Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Actually, most people are familiar with Ephesus, today a popular tourist destination located in the Southwest region of Turkey. When we hear of that ancient city, a few things may come to mind. The first being the location of one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World ... The Temple of Artemis. The others being the capital of a part of Asia Minor and also a pertinent Christian center where Paul spread the idea of Christianity as the new cult emerged from Jerusalem.
The Temple of Artemis
Long before the Greeks arrived at Ephesus there existed a sanctuary to the voluptuous Anatolian fertility goddess Cybele visited by pilgrims. She represented not only fertility but also the power of nature and was therefore associated with mountains, caverns, and the fertile earth. Her worship dates as far back as 6500 BC and lasted well into the imperial Roman period. When the polytheistic Greeks arrived, they absorbed the Anatolian fertility goddess into their mix of pagan gods, renaming her Artemis.
A monstrous temple was ultimately built alongside the seaport by the Lydian king Croesus in about 550 BC, to honor the goddess Artemis. The temple dedicated to her was three times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. In the 4th century BC, the temple was burned down and re-built. The Romans succeeded the Greeks and then co-opted their gods. Hence, the temple of Artemis continued to stand, Artemis worship persisted, and the numerous silversmiths of Ephesus perpetuated the manufacture of pagan trinkets, miniature shrines, and idols of Artemis for worship. Below are photos of the Statues of Artemis during the Roman years. Ephesus was a PROMINENT trading center, for its large seaport facilitated the transporting of goods from across the Mediterranean to the Asian interior. Roads from Persia, Babylon, and Asia Minor, ended at this seaport. Even when enemy forces traversed, sacked, and pillaged the city of Ephesus, they left the Temple of Artemis unharmed, that is until the 3rd century AD when it was ultimately destroyed by the Goths. Thereafter never rebuilt, its components were recycled for Byzantine building projects, like fortifications and churches. Today, only one RE-ERECTED column stands at the historic site where a few crumbles of the old foundation still lay.
In case you may not be familiar, the other six ancient wonders of the world were the Pyramids of Giza, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Statue of Zeus at Olympus, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse (Pharos) of Alexandria. Today, of the seven ANCIENT wonders of the world, ONLY the Pyramids of Giza remain standing.
Prosperity in the Capital
The capital of part of Asia Minor, Ephesus, was located along a harbor and prided itself as being the commercial, intellectual and religious center of the Roman province of Asia, peaking in both wealth and population between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. The wealthy Romans built beautiful terraced houses and villas along the Ephesian hillside which are still being excavated and can be toured. Those terraced mansions had inner courtyards, heating systems, running water, beautiful frescoes adorned their walls, and mosaics tiled their floors.
Tip: At the Ephesus Archaeological Park they charge a nominal added fee to tour this ongoing 'dig', but it is WELL WORTH the money. The mansion interiors, frescoes, and mosaics are gorgeous! To be honest, this was my favorite place to see within the entire archaeological site, as you can probably ascertain by the number of photos from that site.
It was during those prosperous imperial years that Ephesus underwent monumental construction. As a center for learning and a magnet for the intelligentsia, the Library of Celsus was built in 117 AD. This was the 3rd richest library of the ancient world, after those in Alexandria and Pergamum. More than 12,000 scrolls of manuscripts were stored in cupboards located in niches along the walls. The restored ruins of this beautiful library still stand.
During the Roman time period, Ephesus was also home to a very large medical school. Several Ephesian physicians made great contributions to the medical knowledge of that time. Lancets, surgeon's drills, needles, spatulas, curettes, hooks, mortars, and pestles have all been found during archaeological excavations. I loved the base with the Caduceus symbol of medicine and the many ancient surgical instruments.
Monuments to Emperors
The Temple of Domitian was the first structure in Ephesus that was dedicated to an Emporer (pic 1). Then, the Fountain of Trajan was added (pic 2).
Later the Temple of Hadrian was constructed, which is one of the best-preserved temples at the Archaeological Park (below).
Typical Roman Additives
But a prominent Roman city is certainly incomplete without other colorful Roman elements such as a Cardo, columns and capitals, public latrines, perhaps local graffiti 'letting one know that the brothel is a little further down on the left', brothel statuary so one knows they are at the correct place, an Agora (marketplace) with stoa (merchant stalls), and occasionally even Jewish graffiti, like this one of a menorah found on the steps of the Library of Celsus.
Being the Easter season, it is timely to consider Christianity's spread from Jerusalem. (Perhaps you may be interested in reading my blog from last week in which I covered the sites in Jerusalem related to Jesus' Passion.) While Jesus is certainly the cornerstone of the Christian faith, if it weren't for Paul, the original small, local Jesus-following cult in Jerusalem would NEVER have bloomed into a worldwide religion of 2.4 billion followers. Paul made multiple journeys and overcame many treacherous obstacles, shipwrecks, and imprisonments to spread the message. His fundamental contributions were the CONVERSION of Christian followers and the ESTABLISHMENT of numerous Christian communities, throughout Asia Minor and Greece. Of these communities, Ephesus was TOP on the list. Pictured below is local graffiti from the early Christians of Ephesus. IXTHYS is a Greek acronym that translates into 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, (our) Savior' and is also symbolized with a fish.
Ephesus was a Greek-speaking Roman city in the 1st century AD when Paul frequented the place a couple of decades following Jesus' crucifixion. He stayed longer in Ephesus than in any other city that he visited. Although Ephesus' population had a very pagan mindset during Paul's days there, a substantial number of Jews also resided in the city. Paul was known to preach the word of the Lord to the Jews in the synagogue and to the pagan gentiles in the city. Both Jews and Greeks heard his message. The Greeks, in particular, had other ideas on their minds. In addition to their devout Artemis worship; sorcery, magic, and soothsaying were also popularly practiced by many of them. One venue that was significant during the early Christian era, was the THEATER of Ephesus. The theater was a very grand structure in the ancient city with a 25,000 seat capacity. It was used, not only for concerts and plays but also for political, religious, and philosophical discussions and sometimes even for gladiator games. It is in THAT theater where Paul preached the NEW Christian idea to the masses and specifically preached against idol worship. But some Gentiles finally had enough! The pagan Ephesians who feared that THEIR goddess Artemis would be stripped of her magnificence and the local silversmiths whose 'trinket businesses' were thereby threatened, became so irate with Paul and his disciples that chaos and a riot broke out, THERE, at the theater.
Many sites from the ancient city have already been excavated but much work is still being done. Some of the sites can be seen in their 'in situ' states, such as the theater, the library of Celsus, and the terraced mansions, and those are actually very impressive. Other sites have been "reconstructed." Among the reconstructions, you will see a broad spectrum of quality. Some of the restorations are beautiful. Others, unfortunately, have been very shoddily assembled, to low aesthetic standards in MY opinion, in order to more quickly have something to present to the masses for tourism purposes. (Look back at the Temple of Domitian and the Fountain of Trajan, for such examples. I've seen many, many ruins in my travels, but nothing quite like that. Yikes!) But, If you enjoy history and archaeology then Ephesus should certainly be on YOUR 'bucket list', as there is much to see and learn from the ruins of this ancient city.