Casting Lots is a tale told against a tableau of ancient Romans cities and landscapes. One of the cities visited is Ephesus, which in Roman times was an important harbor city on the coast of what is now modern Turkey. The city was in a region which was very fertile. It became an extremely important city when Augustus Caesar chose it, over Pergamum, the site of the second largest library in the ancient world, to be the capital of procounsular Asia, a senatorial province, installing a governor there.
In Casting Lots, Pontius Pilate, on his voyage to Judea, as Prefect, sets foot in Ephesus. Ephesus was a large city by 26 AD. Strabo described it as being only second to Rome in importance. Modern estimates of population, however, ascribe only about 56,000 as living there at that time, not the 250,000 as was previously thought.
Ephesus was traditionally a Greek city. In 88 BC Mithridates the Great, King of Pontus, wanting to expel the Romans from Asia began a campaign to conquer the Greek cities. The Asiatic Vespers, which was the slaughter of 80,000 Romans in Asia, was part of this campaign. Rome raised an army under Lucius Cornelius Sulla who defeated Mithridates in 86 BC, which led to Ephesus becoming part of the Roman Empire.
While the Library of Celsus is, perhaps, the signature building of Ephesus, it was begun in 117AD and thus was not in existence when Pilate walked the streets of Ephesus. The façade of the library remains today and is one of the most imposing and awe inspiring remaining Roman ruins. The façade has niches for statutes and can best described as being scenographic. The library was destroyed by an earthquake in 262 AD and, thereafter, the façade was rededicated as a nymphaeum or a monument to the nymphs.
Nonetheless, many imposing building had been erected by 26 AD, with the first and foremost being the Temple of Artemis. This Temple was considered one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, because of its size, about four times as large as the Parthenon and because of its construction as the first monumental building wholly built of marble. On July 21, 356 BC, it was destroyed by fire set by the arsonist, Herostratus, who wanted to immortalize his name at any cost. That was the night of Alexander the Great’s birth, about which Plutarch said that the Goddess was too preoccupied with his birth to worry about her Temple. Also nearby was one of the largest Temples ever erected to Apollo.
Further, the city has one of the best preserved and impressive theatres of the ancient world which would seat 25,000. Erected on Panayir Hill, on Harbor Street, it had a three-story stage. It was the site of the sermon by Paul the Apostle.
The main street, made of marble, leads through a small valley between two imposing hills. Along the main street are an odeon, numerous small temples, and the tomb of Memmius, the grandson of Sulla. Sulla was revered in Ephesus as a savior.
The streets themselves were advertisement billboards. One such advertisement remains today and invites patrons to the brothel.
On the sides of the hills, villas of wealthy Romans abound. Anthony and Cleopatra honeymooned in Ephesus.
Contrasted with this wealth and opulence, is the small home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. For a time she resided in Ephesus, as did the Apostle John, who took care of her.