Anciently, a wealthy and important religious and commercial center on the W coast of Asia Minor, nearly opposite the island of Samos. Ephesus was built on the slopes and at the base of several hills, chief of which were Mt. Pion and Mt. Koressos. This port lay astride the main trade route from Rome to the East. Its location near the mouth of the Cayster River, with access to the river basins of the Hermus and the Maeander, placed the city at the junction of overland trade routes in Asia Minor. Roads linked Ephesus with the chief cities of the district of Asia.
The writings of the first-century Roman author Pliny the Elder and the ancient Greek geographer Strabo have given rise to the view that at one time a gulf of the Aegean Sea extended as far as Ephesus but that the coastline gradually moved seaward, for now the ruins of the city are several miles inland. However, excavator J. T. Wood, on the basis of his findings at Ephesus, concluded that the city anciently lay four miles (6.4 kilometers) from the Aegean Sea. If this is correct, then in Paul’s time ships must have come up the mouth of the Cayster River to an inland harbor that was kept navigable by constant dredging. Over the centuries, though, the harbor and the mouth of the river have become filled with silt deposited by the Cayster.
TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS
The most outstanding edifice of the city was the temple of Artemis, ranked by the ancients as one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple existing in the first century C.E., when the apostle Paul visited Ephesus, had been rebuilt according to the plan of an earlier Ionic temple said to have been set on fire by Herostratus in 356 B.C.E.
According to J. T. Wood, who excavated the site in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the temple was erected on a platform measuring about 239 feet (73 meters) in width and 418 feet (127 meters) in length. The temple itself was approximately 164 feet (50 meters) wide and 343 feet (105 meters) long. It contained 100 marble columns, each standing about 55 feet (16.8 meters) high. The columns measured about six feet (1.8 meters) in diameter at the base and at least some of them were sculptured to a height of about twenty feet (6 meters). The temple’s inner sanctuary, measuring about 70 feet (21 meters) in width and 105 feet (32 meters) in length, is thought to have been open to the sky. The altar contained therein was approximately twenty feet (6 meters) square, and the image of Artemis may have stood directly behind this altar.
The fragments that have been found indicate that brilliant color and sculpture adorned the temple. Large white marble tiles covered the roof. Instead of mortar, gold is reputed to have been used between the joints of the marble blocks.
About a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the SW of the temple of Artemis was a stadium that had been rebuilt under Nero (54-68 C.E.). This was probably the site for athletic contests and possibly also gladiatorial combats. If the apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:32 about fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus is to be understood literally, perhaps he had to defend himself against wild beasts in this stadium.
The theater where the Ephesians rioted at the instigation of Demetrius was less than half a mile (.8 kilometer) S of the stadium. This theater was situated within the hollow of Mt. Pion. (Acts 19:23-41) Its facade was decorated with pillars, niches and fine statuary. The marble seats for the spectators were arranged in a half circle of sixty-six rows; these, it has been estimated, afforded room for about 25,000 persons. The acoustic properties of the theater were excellent. Even today, a word spoken in a low voice at the location of the stage can be heard at the top seats.
In front of the theater was a wide marble-paved road that ran directly to the harbor. This street was nearly half a mile (.8 kilometer) long and about thirty-five feet (10.7 meters) wide. Colonnades over fifteen feet (4.6 meters) deep lined both sides of this street, and behind these were shops and other buildings. A monumental gateway occupied each end of the street.
AGORA AND LIBRARY
Another feature of ancient Ephesus was the agora or marketplace. This was a rectangular, colonnaded area entered by gateways and surrounded by halls and chambers. The library of Celsus (believed to date probably from the second century C.E.) was near the marketplace. It was built with columns and double walls (an outer and an inner wall to protect the papyri from humidity). The walls were recessed with niches for bookcases.
PAUL’S MINISTRY IN EPHESUS
It was to Ephesus, crossroads of the ancient world, that the apostle Paul, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, came, probably in 52 C.E. Paul immediately went to the Jewish synagogue to preach. However, although being requested to remain longer, the apostle left Ephesus, stating that he would return if it should be Jehovah’s will. (Acts 18:18-21) Aquila and Priscilla, who remained in Ephesus, met Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, who was acquainted only with John’s baptism, and they “expounded the way of God more correctly to him.”—Acts 18:24-26.
When Paul returned to Ephesus, likely by the winter of 52/53 C.E., he found several men who were baptized with John’s baptism. Upon his clarifying the matter of baptism to them, they were rebaptized. (Acts 19:1-7) This time Paul taught in the Jewish synagogue for three months. But when opposition arose, he directed those who had become believers to the school auditorium of Tyrannus, where he discoursed daily for two years.—Acts 19:8-10.
Paul’s preaching, attended by miraculous healings and the expelling of demons, caused many Ephesians to become believers. Also, the unsuccessful attempt at exorcising by the seven sons of a certain Jewish chief priest named Sceva stirred up much interest. Former practitioners of magical arts publicly burned their books, which had a combined value of 50,000 silver pieces, or, perhaps, more than $8,000. (Acts 19:11-20) Ephesus was so renowned for magical arts that Greek and Roman writers referred to books or rolls of magical formulas and incantations as “Ephesian writings.”
Since many Ephesians forsook the worship of Artemis, the silversmith Demetrius pointed out to fellow craftsmen that Paul’s preaching was a threat to their occupation and also endangered the worship of Artemis. Enraged silversmiths shouted: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The city was thrown into an uproar, climaxed by a two-hour riot at the theater.—Acts 19:23-41.
After this Paul left Ephesus. Later, from Miletus he sent for the older men of the congregation at Ephesus, reviewed his own ministry among them and gave them instructions on caring for their duties. (Acts 20:1, 17-38) His reference on that occasion to “three years” spent at Ephesus should evidently be regarded as a round number.—Acts 20:31; compare Acts 19:8, 10.
With the passing of years, the Christians at Ephesus endured much. However, some did lose the love they had at first.—Rev. 2:1-6; see ARTEMIS; DEMETRIUS No. 1; EPHESIANS, LETTER TO THE.
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Coin honoring Diana of Ephesus
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Ruins of the theater in Ephesus