of Artemis at Ephesus
(Present day Turkey)
to Goddess Artemis
AD by Goths
425 ft. (129m)
|Made of: Mostly
in a series of temples to Artemis on this site.
800 years after its
destruction, the magnificent Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one
of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, had been completely
forgotten by the people of the town that had once held it in such
And there is no doubt
that the temple was indeed magnificent. "I have seen the walls
and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon," wrote Philon of Byzantium,
"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."
So what happened to
this great temple? And what happened to the city that hosted it?
What turned Ephesus from a busy port of trade to a few shacks
in a swamp?
The Shrine to the
The first shrine to
the Goddess Artemis was probably built around 800 B.C. on a marshy
strip near the river at Ephesus. The Ephesus goddess Artemis,
sometimes called Diana, is not quite the same figure as was worshiped
in Greece. The Greek Artemis was the goddess of the hunt. The
Ephesus Artemis was a goddess of fertility and was often pictured
as draped with eggs or multiple breasts, symbols of fertility,
from her waist to her shoulders.
That earliest temple
contained a sacred stone, probably a meteorite, that had "fallen
from Jupiter." The shrine was destroyed and rebuilt several times
over the next few hundred years. By 600 B.C., the city of Ephesus
had become a major port of trade and an architect named Chersiphron
was engaged to build a new, larger temple. He designed it with
high stone columns. Concerned that carts carrying the columns
might get mired in the swampy ground around the site, Chersiphron
laid the columns on their sides and had them rolled to where they
would be erected.
This temple didn't
last long. According to one story in 550 B.C., King Croesus of
Lydia conquered Ephesus and the other Greek cities of Asia Minor
and during the fighting, the temple was destroyed. An archeological
examination of the site, however, suggests that a major flood
hit the temple site at about the same time and may have been the
actual cause of the destruction. In either case, the victorious
Croesus proved himself a gracious new ruler by contributing generously
to the building of a replacement temple.
This next temple dwarfed
those that had come before it. The architect is thought to be
a man named Theodorus. Theodorus's temple was 300 feet in length
and 150 feet wide with an area four times the size of the previous
temple. More than one hundred stone columns supported a massive
roof. One unusual feature of the temple was that a number of columns
had bases that were carved with figures in relief.
The new temple was
the pride of Ephesus until 356 B.C. when tragedy struck. A young
Ephesian named Herostratus, who would stop at nothing to have
his name go down in history, set fire to the wooden roof of the
building. He managed to burn the structure to the ground. The
citizens of Ephesus were so appalled by this act that after torturing
Herostratus to death, they issued a decree that anyone who even
spoke of his name would be put to death.
One of the legends
that grew up about the great fire was that the night that the
temple burned was the very same night that Alexander the Great
was born. According to the story, the goddess Artemis was so preoccupied
with Alexander's safe birth she was unable to save her own temple
from its fiery destruction.
the Great Temple
Shortly after the fire,
a new temple was commissioned. The architect was Scopas of Paros,
one of the most famous sculptors of his day. By this point Ephesus
was one of the greatest cities in Asia Minor and no expense was
spared in the reconstruction. According to Pliny the Elder, a
Roman historian, the new temple was a "wonderful monument of Grecian
magnificence, and one that merits our genuine admiration."
The temple was built
in the same wet location as before. To prepare the ground, Pliny
recorded that "layers of trodden charcoal were placed beneath,
with fleeces covered with wool upon the top of them." Pliny also
noted that one of the reasons the builders kept the temple on
its original marshy location was that they reasoned it would help
protect the structure from the earthquakes which plagued the region.
The great temple is
thought to be the first building completely constructed with marble.
Like its predecessor, the temple had 36 columns whose lower portions
were carved with figures in high-relief. The temple also housed
many works of art including four bronze statues of Amazon women.
The Amazons, according to myth, took refuge at Ephesus from Heracles,
the Greek demigod, and founded the city.
Pliny recorded the
length of this new temple at 425 feet and the width at 225 feet.
Some 127 columns, 60 feet in height, supported the roof. In comparison
the Parthenon, the remains of which still stand on the Acropolis
in Athens today, was only 230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had
According to Pliny,
construction took 120 years, though some experts suspect it may
have only taken half that time. We do know that when Alexander
the Great came to Ephesus in 333 B.C., the temple was still under
construction. He offered to finance the completion of the temple
if the city would credit him as the builder. The city fathers
didn't want Alexander's name carved on the temple, but didn't
want to tell him that. They finally gave the tactful response:
"It is not fitting that one god should build a temple for another
god" and Alexander didn't press the matter.
Pliny reported that
earthen ramps were employed to get the heavy stone beams perched
on top of the columns. This method seemed to work well until one
of the largest beams was put into position above the door. It
went down crookedly and the architect could find no way to get
it to lie flat. He was beside himself with worry about this until
he had a dream one night in which the Goddess herself appeared
to him saying that he should not be concerned. She herself had
moved the stone into the proper position. The next morning the
architect found that the dream was true. During the night the
beam had settled into its proper place.
an End to Artemis Worship
The city continued
to prosper over the next few hundred years and was the destination
for many pilgrims coming to view the temple. A souvenir business
in miniature Artemis idols, perhaps similar to a statue of her
in the temple, grew up around the shrine. It was one of these
business proprietors, a man named Demetrius, that gave St. Paul
a difficult time when he visited the city in 57 A.D.
St. Paul came to the
city to win converts to the then new religion of Christianity.
He was so successful that Demetrius feared the people would turn
away from Artemis and he would lose his livelihood. He called
others of his trade together with him and gave a rousing speech
ending with "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" They then seized
two of Paul's companions and a near riot followed during a meeting
at the city theater. Eventually, however, the city was quieted,
the men released and Paul left for Macedonia.
It was Paul's Christianity
that won out in the end, though. By the time the great Temple
of Artemis was destroyed during a raid by the Goths in 268 A.D.,
both the city and the religion of Artemis were in decline. The
temple was rebuilt again, but in 391 it was closed by the Roman
Emperor Theodosius the Great after he made Christianity the state
religion. The temple itself was destroyed by a Christian mob in
401 and the stoned was recycled into other buildings. When the
Roman Emperor Constantine rebuilt much of Ephesus a century later,
he declined to restore the temple. He too had become a Christian
and had little interest in pagan religions.
efforts, Ephesus declined in its importance as a crossroads of
trade. The bay where ships docked disappeared as silt from the
river filled it. In the end what was left of the city was miles
from the sea, and many of the inhabitants left the swampy lowland
to live in the surrounding hills. Those that remained used the
ruins of the temple as a source of building materials. Many of
the fine sculptures were pounded into powder to make lime for
Find the Remains
In 1863 the British
Museum sent John Turtle Wood, an architect, to search for the
temple. Wood met with many obstacles. The region was infested
with bandits. Workers were hard to find. His budget was too small.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty was that he had no idea where the
temple was located. He searched for the temple for six years.
Each year the British Museum threatened to cut off his funding
unless he found something significant, and each year he convinced
them to fund him for just one more season.
Wood kept returning
to the site each year many despite hardships. During his first
season he was thrown from a horse, breaking his collar bone. Two
years later he was stabbed within an inch of his heart during
an assassination attempt upon the British Consul in Smyrna.
Finally in 1869, at
the bottom of a muddy twenty-foot deep test pit, his crew struck
the base of the great temple. Wood then excavated the whole foundation
removing 132,000 cubic yards of the swamp to leave a hole some
300 feet wide and 500 feet long. The remains of some of the sculptured
portions of the temple were found and shipped to the British Museum
where they can be viewed today.
In 1904 another British
Museum expedition under the leadership of D.G. Hograth continued
the excavation. Hograth found evidence of five temples on the
site, each one constructed on top of the remains of another.
Today the site of the
temple near the modern town of Selšuk is only a marshy field.
A single column has been erected to remind visitors that once
there stood in this place one of the wonders
of the ancient world.
carved base of one of the columns.
Lee Krystek 1998-2010.