The Temple of Artemis, once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, now stands as little more than a solitary marble column amidst a scatter of rubble in what is now modern-day Turkey. It is a remarkable structure that has witnessed numerous times of destruction and rebirth throughout history. The deliberate act of arson orchestrated by an individual whose sole goal was to etch his name into the annals of history, on the other hand, has left an indelible mark on its legacy. This is Herostratus’ story.
Historians, though not entirely unanimous, credit the Temple of Artemis’ initial design to the renowned Cretan architect Cherisiphron around 550 BC. This magnificent temple was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunting, wild animals, childbirth, and virginity, among other things. This new structure was built atop the ruins of an earlier temple to the same goddess, which had been destroyed by floods centuries before in Ephesus. It was primarily made of gleaming white marble, with support beams made of cedar treated with perfumes and oils.
King Croesus of Lydia, known for his vast wealth, provided significant financial support for the construction. The marble, a notoriously difficult material even in modern times, was purchased at a high cost.
The architects built the temple on marshy ground to ensure its durability. This unusual choice was motivated by a desire to protect the temple from earthquakes, which are a common concern in the area. To address the challenges of building on such terrain, they reinforced the foundation with a combination of charcoal and sheepskins, which was then covered with layers of shale and marble to create a stable foundation.
Scholars disagree on the exact time required to complete the temple, with estimates ranging from 10 to 200 years. While the main body of the temple was built in about a decade, it underwent continuous improvements until its eventual destruction by Herostratus in 356 BC.
The Temple of Artemis was a massive structure, measuring roughly 377 feet long and 180 feet wide—larger than an American football field and three times the size of the famous Parthenon. Its most striking feature was a roof supported by 127 pristine white marble columns. According to modern estimates based on historical records, each column was made of a single piece of marble that measured more than 60 feet long and weighed nearly 100 tonnes. The precise method by which these columns were erected remains a mystery, adding to the awe of ancient travelers and worshippers who were awestruck by their massive size.
The temple stood as a pinnacle of Ephesus for over two centuries, captivating all who saw it with its grandeur and magnificence.
On July 21, 356 BC, an enigmatic figure known only as Herostratus committed an audacious act of arson at the Temple of Artemis. Given the temple’s massive size and predominantly stone construction, one might wonder how a single person managed to reduce it to ashes in a single night. Surprisingly, it was not as difficult as it appears.
Herostratus’ destruction of the Temple of Artemis marked a dark chapter in its history, a testament to the lengths people would go to ensure their names were etched in history.