Artemis of Ephesus

Artemis of Ephesus


Many Breasted Artemis or Many Breasted Diana

During the Hellenistic period, when Greek was the lingua franca of much of the ancient world, the deity worshipped in Ephesus was commonly called “Artemis.” As Rome became dominant, she was called “Diana” in order to impose a Roman identity on this most important goddess. The votive image venerated in Ephesus does not really resemble either Artemis of Greece or Diana of Italy. Instead she more closely resembles Near Eastern Mother goddesses. This may reveal something about the hidden history of Artemis or it may be that another deity lurks beneath the Greco-Roman names, possibly Kybele or Asherah, both of whom resemble this deity and were venerated nearby. Alternatively, a now forgotten Amazon goddess was originally venerated here who was identified with Artemis by early Greek settlers.

This isn’t obscure history: the Temple of Artemis/Diana in Ephesus, now in modern Turkey, was among the ancient world’s Seven Wonders. Although the temple was destroyed, as was the original votive statue, the shrine was a major tourist and pilgrimage site: vendors sold reproductions of the statue in the same manner that modern visitors to any monument favoured by tourists will find countless vendors selling countless souvenir replicas. Reproductions of the statue of the Many-Breasted Goddess survive, so we know what she looked like: a beautiful, regal, crowned woman, her torso completely covered by multiple breasts, indicating her capacity to nurture and provide for all, her long tight skirt covered by reliefs of animals and birds.

Date palms were among the most sacred trees throughout what is now the Middle East.

InannaIshtar is sometimes depicted as a date palm, as is Asherah, famed as the wet nurse of her pantheon. She possessed the magical capacity—and presumably the breasts—to nurse them all simultaneously.

The shrine’s single most sacred object was a meteor in her crown, believed to contain the very essence of the goddess. The shrine was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The goddess herself chose the site by falling there in the form of a meteorite, which landed upon a date palm. (An alternative legend says that Amazons found the black meteorite in a swamp.)

Records indicate that the earliest temple was built in the eighth-century BCE as a simple tree shrine, allegedly by Amazons, passionate devotees of this goddess. The original votive image was not in the form of a woman but in the form of that original date palm hit by the meteorite. That first simple tree shrine was destroyed by Cimmerians in 650 BCE. The Amazons lost control, but the shrine survived and was continually rebuilt:

• A temple-shrine was built in 580 BCE but sacked, rebuilt, then sacked again.

• A fourth temple of priceless white marble was sponsored by King Croesus of Lydia.

• In October 356 BCE, a man wishing to immortalize his name by committing a crime so tremendous it could never be forgotten set the temple’s wooden precincts aflame. (A legend suggests that the fire occurred in July 356 on the night Alexander the Great was born. Artemis couldn’t save her temple as she was attending the birth.)

An indignant population joined to rebuild the shrine. This temple is the one called the greatest of the Seven Wonders. The lintel was so huge that the architect Dinocrates despaired of ever adjusting it correctly. He was on the verge of suicide when Artemis appeared to him in a dream and assured him that the lintel was now perfectly in place, that she had taken care of it. When he awoke, he discovered this to be true.

Ephesus was a great city, its economy based on the Temple of Artemis/Diana. Small votive images of the Many-Breasted Diana of Ephesus were sold to thousands of annual pilgrims, as documented in the New Testament (Acts 19). Saint Paul’s criticism led to rioting and his expulsion from Ephesus. As Christianity gained influence, his expulsion would be revenged:

• The statue was destroyed in 400 CE by a Christian zealot who boasted of having overthrown “Demon Artemis.”

• In 406 CE Saint John Chrysostom preached against the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It was looted and burned soon afterward.

• A fifth-century inscription mentions the replacement of a statue of Artemis with a cross.

Less than thirty years after the final destruction of Artemis’ temple, Ephesus was given a new sacred matron: Mary, Mother of Jesus, allegedly spent her last years in Ephesus. She was proclaimed Mother of God here in 431 CE. The city was rededicated to her and remains a major pilgrimage site. The ruins of the temple remain grand and imposing. The beautiful temple pillars were eventually brought to Constantinople and incorporated into the Hagia Sophia Byzantine church amid great controversy. It was feared that the pillars were a corrupting influence and that the church would become a pilgrimage for secret Pagan devotions. Veneration of the Many-Breasted Goddess of Ephesus may survive in the form of some Black Madonnas.


The most famous surviving image of the Many-Breasted Goddess of Ephesus is a second-century Roman alabaster and bronze statue with black face, hands, and feet. She has multiple breasts and wears a tower crown. Her dress is covered with images including bees, bulls, deer, and goats.


In addition to Ephesus, the city of Marseilles, now in France, was a major cult center for this goddess.


Artemis; Asherah; Black Madonna; Demon; Diana; Hekate; Inanna; Kybele; Leto; Maries de la Mer


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.