ARTEMIS OF EPHESUS

September 10, 2020
A ROMAN MARBLE TORSO OF ARTEMIS OF EPHESUS, Circa 1st century AD
A ROMAN MARBLE TORSO OF ARTEMIS OF EPHESUS, Circa 1st century AD

This rare and important figure is unmistakably a Roman copy of the famous sculpture of Artemis worshipped in the principal temple of Ephesus, near the west coast of Asia Minor. The temple was built in the 6th century BC and its magnificent construction led it to become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Pausanius, who lived during the second century AD, tells us of the temple’s wonder:

“But all cities worship Artemis of Ephesus, and individuals hold her in honour above all the gods. The reason, in my view, is the renown of the Amazons, who traditionally dedicated the image, also the extreme antiquity of this sanctuary. Three other points as well have contributed to her renown, the size of the temple, surpassing all buildings among men, the eminence of the city of the Ephesians and the renown of the goddess who dwells there."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.31.8.

Such was the renown of temple and cult image inside that it is even mentioned in the Bible:
“Doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?
Acts 19:35

 

A ROMAN MARBLE TORSO OF ARTEMIS OF EPHESUS

Circa 1st century AD
Height: 61cm

 

The goddess Artemis is depicted standing frontally with her body clad in a chiton, which is visible from the folds on her upper arms. She wears two heavy necklaces with pendants hanging around her neck and onto her chest. The upper necklace has a rosette in the centre enclosed by a crescent, flanked by a series of pinecone and acorn pendants. From the lower necklace hang six elongated oval pendants separated by roses. The middle of her torso is surrounded in a five-tiered cluster of ovoid ornaments, descending in size as you progress down her body. The goddess wears a close fitting ependytes (an outer mantle or garment) from her hips downwards, which is divided into two tiers of rectangular sections. The upper tier has a forepart of a bull in each section, while the lower tier has a rosette in each. The head is now missing, however the remains of a veil rise up from behind the goddess’ shoulders. The forearms are also missing, a pin to secure the joint remains in the left arm.

From the Greek point of view, the Ephesian Artemis is a distinctive form of their goddess Artemis. In Greek thought and myth, Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo, born in Delos and a virgin huntress who replaced the Titan Selene as goddess of the moon. At Ephesus, she was worshipped mainly as a fertility goddess, and was identified with Cybele the mother goddess of eastern lands. Consequently, the cult statues of the Ephesian Artemis differ greatly from those in mainland Greece, where the goddess was depicted as a huntress with her bow and arrow. The cult statues found at Ephesus retain several archaic traits such as her static pose with her body and legs enclosed in a pillar like form. These features are most similar to and recall Egyptian and Near-Eastern deities.

 

The image of the Ephesian Artemis is known from the many varied replicas, but also from depictions on ancient coins. Two important, almost completely preserved marble examples have been excavated in Ephesus and Leptis Magna. Such sculptures served as the principal cult image in temples and shrines dedicated to Artemis. These examples provide visual evidence for how the Kallos torso would have originally appeared and suggest that she too would have served as a cult image.

 

There has been much scholarly discussion and interpretation regarding the cluster of ovoid forms decorating the midsection of the torso. They have frequently been identified as breasts, an interpretation that dates back to at least the late Roman period. Other interpretations include ostrich eggs, gourds, bull’s testicles and beehives. Beehives are perhaps the most likely, since the bee was a symbol of Ephesian Artemis. However, scholars now tend to agree that most of the surface of the statue of Ephesian Artemis depicts garments and ornaments.

 

Add a comment