Structures > Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus


The Temple of Artemis was a magnificent structure located at the Lydian city of Ephesus. The kingdom of Lydia was an autonomous region of Anatolia or Asia Minor located across the Aegean Sea. Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis was created in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis. None of the original structure remains as it was destroyed around the transition of the ancient era to the modern one much like a lot of the other ancient superstructures.

The Temple of Artemis eventually became a center of worship for people of all faiths. It would eventually become associated with the Roman equivalent goddess Diana and become known as the Temple of Diana. It was also home to a unique sect of Amazonian women as well as a Cybele or Gaia worship group and was believed to have been founded on the site of an ancient meteorite impact. Overall the Temple of Artemis is one of the most unique structures on the list and deserves a much closer look.

Structures - Temple of Artemis (Heemskerck (1572)

Temple of Artemis - Maerten Heemskerck (1572)

The Temple was rebuilt under the Achaemenid Empire. The ruins of the temple are presently located in Selcuk in Turkey. Only the foundation and a few fragments remain from the original design today.


The origins of the Temple of Artemis are actually believed to have originally gone back to a meteorite impact site. The site has been built upon several times with the earliest occupations going back to Mycenaean Greece and the Bronze Age. This has been corroborated by test hole samples and there have also been layers of pottery that have been excavated that were from the earliest incarnations of the temple.

The earliest rendition of the Temple of Artemis was a clay floored, classical temple that was surrounded by a single row of columns. It was believed to have been built sometime in the 8th century BCE. This temple is believed to have been the earliest example of a colonnaded temple on the coast of what the Greeks called Anatolia or Asia Minor or even in Greece altogether. During the period of Mycenaean Greece the culture and architecture was much different than later classical Greek architecture. Through the development of the Temple of Artemis we can better understand ancient Greek migration patterns around the Aegean Sea.

Temple of Artemis - Temple of Artemis (Hendrik van Cleve 16th Century)

Temple of Artemis - Hendrik van Cleve (16th Century)

The earliest temple was destroyed by a flood in the 7th century which deposited over 1.6 feet of sand and other flotsam and debris on top of the clay layer. It can be assumed that the structure of the temple was wiped out in this event as the evidence is found by examining the geological record. There was a lot of debris found in the area surrounding the temple including an ivory statue of a griffin which was a mythological creature that had the head and wings of an eagle and the body of lion. Also discovered was a Tree of Life artifact that may have come from Assyria. Also recovered during this excavation was rare pieces of amber that were formed into tear-shaped drops with elliptical cross sections. These pieces of amber originally adorned the wooden statue of the Lady of Ephesus.

Following this flood the foundation of the temple was raised about 6.5 feet between 800 BCE and 600 BCE and was a monumental construction effort. This shows that the site of the Temple of Artemis was sacred for longer than previously thought as it would have been easier to just build a newer temple somewhere else. Soon enough, the temple itself would be rebuilt in an even grander fashion than before. In describing his history of the temple it appears that Pliny the Elder did not know that the origins went back so far as he believed it was originally built on a marshy ground to prevent it from earthquakes.


The new temple was designed by the architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes from the nearby island of Crete and was build under the leadership of Croesus who was the king of Lydia at the time. It would be completed in 10 years and was instantly one of the most famous and grand wonders of all time. The Temple itself was reconstructed about 550 BCE and was crafted out marble and decorated with gold and silver along with the best sculptures and reliefs of the day. Philo of Byzantium describes the Temple of Artemis as follows:

"I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade."

The temple stood 115 m (377 ft) long and was 46 m (151 ft) wide and was attributed as being the first Greek temple built out of marble. The columns around the structure stood 13 m (151 ft) tall and were arranged in double rows that formed a massive ceremonial passage around the cella. Inside the temple was a massive statue of the goddess Artemis that was carved out of ebony or blackened grape-wood and sculpted by Endoios.

According to Pliny thirty-six of the columns were intricately designed with great bas reliefs. The legendary sculptor Scopas would help work on the bas reliefs at the Temple of Artemis as well as helping to later build the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.The only bas reliefs that survive from this period are located in the British Museum and are from the lowest portions of the Temple.

Upon its construction the temple became a major attraction in the Greek controlled Anatolia. It was visited by everyone from merchants to other kings to regular adventurers, explorers and tourists. Many people would come from all over the Greek region to offer sacrifices and trinkets for the goddess.

The kingdom of Lydia would be known as a sanctuary for people fleeing persecution or punishment, something that is attributed to going back all the way to the Amazonian women who are believed in Greek mythology to have fled the wraith of the gods Dionysus and later Hercules.


The construction of the Temple was finished long after its initial conception, yet all of that effort would seemingly be for nothing. According to local legends the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was destroyed in a great act of arson on July 21st, 356 BCE by a man named Herostratus. Seeking eternal fame as the arson of one of the great world wonders, Herostratus had hoped his act would live on infamy in Greek history. Based on Plutarch's account, when the local people of Ephesus questioned their goddess why she did not protect her temple it was discovered she was pre-occupied that night. The same night the Temple of Artemis was burnt down Alexander the Great was born.

It is known that the people of Ephesus were so angry at this suspected act of arson that they ordered the name of Herostratus to never be recorded in any history book or document. He was also sentenced to death. The only reason we know of him today is because of the account given by Strabo and Theopompus. Yet it is believed he may have been falsely accused. Now, instead of arson archaeologists believe that the Temple of Artemis may have been destroyed by a lightning bolt. If this is the case then it would only lend more credibility to the personal theory of Alexander that he indeed was the son of Zeus and not of his biological father Philip II of Macedon.

Hellenistic Period

Following the destruction of the temple Alexander offered to pay for it to be rebuilt by the people of Ephesus declined knowing it would just allow Alexander more power and control over their kingdom. After the death of Alexander the Great the people of Ephesus began reconstruction in 323 BCE and funded the project themselves. This third Temple of Artemis was even bigger than the second.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Hellenistic Greece

Ptolemaic Structures

Seleucid Structures

Indo-Greek Structures

Babylonian Structures



Primary Sources

Geographica - Strabo

Secondary Sources

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