Historian places hanging gardens outside Babylon: David Keys looks at research that raises questions over a wonder of the ancient world

A BRITISH historian believes that she has located one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the hanging gardens of Babylon. But her research suggests that the famous gardens were substantially older than previously thought - and were not built in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar but in the capital of the Babylonians' greatest foe, the Assyrians.

Stephanie Dalley, a historian at Oxford University, has revealed that the gardens were probably constructed in the early seventh century BC, 300 miles (433km) north of Babylon in the ancient city of Nineveh, once the centre of the Assyrian empire. Her work also suggests that the gardens' builder was the notorious Assyrian monarch Sennacherib, who was responsible for the destruction of Babylon.

It is already known that Sennacherib built his own gardens. The British Museum possesses a bas-relief sculpture depicting the gardens, immodestly described by the Assyrian king as 'a wonder for all the world'.

The gardens must have been quite literally hanging - trees and other plants clinging to an artificial mountainside with streams filled with water lifted by an Archimedes-style water screw - four centuries before Archimedes' invention. Sennacherib even boasted how he had designed the screw himself.

Dr Dalley believes that the earliest references to the hanging gardens being in Babylon must be regarded as thoroughly unreliable.

The oldest source - a third century BC Greco-Babylonian writer called Berosus - wrote his account three centuries after any Babylonian hanging garden would have fallen into disuse after the diversion of Babylon's royal palace water supply by the Persians, who conquered the city in 539BC.

Likewise, the second century BC Levantine writer Antipater, one of the first to list the seven wonders, lived long after the gardens - whether in Babylon or Nineveh - were destroyed. Nineveh itself was razed by the Babylonians in 612 BC.

Dr Dalley also points out that contemporary commentators in ancient Babylon failed to mention any gardens. King Nebuchadnezzar proudly listed all his achievements - but no gardens.

Dr Dalley cites the first-century BC Graeco-Sicilian historian, Diodorus Siculus, as saying that the hanging gardens of Babylon were built by an Assyrian king who conquered the city. The first-century AD Roman historian, Quintus Curtius Rufus, also maintained that the hanging gardens were built by an Assyrian king.

And Strabo, the first-century BC Greek geographer, described the gardens in virtually the same terms used by Sennacherib to record his own gardens at Nineveh, and also described a screw system for raising water.

The seven wonders - as recorded by Antipater - were the pyramids of Egypt, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the colossus of Rhodes and the great lighthouse of Alexandria.

Dr Dalley's discovery will have considerable implications for archaeological reconstruction work now going on amid the ruins of ancient Babylon, located in Iraq, 50 miles (72km) south of Baghdad. The Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, has long been committed to restoring Babylon's ruins to their ancient glory, including the rebuilding of the hanging gardens.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP BI CONSULTANT

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PHP Software Developer - Hertfordshire An es...

Electrical Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Long term contract role - Electrical Pro...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice