History of Ephesus

ephesus coin

Early History of Ephesus

The earliest traces of human settlement found so far in the region of Ephesos were discovered on Çukuriçi Höyük which dates back to the early Chalcolithic period (late 7th millennium).

Towards the end of the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium) Ayasoluk, the easily defensible freestanding mound with rocky slopes on three sides, was occupied. At that time the settlement lay directly on the shore because instead of the plain which has been flooded by the Kaystros River (Küçük Menderes) since antiquity, there was a deep bay that extended until the foot of the mountain chain to the south, east and north. Until the early 8th century Ayasoluk remained the only known settlement in the vicinity of Ephesos. Since the Late Bronze Age (2nd Millenium–12th centuries) the southwestern foot of the territory of Artemision was also used; there, a sanctuary existed since the beginning of the Iron Age (2nd half of the 11th century). The Late Bronze Age settlement at Ayasoluk is most probably to be identified with Apaša, the capital of the Luwian Kingdom of Arzawa (16th–13th centuries) representing the most important power in western Anatolia, which was first a rival, then a vassal of the Hittite Empire.

Settlers Come from the Greek Mainland to Ephesus

Profound changes in the material culture point to a change in the population structure during the course of the 11th century: settlers from the Greek mainland conquered the coast of western Asia Minor during the so-called Ionian colonization. The foundation myth refers to Androcles, the son of a legendary Attic king, who wrested Ephesos from the indigenous Carians, Lelegians and Lydians. The centre of the city remained at Ayasoluk.

After the mid-8th century, additional settlements were established in and around Mount Panayır; of these, one on the north-east terrace of Mount Panayır and an additional one located beneath the later Tetragonos Agora (Commercial Market) has been partially excavated. The independent city-state (polis) of Ephesos was increasingly beset by the ambitious Lydian Kingdom: shortly after 560, the Lydian King Kroisos conquered the city. In 546 or shortly thereafter, the Persians conquered the Lydian Kingdom and also Ephesos.

Fundamental Break in Urban Development During Hellenism in Ephesus

The Persian rule lasted until Alexander the Great (334 B.C.). Lysimachos, one of the successors of Alexander, brought about the next break in urban development; at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C., he resettled the inhabitants in the valley between Mount Panayır and Mount Bülbül.

In the Hellenistic period (336-30 B.C.) the cityscape of Ephesos underwent a fundamental transformation. During the wars of the Diadochi and after the death of Alexander the Great, Ephesus was incorporated after 300 B.C. into the kingdom of Lysimachos (355–281). After the first new foundations of cities (Lysimachia) at Chersonnes and Aitolia, at Ephesos, the new city of Arsinoe, named after Lysimachos’ wife Arsinoë II, was also founded.

The inhabitants of Arsinoea were recruited from neighbouring communities such as Teos, Lebedos and Kolophon. Around 294 B.C. construction began of a fortification wall over 9 km in length, enclosing the entire city including the northern slopes of Mount Bülbül and parts of Mount Panayır. The 2.5 km² large area within the city walls, of which only one-third was suitable for development, was divided into a Lower City at the harbour area and an Upper City situated on an elevated plateau.

The Curetes Street, which follows the course of the old Processional Way, connected both areas of the city. The Hellenistic Ephesos was a new foundation after a systematic Hippodamian model with an orthogonal street grid. The mercantile and cultural centre, with the Commercial Market (tetragons agora), the Theatre and the Stadium is located in the Lower City, whereas the political centre was based in the Upper City with its State Agora (Market), the Prytaneion (seat of the prytaneis/executive), and the Bouleuterion (seat of the boule/council of citizens). The residential areas developed on the slopes of the two city mountains and especially on the convenient plateau of the Upper City to the south and east of the Upper Agora. Little is known regarding the areas actually built up in the 3rd century B.C.; however, after the death of Lysimachos in 281 B.C., at least some of the settlers might have departed again.

After the 2nd century B.C. simple buildings with workshops were installed in the region of Terrace House 2, while at the same time levelling-off activities in the Upper City provided evidence of rebuilding efforts, or an extensive new settlement within the area. Locally produced wares and their distribution in the Mediterranean region reveal the ever-increasing significance and economic power of Ephesos in the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., which was to become the Metropolis of Asia (capital city of the Province of Asia) during Roman rule.

From the Republic to the Imperial Period Transission in Ephesus

When the Pergamene King Attalos III died in 133 B.C., he bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people in his will. The city of Ephesos that possessed the tax-exempt status as ”Civitas Libera” (free citizenship) thus became part of the Roman Province of Asia. The fact that Roman rule was not greeted with unanimous consent by the population is indicated by the euphoria with which the Pontic King Mithridates VI’s attempt to conquer the province was supported. All Italians living in the province were sentenced to death, and in 88 B.C. in Ephesos alone 80,000 people were violently murdered in a single night. The revolt was suppressed by General Cornelius Sulla and the city’s freedom was withdrawn, thus making it liable to pay tribute again.

In 33 B.C. Marc Antony and his wife, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, spent the winter in Ephesos and organized their campaign against Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus. Octavian’s victory at Actium not only meant the end of the Republic, but also a reorganization of the Province of Asia.

The Golden Centuries of Ephesus

Ephesos became the permanent headquarters of the Roman provincial administration and the capital city (metropolis Asia). The easy access to the sea made the city an economic centre of Asia Minor: the harbour served as a reloading point for all kinds of commodities. On the estates of the Artemision agricultural products were cultivated and traded; in addition, the sanctuary functioned as a credit bank and a pilgrimage centre. The Roman character of the city was further reinforced by purposefully built construction projects which were used as political instruments.

When the Apostle Paul preached between A.D. 52 and 55 at Ephesos, he was confronted not only by an active pagan cult but also by a lively Jewish community. As a result of a rebellion led by the silversmith Demetrios, Paul left the city in order to resume his missionary activities in Corinth. Ephesos reached its zenith during the 2nd century A.D. Numerous monuments provide witness to this glorious era: private donations by affluent citizens served the public welfare as well as their own personal commemoration.

The crisis of the 3rd Century in Ephesus

After A.D. 230, an obvious economic decline set in, for which a series of earthquakes, culminating in a catastrophic quake around A.D. 270, as well as Gothic raids can be understood as prime causes. The Artemision was plundered and the temple itself was burnt down. Clear traces of this destruction are also visible in the city; rebuilding lasted several decades. Ephesos experienced a final recovery only in the 5th century A.D.

Ephesus in Late Antiquity

Ephesos retained its position as the seat of the provincial governor (proconsul Asiae) and thus also as a political and economic centre even after the new organization of the Roman Empire by Diocletian (284–305). However, numerous earthquake disasters around the middle of the 4th century resulted in an economic decline from which the city only slowly recovered. With the help of imperial donations and tax exemptions, the damage was successively repaired and the former prosperity gradually returned. This was manifested in the restoration and rebuilding of numerous public and private buildings. In addition, following the religious edicts of Theodosius I (most importantly, the declaration of Christianity as the official state religion in 391) a series of splendid churches was erected which changed the cityscape to a great extent.

Ephesos in the Byzantine Period

At the latest since the 5th century, the Basilica of St. John, located on the Hagios Theologios Hill (Ayasoluk/today Selçuk) 2.5 km away, increased in significance and developed into one of the most important pilgrimage centres of the Byzantine period. During the course of the 7th century, the Basilica eventually took over the liturgical function of the Church of Mary and developed into the main church of the Ephesian archbishop.

As the erection of the mighty fortification walls around the Byzantine remnant city of Ephesos in the 6th/7th century indicates, as well as the city’s elevation to the newly created administrative unit, the seat of the (Thema) Thrakesion, the former Metropolis of Asia did not lose its earlier primacy completely. The stationing of a legion in the city, given the increasing efforts at expansion by the Arab world, was a necessity: in fact, in ca. 654/655 Ephesos was attacked by Mua’wiya, the Governor of Syria, and in 715/716 by the Arab Admiral Maslama on their return journeys from an unsuccessful siege of Constantinople.

In the 1st half of the 9th century, Ephesos is still described in the ancient sources as the largest fortified city of the military administrative unit, the (Thema) Thrakesion. In A.D. 890 it lost its political and military supremacy in favour of Samos and shortly after of Smyrna/İzmir. This briefly sketched development did not, however, mean that the settlement was ultimately abandoned: in fact, the most recent archaeological evidence suggests that Ephesos remained settled well into the 13th/14th century – not however as a homogenous civic entity but rather more as a scattered group of settlements.

The Seljuk Period of Ephesus

First, in 1304 the entire region was separated from the Byzantine Empire. The new rulers, the Aydınoğlu Family, a Seljuk princely dynasty, were succeeded in the 1st half of the 15th century by the Ottoman Dynasty.