Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The hanging gardens: ‘seven wonders’ postscript

Eight months ago I wrote a post on the ‘seven wonders’, as canonised in several ancient lists. I pointed out that the make-up of the list changed over time; that the lighthouse of Alexandria wasn’t in the ancient canon; that there’s no reason to imagine the Colossus of Rhodes stood at the harbour (and it certainly didn’t stand astride the harbour); and that the pyramids are described as ‘shadowless’ in two sources, possibly because ancient tourists were impressed at the shadowless view from the top in the middle part of the day.

I also committed my share of blunders. In particular, I pointed out that the extant lists of seven wonders that mention the gardens -- Antipater, Greek Anthology 8.177, and Philon -- do not tell us where the hanging gardens were. But I blithely ignored several sources that do tell us the hanging gardens were at Babylon.

The hanging gardens as imagined in Lego by ‘Brickman’, Ryan McNaught (‘Let’s go build’ exhibition, Te Papa, Wellington, Dec. 2017. Photo by T. Schaefer.)

This is just a short note to correct that blunder. (I’ve also annotated the older post with some corrections, leaving my blunders present but stricken out.)

Greco-Roman sources

First, here are the extant sources that state that the hanging gardens counted among the ‘seven wonders’:
  • Megasthenes (C. 4-3 BCE) or Abydenus (C. 2 CE). Megasthenes’ Indica book 4, reported by Abydenus’ History of the Chaldaeans, reported in turn by Eusebius in the Armenian text of the Chronika. Translations: p. 19.13-17 Karst; p. 39 Petermann; pp. 55-6 Aucher Ancyranus. Citation of Megasthenes at p. 41 ed. Petermann (mistranslated in Karst).
  • Antipater of Sidon (C. 2 BCE), Greek anthology 9.58.
  • Strabo (C. 2 CE), Geography 16.1.5.
  • Greek anthology 8.177 (date unknown).
  • Philon (C. 4-5 CE), On the seven wonders.
Abydenus-Eusebius and Strabo don’t give complete lists of seven wonders, but they do count the hanging gardens among the seven.

Antipater, Gk. anth. 8.177, and Philon don’t specify locations for the gardens, but Megasthenes(-Abydenus-Eusebius) and Strabo do. They tell us the gardens were in Babylon. So do three other sources. Here’s a complete list of sources that report a location for the hanging gardens:
  • Berossus of Babylon (C. 4 BCE), Chaldaean histories book 3, reported in Josephus Against Apion 140-141 and Jewish antiquities 10.225-227Babylon.
  • Megasthenes (C. 4-3 BCE), Indica book 4, reported in Josephus (C. 1 CE), Jewish antiquities 10.225-227 (= FGrHist 715 F 1a); and with Abydenus (C. 2 CE) as an intermediary source, in the Armenian texts of Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica 9.41 (= FGrHist 715 F 1b) and the Chronica, p. 19.13-17 Karst = p. 39 Petermann = pp. 55-6 Aucher Ancyranus (citation of Megasthenes at p. 41 ed. Petermann) — Babylon.
  • Diodorus of Sicily (C. 1 BCE) 2.10.1-6Babylon.
  • Pliny the Elder (C. 1 CE), Natural history 36.94Thebes (i.e. Luxor), Egypt. (Possibly also reflected in Gregory of Nazianzus (C. 4 CE), Oration 34.63, who lists six remarkable places and buildings including ‘Egyptian Thebes’.)
  • Quintus Curtius Rufus (C. 1 CE?), History of Alexander 5.1.31-35Babylon.
  • Strabo (C. 2 CE), Geography 16.1.5Babylon.
The earliest sources, Berossus and Megasthenes, do not survive. But they are probably the most important sources. Berossus came from Babylon and wrote about his home city. Megasthenes lived shortly after the time of Alexander and wrote extensively about his travels to the east. But they’re not the only possible sources. Diodorus cites Ctesias for his description of the wall of Babylon (2.8.5), another of the seven wonders in Antipater’s canon. Ctesias was a Greek doctor who worked in the Achaemenid Persian court around the time of Herodotus (late C. 4 BCE): it’s possible he wrote about the hanging gardens as well. As for Pliny’s testimony, I think we can all agree to disregard it as an aberration.

And here’s one last list of sources, this time on the story of the gardens’ origin. See above for links.
  • Megasthenes-Abydenus-Eusebius — the gardens were built by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (C. 6 BCE) as an adornment for his palace.
  • Josephus, Jewish antiquities 10.225-227 citing both Megasthenes and Berossus, and Against Apion 140-141 citing just Berossus — the gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar II, with the appearance of mountains, to please his wife who was a Mede (i.e. from northern Iraq).
  • Diodorus — built by an Assyrian king (which suggests C. 7 BCE or earlier), at some point later than the legendary Semiramis (Shammuramat), in order to please one of his concubines, who was Persian and missed the mountainous countryside of her home.
  • Curtius Rufus — built by an Assyrian king to please his wife, who missed seeing groves and forests.

The hanging gardens as imagined in Minecraft by ‘lonestarr86’. (‘I only know what these are because of Sid Meier[’s Civilization games].’ -- noseonarug17)

... or Nineveh?

Stephanie Dalley has made an alternative argument that the gardens were actually at Nineveh. This is in her book The mystery of the hanging garden of Babylon (Oxford, 2013). Nineveh is some 440 km to the north of Babylon, at modern Mosul. The evidence is circumstantial -- there is no direct testimony supporting it -- but that is not to say that it is weak.
  • The references to Nebuchadnezzar that Josephus attributes to Berossus may have been inserted by an intermediate source.
  • The theme of homesickness is not one that is seen in Babylonian or Assyrian literature, and therefore likely to be a spurious Greek addition.
  • Some parallels to Berossus can be found in Babylonian epigraphy, but that is not the case for the hanging garden story.
  • The ‘mountainous’ appearance of the gardens as described by Josephus and Diodorus is typical of Assyrian gardens, as shown by illustrations of gardens in bas-relief panels found at Khorsabad and Nineveh. Babylon, by contrast, is flat.
  • Nebuchadnezzar’s citadel at Babylon was 13 metres above the level of the river Euphrates, making hands-free irrigation impossible.
  • Nineveh had an excellent canal system.
  • Sennacherib is known from epigraphic evidence to have built a garden irrigated by a canal at Nineveh.
  • Dalley interprets a difficult passage on an inscription from the time of Sennacherib (early C. 7 BCE) to mean that he had access to so-called ‘Archimedean’ screws, used for raising water by applying horizontal force.
I am impressed by Dalley’s argument, but it’s not all plain sailing:
  • You can sway between Nineveh or Babylon depending on whether you think the point of the gardens is to be typical for their location, or to be an exceptional reminder of a faraway place. The Greek sources firmly opt for the latter. They specifically state that the gardens were so striking because of Babylon’s flatness, and the point of the story about the king’s wife or concubine is that she missed the hills of her home.
  • Much of Dalley’s argumentation is designed to cast Nineveh as a possible location, rather than to make Babylon impossible. For example, the ‘Archimedean’ screws. If Sennacherib did have access to Archimedean screws (which is perfectly plausible), that doesn’t mean they didn’t also exist at Babylon. The Greek sources unhesitatingly put screws at Babylon, as Dalley herself points out: Strabo refers to a screw (kochlias) used to raise water from the Euphrates, and Philon refers to water being raised by a spiral engine (kochlioeidōs ... ton helika tōn mēchanēmatōn). This tells us nothing about the location of the gardens.
  • In a similar vein, absence of reference to gardens in Babylonian inscriptions doesn’t mean absence of gardens. We can’t expect a perfect match between Berossus and epigraphic evidence. (It’s not as though we have direct testimony linking the hanging gardens to Nineveh, either.)
  • Dalley has overlooked Megasthenes’ testimony. Now, she does posit a Greek intermediate source between Berossus and Josephus, to explain why Josephus’ story features Nebuchadnezzar, which Dalley regards as spurious, without committing to calling Berossus a liar. I suspect if she had been aware of Megasthenes, she’d certainly want to identify him as that vehicle. Megasthenes wrote about Nebuchadnezzar’s western campaigns (so Josephus tells us), which are certainly fictional, and the link between the gardens and Nebuchadnezzar also appears in Megasthenes as reported by Eusebius. It looks pretty likely that it really was Megasthenes that introduced Nebuchadnezzar into the story. But that doesn’t mean that the gardens weren’t at Babylon: it means that Diodorus and Curtius Rufus, who make an Assyrian king the star of the story, didn’t draw on Megasthenes. They’re independent evidence putting the gardens at Babylon.
The idea of homesickness as a Greek literary motif is the one really cogent argument against Babylon: it shows that the Greco-Roman testimony is heavily fictionalised. That carries a lot of weight.

On the other hand, if we’re deciding to disregard every scrap of testimony, why imagine any hanging gardens at all? What Dalley has shown, to my mind, is that it’s very possible the hanging gardens were completely fictional, and that the idea of them was inspired by Assyrian gardens. The choice is between that, and the gardens of Babylon being a real thing. I’m still leaning towards the latter, because of the independent lines of testimony from Berossus-Megasthenes-Josephus-Eusebius, Diodorus, Curtius Rufus, and Strabo. Either way, it doesn’t look like any Greek list-maker ever included a specific garden at Nineveh in the Greek canon of ‘seven wonders’.

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