The Hanging Gardens of Babylon may not have been so Babylonian after all
Though stories about the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been around for centuries, they’ve always been shrouded in a great deal of mystery. Dubbed one of the wonders of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the gardens’ descriptions were passed down for centuries until they were finally recorded by Ancient Greek, Roman, and Chaldean scribes. The only problem? Historians have never been able to find any evidence that they existed at all. After centuries of debate, Dr. Stephanie Dalley of Oxford thinks she may have finally figured out why.
What was all the fuss about?
Given that we have tons of examples of beautiful gardens today, what was the big deal about some king having one in the sixth century BCE? Well, these weren’t just your average, everyday potted plants. Legend has always had it that it all started when King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon married this lady named Amytis who was from Media, which is now in modern-day Iran. Having found herself relocated to the middle of the desert, it didn’t take long before Amytis grew homesick and began longing for a view that didn’t include miles of desert sand.
So her husband was like, “I got this,” and constructed her some huge gardens full of columns and terraces, some of them up to 75 feet tall. Now keep in mind that this was way back in the day, before handy modern irrigation existed. So the question became how to water a bunch of plants in the middle of the desert, some of which hovered over 70 feet in the air?
The irrigation innovation
Apparently, the kind figured it out even though the technology didn’t really exist yet. An Ancient Greek named Diodorus Siculus drew on earlier sources to describe the gardens, saying, “The approach was sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier. On all this, the earth had been piled … and was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size and other charm, gave pleasure to the beholder. The water machines [raised] the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it.”
So really, the gardens were less about the beauty of the gardens themselves and more about a feat of irrigation that occurred centuries before its time. But did the gardens really exist? Dr. Stephanie Dalley says they totally did, but that the answer to their whereabouts may lie in a translation mishap. Given that she’s spent like 20 years researching the Hanging Gardens, pouring through ancient texts, and even written a book about her findings, we can pretty much rest assured that her theory is no mere shot in the dark.
Right info, wrong location
Given her research, Dalley theorizes that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were never actually built in Babylon at all. She thinks it more likely that they were constructed in Nineveh by King Sennacherib in the seventh, rather sixth, century BCE. See, Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian empire back then and was located about 300 miles from Babylon, near what’s now modern-day Mosul, Iraq. Dalley points out that King Sennacherib may have accidentally helped add to the confusion by often referring to his kingdom as “New Babylonia.” Ancient Greek writers might have further been confused by the fact that the Assyrians went on to conquer Babylon in 689 B.C.
Dalley backs up her theory with ancient texts in which the somewhat braggy King Sennacherib refers to his “unrivaled palace” as a “wonder for all peoples.” He goes on to further boast of this large bronze screw he had which was capable of raising water. Sounds just like the sort of thing a guy looking to build some hanging gardens would be into. Though no one has been able to find the gardens quite yet, carvings have been found in the area that depict ancient gardens being fed by an aqueduct. This seems to suggest that now archeologists are at least on the right track as far as knowing where to look.