The Man from Arados
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Categories: Ancient

The Man from Arados

A relief map of the eastern Mediterranean showing Rhodes off the southwest coast of Turkey (ancient Caria) and Arados off the coast of Syria opposite Cyprus
Modified from a map by the Ancient World Mapping Center Version 1 date 22 November 2004

In the time of Antigonos the One-Eyed, an ingenious character named Kallias of Arados came to Rhodes and impressed the city fathers with his knowledge of all the latest engines for defending a city, and some which were so new that nobody had yet turned his sketches and models into a full-sized prototype. Kallias did such a good job of impressing them that they gave him an office in place of a Rhodian and funds to turn his ideas into reality. When Demetrius the Sacker of Cities arrived outside of the walls, Kallias executed his office until the Rhodians found out that his favourite machine, a crane for lifting siege towers as they approached the wall, would never work in full-size as well as it did on a model.

There are a lot of things which could be taken from this story, and a lot of details which could be imagined in turning this fable about the square-cube law back into the story about human beings which lies behind it. The detail which I want to point out is that Arados is an island off the Phoenician coast, whereas Rhodes is an island off Caria.

The evidence for Kallias’ ethnicity is ambiguous. On one hand Arados is a Phoenician city, and one not famous for any Greek settlement. But Greeks got around quite widely in the fourth century BCE. On the other hand Kallias is a Greek name with the aristocratic root καλός “fair.” Yet people in the ancient world often had multiple names or adopted one aspirationally to associate themselves with a group which they wanted to join. Specialists in the last few centuries of the Roman empire in the west have noticed how many ‘barbarian’ leaders had Roman names which they tried to use when they wanted to be accepted in polite Roman society. Moreover, in Cyprus and the neighbouring regions Greeks and Phoenicians had lived alongside one another for so long that the lines between the two peoples were difficult to draw. It seems wisest to say that we have a man from Phoenicia building engines for a city of Dorians in Caria.

Even though our Greek and Latin sources tend to be snobs about ethnicity, naming as few barbarians as possible and attributing everything imaginable to a Greek, from time to time they let us see that all kinds of people were wandering around the Mediterranean fighting alongside and against each other and borrowing each other’s best ideas. The Greeks had a tradition that the Phoenicians had invented the battering ram in Sicily (Vitruv. Arch. 10.13.1-2, cp. Pliny, NH 7.56 = 7.202 on ballista and catapult), and while in fact the ram had been used for at least 1,500 years before that, when Alexander and his men marched along the shores of the Mediterranean they found that most of the cities of the Levant had men who could build the latest engines. So the idea that 30 years later a man from Phoenicia could impress the Rhodians with his knowledge of the latest devices should not be a surprise. Yet quite a few ancient historians assume that “Greek military history” and “Phoenician military history” are two things which can be handled in different volumes by different people.

Further Reading: Vitruvius, De Architectura, 10.16.3-8 tells Kallias’ story (link). Strabo, Geography 16.2.12-14 is our main source on Arados (link). This story is elaborated in L. Sprague de Camp, The Bronze God of Rhodes (1960, reprinted in softcover and ebook by Phoenix Pick). On double naming, the following looks promising: Yanne Broux, Double Names and Elite Strategy in Roman Egypt. Studia Hellenistica, 54. Leuven; Paris; Bristol, CT: Peeters, 2015. Pp. viii, 317. ISBN 9789042931251. €94.00 (pb). Guy Halsall, Worlds of Arthur pp. 244, 245 has a concise summary of how people who can win arguments think about language, identity, and ancestry in Late Antiquity.

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1 thought on “The Man from Arados

  1. What Did the Persians Do For Us? | Book and Sword says:

    […] without asking why so many famous engineers are from the cities of Asia or whether a man from Arad with a Greek name was “Greek” and only […]

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