Remains of the city library

The Temple of Artemis & the city of Ephesus


Ephesus, at its peak, was the capital of Asia Minor and the second largest city after Rome. Ephesus takes its name from Ephesia, an Amazonian queen reputed to have built the city around 2000BC.

The city was perfect for a Hindi film punar-janam story. It flourished in many epochs, only to die out slowly till reborn in a new century. After its origin in 2000BC, it was again resurrected around 1000BC by a Greek general. Legend has it that he was looking for land to establish a city, and was told by an oracle to look for three new things. He saw fire, fish and a boar while visiting the site of Ephesus, and decided to rebuild the city. To test the surroundings, he had his lieutenants cut up three animals – healthy internals meant that there was fresh water and food nearby.

The city drew its popularity from the Temple of Artemis, one of the ancient wonders of the world. Started around 700BC, it was constructed for more than 300 years. Once erected, it was a magnificent structure with 127 pillars, of which only one lone pillar stands today. It was dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of fertility (later anointed Diana in the Roman times).

The temple was reputed to the world’s first bank. Believers could leave their gold with the temple, and take them later by making a small offering to the Goddess. Or they could borrow money by also making an offering, leading to the concept of interest. Realizing the power potential, priests would demand an offering of a portion of the produce in nearby farms. They would stock these in the temple, later bringing it out in times of famine citing them as divine providence of the Goddess.

The goddess herself was depicted having multiple breasts, indicating her fertility. Also worshipped during the times was the god Priapus, who’s elongated phallus indicated fertility, an interesting similarity to the linkage of the Shiv Ling with fertility.

The story of the Artemis’ decline is also interesting. Ephesus was struck by a massive earthquake in the 4th century AD, reducing much of the city to rubble. There was also a rise of scientific temperament, leading to a better understanding of rains and fertility, as well an the rise of Christianity as a monotheistic alternative to the Greek pantheon. Angry at Artemis’ inability to protect Ephesus, the conversion to Christianity was hastened, and Artemis quickly became a quaint pagan Goddess. The temple too lost its sanctity, and its pillars were plucked out to help build other artifacts – we saw them embedded in the Basilica of St. John nearby, as well as in the Hagia Sofya in Istanbul.

Most of the current building ruins date back to the second century AD, which was the peak of the Roman Empire. The city was estimated to have a population of about 600K citizens.

Ephesus boasted of the world’s third largest library, after Alexandria and Pergamum. Only the entrance stands today, still a magnificent sight.

The weirdest Roman construction we saw was the public lavatory. It consisted of rows of seats next to each other – there was no shame defecating next to one’s contemporaries then – all sit in a line and just let go! In winters, rich Romans also used slaves to just warm up the seats with their posteriors so that they could later take a comfortable dump!

More on Turkey below:

Or read all my travel posts here.

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