (BC 21), and the work was carried on with such vigor that the Temple itself, i.e. the Holy House, was finished in a year and a half (according to Josephus). The cloisters and other buildings were finished in eight years. Additions and repairs were continually made, and it was not till the reign of Herod Agrippa II (c AD 65) that the Temple was completed. The Temple, though built in honor of the God of Israel, did not win the hearts of the people, as is proved by the revolt which took place shortly before Herod's death, when the Jews tore down the golden eagle which he had fastened to the Temple, and broke it in pieces (Josephus, Antiq. xvii, 6, 2, 8).

None of the works which are now deemed greatest among the products of Hellenic skill and art are mentioned. Athens, Delphi, Corinth are passed calmly by. Nothing could illustrate more distinctly how the centers of life and interest had shifted since the conquests of Alexander, leaving the old Greece, much as recent movements of American life have New England, in the background of provincial isolation and of archaism. It illustrates also, on the other hand, the general fact that the Greece which Rome knew, and from which she borrowed, had its capital at Alexandria or at Rhodes rather than at Athens. The Greek things which Rome adopted were the things approved at Alexandria. The Greece which, with her arts and letters and culture, conquered Rome was Hellenistic, not Hellenic. It was the Renaissance that first gave Europe free access to the Greece which lay behind the barrier raised by the closing years of the fourth century BC.

Of the principles which governed the selection of these objects as the representative wonders of the Hellenistic world, the consideration of beauty was surely not one. Bigness pure and simple played certainly some part. All the structures are «big,» of their kind. Even the Zeus statue, which threatened to raise the roof if ever the god should essay to leave his seat, gave a peculiar impression of bigness to the spectator. But that is not all. As the ancient descriptions show, it was a certain uniqueness as to construction, rather than as to size, that attracted attention. The work involved some peculiar devicefulness, some striking departure in method of building, or overcame some extraordinary difficulties, or adapted itself to some new purpose. It was the skill of the engineer rather than of the artist that was admired; for this was beginning to be an age of machinery as well as of bigness.

Pliny, after describing the old-world wonders, comes to tell of those which Rome can boast, and to show how, in great buildings, « as in other things, we have beaten the world — a thing, indeed, which, it will appear, we have done about as many times as the wonders are in number which I shall have to enumerate. Why, if all the buildings of our city were taken in a body, and all set down together in one place, their united grandeur would make one think we were describing another world, all assembled at one spot.» This mood was not pent up in Rome. The small provincial city took it up; and one loyal son of Pompeii scratched in bad Greek upon the walls of the local amphitheater, and left there for the inscription-gleaner of the nineteenth century, the expression of his high conviction that «this is one of the Seven Wonders.»

Gregorius (or Georgius Florentius), the descendant of a noble family of Auvergne, was born a. 538 at Clermont-Ferrand, and became bishop of Tours 573. The treatise de cursu stellarum ratio qualiter ad officium implendum debeat observari(composed between a. 575-582) begins with an enumeration of the wonders of the world (seven human and seven divine). This section is extant in a good many MSS. To the constellations, which are named last among the wonders, are appended instructions for calculating the hours for nocturnal devotions according to the position of the stars.

Pliny the naturalist, and Gregory of Tours speak, as of one of the seven wonders of the world, of the famous and magnificent temple of Mercury, which existed at Auvergue, built of porphyry and marble, adorned with mosaics.

In the Middle Ages such lists were in repute. The Venerable Bede was as much the father of English church history as Eusebius is of church history in general. He is the source of much of what is known of the first introduction of Christianity into Britain and of its re-introduction, when it had been subverted by the Saxon invasion. Bede was born, AD 672, in the vicinity of Durham, in a village now called Farrow, near the mouth of the Tyne. He was afterward removed to a Benedictine monastery at Jurrow, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died, at the age of sixty-three, of an affection of the lnngs, attended with great difficulty of respiration. From his earliest years Bede was a diligent student, and he soon came to be regarded as the most learned man of his time. his most valuable work, and that by which he is now chiefly known, is his "Ecclesiastical History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the year 731"—only four years previous to his death. Bede also drew up his own list of the Seven Wonders of the World, some of which are familiar, others less so:

  1. The first is the Capitol at Rome, the very salvation of the inhabitants, and greater than a whole city. In it were statues of the nations subdued by the Romans, or images of their gods, and on the breasts of the statues were inscribed the names of the nations which had been conquered, with bells hanging from their necks.
  2. The second is the Light-house of Alexandria, which was founded on four glass arches, twenty paces deep beneath the sea. The wonder is, how such large arches could be made, or how they could be conveyed without breaking ; how the foundations, which are cemented together above, could adhere to them, or how the cement could stand firm under the water; and why the arches are not broken, and why the foundations cast in above do not slip off.
  3. The third is the figure of the Colossus in the island of Rhodes, a hundred and thirty-six feet long, and cast of melted metal. The wonder is how such an immense mass could be cast, or how it could be set up and not fall.
  4. The fourth wonder is the iron figure of Belerophon on horseback, which hangs suspended in the air over the city, and has neither chains nor any thing else to support it; but great magnetic stones are placed in vaults, and so it is retained in assumption (position), and remains in balanced measure. Now the calculation of its weight is about five thousand pounds of iron.
  5. The fifth wonder is the Theater of Heraclea, carved Theatre of out of one piece of marble, so that all the cells and rooms of the wall, and the dens of the beasts, are made out of one solid stone. It is supported on four arches carved out of the same stone; and no one can whisper in the whole circle so low, either to himself or to another, without being heard by every one who is in the circle of the building.
  6. The sixth wonder is the Bath, which is such, that when Apollotaneus has lighted it with one candle of consecration, it keeps the hot baths continually burning without being attended to.
  7. The seventh wonder is the Temple of Diana, on four pillars. Its first foundations are arched drains; then it increases gradually, upper stones being placed on the former arches. Thus: upon these four are placed eight pillars and eight arches; then in the third row it increases in a like proportion, and stones still higher are placed thereon. On the eight are placed sixteen, and on the sixteen thirty-two; the fourth row of stones is on the fifth row of arches, and sixty-four pillars complete the plan of this remarkable building.
The Colossus, the Pharos and the Temple of Diana are common to the lists of antiguity, but the sources of the others are obscure. The curious reference to a wonderous theater at Herakleia in Thrace is found earlier in Gregory of Tours (Seven Wonders of the World). That Bede was superstitious and credulous there can be no doubt—as was every other churchman of the eighth century. That lie believed in marvels and miracles, and has written of them, ad nauseam, in his history, is also certain. Nevertheless, he was a diligent searcher for the facts of history, and when he speaks from his own knowledge, he is always reliable. He is reliable, too, as a narrator of what he had heard from others, though not always a voucher for its truth.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:39:57 ZULU