The 203 to 133 BCE Ephesus Silver Drachm with Bee Obverse, Stag and Palm Reverse
The first coins of Ephesus featured bees (melissae in Greek), dating to as early as 600 BCE!
This coin was minted sometime in the second century BCE, estimated 202 to 133 BCE. The coin features an artistic depiction of a melissa (“honeybee”) on the obverse with “E” to the left and “PH” to the right for “Ephesus”. The reverse shows a standing stag and a palm tree, both symbols of Artemis, the patron goddess of Ephesus. The example shown has the name of the magistrate POLUAINOS on the reverse, who is known to history only by this coin. The drachm coin of this era is usually found in low grade, but the example pictured here is among the finest known, offered by Gibraltar Coins for $2,450.00.
History and Legend
The bee is important to the ancient city of Ephesus for a couple of reasons.
First, the Bee was associated with Artemis, and since the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) was situated in Ephesus, the bee was of great consequence as a symbol of the city. The priestesses in the Temple were even called melissae (honey bees).
But the oldest legends give an additional reason for the prominence of the bee. Philostratus of Lemnos, a writer in the Roman period at about 190 CE, relates:
When the Athenians set out to colonize Ionia, the Muses in the form of bees guided the fleet; for they rejoiced in Ionia, because the waters of Meles are sweeter than the waters of Cephisus and Olmeius. Some day, indeed, you will find them dancing there; but now, by decree of the fates, the Muses are spinning the birth of Homer; and Meles through his son (Imagines, 2:8)
So the Ephesians and colonists of rival city Smyrna told the story that the Nine Muses, in the form of bees, led them to their homeland centuries before.
Wonder of the World: The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was rebuilt on the ruins of an earlier temple that had been destroyed by an arsonist seeking fame for himself (a man named Herostratus, from which the term herostratic fame derives, a term used to describe someone who seeks fame in destruction). The new, larger Temple of Artemis is the one known as the Wonder of the World.
The old temple was destroyed in 323 BCE, the year Alexander the Great was born, and it was rumored that Artemis allowed her temple to burn because she was distracted by the birth of the hero. Knowing this, Alexander himself offered to pay for the rebuilding of the Temple, but the Ephesians built it at their own expense.
The new Temple stood for 600 years before being burned and looted by invading Goths in 268 CE.
The Apostle Paul and the Early Church at Ephesus
When the Apostle Paul took the Gospel to Ephesus in 52 CE, his ministry was extremely well-received and the numbers of new “Christians” grew significantly during his two-year ministry in the city. However, the Book of Acts (Chapter 19) relates that this success caused problems.
Demetrius, a seller of silver “Temple of Artemis” souvenirs to worshippers, apparently began to see a decline in sales. Concerned that Paul’s new religion would cause the bottom to fall out of the miniature silver shrine business, Demetrius incited a riot against the Christians, accusing them of undermining the Wonder of the World!
Later, Paul would write to the Ephesians from his imprisonment in Rome, and the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians is one of the most beloved books of the New Testament. The Church at Ephesus was close to Paul’s heart, and at his last parting with the elders there, many tears were shed. Paul committed that church to his own disciple, Timothy, who became the Pastor there.
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