The Dag asks:

Which of the 7 Ancient Wonders would you pick to see in its prime?

Oh, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, easy.  That’s the one we know the least about.  The Pyramids are still there (albeit past their glory days); we have bits of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Pharos lighthouse was still there for most of the Middle Ages and we have the foundations; we can make a lot of educated guesses about the Colossus of Rhodes and Pheidias’ chryselephantine statue of Zeus because we have so much other Greek sculpture (I think we have some artistic depictions of the statue of Zeus too?  The Byzantines hung onto it for a while after the Pagan temples at Olympia were shut down).  For the Hanging Gardens, we literally have nothing to go on but second- and third-hand written descriptions.  To be honest, we’re not even completely certain they were in Babylon – a good chunk of Babylon has been excavated and there’s no sign of them, and I don’t think they’re mentioned in any known Babylonian cuneiform texts.  I’ve seen it argued that they were actually in Nineveh (near modern Mosul), the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which was kinda like… Babylon 2.0 for a while (that could conceivably have caused our Greek sources to get a little muddled).  Or perhaps they were just the rooftop gardens of the royal palace, and the Greeks got a little carried away in describing them.

But despite everything we don’t know, I think they must have been pretty special.  Building a rooftop garden, the size of a palace, in Baghdad, full of plants that don’t naturally grow there, with pre-industrial technology, shows a damned impressive command of irrigation and water management.  And besides that, what we’re describing is basically a botanical garden, a place you can go to see exotic plants that require special care.  To my mind, that’s a special moment in the history of science as well as engineering and culture, one that shows a real interest in understanding and controlling the variety and beauty of the natural world.  The Greeks saw elaborate gardens full of exotic plants as major distinctive features of Babylonian and Persian culture, and even though they sometimes looked down on their eastern neighbours for being “soft” or “effeminate,” they couldn’t deny the beauty and grandeur of their cultural achievements (our word “paradise” comes, through Greek, from the Persian word for garden).  The inclusion of the Hanging Gardens in the traditional “seven wonders” attests to that (although, admittedly, that list is mostly just one dude’s… like, opinion, man – honestly, what gets to be a “wonder” is a pretty interesting topic in itself).

9 thoughts on “The Dag asks:

  1. “honestly, what gets to be a “wonder” is a pretty interesting topic in itself” – Ooooh, you’ve done it now, can’t just let that go without a follow-up question

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      1. The thing is, I actually kind of deeply want to write an article series about the world wonders in the Civilisation series of turn-based strategy games, and talk about what makes each one “wondrous” and why we have these lists of “wonders” and the notion of “seven wonders of the world” and so on. Because it’s totally arbitrary; there’s no reason there should be seven, and these lists of “wonders” have always (even in antiquity) been driven by a touristic mindset, and there’s a buttload of cultural chauvinism involved in whose achievements get to be “wonders of the world” (unless you have something so impressive, like the pyramids, that even the Greeks have to sit up and take notice). I think it’d also be really interesting, in the Civ series in particular, to look at the mechanics associated with each wonder and how they relate to the wonders’ real significance.

        But, y’know, that’s not for the lifetime in which I’m a Pokémon guy.

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  2. Is this blog custom-made to cover all of my topics of interest? Pokémon, dinosaurs, ancient history; ancient architecture in particular, specifically the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…
    I’d pick that one too, yeah 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I will never get tired of reminding people that the pyramids were royal tombs and decorated as such, so I can only imagine how someone whose actual career is doing stuff like that would feel whenever fiction gets it wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for teaching me a new word: chryselephantine. Now, when I do a Google image search of that, it looks like ancient status made of ivory are black, while more recent examples of such sculpture are white. Does ivory turn black over time? Or is there a reason why black ivory was used in ancient times, while white ivory is used now?

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