For over two and a half millennia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, have been proverbially ‘hanging’ over a murky region between a marvelous fact and spellbinding fiction. From renowned Greek historians to the best investigative minds of the 21st century, no inquisitive human is spared from the exquisite image of these gardens. Modern archaeological diggings have unearthed some evidence that sheds light on the existence of amazing structures in the ancient city of Babylon, however conclusive evidence for the Hanging Gardens is yet to be unveiled.
The striking imagery associated with the gardens is not the only jewel in its crown, the engineering marvel of supplying irrigation to monumentally raised gardens is equally riveting. Greek historians were especially absorbed by the beauty and splendor of these gardens. Although the accounts of the gardens as reported by some of the most prolific Greek historians such as Diodorus Siculus and Strabo are stirring and appealing to the imagination, these chronicles cannot be regarded as credible eye witness accounts.
However, the lack of first-hand evidence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, did not prove to be a hurdle towards the eminence of these gardens. Archaeologists, over the years, have brought forward some evidence steering towards the idea of the existence of a structure resembling the Hanging Gardens, however, there is no solid evidence available to back the illustrious depiction of gardens as reported by the Greeks.
History of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Ancient Kingdom of Babylonia saw its prominence during the reign of the legendary king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.E). Cities of Mesopotamia – famously known amongst historians as the cradle of modern civilization – could only dream of the prosperity that citizens of Babylonia enjoyed. However, the apex of the kingdom of Babylonia was yet to come, when Nabopolassar (625-605 B.C.E) took to the throne and laid the foundation stone of the Neo-Babylonian empire. It was Nabopolassar’s fabled son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 B.C.E) to whom the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is associated with.
Green historians reported that Nebuchadnezzar II ordered the construction of these gardens to please his beloved wife, Amyitis. According to the legends, Amyitis was born and brought up in Media (the region which is now located in the north-western part of modern day Iran), a lush green area teeming with gardens of all sorts of plants and trees.
The credit of perpetuating the legend of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon goes to the Philo of Byzantium, who was the compiler of Seven Wonders of the World, the first chronicle of its kind. In his description of the Hanging Gardens, Philo asserts that the plants cultivated in the Hanging Gardens were hydroponic. Philo reported that the roots of the trees were embedded in one of the upper terraces of the garden, and did not go deep down in the earth. If Philo is to be trusted, Nebuchadnezzar’s ancient engineers achieved an engineering feat certainly millennium before it was even conceived by the human mind.
Greek Historians’ writings about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus was by far the biggest fan of the Hanging Gardens, his description is not only vivid, it is also considered one of the best amongst other Greek historians. Diodorus writes about the ‘tier on tier’ structure of the Gardens, with an entrance that resembled ‘hillside slope’. Diodorus also mentions the thickness of the gardens, teeming with various kinds of trees, with a ‘charm (that) gave pleasure to the beholder’. However, the most intriguing part of the account is the description of the irrigation system.
According to Diodorus, Hanging Gardens of Babylon were watered through ‘water machines’, that sucked up the water in ‘great abundance’ from the nearby river, and ‘no one outside could see it’, meaning these water machines were hidden under the tiers of the structure. Strabo too, did not hesitate from giving vivid description of the Garden. According to Strabo ‘the Garden is quadrangular’, he also gives the exact length of the each of the Garden’s sides, as ‘four plethra’ (one plethra was one hundred Greek feet).
The Question of the Existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Archaeologists have been unearthing a number of stone tablets with very detailed descriptions of the structures in the city of Babylonia. These descriptions include the material that went into making walls and the famous palace, however, there is no unambiguous reference to the Hanging Gardens. Due to the Lack of any direct evidence or description about the gardens, historians are inclined to believe that Hanging Gardens of the Babylon only existed in the imagination of Greek historians, and that there was never a real place with raised gardens and marvelous irrigation system.
Historians and anthropologists postulate that Greek historians elaborated on the accounts of Babylon passed on to them by the soldiers who fought in the army of Alexander the Great. These soldiers, historians suggest, were amazed at the prosperity of the thriving city and perhaps exaggerated the structures they encountered to the Greek citizens. The stories of the Hanging Gardens soon became the talk of the town, and once some historians picked up on the subject, it acquired the status of fact, and Hanging Gardens were promoted from a poetic imagination to an amazing fact.
Recent Archaeological Theories
Archaeologists have been digging up the evidence regarding the life and ways of Babylonian citizens for a long time now. So far, archaeologists have managed to fully unearth a palace which held significant prominence in the ancient city, along with a vaulted structure of thick walls. An irrigation well in the proximity of the palace has also been discovered in recent years. One archaeological team specifically surveyed the site of the palace and theorized that the vaulted building is, in fact, the actual Hanging Gardens. This team presented as their finding, a reconstruction of the vaulted structure. However, one simple fact that the vaulted building is located thousands of feet from the Euphrates, makes it hard for the archaeologists to conclusively present it as the actual Hanging Gardens as vividly claimed by Strabo. Another team of archaeologists focussed on the reconstruction of the unearthed palace, placing the gardens in an area between the river Euphrates and the palace.
Hanging gardens of Babylon, did not just theoretically amazed humans in the antiquity, it still continues to ‘hang’ in a region between legend and historical fact and has not ceased enthralling the historians and curious folks alike. Perhaps, it will be a while before the existence or nonexistence of the Hanging Gardens could be conclusively proven, however, what shall always remain is the undying imprint that these gardens left on mankind’s history and imagination.