The temple became a sacred destination for devotees who sought the blessings and favor of Artemis. It served as a space for religious rituals and ceremonies, providing worshippers with the opportunity to express their devotion and seek spiritual guidance. The magnificent surroundings and the ethereal presence of Artemis within the temple created an atmosphere of profound reverence and awe, leaving a lasting impression on those who came to offer their worship. The Temple of Artemis stood as a testament to the deep religious beliefs and practices of the ancient world, captivating the hearts and minds of those who sought solace and a connection with the divine.
The Temple of Artemis faced its first destruction due to a devastating flood in the 7th century BCE. This catastrophic flood caused more than half a meter of sand and debris to be deposited, covering the original clay floor of the temple. Among the remnants discovered within the flood debris were fragments of a carved ivory plaque portraying a griffin and the Tree of Life. These fragments were believed to have originated from northern Syria. Additionally, elliptical cross-sections of drilled tear-shaped amber drops were unearthed. These artifacts were likely part of the adornments on a wooden effigy, a xoanon representing the Lady of Ephesus. It is speculated that the wooden effigy was either destroyed or salvaged during the flood.
Despite the temple’s vulnerability to flooding and the subsequent rise in silt deposits, which gradually elevated the site by approximately two meters between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, and an additional 2.4 meters between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, the temple continued to be used. This persistence highlights the significant role played by the sacred location in the religious organization and identity of the temple.
Reconstruction of the Temple
The Temple of Artemis underwent a reconstruction phase around 550 BCE under the patronage of Croesus, the ruler of Ephesus. The rebuilding project was entrusted to the architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. The result was a magnificent marble structure that measured 115 meters in length and 46 meters in width. The temple’s most striking feature was its double rows of columns, each towering 13 meters high, encircling the cella—a sacred inner chamber—where the cult image of Artemis was housed. Thirty-six of these columns were adorned with intricate relief carvings, adding to their aesthetic appeal and enhancing the temple’s beauty.
As part of the reconstruction efforts, a new cult statue carved from ebony was created by the sculptor Endoios. To enhance the religious importance of the temple, a beautiful statue and a small temple-like structure called a naiskos were added. The dedication and expertise of the contributors to this remarkable reconstruction project exemplified their architectural prowess and unwavering devotion, solidifying the temple’s reputation as an exceptional Greek sanctuary devoted to the worship of Artemis.
The Temple of Artemis experienced its second destruction in 356 BCE, as a devastating fire engulfed the structure. The cause of the fire has traditionally been attributed to an individual named Herostratus. Driven by a desire for fame, Herostratus intentionally set fire to the wooden roof beams, resulting in the destruction of the temple. The people of Ephesus, outraged by this act, sentenced Herostratus to death and enacted a decree that forbade the mention of his name. It is worth noting that the timing of the temple’s burning coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great, although historical sources do not specify a direct connection between the two events.
However, some modern scholars have raised questions about Herostratus’ involvement. They point out that gaining access to the roof framing would have been difficult, and they suggest the possibility that the temple administrators, aware of the structural issues the temple faced, may have secretly initiated the fire. The conservation of the original sacred location, despite subsequent rebuildings and the challenges posed by flooding and foundation stability, has also been a subject of interest.
The motive behind Herostratus’ actions is a matter of debate. It is important to note that Herostratus’ confession was obtained under torture, raising questions about his motivations’ veracity. Some scholars argue that Herostratus may have been a “useful idiot” manipulated by the temple priesthood for their own purposes.
Sponsorship Offer of Great Alexander
After the Temple of Artemis was destroyed, Alexander the Great generously offered to fund its reconstruction. However, the Ephesians politely declined his offer, citing that it would be inappropriate for one deity to build a temple for another. Following Alexander’s death, the Ephesians took on the responsibility of rebuilding the temple themselves. The construction began in 355 BCE and completed around 330 BCE.
The third iteration of the temple surpassed its predecessor in size and grandeur. It measured an impressive 137 meters (450 feet) in length, 69 meters (225 feet) in width, and stood 18 meters (60 feet) tall. The temple featured a remarkable number of over 127 columns. According to Athenagoras of Athens, the renowned sculptor Endoeus, who was a pupil of Daedalus, was credited with creating the primary cult image of Artemis.
Within the temple was an additional image and altar dedicated to Artemis Protothronia, also known as Artemis “of the first seat.” Above this altar, a gallery showcased various images, including an ancient sculpture of Nyx, the primordial goddess of Night, crafted by the sculptor Rhoecus in the 6th century BCE. The temple was further adorned with magnificent paintings, columns embellished with gold and silver leaf, and exquisite religious works by renowned Greek sculptors like Polyclitus, Pheidias, Cresilas, and Phradmon.
These new additions heightened the temple’s grandeur and exemplified the artistic mastery of the Greek sculptors. The reconstructed Temple of Artemis stood as a testament to the enduring devotion and reverence for the goddess, reflecting the Ephesians’ unwavering commitment to honoring her with a place of extraordinary beauty and profound significance.
The second reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis lasted for approximately 600 years and was mentioned in early Christian accounts of Ephesus. According to the New Testament, the presence of the first Christian missionary in Ephesus raised concerns among the local population about the temple’s sanctity. The Acts of John, an apocryphal tale from the 2nd century, recounts a story in which the apostle John prayed in the temple, resulting in the splitting of its altar and the collapse of a portion of the temple. This event reportedly led to the conversion of the Ephesians.
In 267 CE, the Goths, led by Respa, Veduc, and Thurar, raided Ephesus and allegedly set fire to the renowned Temple of Diana (Artemis). The extent of the damage inflicted upon the temple remains uncertain, but it is believed to have fallen into disrepair until its official closure during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. References to the temple’s closure can be found in the works of Ammonius of Alexandria, suggesting that it may have occurred as early as 407 CE or no later than the mid-5th century. After the closure of the temple and the city’s conversion to Christianity, inscriptions throughout Ephesus were altered to remove the name Artemis.
Cyril of Alexandria attributed the temple’s destruction to Archbishop John Chrysostom, while Archbishop Proclus mentioned John’s accomplishments in Ephesus. However, there is limited evidence to support these claims. Some of the stone from the abandoned temple was repurposed for other constructions, although a medieval legend falsely claims that columns in the Hagia Sophia were taken from the Temple of Artemis.
Primary sources that provide insights into the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus include Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Pomponius Mela, and Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. These texts offer valuable accounts of the temple’s history and significance.
Who destroyed the Temple of Artemis and why?
The Temple of Artemis was destroyed by Herostratus, a man who committed an act of arson in 356 BCE. Motivated by a desire for personal fame and notoriety, Herostratus set fire to the wooden roof beams of the temple, leading to its destruction. His actions were regarded as vainglorious and driven by a craving for recognition, giving rise to the term “herostratic fame.” Herostratus’ act of destruction was met with condemnation by the Ephesians, who sentenced him to death and forbade the mention of his name. Despite the efforts to erase his memory, his name and actions have been recorded in historical accounts.
What happened to the statue of Artemis inside the temple?
The fate of the statue of Artemis that resided inside the Temple of Artemis is uncertain. After the temple’s destruction and subsequent reconstructions, it is unclear what happened to the original statue. Historical records and archaeological evidence do not definitively answer its fate.
However, it is known that the temple housed various images and representations of Artemis, including the main cult image and other statues dedicated to the goddess. These statues held great religious significance and were objects of veneration and devotion. The specific details about the fate of each statue, including the main cult image, are not well-documented.
It is possible that the original statue of Artemis was destroyed or lost during the multiple instances of destruction and reconstruction. Alternatively, it could have been removed, relocated, or replaced with subsequent reconstructions. Without clear historical records or archaeological discoveries, the exact fate of the statue remains a subject of speculation and debate.
In conclusion, the Temple of Artemis stood as a revered sanctuary that captured the hearts and minds of worshippers throughout the ancient world. It served as a place of profound devotion and spiritual connection, where devotees sought the blessings and favor of Artemis. Despite facing destruction and subsequent reconstructions, the temple persisted, showcasing its time’s deep religious beliefs and practices. From its initial reconstruction under the patronage of Croesus to its final grandeur funded by the Ephesians themselves, the temple stood as a testament to architectural prowess and unwavering commitment. However, the temple ultimately met its final destruction, possibly at the hands of the Goths and the subsequent closure during the Christian conversion of the city. The fate of the statue of Artemis housed within the temple remains uncertain, leaving room for speculation and ongoing debate. Nevertheless, the Temple of Artemis will forever be remembered as a place of exceptional beauty and profound significance, symbolizing the enduring devotion and reverence for the goddess Artemis.
Do not forget to read Selcuk Attractions – 12 Things to do before planning your Selcuk visit!