Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Destruction of the Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but almost nothing is left of it today. So, the question of who destroyed it is an interesting one. Luckily, we have an explicit historical source that tells us the answer. It is in Jordanes’ History of the Goths composed around 550AD. He tells us (20:107), that in about 259AD, “Respa, Veduc and Thuruar, leaders of the Goths, took ship and sailed across the strait of the Hellespont to Asia. There they laid waste many populous cities and set fire to the renowned temple of Diana at Ephesus, which, as we said before, the Amazons built.” Jordanes’ work comes with a health warning because the beginning is pure legend (not to mention his claim that the Amazons built the Temple). However, it is generally felt to be reliable when it deals with encounters between the Goths and Romans from the third century AD.

After the Goths destroyed the Temple of Artemis, it was quarried by the local inhabitants for its valuable marble and very little is left today. Bits of it have been found in local buildings and Justinian took much of the statuary that survived to his time back to Constantinople.

So why is the destruction of this Temple blamed on Christians? John Romer said as much in his television series in 1994 on the Seven Wonders and Charles Freeman continues to peddle the myth today. Let’s look at where it comes from.

The source of this legend is the Acts of John. This is a very late and inauthentic apocryphal book that claims to tell the life story of St John the Apostle after the end of the New Testament. Among many fantastic episodes is one in chapters 22 to 24 where St John converts the people of Ephesus to Christianity and they march off to tear down the Temple of Artemis. The Acts of John is normally dated to the third century and the inclusion of this episode in all likelihood means that it was written after the Temple had actually been burnt down by the Goths (who were, at this stage, still pagans). But the Acts do provide further evidence that the Temple really was destroyed during the third century. We can be absolutely certain it was not pulled down on the orders of St John around 100AD as the Acts pretends.

But there is another snippet in the sources that might illuminate how Christians got the blame. In his twentieth Oration, delivered in the early fifth century, Proclus of Constantinople is busy praising St John Chrysostom. Proclus, listing his achievements, says “In Ephesus, he despoiled the art of Midas.” This might be a reference to the cult objects of Artemis (the Temple was originally founded by the Lydian kings of which Midas was one) since even after the Temple was razed you would expect the cult to have soldiered on. Then again, it might not. That this was not a large scale operation is confirmed by Book 14 of Palladius’s Life of Chrysostom that covers his visit to Ephesus but makes no mention of the Temple.

Christians certainly destroyed several pagan temples and converted many others into churches. But not, it appears, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum

5 comments:

Charles Freeman said...

It is because of the problems with the texts that these issues are being solved by accurate archaeological dating of destruction layers. This is where a full scale revision of this area is taking place and one should always start with the latest excavation reports. I haven't got these to hand, the man who is gathering evidence from this period is ?Ed Sauer. You will know , James, that Ephesus was the centre of a cult to the Virgin Mary And that the councils were pretty violent affairs- see how they treated Nestorius! From what I remember the main destruction of the temple is now dated to this period rather than to John Chrysostom. Oddly if you visit the remains of the church where the 431 council took place there is not even aplaque recording it and the thousands of visitors are never taken there. So far as I know only Charles Freeman tours include it! Yet for church historians it is an extraordinarily important site.
I started off my Mediterranean career when I spent my gap year working at the British School in Rome as an archaeologist in 1966. it was drummed into me then, that the archaeology is often a more important source than texts .
I looked into your site after your appearance on the Hart debate to see what u were up to. I hardly think my contribution there peddled any myths if that is what you are referring to, best wishes,Charles

Karl said...

And that the councils were pretty violent affairs- see how they treated Nestorius!

Violence? They had a meeting and kicked Nestorius out of the church. John I of Antioch and the eastern bishops arrived late, were mad at the fact that Nestorius had already been condemned without their input. So they convened their own synod and deposed Cyril. Both sides then appealed to Theodosius II who ordered both Nestorius and Cyril to be deposed and exiled (Cyril later managed to return by bribing court officials). A few more Bishops were dismissed for supporting Nestorius and that was that. The only record of violence in any of these proceedings that I know of was Nestorius being injured in a bandit raid at Hibis.

Oddly if you visit the remains of the church where the 431 council took place there is not even aplaque recording it and the thousands of visitors are never taken there. So far as I know only Charles Freeman tours include it! Yet for church historians it is an extraordinarily important site.

Now that wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that Ephesus is located in Turkey, a Muslim country, and the site is not of any real importance to the history of Islam or to the modern Turkish government?

I started off my Mediterranean career when I spent my gap year working at the British School in Rome as an archaeologist in 1966. it was drummed into me then, that the archaeology is often a more important source than texts .

And people wonder why academics are not viewed too favorably by certain members of society. Archaeology can give us a layout of the building; it can tell us what kind of artwork was on the wall; it can tell us whither the building collapsed to natural causes or was purposefully demolished. Archaeology doesn't do so good about telling us what exactly went on in the building's halls, what lead to the demolition and the dating of buildings layers gives only a rough estimate. In other words, it is kind of like trying to determine when, how, and why Hiroshima was nuked by viewing the city's blueprints and carbon dating as much more valuable evidence then the American Air Force's after action report of the bombing mission and the Japanese records concerning their military's investigation and response to the bombing.

JB said...

Interesting points; I'll have to keep this in mind next time I hear the Chrysostom story.

Oddly if you visit the remains of the church where the 431 council took place there is not even aplaque recording it and the thousands of visitors are never taken there. So far as I know only Charles Freeman tours include it! Yet for church historians it is an extraordinarily important site.

I'm so glad I sought it out on my own when I was in Ephesus this past fall. (I took a 'vacation' that was really more of a pilgrimage to the sites of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.) Even in ruins, the Church of Mary is beautiful and powerful. Had to search all over Ephesus before I finally got there, though - and I was one of the sole visitors.

James said...

Charles,

The Council Church would be this one:

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/ephesus-church-of-the-virgin.htm

I visited the Basilica of John the Apostle and had always assumed that this was where the Church Council took place, but clearly not. Is there much to see?

I fear on the First Things thread you did blame Christians and John Chrysostom for the destruction of the Temple of Artemis which is spreading if not peddling the myth. Prof Eberhard Sauer seems to have moved his area of interest to Persia, but may have something more to say on the Temple. I've heard no evidence that it was rebuilt or that it was first destroyed in the fifth century, although quarrying took place throughout this period.

Best wishes

James

Roger Pearse said...

A useful post - thanks.