Ephesus & the Artemision in History & Today

Originally on the coast, the hill of Ayasuluk was inhabited in Neolithic times and further settled in the Bronze Age. Some Classical writers claimed that both city and Artemision were founded by a local man, Coressus, and the eponymous Ephesus, son of Caystus, the local river-god; others said that the sanctuary, which offered asylum to fugitives and criminals, was established by the Amazons; still others told of tenth-century bc Athenians and an exiled prince, Androclus. The Delphic oracle advised him to settle where he saw a leaping fish and running boar. As his men were cooking fish, their pan fell over and the fish fell out; the oil ignited; the undergrowth caught fire; and a boar, which was asleep nearby, burst out. Androclus slew the animal and founded his city, gleefully reminding his followers that the oracle had promised it would have a splendid future. It did.

Photo Gallery Ephesus & the Artemision in History & Today

Ephesus & the Artemision in History & Today Images


Ephesus grew in importance, thanks partly to the Artemision close to the sea on the marshy plain. While most Greek temples faced east, some temples of Artemis faced west. The Artemision was one of them Although the first temple was destroyed by migrating Cimmerians from beyond the Black Sea around 650 bc it was soon rebuilt. Then a century later Croesus, king of Lydia, besieged the city. Herodotus writes that to harness the Artemision’s divine power: ‘The Ephesians dedicated the city to Artemis and stretched a rope from the temple to the city walls.’ Nonetheless, Ephesus was captured, but wealthy Croesus was benign. Thanks to his patronage, the Artemision became one of the finest temples in the Greek world, with a double colonnade and carved column drums showing a procession of worshippers.

Despite the Ephesians’ participation in the Ionian Revolt against the Persians (499-493 bc) – the first battle on Ionian soil was fought at Ephesus – the city and temple were spared by Persia’s Great King. Nonetheless, there was rejoicing when Ionia was liberated in 478 bc. In 411 bc a deal between

Sparta and Persia, ratified by the rest of Greece in 386 bc, saw Ephesus again pass into Persian hands. Thirty years later, desiring celebrity, a deluded arsonist, Herostratus, burned down the Artemision. Strabo records that, undaunted, the Ephesians ‘collected their womenfolk’s jewelry and their own belongings, and sold the columns of the former temple’ to pay for the rebuilding. Work was incomplete when Alexander the Great ‘liberated’ Ephesus in 334 bc, but the citizens refused his help to finish it, suggesting that it would be wrong for one god to dedicate offerings to another.

With its forest of 127 columns, many carved in high relief, the new Artemision was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The second-century bc poet Antipater of Sidon enthusiastically wrote:

I have gazed on the high walls of Babylon, atop which chariots can drive, and on Zeus’ statue at Olympia. I have seen the hanging gardens, Rhodes’ colossus of the sun, the great works of the mighty pyramids and the towering Mausoleum; but when I looked at Artemis’ temple rising to the clouds those other wonders faded and I said: ‘Except for Mount Olympus, there is no other sight beneath the sun which can compare. ’

In the first century ad, Pliny the Elder considered the temple to be the most magnificent in the Greek world, writing that it was deliberately built on a marshy site to protect it against earthquakes and that in order to provide stability, layers of charcoal were trodden into the marsh, with fleeces placed on top of them This technique, known as ‘seismic isolation’, mirrors the practice of modern structural engineers in earthquake zones.

By the early fourth century bc, sediment from the River Cayster rendered Ephesus’ harbour unusable, so around 290 bc one of Alexander’s successors, Lysimachus, relocated the city nearby to the west. When the Ephesians refused to leave their homes, he blocked the sewers during a heavy rainstorm They soon complied. The new city thrived, until in 133 bc it was bequeathed to Rome by the Pergamene king Attalus III. A century of depredation followed, with high taxes, an ill-judged alliance with the bloodthirsty Mithridates, king of Pontus, who murdered Ephesus’ Roman citizens and sympathizers, and consequent reprisals at the hands of the Roman general Sulla.

In the first century bc, Ephesus’ citizens lionized Mark Antony (who arranged for Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe, a priestess of Artemis, to be assassinated on the temple’s steps in 41 bc). Even so, when Augustus became Rome’s emperor in 27 bc he made Ephesus the capital of the province of Asia. According to Strabo, its wealth and population grew by the day, and many of its most visited remains, including the theatre and the Library of Celsus, date from this period in its history.

In ad 263 the Goths sacked both city and temple, but Ephesus’ importance remained constant. Nature dealt the final blow. By the seventh century ad, the Cayster’s silt made even the Hellenistic port unusable. Earthquakes, raids and massacres by Arabs and Turks led to massive depopulation. When Ayasuluk was resettled under the Seljuks, many Classical buildings were plundered for stone, and the marble from the Artemision ground down for lime. Today Ephesus lies 5 km (3 miles) from the sea, and the bay on which the city stood is fertile farmland.

Rediscovering the Artemision

The nineteenth-century ad British engineer John Turtle Wood was determined to locate the site of the lost Artemision. In 1866 he discovered inscriptions describing the route of a procession between the temple and the theatre to celebrate Artemis’ birthday. Reasoning that if he found the landmarks which it listed, he would find the temple, Wood set to work.

The trail led from the theatre to the Magnesian Gate, where the procession entered the city. From here Wood continued northeast past the hero-shrine of Androclus to the Stoa of Damianus, which he knew was built to shelter those walking to the Artemision. When he uncovered inscriptions marking the sanctuary’s boundaries, Wood realized he was near his goal, and on 31 December 1869, nearly 6 m (20 ft) below ground level, he discovered the Artemision’s marble pavement, in his words, ‘so long lost, so long sought for, and so long almost despaired of. Wood pumped out the marshy water and completed his excavations, and in time, using drums from the jumble of broken masonry, restorers raised one column, on the top of which a stork lands every year to build its nest.

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