Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis and its destruction lost its unique position as the mistress of Asia.Not even the fact that the earliest of the Seven Churches was there could prevent its decline.
The Ephesian Artemis was recognized throughout Asia Minor as a sanctuary.It had many of the characteristics of Cybele, the great Mother Goddess of Anatolia.The cult of Cybele had passed over to Greece with the movements of peoples during prehistoric times and, after being Hellenized, returned to Anatolia.But the Ephesian Artemis was not an exact counterpart of the western Artemis or Diana, in the same way that the Ionian Dionysus is not the same as Bacchus.The differences between the Greek or Roman Artemis, and Ephesian Artemis were very distinct.The former was chaste and innocent, while the latter was licentious.The symbolism of the Ephesian cult is rather difficult for the uninitiated to understand.
Artemis of Ephesus is represented as a woman with many breasts, hence her name is ' Artemis Polimastros '.These breasts symbolize the vitality and the nourishing capacity of the earth.She is the goddess of nature, of productivity,of chasity,and the protector of wild animals and sailors.Her cult spread to the Mediterranean shores as even as far as Marseille and Spain.
The statue of the goddess Artemis of Ephesus is believed to have been dedicated by the Amazons or sent directly from the heavens.Its feet are in a case,and it is decorated up to the waist with reliefs of the heads of lions,sphinxes,bees,rams,deer,crabs,bulls and griffins.The same motifs are also seen on the crown and on the plate covering the back of the head.Her two hands rest on two rods of gold.Although Ephesus Artemis is Grecian in many respects, her statue retained her Asiatic features.On the whole the statue is impressive and mysterious.
Coins have been found in Ephesus and in the neighbouring cities, with more or less, have the same representations of this famous statue of Goddess Artemis of Ephesus on them.
The Temple of Artemis of Ephesus had ,apart from this statue, many other works of art about which we are sufficiently informed by ancient writers.
The Ephesus people knew how to make maximum use of the Artemis cult.The Goddess performed miracles,cured the sick,regulated commerce,solved difficulties and did good.Anybody who took refuge within the precincts of her temple was free from prosecution.It was commonly held that the statue was not made by man, but had descended from the heavens,together with the Temple of Artemis.It attracted pilgrims from everywhere who paid their recpects and made offerings.
Ephesus presented the character of a priestly city.Artemis Temple of Artemis was served by a large hierarchy of religious personnel.First and foremost in rank were the Megabizes and Eunuchs who were attended by young virgins.Among the great numbers who attended the goddess,were male and female priests,receptionists,supervisors,drummers,bearers of the sceptre,theologians,mounted-guards,cleaners,chamber maids of the goddess Artemis and acrobats and flute-players who performed at sacred meals.
The ceremonies were usually impressive and accompanied by spectacles.In Ephesus, there was a very efficient organization which tried to attract visitors to the Temple of Artemis from other cities.Apart from enjoying the protection of the goddess,visitors to Artemis Temple were provided with all kinds of entertainment.
A month every year was wholly devoted to celebrations in honour of Artemis.There was no work done during this month, and people went to the Stadium of Ephesus to see the athletic games and races...Plays were acted at the Theatre of Ephesus ,and concerts given at the Odeon of Ephesus.People crowded along the banks of the cool stream which flowed through two rows of statues under innumerable trees in the beautiful and sacred grove Ortygia, the birthplace of Artemis of Ephesus.Here people made offerings, gave magnificient banquets,and sang to the accompaniment of flutes.The best guitar-players of Asia were there for the occasion.The gates and the streets of the city were alive with people.Ships from Aegean islands: Greece, Cyprus ,and Egypt used to carry goods and passengers to Ephesus.
The religious Ephesus was a city of pleasure as well.The size of the ware-houses along the inner harbour, which was linked with Kaystros by a canal, is enough to show us the importance of the sea to Ephesus.Money flowed there from all directions.Ephesus' jewellers,who sold statuettes of the goddess and the Artemis Temple as souvenirs,made fortunes.
There was a genuine bank functioning at the Temple of Artemis under the strict supervision of the Chief Megabize - the head of the priests of the Artemis Temple - ,who was the treasurer of the Goddess Artemis.Ephesus assumed the title of the Bank of Asia where kings,cities and private citizens deposited money and opened accounts.Both a place of worship and a center of banking, The Temple of Artemis was a magnificent structure.
Being four times bigger than the Parthenon of Greece - the temple of Athena - , it was recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Artemis Temple was the proto-type of the Ionian style - Doric being the earliest,Ionian the second and Corynthian,the third.-
The Doric is too simple,hence primitive; the Ionian being graceful.The Corynthian was overloaded with decorative items : such as leaves and other floral patterns.Michelangello says, " Where is a lot of work , there is less art. " Therefore, the Corynthian order must be considered decadent. Consequently, the Ionian was the apogee of the classical style.Thus, the Temple of Artemis was the highest representation of classical art.
According to Pliny, the Temple of Artemis was completed in 220 years with contributions from all over Asia ; it was 425 feet long, 225 feet wide, and had 127 columns each sixty feet in height, and each representing a king.Thirty-six of those were decorated with high reliefs, and one at least is known to be the work of Scopas, a well-known sculptor of the time.
In this magnificent Temple of Artemis, stood a statue of Artemis which was made of cedar or ebony.A curtain, descending from the ceiling down to floor,hid it from the visitors outside the hours of worship.Ancient writers, who had seen the Temple of Artemis, could not help being impressed by its splendour and by the great numbers of fine pieces of art which had been assembled there.The ceiling of the Artemis Temple was made of cedar, the doors of cypress,and each step of stairs leading to the roof of solid stock of grape-vine.If what Pliny says is true, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed and rebuilt seven times, and was to be rebuilt for the eighth time in the second century A.D. This, however,cannot be accepted as wholly accurate by most of the conservative historians.
It is generally held that the Temple of Artemis was not damaged until the night of the birth of Alexander the Great in 356 B.C.That night it was burned by a lunatic called Erostratos who was obsessed with the idea of achieving immortality by being recorded in history.
The second Temple of Artemis was sacked at the hands of the Goths,but its final destruction took place after the spread of Christianity.
The preaching of St. Paul in the big theatre was much disliked by the jewellers and merchants of the city because the new faith would mean a serious blow to their trade in statuettes of the goddess and the Artemis Temple of Ephesus.It was not long before the day came for its destruction by the Christian population of Ephesus who were oppressed and tortured under the laws of Rome.From the debris Emperor Justinian saved as much material as he could for the construction of religious buildings in the Byzantine capital, -which is today's Istanbul- .
The beautiful Christian Church of Ephesus, the Church of St. John on the hill of Ayasuluk, the tombs of Saints and other religious shrines were visited by thousands of pilgrims were all , like the pagan temples , destroyed in the course of history.