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Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (19th Century)

The Magnificent Constructions of King Nebuchadnezzar II

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Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II remains known as the leader of one of the most powerful ancient empires to have preceded that of the Athenians in Greek's Classical period.  However, aside from his military prowess, Nebuchadnezzar showed his leadership in other, more lasting ways.  Through a rigorous and intense construction endeavor that lasted from before Nebuchadnezzar's reign to its end in 562 BC, Babylonia was transformed into the height of a powerful ancient civilization. Not only were temples restored to their former glory, but Nebuchadnezzar began two of the most prominent projects of ancient Mesopotamia: the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Great Ishtar Gate

Constructed in 575 BC by the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II, the Ishtar Gate was one of the many thresholds that surrounded and protected Babylonia from outside forces. The eighth gate of the inner city, the creation of the colossal structure was as much a defensive maneuver as a political one. Forged from exquisite glazed bricks ornamented in lapis lazuli and gold, the gate glowed as vibrantly and as powerfully as the sun. Lapis lazuli was revered in the ancient world for its strong color, and its extensive use in the gate serves as a symbol to both citizens of Babylonia and visitors alike that this is a city state of incredible wealth and strength.

Replica of the Ishtar Gate, Babylon, Iraq

Replica of the Ishtar Gate, Babylon, Iraq ( Antonio TwizShiz Edward/Flickr)

The decorations upon the gate further promote this ideal as it was covered in depictions of the various Mesopotamian gods and goddesses, both in human forms and as animals indicated by the golden dragons, slim necked creatures that appear to resemble elongated dogs, and aurochs, the predecessors of the horse. The perimeter of the gate was designed with blooming flowers to signify the fertileness of Babylon, and the trail of lions was indicative of the status of King Nebuchadnezzar II as the mighty leader of the mightiest city.

Detail of the lions and flowers of the Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Detail of the lions and flowers of the Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin (Wikimedia Commons)

However, one of the greatest feats of the Ishtar Gate, was the lengthy inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II. It dictates his hand in the creation of the gate and the designs chosen to adorn it, serving as both proof of his work as well as a statement to all those who dared pass through the gate to be wary of the magnificent ruler who forged it.

The inscription by Nebuchadnezzar, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

The inscription by Nebuchadnezzar, Pergamon Museum, Berlin (Wikimedia Commons)

The Hanging Gardens: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The other prominent endeavor believed to have been constructed under Nebuchadnezzar's direction was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Consisting of tiered gardens of trees, vines, and all manner of flowers, the Hanging Gardens were a feat within the Neo-Babylonian world as an oasis in the center of the capital city. Most scholars believe that, if in fact Nebuchadnezzar II was the one who planned the creation of the Hanging Gardens, it was for his wife Amytis, his queen from Media, located near ancient Persia.

Illustration of the "Mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon" (1901)

Illustration of the "Mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon" (1901) (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the reasons the credit cannot be assuredly given to Nebuchadnezzar for the creation of the gardens is the lack of Babylonian evidence from his life, and indeed the gardens themselves. The earliest description of the gardens comes from 290 BC, centuries after Nebuchadnezzar's death, from the work of a Babylonian priest, Berossus. However, Berossus' work had by then long been lost, and his words are only recorded secondhand, by other authors writing even later. Thus it is not known if Berossus even laid eyes upon the gardens, or if he too heard of them secondhand, as such a long time had passed between his writings to be certain.

Records that survive give no certain description of the specifics of the gardens, but rather an overall picture of a green paradise that "sloped like a hillside and…resembled that of a theater" and that was the widely believed basis on which Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo later built.

Miniature reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Miniature reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Bridget McKinney/Flickr)

Two Exceptional Works, One Famous King

Fascinating as King Nebuchadnezzar II's life was, it is undoubtedly safe to say that his fame in the non-scholarly world stems from these two prominent works of construction: the Ishtar Gate and, most significantly, the Hanging Gardens.  Both once had a place as part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and though only the Hanging Gardens remain on that list, the Ishtar Gate remains a point of fascination and admiration.  Nebuchadnezzar ensured his name was immortalized on the lapis structure, his name engraved in everlasting gold, carving into history one of his most astounding political successes.

Featured Image: Hand-colored engraving of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (19th Century) (Wikimedia Commons)

By Riley Winters


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Riley Winters is a Pre-PhD art historical, archaeological, and philological researcher who holds a degree in Classical Studies and Art History, and a Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor from Christopher Newport University. She is also a graduate of Celtic and Viking... Read More

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