3246 – Ephesian Artemis statue

Physical description:
Beige-colored statue
Museum classification:
12 cm X 38 cm

This statue was donated with a coin (see object number 3362).

This statue is a replica cast from Lady of Ephesus statue in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Turkey, with the original dating back to 100-200 CE. A goddess was worshiped by a pre-Hellenic cult at Ephesus, whom the Greeks likened to the goddess Artemis, but is considered a distinct form of the goddess. This original cult image is thought to have been carved from wood and kept decorated with jewelry. This Ephesian Artemis was venerated as a Mother and fertility goddess, as signified in the symbolism in the statue. The tear-drop spheres along the figure's chest may symbolize breasts, eggs, or gourds, denoting the goddess' fertility attributes.

Information below provided by Marti Dean.

Artemis Ephesia was the tutelary Goddess of the ancient metropolis of Ephesos, in Asia Minor. She was protectress of the city, which at its height as the Roman capital of Asia had a population exceeding 170,000.

The origins of the goddess lay in much more ancient times. Early Greek settlers to this region encountered a coastal sanctuary close to a sweet water spring. They identified this indigenous goddess with their own Artemis. However, the iconography of her cult image shows her distinct difference to the virgin huntress of Greek tradition.

Her sanctuary, enriched and rebuild by successive kings and rulers, is mentioned thousands of times by ancient authors. Famed for its richness and beauty, the Artemision was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Four times the size of the Parthenon and built entirely from marble, the temple was renowned for its sanctuary and was place of pilgrimage across the ancient Mediterranean region.

The iconography of Artemis Ephesia as she is seen in Roman copies of the cult image, reveal her antiquity. Her columnar, mumiform shape is a key characteristic of Archaic xoanon statues.  The goddess is heavily adorned with decoration in a style that was popular in Asia Minor during the Hellenistic period. In some representations, the goddess is shown wearing the Babylonian zodiac as a necklace, in others she is festooned with pearls and acorns. Common to all statues are the representations of animals within rectangular fields. These hold a magical symbolism and show the goddess’s dominion over the natural world. Many representations show the goddess wearing a high mural crown topped with a temple, this symbolised her power and role as “Mistress of Ephesos”. Preeminent in the goddess’s iconography is the honey bee, found on both the cult statue and on Ephesian coinage as the symbol of that city.

There has been much scholarly speculation about the identity of the rows of egg-like objects across the goddess’s chest. Suggestions have included multiple breasts, eggs, fruits, and even bulls testicles. Clues can be found in the materials used to create the Roman copies of earlier statues. Here parts of the goddess’s anatomy, including face, hands and feet are sometimes cast in bronze, whilst the rest of the goddess’s costume, including the mysterious objects are carved in marble. It can therefore be deduced that the objects are not part of her anatomy as multiple breasts, but are removable adornments. Moreover, similar adornments are depicted on other Anatolian deities such as the Zeus of Labraunda.

Amber beads in the shape of fruits have been excavated from one of the earliest sanctuaries at the Artemision. These votive items once hung about the collar of  the Archaic statue of the goddess within her shrine, and it is suggested this may be the origins of these mysterious ornaments. It is perhaps more likely that the origins  lie in the sacred Hittite symbol of the hunting bag, or kursas. This was a particular type of magical apron with amuletic pockets, sometimes shown on statues of Kybele. The goddess Kybele had a close association with Ephesian Artemis, sharing some characteristics.