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For the 1967 British film, see Herostratus (film).

Herostratus (Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) — or Erostratus — was a 4th-century BC Greek arsonist, who sought notoriety by destroying one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His acts then prompted the creation of a law forbidding anyone to mention his name. His name has become a metonym for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become famous.


A modern model of the Temple of Artemis.

On 21 July 356 BC, seeking notoriety, he burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in ancient Greece (now Turkey). The temple honoured a local goddess, conflated by the Greeks with Artemis, their goddess of the hunt, the wild, and childbirth. The temple was constructed of marble and was built by King Croesus of Lydia to replace an older site destroyed during a flood. Measuring 130 metres long (425 feet) and supported by columns 18 metres high (60 feet), it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Herostratus proudly claimed credit for the arson in an attempt to immortalise his name. To dissuade those of similar intentions, the Ephesian authorities not only executed him, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, this did not stop Herostratus from achieving his goal, because the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and its perpetrator in his Hellenics.


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 bask in the resultant notoriety, thus winning herostratic fame.

In language[edit]

In German a Herostrat is a criminal out of thirst for glory.[citation needed] The English term Herostratic fame, likewise, relates to Herostratus, and means, roughly, "fame at any cost".[citation needed]

In media[edit]

  • Chaucer makes reference to Herostratus[1] 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..."[2]
  • 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' 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.[3]
  • 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..." [4]
  • The protagonist of the 1967 film Herostratus hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's short story Erostratus references Herostratus explicitly.


  1. ^ James Bowman (April 18, 2001). "From Heroes to Herostratus". JamesBowman.net. Retrieved September 19, 2011. 
  2. ^ Geoffrey Chaucer (1379–1380). "The House of Fame". The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Georgetown University. Retrieved September 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Herman Melville. "Mardi, and a Voyage Thither". Retrieved February 12, 2014.