Hanging Gardens of Babylon

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This hand-coloured engraving, probably made in the 19th century after the first excavations in the Assyrian capitals, depicts the fabled Hanging Gardens, with the Tower of Babel in the background. Hanging Gardens of Babylon.jpg
This hand-coloured engraving, probably made in the 19th century after the first excavations in the Assyrian capitals, depicts the fabled Hanging Gardens, with the Tower of Babel in the background.
Timeline and map of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the other Wonders of the Ancient World Ancient seven wonders timeline.svg
Timeline and map of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the other Wonders of the Ancient World

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as listed by Hellenic culture, described as a remarkable feat of engineering with an ascending series of tiered gardens containing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines, resembling a large green mountain constructed of mud bricks, and said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq. Its name is derived from the Greek word kremastós (κρεμαστός, lit. "overhanging"), which has a broader meaning than the modern English word "hanging" and refers to trees being planted on a raised structure such as a terrace. [1] [2] [3]

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remarkable constructions of classical antiquity

The Seven Wonders of the World or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a list of remarkable constructions of classical antiquity given by various authors in guidebooks or poems popular among ancient Hellenic tourists. Although the list, in its current form, did not stabilise until the Renaissance, the first such lists of seven wonders date from the 1st-2nd century BC. The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages, often listing seven entries. Of the original Seven Wonders, only one—the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact. The Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were all destroyed. The location and ultimate fate of the Hanging Gardens are unknown, and there is speculation that they may not have existed at all.

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Babylon Kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC

Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC.


According to one legend, the Hanging Gardens were built alongside a grand palace known as The Marvel of Mankind, by the Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (who ruled between 605 and 562 BC), for his Median wife Queen Amytis, because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. This was attested to by the Babylonian priest Berossus, writing in about 290 BC, a description that was later quoted by Josephus. The construction of the Hanging Gardens has also been attributed to the legendary queen Semiramis, who supposedly ruled Babylon in the 9th century BC, [4] and they have been called the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis as an alternate name. [5]

Neo-Babylonian Empire Former empire

The Neo-Babylonian Empire was a period of Mesopotamian history which began in 626 BC and ended in 539 BC. During the preceding three centuries, Babylonia had been ruled by their fellow Akkadian speakers and northern neighbours, Assyria. A year after the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, in 627 BC, the Assyrian empire spiralled into a series of brutal civil wars. Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar. In alliance with the Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians, they sacked the city of Nineveh in 612 BC, and the seat of empire was transferred to Babylonia for the first time since the death of Hammurabi in the mid-18th century BC. This period witnessed a general improvement in economic life and agricultural production, and a great flourishing of architectural projects, the arts and science.

Nebuchadnezzar II king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon c. 605 BC – c. 562 BC, was the longest-reigning and most powerful monarch of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Medes ancient Iranian civilization

The Medes were an ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran. Under the Neo-Assyrian Empire, late 9th to early 7th centuries BC, the region of Media was bounded by the Zagros Mountains to its west, to its south by the Garrin Mountain in Lorestan Province, to its northwest by the Qaflankuh Mountains in Zanjan Province, and to its east by the Dasht-e Kavir desert. Its neighbors were the kingdoms of Gizilbunda and Mannea in the northwest, and Ellipi and Elam in the south.

The Hanging Gardens are the only one of the Seven Wonders for which the location has not been definitively established. [6] There are no extant Babylonian texts that mention the gardens, and no definitive archaeological evidence has been found in Babylon. [7] [8] Three theories have been suggested to account for this. One: that they were purely mythical, and the descriptions found in ancient Greek and Roman writers including Strabo, Diodorus Siculus and Quintus Curtius Rufus represent a romantic ideal of an eastern garden. [9] Two: that they existed in Babylon, but were completely destroyed sometime around the first century AD. [10] [4] Three: that the legend refers to a well-documented garden that the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704–681 BC) built in his capital city of Nineveh on the River Tigris, near the modern city of Mosul. [11] [1]

Strabo Greek geographer, philosopher and historian

Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Diodorus Siculus Greek historiographer

Diodorus Siculus or Diodorus of Sicily was a Greek historian. He is known for writing the monumental universal history Bibliotheca historica, much of which survives, between 60 and 30 BC. It is arranged in three parts. The first covers mythic history up to the destruction of Troy, arranged geographically, describing regions around the world from Egypt, India and Arabia to Greece and Europe. The second covers the Trojan War to the death of Alexander the Great. The third covers the period to about 60 BC. Bibliotheca, meaning 'library', acknowledges that he was drawing on the work of many other authors.

Quintus Curtius Rufus was a Roman historian, probably of the 1st century, author of his only known and only surviving work, Historiae Alexandri Magni, "Histories of Alexander the Great", or more fully Historiarum Alexandri Magni Macedonis Libri Qui Supersunt, "All the Books That Survive of the Histories of Alexander the Great of Macedon." Much of it is missing. Apart from his name on the manuscripts, nothing else certain is known of him. This fact alone has led philologists to believe that he had another historical identity, to which, due to the accidents of time, the link has been broken. A few theories exist. They are treated with varying degrees of credibility by various authors. Meanwhile, the identity of Quintus Curtius Rufus, historian, is maintained separately.


There are five principal writers whose descriptions of Babylon exist in some form today. These writers concern themselves with the size of the Hanging Gardens, their overall design and means of irrigation, and why they were built.

Irrigation artificial application of water to the land

Irrigation is the application of controlled amounts of water to plants at needed intervals. Irrigation helps to grow agricultural crops, maintain landscapes, and revegetate disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of less than average rainfall. Irrigation also has other uses in crop production, including frost protection, suppressing weed growth in grain fields and preventing soil consolidation. In contrast, agriculture that relies only on direct rainfall is referred to as rain-fed or dry land farming.

Josephus (c.37–100 AD) quotes a description of the gardens by Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk, [6] whose writing circa 290 BC is the earliest known mention of the gardens. [5] Berossus described the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II and is the only source to credit that king with the construction of the Hanging Gardens. [12] [13]

Josephus First-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer

Titus Flavius Josephus, born Yosef ben Matityahu, was a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

Berossus was a Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer, a priest of Bel Marduk and astronomer who wrote in the Koine Greek language, and who was active at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Versions of two excerpts of his writings survive, at several removes from the original.

Marduk was the Babylonian name of a late-generation god

Marduk was a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon. When Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi, he slowly started to rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BC. In the city of Babylon, Marduk was worshiped in the temple Esagila. Marduk is associated with the divine weapon Imhullu. "Marduk" is the Babylonian form of his name.

In this palace he erected very high walks, supported by stone pillars; and by planting what was called a pensile paradise, and replenishing it with all sorts of trees, he rendered the prospect an exact resemblance of a mountainous country. This he did to gratify his queen, because she had been brought up in Media, and was fond of a mountainous situation. [14]

Hanging gardens of Semiramis, by H. Waldeck Waldeck Hangende Garten der Semiramis.jpg
Hanging gardens of Semiramis , by H. Waldeck

Diodorus Siculus (active c.60–30 BC) seems to have consulted the 4th century BC texts of both Cleitarchus (a historian of Alexander the Great) and Ctesias of Cnidus. Diodorus ascribes the construction to a Syrian king. He states that the garden was in the shape of a square, with each side approximately four plethra long. The garden was tiered, with the uppermost gallery being 50 cubits high. The walls, 22 feet thick, were made of brick. The bases of the tiered sections were sufficiently deep to provide root growth for the largest trees, and the gardens were irrigated from the nearby Euphrates. [15]

Quintus Curtius Rufus (fl. 1st century AD) probably drew on the same sources as Diodorus. [16] He states that the gardens were located on top of a citadel, which was 20 stadia in circumference. He attributes the building of the gardens to a Syrian king, again for the reason that his queen missed her homeland.

The account of Strabo (c.64 BC – 21 AD) possibly based his description on the lost account of Onesicritus from the 4th century BC. [17] He states that the gardens were watered by means of an Archimedes' screw leading to the gardens from the Euphrates river.

The last of the classical sources, thought to be independent of the others, is A Handbook to the Seven Wonders of the World by Philo of Byzantium (writing in the 4th to 5th century AD; not to be confused with Philo of Byzantium, who lived ca. 280 BC – ca. 220 BC). [18] The method of raising water by screw matches that described by Strabo. [19] Philo praises the engineering and ingenuity of building vast areas of deep soil, which had a tremendous mass, so far above the natural grade of the surrounding land, as well as the irrigation techniques.

Historical existence

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. Hanging Gardens of Babylon.gif
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.

It is unclear whether the Hanging Gardens were an actual construction or a poetic creation, owing to the lack of documentation in contemporaneous Babylonian sources. There is also no mention of Nebuchadnezzar's wife Amyitis (or any other wives), although a political marriage to a Median or Persian would not have been unusual. [20] Many records exist of Nebuchadnezzar's works, yet his long and complete inscriptions do not mention any garden. [21] However, the gardens were said to still exist at the time that later writers described them, and some of these accounts are regarded as deriving from people who had visited Babylon. [2] Herodotus, who describes Babylon in his Histories , does not mention the Hanging Gardens, [22] although it could be that the gardens were not yet well known to the Greeks at the time of his visit. [2]

To date, no archaeological evidence has been found at Babylon for the Hanging Gardens. [6] It is possible that evidence exists beneath the Euphrates, which cannot be excavated safely at present. The river flowed east of its current position during the time of Nebuchadnezzar II, and little is known about the western portion of Babylon. [23] Rollinger has suggested that Berossus attributed the Gardens to Nebuchadnezzar for political reasons, and that he had adopted the legend from elsewhere. [24]

Hanging Garden at Nineveh

One proposal is that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were actually constructed by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (reigned 704 – 681 BC) for his palace at Nineveh. Stephanie Dalley posits that during the intervening centuries the two sites became confused, and the extensive gardens at Sennacherib's palace were attributed to Nebuchadnezzar II's Babylon. [1] Archaeological excavations have found traces of a vast system of aqueducts attributed to Sennacherib by an inscription on its remains, which Dalley proposes were part of a 80-kilometre (50 mi) series of canals, dams, and aqueducts used to carry water to Nineveh with water-raising screws used to raise it to the upper levels of the gardens. [25]

Dalley bases her arguments on recent developments in the analysis of contemporary Akkadian inscriptions. Her main points are: [26]

King Sennacherib's garden was well-known not just for its beauty – a year-round oasis of lush green in a dusty summer landscape – but also for the marvelous feats of water engineering that maintained the garden. [36] There was a tradition of Assyrian royal garden building. King Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) had created a canal, which cut through the mountains. Fruit tree orchards were planted. Also mentioned were pines, cypresses and junipers; almond trees, date trees, ebony, rosewood, olive, oak, tamarisk, walnut, terebinth, ash, fir, pomegranate, pear, quince, fig, and grapes. A sculptured wall panel of Assurbanipal shows the garden in its maturity. One original panel [37] and the drawing of another [38] are held by the British Museum, although neither is on public display. Several features mentioned by the classical authors are discernible on these contemporary images.

Photo of Assyrian wall relief showing garden in the ancient city of Nineveh (Mosul Iraq) Gardens of Ninevah.png
Photo of Assyrian wall relief showing garden in the ancient city of Nineveh (Mosul Iraq)

Of Sennacherib's palace, he mentions the massive limestone blocks that reinforce the flood defences. Parts of the palace were excavated by Austin Henry Layard in the mid-19th century. His citadel plan shows contours which would be consistent with Sennacherib's garden, but its position has not been confirmed. The area has been used as a military base in recent times, making it difficult to investigate further.

The irrigation of such a garden demanded an upgraded water supply to the city of Nineveh. The canals stretched over 50 km into the mountains. Sennacherib was proud of the technologies he had employed and describes them in some detail on his inscriptions. At the headwater of Bavian (Khinnis) [39] his inscription mentions automatic sluice gates. An enormous aqueduct crossing the valley at Jerwan was constructed of over 2 million dressed stones. It used stone arches and waterproof cement. [40] On it is written:

Sennacherib king of the world king of Assyria. Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh, joining together the waters.... Over steep-sided valleys I spanned an aqueduct of white limestone blocks, I made those waters flow over it.

Sennacherib claimed that he had built a "Wonder for all Peoples," and said he was the first to deploy a new casting technique in place of the "lost-wax" process for his monumental (30 tonne) bronze castings. He was able to bring the water into his garden at a high level because it was sourced from further up in the mountains, and he then raised the water even higher by deploying his new water screws. This meant he could build a garden that towered above the landscape with large trees on the top of the terraces – a stunning artistic effect that surpassed those of his predecessors.

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Stephanie Dalley (1993). "Ancient Mesopotamian Gardens and the Identification of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Resolved". Garden History. 21: 7. JSTOR   1587050.
  2. 1 2 3 Reade, Julian (2000). "Alexander the Great and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Iraq. 62: 195. doi:10.2307/4200490. ISSN   0021-0889.
  3. Foster, Karen Polinger (2004). "The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh". Iraq. 66: 207. doi:10.2307/4200575. ISSN   0021-0889.
  4. 1 2 "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon" . Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  5. 1 2 Cartwright M (July 2018). "Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  6. 1 2 3 Finkel (1988) p. 41.
  7. Finkel (1988) p. 58.
  8. Finkel, Irving; Seymour, Michael (2008). Babylon: City of Wonders. London: British Museum Press. p. 52. ISBN   0-7141-1171-6.
  9. Finkel 2008
  10. "The Hanging Gardens of Babylon" . Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  11. Dalley, Stephanie (2013). The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: an elusive World Wonder traced. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-966226-5.
  12. Finkel (2008) p. 108.
  13. Dalley, Stephanie (1994). "Nineveh, Babylon and the Hanging Gardens: Cuneiform and Classical Sources Reconciled". Iraq. 56: 45. doi:10.2307/4200384. ISSN   0021-0889.
  14. Joseph. contr. Appion. lib. 1. c. 19.—Syncel. Chron. 220.—Euseb. Præp. Evan. lib. 9.
  15. Diodorus Siculus II.10-1-10
  16. History of Alexander V.1.35-5
  17. Strabo, Geography XVI.1.5, translation adapted from H.L. Jones, Loeb Classical Library edn (1961).
  18. That is, Philo the Paradoxographer of Byzantium, not Philo the Engineer of Byzantium. See Stephanie Dalley, "More about the Hanging Gardens," in Of Pots and Pans: Papers on the Archaeology and History of Mesopotamia and Syria as presented to David Oates on his 75th Birthday, Edited by L. al-Gailani-Werr, J.E. Curtis, H. Martin, A. McMahon, J. Oates and J.E. Reade, (London), pp. 67–73 ISBN   1-897750-62-5.
  19. Dalley (2013), p. 40. Dalley bases her translation on Brodersen (1992) who uses an early Greek text. A previous translation by David Oates, based on a Latin text, is found in Finkel (1988) pp. 45–46.
  20. Finkel (2008) p. 109.
  21. Dalley (2013)
  22. Priestley, Jessica (2014). Herodotus and Hellenistic culture: Literary Studies in the Reception of the Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 91.
  23. Joan Oates, Babylon, Revised Edition, Thames and Hudson, London (1986) p. 144 ISBN   0500273847.
  24. Rollinger, Robert "Berossos and the Monuments", ed. J Haubold et al, The World of Berossos, Wiesbaden (2013), p151
  25. Alberge, Dalya (5 May 2013). "Babylon's hanging garden: ancient scripts give clue to missing wonder". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
  26. Dalley, Stephanie (2013) The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: an elusive World Wonder traced, Oxford University Press ISBN   978-0-19-966226-5.
  27. AR George, Babylonian Topographical Texts, (1992)
  28. see for example Cuneiform Texts in the British Museum, Vol 19, page 25, line 25
  29. Pongratz-Leisten, Ina Sulmi Erub (1994),
  30. See Dalley (2013) ch 1 for a summary.
  31. Especially: the Iraq Museum prism dated 694 BC published by A Heidel, The Octagonal Sennacherib Prism in the Iraq Museum, Sumer 9 (1953); and the British Museum prism BM103000 of the same date
  32. T Jacobsen and S Lloyd, Sennacherib's Aqueduct at Jerwan (1935); Reade, Studies in Assyrian Geography, Revue d'Assyriologie 72 (1978); Channel 4 TV programme Secret History: Finding Babylon's Hanging Garden, 24 November 2013
  33. AH Layard, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, (1853)
  34. Dalley (2013), pp. 62–63
  35. R Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1973)
  36. Stephanie Dalley (2013). The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced. Oxford University Press. pp. 65–82. ISBN   978-0-19-966226-5. The quotations in this section are the translations of the author and are reproduced with the permission of OUP.
  37. BM124939
  38. Original Drawing IV 77
  39. Layard (1853)
  40. Jacobsen (1935)


Further reading

Coordinates: 32°32′08″N44°25′39″E / 32.5355°N 44.4275°E / 32.5355; 44.4275