Now a British academic has amassed a wealth of textual evidence to show that the garden was instead created at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon, in the early 7th century BC.
After 18 years of study, Stephanie Dalley of Oxford has concluded that the garden was built by the Assyrians in the north of Mesopotamia — in modern Iraq - rather than by their great enemies the Babylonians in the south.
She believes her research shows that the feat of engineering and artistry was achieved by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, rather than the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.
The evidence presented by Dalley, an expert in ancient Middle Eastern languages, emerged from deciphering Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform scripts and reinterpreting later Greek and Roman texts. They included a 7th-century BC Assyrian inscription that, she discovered, had been mistranslated in the 1920s.
She was astonished to find Sennacherib’s own description of an “unrivalled palace” and a “wonder for all peoples”. He describes the marvel of a water-raising screw made using a new method of casting bronze - and predating the invention of Archimedes’ screw by four centuries. Dalley said this was part of a complex system of canals, dams and aqueducts to bring mountain water from streams 50 miles away to the citadel of Nineveh and the hanging garden. The script records water being drawn up “all day”.
Having first broached her theory in 1992, Dalley is now presenting evidence in a book, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon, which Oxford University Press publishes on May 23.