Ephesus, a titular archiepiscopal see in Asia Minor, said to have been founded in the eleventh century B.C. by Androcles, son of the Athenian King Codrus, with the aid of Ionian colonists. Its coinage dates back to 700 B.C., the period when the first money was struck. After belonging successively to the kings of Lydia, the Persians, and the Syrian successors of Alexander the Great, it passed, after the battle of Magnesia (190 B.C.), to the kings of Pergamum, the last of whom, Attains III, bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people (133 B.C.). It was at Ephesus that Mithradates (88 B.C.) signed the decree ordering all the Romans in Asia to be put to death, in which massacre there perished 100,000 persons. Four years later Sulla, again master of the territory, slaughtered at Ephesus all the leaders of the rebellion. From 27 B.C. till a little after A.D. 297, Ephesus was the capital of the proconsular province of Asia, a direct dependency of the Roman Senate. Though unimportant politically, it was noted for its extensive commerce. Many illustrious persons were born at Ephesus, e.g. the philosophers Heraclitus and Hermodorus, the poet Hipponax, the painter Parrhasius (all in the sixth or fifth century B.C.), the geographer Artemidorus, another Artemidorus, astrologer and charlatan, both in the second century of the Christian Era, and the historian and essayist, Xenophon. Ephesus owed its chief renown to its temple of Artemis (Diana), which attracted multitudes of visitors. Its first architect was the Cretan Chersiphron (seventh to sixth century B.C.) but it was afterwards enlarged. It was situated on the bank of the River Selinus and its precincts had the right of asylum. This building, which was looked upon in antiquity as one of the marvels of the world, was burnt by Herostratus (356 B.C.) the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, and was afterwards rebuilt, almost in the same proportions, by the architect Dinocrates. Its construction is said to have lasted 120 years, according to some historians 220. It was over 400 feet in length and 200 in breadth, and rested upon 128 pillars of about sixty feet in height. It was stripped of its riches by Nero and was finally destroyed by the Goths (A.D. 262).
It was through the Jews that Christianity was first introduced into Ephesus. The original community was under the leadership of Apollo (I Cor., i, 12). They were disciples of St. John the Baptist, and were converted by Aquila and Priscilla. Then came St. Paul, who lived three years at Ephesus to establish and organize the new church; he was wont to teach in the schola or lecture-hall of the rhetorician Tyrannus (Acts, xix, 9) and performed there many miracles. Eventually he was obliged to depart, in consequence of a sedition stirred up by the goldsmith Demetrius and other makers of ex-votoes for the temple of Diana (Acts, xviii, 24 sqq.; xix, 1 sqq.). A little later, on his way to Jerusalem, he sent for the elders of the community of Ephesus to come to Miletus and bade them there a touching farewell (Acts, xx, 17-35). The Church of Ephesus was committed to his disciple, St. Timothy, a native of the city (I Tim., i, 3; II Tim., i, 18; iv, 12). The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians was not perhaps addressed directly to them; it may be only a circular letter sent by him to several churches. The sojourn and death of the Apostle St. John at Ephesus are not mentioned in the New Testament, but both are attested as early as the latter part of the second century by St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., III, iii, 4), Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., V, xxi), Clement of Alexandria, the “Acta Joannis”, and a little earlier by St. Justin and the Montanists. Byzantine tradition has always shown at Ephesus the tomb of the Apostle. Another tradition, which may be trustworthy, though less ancient, makes Ephesus the scene of the death of St. Mary Magdalen. On the other hand the opinion that the Blessed Virgin died there rests on no ancient testimony; the often quoted but ambiguous text of the Council of Ephesus (431), means only that there was at that time at Ephesus a church of the Virgin. (See Ramsay in “Expositor”, June, 1905, also his “Seven Cities of Asia“.) We learn, moreover, from Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., V, xxiv) that the three daughters of the Apostle St. Philip were buried at Ephesus.
About 110 St. Ignatius of Antioch, having been greeted at Smyrna by messengers of the Church of Ephesus, sent to it one of his seven famous epistles. During the first three centuries, Ephesus was, next to Antioch, the chief center of Christianity in Asia Minor. In the year 190 its bishop, St. Polycrates, held a council to consider the paschal controversy and declared himself in favor of the Quartodeciman practice; nevertheless the Ephesian Church soon conformed in this particular to the practice of all the other Churches. It seems certain that the sixth canon of the Council of Nicaea (325), confirmed for Ephesus its ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole “diocese” or civil territory of Asia Minor, i.e. over eleven ecclesiastical provinces; at all events, the second canon of the Council of Constantinople (381) formally recognized this authority. But Constantinople was already claiming the first rank among the Churches of the East and was trying to annex the Churches of Thrace, Asia, and Pontus. To resist these encroachments, Ephesus made common cause with Alexandria. We therefore find Bishop Memnon of Ephesus siding with St. Cyril at the Third Ecumenical Council, held at Ephesus in 431 in condemnation of Nestorianism, and another bishop, Stephen, supporting Dioscorus at the so-called Robber Council (Latrocinium Ephesinum) of 449, which approved the heresy of Eutyches. But the resistance of Ephesus was overcome at the Council of Chalcedon (451), whose famous twenty-eighth canon placed the twenty-eight ecclesiastical provinces of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Henceforth Ephesus was but the second metropolis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, nor did it ever recover its former standing, despite a council of 474 in which Paul, the Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria restored its ancient rights. Egyptian influence was responsible for the hold which Monophysitism gained at Ephesus during the sixth century; the famous ecclesiastical historian, John of Asia, was then one of its bishops. The metropolis of Ephesus in those days ruled over thirty-six suffragan sees. Justinian, who imitated Constantine in stripping the city of many works of art to adorn Constantinople, built there a magnificent church consecrated to St. John; this was soon a famous place of pilgrimage.
Ephesus was taken in 655 and 717 by the Arabs. Later it became the capital of the theme of the Thracesians. During the Iconoclastic period two bishops of Ephesus suffered martyrdom, Hypatius in 735 and Theophilus in the ninth century. In the same city the fierce general Lachanodracon put to death thirty-eight monks from the monastery of Pelecete in Bithynia and other partisans of the holy images. In 899 Leo the Wise transferred the relics of St. Mary Magdalen to Constantinople. The city was captured in 1090 and destroyed by the Seljuk Turks, but the Byzantines succeeded in retaking it and rebuilt it on the neighboring hills around the church of St. John. Henceforth it was commonly called Hagios Theologos (the holy theologian, i.e. St. John the Divine), or in Turkish Aya Solouk (to the Greeks the Apostle St. John is “the Theologian”); the French called the site Altelot and the Italians Alto Luogo. At the beginning of the thirteenth century its metropolitan, Nicholas Mesarites, had an important role at conferences between the Greeks and the Latins. The city was again plundered by the Turks in the first years of the fourteenth century, then by the Catalonian mercenaries in the pay of the Byzantines, and once more by the Turks. The church of St. John was transformed into a mosque, and the city was ruled by a Turkish ameer, who carried on a little trade with the West, but it could no longer maintain its Greek bishop. A series of Latin bishops governed the see from 1318 to 1411. The ruin of Ephesus was completed by Timur-Leng in 1403 and by nearly a half-century of civil wars among its Turkish masters. When at the Council of Florence in 1439 Mark of Ephesus (Marcus Eugenicus) showed himself so haughty towards the Latins, he was the pastor of a miserable village, all that remained of the great city which Pliny once called alterum lumen Asioe, or the second eye of Asia (Hist. nat., V, xxix; also Apoc., ii, 5; cf. W. Brockhoff, “Ephesus vom vierten christlich. Jhdt. bis seinem Untergang”, Jena, 1906).
Today Aya Solouk has 3000 inhabitants, all Greeks. It is situated in the caza of Koush Adassi, in the vilayet of Aïdin or Smyrna, about fifty miles from Smyrna, on the Smyrna-Aïdin railway. The ruins of Ephesus stand in the marshy and unhealthy plain below the village. There are the remains of the temple of Diana, the theatre, with a capacity of 25,000 spectators, the stadium, the great gymnasium, and the “Double Church“, probably the ancient cathedral, one aisle of which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the other to St. John, where the councils of 431 and 449 were held. The Greek metropolitan resides at Manissa, the ancient Magnesia.