The deep history of Ephesus represents us an intricate scenery with its misty beginnings and endings veiled in myth, along with its later glory, as the Capital of Roman world in Asia. The name “Ephesos” is said to have been derived from the word “Apasas”, meaning a queen bee and originally a Greek word. It was the name for the settlement in the late Bronze Age, 1000-1500 BC. and strongly supported by the popular symbolism of the famous goddess, the Artemis of Ephesus. Its historical origins are clouded in myth. According to what the ancient historian Strabo wrote about the early populations, there were “Karians and Lelegians, whereas Pausanias referred the founding of the Ephesus city the to the Amazons. There is a popular belief for its legendary founding by Androklos, son of Kodros, the King of Athens, as an attestation by architectural reliefs, which can still be visited today in Ephesus museum.
For a brief period the ancient city of Ephesus was under the control of King Croesus of Lydia until Cyrus, the Persian King, defeated him in 547 BCE. The Persians controlled the city about 200 years until Alexander captured it in 334 BCE. Then Ephesus became a Greek city for about 200 years until the Romans acquired it along with all of the province of Asia from Attalos III in 133 BCE, the king who gave the Stoa to Athens. The Lydian influence in Ephesus produced a thoroughly mixed culture, part Greek, part Asiatic, more than anywhere else in the Greek East. Alexander’s successor, Lysimachus (290 BC), built the citywalls of Ephesus parts of which are still visible.
Ephesus prospered until the mid to late 2nd century BC, but the increasing incompetence and cruelty of a series of Roman emperors in the late second and third centuries led to its decline. Ephesus also suffered from troubles on the eastern frontier of’ the Empire in the 3d century, assassinations, pogroms against Christians, and the intervention of Goths from southern Russia. Gothic invaders heavily damaged the city and the Temple of Artemis, which was never restored to its former glory. Severe earthquakes in the late 4th and 7th centuries led to the partial desertion of the ancient city of Ephesus.
The Third Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus in 431 BC. The main argument was whether that Virgin Mary was the mother of God Christ or Human Christ. There was a great division between the participants of the meeting. The division became more apparent after the meeting. Emperor Theodosios ordered another meeting in the Virgin Mary church in Ephesus. This was the first church built for Mother Mary. More than 200 religious leaders came together. It took more than 3 months to reach to a consensus. During this meeting, it was officially recorded that the Virgin Mary’s grave was in Ephesus.
With Augustus’ reign (27 BC), Ephesus entered an era of prominence and prosperity which lasted into the second century CE. Augustus made it the capital of the Roman province of Asia and it received the coveted title, “First and Greatest Metropolis of Asia.” Imperial patronage included constructing aqueducts, paving streets, and enlarging agoras. During the Augustan era Ephesus was the largest commercial center in Asia, in fact, the third largest city in the Empire, after Rome and Alexandria, with a population of about 200,000. Its location was one of the many reasons for its commercial growth.
Not the Goths and the silting up of the river only, but earthquakes and malarial mosquitoes also finally finished Ephesus sometime between the 6th and 10th century. The site was completely abandoned after the 14th century.
The first serious exploration of the archeological site of Ephesus occurred fbetween 1863-74 under John T. Wood, an architect the British Museum commissioned to locate the ancient Temple of Artemis. He found it through the fortuitous discovery of an imperial inscription that showed the route of a sacred procession went from the temple to the theater and back again by a different route. In 1895, the Austrian Archaeological Institute (Vienna) began the systematic exploration of Ephesus that has continued unto this day. The Temple of Artemis underwent fundamental evolution and expansion through its 1200 year-old history. King Croesus was the primary benefactor of the classic temple. He donated most of the columns for the temple that mad King Hesostratos burned in 356 BCE, the night Alexander the Great was born. It was the largest edifice in Greek antiquity, with 127 columns, each approximately 65 ft. high.
Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city’s original splendor, and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former life. The theater dominates the view down Harbor Street, which leads to the silted-up harbor. Seeing that the civic space of the city incorporates both the temples and the shrines of the imperial cult, it is apparent that religion and politics were inseparable and religious observance promoted allegiance to the empire.
Among the findings till today we can say the Artemis temple, St. John church, Agoras, Theatre, Prythaneion temple, the Marble Road, the Harbour Road, Serapis temple, Celsus Library are the most prominent ones. Some of them are still under restoration. Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 all findings are supposed to be given to the museums in Turkey by law as during the Ottoman era most of the findings were taken from Ephesus to British and Austrian museums and only some of them were left to Istanbul Archeology Museum.