Historical Gardening

Last night Channel 4 screened an archaeology documentary claiming to have found the true location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Although Greek sources say that the Gardens were in Babylon, and were built by Nebuchadnezzar, no trace of them has ever been found, either on the ground or in documents left by the very efficient Babylonian state bureaucracy.

The program suggests that the gardens were in fact elsewhere in the area covered by the historical Babylonian empire. Specifically they were at Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria, and they were built by Sennacherib, one of the greatest Assyrian kings. Evidence is provided in the form of an actual canal network built to supply water to the city, and a carving in the British Museum that appears to show an ornate garden. There is also a cuneiform inscription stating that Sennacherib built a large and ornate garden adjoining his palace.

As a Mesopotamian history geek, this is very exciting to me. But just as exciting is that once again we’ve got a highly publicized broadcast TV program fronted by a lady academic who appears well past the age at which women are usually chuckled off TV for not being pretty enough. So congratulations Stephanie Dalley on a great piece of historical detective work, and on overcoming British TV’s notorious age and gender biases.

Of course this is all to the greater glory of Ishtar, and one in the eye for the perfidious Babylonians. Huzzah!

UK readers should be able to watch the program here. Those of you in the rest of the world will probably find the video blocked, but there is a long article about the discovery in The Independent which contains a lot more scholarship than the TV producer felt comfortable with including. There is also a book, which I am definitely buying.

7 thoughts on “Historical Gardening

  1. Good Lord – i thought I watched a show about that years ago! Hmm – wonder where the gardens they claimed to have found in that show were….too long ago to remember any details at all…

    1. There was a show a few years back that explained how the Archimedes Screw was a much more ancient invention than one might assume for it being named after Archimedes. The Hanging Gardens were cited as an example of the screw in action, which indeed they were. One of the Greek historians may have mentioned them. Sennacherib’s records certainly do. But I guess at the time they were still talking about the Gardens as having been in Babylon.

  2. As Esther Rantzen said: “Once a Somervillian, always a Somervillian.” Women from that establishment have a record for being in the public eye in later life… another little very recent gem is… ‘Asterix and the Picts’ the diminutive Gallic hero’s 35th published adventure and his first in eight years, has been published in English, in a translation produced by Somerville alumna Anthea Bell (1954, English).

  3. Of course, the idea of there being “the” great gardens of the ancient Eastern world is itself a rather weird one, given the proliferation of the garden especially under the Persians, whose ideology, imperialism and religion all combined to give the (botanical) garden a special significance as representative of the world/universe (and thus dominion over, and completeness of, the garden as representative of Persian domination over the totality of the representee, be it world or universe). So all glory, really, to Ahura-Mazda…

    I shall now watch the doco to see how much of that actually made it in, and how much the time constraints of TV forced to be left out…

    1. The Medes and Persians were subject peoples of the Assyrian empire for centuries before Sennacherib came to the throne. His predecessor, Sargon II, died protecting them from the Cimmerians. So while they may have done great things when they got their time in the spotlight, I suspect they learned a lot from what had gone before.

      Also there’s no way any of those Greek historians writing about ancient wonders is going to give credit to the Persians, is there?

    2. Oh, and the TV show is as utterly devoid of actual history as they could make it without rendering the whole thing pointless. It is TV, after all.

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