Were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Actually Real?

Last updated on November 3rd, 2022 at 08:55 pm

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but there is some debate over whether they were real or not.

Some historians believe they were purely mythical, while others think they may have existed in a city other than Babylon. Let’s explore the evidence for and against the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and try to conclude their authenticity.

Hand colored engraving of The Hanging Gardens with the Tower of Babel behind them

What Are The Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were supposed to be a massive green space with trees, vines, and flowers. Historically, they were built in the ancient city of Babylon, in modern-day Iraq.

King Nebuchadnezzar II made the gardens around 600 BCE as a gift to his wife Amytis of Media, who was homesick for her native land.

The gardens were located on the roof of a palace and irrigated by a complex system of pumps and canals.

Hanging gardens of Semiramis, by H. Waldeck

The name “Hanging Gardens” comes from the fact that they were built on terraces or platforms, making them appear suspended in mid-air.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but there is much debate over whether they were real or not.

Some historians believe they were purely mythical, while others think they were built in a city other than Babylon.

The Dispute About The Garden’s Location

One of the main arguments against the Hanging Gardens in Babylon is that there is no evidence of them in any ancient Babylonian texts.

If Nebuchadnezzar II built such an impressive garden in the city, you would expect it in at least some of the many documents and inscriptions that have survived from Babylon’s long history.

Furthermore, the Babylonian climate was hot and dry, and only in recent centuries were irrigation systems developed that could have allowed the gardens to be built there.

On the other hand, some historians believe that the Hanging Gardens were in the city of Nineveh. In addition, some scholars claim the gardens were built by King Sennacherib of Assyria around 700 BCE, and there is evidence of an ancient irrigation system in the city that the king could have used to water the gardens.

However, one such researcher, Dr. Stephanie Dalley, an honorary research fellow at the Oxford Institute at Oxford University, asserts that there is no evidence of the Babylon gardens because they were never built there.

She’s spent approximately two decades researching the Hanging Gardens and researching texts believing that the gardens were constructed 300 miles north of Babylon in the capital of the rival empire Nineveh.

In addition, new translations from Mesopotamian languages point to evidence from Nineveh dating back to the seventh century BCE that mentions an “unrivaled palace” and a bronze water-raising screw that could raise water to irrigate the gardens.

Evidence also seems to support the discovery of the bronze screw during excavations.

Recent excavations around Nineveh, or the modern city of Mosul, have shown a complex aqueduct system that delivered water from the mountains.

The inscription, “Sennacherib king of the world…Over a great distance, I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh.” Documents showed the royal palace having a lush garden watered by aqueducts. What may be the most critical evidence is the topography of Nineveh itself.

Where Was Babylon Located?

Babylon was a flat city with no mountains nearby from which to draw water. However, Nineveh was built around a rugged terrain that made it the perfect location for building aqueducts.

Babylon’s original site was most likely unable to support such a massive garden. It is more probable that the Hanging Gardens were constructed in Nineveh because of the mountainous terrain.

It is unlikely that any king at that time would have had access to the tools to create water machines capable of moving water in the Babylonian flatlands.

The city of Babylon was founded in 2300 B.C. by the Akkadian-speaking people and was located approximately 50 miles south of Baghdad along the Euphrates River, close to present-day Iraq.

The Amorites were a Semitic people that settled in Central Mesopotamia in the 23rd century BC. The Amorite king Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) was an important ruler in Babylonia, which grew to be a significant military power under his reign.

After taking control of neighboring city-states, Hammurabi unified much of southern and central Mesopotamia under Babylonian authority, creating a realm known as Babylonia.

Under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon became the largest city in the territory. Throughout its existence, it was fortified by high walls encompassing around two hundred square miles.

The city was divided into many districts with varying populations, each district containing temples, palaces, and rambling gardens.

Nebuchadnezzar II built lavish structures, but other than heresy, there is little to no evidence of their existence in Babylon.

Instead, due to Dr. Dalley’s research, they likely existed in the upper Mesopotamian area. Yet, how could anyone confuse the location of the gardens? Dalley’s study further discusses the possibilities of that truth.

The True Location of The Hanging Gardens

Dalley suggests that the original author of The History of Herodotus, a Greek historian who wrote about the gardens, may have been confused about their location. 

In his writing, Herodotus placed the gardens in Babylon and not Nineveh. It is possible that the author confused the two cities because they were both Mesopotamian empires.

It is also possible that, during his research, Herodotus was given conflicting accounts of the gardens’ location.

Another possibility is that when The History of Herodotus was written, the city of Babylon was more well-known than the city of Nineveh.

Therefore, it is possible that the author placed the gardens in Babylon because it was a more familiar city to his audience. However, beyond this speculation, this theory does not explain why the author would have confused the two Mesopotamian empires.

The most likely explanation is when the Assyrians conquered Babylon in 689 BCE. After that occurred, Nineveh was renamed “New Babylon” and became the new capital of the Assyrian empire.

It is possible that, over time, the memory of the Hanging Gardens became confused with the city of Babylon. This would explain why the author placed the gardens in Babylon.

When Herodotus wrote the book, the city of Babylon was more well-known than the city of Nineveh, and the memory of the Hanging Gardens was associated with the city of Babylon.

New Evidence May Be Uncovered

The confusion of the cities may have contributed to the chaos around the gardens’ locations.

It likely influenced people to believe they didn’t exist at all, which is why archaeologists disputed their existence.

However, it is also possible that researchers will uncover new evidence further to shed light on the discussion of the gardens.

Despite the convincing evidence of the garden’s actual location, no real account can determine the garden’s physical appearance.

The lack of physical evidence has made it difficult for archaeologists to determine whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were real. The gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and Sennacherib likely built them. 

However, it is difficult to say more about them without more evidence. It can be said that for someone to create the gardens, they would have needed a great deal of money and resources.

If the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were real, it is likely that only a wealthy and powerful individual, such as a king, could have built them.

The gesture would have been meant to impress upon others the wealth and power of the individual who made them. Not only that, but they were a testament to the individual’s ability to bend nature to their will.

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