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The Destruction of The Temple of Artemis

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In 356 B.C.E., Herostratus, the ancient world’s most infamous arsonist, set fire to the Temple of Artemis, a magnificent Greek temple in modern-day Turkey. Today, all that remains of this once-opulent building is a damaged foundation, and Herostratus received the legal Voldemort treatment from the Ancient Greeks.

The Temple

The Temple of Artemis, dedicated to the Greek goddess of the hunt, was located in the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey, near the modern town of Selcuk. It was originally built during the Bronze Age, most possibly in the latter half of the eighth century B.C.E. and was not very remarkable at first.

It was a modest place of worship, but after being buried by several feet of sand and debris during a flood in the seventh century B.C.E., it received a major renovation. When it was reconstructed over 125 years later as a marble building supported by wooden beams, it was the biggest Greek temple ever erected, measuring more than 377 feet long and 150 feet broad.

Scopas sculpted reliefs on more over a fourth of the 127 columns. Kings, peasants, and merchants all made the pilgrimage to the Temple of Artemis to pay their respects to the goddess.

Herostratus Burned It

On July 21, 356 B.C.E., Herostratus, a peasant (or perhaps a slave), invaded the Temple of Artemis and set fire to the temple’s wooden timbers. As the fire burned, the marble columns and façade collapsed, destroying the once-mighty structure.

Herostratus confessed lighting the fire after being apprehended and tortured. He thought that such a heinous crime would permanently imprint his name on history. He was sentenced to death for arson, but Greek authorities enacted damnatio memoriae, or “condemnation of memory,” a rule that banned mentioning or writing the name of a convicted person.

It was intended to eradicate Herostratus and any such criminal glory seekers from history, but we are still discussing him, so it cannot be considered a roaring success.

What Became of The Temple of Artemis?

Temple of Artemis restoration work
Restoration of The Temple of Artemis | Public Domain

Meanwhile, the temple’s restoration stalled for many decades. Alexander the Great, who was born on the same day as the temple was burned down, volunteered to fund its restoration, but the people of Ephesus insisted on taking on the project themselves and ultimately succeeded in erecting an even larger edifice that was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Temple of Artemis site in 2017
Temple Site in 2017 | Public Domain

It stood for little more than 500 years until being demolished once again by invading Goths, and the populace became weary of reconstructing it. Today, it is nothing more than a jumble of old rocks, yet visitors continue to come to what was once a place of unmatched beauty.

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