Herostratus (Ancient Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) was a 4th-century BC Greek arsonist, who sought notoriety by destroying the second Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (on the outskirts of present-day Selçuk). His acts prompted the creation of a damnatio memoriae law forbidding anyone to mention his name, orally or in writing. The law was ultimately ineffective, as evidenced by mentions of his existence in modern works and parlance. Thus, Herostratus has become a metonym for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become famous.

Native name
Diedc. 356 BC
Cause of deathExecution
Known forDestroying the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus—and, concomitantly, seeking fame at any cost


Archeological evidence indicates the site of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus had been of sacred use since the Bronze Age,[1] and the original building was destroyed during a flood in the 7th century BC.[2] A second temple was commissioned by King Croesus of Lydia around 560 BC and built by Cretan architects including Chersiphron, constructed largely of marble, and measuring 337 feet long and 180 feet wide with its pillars standing 40 feet tall.[3] The sculpted bases of the pillars contained life-sized carvings and the roof opened to the sky around a statue of Artemis.[3] The second temple was included on an early list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, and was well known in ancient times.[4]

Little is known about the life of Herostratus, though it is thought he may have been someone of low social standing, a non-Ephesian or a slave.[5] According to tradition, the fire that destroyed the second temple was set on the day Alexander the Great was born, 21 July 356 BC.[3] Herostratus was then captured and tortured on the rack,[5] where he confessed to having committed the arson in an attempt to immortalize his name.[6] To dissuade those of similar intentions, the Ephesian authorities not only executed Herostratus, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, the ancient historian Theopompus, who was not Ephesian, mentions the name of Herostratus in his Philippica,[7] and it appears again later in the works of Strabo.[8] It is said that in fact his name has outlived the names of his judges, and in his Hydriotaphia Sir Thomas Browne said:

But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity... Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it... Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembred in the known account of time?[9]

Work on a third temple at the site began in 323 BC, resulting in a larger and more ornate temple that would be included by Antipater of Sidon as one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


Herostratus's name lived on in classical literature and has passed into modern languages as a term for someone who commits a criminal act in order to achieve notoriety, thus winning herostratic fame.

In language

The term "Herostratic fame" refers to Herostratus and means "fame [sought] at any cost".[10]

In media

  • Chaucer makes reference to Herostratus[11] in The House of Fame: "I am that ylke shrewe, ywis, / That brende the temple of Ysidis / In Athenes, loo, that citee." / "And wherfor didest thou so?" quod she. / "By my thrift," quod he, "madame, / I wolde fayn han had a fame, / As other folk hadde in the toun..."[12]
  • Many authors from sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spain refer to Herostratus to represent someone who will do anything to gain notoriety. He is discussed in Chapter 8 of the second part of Cervantes's Don Quixote (1615), along with Julius Caesar and Hernán Cortés among others. Don García, the protagonist of Ruiz de Alarcón's La verdad sospechosa (Suspect Truth), compares his feats to the ancient character.[13]
  • Colley Cibber's Richard III (1699) contains the oft-quoted line, "The aspiring youth that fired the Ephesian dome / Outlives in fame the pious fool that rais'd it."
  • In the chapter titled "Dreams" in Herman Melville's Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849), the protagonist states, "[W]hoso stones me, shall be as Erostratus, who put torch to the temple..."[14]
  • Jaroslav Hašek in the preface of his last novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, compared Herostratus to Švejk (the protagonist) and praised the latter.
  • In his 6 October 1939 speech to the Berlin Reichstag, Adolf Hitler made a reference to Herostratus making a contemporary comparison: “it is clear to me that there is a certain Jewish international capitalism and journalism that has no feeling at all in common with the people whose interests they pretend to represent, but who, like Herostratus of old, regard incendiarism as the greatest success of their lives.”[15]
  • The protagonist of the 1967 film Herostratus hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle.
  • In Gore Vidal's 1970 novel Two Sisters the real-life story of Herostratus appears as a sub-plot.
  • In Grigori Gorin's 1972 play Forget the Herostratus! in which a "theater man" from the present observes the judgement of Herostratus in order to understand the source of the disaster that plagues humanity.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's short story "Erostratus" is directly based on the story of Herostratus.
  • Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker makes reference to Herostratus.
  • The tale of Herostratus is directly referenced in two songs from the If These Trees Could Talk album Above the Earth, Below the Sky.
  • The Better Maker has a song titled Ærostratus, on their 2012 album Wissenschaft, which parallels the story of Herostratus with the redemption of King Midas.
  • In Sam Levinson's 2018 film Assassination Nation a hacker under the handle "Er0str4tus" leaks half of the town of Salem's personal information "for the lulz" sending the town into a frenzy of violence.

See also


  1. Bammer, Anton (1990). "A Peripteros of the Geometric Period in the Artemision of Ephesus". Anatolian Studies. 40: 142. doi:10.2307/3642799. JSTOR 3642799.
  2. Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.7 - 8.
  3. Robert Wurtz II (2015). Love in Crisis: Modern Parallels to the Church at Ephesus. Creation House. ASIN B014C54MU2.
  4. Rawlinson, George (1859). The History of Herodotus. 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
  5. David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheim (2010). The Intellectual Devotional Biographies. Rodale. ISBN 978-1594865138.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. Valerius Maximus, Memorable deeds and sayings, 8. 14. 5: "A man was found to plan the burning of the temple of Ephesian Diana so that through the destruction of this most beautiful building his name might be spread through the whole world." Valerius Maximus, VIII.14.ext.5
  7. Albert Borowitz (January 2005). Terrorism for Self-glorification: The Herostratos Syndrome. Kent State University Press. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-0-87338-818-4.
  8. Strabo of Amaseia (13 February 2016). Delphi Complete Works of Strabo - Geography (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. pp. 4279–. ISBN 978-1-78656-368-2.
  9. The Works of Sir Thomas Browne Volume III p. 139. Pub: Edinburgh John Grant 1907 https://archive.org/details/cu31924064959640
  10. Fawcett, Julia H. (2016). Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696–1801. University of Michigan Press. p. 33. ISBN 9780472119806.
  11. James Bowman (18 April 2001). "From Heroes to Herostratus". JamesBowman.net. Archived from the original on 12 October 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  12. Geoffrey Chaucer (1379–1380). "The House of Fame". The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Georgetown University. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  13. Frederick A. de Armas, "The Burning at Ephesus: Cervantes and Alarcón's La verdad sospechosa," Studies in Honor of Gilbert Paolini, ed. Mercedes Vidal Tibits. Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1996, pp. 41–55.
  14. Herman Melville. "Mardi, and a Voyage Thither". Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  15. http://pastdaily.com/2014/10/06/adolf-hitler-addresses-the-reichstag-october-6-1939-past-daily-reference-room/


  • HEROSTRATUS in Smith, William, ed. (1870) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, V. 2, p. 439.
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