The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Finally completed after four attempts, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is one of the most storied of all the seven ancient wonders.

There once was a temple in the city of Ephesus (present day Western Turkey).

It was a wonderful little temple, built near the shores of the Cayster River on a strip of marshy land, built sometime around 800 B.C. and dedicated to the Ephesian goddess Artemis (who is not to be confused with the Greek goddess of the same name).

The Ephesian Artemis was also often known as Diana, so often times the shrine devoted to her in Ephesus is known as the Temple of Diana in order to avoid confusion.

This quaint little temple in Ephasus didn’t last very long, however. Due to the instability of the region (yes, this region has always been unstable), over the two hundred years that followed its initial construction, the original temple was said to have been destroyed and rebuilt several times.

The Second Incarnation

Finally, around 600 B.C. the people of Ephesus decided that they might be in need of a larger and more impressive structure; so an architect named Chersiphron was hired to build it. He designed a much grander structure than what had originally stood there, with vast columns which had to be rolled along the swampy ground to the site.

Poor Chersiphron. It wasn’t half a decade later that Ephesus was conquered by the Lydians and the new and improved temple was torn to the ground again. Fortunately, King Croesus of Lydia was a benevolent conqueror, and decided to have the temple rebuilt once more; it was the third major renovation to the temple of Artemis.

Third Try

This new temple, supposedly constructed by an architect named Theodorus, was even greater than either of the temples which had come before it. It was said to have measured 300 feet by 150 feet – nearly four times the size of the previous temple.

It was a rather impressive building for the budding city of Ephesus, and one which was surely the pride of all the land. For nearly 200 years this new temple stood, gloriously erect near the river for the viewing pleasure of all who passed by.

Then, in 356 B.C. a young man named Herostratus decided that he wanted his name in the history books (he apparently was okay settling for infamy), so, apparently undaunted by the inevitable wrath of Artemis he burned the temple to the ground – the very same night, ironically, in which Alexander the Great was born. Roman historian Plutarch wrote that Artemis herself was “too busy taking care of the birth of Alexander to send help to her threatened temple.”

A Wonder at Last

So, as should be expected by this emerging pattern, a new temple was thusly commissioned. After all, Ephesus couldn’t possibly go without a temple dedicated to Artemis.

They hired a new architect – Scopas of Pharos (the very same Scopas of Pharos who helped to design the Mausoleum at Halicarnasus, another ancient wonder) and began once again. This time, they decided to do things right.

According to Pliny the Elder (one of the most famous of all Roman historians) construction of the new (and greatest) temple took nearly 150 years to complete. But was it ever worth the wait.

When Alexander visited Ephesus in 333 B.C. and saw the temple under construction, the story goes that he desired to have his name attached to it, and so offered to finance the construction himself. The Ephesians declined, not wanting Alexander’s name offending their goddess.

But Alexander had great reason to be impressed. This final temple in the end measured some 425 feet by 225 feet, with 127 columns each 60 feet tall. It was supposedly the very first building ever constructed entirely out of marble. In addition to a grand statue of Artemis, the temple also became home, once it was finally completed sometime around 200 B.C., to many other works of art as well.

Like the other wonders of the ancient world, pilgrims traveled to Ephesus from all over Europe and Asia simply to view this greatest of all temples.

The ancient Greek poet Antipater of Sidon remarked that while he had set his eyes on “the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus,” when he “saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy…”

This final Temple of Artemis remained standing nearly 500 years, until it was finally destroyed during a raid by the Goths in A.D. 262, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Gallienus.

A Fifth Temple?

Rebuilding of the temple did indeed commence once more, but the Ephesians had lost the vigor they once had shown. Within the next couple hundred years, the Roman Empire had turned to Christianity, the temples of Ephesus were closed down, and no one really cared about the temple of Artemis.

Legend has it that the final form of the temple was destroyed once and for all by a mob led by John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, in A.D. 401.