The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

In what must be one my favourite sites in the Ancient World, Ephesus stood another of the Seven Wonders: The Temple of Artemis.

The story goes that around 1100AD a crusader visited Ephesus and looking at the swampy village asked the locals where the bay was? The habour? Where the temple had gone? The locals looked at him and asked:

"What temple?"

And indeed, when I visited the ruins almost nine centuries later, the bay had silted up and the city of Ephesus was located some 3 kilometers inland, the old harbour buildings bordering a flat plain of rich loam.

Almost 3,000 years ago, Ephesus was a small village in Asia Minor. Its inhabitants worshiped Artemis. This goddess wasn't the Greek virgin goddess of hunt, but an older earth mother type fertility goddess, who's statues carried a large necklace of what could be either eggs or.... 1) A stone, possible a meteorite was on display in her temple.

Four hundred years later it was a rich port city that traded all across the Mediterranean and deep into the heartland of Asia Minor. The town chose the architect Chersiphron to build them a new temple to Artemis, a temple worthy of the goddess and the city.

However, the temple didn't last long as in 550BC King Croesus conquered the city and temple was destroyed in the fighting. Croesus hired an architect named Theodorus and had him build a new and bigger temple on the spot. Almost a hundred meters long, by 50 meters wide it was easily four times the size of the previous temple.

The gods can't have been too pleased with it as in 356BC disaster struck. A young man by the name of Herostratus set fire to the temple and destroyed it. When asked why he did it? He replied:

"I want to be in the history books."

Well, he certainly succeeded,but was quickly killed by the enraged Ephesians, who also decreed anyone that spoke of this horrible person should be put to death as well.

Ephesus, at this time one of the richest cities in the world commissioned Scopas of Paros to build them a new temple. Scopas created a foundation of charcoal and fleece in the swampy ground and started building.

The resulting temple was easily twice as large as the Parthenon in Athens and had sculpted bases on each of its 127, 20 meter high columns Philon of Byzantium writes of the result:

"I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade."

Pliny records that it took 120 years to build this massive structure and we know that it was still under construction when Alexander the Great came by in 333BC. He wanted his name on the temple and offered to spend money on its construction. The city wasn't too happy with this idea and convinced Alexander that "one god should not build a temple for another."

The temple and its souvenir sellers were still around when St. Paul visited in 57AD. St. Paul tried to convince the Ephesians Christianity was the better option, but the people were not impressed by his arguments and forced him to leave the city.

In 262AD the city was raided by the Goths who sacked the city and destroyed the temple. Constantine tried to breath life back into Ephesus but had chosen for Christianity and ignored the remains of the temple. However, the harbour silted up and the place was eventually abandoned.

By the end of the 19th century English archeologists excavated the temple's foundations, took the best bits home and promptly forgot all about it. Currently the temple's remains have fallen victim to the marsh again and but a single column marks the site of its majesty.

1) They probably were something else, but that's not repeated in polite company.