(Map 7:E3). Commonly acknowledged to be the first and greatest metropolis of the Roman province of Asia, Ephesus played a historic part in the movement of Christianity from Palestine to Rome. Acts depicts Ephesus as the zenith of Paul's missionary activity (Acts 19.1–41; 20.17–35), and it was from Ephesus that Paul wrote the Corinthian letters (1 Cor. 16.8). The Pastoral letters (1 Tim. 1.3) and the book of Revelation (Rev. 2.1–7) associate the city with Timothy and John, respectively. Later traditions held that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived and died there.
From the classical into the Byzantine period, Ephesus exercised hegemony in the Ionian region. It was well known for its philosophers, artists, poets, historians, and rhetoricians. Ephesus made distinctive contributions to intellectual and religious history from the pre‐Socratic period down to the philosophical revivals of the later Roman empire. Small wonder that Paul is seen teaching “daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” at Ephesus for two years (Acts 19.9–10), that John reportedly wrote the Fourth Gospel at Ephesus, and that this was the site of the conversion of Justin Martyr, the first Christian philosopher.
The importance of Ephesus stemmed from its location on the western coast of Asia Minor at the nexus of river, land, and sea routes. The city's size at the time of early Christianity has been estimated at 250,000, and during the early empire it was one of the fastest‐growing urban and commercial centers in the Roman east. Although the harbors at Ephesus were plagued by alluvium, they were still serviceable in the later empire and early Byzantine period.
According to Josephus there was a significant Jewish community there, although few Jewish material remains have been discovered. The city was famous as a site for magic and thaumaturgy. The Greek phrase Ephesia grammata (Ephesian letters) became a generic label for all types of magical words and apotropaic incantations. The city attracted Jewish exorcists (Acts 19.11–20) as well as their gentile counterparts, such as Apollonius of Tyana.
Although the Greek and Egyptian pantheons were well represented in imperial Ephesus, the religious focal point of the city was the goddess Artemis of Ephesus. From Ephesus her worship had spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, and her Ephesian sanctuary was widely recognized as one of the seven wonders of antiquity. The site of Ephesus is exceptionally well excavated and reconstructed. Most of the excavated areas shed light on the Roman and Byzantine city rather than the Hellenistic one. Noteworthy monuments include the foundations of the Artemis temple and its altar (see Acts 19.27), the 25,000‐seat theater (Acts 19.29), temples for the imperial cult, the library of Celsus, numerous baths and gymnasia, the “slope houses” dating from the early empire to the Byzantine era, and the temple of the Egyptian deities. The thousands of coins and inscriptions that have been found have illuminated many facets of the history and culture of Ephesus that was contemporary with early Christianity. Prominent Christian monuments date from the Byzantine era and include the Church of Saint John, purportedly constructed over the site of the apostle's grave, the Church of Saint Mary, traditionally claimed as the site of the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, and the legendary Cave of the Seven Sleepers.
Richard E. Oster, Jr.