Ephesus, or what is left of it, lies in the western region of modern-day Turkey. This is where the Temple of Artemis was located hundreds of years earlier. Along with the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis was one of the original 7 wonders of the world. The temple, in its time, was undoubtedly magnificent, but its colorful history is filled with tragedy.
The Goddess Artemis
The goddess Artemis, sometimes referred to as Diana, was the centerpiece and reason for the building of the temple. She should not be confused with the Greek goddess Diana. In Greece, Diana was the goddess of hunting, while in Ephesus she was worshiped as the goddess of fertility. The statue of Artemis was often created with several breasts or eggs along her body to represent fertility. Some scholars today surmise that the round breast-like nodules were really supposed to represent sacrificial bull testicles.
Early History of the Temple of Artemis
The first temple of Artemis was likely built as long ago as 800 B.C. in the marshy swamps alongside the River Ephesus. Around 600 B.C., Ephesus was a bustling city and a major port of trade. It was decided that the architect Chersiphron was to be commissioned to build a newer, grander temple dedicated to Artemis. Archeological evidence points to a flood destroying this temple.
Around 550 B.C., the wealthy King Croesus made sure a new temple was built after he conquered the city. This latest temple proved larger and more elaborate than those that had been built before. Worship practices included young virgin girls bringing gifts from their childhood. Festivals in the goddess’s honor included music, dancing, and possibly animal sacrifice. Until 356 B.C. this temple was the glory and pride of Ephesus. It is reported that a man named Herostratus burned the temple to the ground. After torturing Herostratus to death, even mentioning his name was outlawed and punishable by death.
By the time the Temple of Artemis was rebuilt yet again, Ephesus was one of the greatest cities in the world and no expense was spared in making this temple even more spectacular than before. This time the structure was built entirely with marble. It is estimated that it took anywhere from 60 to 120 years until construction was complete. During the next several hundred years a profitable business grew around the temple and the worship of Artemis. Souvenirs and tiny statues of the goddess proved to be a thriving economical enterprise for the city.
The Rise of Christianity
When the Apostle Paul arrived preaching the radical gospel of Christianity many people turned from idol worship to follow Jesus Christ, and the business ventures of many were threatened. Demetrius, an entrepreneur in the city, led a group of like-minded business proprietors against Paul when he gave a rousing speech promoting Artemis. This nearly caused a riot in the city. Eventually, peace was restored and Paul was free to go to Macedonia.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus became part of an epic battle between paganism and Christianity for several centuries. Christianity won out in the end when the temple was ultimately destroyed by the Goths in 268. A.D. It was the beginning of a slow decline for the temple and the worship of Artemis.
The Temple’s Final Resting Place
In 1863, John Turtle Wood was sent to find the ruined temple. After several years of hardship and even attempts on his life, Wood’s team unearthed the former temple. The remains were sent to a British museum where they can be seen today. In a swampy field near the modern town of Selcuk, a solitary column has been built as a reminder of the great temple that was once one of the 7 wonders of the world.