Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

One of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
A depiction of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (1895). (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

The Temple of Artemis, sometimes called the Artemisium, was a huge, beautiful place of worship, that was built around 550 BCE in the rich, port city of Ephesus (located in what is now western Turkey). When the beautiful monument was burned down 200 years later by the arsonist Herostratus in 356 BCE, the Temple of Artemis was built again, just as large but even more intricately decorated. It was this second version of the Temple of Artemis that was awarded a place among the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.

The Temple of Artemis was again destroyed in 262 CE when the Goths invaded Ephesus, but the second time it was not rebuilt.

Who Was Artemis?

For ancient Greeks, Artemis (also known as the Roman goddess Diana), the twin sister of Apollo, was the athletic, healthy, virgin goddess of hunting and wild animals, often depicted with a bow and arrow. Ephesus, however, was not purely a Greek city. Although it had been founded by Greeks as a colony on Asia Minor around 1087 BCE, it continued to be influenced by the original inhabitants of the area. Thus, at Ephesus, the Greek goddess Artemis was combined with the local, pagan goddess of fertility, Cybele.

The few sculptures that remain of Artemis of Ephesus show a woman standing, with her legs fitted tightly together and her arms held out in front of her. Her legs were wrapped tightly in a long skirt covered with animals, such as stags and lions. Around her neck was a garland of flowers and on her head was either a hat or a headdress.

 But what was most pronounced was her torso, which was covered with a large number of breasts or eggs.

Artemis of Ephesus was not only the goddess of fertility, she was the patron deity of the city. And as such, Artemis of Ephesus needed a temple in which to be honored.

The First Temple of Artemis

The first Temple of Artemis was built in a marshy area long held sacred by locals.

 It is believed that there was at least some sort of temple or shrine there at least as early as 800 BCE. However, when famously-rich King Croesus of Lydia conquered the area in 550 BCE, he ordered a new, larger, more magnificent temple to be built.

The Temple of Artemis was an immense, rectangular structure made of white marble. The Temple was  350-feet long and 180-feet wide, larger than a modern, American-football field. What was truly spectacular, though, was its height. The 127 Ionic columns, which were lined up in two rows all around the structure, reached 60 feet high. That was nearly twice as high as the columns at the Parthenon in Athens. 

The entire Temple was covered in beautiful carvings, including the columns, which was unusual for the time. Inside the Temple was a statue of Artemis, which is believed to have been life-sized.

Arson

For 200 years, the Temple of Artemis was revered. Pilgrims would travel long distances to see the Temple. Many visitors would make generous donations to the goddess to earn her favor. Vendors would make idols of her likeness and sell them near the Temple. The city of Ephesus, already a successful port city, soon became wealthy from the tourism brought in by the Temple as well.

Then, on July 21, 356 BCE, a madman named Herostratus set fire to the magnificent building, with the sole purpose of wanting to be remembered throughout history. The Temple of Artemis burned down. The Ephesians and nearly the entire ancient world were stupefied at such a brazen, sacrilegious act.

So that such an evil act would not make Herostratus famous, the Ephesians banned anyone from speaking his name, with the punishment being death. Despite their best efforts, Herostratus' name has gone down in history and is still remembered more than 2,300 years later.

Legend has it that Artemis was too busy to stop Herostratus from burning down her temple because she was helping with the birth of Alexander the Great that day.

The Second Temple of Artemis

When the Ephesians sorted through the charred remains of the Temple of Artemis, it is said they found the statue of Artemis intact and unharmed.

Taking this as a positive sign, the Ephesians vowed to rebuild the temple.

It is unclear how long it took to rebuild, but it easily took decades. There is a story that when Alexander the Great arrived in Ephesus in 333 BCE, he offered to help pay for the rebuilding of the Temple as long as his name would be engraved on it.  Famously, the Ephesians found a tactful way of rebuffing his offer by saying, "It is not fitting that one god should build a temple for another god."

Eventually, the second Temple of Artemis was finished, equal or just a bit taller in size but even more elaborately decorated. The Temple of Artemis was well-known in the ancient world and was a destination for many worshippers.

For 500 years, the Temple of Artemis was revered and visited. Then, in 262 CE, the Goths, one of the many tribes from the north, invaded Ephesus and destroyed the Temple. This time, with Christianity on the rise and the cult of Artemis on the decline, it was decided to not rebuilt the Temple.

Swampy Ruins

Sadly, the ruins of the Temple of Artemis were eventually plundered, with the marble being taken for other buildings in the area. Over time, the swamp in which the Temple was built grew larger, taking over much of the once-grand city. By 1100 CE, the few remaining citizens of Ephesus had completely forgotten that the Temple of Artemis ever existed.

In 1864, the British Museum funded John Turtle Wood to excavate the area in the hopes of finding the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. After five years of searching, Wood finally found the remains of the Temple of Artemis under 25 feet of swampy mud.

Later archaeologists have further excavated the site, but not much has been found. The foundation remains there as does a single column. The few artifacts that have been found were shipped to the British Museum in London.

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Rosenberg, Jen, Contributing Writer. "Temple of Artemis at Ephesus." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/temple-of-artemis-at-ephesus-1435670. Rosenberg, Jen, Contributing Writer. (2017, March 3). Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/temple-of-artemis-at-ephesus-1435670 Rosenberg, Jen, Contributing Writer. "Temple of Artemis at Ephesus." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/temple-of-artemis-at-ephesus-1435670 (accessed November 18, 2017).