The Hanging Garden of Babylon

by Ed Gallagher

This is Bonus Material for Daniel Lesson 4: “The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar

Ferdinand Knab, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 1886, Wikimedia Commons

Part of the glory of Babylon was the legendary Hanging Garden, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We don’t have good, contemporary evidence for the Hanging Garden. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus attributes the construction of the Hanging Garden to Nebuchadnezzar himself, but I believe he is the only source who says that Nebuchadnezzar built the Garden. An earlier source, Diodorus Siculus, does not name Nebuchadnezzar, but his account might be consistent with Nebuchadnezzar’s having built the Garden. At any rate, it is not at all clear who built the Garden or where it was located. (See Stephanie Dalley.) I bring it up here because it is a legendary feature of Babylon’s beauty traditionally ascribed to Nebuchadnezzar, and so therefore it might help us think about how people thought about his Babylon, and the sorts of things he might have been reflecting on when he considered his magnificent city. 

Diodorus Siculus (first century BC) on the Hanging Garden.

There was also, beside the acropolis, the Hanging Garden, as it is called [ὁ κρεμαστὸς καλούμενος κῆπος], which was built, not by Semiramis, but by a later Syrian king to please one of his concubines; for she, they say, being a Persian by race and longing for the meadows of her mountains, asked the king to imitate, through the artifice of a planted garden, the distinctive landscape of Persia. The park [ὁ παράδεισος] extended four plethra on each side, and since the approach to the garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier, the appearance of the whole resembled that of a theatre. When the ascending terraces had been built, there had been constructed beneath them galleries which carried the entire weight of the planted garden and rose little by little one above the other along the approach; and the uppermost gallery, which was fifty cubits high, bore the highest surface of the park, which was made level with the circuit wall of the battlements of the city. Furthermore, the walls, which had been constructed at great expense, were twenty-two feet thick, while the passage-way between each two walls was ten feet wide. The roofs of the galleries were covered over with beams of stone sixteen feet long, inclusive of the overlap, and four feet wide. The roof above these beams had first a layer of reeds laid in great quantities of bitumen, over this two courses of baked brick bonded by cement, and as a third layer a covering of lead, to the end that the moisture from the soil might not penetrate beneath. On all this again earth had been piled to a depth sufficient for the roots of the largest trees; and the ground, when levelled off, was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size or any other charm, could give pleasure to the beholder. And since the galleries, each projecting beyond another, all received the light, they contained many royal lodgings of every description; and there was one gallery which contained openings leading from the topmost surface and machines for supplying the garden with water, the machines raising the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it being done. Now this park, as I have said, was a later construction. 

Diodorus Siculus 2.10, in the edition of Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, trans. C. H. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library 279 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), 383–87.

Josephus, Against Apion 1.141, quotes the Babylonian historian Berosus to the effect that Nebuchadnezzar “built high stone terraces and gave them a scenery closely resembling mountains, planting them with all sorts of trees, thus constructing and landscaping the so-called ‘hanging garden,’ because his wife, who had been raised in the region of Media, hankered after the mountain environment” (trans. Barclay, 2007, p. 85).

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