Temple of Artemis

gigatos | January 7, 2022


The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (Greek Ἀρτεμίσιον Artemísion, Latin Artemisium) was in ancient times one of the most important shrines of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and wilderness. It was considered in ancient times as the fourth of the Seven Wonders of the World.

On the site of an older sanctuary, a temple was built around 560 BC by Theodore of Samos, Chersiphron and Metagenes and financed by King Croesus of Lydia. Its colossal dimensions (137,74 m length and 71,74 m width) and the richness of its decoration explain its mention in sixteen of the twenty-four lists of the Seven Wonders of the World which are known to us. It is burned voluntarily in 356 BC by Erostratus, who wants to make himself famous by destroying the temple (according to Cicero in his treatise De divinatione, this fire took place the day of the birth of Alexander the Great). A second temple was built in the middle of the 4th century B.C. on the same plan. Theophrastus wrote in History of plants that the doors at his time were made of cypress wood, explaining in passing the quality of its conservation. The temple is plundered and burned by the Goths in 263: “Respa, Veduc and Thuruar, chiefs of the Goths, took the boat and crossed the Hellespont strait in Asia. There they destroyed many populous cities and burned down the famous temple of Diana Artemis in Ephesus. This temple is also considered to be one of the first banking institutions in the world: “the sanctuary had its own finances and acted as a bank. It was inviolable and the right of asylum was granted to those who placed themselves under its protection. The ruins of Ephesus are located today in the southwestern part of the Turkish city of Selçuk, fifty kilometers south of Izmir.

“The warlike Amazons raised you, formerly a statue, on the shore of Ephesus, at the foot of the trunk of a beech; Hippo accomplished the rites and the Amazons, queen Oupis, around your image danced at first the armed dance, the dance of the shields, then developed in circle their ample chorus; Around this statue, later, one built a vast sanctuary; the light of the day never illuminated one more worthy of the gods nor of more opulent”

– Callimachus , Hymns III to Artemis v. 237-250

The site of Ephesus has been occupied since the Bronze Age, and the first temple built on the site of the Ephesus temple was built in the second half of the 8th century BC. This first peripteral temple at Ephesus is the oldest example of a peripteral temple on the coast of Asia Minor, and perhaps the oldest Greek-style temple surrounded by colonnades.

In the seventh century B.C., a flood destroyed the temple and deposited over half a meter of sand on the site. Bammer notes that although the site was flooded and raised nearly two meters between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., and 2.4 meters between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C., the site was retained, which he says “means that maintaining the identity of the actual location plays an important role in the sacred organization” (Bammer 1990:144). According to Pliny the Elder, on the other hand, the site was selected for its marshy character as a precaution against earthquakes, not because of the antiquity of the cult practice at the site.

Archaic temple

The new temple, built in marble, with a double row of peripteral columns leaving room for a wide ceremonial passage around the cella, was designed and built around 550 BC by the Cretan architects Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. A new ebony cult statue was carved by Endoios, the previous one having probably been destroyed in the flood, and a naiskos to house it was erected to the east of the open-air altar. This reconstruction was financed by Croesus, the rich king of Lydia.

The temple attracted many merchants, kings, and curious people, as well as many followers of the cult of Artemis, many of whom paid homage in the form of jewelry and various goods. What may be the oldest coins made of electrum (gold-silver alloy) and many other valuable objects have been found there. This temple was also highly respected as a place of refuge, a tradition linked to the myth of the Amazons, who would have taken refuge on the site of the temple from Heracles and Dionysus.

Hellenistic Temple

The temple was burned down on July 21, 356 B.C. by Erostratus, who wanted to make himself famous. Learning the motive of the arsonist who had destroyed the temple which made the envy of all the Greeks, the magistrates of the City made him torture and kill. It was forbidden that his name be pronounced under penalty of death. This ruling was only respected for 23 years, until the arrival of Alexander the Great, who offered to finance the restoration of the temple. When the Ephesians learned the date of birth of their benefactor – the same night as the fatal fire – the name of Erostratus was revealed. Fearing that Alexander”s triumph would be short-lived, the Ephesians diplomatically refused, explaining that it was not proper for one god to dedicate a temple to another. The reconstruction was thus financed by several cities towards which Artemisia had function of bank. Deprived of some of its most famous works of art by Nero, plundered by an expedition of Goths from the Black Sea around 262, damaged by earthquakes, the temple was definitively closed, like the other pagan temples, by the general edict of Theodosius I in 391. The temple is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, notably for the riot that was triggered by the preaching of Paul of Tarsus.

There is no evidence that the cult of Artemis continued after the passage of the Goths nor of a repair of the temple after 262 or of a second destruction. If we know that Constantine used stones from the empire to build the imperial palace of Constantinople, there is no evidence that the columns of the temple of Artemis were reused. The small council of 401 by the Christians concerned only the Church already in place on the spot.


After six years of patient research, the site of the temple was rediscovered in 1869 by an expedition sponsored by the British Museum, led by John Turtle Wood and although several artifacts and sculptures were found, only one column of the temple itself remains today.

A British traveler, Edward Falkener (en), stayed in Asia Minor in 1844-1845 and spent two weeks in Ephesus. He surveyed all the ruins he saw there, trying to reconstruct a map of the city. He published his hypotheses in 1862. He had identified (correctly) the ruins in the valley between Mount Pion and Mount Coressus as those of the Gate of Magnesia. He then suspected (quite correctly) that the temple must have been in line with the gate.

The English architect and engineer John Turtle Wood had been commissioned in 1858 by the Ottoman Empire to build the railway stations from Smyrna to Aydın. While there, he became fascinated with the search for the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. He had no specific qualifications, except for his enthusiasm. In 1863, he had gotten the British ambassador in Constantinople to negotiate a firman authorizing him to undertake excavations, but also to export any antiquities he found. In Turkey since 1858, Wood had not read Falkener”s book, but he had put forward a rather similar hypothesis: to succeed in identifying a monument and then to conjecture the position of the temple. He also considered, as an architect, that Chersiphron must have chosen a low plateau, such as the one to the west of the city, for his building. In the spring of 1863, he hired five workers who had just been laid off from his railroad yard to test his assumptions. However, he continued to reside in Smyrna rather than on site. Also, he had to travel back and forth every day. He had an hour and a half walk from his home to the station and then three and a half hours by train to cover the eighty kilometers from Smyrna to Ayasoluk. He and his men dug for five to six hours, the hottest of the day, before starting the return journey. In June, his workers refused to continue the excavation during the summer. He did not succeed in convincing them. Work resumed in September. He had then rented an apartment in Ayasoluk, in such a state of dilapidation that he did not have to pay rent. He explored the area around the Grand Gymnasium, which his main source Richard Chandler considered the temple. He also dug at the level of the ancient port. It seems that he dug a little bit randomly. He only uncovered a few inscriptions. He had thus dug at his own expense seventy-five fairly deep holes on the plateau southwest of Ayasoluk.

From 1866 to 1868, thanks to a new advance from the British Museum, Wood had the area of the theater excavated. In 1868, his discoveries were shipped on the H.M.S Terrible. The museum”s investment was paying off. However, difficulties began to mount. Because of malaria, endemic in the swamps around the site, Wood”s health deteriorated. He returned to England in the summer of 1867. He had problems recruiting since one of his workers had been murdered and all the others arrested during the investigation, which was unsuccessful. He was the victim of new assassination attempts. The brigands attacked his construction site. He fell into one of his holes. The local farmers protested that the holes were making their land unfit for cultivation and asked for increased financial compensation. The highest demand was £50, which Wood managed to reduce to £3. Finally, his stamped inscriptions were attacked by mice.

The 1867 campaign on the theater had however uncovered an inscription concerning the gold and silver statuettes given to the temple by the wealthy Roman C. Vibius Salutaris. It described the statuettes and their route from the city to the temple through the Magnesia Gate. It was Falkener”s idea to use this gate to find the temple. The entire 1868 season was devoted to clearing the road. After about 40 meters, he reached a fork in the road. Wood continued to clear the two branches towards Magnesia and towards Ayasoluk. There, after 150 meters, he discovered the stoa that Philostratus of Athens said was 1 stadium (600 feet) long. At the end of May, short of money, he suspended the work and returned to England.

The British Museum renewed its confidence and its financing. The 1869 campaign progressed nearly a kilometer in the direction of Ayasoluk. Tombs were uncovered. At the foot of the hill of Ayasoluk, a road fifteen meters wide and lined with white marble sarcophagi was cleared. The excavations had to be interrupted because the peasants refused that their fields of barley, almost ripe, were touched. Wood decided to tackle an olive grove, but his firman had expired. He made a quick trip to Constantinople and managed to renew it. When his workers dug between the olive trees, they uncovered a thick wall of very massive stones bearing Latin and Greek inscriptions testifying to its construction by the emperor Augustus in the year 6. However, they refused to dig any further without being paid and Wood”s funds were exhausted. He obtained an extension from the British Museum, which specified that it would be the last if the temple was not discovered.

Wood finally discovered the remains of the temple on December 31, 1869, six meters below the surface. He first uncovered the marble pavement, then the foundations of the archaic temple. He published a first report of his findings in 1877. D. G. Hogarth and A. E. Henderson opened a new excavation campaign in 1905-1905. They could clear the rests of three former temples that they named A, B and C, the temple of Croesus taking the letter D. The site is excavated since 1965 by the Institute of archaeology of Vienna.

The main ancient source on the Artemisia is Pliny the Elder, whose account is confused and does not really distinguish between the Archaic and Hellenistic temples. According to him, the temple measures 225 feet by 425 feet and has 127 columns of 60 feet high; 36 of them are sculpted in relief (columnæ cælatæ), including one by Scopas. Unfortunately, we do not know the measure of the foot to which Pliny refers; the odd number of columns is also a source of interrogation. Vitruvius describes a dipterous temple, i.e. surrounded by a double row of columns, with eight columns on each of the smaller sides. Finally, Philo of Byzantium indicates that the temple is situated on a podium of 10 steps.

Only a few fragments of frieze have survived of the extensive relief decoration that adorned both the lower drums of the columns and the parapet. The subject of the column decoration appears to have been a procession: some of the figures, depicted walking, appear to be carrying a basket or other offering; the fragments also show cattle and horses. The sculpted decoration of the parapet probably had several different subjects: a procession of chariots and horses, a battle of men in arms, Amazons, animals, etc. As it is, the fragments only allow us to say that the sculptures were in the style of central and northern Ionia: shape of the head, soft contours of the face, nostrils and fleshy lips, slight smile.

Several of the carved columns from the later temple have been found and are currently housed in the British Museum.

Only one of them is in good condition. It represents a naked winged young man who, if not for his sword, could be Eros. Another naked young man, wearing a cloak over his arm, is easily recognized as Hermes thanks to the caduceus he holds in his right hand. The two young men are surrounded by women wearing peplos; a very mutilated male figure is shown seated and wearing elaborately designed sandals.

Its subject has not been identified with certainty: a representation of Heracles before Aeacus, a contest of the Muses, who would be collectively embodied by the winged young man, or an episode of the myth of Pandora is a representation of the myth of Alcestis, who offered to die in place of her husband Admetus. The winged young man would thus be Thanatos, personification of death, that Euripides stages in the prologue of his tragedy Alcestis: Thanatos arrives armed with a sword with which he will cut a lock of Alcestis”s hair, just as the officiant of a sacrifice cuts a tuft of hair on the head of the animal that he is going to immolate. Here, Thanatos would entrust Hermes, in his role of psychopomp (one of the women, standing and holding a bridal crown, would be Persephone; the seated male figure would be Hades on his throne.

External links


  1. Temple d”Artémis à Éphèse
  2. Temple of Artemis
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