7 Wonders of the Ancient World
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Let me set the scene, Ancient Ephesus, one of the greatest harbours on the Eastern Aegean, served as a major link on the chief line of communication between the East and Greece and Rome. It was the gateway to the East for the West. Any Roman governor of the Asia province was bound to first land in Ephesus when he entered his office.
Now days, Ephesus lies several miles from the coast, as the gulf that lead to it has silted up, in Turkey.
Ephesus, as well as a great port, was a religious centre in the ancient world. Near the hill of Ayasaluk lies the site of the great Temple of Artemis, or Diana as she was called by the Romans. The temple once stretch c. 2 km above the city centre however, even the very site of it remained hidden for centuries, buried deep beneath the soil of the plain.
The temple of Artemis was built, and rebuilt several times. The remains visible from its excavation are from its 4th century BC temple. This was built to replace the 6th century temple, which had had columns built by Croesus, King of Lydia (Herodotus tells us, and pieces of column bearing his name have been found. Its great when ancient literature matches the archaeology). This temple was burned down by a man named Herostratus the night Alexander the Great was born. He was said to have done this in the hope of achieving everlasting fame however the Ephesians issued a decree forbidding the mention of his name for all time. Furthermore, they sold treasure and the columns of the old temple to raise funds for a final, spectacular temple on the site. They made the base of this c. 2.7 m higher than the previous temple in an attempt to prevent flooding. The final temple was eventually ransacked and destroyed by the Goths in 263 AD.
The 4th century BC temple was named as a Wonder of the World, partly due to it sheer size, but also because of its beautiful and lavish decoration both inside and out. It’s more unusual features were the use of sculpted column drums on some columns, each nearly 20 ft. in circumference and 6 ft. high. It attracted thousands of pilgrims in antiquity.
The temple was excavated by Mr. Wood in 1870, however the remains were scanty. This was due to the temple being used as a quarry in later centuries and its stone reused in other buildings. This lack of evidence has lead to much debate over the architecture of this vast structure.
A number of reconstructions of the wonder have been produced, some extremely fanciful, others not so much, based on the archaeology, the written sources, and of course the artists imagination.
Pliny (10.36.95) describes the temple as the largest ever built, made entirely of marble, 425 feet long and 225 feet wide (close to double the size of the Parthenon at Athens), with 127 columns 60 feet high of which 36 were carved with reliefs. He also states that it took 120 years to complete. It was said to reach into the clouds themselves. Some ancients proclaimed it the only temple on Earth to be fit for a god, and as the greatest wonder the sun would ever see, only surpassed by Olympus itself.
Practically, the temple functioned as a bank and as a place of asylum, as well as the focal point of worship and festivals in the goddess’s honour.
The temple was dedicated to the goddess, Artemis Ephesus, a “multi-breasted” and distinct facet of Artemis said to have fallen from the sky. This version of Artemis was equated by the Greeks with the original goddess at the site, an Anatolian earth mother goddess when they took over the site. This Artemis appears on statues and works of art wearing a headdress and veil and with bands of animals around her midriff. Her many “breasts” are sometimes thought by scholars to be adornments or part of the goddesses costume rather than her actual breasts, particularly as most of the time they lack nipples. Theories about the “breasts” are numerous. One scholar recently suggested that they were actually the scrotal sacs of sacrificial bulls, said to “masculinise” the goddess and represent “power” and “virility”.
The primary function of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus was that of a protector and a provider. Inscriptions in the city link her to all walks of life, from health to citizenship and debt collecting. The goddess was a central symbol of the city and its people. She was honoured with a great festival and procession past all of the city’s greatest monuments ending at the Great temple itself.