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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

The Many Faces of God Here in Ephesus
February 12, 2000

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Perhaps it was the beauty of this spot, on the calm blue bay, where the Kastros River meets the Aegean Sea. Or maybe it was just that religion flowed freely through daily life. For the people who inhabited this coast in centuries past, the divine was everywhere. And now, over 4000 years since people first settled here in Ephesus, you can still feel it.

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Looking down from the hills above Ephesus, in search of the divine.
Jasmine and I walk the ancient marble and stone streets here, in the excavated ruins of Ephesus. Below our feet are at least 7 layers of previous cities, destroyed by war, earthquakes, floods, and time, and this final layer, built around 1900 years ago, is the newest.

But, the divine cannot be buried, it does not fall in earthquakes or get killed in wars. Instead, divinity changes faces, takes on new names and new personas, with every new conqueror or religion that passes through. Even today, though no humans live in Ephesus, the divine is here.


Divinity: To be divine-Godlike
Marvel: To fill with wonder or amazement
Deity: God or goddess
Errant: Moving about aimlessly or irregularly

The first record of Ephesus is of the temple that was here, in 2000 BCE, honoring the divine as Cybele, the local goddess of fertility. Some say it was built by the mythical African tribe of women warriors, the Amazons! Springtime came to Anatolia, the sun returned, flowers bloomed, food sprang from the earth, and baby animals and baby humans graced the world with smiles-divinity was recognized in them all. The name given to the force that created such marvels and abundance was Cybele, the "Great Mother." Those who worshiped her, the native Anatolians, lived in cities along the coast that were under the rule of the powerful Hittite empire.

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These magnificent ruins are from the more recent Roman times, but they're cool!
But, the remains of that temple, and that city, have long been cleared away to make room for new inhabitants. Maybe some of the stones we're walking on, or the ones used to build the newer houses and temples, were re-used from that era. The age of this city makes me feel small and insignificant, like a speck of dust on the Turkish carpet of history!

Cybele began to take her leave, in name at least, when the "Sea People" came in the 11th century BCE. Escaping the Dorian invasion on their own islands, Greek "sea people" arrived, mixed with the locals, established new city states, free from the weakened Hittite empire, and brought their own gods and goddesses. Ephesus was in the center of Ionia, the small but powerful league of cities of sea traders. After seeing so many Greek ruins around the Mediterranean, and having the "Ionic columns" pointed out to me, I finally know what they were talking about! While Athens was still small and unimportant, Ephesus was then the center of Hellenic (ancient Greek) culture.

Relevant Links

Focus Magazine's site chock full of information about Ephesus

Site with a Picture and description of Cybele:

Links to sites about Artemis:

Cybele morphed in people's minds, to become Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and the chase. Daughter of Zeus, the twin sister of Apollo, she is the eternal virgin who carries a bow and arrows made by the Cyclops, and runs in wild places. Artemis, who cares for mothers in childbirth.

Cybele's temple was made even more glorious by becoming Hellenized. Ruler after ruler made the temple more and more grand, adding marble columns, exquisite statues,and gifts from far-off lands. The rulers have all but been forgotten, but Artemis only grew in glory.

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Layers of history sit on top of the ancient Ionic city.
The temple itself was destroyed no less then seven times, and each time rebuilt in even greater glory. When Croesus, the King of the Lydians, conquered Ionia in the 5th century BCE, he hired the greatest architects from Crete to rebuild the temple. It became famous around the ancient world.

Not long after, in 547 BCE, the mighty Persians swept in from the East, from the area of modern Iran, and conquered all of Anatolia. The Persian Cyrus was the emperor, now, but Artemis was still their deity. Ephesus lost its role as the center of Hellenic culture, and Athens rose to prominence, with its mighty Acropolis built to Athena. Different faces, different names, same divinity. Several huge statues found show this Cybele/Artemis goddess as having 22 breasts-now that's a powerful symbol of fertility!

War raged on, with the Persians using the Anatolian coast as their base to launch attacks on the Greek islands. We know them as the "Persian Wars," since the historians we know were all Greek, and since the Greeks eventually won. Do the Persians call them the "Greek Wars"?

The history of this great city just goes on and on, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be cool to have your name as a part of it? A lunatic named Herostratus thought so. How better for one man, with no armies or power, to go down in history, than to set fire to the great temple of Artemis? It worked. In 356 BCE, the temple was destroyed, and now you know this guy's name, too. (The Odyssey World Trek does not recommend senseless destruction as a path to immortality.) The story is told that, when asked why Artemis could not protect her own temple, the Ephisians replied, "Because our goddess had gone to Pella to be present at the birth of the Great Alexander."

Reconstruction was well underway (you can't keep a good goddess down, they say) when who should arrive on the scene but Alexander the Great himself! The son of Phillip II of Macedonia, a small Greek kingdom to the West, Alexander and his armies crossed the Hellespont (Dardanelles) in 334BC, and conquered everyone and everything from Greece to India. He came here to visit and revere the goddess Artemis, and organized a great parade in her honor.

The plans for the new temple were so amazing that even young Alexander was humbled. Legend has it, of course, that the old temple was burned down the night he was born, because the goddess was away attending his birth. He offered to pay the entire cost of the reconstruction, if the new temple would be dedicated to him, once finished. The Ephesians declined. "It would not befit a deity like you to build a temple to another deity," they told him.

And the temple was finished, without Alexander's help. That's when it became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Jasmine and I stand off the roadside, looking out over a huge, empty field, with two small ponds at either end. One huge, huge column stands, in the center, put back together by archeologists so that we can get a small clue as to just how huge and grand this temple must have been. The Seven Wonders? Hmm. I can only wonder, today, what it might have been like. 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high, with 120 huge Ionian pillars. What magic and ritual must have taken place in this very spot?!

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I wonder what this wonder of the world was like when it was still the great temple of Artemis!
Alexander, of course, was not truly divine. He died in 323 BCE, in Babylon, at the age of only 33, and his vast empire was quickly divided by civil wars between his generals. Another mortal named Lysimachus was left in charge of Ephesus.

Even the natural world goes through changes over time, and Lysimachus noticed coming problems. The river had changed course, leaving the town next to a mosquito-ridden swamp, where malaria was sure to lurk. The bay was filling up with silt, making it difficult for ships to get in and out, a real drawback for a town based on trading. And so he built a new city, away from the swamps, full of gymnasiums and theatres, baths and temples. To force the reluctant Ephesians out of their old homes, he plugged up the sewage system, so that the old town flooded during a huge storm. Yuck!

This new town is where we are walking today, but very little of these buildings remain, either. Yesterday, I walked along the remains of the huge wall Lysimachus built, overlooking the city, in search of the divine. The sun shone brightly, flowers poked their heads up from the earth, and I knew that the divine, no matter what form you believe in, was there with me!

Ephesus continued trading and worshipping Artemis. Hoping not to be destroyed again, Ephesus allied itself with the powerful rulers of the time. The Seleucid kings of Syria, then the Ptolemies of Egypt, then the rulers of Anitoch and then Pergamum, and eventually the Romans.

The ruins we are playing on today are the remains of the great city of Roman Ephesus, which was the capital of Roman Asia Minor with a population of 250,000 (no small beans 2000 years ago). It had a busy commercial port and the temple of Artemis granted the right of sanctuary to errant wanderers. Artemis took on her Roman name of Diana, but continued to be the goddess of the hunt. The New York City of the Ancient World, Ephesus was a metropolitan center, where traders and immigrants from all over settled. The most famous being Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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I wonder if this cow head was a symbol of Hera, before the Christians came.
Did she sense the divine here, as well? Did she know that she, along with Paul and John, would bring the end to the worship of Cybele/Artemis/Diana here in Ephesus? After them, the divine would become male, and have the name Yahweh.

Layer upon layer, year upon year, century upon century... Jasmine and I walk and play in the remains of an ancient city, blessed by the divine. Nestled between two hills near the blue Aegean Sea, the glory of this town lives on in our imaginations, and now in yours!

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?

They must have been amazing. They must have been great. So, how many of them can you name? We all know there is this magic number, seven, but who can actually name them all? OK, I see you all raising some hands. How about we make up a little "ditty" so we always remember the 7 wonders of the "ancient" world. Keep in mind, writing rhymes is not my full time job….So work with me, people!

Firstly we have the Pyramids of Giza
That reside in old Giza City.

Next we have the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
That once were so pretty.

Don't forget the Statues of Zeus at Olympia
A wonder in its own day.

Then there's the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Where people once came to pray.

Oh and the Colossus of Rhodes
Now that was quite a sight.

And the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
That was built with lots of might.

Last but not least is the Lighthouse at Alexandria
Isn't learning about the ancient wonders fun?

And before you knew it we are all done!

But now, except the great pyramids at Giza, Egypt, they're pretty much gone. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (now known as Bodrum)-destroyed. The statue of Zeus at Olympia-gone. The lighthouse at Alexandria - crumbled. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon-withered and died. The Colossus of Rhodes-nothing but a piece of history now. And, of course, the Temple of Artemis, here, is nothing but a pile of rocks in a field. Fortunately, if you've got your eyes open, the world is full of wonders, both man-made and natural, for us to see!

Relevant Link: A "wonder"ful site about the seven ancient wonders:


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Team - What the Gods Have Joined Man Has Put Asunder: The Ancient City of Miletus
Andrew - Black Magic, Fat Rhymes, and Dead Tongues
Jasmine - Walking Through History: A Journey Along the Turquoise Coast
Monica - Now, THAT's Old! Remains of the City of Çatalhöyük
Kavi Gets MAD With Art

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