Modern-day Turkey is home to the well-preserved ruins of the ancient port city of Ephesus. The city was previously regarded as the most significant Greek metropolis and the most significant Mediterranean commerce hub. Ephesus has withstood numerous assaults throughout history and has been captured numerous times by different conquerors. It continues to be a significant archaeological site and a popular destination for Christian pilgrims. It was also a hub of early Christian evangelization.
Ephesus is about 80 kilometers south of Izmir, Turkey. It is near the western beaches of modern-day Turkey, where the old estuary of the River Kaystros meets the Aegean Sea.
According to tradition, Ephesus was established in the eleventh century B.C. by the Ionian prince Androclos. According to mythology, Androclos sought advice from the Delphi oracles while looking for a new Greek town. According to the oracles, he would be shown the new place by a boar and a fish.
One day, while Androclos was cooking fish over an open flame, a fish flopped out of the pan and fell into some bushes not far away. A wild boar fled after a spark set the bushes on fire. Androclos built his new town, which he called Ephesus, where the bushes used to be. He did this because he remembered what the oracles had said.
Another story says that a group of warrior women called the Amazons founded Ephesus, and that the name of the city comes from the name of their queen, Ephesia.
Ancient Ephesus has a mostly undocumented and hazy past. What is known is that Ephesus came under the control of the Lydian Kings in the seventh century B.C. and grew into a prosperous metropolis where men and women had equal chances. Additionally, Heraclitus, a famous philosopher, was born there.
The rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was made possible by the Lydian King Croesus, who ruled from 560 to 547 B.C. The goddess of the hunt, virginity, childbirth, wild creatures, and the wilderness was named Artemis.
She was also one of the most respected Greek deities. According to contemporary investigations, three minor Artemis temples existed before the Croesus temple.
Herostratus, a madman, destroyed the Temple of Artemis in 356 B.C. The temple was expanded upon by the Ephesians. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, it was thought to be four times bigger than the Parthenon.
Later, the temple was demolished and never reconstructed. Although not much of it is still there, the British Museum is home to some of its remains, including a column with Croesus’s signature.
Along with the rest of Anatolia, Ephesus succumbed to the Persian Empire in 546 B.C. Even as other Ionian cities resisted Persian authority, Ephesus prospered.
Alexander the Great conquered the Persians in 334 B.C. and entered Ephesus. One of his generals, Lysimachus, gained control of the city and changed its name to Arsineia after he passed away in 323 B.C.
Ephesus was relocated two miles away, and Lysimachus also constructed a new harbor and fortifications. But until Lysimachus forcibly moved them, the Ephesian people refused to leave their houses. After Lysimachus was killed at the Battle of Corupedium in 281 B.C., the city was once more called Ephesus.
In 263 B.C., Ephesus and a large portion of the Seleucid Empire were subjugated by Egypt in 263 B.C. Antiochus III, the king of the Seleucids, took back Ephesus in 196 B.C., but Pergamon took it over six years later after Antiochus III lost the Battle of Magnesia.
After King Attalos of Pergamon bequeathed it to the Roman Empire in 129 B.C., Ephesus became the home of the provincial Roman governor. Under the reign of Caesar Augustus, which lasted until the third century A.D., Ephesus experienced its greatest period of prosperity.
A few of the Ephesian ruins that were built or fixed up during Augustus’ rule are the large amphitheater, the Library of Celsus, the common area (agora), and the aqueducts.
Ephesus experienced a period of prosperity as a port city under Tiberius. To handle the large volumes of cargo coming in or going out of the artificial harbor and from caravans traveling the ancient Royal Road, a commercial area was established around 43 B.C.
Some sources claim that Ephesus was at the time the second-largest cosmopolitan hub of culture and trade after Rome.
Christianity was greatly aided in its spread by Ephesus. Beginning in the first century A.D., revered Christians like Saint Paul and Saint John traveled to and denounced the cults of Artemis, converting a large number of people to Christianity.
It is believed that Mary, Jesus’ mother, spent her final years living with Saint John in Ephesus. It is still possible to see John’s tomb and her home there.
The biblical book of Ephesians, which was written around 60 A.D., is believed to be a letter from Paul to Ephesian Christians, although some scholars dispute the authenticity. Ephesus is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament.
Paul’s Christian message was not received favorably by all the Ephesians. The Book of Acts’ Chapter 19 describes a disturbance that a man by the name of Demetrius caused. Silver coins bearing Artemis’ visage were produced by Demetrius.
Demetrius planned a riot and persuaded a sizable crowd to turn against Paul and his followers because he was sick of Paul’s attacks on the goddess he worshipped and afraid that the introduction of Christianity would harm his business. But the people in charge of Ephesus protected Paul and his followers, and Christianity soon became the official religion of the city.
The Goths devastated Ephesus in 262 AD, which included the Temple of Artemis. The city underwent some rehabilitation, but it never fully recovered its splendor. The Virgin Mary’s status as the mother of God was confirmed at a council in the Church of Saint Mary in the year 431 A.D.
During his rule, the emperor Theodosius exterminated all remnants of Artemis. He outlawed freedom of religion, shut down schools and temples, and denied women many of the liberties they had previously enjoyed. The Temple of Artemis was destroyed, and its broken pieces were used to build Christian churches.
Constantine the Great established Christianity as the city-state of Rome’s sole official religion throughout the Byzantine era and made Constantinople the center of the Roman Eastern Empire. This left Ephesus, which was already getting worse because mud was building up in its harbor, even more on its own.
The city primarily relied on its famous places of worship to draw tourists and boost its faltering economy. Still, there was only so much that could be done to physically keep Ephesus afloat because it was a port city with a failing harbor.
After a devastating earthquake and the harbor’s continued deterioration in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D., the majority of Ephesus’s people were compelled to leave the city and found a new colony. Even though Ephesus grew and got new buildings when it was ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the fourteenth century, it continued to fall apart.
In the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire finally gained control over Ephesus, but by that time, the city was in terrible shape and its harbor was all but worthless. Ephesus was abandoned by the end of that century, leaving its legacy to archaeologists, historians, and the tens of thousands of tourists who come to the area every year to see the historic ruins.