The cult of Artemis in Ephesus and the possible explanation of the Bee Symbol
The worship of a female deity begins in the vicinity of Ephesus from the Bronze Age if not earlier but is attested before the Ionian migration (1). But archaeological research dates the first buildings on the site of the Artemision to the geometric period (1100 – 800 BC), but many literary sources attribute the founding of the shrine of Artemis to the Amazons testifying to its antiquity and the exotic nature of the cult of the goddess in that area. The Greeks merged the worship of the local deity with the Greek goddess Artemis, which was called Ephesia and did not oppressed the few natives who lived around the sanctuary of Artemis. They built the citadel of Ephesus around 1500 meter from the original shrine so as not openly provoke the neighboring tribes. Yet they transformed the local goddess cult into the Greek Artemis “Mistress of Animals”. (2) The ancient sources say that the goddess worshiped by the titles: Oypis Anassa, great Artemis of the Ephesians. The Oypis associated with the Hittitic fertility goddess. Yet the dual attributes of the goddess were assimilate in the cult of Ephesia Artemis with a predominantly Greek character (3)
In the late 8th century BC, a small lodge (sekos) was build, later enriched with numerous excellent art votive offerings but was destroyed and looted during the raid of Cimmerians. The sanctuary was rebuilt and in the 7th BC a peristyle temple was built. In the mid-6th century BC the Lydian king Croesus after banishing the local tyrants allowed the reorganization of the city-state and the cult of the goddess. The building projects were undertaken by the architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes from Crete, the sculptural decoration was done from Theodorus of Samos. The Lydian monarch contributed to construction of the new temple and his name was mentioned in many Greek and Lydian inscriptions. This temple was made of marble, with dimensions 109 X 55 meters and with double colonnade in the fashion of the Egyptian temples. The construction was completed during the first half of the 5th century BC.
In honor of the patron of the city, the Ephesian Artemis took place celebrations called «The Ephesia» distinguished in both small and large festivals were held during the month of Artemision. They were spectacular festivities double character: religious and political, with international for the time extension seeking to strengthen the cohesive links pf the Ionian cities among themselves and with the Metropolitan Greece also. During the course of the Major Ephesia matches athletic and poetic competitions took place but also meetings of representatives of many cities for various political purposes.
The citizen officials responsible for the holy ceremonies of Artemis were distinguished as «Essenes», «Thytae»(responsible for the sacrifices), «Hestiatores»(responsible for the sacred dinners) and «Panegyristai» (cultists). According to the Greek glossary of Hesychios, «Essen» means King or ruler. During the Persian domination of Ephesus in the temple eunuchs served as priests and were known as «Megabyzoi» and this has led to assumptions that the cult in Ephesos related more to the cult of the Phrygian mother goddess Cyvele rather than the Greek Artemis Huntress (4) but many scholars consider the word originating from the Persian word «megabazus» meaning the leader. These priest may also have been no Ephesians (5) The girls who served in the temple were called Bees (6) in contrast to the “Essenes” who in some sources are referred as “king bee”(7) and the title may indicate some form of leader. (8) But other women’s groups responsible for the decoration of the cult statue of the Goddess (kosmoforoi, kosmiteirai, chrysoforoi) are mentioned too.
The cult was associated primarily with the youth of Ephesus, and the presence of married women in the sanctuary was banned. Young people of the city offered two dinners. The more «closed» dinner, involved the Couretes, who participated in secret ceremonies, the nature of which is unknown to us. The Couretes hailed origins from the most prestigious families of Ephesus and participated in sacred dances, re enacting the mythical armed dancers that the clang of their arms scared the servants of Hera that persecuted Leto, thus allowing her to give birth to Apollo and Artemis. The congress of the Ephesian Couretes assembled from the 1st century A.D. onwards in the Prytaneum of Ephesus. (9)
The statue of the Ephesian Artemis – one of the 7 Wonders of the ancient world-was a brilliant work of art but we know it only from its copies or from depictions on coins and textual references in ancient sources. But the appearance of the original archaic statue, which, according to tradition, was designed by the sculptor Endoius during the mid 6th century BC it is not known. Chances thought are that artists might not dare easily deviate from the rules of that existed in their time as in many city states there were laws against bringing religious alterations that could be interpreted as impiety (Plato Laws 908d etc)
During the Roman period a keen was interest developed about the cult statue of the goddess, the so-called «polymaston». (Diana multimammia) The «breasts» of the goddess have been interpreted variously (10). The absence of areola led to their identification as eggs (ancient symbol of life) or various trees fruits. Seiterle identified these objects with the testicles of sacrificial bulls but lack of evidence for such sacrifices. (11) The archaeologist Morris connected shape with leather pouches that date back to the Hittitic cult. None of these theories are convincing. An attempt to explain them as amber gourd-shaped drops used for decorating the wooden cultic figure is not very convincing either. The male priests name also cannot be associated with female breasts (12) and in order to find an answers as to what were these mysterious objects that seem to cover the statue of the goddess we must ask the help of biology; entomology to be exact.
The Ephesian Artemis had as its symbol, the bee that appears on coins of the city and based on exhibits of Athens Museums on the shields of the Ephesian hoplites. Probably on the ancient totemic figurehead (ξόανο) of the prehistoric period had resided wild bees that the believers the considered sacred and did not disturb them. The wild bees, known also as bumble bees build hives «mastoeideis» (i.e. like the female breasts) next to each other. The beehives perhaps covered the prehistoric cultic statue. It’s probable that after the arson of the temple, the sculptors gave to the statue of Artemis a form reminding of the ancient devotional object.
Ιστορία του ελληνικού έθνους, τ.6, Εκδοτική Αθηνών, 1976
John Bostock, H.T. Riley “The Natural History. Pliny the Elder” Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street.London. 1855.
John Boardman «Οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες στην υπερπόντια εξάπλωση τους» Ινστιτούτο του βιβλίου Α Καρδαμίτσα translated from the orginal “The Greeks Overseas”
Herodotus “Histories” Loeb Classical Library 1914
Thucidides “History” Loeb Classical Library 1914
Pausanias “Description of Greece” Loeb Classical Library 1914
Strabo “Geography” Loeb Classical Library 1914
Μανώλης Βουτυράς & Αλεξάνδρα Γουλάκη-Βουτυρά “Η Αρχαία Ελληνική Τέχνη και η Ακτινοβολία της” Κέντρο Εκπαιδευτικής Έρευνας & Ινστιτούτο Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών
Lynn R. LiDonnici “The Images of Artemis Ephesia and Greco-Roman Worship: A Reconsideration” The Harvard Theological Review, (1992), pp. 389-415
(1) Rachel Lesser The Nature of Artemis Ephesia The McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Volume IV: p43 (c) 2005-2006
(2) Daniel Frayer-Griggs «The Beasts at Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis,» Harvard Theological Review 106 (2013) pp464-465 p 468
(3) Rachel Lesser The Nature of Artemis Ephesia The McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Volume IV: pp 44, 45 (c) 2005-2006
(4) Florence Mary Bennett Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons 1912 pp35
(5) Jan N. Bremmer PRIESTLY PERSONNEL OF THE EPHESIAN AR TEMISION: ANAT OLIAN, PERSIAN, GREEK AND ROMAN ASPECTS University of Groningen 2008 p5
(6) Daniel Frayer-Griggs «The Beasts at Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis,» Harvard Theological Review 106 (2013): 468
(7) Daniel Frayer-Griggs «The Beasts at Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis,» Harvard Theological Review 106 (2013): 468
(8) Jan N. Bremmer PRIESTLY PERSONNEL OF THE EPHESIAN AR TEMISION: ANAT OLIAN, PERSIAN, GREEK AND ROMAN ASPECTS, University of Groningen 2008 p16
(9) Jan N. Bremmer PRIESTLY PERSONNEL OF THE EPHESIAN AR TEMISION: ANAT OLIAN, PERSIAN, GREEK AND ROMAN ASPECTS, University of Groningen 2008 p19
(10) Daniel Frayer-Griggs «The Beasts at Ephesus and the Cult of Artemis,» Harvard Theological Review 106 (2013): 467
(11) Gerard Seiterle «Artemis Die Grosse Gottin von Ephesos,» Antike Welt 10 (1979)
(12) Jan N. Bremmer PRIESTLY PERSONNEL OF THE EPHESIAN AR TEMISION: ANAT OLIAN, PERSIAN, GREEK AND ROMAN ASPECTS University of Groningen 2008 pp 2-3
(*)Florence Mary Bennett Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons 1912 pp32