The worship of Cybele-Artemis and the social structure of the temple:
The history of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus dates back to 9000 years ago. Many statues of Cybele and Artemis have been discovered in Turkey. Those found in Catalhöyük, (dated to 7000 B.C.) and Hacilar (dated to 6000 B.C.) are the oldest. These statues were made of baked clay, and since they were intended to look reproductive, their hips, breasts and genital organs were exaggerated. Although at first these were thought to be statues of Venus, later it was established that they represented the mother goddess. As time went by, the mother goddess changed form and her popularity spread everywhere in the prehistoric world. She acquired the local characteristics but never lost her essence.
Although we do not know what the people of Catalhöyuk and Hacilar called the mother goddess, she was known as Isis in Egypt, Latin Arab lands, Kubala, Cybele, Hepa and Artemis in Anatolia. Cybele was the most popular name in Anatolia and was worshipped the most. Her famous temple and cult centre is in Persinus Oren (village of Ballhisar) of Sivrihisar near Ankara. The evolution of the mother goddess in antiquity reached a turning point in Pessinus which was an important centre in Phyrigia. Here, she seems diopetic (from the sky). In Pessinus, a meteorite similar in shape to her diopetic form was worshipped for many years as the statue of Cybele.
In the reliefs found in many locations in Phyrigia (some of them on rocks), the figure of the mother goddess was carved without detail, similar to her diopetic form. During the reign of Attalos I, the King of Pergamum, the meteorite was taken to Rome, in the hope that it would help end the war between Rome and Carthage with the victory of Rome. It was erected on Platina hill. The mother goddess also has a Xoanic form. Xoanic means “carved out of wood”. The oldest statue of Artemis in Ephesus is thought to be of Xoanic type, carved out of wood without detail. The mother goddess who was taken to Rome from Pessinus received a great deal of respect. Elagabalus, one of the Roman emperors, during a ceremony, cut off his male organ as required according to the worship of Cybele, and presented it to the mother goddess. The incident proves the respect she received in Rome.
The fact that Cybele-Artemis always looked definitely eastern becomes evident when her statues in the Ephesus Museum are examined. The legs of the statues are motionless as though fused. Although the nodes on her chest were once thought to be breasts, it has become apparent that they represent the testes of bulls sacrificed for her. Testes symbolize fertility since they produce “seeds”. The bulls, lions and sphinxes that are on her skirt, indicate that she was the protectress of animals. The lions depicted on both sides of Cybele in her reliefs are seen on her arms in these statues. The hierarchy among the priests in the temple was different from the hierarchy in the West. Even the terms used were different from the terms used by the Greeks, although, during the Roman period, Greek was used.
The temple was administered by only a few priests. The male organs of these priests and the head priest called Megaysos were removed. According to Strabo, the priests were chosen from the middle of Anatolia and especially from the east. Becoming Megabysos meant assuming a very honourable duty. The assistants of Megabysos were virgins similar to the Vestal Virgins of Rome. Some say that the worship of Artemis, the Temple of Artemis and the religious hierarchy were all modelled on the social structure of bees. The bee was the symbol of Ephesus, and it is often seen on coins and statues in Ephesus.
Another class of priests who served Artemis was called the Curetes. According to mythology, Curetes were demigods related to Zeus. While Zeus was creating Dionysus from his leg, Curetes stayed by him and made a noise so that Hera could not hear anything. Also, while Leto was giving birth to Artemis, Curetes stayed by her and made a noise. Every year this event was celebrated by a festival in Ortygia known as the birthplace of Artemis.
There was another class of twenty priests who were thought to be probably involved with the dances which took place during ceremonies. They may be referred to as “the acrobats” or “the tiptoers”. The worship of Artemis and Cybele was the most important factor in the development of Ephesus. The number of priests, priestesses and guards reached hundreds.
The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus also served as a bank. The Megabysos were in charge of accepting gifts either presented or entrusted to the temple, and lending money from the treasury of the temple. The temple also had certain privileges. For example, anyone who seeks shelter in the temple enjoyed immunity (right of asylum). Therefore, people often took refuge in the sacred area surrounding the temple.
During the time of Alexander, the sacred area and the borders of the refuge were enlarged, and King Mithridates enlarged this area even more so that the sacred area stretched as far as the spot where an arrow shot from the pediment of the temple would land. Emperor Marcus Antonius, inspired by what Julius Caesar had done in Didyma, doubled this sacred area which thus included a section of the city too. Citizens critical of the fact that many criminals took refuge here and in other temples in the Empire, requested that the right asylum be lifted. In 22, Emperor Tiberius discussed the issue with the representatives of other famous temples. Yet the Temple of Artemis continued to serve as a refuge.
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