Encyclopedia of History
Home > Encyclopedia of History

Seven Wonders of the World



In ancient times these were reckoned to be: Of these only the Pyramids survive almost intact. The rest, except for a few fragments of the Mausoleum and the Temple of Artemis, have vanished.


Origin of the Seven Wonders

The Greeks were enthusiastic travelers, and from the earliest times Greek merchants and adventurers brought back tales of strange peoples, customs, and buildings to be seen in distant lands. Much of Homer's Odyssey is made up of such tales. In the 5th century BC Herodotus, the first Greek historian, applied critical standards to the stories of his predecessors. For example, he was not content to accept the first tale that he was told about the origin of some building. Instead, he collected various stories and explanations in an attempt to arrive at the truth. Herodotus traveled widely and described more accurately than anyone before his time what he had seen. His report on the Great Pyramid of Cheops, for instance, is detailed and, in general, accurate, although some of the measurements he gives are incorrect. Later historians and geographers like Pausanias, Strabo, and the Roman, Pliny, developed the Greek tradition of the "travel book." This tradition was particularly strong during the Hellenistic period (4th to 2nd centuries BC) when sight-seeing was fashionable. It must have been in the guide-books of this period that the first lists of wonders of the world appeared. The writer who compiled the first known list of seven wonders – that number was doubtless chosen for its magical significance – was Antipater of Sidon (2nd century BC). Later another list of seven "authentic" wonders was drawn up by Philon of Byzantium; and even though there are other ancient works as marvelous as some of Philon's wonders, his list has been accepted as preserving the original tradition.