The Temple of Artemis or Artemision, also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to an ancient, local form of the goddess Artemis.

Temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey).

It was completely rebuilt twice, once after a devastating flood and three hundred years later after an act of arson, and in its final form was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

By 401 AD it had been ruined or destroyed. Only foundations and fragments of the last temple remain at the site.

The earliest version of the temple (a 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 7th century BC, it was destroyed by a flood. Its reconstruction, in more grandiose form, began around 550 BC, under Chersiphron, the Cretan architect, and his son Metagenes. The project was funded by Croesus of Lydia and took 10 years to complete. This version of the temple was destroyed in 356 BC by Herostratus in an act of arson.

The next, greatest and last form of the temple, funded by the Ephesians themselves, is described in Antipater of Sidon’s list of the world’s Seven Wonders:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand”.

Location and history

The Temple of Artemis was located near the ancient city of Ephesus, about 75 kilometers (47 mi) south from the modern port city of İzmir, in Turkey. Today the site lies on the edge of the modern town of Selçuk.

The sacred site 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 imagined already centered upon an image of Artemis, their matron goddess.

Pausanias says that Pindar believed the temple’s founding Amazons to have been involved with the siege at Athens. Tacitus also believed in the Amazon foundation, however, Pausanias believed the temple predated the Amazons.

Modern archaeology cannot confirm Callimachus’s Amazons, but Pausanias’s 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 a peripteral temple with a floor of hard-packed clay was constructed in the second half of the 8th 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 7th century BC, a flood destroyed the temple, depositing over half a meter of sand and flotsam over the original clay floor. Among the flood debris were the remains of a carved ivory plaque of a griffin and the Tree of Life, apparently North Syrian, and some 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 8th and 6th 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“.

Heraclitus deposited his book “On Nature” as a dedication to Artemis in the great temple.

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 splendor 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 honor to the goddess – brought further prosperity.

Large numbers of people came to Ephesus in March and at the beginning of May to attend the main Artemis Procession.

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 the 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’s name, and Pliny describes her procession as a magnificent crowd-puller; it was shown in one of Apelles’ best paintings, which depicted the goddess’s 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, the 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 the goddess of the Moon.

At Ephesus, a goddess whom the Greeks associated with Artemis was venerated in an archaic, pre-Hellenic cult image that was carved of wood (a xoanon) and kept decorated with jewelry.

The features are most similar to Near-Eastern and Egyptian deities, and least similar to Greek ones. The body and legs are enclosed within a tapering pillar-like term, from which the goddess’ feet protrude.

On the coins minted at Ephesus, the goddess wears a mural crown (like a city’s walls), an attribute of Cybele as a protector of cities.

The traditional interpretation of the oval objects covering the upper part of the Ephesian Artemis is that they represent multiple breasts, symbolizing her fertility.

This interpretation began in late antiquity and resulted in designations of the Ephesian goddess as Diana Efesia Multimammia and other related descriptions.

This interpretation was rooted in Minucius Felix and Jerome’s Christian attacks on pagan popular religion, and modern scholarship has cast doubt on the traditional interpretation that the statue depicts a many-breasted goddess.

Evidence suggests that the oval objects were not intended to depict part of the goddess’ anatomy at all. In some versions of the statue, the goddess’ skin has been painted black (likely to emulate the aged wood of the original), while her clothes and regalia, including the so-called “breasts“, we’re left unpainted or cast in different colors.

Robert Fleischer suggested that instead of breasts, the oval objects were decorations that would have been hung ceremonially on the original wood statue (possibly eggs or the scrotal sacs of sacrificed bulls), and which were incorporated as carved features on later copies.

The “breasts” of the Lady of Ephesus, it now appears, were likely based on amber gourd-shaped drops, elliptical in cross-section and drilled for hanging, that were rediscovered in the archaeological excavations of 1987–1988.

These objects remained in the place where the ancient wooden statue of the goddess had been caught by an 8th-century flood. This form of jewelry, then, had already been developed by the Geometric Period.

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. In some accounts, the Lady of Ephesus was attended by eunuch priests called “Megabyzoi”; this could have been a proper name or a title.

The practice of ritual self-emasculation as a qualification to serve a deity is usually identified with Cybele’s eunuch mendicant priests, the Galli. The Megabyzoi of Ephesian Artemis was assisted by young, virgin girls (korai).

A votive inscription mentioned by Florence Mary Bennett, which dates probably from about the 3rd 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.

Nevertheless, later Greeks and Romans identified her with both Artemis and Diana, and there was a tradition in ancient Rome that identified her with the goddess Isis as well.

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:

Destroying the delusive image of the demon Artemis, Demeas has erected this symbol of Truth, the God that drives away idols, and the Cross of priests, deathless and victorious sign of Christ.

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:

What man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the [image] which fell down from Jupiter?

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.

*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.