The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Fourth Wonder of the World
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was built by the Achmaenid Dynasty in the Persian Empire to honour the goddess Artemis.
The Temple of Artemis is located near the modern day Turkish town of Selcuk, which is located 50 miles south of the Turkish port city of Izmir.
Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt, as well as being the twin to Apollo. She also supplanted the Titan Selene as the goddess of the Moon. In Ephesus, the Greeks associated Artemis with pre-Hellenic Cretan goddess images, particularly the image of the snake woman. This is assumed to be so because of the incorporation of many Cretan elements into the design of the statue. One such example is the multitude of breasts sculpted on Artemis’s upper torso. It has been suggested that Artemis was worshipped as a fertility goddess in Ephesus. In addition, the statue’s lower body was encased in a conical pillar that tapered toward the bottom. Artemis is thought to have been attended by a priestess, female slaves, a college of eunuch priests and young virgins.
The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was considered very ancient, even by the standards of the Classical world.
Test holes bored during excavations conducted in the 1980s confirmed that the site has been occupied since the Bronze Age. A series of pottery artefacts indicated that the first temple built on this site dated back to the Eighth Century BC.
In the Seventh Century BC, the temple was destroyed by flooding. Half a metre of sand and debris was deposited on the clay floor. Based on the discovery of numerous tear-shaped objects, among the debris, it has been conjectured that the original statue of Artemis was composed mainly of wood and was destroyed during the flooding. Geological evidence indicates that flooding during the sixth to eighth centuries BC raised the ground level of the site by as much as two metres. The fact that such a vulnerable location was retained suggests that the temple’s location was an important part of its religious function.
The Destruction of the Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was destroyed on July 21 356 BC as the result of an act of arson by Herostratus, who was determined to become famous at any cost. Following the fire, the citizens of Ephesus were so outraged by Herostratus’s actions that they voted to subject him to “Damnatio Memoriae,” or the damnation of memory, and banned the speaking or writing of his name. The story was later written down by Strabo, and as a result his identity survives.
According to Plutarch, the temple burned because Artemis was preoccupied by the birth of Alexander the Great, and was unable to save the temple. Following his conquest of the Persian Empire, Alexander offered to pay for the temple’s reconstruction, but was refused. The Temple of Artemis was eventually rebuilt following his death in 323 BC.
As with the Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Artemis no longer survives intact. However, an accurate description of the temple, written by Pliny, has been handed down over time. Pliny wrote that the temple was 377 feet long, 180 feet wide and constructed entirely of marble.
The Temple of Artemis is also purported to have been the site of miracles. According to the Acts of John, one of the Gnostic Gospels, the Apostle John prayed in the temple. He supposedly exorcized its demons, caused it to collapse and shattered the altar of Artemis into many pieces.
Works CitedFleische,Robert r, Artemis von Ephesos und der erwandte Kultstatue von Anatolien und Syrien EPRO 35 (Leiden:Brill) 1973.
Strabo, Geographica, 14.123
Xenophon, Anabasis, v.3.7.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.2.6.
Bammer, Anton “A Peripteros” of the Geometric Period in the Artemision of Ephesus” Anatolian Studies 40 (1990), pp. 137-160, 141, 142
Pliny’s Natural History, 16.79.213-16
Jordanes, Getica xx.107
MacMullen,Ramsay Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400 1984, p 26.
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