Ephesus, a city on the western coast of Asia Minor, was founded by Greek colonists supposedly led by Androclus, son of the legendary Athenian king Codrus. Despite being controlled by a series of empires, Ephesus became one of the leading trading centers of the ancient world. The city was so important that the Greek writer Aelius Aristides described it as the bank of Asia.

Ephesus was independent until its occupation by King Croesus of Lydia in the 500s B.C. It later came under the control of Cyrus II, ruler of the Persian Empire. From about 454 B.C., Ephesus paid tribute* to Athens, but the city revolted and joined Sparta in the Peloponnesian War against the Athenians. The Persians regained control of the city in 387 B.C. After subsequent rulers, including Alexander the Great, Ephesus became a free city under Roman rule in 133 B.C.

The city’s greatest treasure was the magnificent temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. Built in the 500s B.C., with financial help from King Croesus, the temple replaced an earlier shrine that had been destroyed by invaders from Asia. In 356 B.C., the temple was destroyed by fire, but it was restored on a grand scale and filled with masterpieces by the greatest living Greek artists. Alexander the Great offered to pay the cost of the work, but the Ephesians refused his assistance. The splendor of the rebuilt temple earned widespread praise, and it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Located at the western end of a leading trade route into Asia, Ephesus became the greatest business center of Asia Minor, according to the Greek geographer Strabo. The city became the capital of the Roman province* of Asia and the residence of the emperor’s financial representatives. Like many other temples, the temple of Artemis served as a bank, one which became known for its honesty and integrity.

By the early Christian era, Ephesus had declined. The Goths, a Germanic tribe, sacked* the city twice during the A.D. 200s. Like many cities on the west coast of Asia Minor, Ephesus suffered from an accumulation of silt* that eventually made its harbor almost useless. Still, Ephesus was the scene of several important events in the early Christian church. It was the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a council held there in A.D. 431 confirmed the veneration of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. Ephesus later became an administrative center of the Byzantine* Empire and remained an important city until its capture by the Turks in A.D. 1304. {See also Banking; Croesus; Harbors; Migrations, Early Greek; Trade, Greek; Trade, Roman.)

* tribute payment made to a dominant power or local government

* province overseas area controlled by Rome

* sack to rob a captured city

* silt fine particles of earth and sand carried by moving water

* Byzantine referring to the Eastern Christian Empire that was based in Constantinople

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