The seven ancient wonders of the world

Only the pyramids stand today. What did the other 6 look like?

The Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes, Wikimedia Commons


The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were marvels of architecture, human ingenuity, and engineering on a scale that even the greatest artists of contemporary times would have a hard time replicating today. These man-made structures were all built sometime during the classical era and stretched across the current known western-world at that time. In books and writings that reference the historian Herodotus (484 - 425 BCE) and Callimachus of Cyrene (305 - 240 BCE) from the Museum of Alexandria, scholars over the years discovered the lists of the seven wonders of classical antiquity.

The list we currently reference today was compiled in the Middle Ages and only includes places that the ancient Greeks had visited or conquered. Only one of the seven ancient wonders still stands – and arguably one of the most famous ones at that, the Great Pyramid of Giza.      

From a time spanning roughly between 2650 - 3rd Century BCE, these masterpieces dotted the landscapes for a variety of purposes. Some were great tombs housing the remains of powerful kings, monolithic statues praising great deities and others were frankly just about testing the limits of what was possible in the early technological and civilized prowess of mankind.

While the majority of these constructions were destroyed, in 2007 over 100 million people voted to declare a New Seven Wonders of the World. Many of these places are UNESCO Heritage Sites (UNESCO was not responsible for this new list,) but nonetheless, people felt that these newly championed wonders represented a shared global heritage throughout the entire world.

This new list is equally as monumental and powerful as the one that preceded it, boasting such man-made creations like the Roman Colosseum or the Incan city of Machu Picchu. There have been many differing lists put out through the years with some criteria even including natural wonders of the world.  The only official list – due to Herodotus’ efforts which has stood the test of time – is the original ancient wonders of the world.

So without further ado, this is the full ancient list in its entirety.      

Flickr, Creative Commons, Jorge Lascar

Great pyramid at Giza, Egypt

The Great Pyramid, commissioned and built by the Pharaoh Khufu, is one of the oldest buildings in existence. It is 456 ft. high and thought to be nearly 4500 years old. It is the largest and oldest of all of the ancient pyramids. Its magnificence and construction has puzzled scholars for years. It’s made of some 2 million stone blocks that weigh around 2 to 30 tons each.  

Recently in 2013, archaeologists discovered the first primary historical document during the construction of the pyramid. Logbooks over 4500 years old titled the Diary of Merer recorded the daily activities of workers who helped build the pyramid. These papyri described the transportation of limestone from a harbor nearby. It is the only ancient wonder still in existence.

Flickr, Creative Commons, 

Hanging gardens of Babylon

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were supposedly built around 600 BC. Herodotus claimed that the walls stretched for 56 miles, 80 feet thick and reached 320 feet high. Records state that it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1st century BCE. Their existence is debated as the history was not chronicled in Babylonian records but through exterior sources. According to ancient sources, the gardens were built by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis in 600 BCE.

The Hanging Gardens were most likely built as huge rooftop gardens with foundations of multi-level terraces. With a column structure, they would have been filled in with dirt to allow large areas of plants and trees to grow. Over the years as this lush vegetation began to grow over the sides, it would give the effect that the plants hanging down were floating in a mountain landscape. This would have been a sight to behold in Babylon.

Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

The Statue of Zeus was sculpted and built in 435 BCE. It was 40 feet tall and stood for hundreds of years before being destroyed by Christian leaders in the 5th and 6th centuries. The statue was a chryselephantine statue – made of ivory and gold. There are no remains of the statue nor were there many picture representations of it either. Doubts remain about the full scope of this wonder, but there is much to be known about Zeus’s builder, Phidias an Athenian sculptor.    

The Statue of Zeus resided in a temple in the City of Olympia, which was an important cultural center for the ancient Greeks. It was home to the original Olympic games and its patron deity was the God of Gods Zeus. Descriptions of the statue are sparse but it’s believed that the parts of the body were made of ivory, while Zeus’ beard and clothes were made of gold. A coin from that time shows his likeness and archeologists post that he would have been holding a Victory in his right hand and scepter in his other hand. The cloak was ornamented with many bright colors.   

Wikimedia Commons

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis took over 120 years to be built before being completed in 550 BCE. It was dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis. Ephesus was a Greek Colony in Asia minor and the construction project was sponsored by King Croesus of Lydia. Many ancient accounts were awestruck by the beauty of power that this structure elicited.

It was supported by 127 60 foot columns, with the max height of the temple standing 425 feet high and stretching back some 225 feet. In 356 BCE, a man named Herostratus sought out to set fire to the temple. His reasoning was to achieve everlasting fame and be associated with destroying something so wonderful. The Ephesians wanted to make sure his name would not stand the test of time, but historians wrote it down anyways. Years later, Alexander the Great would propose to rebuild the temple but the Ephesians refused.  


Wikimedia Commons

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus was built in 351 BCE and rose to around 135 feet high. Its status as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world doesn’t derive from its size or strength, but because of the intricacies of the sculpture reliefs it had to adorn its four walls.  

The building was designed by Greek architects and four leading sculptors who were responsible for each side. There were 36 columns and 10-foot statues of Greeks battling Amazons, marble chariots and step pyramids leading to the pinnacle of the structure. Some of these pieces of art have survived today. It was damaged over time by a number of earthquakes before being totally destroyed and ransacked in 1494 by European Crusaders.


Wikimedia Commons

Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue dedicated to the god Helios. It was constructed between 292 and 280 BCE. At 110 feet tall it overlooked the harbor of Rhodes and stood on a base similar to the Statue of Liberty – which was modeled on the Colossus. The statue was commissioned after the Rhodians defeated an invading army in 304 BCE. Notably, the statue only stood for 56 years before being knocked out by an earthquake.

The statue was made purely out of bronze. Its ruins had become an attraction for over 800 years following its fall. Some ancient sources claimed that some of the fingers of the Colossus were larger than many statues at that time. Eventually, the ruins were sold to a Jewish merchant in 654.   

Wikimedia Commons

Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt

In an age far before skyscrapers, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the tallest buildings in the world for many centuries. Between the 3rd century BCE and 1300 AD, the Lighthouse of Alexandria stood nearly 440 feet tall in Egypt. The lighthouse was built on the island of Pharos, commissioned by Ptolemy I Soter.

Its construction was completed in 280 BCE. It was the third tallest building following the pyramids. A mirror built inside the lighthouse allowed it to be seen as far our as 35 miles into the sea. It was built with a square base and topped off in a circular fashion to build it out to its final height. Many depictions can be found throughout the historical record.

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7 most notorious and excessive Roman Emperors

These Roman Emperors were infamous for their debauchery and cruelty.

Nero's Torches. A group of early Christian martyrs about to be burned alive during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

1876. Painted by Henryk Siemiradzki.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Roman Emperors were known for their excesses and violent behavior.
  • From Caligula to Elagabalus, the emperors exercised total power in the service of their often-strange desires.
  • Most of these emperors met violent ends themselves.

We rightfully complain about many of our politicians and leaders today, but historically speaking, humanity has seen much worse. Arguably no set of rulers has been as debauched, ingenious in their cruelty, and prone to excess as the Roman Emperors.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are seven Roman rulers who were perhaps the worst of the worst in what was one of the largest empires that ever existed, lasting for over a thousand years.

1. Caligula

Officially known as Gaius (Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), Caligula was the third Roman Emperor, ruling from 37 to 41 AD. He acquired the nickname "Caligula" (meaning "little [soldier's] boot") from his father's soldiers during a campaign.

While recognized for some positive measures in the early days of his rule, he became famous throughout the ages as an absolutely insane emperor, who killed anyone when it pleased him, spent exorbitantly, was obsessed with perverse sex, and proclaimed himself to be a living god.

Caligula gives his horse Incitatus a drink during a banquet. Credit: An engraving by Persichini from a drawing by Pinelli, from "The History of the Roman Emperors" from Augustus to Constantine, by Jean Baptiste Louis Crevier. 1836.

Among his litany of misdeeds, according to the accounts of Caligula's contemporaries Philo of Alexandria and Seneca the Younger, he was accused of sleeping with other men's wives and publicly talking about it, as well as killing for mere amusement. Supposedly, during one competition he was presiding over, he got so bored that he had his guards throw a whole section of the audience into the arena during the intermission so they would be eaten by wild beasts as no prisoners were available. He also allegedly executed two consuls who forgot his birthday.

He was also said to have caused mass starvation and purposefully wasted money and resources, like making his troops stage fake battles just for theater. If that wasn't enough, he turned his palace into a brothel and was accused of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Livilla, whom he also prostituted to other men. Perhaps most famously, he was planning to appoint his favorite horse Incitatus a consul and went as far as making the horse into a priest.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated by a conspiracy of Praetorian Guard officers, senators, and other members of the court.

2. Nero

Fully named Nero Claudius Caesar, Nero ruled from 54 to 68 AD and was arguably an even worse madman than his uncle Caligula. He had his step-brother Britannicus killed, his wife Octavia executed, and his mother Agrippina stabbed and murdered. He personally kicked to death his lover Poppeaea while she was pregnant with his child — a horrific action the Roman historian Tacitus depicted as "a casual outburst of rage."

He spent exorbitantly and built a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of himself called the Colossus Neronis.

He is also remembered for being strangely obsessed with music. He sang and played the lyre, although it's not likely he really fiddled as Rome burned in what is a popular myth about this crazed tyrant. As misplaced retribution for the fire which burned down a sizable portion of Rome in the year 64, he executed scores of early Christians, some of them outfitted in animal skins and brutalized by dogs, with others he burned at the stake.

Roman Emperor Nero in the burning ruins of Rome. July 64 AD.Credit: From an original painting by S.J. Ferris. (Photo by Kean Collection / Getty Images)

He died by suicide.

3. Commodus

Like some of his counterparts, Commodus (a.k.a. Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus) thought he was a god — in his case, a reincarnation of the Greek demi-god Hercules. Ruling from 176 to 192 AD, he was also known for his debauched ways and strange stunts that seemed designed to affirm his divine status. Numerous statues around the empire showed him as Hercules, a warrior who fought both men and beasts. He fought hundreds of exotic animals in an arena like a gladiator, confusing and terrifying his subjects. Once, he killed 100 lions in a single day.

Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) questions the loyalty of his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) In Dreamworks Pictures' and Universal Pictures' Oscar-winning drama "Gladiator," directed by Ridley Scott.Credit: Photo By Getty Images

A burning desire to fight both animals and humans as a gladiator for the New Year's Day celebrations in 193 AD brought about his demise. After Commodus shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning as part of the Plebeian Games leading up to New Year's, his fitness coach (aptly named Narcissus), choked the emperor to death in his bath.

4. Elagabalus

Officially named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus II, Elagabalus's nickname comes from his priesthood in the cult of the Syrian god Elagabal. Ruling as emperor from 218 to 222 AD, he was so devoted to the cult, which he tried to spread in Rome, that he had himself circumcised to prove his dedication. He further offended the religious sensitivities of his compatriots by essentially replacing the main Roman god Jupiter with Elagabal as the chief deity. In another nod to his convictions, he installed on Palatine Hill a conical fetish made of black stone as a symbol of the Syrian sun god Sol Invictus Elagabalus.

His sexual proclivities were also not well received at the time. He was likely transgender (wearing makeup and wigs), had five marriages, and was quite open about his male lovers. According to the Roman historian (and the emperor's contemporary) Cassius Dio, Elagabalus prostituted himself in brothels and taverns and was one of the first historical figures on record to be looking for sex reassignment surgery.

He was eventually murdered in 222 in an assassination plot engineered by his own grandmother Julia Maesa.

5. Vitellius

Emperor for just eight months, from April 19th to December 20th of the year 69 AD, Vitellius made some key administrative contributions to the empire but is ultimately remembered as a cruel glutton. He was described by the Roman historian Suetonius as overly fond of eating and drinking, to the point where he would eat at banquets four times a day while sending out the Roman navy to get him rare foods. He also had little social grace, inviting himself over to the houses of different noblemen to eat at their banquets, too.

Vitellius dragged through the streets of Rome.Credit: Georges Rochegrosse. 1883.

He was also quite vicious and reportedly either had his own mother starved to death or approved a poison with which she committed suicide.

Vitellius was ultimately murdered in brutal fashion by supporters of the rival emperor Vespasian, who dragged him through Rome's streets, then likely beheaded him and threw his body into the Tiber river. "Yet I was once your emperor," were supposedly his last words, wrote historian Cassius Dio.

6. Caracalla

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus I ruled Rome from 211 to 217 AD on his own (while previously co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus from 198). "Caracalla"' was his nickname, referencing a hooded coat from Gaul that he brought into Roman fashion.

He started off his rise to individual power by murdering his younger brother Geta, who was named co-heir by their father. Caracalla's bloodthirsty tyranny didn't stop there. He wiped out Geta's supporters and was known to execute any opponents to his or Roman rule. For instance, he slaughtered up to 20,000 citizens of Alexandria after a local theatrical satire dared to mock him.

Geta Dying in His Mother's Arms.Credit: Jacques Pajou (1766-1828)

One of the positive outcomes of his rule was the Edict of Caracalla, which gave Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire. He was also known for building gigantic baths.

Like others on this list, Caracalla met a brutal end, being assassinated by army officers, including the Praetorian prefect Opellius Macrinus, who installed himself as the next emperor.

7. Tiberius

As the second emperor, Tiberius (ruling from 42 BC to 16 AD) is known for a number of accomplishments, especially his military exploits. He was one of the Roman Empire's most successful generals, conquering Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and parts of Germania.

He was also remembered by his contemporaries as a rather sullen, perverse, and angry man. In the chapter on his life from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the historian Suetonius, Tiberius is said to have been disliked from an early age for his personality by even his family. Suetonius wrote that his mother Antonia often called him "an abortion of a man, that had been only begun, but never finished, by nature."

"Orgy of the Times of Tiberius on Capri".Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki. 1881.

Suetonius also paints a damning picture of Tiberius after he retreated from public life to the island of Capri. His years on the island would put Jeffrey Epstein to shame. A horrendous pedophile, Tiberius had a reputation for "depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe," Suetonius wrote, describing how "in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this 'the old goat's garden,' punning on the island's name."

There's much, much more — far too salacious and, frankly, disgusting to repeat here. For the intrepid or morbidly curious reader, here's a link for more information.

After he died, Tiberius was succeeded in emperorship by his grandnephew and adopted grandson Caligula. How fitting.

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