Alexander the Great died at the early age of 32 in 323 BC without having had time to put into place any plans for his succession. Fighting broke out among his generals, the Diadochi, with four of them eventually dividing up much of his empire in the Mediterranean area. During the fighting, Rhodes had sided with Ptolemy, and when Ptolemy eventually took control of Egypt, Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt formed an alliance which controlled much of the trade in the eastern Mediterranean.
Antigonus I Monophthalmus was upset by this turn of events. In 305 BC he had his son Demetrius Poliorcetes, also a general, invade Rhodes with an army of 40,000; however, the city was well defended, and Demetrius—whose name "Poliorcetes" signifies the "besieger of cities"—had to start construction of a number of massive siege towers in order to gain access to the walls. The first was mounted on six ships, but these capsized in a storm before they could be used. He tried again with a larger, land-based tower named Helepolis, but the Rhodian defenders stopped this by flooding the land in front of the walls so that the rolling tower could not move.
In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Demetrius's army abandoned the siege, leaving most of their siege equipment. To celebrate their victory, the Rhodians sold the equipment left behind for 300 talents and decided to use the money to build a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios. Construction was left to the direction of Chares, a native of Lindos in Rhodes, who had been involved with large-scale statues before. His teacher, the sculptor Lysippos, had constructed a 22 meter (70 ft) high bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum.