Ephesus was a harbour city at the mouth of the river Caÿster in Ionia and a gateway to the commercial routes of inland Anatolia. There are traces of occupation in the area since at least the late 7th to 3rd millennium BC. Ephesus became a mainly Greek settlement from the 11th century onwards, when immigrants from Greece led by Androklos settled the region and moved the city further west as the silting of the river made the previous location unfit for a settlement. Ephesus maintained close relations with its Lydian neighbours in the subsequent centuries, which influenced its art, crafts and dialect. Around 560/550 BC Ephesus was conquered by the Lydian king Croesus, who contributed to the erection of the temple of Artemis and a new city was built ‘around the present temple’, according to Strabo (14.1.21). After Croesus’ defeat, Ephesus fell under Persian (Achaemenid) rule, which it tried unsuccessfully to secede during the Ionian Revolt. The political importance of Ephesus was not strong compared to neighbouring cities such as Miletus or Smyrna until in the 3rd century BC.
Ephesus was the home of the most important cult to Artemis of its time. The 4th century temple that replaced that of Croesus’ was considered one of the seven wonders in antiquity. After Ephesus passed, with the kingdom of Attalus III, to Rome in 133 BC, Ephesus became the capital of the Roman province of Asia in 129 BC.
During Roman rule, Ephesus became the largest city of Asia Minor, it grew as an important economic hub and was chosen as the centre for provincial administration, thus eclipsing Pergamum in economic and administrative matters. It was also a chief centre of the Roman ruler-cult during the Principate, and so a temple to Dea Roma and the Deified Julius Caesar was dedicated in 29 BC. The ‘Curetes’ street became the preferred place of Roman governors and emperors to publicize their support for the city: it was lined with statues and new monuments were built, such as a temple to Artemis, Hadrian and the demos of Ephesos, a gate-way to the commercial agora, and the early Hadrianic Library of Celsus. The Library, one of the best known sites in Ephesus, was built as the burial place of Ti. Ilulius Celsus Polemaeanus, one of the great magnates of the Asian province and consul in 92 AD.
The city also housed the most important early Christian community in Asia. In the theatre, Saint Paul addressed the people, inciting a riot led by craftsmen who made silver images of the city’s patron goddess, Artemis (Acts 19:23-41). Ephesus was also the home of John the Evangelist in his later years; and his burial place became the site of Justinian’s basilica. In Late Antiquity, Ephesus remained important and in 431 AD a major ecumenical council of bishops was held there.