The cult of Artemis in Ephesus had a powerful following. During the Roman period, prominent generals and politicians would come to Ephesus to offer sacrifices to the statue of the goddess, also known as Diana. Although many other gods were worshiped at Ephesus, Artemis was by far the most important deity in the 1st century.
The cult of Artemis in Ephesus goes back hundreds of years prior to the Greeks. The first record of a temple to Artemis at Ephesus is one that was destroyed by flood in the 7th century BC. Under orders from King Croesus of Lydia, it was rebuilt out of marble around 550 BC, but that version was destroyed by fire in 356 BC. Local myth says that Artemis was away helping Olympias give birth to Alexander the Great when the fire broke out. Allegedly, that’s why Artemis was unable to protect her shrine from destruction.
The Temple of Artemis was rebuilt yet again, but on an even grander scale, taking 120 years to finish. Ancient historians such as Pliny and Antipater called it one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the time of Paul, the Temple of Artemis was one of the largest and most impressive structures in the Mediterranean region — about four times as large as the Parthenon in Rome.
According to Pliny, the Temple of Artemis was situated on a platform about 425 by 239 feet. The temple itself was 342 by 163 feet, with 127 columns that were 60 feet tall and over 6 feet thick. 36 of these columns were sculptured and overlaid with gold. The Temple was built northeast of the city on marshy soil to protect the structure from earthquakes. At one time, the waves of the Mediterranean could actually come right up to one side of the temple.
The cult of Artemis dominated in Ephesus until the influence of Christianity eclipsed it over the next 200 years after Paul. The Goths (a tribe from present-day Germany) destroyed the temple in 262 AD, and the worship of Artemis eventually faded into history. The ruins of the temple were reused in other building projects, and today, only foundations and column fragments remain of what was once considered a true wonder of the ancient world.