The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: History, Architecture & Facts

Instructor: Margaret Moran
Artemis, also known as the great mother goddess and goddess of fertility is honored with a temple at Ephesus. In this lesson we will uncover facts about the temple's history and architecture.

The Goddess Artemis

If you were a woman in the ancient city of Ephesus(modern Turkey), your day probably included worshiping Artemis, the goddess of motherhood and fertility, if you were trying to have a child you might even make offerings or gifts to her.

Strong women had been a longstanding tradition in the city even before the temple dedicated to the goddess, the city was rumored to be home to an ancient tribe of Amazons. Artemis was also the goddess of hunting and wild animals, and was often portrayed with a boy and arrow.

Ancient map of Ephesus in what is now Turkey
ephesus map

Origins and Second Iteration of the Temple

The Temple of Artemis had existed before it's two more well known iterations, but was less grand and suffered much flooding. The second iteration was built around 550 B.C.E. by the Cretan architect Chersiphron. The project was most likely sponsored by Croesus, the overlord of Ephesus. The imposing structure was 377 feet long and 151 feet wide, and is thought to be the first marble temple built by the Greeks.

Thirty-six of its columns were decoratively carved, and it also boasted a statue most likely created out of ebony to honor the goddess. This temple was popular at the time with citizens from kings to the common man, who all offered jewelry and various items to gain the goddess's favor. The temple also served the unusual role as a place of refuge and those fleeing persecution. All were under the goddess's protection.

Unfortunately, the temple was burned down in 356 B.C.E by Herostratus for no other reason than fame. He was a man who was later immortalized in literature by Chaucer and various 16th century Spanish authors. These authors coined the phrase 'Herostratic fame', the idea of fame at any cost.

Interestingly in Greek and Roman lore, this destruction coincided directly with the birth of Alexander the Great, causing the great philosophers to speculate that the goddess was too busy with the birth of this future king to bother saving her temple !

Third Iteration: a Wonder

Alexander would later offer to rebuild the temple, however he was turned down politely, and reconstruction would not begin until after his death. In 323 B.C.E. the work began, but would not be completed for many years.

Determined to outdo themselves, the temple outshone its predecessor, measuring 225 feet wide and 60 feet high, capped off with 127 columns! The temple was adorned with various altars and statues dedicated to the great goddess as well as Amazonian figures and Nyx, the goddess of the night.

Detail from a column of the Temple of Artemis
A column of the Temple of Artemis

The amazing structure would last almost 600 years, even featuring prominently in the Holy Bible. The book of John uses the temple to illustrate the wrath of God. The story tells of John preaching to the citizens of Ephesus, while he prayed, the alter to the goddess fell apart. The fearful citizens were said to have immediately converted.

The temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, until it was burnt to the ground in 268 C.E. by an invading Goth army.

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