What was the ancient city of Ephesus?

Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus - courtesy Alaskan Dude - CC-BY

Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus - courtesy Alaskan Dude - CC-BY

Ephesus was an ancient city on the west coast of Turkey. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League and was famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The area of Ephesus was inhabited during the Early Stone Age about 6000 BC. The city itself was founded as an Ionian colony in the 10th century BC.

Ephesus was socially surprisingly modern. They allowed strangers to integrate, education was encouraged for both sexes, and as one of the benefits of the worship of Artemis, the city was far ahead of its time when it came to women’s rights. In 129 B.C. the Romans took advantage of the terms of the will left by Attalos, King of Pergamon, by which they were left his kingdom and incorporated the whole region into the Roman Empire as the province of Asia. When Augustus was emperor he made Ephesus, instead of Pergamum, the capital of proconsular Asia and it continued to flourish with fountains, pools and the second largest library outside of Alexandria. Ephesus became second in importance and size only to Rome. In much the same way, Ephesus also remained the most important city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople. Later, the importance of the city declined as the harbor slowly filled with silt from the river.

The site of the city is huge. Ephesus has the largest collection of Roman ruins east of the Mediterranean and is considered one of the great outdoor museums of the world. It has only had 15% of its area explored by archaeologists and the site of the Temple of Artemis is a swampy hole in the ground.  Ephesus’ main attraction is the fact that much remains intact and so little imagination is needed to see what the Roman city would have looked like. Ephesus is also a sacred site for Christians because of its association with several Biblical figures.

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