The largest island of the Dodecanese (48 miles long, 23 miles wide) houses nearly 100,000 inhabitants today (and scores of tourists). Rhodes (or Rodos) has become the regional capital of the Dodecanese islands. The highest point of the island is Mt. Ataviros (at 125 m ASL) in the center of the island. The island is fertile with a great variety of vegetation. In antiquity the island bore 11 different names, among them: Aithraia, Ophiousa and Telchinis. The capital, also called Rhodos, occupies the northernmost tip of the island.
Rhodes (probably form "rose" in Greek) has a long and important history. The island was first inhabited in the Neolithic era. During the Bronze Age (3000-1150 BCE) three early cities were formed on the island: Kamiros (west), Lindos (east) and Ialysos (Near Filermos in north, not far from Rhodos city). The wares have been discovered at excavations in both Egypt and Italy. The island traded gold jewelry and ceramics decorated with oriental motifs or plants and animals in stylised form. Through the Greek Dark Age (1150-800 BCE) Rhodes was recalled in mythology (Pindar in one of his Odes) as the island of Helios (the sun god) - born of the union of Helios the sun god and the nymph Rhodia. By the Archaic Period (800-500 BCE) the Dorian invasion caused displacement of people groups in the Aegean. Rhodes was included in the formation (700 BCE) of the "Dorian Hexapolis" a union of cities with Knidos, Halikarnassos and Kos. It was home to Epimenedes the poet (600 BCE).
During the Classical Period (500-336 BCE) the Persians occupied the island for a brief time, but the Admiral Mentalos of Rhodes eventually routed them. In 408 BCE, the three chief cities of the island founded Rhodos city, which quickly outgrew them. The city was built under the plan of Hippodamos of Miletos and the league was wisely administered under tyrants, and prosperity increased, for a time finding themselves under Spartan rule.
In the period of Alexander and Diadoche (336-43 BCE) the rising tensions in the region forced great investment into a maritime fleet and produced protection and far-reaching prosperity. Rhodes was independent from 327 BCE when the Macedonian guard was removed and concentrated on an effective port, maritime law, and rescue service on the seas. A school of sculpture was developed and exported works abroad (Colossus of Rhodes* by Chares of Lindos - one of the seven "wonders of the world"; the "victory of Samothrace by Pythekritos; and Laocoon - now in the Vatican). The island was attacked in 304 BCE unsuccessfully, but had to recover from an earthquake in 277 BCE. By 200 BCE, it was a regular stop for the Roman fleet. [*The Colossus was probably built at 100 to 150 feet high in 302-290 BCE, but fell into the harbor during an earthquake in about 226 BCE, and was finally scrapped in 657 CE.]
The Roman Period (43 BCE-300 CE) brought destruction and reconstruction. Rhodes was not always constant in its loyalty to Rome. When opposed Rome, Rome retaliated by offering additional funding to Delos as a port (166 BCE) giving mainland Caria and Lycia an alternative port for trade. This crushed Rhodes economically and forced her to ally herself to Rome. In one raid, Gaius Cassius captured and laid waste to the city of Rhodes (now the capital). St. Paul harbored there (though most believe at Lindos) in about 57 CE (Acts 21:1). There is no record of any missionary work by St. Paul on this island. By that time Rhodes had diminished considerably to a small port but retained its beauty and marks of former prosperity as well as some important schools. Great Roman students taught on the island included Cicero, Lucretius, Julius Caesar, Tiberius Caesar and Marc Antony. Diocletian declared it a province in 297 CE.
Much later, the Crusader Period (1000-1450 CE) brought a period of stability (and building) to the island. In 1309 it fell into the hands of the Knights of St. John and became again a maritime power - symbolized by its magnificent medieval town and castle with the Palace of the Grand Masters. This period lasted until the fall under Sulieman II in 1522 CE. The buildings of the period mimic the buildings of Avignon, France. Likely this period also saw the creation of the Rhodes faience (brilliant enamels on ceramic plates probably originated in Lindos - or borrowed technology from Nicea).
In the Modern Period (1830-present) the island was taken in 1911 by the Italians (from the Turks) and they annexed it to protect the route to African colonies. They were responsible for much of the restoration on the island seen today. It was occupied by Germans from 1943-45, taken by the British, and made part of Greece on 7 March 1948.