Artemis is the name given to a divinity worshipped for centuries in the Mediterranean world. Kubala, recognized as Mother Goddess throughout the whole of Mesopotamia, was referred to in the Phrygian language as Kybele. The cult of the goddess had spread from Anatolia to Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, thence to Egypt and from the Aegean Island to Crete. It can also be traced in Greece and Italy as well as in the northern countries. This goddess, who symbolized the soil and its fruitfulness and the fertility of nature, was worshipped under various names at various times and in various places. Although there is no definite information regarding the development of this cult in Ephesus, Artemis is clearly regarded in Homeric eulogy as an Ionian goddess.
One of the constant attributes of the goddess is the number three. Artemis is regarded as virgin, wife and mother. “The whole of nature was subject to this primitive goddess. It is by her orders that the earth brings forth fruit and flowers. She rules the elements, the air, the earth and the sea. She governs the life of the animals; she tames the wild beasts and prevents their extinction… She assists in birth. Homer calls her “the goddess of wild animals”. Artemis became the tutelary goddess of Marsilia, Carthage, and the cities of the Near East. As the ruler of civilization she wore a head-dress crowned with city towers. Each year, she was celebrated almost everywhere in great festivals as the fertility goddess and granted innumerable prayers. She was described as the “bee goddess” and on one side of the Ephesus coins was to be found the queen bee as the symbol of Artemis. The hymn written by Callimachos to Artemis ends with a sentence describing Amazon dance. “Let no one refrain from the annual dance of Artemis”. The annual festival of Artemis lasted for a month, during which time people came pouring into Ephesus from the four corners of the known world to take part in the entertainments, dances and commercial activities.”
The first temple dedicated to Artemis was completed in 625 BC and destroyed during the Cimmerian invasions. According to Pliny, this imposing building was destroyed and rebuilt nine times. This archaic building possessed marble columns, some of which were donated by Croesus, King of Lydia. An older building was unearthed with the same plan and dimensions, remains from which are now preserved in the British Museum. Three other floors belonging to the old building were unearthed by David George Hogarth, who was in charge of the excavations carried out here in 1904 – 1906 on behalf of the same museum. The coins discovered in the lowest floor date from the 6th century BC. The later Artemisia was built in 564 – 540 BC. The most distinguished artist and architects of the day, Scopas, Praxiteles, Polycleitos, Phidias, Cresilas, Cydon and Apellas combined to produce a magnificent building four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Appeles was responsible for the picture “Aphrodite Anadiomene” within the temple. According to Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, this was an Ionic temple measuring 200 x 425 m with 127 columns reaching a height of 20 m.
Regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the building is said to have been destroyed by a madman by the name Herostratos who burned down the temple in order to immortalize his name. Alexander the Great, on his way to the Persian campaign, offered to defray the expenses of the restoration of the building provided he might be permitted to make the dedicatory inscription in his own name, but the Ephesians declined the offer on the grounds that it was not fitting for a temple to be dedicated to two gods, thus refusing the offer without hurting his pride. The new temple, built in the years 334 – 260 BC, was the largest Greek temple then in existence.
It was erected on the foundations of the older temple and was thus exactly the same size, but owing to the marshy nature of the land it was raised on a crepidoma of sixteen steps. It lay on an east-west axis on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea with sacred harbors, allowing ships to be moored directly to the steps of the temple. The architects of the first building built by Croesus were Chersiphron and Metesenes, while Critocrates and Oritocrates are said to have been the architects responsible for the 4th century BC building. The temple was destroyed by the invading Goths in 262 AD and never rebuilt. The Temple of Artemis was a prototype of the Ionic style. The Artemisia was first and foremost a religious institution. A large number of priests and priestesses lived in the temple. Coins were minted there, credit given and a type of banking carried out.
Festivities were held in May each year to celebrate the birthday of the goddess. Until the spread of Christianity and monotheism, Ephesus was a place of pilgrimage. Moreover, all sorts of criminals and wrong-doers found sanctuary in the temple, whose sanctity was respected by all the rulers of Western Anatolia. When St Paul arrived in Ephesus preaching a belief in one god, he was confronted by the Ephesians chanting their slogan “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”, but when, in the Christian era, the worship of their goddess was finally prohibited, they transferred some of the attributes of Artemis to the Virgin Mary.
The first temple was unearthed in excavations carried out on behalf of the British Museum in 1869 – 1874 by J.T. Wood, who was employed at that time on the construction of the railroad. A corner of the temple was discovered in 1869. The finds were transported first to Izmir then via Venice to London. At the present day the most important of the finds from the temple are preserved in the British Museum. According to old sources some of the architectural elements from the temple were employed in the construction of the basilica of Ayasofya.