Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (c. 550 BCE-356 BCE)

The Seven Wonders of the World are an an ancient concept. As the Mediterranean opened up to the Greeks, they complied lists of the monuments they saw in the lands surrounding that sea. The earliest surviving one is from around 140 BC by Antipater of Sidon:
I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.
One wonders if this is what he actually saw, however. We know about earlier lists that no longer exist, so perhaps later writers copied from their predecessors. Antipater could not have seen the Colossus of Rhodes intact (unless he saw it as a boy and lived into his 80s or 90s) as it had topped almost a century earlier due to an earthquake. And the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus that Antipater could have seen was not the original, but one rebuilt after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and destroyed by the Goths around 268 CE.

It's not strictly correct to say that the "original" temple was the first. Archaeology tells us that the site in Ephesus (in modern day Turkey) was occupied as early as the Bronze Age and that a temple there was destroyed by flood in the 7th century BCE. But the first one we think of as a "wonder" was built around 550 BCE in the reign of Croesus, the king of Lydia who was renowned for his fabulous wealth. Constructed by the father and son team of architects Chersiphron and Metagenes, it was about 377 by 180 feet and had double rows of 40 foot columns covered in relief sculptures. At its center was a statue of dark wood of the goddess by the sculptor Endoios.

The temple became an important center of worship of Artemis, drawing travelers from all around the Mediterranean. It became part of legend as well, as mythology tells us that the Amazons fled there twice seeking sanctuary. But on July 21, 356 BCE, a man named Herostratus set fire to the wooden roof beams and the resulting blaze destroyed the temple. He was motivated by desire to achieve a bizarre kind of fame, setting an example for the Lee Harvey Oswalds and Mark David Chapmans of the future. In the words of Latin historian Valerius Maximus:
A man was found to plan the burning of the temple of Ephesian Diana so that through the destruction of this most beautiful building his name might be spread through the whole world.
Not only did the Ephesians sentence Herostratus to death, after a no doubt extensive bout of torture, they sentenced to death anyone who would repeat his name to deter future attempts at such fame seeking. The Greek historian Theopompus did not get that particular memo and preserved the arsonist's name for posterity.

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