356 BCE: Herostratus burns the Temple of Artemis

3 comments July 21st, 2013 Headsman

By the ancient world’s tradition, it was on July 21, 356 — the night of Alexander the Great‘s birth* — that a theretofore forgettable man set fire to the wooden rafters of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Situated on the Hellenized coast of Asia Minor, near present-day Selcuk, Turkey, Ephesus was one of the great cities of the Mediterranean. It counted Artemis (Diana) its patron deity, and gloried in a jaw-dropping marble temple, bankrolled two centuries before by the Lydian king Croesus, that would have nearly covered a modern football pitch. Ephesians took their Artemis seriously: 400-plus years later, St. Paul would barely escape lynching at the hands of enraged Artemis devotees when he proselytized there.

What a horror it must have been for 4th century BCE Ephesians to awake this day to the destruction of their city’s own sacred pride.

Even more shockingly, the temple’s destroyer made no effort to conceal himself. He openly boasted of his act, and of the horrifying reason for it: merely to exalt his obscure name with the luster of infamy.

Ephesus not only put this man to death, but passed a damnatio memoriae upon him, forbidding any mention of his name, in order to deny him his victory.

But the the historian Theopompus, who was not Ephesian, cheated the city of its sentence by recording it: Herostratus. It’s a word that has become a metonym in many languages and an allegory in many books for any villain impelled to his wickedness by the allure of celebrity.

We have no specific date for Herostratus’s execution. But we do have his last tortured victory. We do have his name.

The Ephesians in time rebuilt the magnificent temple, bigger and more awe-inspiring than before. It stood some 600 years more until the Goths sacked it in 268 AD, long enough to secure its place among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus,” wrote Antipater of Sidon of the reconstructed, post-Herostratus temple. “But when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”


The Temple of Artemis today: a weedy rubble. (cc) image from LWY.

* Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too distracted delivering the conqueror into the world to protect her shrine.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Language,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1689: William Bew, flatterer

1 comment April 17th, 2012 Headsman

This was the hanging-date in 1689 of William Bew, the less-noted younger brother of a more impressive (but by this time deceased) highwayman “Captain Bew”.

Will, too, took to the road. His thieving career might not have been outstanding, but it did give the Newgate Ordinary occasion to wax smug over the nigh-literary comeuppance young Bew once delivered to feminine vanity.

The following story, which Bew himself used to tell, is of an adventure of Bew with a young lady, whom he overtook on the road, with her footman behind her. He made bold to keep them company a pretty way, talking all along of the lady’s extraordinary beauty, and carrying his compliments to her to an unreasonable height. Madam was not at all displeased with what he said, for she looked upon herself to be every bit as handsome as he made her. However, she seemed to contradict all he told her, and professed with a mighty formal air that she had none of the perfections he mentioned, and was therefore highly obliged to him for his good opinion of a woman who deserved it so little. They went on in this manner, Bew still protesting that she was the most agreeable lady he ever saw, and she declaring that he was the most complaisant gentleman she ever met with. This was the discourse till they came to a convenient place, when Bew took an opportunity to knock the footman off his horse; and then addressing himself to the lady, “Madam,” says he, “I have been a great while disputing with you about the beauty of your person; but you insist so strongly on my being mistaken, that I cannot in good manners contradict you any longer. However, I am not satisfied yet that you have nothing handsome about you, and therefore I must beg leave to examine your pocket, and see what charms are contained there.” Having delivered his speech he made no more ceremony, but thrust his hand into her pocket and pulled out a purse with fifty guineas in it. “These are the charms I mean,” says he; and away he rode, leaving her to meditate a little upon the nature of flattery, which commonly picks the pocket of the person it is most busy about.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Theft

Tags: , , , , , ,


Calendar

September 2019
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!