History of Ephesus

The Ephesians believed that it was the beautiful Amazonian queen Ephesia who had founded their city. Strabo and Pausanias held the same opinion. The Amazons were extremely ferocious warrior women. Yet the origin of their name is unknown.

It is said that they originally came from north east Anatolia and that their capital was in the region of the present day towns of Fatsa and Ordu.

According to mythology, the Amazons are supposed to have been the children of the god of war, Ares (which would explain their bellicose character) and of the spirit of the rivers, Harmonia, or of the goddess Aphrodite. They were excellent horsewomen and used bows and arrows, hatchets, lances and shields.

It has even claimed that they constituted the first cavalry. In particular, they are supposed to have been the forerunners of feminism. They hated men, despising them and using them as slaves. They would burn one of their own breasts in order better to use the bow and arrow and would mate with the men from neighbouring cities and then kill them.

They once carried out a general massacre simply because they had heard that the male god Zeus was rising in power, and that, moreover, men had started claiming that it was they who played the most important role in mating.

They therefore decided to massacre them all, in order to avoid a male uprising, and amputated their sex organs, which they presented as an offering to the mother-goddess. In order to make sure that the male children would not later revolt, they broke their arms.


In another myth, on the other hand, the founding of Ephesus is attributed to Androklos, the son of Kodros, the king of Athens. An interesting story about this is told through the friezes of the temple of Hadrian, in the Street of the Kouretes at Ephesus.

After his father's death, Androklos was obliged by troubles in his country to go abroad. As in every legend, he turned to the Oracles of the sacred temple at Delphi, in order to ask them where he could build a new city.

The Oracles, as usual, gave an unintelligible answer, "This place will be pointed out to you by a fish: a boar will show you the way." It is said that Androclus, helpless in Anatolia, sent a messenger to Delphi, and thus received this answer.

One day, while they were roasting some fish jumped into a bush: a boar which happened to be there was frightened and started to run away. Androklos remembered the words of the Oracle and followed the boar.

After a long chase, Androklos struck it with his arrow. From that moment the location of his future city was determined.

The Karians and the Lelegians

According to Herodotos, the original inhabitants of Ephesus were the Karians and the Lelegians. The Karians capital was at Halikarnassos (near present-day Bodrum), they considered themselves the indigenous population of Anatolia and were proud of being the most ancient tenants of these lands.

As for the Lelegians, they had emigrated to Anatolia from Thrace and the Aegean isles. Some researchers push their hyptoheses further, to claim that Ephesus and the town of Apasas quoted in Hittite writing were one and the same. Thus the legends told of the beginnings of Ephesus are mutually contradictory.

But all of them have been over shadowed by important discoveries made during modern archaelogical excavations which were started in Ephesus in 1869 and have continued with success for the last 122 years. The most ancient settlement brought to light by these excavations was founded in the Commercial Agora, which we also call the lower Agora.

Here, remains of architecture dating from the 8th-7th Century BC were found 8 metres below the surface of the earth, and it was concluded that this was the location of the archaic Ephesus.

Mycenaean Necropolis

A Mycenaean necropolis was also discovered by chance, during the construction of a car park near the Church of St John, in 1954. The Mycenaean ceramic vessels displayed in the "funerary relics" room of the museum were retrieved from this necropolis. These remains, dating from the 14th and 15th century BC, are the most ancient to have been found at Ephesus.

However the location of the Mycenaean settlement has not been found.

Only 4-5% of the city has been successfully excavated. Doubtless far more ancient settlement locations will be uncovered in years to come. It is likely that Androklos arrived in Anatolia after the Trojan wars and that the story of the fish and the boar is pure fiction.

He occupied Ephesus and its environs and expelled much of its Karian and Lelegian population. Those who stayed, he made his subjects.

Androklos, being a good warrior, expanded his domain in a short space of time. Moreover, the population of his kingdom, which lived off agriculture and stock breeding, became rich through commerce.

Regardless of all this progress, the natives of Anatolia, the Karians, their pride having been affronted by these campaigns of colonisation, fought back against the new arrivals.

At one time, they quarrelled with Priene, a neighbour and ally of Ephesus. Priene requested Androklos' assistance. He has had enough of the Karians anyway and wanted to teach them a good lesson. He attacked the Karians.

At a time when everyone was expecting Androclus' definitive victory, the news of his death sent the whole town into mourning.

Of the history of Ephesus, a period of about 400 years, inculding Androklos' rule and the years following his death, remains in shadow. We know nothing of the life of the people nor of the architectural styles of the towns of this period. Everything concerning this era is buried under the earth.

Before Androklos, the city had been ruled by kings, and after him came a great dynasty called the Tyrants. With the passage of time, they grew away from the people and around 600BC, had to bow to pressure from the populace and accept the creation of a parliament.

The name of Kouretes, that is, holy, was given to the members of this assembly. Every year, six members of the Kouretes were replaced.

The 7th century BC brought a change in the destiny of Ephesus and of all of Ionia. The cities which, apart from the occasional squabble, lived in peace and harmony, suddenly became the focus of foreign forces which, fighting against each other, caused damage to the Ionians.

First it was the Kimmerians who attacked. It is unknown whether the Kimmerians succeeded in entering the town of Ephesus after this attack, which took place during the seventh century BC. From the remains of Ephesus, we know that they annihilated the temple of Artemis (Artemision).

The Kimmerians left a few works of art, such as the ivory figure of a ram. These are exhibited at the museum of Ephesus.

The 6th century BC, with its celebrated poets such as Kallinos, Hipponax and the erudite Herakleitos, was one of the most brilliant eras of Ephesus. Whether for her culture, for her social life, or for her port, the renown of Ephesus rapidly spread throughout Anatolia, the Aegean isles, and to Athens.

In the meantime Kroisos, the all powerful king of the Lydians who had made Sardis their capital, first conquered Ephesus, before embarking on the conquest of the whole of Anatolia.

The Ephesians were not in the least expecting this attack. In any case, they did not have enough force to repel the Lydians, and the only place they had as a refuge was the Artemision. They used strong ropes to attach the temple to the walls of the town.

Thus the whole of the town would come under the protective influence of the temple. Even the most fearful bandits became untouchable once they had entered the temple's sphere of protection.

Yet the power of Artemis proved not to be strong enough to halt Kroisos, who entered the city.

Contrary to their fear, the Lydians treated the Ephesians well. They were only obliged to pay a negligible sum in taxes and continued to live without the slightest repression. Further, Kroisos for the first time instigated work for the prosperity of Ephesus.

He forced the population to leave Koressos, where they were settled, and to go and live in a newly built location nearby and in spite of some resistance, he met with success.

Meanwhile construction work on the temple of Artemis continued. He contributed to this and presented the temple with some pedestals of exceptional beauty. One of these boasted his own signature. These pedestals were taken to the British Museum in the course of the excavations started in 1869.

The Persian Conquest of Anatolia

Thus even Artemis failed to stop kroisos. But soon a danger which he could not overcome awaited him, the Persians, who had set out from their country with a great army, were approaching the Lydian borders.

The first aim of the Persians was to provoke a bit of trouble within Lydia. They sent ambassadors to Sardis and the Ionian cities and suggested that they should rebel against the Lydians. The Ionians were so trusting of Kroisos that they rejected this proposition.

But the Persian king Cyrus conquered Kroisos and advanced towards Ionia. In a panic, the twelve city states gathered together and agreed to join forces and send ambassadors to Cyrus. The latter received them and, having listened to them, told the following anecdote.

"A piper saw some fish in the sea. He thought he would be able to draw them out from the water by playing his pipe to them. He showed off his skill, but in vain. He then cast his fishing net into the sea and caught all the fish, which started wriggling on the ground. So the piper said to them, I played you my best melodies, but you would not listen.

So there's no point in wriggling now. "The answer was clear enough. The Persians rejected the offer of peace extended by the Ionians. All the Ionian cities apart from Miletos therefore decided to join forces in opposing the Persians. They also sought help from Sparta. But in 547 BC, Harpagos, one of Cyrus' commanders, conquered the whole of western Anatolia.

The Persians allowed the people of countries they had conquered to practise their own religion and didn't interfere in their internal affairs. Nevertheless, they applied a new system to Anatolia. They founded the Ionian Satrapy by joining together cities such as Karia, Lykia, Pamphylia and Ionia.

Although daily life in Ephesus and the other Ionian cities was enriched, hostilities against the Persians increased with time. In particular, following the rise in taxes at the time of Cambyses and Darius, successors to Cyrus, the Ionians united and, in the year 500 BC, rebelled in a movement to which history has given the name "the Ionian insurrection".

In a short space of time, they conquered Sardis, the centre of the Persian Satrapy. They even destroyed the temple of Kybele. The Persians, who had offered no resistance, were shocked, for they had never carried out any massacres, nor destroyed temples.

This rebellion lasted 6 years and concluded with the victory of the Persians in the region of the isle of Lade, offshore from Miletos. In the course of fighting, a tragedy occurred, in which the Ephesians massacred their own allies, a group of Chians, fleeing the Persian army, arrived at Ephesus in the night of the Thesmophoria Festival, a celebration attended by the women of the city.

The Ephesians, seeing them fully armed, naturally thought they had come to kidnap the womenfolk, slaughtered them to the last man.

The Persians reconquered Ionia and, in reprisal for what had been done at Sardis, pillaged and sacked the Ionian cities. The Ionians and the Western Anatolians, yet again finding themselves having to surrender unconditionally, wanted at all cost to rid themselves of the Persians. But alone, they could not.

Help could come only from Athens or Sparta, unsubdued by the Persians and in continual conflict with them.

Together they conquered the Persians in 479 BC and expelled them from Anatolia. In 478 BC, they founded the "Maritime Union of Attica-Delos." According to this union, the states would provide money or ships to Athens in case of war.

In the cities, an Athenian garrison was set up. A large sum of money, made up of donation to Apollo, was handed over to the service of the goddess Athena. In actual fact, the Ephesians, who didn't much like war, contributed only by providing money. In spite of this they were not at all pleased with the situation.

They were still paying taxes and were still not free in the running of their foreign affairs. In the meantime, war broke out between Sparta and Athens, in 431 BC.

During the course of this war, which was to be called the Peloponesian war, Ephesus first sided with Athens, and later with Sparta against Athens, an intriguing fact considering the enmity which had existed between the Ephesians and the Spartans for years.

The Spartans won the war and handed over Anatolia to the Persians, in accordance with an agreement already concluded between these two countries. Ephesus and the other Ionian cities, without quite grasping what was happening to them, submitted to the second Persian era, which directly preceded the arrival of Alexander the Great in Anatolia.

Alexander The Great Era in Ephesus and Anatolia

In spite of so many wars and invasions, there were no vast changes in the social life of the Ionians and Ephesians. In fact, in Ionia, women and men enjoyed much greater rights than those of the countries which conquered them.

For example, in many countries, but not in Anatolia, foreigners had practically no rights. They could buy neither land nor houses. It was difficult for them to marry a woman from that country and even if they were able to get married, their children were not considered citizens of that country.

They were not allowed the vote, either. A foreigner setting in Ionia, on the other hand, was considered a citizen of the town. Women received education. Among their numbers can be counted poets, scholars and admirals. At Priene and in the Anatolian cities, there were even female judges.

Following the reconquering of Anatolia by Alexander, women are seen joining in political intrigue.

Having become king of Macedonia at a very young age on the death of his father, Alexander first re-established the unity of the Greek peninsula and then made his way towards Anatolia to chase away the Persians who had always been a thorn in the Ionians' side. He crossed the Dardanelles and put the Persians to rout.

After a four day voyage, he arrived in Ephesus, where he was greeted with much ceremony. In fact the Ephesians were at a loss as to what to do what with all these invasions and re-conquests.

The Ephesians were paying taxes to the Persians. Alexander ordered them to pay these taxes to the temple of Artemis, and expressed the desire to oversee its construction. The Ephesians opposed this so Alexander went on his way and fought the Persians and most of the Anatolian cities, which resisted him.

When he died at a very young age, his Empire fell into disarray which lasted a very long time before his dominion was divided up among his generals.

Lysimachus had as his share the area including Ephesus (290 BC). It was Lysimachos who took with him a stash of gold worth five million talents and hid it at Pergamon giving orders to his officer Philetaeros to guard it. His greatest achievement in Ephesus was to move the town.

For the town, he chose the valley between Mount Koressos and Mount Pion and had building start immediately. In fact, he had a point. Many Ephesians were dying of epidemics of malaria. The losses were more severe than those caused by the wars. The alluvia brought by the river Cayster (Kucuk Menderes) with time formed a swamp in the port and the mosquitoes caused the spread of the disease.

The Ephesians had not been able to find a remedy, yet they still refused to leave their ancient city, claiming that the new city was too far from the temple of Artemis (in fact, the distance was 2 km). Moreoever Lysimachos had named the new town after his wife Arsinoe.

The town would no longer be called Ephesus. So the Ephesians refused to budge. However, Lysimachos, having spent a considerable amount on the building of the new town, did not intend to be disobeyed. Finally, by a stroke of genius, he solved the problem. When the rainy season started, the Ephesians' houses were all flooded and became uninhabitable. Their owners had no choice but to move to the new town.

It was only much later that they learned the cause of flooding. The town's sewers had quite simply been blocked by order of the king.

As mentioned above, the women of Ephesus had by this time started their political intrigues. It was now impossible to control the young an beautiful Arsinoe, Lysimachos' wife. Her caprices were endless. She had succeeded in having her name given to Ephesus and now she wanted to be all-powerful.

There was only one obstacle in her way: Agathokles, the son of Lysimachus' first wife, and whom the people adored. She stirred up Lysimachos against his son and had him killed. The Ephesians, who did not like Arsinoe, never forgave her this action. Agathokles' mother and certain commanders sought refuge with the Syrian king Seleucus II, who profiting from the situation, declared war on Lysimachos.

Throughout the war, the Ephesians did all they could to help Seleukos. Lysimachos was defeated and died on the battleground. As for Arsinoe, we do not know what happened to her. From now on, Ephesus was under the dominion of the Syrian king who ruled over the whole of Anatolia.

Ephesus suffered for a long time as a result of the skirmishes between this kingdom and the Egyptians, and several times changed hands. But from time to time were periods of peace and understanding between the Seleucids and Egyptians.

Once such period was particularly interesting for Ephesus. The Egyptians knew that it was the queen Laodice who had stirred up her husband Antiochos II, King of the Seleucids, against them. Ptolemy let Antiochos know that he was prepared to make peace and to offer him his beautiful daughter Berenice with her dowry, as long as he divorced his wife. Antiochos did so and exiled Laodike to Ephesus.

Since she was a very ambitious woman, she tried out all her tricks to become queen again. Before ten years had passed, Antiochos came to Ephesus to see his ex-wife and his children.

Laodike poisoned him and made her son king. Later, the Egyptians seized Ephesus and such squabbles continued until the Roman period.

The Romans

The Romans obtained Ephesus without fighting, as a legacy from the king of Pergamon, in 133 BC. During the early years they exploited the Ephesians to such an extent that these would gladly have accepted the Persians' yoke. Inflation and daily increases in taxes strained the Ephesians' patience. But Rome was very powerful. So all the Ionians could do was wait for a saviour.

He appeared in the year 88 BC, Mithridates, the young and powerful king of the empire of Pontos, on the Black Sea coast. Filled with hatred for the Romans and backed by the Anatolians, he conquered his enemies in a short time.

He was so blinded by his lust for vengeance that of the 100,000 Romans in Anatolia (most of whom were in Ephesus), he had 80,000 massacred. The Ephesians were unhappy about this, for they ran the risk of being faced later with the same fate as the Romans.

Indeed, a while later, the general Zenobios ordered the Ephesians to gather together in the theatre. The Ephesians immediately sent an ambassador to the general, asking him to leave his soldiers outside the city and to come alone. Not suspecting a trap, Zenobios entered the city and was immediately killed.

Rebelling for the first time in history, the Ephesians launched a surprise attack on the Pontic headquarters and massacred all the soldiers. This took place in the year 87 BC. Three years after this revolt, the Roman army, under the command of Sulla, conquered Mithridates and was again master of Anatolia.

Ephesus, having been under Roman occupation for centuries, gained significance after the year 27 BC. This was the date on which Octavius, by decree of the Senate, tok the title Augustus and made Ephesus the capital of the Asian province in place of Pergamon.

Thus Ephesus became one of the five great cities of the Roman Empire, the permanent residence of the Governor of Rome, a centre of commerce and the most important metropolis of the Asian province.

The city's most brilliant years were between the first and the second centuries BC, when she became the second greatest city of the East, after Alexandria. The Ephesians' daily life changed as they grew even richer.

Apart from their native language, they also learned Latin. The orders of the Emperor and the new laws were written and displayed in two languages. In their religion, however, little had changed, expect the names of a few gods.

Certain foreign gods had been accepted (such as the Egyptian gods) and, most important of all, the Roman emperors had been deified and temples erected in their honour.

In the city, there were also monotheistic Jews, and while they were trying to spread their religion, Jesus was in Jerusalem gathering support for a new religion, Christianity. After the crucifixion the apostles left Jerusalem to preach Christianity. This was a time of historical significance for Ephesus.

First, St John arrived in Ephesus, accompanied by the Holy Virgin. He gathered around him a great number of followers in the Aegean region. Both Mary and John died and were buried at Ephesus. It was St Paul who played the major role in the propogation of Christianity.

When he reached Ephesus in 53, he found a small group of Christians there. He baptized them in the name of Christ and organized them. Through his efforts the number of Christians increased considerably.

This disturbed certain tradesmen more than it did the idolators. Among these tradesmen was one named Demetrios, who made and sold silver statues of Artemis.

Having come close to losing his livelihood, he publicly declared that no one could be as great as Artemis of Ephesus. In a short space of time he convinced thousands of people. They gathered and walked towards the theatre, shouting. Their numbers swelled and the streets of Ephesus rang with the name of Artemis.

In fact, many of them were not even sure why they were shouting, and chaos reigned over the city. Next, they assembled in the theatre and started beating any Christians they could lay their hands on. The city was gripped by insurrection.

Finally the authorities re-established the peace. All this fighting was like the death cry of Artemis, the thousand year old goddess of Anatolia.

Over the next few centuries, her statues, her temples, everything which belonged to her was to be annihilated. Paul left for Macedonia.

This was the Golden Age of Ephesian architecture. All the buildings of Ephesus, entirely destroyed by an earthquake in the year 17 BC, were restored and, with new temples, fountains, and other buildings, the city had become even more resplendent.

The only disorder which reigned in the city was due to the increasing number of Christians. After suffering many vicissitudes, they finally gained acceptance and Christianity became the religion of the Empire in the fourth century.

However, they were divided by a disagreement. Nestorius of Antioch claimed that the Virgin Mary was not the mother of God, but of Christ. That is, of a human being. And he was gathering a tremendous amount of followers.

Having become Patriach of Constantinople (Istanbul), Nestorius tried to have his thesis accepted throughout the Church. But his adversaries kept contradicting him. Confusion mounted to such an extent that the Emperor decided to call a Council.

The gathering of the Council took place in the church of St Mary at Ephesus in 431. At this gathering, in which over 200 bishops participated, the thesis of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, emerged victorious.

Mother Mary is the mother of God as argued by them and Nestorius was exiled to Egypt. In spite of this, the arguing did not cease.

18 years later, another Council was held, which has been handed down to history under the name of Latrocinium Ephesinium (the Robbers' Council) for the Alexanderians had their thesis accepted by force.

Nonetheless, these two Councils made a very important contribution to the city of Ephesus. It was noted in the minutes of these meetings that this was the resting place of St John and St Mary.

Another significant event of the same century was the second move of the city. The Ephesians left their port, which had become swampy, and went to settle in the vicinity of the Church of St John.

After the division of the Roman Empire, Ephesus, being within the Eastern Roman Empire, gradually lost importance.

The city was weakened by attacks by urban pirates and by the Arabs, many Ephesians were obliged to leave the city.

After the eleventh century, she had become nothing more than a little village, referred to as "Hagio Theologos", which was occupied by the Aydinogullari (a Turkish tribe).

Under their rule, she saw another period of prosperity. She was adorned with Turkish edifices such as mosques both small and great, hamams, and caravansarays.

During the time of the Ottoman Empire, she was completely abandoned.

In our day and age, of all the antique cities of the world, Ephesus is the best preserved. She is situated between Kusadasi and Selcuk, at equal distance between the two towns.

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