Seven Wonders of the World Part 7 – The Temple of Artemis – Quest Magazine

The Temple of Artemis or Artemision (GreekἈρτεμίσιονTurkishArtemis Tapınağı), also known less precisely as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was completely rebuilt three times before its final destruction in 401 AD. Only foundations and sculptural fragments of the latest of the temples at the site remain.

The first sanctuary (temenos) antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, and dates to the Bronze AgeCallimachus, in his Hymn to Artemis, attributed it to the Amazons. In the 7th century BC, the old temple was destroyed by a flood. Its reconstruction began around 550 BC, under the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes, at the expense of Croesus of Lydia: the project took 10 years to complete. The temple was destroyed in 356 BC by Herostratus in an act of arson and was again rebuilt, this time as the Wonder. Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders, describes the finished temple:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand”.

The Temple of Artemis was located near the ancient city of Ephesus, about 75 km south from the modern port city of İzmir, in Turkey. Today the site lies on the edge of the modern town of Selçuk. The sacred site (temenos) at Ephesus was far older than the Artemision itself. Pausanias was certain that it antedated the Ionic immigration by many years, being older even than the oracular shrine of Apollo at Didyma. He said that the pre-Ionic inhabitants of the city were Leleges and LydiansCallimachus, in his Hymn to Artemisattributed the earliest temenos at Ephesus to the Amazons, whose worship he imagined already centered upon an image (bretas) of Artemis, their matron goddess. Pausanias says that Pindar believed the temple’s founding Amazons to have been involved with the siege at Athens. Tacitus also believed in the Amazon foundation, however Pausanias believed the temple predated the Amazons.

Modern archaeology cannot confirm Callimachus’s Amazons, but Pausanias’s account of the site’s antiquity seems well-founded. Before World War I, site excavations by David George Hogarth identified three successive temple buildings. Re-excavations in 1987–88 confirmed that the site was occupied as early as the Bronze Age, with a sequence of pottery finds that extend forward to Middle Geometric times, when a peripteral temple with a floor of hard-packed clay was constructed in the second half of the 8th century BC. The peripteral temple at Ephesus offers the earliest example of a peripteral type on the coast of Asia Minor, and perhaps the earliest Greek temple surrounded by colonnades anywhere.

In the 7th century BC, a flood destroyed the temple, depositing over half a meter of sand and flotsam over the original clay floor. Among the flood debris were the remains of a carved ivory plaque of a griffin and the Tree of Life, apparently North Syrian, and some drilled tear-shaped amber drops of elliptical cross-section. These probably once dressed a wooden effigy (xoanon) of the Lady of Ephesus, which must have been destroyed or recovered from the flood. Bammer notes that though the site was prone to flooding, and raised by silt deposits about two meters between the 8th and 6th centuries, and a further 2.4 m between the sixth and the fourth, its continued use “indicates that maintaining the identity of the actual location played an important role in the sacred organization”.

The new temple was sponsored at least in part by Croesus, who founded Lydia‘s empire and was overlord of Ephesus, and was designed and constructed from around 550 BC by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes. It was 115 m (377 ft) long and 46 m (151 ft) wide, supposedly the first Greek temple built of marble. Its peripteral columns stood some 13 m (40 ft) high, in double rows that formed a wide ceremonial passage around the cella that housed the goddess’s cult image. Thirty-six of these columns were, according to Pliny, decorated by carvings in relief. A new ebony or blackened grapewood cult statue was sculpted by Endoios, and a naiskos to house it was erected east of the open-air altar.

A rich foundation deposit from this era yielded more than a thousand items, including what may be the earliest coins made from the silver-gold alloy electrum. Fragments of bas-relief on the lowest drums of the temple, preserved in the British Museum, show that the enriched columns of the later temple, of which a few survive (illustration below) were versions of this earlier feature. Pliny the Elder, seemingly unaware of the ancient continuity of the sacred site, claims that the new temple’s architects chose to build it on marshy ground as a precaution against earthquakes. The temple became an important attraction, visited by merchants, kings, and sightseers, many of whom paid homage to Artemis in the form of jewelry and various goods. It also offered sanctuary to those fleeing persecution or punishment, a tradition linked in myth to the Amazons who twice fled there seeking the goddess’ protection from punishment, firstly by Dionysus and later, by Heracles.


In 356 BC, the temple was destroyed in a vainglorious act of arson by a man, Herostratus, who set fire to the wooden roof-beams, seeking fame at any cost; thus the term herostratic fame. For this outrage, the Ephesians sentenced the perpetrator to death and forbade anyone from mentioning his name; but Theopompus later noted it. In Greek and Roman historical tradition, the temple’s destruction coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great (around 20/21 July 356 BC). Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander’s delivery to save her burning temple.