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Alexander the Great and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

  • Julian Reade

Extract

When Alexander the Great was a boy in the 340s, entertaining Persian ambassadors at his father's court, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Mysteries of the Orient, not yet a Wonder of the World but the kind of thing about which he might have been expected to enquire. Instead, according to Plutarch (Moralia 342B), he asked about roads and the military organization of the Persian empire. Plutarch was writing in the first or second century AD, but maybe the story is true. We all know how Alexander used such information; it carried him to Babylon and his death.

According to Greco-Roman writers, the gardens were located at Babylon (Fig. 1) on a high structure in or beside a palace. They were the gift of one of the kings of Babylon to his Median or Persian wife Amyitis, who was homesick for mountain scenery. No remains of any such structure have yet been confidently identified at Babylon. We are free to speculate on their location, since brick-robbing continued at Babylon for thousands of years and removed all but the foundations of many major buildings.

Some nineteenth-century travellers liked to see a relic of the gardens in a solitary evergreen tree which grew near the summit of the Kasr mound, close to its north-eastern corner (Figs. 2 and 12). In 1765, as Niebuhr recounts (1774–8: 289), there had been more than one such tree here and there among the ruins, and the species was different from any that he had observed between Kerbela and the Gulf. Niebuhr already remarked on the great age of these trees.

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Alexander the Great and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

  • Julian Reade

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