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 “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.

According to one legend, the Hanging Gardens were built alongside a grand palace known as The Marvel of Mankind.

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 of Babylon has also been attributed to the legendary queen Semiramis, who supposedly ruled Babylon in the 9th century BC, and they have been called the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis as an alternate name.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are the only one of the Seven Wonders for which the location has not been definitively established.

There are no extant Babylonian texts that mention the gardens, and no definitive archaeological evidence has been found in Babylon.

Three theories have been suggested to account for this.

  1. 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.
  2. that they existed in Babylon but were completely destroyed sometime around the first century AD.
  3. 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.

Historical existence

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.

Many records exist of Nebuchadnezzar’s works, yet his long and complete inscriptions do not mention any garden. 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.

Herodotus, who describes Babylon in his Histories, does not mention the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, although it could be that the gardens were not yet well known to the Greeks at the time of his visit.

To date, no archaeological evidence has been found at Babylon for the Hanging Gardens. 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.

Rollinger has suggested that Berossus attributed the Gardens to Nebuchadnezzar for political reasons and that he had adopted the legend from elsewhere.

Descriptions

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.

Josephus (c.37–100 AD) quotes a description of the gardens by Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk, whose writing circa 290 BC is the earliest known mention of the gardens.

Berossus described the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II and is the only source to credit that king with the construction of the Hanging Gardens.

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.

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.

Quintus Curtius Rufus (fl. 1st century AD) probably drew on the same sources as Diodorus. 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.

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).

The method of raising water by screw matches that described by Strabo. 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.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.