Don’t let the fact that we use the approximate birth of Jesus in our calendar year fool you into thinking that human existence is only 2019 years old. Human history, and cultures and empires go back so much further. And Ephesus, a city at the edge of Anatonlia in Asia, facing Greece is good reminder of that.
The fact that most videos and stories tell us about the story of the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus obscures the fact, however, that history is written by the winners though, for Ephesus has a pre-Greek history. Archaeological findings today suggest that Ephesus was the capital of Arzawa Empire, dating back to the 14th century BCE, but little is known about this era. What we know of Ephesus tells of a different time.
Ephesus was a major city in the Greco-Roman story. Greeks migrated to the area in the 10th century BC, more than 500 years before Athens became a powerhouse city-state. Mythology has it that an Athenian Prince, Androklos, founded it after fleeing Athens when his father died. He was guided to this site by the Oracle at Delphi, and founded a new city and empire here with his followers (the Ionian League). Ephesus prospered under his reign and soon became an important part of the Greek world. It was near the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of Ancient Greece.
Ephesus like most cities in the world, underwent periods of occupation, and was razed to the ground by invaders from nearby lands. Perhaps the most early egregious ones were the Romans when they first arrived – the city was looted and then taxes were raised leading to years of violence and upheaval. The Romans however stayed for a long time, close to 400 years and fundamentally reshaped the city. Some of the most important archeaological structures still present, such as the Amphitheatre (that seated 25,000 in a city of 250,000), the Library of Celcus and the Temple of Hadrian were built then.
Library of Celcus
Temple of Hadrian
The city however was always a Greco-Roman city that retained its original Greek influence, with Greek gods/goddesses such as Nike (the Roman equivalent being Victoria), Hermes (Mercury) decorating the public forum areas.
It was also during the Roman era, that Ephesus being a big city was a place for the apostle Paul to preach and try to convert the Ephesians. He was so successful (not without drama though) that a significant Christian church was founded in this city, one that continued to remain important for centuries.
In fact a Letter than St Paul wrote to the Ephesians is recognised as part of the Christian New Testament.
What was fascinating about Ephesus was how well planned the city was and how rich it was. Public toilets made of marble, with a central feature and musicians playing outside? How many modern cities today have that?
Or take this, private bungalows with mosaics in still amazing condition. Something perhaps only the rich today can afford.
Public floors made of marble?
Amazing detail on public structures?
This great civilization however was no match for nature.
Ephesus was partially destroyed by an earthquake, and it lost its value because its natural advantage was lost (the harbour was filled with silt over time. The loss of the harbour meant the loss of vibrancy, and the reason for the city’s being, people left and a city hat once had a quarter of a million people became a shadow of its former self. Many of its statues and marbles were ground down to use for construction of other things. By 1039 it had become a fishing village and by the 15th century it was completely abandoned.
The site was only later rediscovered, and now a world famous tourist site, trodden by more than 2 million tourists annually.
Time washes away everything, Ephesus once a shining city on a hill is today a well-trodden tourist site, and relic of a bygone era. Certainly makes you think…
ON THE MAP