The Temple of
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 the same figure as the Artemis worshipped in Greece. The
Greek Artemis is 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.
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 large temple. He designed it with
high stone columns. Concerned that carts carrying the columns might get marred
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. In 550 B.C. King Croesus of Lydia conquered
Ephesus and the other Greek cities of Asia Minor. During the fighting,
the temple was destroyed. Croesus proved himself a gracious winner,
though, by contributing generously to the building of a new temple. This was
next to the last of the great temples to Artemis in Ephesus and
it dwarfed those that had come before.
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 temple before it. More
than one hundred stone columns supported a massive roof. The new temple was the
pride of Ephesus until 356 B.C. when a tragedy, by name of
Herostratus was a young
Ephesian who would stop at no cost to have his name go down in history.
He managed this by burning the temple to the ground. The citizens of
Ephesus were so appalled at this act they issued a decree that anyone
who spoke of Herostratus would be put to death. Shortly after this
horrible deed, a new temple was commissioned.
The architect was Scopas of
Paros, one of the most famous sculptors of his day. Ephesus was one
of the greatest cities in Asia Minor at this point and no expense was spared in
the construction. According to Piny the Elder, a Roman historian, the
temple was a "wonderful monument of Grecian magnificence, and one that merits
our genuine admiration." The temple was built in the same marshy place as
before. To prepare the ground, Piny recorded that "layers of trodden
charcoal were placed beneath, with fleeces covered with wool upon the top of
The building is thought to be the
first completely constructed with marble and one of its must unusual features
were 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. Piny 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 stand on the acropolis in Athens today, was only 230 feet
long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns. According to Piny, construction
took 120 years, though some experts suspect it may have only taken half that
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
Piny 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 in 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.
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. Eventually 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 262 A.D., both the city
and the religion of Artemis were in decline. When the Roman Emperor Constantine
rebuilt much of Ephesus a century later, he declined to restore the
temple. He had become a Christian and had little interest in pagan
Despite Constantine's 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 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 wall plaster.
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
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 were found and shipped the to British Museum where
they can be viewed even 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
constructed on top of the other.
Today the site of the temple is a
marshy field. A single column is erect to remind visitors that once there stood
in that place one of the wonders of the ancient world.