During the Crusades, the armies of the King of Jerusalem stormed what had been the Temple of Artemis at Jerash in modern Jordan. Why would a crusader army have done such a thing? Well, the temple had long ceased to be a pagan place of worship. It had morphed firstly into a Christian church before becoming a Muslim fortification.
When we see Roman ruins today – we wonder how they survived. Sometimes they’ve been reconstructed from fragments discovered on or below the ground. But other times, they were repurposed in very unexpected ways. But as a result of being put to new use, these Roman buildings have come down to us. The Temple of Artemis in Jerash is one such example.
Let’s go back to the height of the crusades in the 12th century AD and the Atabeg (Saracen ruler) of Damascus spotted a building that was ideal to convert into a fortress – the remains of a Roman temple to the goddess Artemis in the long deserted city of Jerash.
Jerash had been one of the ten cities in the Decapolis during the Roman empire and hugely wealthy. But the decline of the empire and a series of earthquakes left just some beautiful ruins, which are still there today.
Closure of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash
During the Roman period, the temple of Artemis dominated a city comparable to Antioch in grandeur. The temple was completed in AD150 and opulently decorated. However, the decision by the emperor Constantine to convert to Christianity followed by the emperor Theodosius demanding everybody adopt the new faith – saw the temple gradually stripped of its adornments and marble.
There are remains of two kilns from the Theodosian era (late 4th century AD) that were set up on the steps of the temple to break down its building materials. These were then used for new Christian churches in Jerash. The Temple of Artemis suffered the same fate as many other glorious pagan shrines – pillaged for the new churches and basilicas.
However, rejecting the pagan Gods for Christ did not bring Jerash good fortune.
It succumbed to earthquakes and economic decline and by the time of the crusades, it was a ruin ruled over by the Muslim caliphate. The Atabeg of Damascus converted the temple of Artemis into a fortress. That made it a crusader target. It was stormed by the forces of the crusader king of Jerusalem Baldwin II who burnt it down.
Underneath the temple, there are still very dark rooms under the main platform which I was allowed to go and see. Bit too dark to film in I’m afraid. My guide informed me (and challenge him if you know better) that the Templars and crusaders stored wealth in what was a very secure place.
Anyway – here are some photos and a video of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash!