Although the Minoans and Mycenaeans established early outposts on Rhodes, the island only made itself felt from 1100 BC onwards, after the Dorians settled in Kamiros, Ialysos and Lindos. Switching allegiances like a pendulum, Rhodes was allied to Athens when the Persians were defeated in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), but shifted to the Persian side in time for the Battle of Salamis (480 BC).
Following the unexpected Athenian victory at Salamis, Rhodes threw in its lot with Athens once more, joining the Delian League in 477 BC. Following the disastrous Sicilian Expedition (416–412 BC), Rhodes revolted against Athens and hooked up with Sparta instead, aiding it in the Peloponnesian Wars.
What’s now Rhodes Town was founded in 408 BC, when the cities of Kamiros, Ialysos and Lindos joined forces. After aligning itself with Athens again to defeat Sparta at the Battle of Knidos (394 BC), Rhodes joined forces with Persia to fight Alexander the Great, only to attach itself to Alexander in turn when he proved invincible.
In 305 BC Antigonus, a rival of Ptolemy, sent his formidable son, Demetrius Poliorketes – Besieger of Cities – to lay siege to Rhodes. When the city managed to repel Demetrius, it built a 32m-high bronze statue of Helios to celebrate. Known as the Colossus of Rhodes, this became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Rhodes now knew no bounds. It built the biggest navy in the Aegean, its port became a major Mediterranean trading centre, and the arts flourished. When Greece became the arena in which Roman generals fought for leadership of the empire, Rhodes allied itself with Julius Caesar, who had studied here in his youth. After Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cassius besieged the city, destroying its ships and carting its artworks off to Rome. Rhodes went into decline and was assimilated into the Roman Empire in AD 70.
In due course, Rhodes joined the Byzantine province of the Dodecanese and was granted independence when the Crusaders seized Constantinople. Later, the Genoese gained control. Next to arrive, in 1309, were the Knights of St John, who ruled Rhodes for 213 years. They in turn were ousted after two mighty sieges by the Ottomans, who were themselves kicked out by the Italians nearly four centuries later. In 1947, after 35 years of Italian occupation, Rhodes finally became part of Greece, along with the other Dodecanese islands.