The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh?

CULTURE | July 1, 2019

Reconstruction of the hanging gardens of Babylon. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon remain the most elusive and intriguing. Of the Wonders, the Hanging Gardens is the only one with no archaeological evidence of its existence. In fact, the only records of it are mostly from the accounts of Greco-Roman writers. This mystery may finally be over with recent evidence revealing that the Hanging Gardens were not located in Babylon but in a different city entirely.

Another reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Ancient writers vary somewhat in a description of the gardens, but it is important to note that none of those who described the gardens visited them first hand and relied on older accounts.

The essentials are generally the same. The gardens were on a tiered structure, probably next to, or on top of a palace. One ancient source indicated that it was 75 feet high with walls of brick some 22 feet thick. Each level had a deep bed of soil which could handle the root system of large trees.

Archimedes water screw. Even though Archimedes was born after the Hanging Gardens were said to be built, many believe they used a similar device to bring the water up into the tiered garden. Source: (Wikipedia)

Naturally, all this vegetation required lots and lots of water. But ancient Babylon was generally arid. The solution to irrigate the gardens is what made it a wonder. Water from the nearby Euphrates was delivered to the various terraces using a screw system which predated the ancient engineer Archimedes's own water screw.

Nebuchadnezzar in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon', 1915. Source: (gettyimages.com)

The story goes that King Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned c. 605 – c. 562 BC) built the gardens for his wife a Mede named Amytis who missed her the greenery of her hilly homeland. Terraces in which all kinds of plants, flowers, and trees were planted, creating an evocative and peaceful scene. The garden did not actually “hang” per se, rather it overhung like a balcony.

Recent scholarship has shown that this story may, in fact, be incorrect.

This copy of a bas relief from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal (669–631 BC) at Nineveh shows a luxurious garden watered by an aqueduct. Source: (Wikipedia)

The puzzle about the Hanging Gardens is that despite considerable archaeological investigations, no evidence has been found. As mentioned before, no Babylonian text even mentions it. This led scholars to often conclude that perhaps the gardens did not exist at all.

However, Stephanie Dalley, a retired teaching fellow from Oxford University and Ancient Near East specialist, spent 18 years studying the problem and retranslating texts. Her conclusion was published in an extensive text on the subject, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced that the Hanging Gardens were in fact built by King Sennacherib of Assyria (reigned 705–681 BC) in his capital of Nineveh, over 300 miles to the north on the banks of the Tigris River.

Stone relief from the palace of Ashurbanipal, Spectators at a lion hunt climb a wooded hill surmounted by a stele. Source: (biblicalarchaeology.org)

One issue was that the Nebuchadnezzar story comes from a single source which in itself was a writer (Josephus) quoting an older source. Next Dalley found erroneous translations of Assyrian texts. Retranslating them, as well as the Greco-Roman sources, she found descriptions of a garden in Nineveh being watered by a screw system and aqueducts coming from mountain streams. Furthermore, the translation calls it a “wonder for all people.” Archaeological evidence confirms this. Sennacherib was known for beautifying Nineveh and building a lavish palace. It would not be a stretch for him to construct an elaborate irrigated terraced garden. Dalley’s translations also call for a marvelous tiered garden system filled terraces, streams, and all sorts of plants.

Artists depiction of the Hanging Gardens. Source: (Wikipedia).

If Dalley’s research is correct, so then why the confusion with Babylon? This seems to be more of a muddle on the part of ancient Greek and Roman writers who often confused territories and cities in the Ancient Near East. It is somewhat gratifying to learn that there is now solid evidence for the garden's existence, but it may be some time before the idea of the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh will be fully embraced by all academics and the general public.  

But the Hanging Gardens of Babylon did have quite a run.

Tags: hanging gardens of nineveh

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook