According to one of the legends, Ephesus was founded by the Amazons, great female warriors. The name of the city is believed to have been derived from an ancient name "Apasas", the name of a city in the "Kingdom of Arzawa" meaning the "city of the Mother Goddess" and some scholars maintain that the sign of the labrys, the double-axe of the mother goddess which adorned the palace at Knossos, Crete, originated in Ephesus.
Ephesus was inhabited from the end of the Bronze Age onwards, but the location had to be changed due to several floods which silted up the city and it lost its connection with the sea. While Carians and Lelegians were among the first inhabitants of the ancient Ephesus, Ionian migrations started around 1200 BCE and Ephesus is chiefly known as an Ionian Greek city. Ionian Androclus, son of Codrus, founded the city for the second time and the cities that were established after the Ionian migrations joined in a confederacy under the leadership of Ephesus.
The region was destroyed during the Cimmerian invasion in the early 7th century BCE but, under the rule of the Lydian kings, Ephesus became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world. Ephesus was the center of science and the birthplace and home of the great Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Women had rights and privileges equal to men and there are records of some female artists, sculptors, painters and teachers.
Under the rule of King Croesus of Lydia, construction of the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus started, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The defeat of Croesus by Cyrus, the King of Persia, brought the whole of Anatolia under Persian rule but Ephesus continued to prosper as an important port of trade and cultural center. When the Ionian city-states rebelled against the Persians in the 5th century BCE, Ephesus remained neutral and thus avoided the destruction suffered by so many other cities by the Persians.
Ephesus remained under Persian rule until Alexander the Great arrived the city in 334 BCE. Lysimachus, one of the generals of Alexander who became ruler of the area after the death of Alexander the Great, began renewal and developed the city, which he called Arsineia after his wife Arsinoe. He built a new harbor, constructed defensive walls on the slopes of the Panayýr and Bulbul mountains and moved the city approximately four kilometers to the south-west. In 281 BCE the city was re-set up under the old name of Ephesus and, again, was known as one of the most important commercial ports in the Mediterranean.
In 129 BCE the Roman Empire acquired Ephesus because of the will left by Attalos, King of Pergamon, by which they were bequeathed his kingdom. The city suffered a very severe damage in an earthquake in 17 CE. After that Ephesus once again became very important center of trade and commerce.
The historian Aristio described Ephesus as being recognized by all the inhabitants of the region as the most important trading center in Asia. It also remained as a leading political and intellectual center and boasted the second school of philosophy in the Aegean. From the 1st century AD onwards, Ephesus was visited repeatedly by early Christians (most notably Saint Paul, who preached in the theatre of Ephesus), and Mother Mary, is said to have retired there along with Saint John (John’s tomb and Mary’s house may still be visited today).
After Christianity became dominant in the region, worship of the ancient mother goddess Artemis was forbidden and the Temple of Artemis was destroyed by a Christian mob, the ruins were used as a quarry for building materials for other local projects such as churches. The streets, once adorned with statuary, highly maintained and lighted by the oil lamps at night, fell into darkness until the excavations started in the ancient city in the 19th century and is still on trying to bring the light back to Ephesus.