No trace of the Hanging Garden has ever been found in Babylon for the simple reason that this wonder of the ancient world was never there in the first place, according to an Oxford researcher.
Instead, the Hanging Garden was actually created 300 miles further north in Ninevah, a feat of artistic prowess achieved by the Assyrian civilisation under King Sennacherib, writes Stephanie Daley, a Research Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford.
For centuries, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, has been credited with the birth of a lavishly watered paradise in the fertile crescent of what is now central Iraq in the 6th century BC.
But there is one problem: no remains of the Hanging Garden have ever been found in Babylon. When a German team spent 19 years excavating the site during the last century, Ms Daley writes that they “expected to find inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar confirming that he built the garden”.
She adds: “To their dismay, they could not find any possible location with enough space in the vicinity of the palaces, nor did they dig out any written confirmation from the many texts they unearthed.”
In “The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon”, to be published later this month, Ms Daley writes that all the German team could manage was an “unsatisfactory case” for believing that the garden might have existed on the roof of the Southern Palace.
“But there was no sign of how it might have been watered, no sign of tree roots, and the building was much too far from the river for water to be raised up to supply the supposed trees.”
Ms Daley argues that the garden was never at Babylon at all and Nebuchadnezzar has been wrongly credited with its birth. The true authors of this wonder were the Assyrians at their capital, Ninevah, found near today’s city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
Ms Daley bases this on new translations of cuneiform inscriptions, many of which had been misinterpreted in the past. In particular, she came across a description attributed to Sennacherib, an Assyrian king, of his “unrivalled palace” with a “wonder of all peoples”. There is also archaeological evidence of a sophisticated system of aqueducts, canals and dams in the area of Nineveh.
Ms Daley overturns every orthodoxy, concluding that the Hanging Gardens were built in a different century, in a different location, by a different king leading a different civilisation.
Nebuchadnezzar is still fondly remembered in the Middle East, largely because he captured Jerusalem in 586 BC. But Ms Daley takes him down a peg, arguing that he did not create a wondrous garden and his reputation as another Alexander was overblown. “After his death legends inflated Nebuchadnezzar’s achievements, giving him an undeserved reputation as a world conqueror,” she writes.