Temple of Artemis

Coordinates: 37°56′59″N 27°21′50″E / 37.94972°N 27.36389°E / 37.94972; 27.36389

The Temple of Artemis (Greek: Ἀρτεμίσιον, or Artemision), also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to a goddess Greeks identified as Artemis and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was situated at Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey), and was completely rebuilt three times before its eventual destruction in 401. Only foundations and sculptural fragments of the latest of the temples at the site remain.

The first sanctuary (temenos) antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, and dates to the Bronze Age. Callimachus, in his Hymn to Artemis, attributed it to the Amazons. In the seventh century the old temple was destroyed by a flood. Its reconstruction began around 550 BC, under the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes, at the expense of Croesus of Lydia: the project took some 120 years to complete, only to be destroyed in an act of arson by a young arsonist seeking fame named Herostratus. It was later rebuilt.

Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders, describes the finished temple:

Location and history

The Temple of Artemis was located near the ancient city of Ephesus, about 50 km south from the modern port city of İzmir, in Turkey. Today the site lies on the edge of the modern town of Selçuk.

Earliest phase

The sacred site (temenos) at Ephesus was far older than the Artemision itself. Pausanias was certain that it antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, being older even than the oracular shrine of Apollo at Didyma. He said that the pre-Ionic inhabitants of the city were Leleges and Lydians. Callimachus, in his Hymn to Artemis, attributed the earliest temenos at Ephesus to the Amazons, whose worship he imagines already centered upon an image (bretas) of Artemis, their patron goddess.

Modern archaeology cannot confirm Pausanias' Amazons, but his account of the site's antiquity seems well-founded. Before World War I, site excavations by David George Hogarth identified three successive temple buildings. Re-excavations in 1987-88 confirmed that the site was occupied as early as the Bronze Age, with a sequence of pottery finds that extend forward to Middle Geometric times, when the clay-floored peripteral temple was constructed, in the second half of the eighth century BC. The peripteral temple at Ephesus offers the earliest example of a peripteral type on the coast of Asia Minor, and perhaps the earliest Greek temple surrounded by colonnades anywhere.

In the seventh century, a flood destroyed the temple, depositing over half a meter of sand and flotsam over a floor of hard-packed clay. Among the flood debris were the remains of a carved ivory plaque of a griffin and the Tree of Life, apparently North Syrian, and a number of drilled tear-shaped amber drops of elliptical cross-section. These probably once dressed a wooden effigy (xoanon) of the Lady of Ephesus, which must have been destroyed or recovered from the flood. Bammer notes that though the site was prone to flooding, and raised by silt deposits about two metres between the eighth and sixth centuries, and a further 2.4 m between the sixth and the fourth, its continued use "indicates that maintaining the identity of the actual location played an important role in the sacred organization".

Second phase

The new temple was sponsored at least in part by Croesus, who founded Lydia's empire and was overlord of Ephesus, and was designed and constructed from around 550 BC by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. It was some 377' long and 180' wide, supposedly the first Greek temple built of marble. Its peripteral columns stood some 40 feet high, in double rows that formed a wide ceremonial passage around the cella that housed the goddess' cult image. Thirty-six of these columns were, according to Pliny, decorated by carvings in relief. A new ebony or blackened grapewood cult statue was sculpted by Endoios, and a naiskos to house it was erected east of the open-air altar.

A rich foundation deposit from this era yielded more than a thousand items, including what may be the earliest coins made from the silver-gold alloy electrum. Fragments of bas-relief on the lowest drums of the temple, preserved in the British Museum, show that the enriched columns of the later temple, of which a few survive (illustration, below right) were versions of this earlier feature. Pliny the Elder, seemingly unaware of the ancient continuity of the sacred site, claims that the new temple's architects chose to build it on marshy ground as a precaution against earthquakes. The temple became an important attraction, visited by merchants, kings, and sightseers, many of whom paid homage to Artemis in the form of jewelry and various goods. It also offered sanctuary to those fleeing persecution or punishment, a tradition linked in myth to the Amazons who twice fled there seeking the goddess' protection from punishment, firstly by Dionysus and later, by Heracles.

Destruction by Herostratus

The "Croesus" Temple was destroyed on July 21, 356 BC, probably very soon after its completion, in a vainglorious act of arson: one Herostratus set fire to the roof-beams, seeking fame at any cost, thus the term herostratic fame.

The Ephesians, outraged, sentenced Herostratus to death and forbade anyone from mentioning his name, under pain of death. However, Theopompus later noted the name. The burning supposedly coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great; Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander's delivery to save her burning temple.

Third phase

The Ephesians tactfully refused Alexander's offer to pay for the temple's rebuilding, and eventually rebuilt it after his death, at their own expense. Work started in 323 BC and continued for many years. The third temple was larger than the second; 450' long by 225' wide and 60 feet high, with more than 127 columns. Athenagoras of Athens names Endoeus, a pupil of Daedalus, as sculptor of Artemis' main cult image. Pausanias (c. 2nd century AD) reports another image and altar in the Temple, dedicated to Artemis Protothronia (Artemis "of the first seat") and a gallery of images above this altar, including an ancient figure of Nyx (the primordial goddess of Night) by the sculptor Rhoecus (6th century BC). Pliny describes images of Amazons, the legendary founders of Ephesus and Ephesian Artemis' original proteges, carved by Scopas. Literary sources describe the temple's adornment by paintings, gilded columns of gold and silver, and religious works of renowned Greek sculptors Polyclitus, Pheidias, Cresilas, and Phradmon.

This reconstruction survived some 600 years, and appears multiple times in early Christian accounts of Ephesus. According to the New Testament, the appearance of the first Christian missionary in Ephesus caused locals to fear for the temple's dishonor. The second-century Acts of John includes an apocryphal tale of the temple's destruction: the apostle John prayed publicly in the Temple of Artemis, exorcising its demons and "of a sudden the altar of Artemis split in many pieces... and half the temple fell down," instantly converting the Ephesians, who wept, prayed or took flight. Against this, a Roman edict of 162 AD acknowledges the importance of Artemesion, the annual Ephesian festival to Artemis, and officially extends it from a few holy days over March-April to a whole month, "one of the largest and most magnificent religious festivals in Ephesus' liturgical calendar".

In 268 AD, the Temple was destroyed or damaged in a raid by the Goths, an East Germanic tribe. in the time of emperor Gallienus: "Respa, Veduc and Thuruar, leaders of the Goths, took ship and sailed across the strait of the Hellespont to Asia. There they laid waste many populous cities and set fire to the renowned temple of Diana at Ephesus," reported Jordanes in Getica.

Thereafter it was part rebuilt, or repaired: its later history is unclear but it was almost certainly closed in 391 by decree of Theodosius I, who officially disestablished all non-Christian cults and adopted Christianity as the religion of the Roman State. In 401, the temple in its last version was finally destroyed by a mob and the stones were used in construction of other buildings. Some of the columns in Hagia Sophia originally belonged to the temple of Artemis, and the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai records the re-use of several statues and other decorative elements throughout Constantinople.

The main primary sources for the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus are Pliny the Elder's Natural History XXXVI.xxi.95, Pomponius Mela i:17, and Plutarch's Life of Alexander III.5 (referencing the burning of the Artemiseum).

Rediscovery of the Temple

After sixty years of searching, the site of the temple was rediscovered in 1869 by an expedition led by John Turtle Wood and sponsored by the British Museum. These excavations continued until 1874. A few further fragments of sculpture were found during the 1904-06 excavations directed by David George Hogarth. The recovered sculptured fragments of the fourth-century rebuilding and a few from the earlier temple, which had been used in the rubble fill for the rebuilding, were assembled and displayed in the "Ephesus Room" of the British Museum.

Today the site of the temple, which lies just outside Selçuk, is marked by a single column constructed of dissociated fragments discovered on the site.

Cult and influence

The archaic temeton beneath the later Temples clearly housed some form of "Great Goddess" but nothing is known of her cult. The literary accounts that describe it as "Amazonian" refer to the later founder-myths of Greek emigres who developed the cult and temple of Artemis Ephesia. The wealth and splendour of temple and city were taken as evidence of Artemis Ephesia's power, and were the basis for her local and international prestige: despite the successive traumas of Temple destruction, each rebuilding – a gift and honour to the goddess – brought further prosperity.

Artemis' shrines, temples and festivals (Artemisia) could be found throughout the Greek world, but Ephesian Artemis was unique. The Ephesians considered her theirs, and resented any foreign claims to her protection. Once Persia ousted and replaced their Lydian overlord Croesus, the Ephesians played down his contribution to the Temple's restoration. On the whole, the Persians dealt fairly with Ephesus, but removed some religious artifacts from Artemis' Temple to Sardis and brought Persian priests into her Ephesian cult; this was not forgiven. When Alexander conquered the Persians, his offer to finance the Temple's second rebuilding was politely but firmly refused. Ephesian Artemis lent her city's diplomacy a powerful religious edge.

Under Hellenic rule, and later, under Roman rule, the Ephesian Artemisia festival was increasingly promoted as a key element in the pan-Hellenic festival circuit. It was part of a definitively Greek political and cultural identity, essential to the economic life of the region, and an excellent opportunity for young, unmarried Greeks of both sexes to seek out marriage partners. Games, contests and theatrical performances were held in the goddess' name, and Pliny describes her procession as a magnificent crowd-puller; one of Apelles' best paintings showed the goddess' image, carried through the streets and surrounded by maidens. In the Roman Imperial era, the emperor Commodus lent his name to the festival games, and might have sponsored them.

Ephesian Artemis

From the Greek point of view Ephesian Artemis is a distinctive form of their goddess Artemis. In Greek cult and myth, Artemis is the twin of Apollo, a virgin huntress who supplanted the Titan Selene as goddess of the Moon. At Ephesus, a goddess whom the Greeks associated with Artemis was venerated in an archaic, certainly pre-Hellenic cult image that was carved of wood and kept decorated with jewelry. Robert Fleischer identified as decorations of the primitive xoanon the changeable features that since Minucius Felix and Jerome's Christian attacks on pagan popular religion had been read as many breasts or "eggs" — denoting her fertility (others interpret the objects to represent the testicles of sacrificed bulls that would have been strung on the image, with similar meaning). Most similar to Near-Eastern and Egyptian deities, and least similar to Greek ones, her body and legs are enclosed within a tapering pillar-like term, from which her feet protrude. On the coins minted at Ephesus, the apparently many-breasted goddess wears a mural crown (like a city's walls), an attribute of Cybele (see polos). On the coins she rests either arm on a staff formed of entwined serpents or of a stack of ouroboroi, the eternal serpent with its tail in its mouth. Something the Lady of Ephesus had in common with Cybele was that each was served by temple slave-women, or hierodules (hiero "holy", doule "female slave"), under the direction of a priestess who inherited her role, attended by a college of eunuch priests called "Megabyzoi" and also by young virgins (korai).

The "eggs" or "breasts" of the Lady of Ephesus, it now appears, must be the iconographic descendants of the amber gourd-shaped drops, elliptical in cross-section and drilled for hanging, that were rediscovered in the excavations of 1987-88; they remained in situ where the ancient wooden cult figure of the Lady of Ephesus had been caught by an eighth-century flood (see History below). This form of breast-jewelry, then, had already been developed by the Geometric Period. A hypothesis offered by Gerard Seiterle, that the objects in Classical representations represented bulls' scrotal sacs cannot be maintained.

A votive inscription mentioned by Florence Mary Bennett, which dates probably from about the third century BC, associates Ephesian Artemis with Crete: "To the Healer of diseases, to Apollo, Giver of Light to mortals, Eutyches has set up in votive offering the Cretan Lady of Ephesus, the Light-Bearer."

The Greek habits of syncretism assimilated all foreign gods under some form of the Olympian pantheon familiar to them— in interpretatio graeca— and it is clear that at Ephesus, the identification with Artemis that the Ionian settlers made of the "Lady of Ephesus" was slender. The Christian approach was at variance with the tolerant syncretistic approach of pagans to gods who were not theirs. A Christian inscription at Ephesus suggests why so little remains at the site:

The assertion that the Ephesians thought that their cult image had fallen from the sky, though it was a familiar origin-myth at other sites, is only known at Ephesus from Acts 19:35:

Lynn LiDonnici observes that modern scholars are likely to be more concerned with origins of the Lady of Ephesus and her iconology than her adherents were at any point in time, and are prone to creating a synthetic account of the Lady of Ephesus by drawing together documentation that ranges over more than a millennium in its origins, creating a falsified, unitary picture, as of an unchanging icon.

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