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Rudaw

Culture & Art

New Book Places Hanging Garden of Babylon in Nineveh

By Sharmila Devi 12/11/2013
The only later writer to name the builder of the garden as Nebuchadnezzar was Josephus in the 1st century. But he had a reputation for embellishing his stories for readers in Jerusalem.
The only later writer to name the builder of the garden as Nebuchadnezzar was Josephus in the 1st century. But he had a reputation for embellishing his stories for readers in Jerusalem.

By Sharmila Devi

LONDON - Popular imagination propped up by historians has long held the Hanging Garden to be in Babylon. But a new book by British author Stephanie Dalley places one of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders firmly in the city of Nineveh in northern Iraq.

The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, published earlier this year, is a provocative blast into an academic world in which the translation and interpretation of cuneiform texts can take years and is usually viewed as fusty and arcane by outsiders.

The book is the culmination of work carried out intermittently over 18 years as new research and evidence came to light - Dalley can read Assyrian and Babylonian tablets - and while she continued her work as an Assyriologist at Oxford University.

Dalley, whose academic career spans five decades, is still unsure how many of her colleagues she has convinced of her new theory.

  People don’t say anything to you unless they think it’s really stupid. 

 

“People don’t tell you flat out because these things are very slow-moving,” she told Rudaw in an interview in the study of her Oxford home surrounded by dictionaries and texts on Assyrian and Babylonian history. “People don’t say anything to you unless they think it’s really stupid.”

She first went to Nimrud to work on an archeological excavation in 1962 and last visited Kurdistan in the summer to film a documentary for British television outlining the evidence for Nineveh as the location of the hanging garden.

When she was an undergraduate studying Assyriology at the University of Cambridge in 1962-1966, the Hanging Garden was not mentioned in her studies. Many years later after giving a lecture on ancient gardens, she was asked by a woman why she did not mention the world wonder. “She was disappointed, I was embarrassed,” Dalley writes in the introduction to her book.

Reviewers of her book seem to be intrigued -- while not yet completely convinced -- by her theory.

“I admire her clarity and audacity and her brilliant engagement with evidence that looks, when first cited, only too likely to rule her new theory out of court,” wrote Robin Lane Fox, the distinguished historian of antiquity in the Financial Times.

Dalley hopes her book, which methodically dismantles the evidence in favor of Babylon and carefully builds up the case for Nineveh, will spur fresh research by other academics.

  My understanding is that the great temple of Ishtar of Erbil is under the mound.  

 

Austen Henry Layard, an Englishman, excavated at Nineveh in the 19th century and was guided by the Old Testament and Xenophon’s ancient book, “March of the Ten Thousand.”

He tunneled into the palace of the 8th-7th century BC Assyrian King Sennacherib and found great stone panels of bas-relief sculpture. One of them is now lost but an “Original Drawing” of it is in the British Museum and it shows some of the features of the Hanging Garden as described by later Greek writers.

The only later writer to name the builder of the garden as Nebuchadnezzar was Josephus in the 1st century. But he had a reputation for embellishing his stories for readers in Jerusalem.

Several decades after Layard’s discoveries, a clay prism inscribed by Sennacherib came to light and Dalley’s translations of it show references to the technologies needed to raise water to the high citadel garden over a distance of 50 miles, including a kind of large screw that was most likely used, a technology developed long before that and attributed to the Greek Archimedes.

In her book, she describes Sennacherib’s inscriptions at the great stone aqueduct at Jerwan, about 30 miles northeast of Mosul that remain clear to this day. She also explains how ancient sources might have mixed up Babylon and Nineveh and how after 612 BC, when Nineveh supposedly fell, the city continued to be inhabited for many years.

If she were given an unlimited budget and complete freedom, she would love to explore the site of Nineveh with ground-penetrating radar. “You could see what’s underneath without digging and do a trawl to see how the water came from Jerwan to the citadel,” she said. “It would be non-invasive and wouldn’t spoil the site for future generations.”

  You could see what’s underneath without digging and do a trawl to see how the water came from Jerwan to the citadel,  

 

Assyriology remains under-funded and with too few fully-trained people, she said. Conflict in Syria and Iraq, where most cuneiform texts are to be found, had also deterred academics.

She said she was looking forward to learning about discoveries from the excavations of the citadel of Erbil where colleagues of hers are currently working.

“My understanding is that the great temple of Ishtar of Erbil is under the mound. She was regarded as the same goddess as Ishtar of Nineveh and she was especially famous for oracles and for supporting the kings of Assyria in battle, to bring them victory,” Dalley said.

She was happy to find Jerwan was still a “magical” site when she visited earlier this year compared with Babylon, which was a “mess” after the depredations wreaked by Saddam Hussein and war.

But she was disappointed by the amount of litter and advised Kurdistan to take care of its heritage and ancient sites.

“If I were in charge, I would make sure there are signposts and a good track, not necessarily a road, to get there. You could have panels to show people what was there but that’s all. People should be encouraged to think and use their imaginations,” she said.

“These sites should be for local people as well as foreign tourists and school parties should be taken there. I know my Iraqi friends like reconstructions but scholars like original stuff and to some extent the public can be educated about their heritage.”




Author: Stephanie Dalley

Comments

 
Ab Assur | 14/11/2013
You don' say a word about the US and UK destroying Iraq culture and you keep on demonizing Saddam Hussein..STOP STOP your crocodile tears.. Bunch of scavengers and hypocrits
Michael Brown MA Garden History | 25/11/2013
I watched the TV prog on Channel Four last night. Well researched and the evidence makes a lot of sense.
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