While Ephesus’ history as a city is usually traced back to its founding as one of the twelve ancient Greek cities which comprised the Ionian League (circa 10th century BCE), its first inhabitance actually dates back much further to the Neolithic Age – some time around 6000 BCE – after nearby excavations discovered the artificial mounds (hoyuk’s) of Aryalya and Cukurici. Even five centuries earlier in the Bronze Age before the arrival of the ancient Greeks, a burial ground from the Mycenaean era (circa 15th century BCE) was discovered close to the ruins of the St. John basilica. The presence of ceramic materials from these people, coincides with an account by Homer, who talked of the period of Mycenaean Expansion – and has lead some scholars to postulate the founding of Ephesus may have actually been made upon the previous Mycenaean settlement of Apasa/Abasa.
According to the ancient Greeks the mythical founder of Ephesus was a prince of Athens named Androklos, who was forced to leave the city after the death of his father, King Kadros. Following the visions of the Oracle of Delphi after a fish jumped from the nearby waters into his camp’s frying pan while he and his crew were stopped for the night, causing the fire to spread to some nearby trees and bushes, and spook a boar from its hiding place, the young prince gave pursuit, and founded Ephesus on the very site that he killed the boar – fulfilling the oracle’s promise that a fish and boar would show him the way.
Driving the native inhabitants of the city away, Androklos proved himself again after forging the twelve cities of Ionia together into the Ionian League. However it would be this union that would lead to his own undoing, for going to the aid of Priene (another of the Ionian League) he was killed in battle against the Carians
Because of the close identification of the Greek goddess Artemis, and the great Anatolian goddess Kybele – together known as Artemis of Ephesus or the many-breasted “Lady of Ephesus” – Ephesus was the location of one of the famed Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis, and was said at the time to be one of the largest buildings in all the ancient world. The city as a result also became a bastion of women’s rights, which the cult of Artemis cultivated.
Unfortunately today hardly any trace of it remains as the Cimmerians razed it and large portions of the city to the ground some time around 650 BCE. Eventually they were driven away, and multiple attempts were made to restore the magnificent temple, but Ephesus would switch hands multiple times over the next two centuries, seeing many forms of governance, before eventually being incorporated into the Persian – Achaemenid – Empire as a satrap in 547 BCE.
And for some fifty years they remained subjects of Persia. However as taxes rose, so did the citizenry’s unrest, leading in 498 BCE to their involvement in the Ionian Revolt at the Battle of Ephesus – an event that would later on in 479 BCE instigate the Greco-Persian wars and eventually see the Persians driven from the shores of Asia Minor. However their independence would be short lived, as Ephesus would be returned to Persian hands a few years later, and remain under their control until their defeat in 334 BCE by Alexander the Great. Over the next two centuries the city would continue to switch hands, even coming under Egyptian rule between 263 and 197 BCE, before eventually joining the Roman Republic. Interestingly over the course of its existence, the city of Ephesus has known multiple homes, in part necessitated by the regular silting of the coast, requiring the movement of habours and its inhabitants.
The majority of the ruins however we’re familiar with today are those from the Roman period.