Royal Parks and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Nineveh

Babylonian and Assyrian royal parks and hanging gardens were the result of Meso-potamian garden evolution. Some of these parks and gardens may have been public parks for the benefit of the cities in which they were established. However, for the most part, they were for the use and enjoyment of the royal family. Royal parks and gardens were often the site of royal hunts, a place to entertain guests, and a place to keep animals.

Tiglath-Pileser I (Assyria, 1114-1076 b.c.) kept herds of deer, gazelle, and ibex from conquered territories in his park. He was proud that some of these animals were rare and had never before been seen in Assyria. Ashurnasirpal II (Assyria, 883-859 b.c.) had herds of wild bulls, lions, ostriches, and apes, along with many species of imported trees and fruiting plants. Sargon II (Assyria, 721-705 b.c.) was particularly fond of lions and falcons, and laid out several parks around his capital city. Merodach-Baladan II (Babylonia, 721-710 b.c.) had extensive gardens that may have been the predecessors to the fabled hanging gardens. Sennacherib (Assyria, 704-681 b.c.) laid out several parks around his capital (Nineveh) and imported trees and other plants. He also re-created a southern Babylonian marsh environment when he had a swamp created and populated with animals and plants imported from the actual marsh habitat he admired. Sennacherib, Esarhaddon (Assyria, 680-669 b.c.) and Ashurbanipal (Assyria, 668-627 b.c.) re-created habitats of the Amanus mountains in Syria. The conquering Achaemenid (Persian) kings (539-331 b.c.) and Greek rulers that followed continued this tradition of extensive gardens, parks, and animal collections. Some of these collections still existed when the Roman armies invaded the region in a.d. 363.

The hanging gardens have become the most famous of these collections. They were urban gardens planted on the terraces of ziggurats, and from a distance they appeared to be vegetation-covered mountains. Surprisingly, these spectacular gardens were not mentioned in Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, which described virtually all aspects of life, business, administration, and royal activities. Their description instead comes to us from the writings of Greek travelers, such as Berossos, Strabo, Quintus Curtius Rufus, and Diodorus Siculus. The particular hanging garden made famous in these Greek accounts was thought to be one Nebuchadnezzar II (Babylonia, 604-562 b.c.) planted at Babylon to remind Nebuchadnezzar's wife of her mountain meadow homeland, which she missed living in urbanized Babylon.

New research, however, indicates the hanging gardens of Babylon were actually at the palace garden of Sennacherib located at Nineveh, also known at the time (ca. 700 b.c.) as Old Babylon. It was one of Sennacherib's re-creations of habitats that he enjoyed, in this case mountain scenes. The gardens were not unique, as these were only one of many efforts Sennacherib, and his predecessors and successors made to create magnificent gardens, parks, and animal collections. But they were likely the hanging gardens the Greek travelers saw and wondered at.

Source: Based on Dalley, Stephanie, "Ancient Mesopotamian gardens and the identification of the hanging gardens of Babylon resolved," Garden History, 21, 1, 1993 and Finkel, Irving L., "The hanging gardens of Babylon," in The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Clayton, Peter A. and Price, Martin J., Eds., Routledge, London, 1988, chap. 2.

from that region of Mesopotamia. He also re-created mountain habitats, one of which is now thought to have been the site of the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon (actually in Nineveh).28,29 His successors, Esarhaddon (Assyria, 680-669 b.c.) and Ashurbanipal (Assyria, 668-627 B.C.), also provided mountain habitats that resembled the nearby Amanus mountains. Within the cities, the terraces of the monumental, pyramid-shaped, terraced buildings known as ziggurats sometimes were planted with trees, shrubs, and vines to give a mountain-like appearance, similar to the hanging gardens of Babylon.

One aspect of civilization was specialized labor, and this included work related to the keeping of wildlife. Fishermen, bird keepers-fowlers, and shepherds cared for the domestic stocks. Servants (animal keepers, perhaps) captured animals in the royal park for release at the appropriate time and place for royal hunts. These servant/animal keepers probably cared for the animals as well. Veterinarians, the ox and ass doctors, dealt primarily with domestic and military livestock, and their fees were preset in King Hammurabi's (Babylonia, 1728-1686 b.c.) Code of Laws.

Animal collections in this region of the world were not unique to Mesopotamian societies. Neighboring Hittite societies also kept pets, domestic livestock, and wild animals; however, their wild animal collections were less extensive than those in Mesopotamia. Their collections also served more than one purpose: secular uses, including food, hunting, and pleasure; religious uses, including rituals that required animals; and symbolic uses, for which certain species, such as lions and eagles, were reserved for royalty as emblems of their power and authority. As with Mesopotamian collections, Hittite collections contained native and exotic species, including lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, foxes, bears, deer, wild goats, boars, bison, elephants, hares, mice, eagles, snakes, frogs, bees, ants, spiders, and several other animals that have not yet been identified. 30

Persian kings, who conquered Mesopotamia in 539 B.C., continued the Mesopotamian collections using their own traditions of garden design and animal collecting. Greek rulers, conquering the Persians in 330 b.c., did the same, as did the Muslim Arab rulers who followed. Collections in this region still existed in A.D. 363 when Roman armies conquered Babylonia.

1.3.2 Ancient Egyptian Collections

Egyptian civilization began with the unification of lower (the northern delta region of the Nile River) and upper (the southern riverine region) Egypt into the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2200 b.c.). Several periods of fragmentation and unification followed: the First Intermediate period and Middle Kingdom (ca. 2200-1786 b.c.), the Second Intermediate period and New Kingdom (ca. 1786-1087 b.c.), the Late Dynastic period (ca. 1087-332 b.c.), the Ptolemaic period (under Greek rule, 332-30 b.c.), and the Roman province period (beginning in 30 b.c.). As time went by, the southern region of upper Egypt was extended farther southward along the Nile River until it covered approximately the same area as does modern Egypt.15,25,31-35

This riverine area the Egyptians inhabited was a long, narrow valley dependent upon the seasonally predictable Nile River. There were numerous cities and villages, but these settlements were essentially rural communities with no sharp distinctions between the urban and countryside environments. Kings and priests, with the help of an extensive bureaucracy, controlled government and daily life. Royalty, priests, government officials, and certain other individuals formed the wealthy upper class, artisans and shop owners formed the middle class, and serfs (workers) and slaves formed the lower class. Over time, the society in general, and the upper class in particular, became more prosperous and their luxuries became more extravagant. In the later dynasties, whoever could afford it indulged in a beautiful villa, a fine carriage, a boat, numerous slaves, rich clothing, costly food, good wine, a large herd of cattle, elaborate gardens, and exotic animals.

Egyptian belief in magic and superstition hindered significant advances in learning. Nevertheless, outstanding achievements were accomplished in astronomy, geography, biology, and technology. Egyptians particularly understood most aspects of basic mathematics, the only science their magic and superstition did not contaminate. Physicians, including veterinarians, developed useful medical and botanical knowledge; however, this knowledge was heavily laced with magic and superstition. These two areas of expertise and belief were closely linked, for many of the drugs and potions the physicians used were of plant origin. Ingredients of animal origin in these drugs and potions were rare. Beyond this, zoology and botany apparently did not become well developed although native and exotic animals and plants were known to the Egyptians, domestication of wild animals and plants was one of their most important activities, and the keeping of animals and plants was one of their great passions.

Representations of animals and plants were pervasive throughout Egyptian culture. Many Egyptian gods assumed animal forms, while other kinds of animals were worshiped without being transformed into gods. Symbols for the lower and upper regions of the Nile River Valley were flowers (the papyrus and the flowering rush, respectively). Animals and plants were graphically rendered as much as any other subject. Domestication of a large variety of birds, ruminants, and carnivores was attempted.

Physically, the extent of the Egyptian's natural world was not great. The Nile Valley was relatively narrow, with deserts bordering it on both sides. It had an almost harborless Mediterranean coast to the north and the unknown tropics of Africa to the south. While the valley was pleasant, it was also monotonous, with a limited variety of wildlife, few trees, and few wildflowers. Wood was used extensively in the building of structures and boats during the Old Kingdom period, resulting in a gradual decrease in trees and vegetation. Orchards and trees became valuable in the Middle and New Kingdom dynasties, perhaps because so many were cut down during the Old Kingdom. Trees represented shade and protection in an otherwise hot and harsh environment. Deities were thought to live in trees and several groves in each district were considered sacred. The Egyptians believed that trees were essential in cemeteries and near water wells, tombs, and temples. They were valued in every kind of garden.

Animal husbandry was primarily concerned with cattle, but the Egyptians experimented with many species. In addition to several breeds of cattle, there were breeds of sheep, goats, donkeys, and pigs. Horses and mules came into use between the Middle and New Kingdoms, and the camel during the Ptolemaic period. Egyptian domestication attempts included many different kinds of native wild ruminants and carnivores. These animals were fattened on bread dough, as were many kinds of birds. A variety of birds were kept in domestic flocks, particularly geese and ducks, but also swans, doves, ibis, cranes, herons, and other marsh and waterbirds. Bees were kept both in the desert and in private gardens, for their honey.

Animal-related jobs in Egyptian society included herdsmen, fowlers-bird catchers, beekeepers-honey gatherers, and veterinarians. No doubt there were also animal keepers, but as yet no specific information is known about the individuals who maintained the animal collections. Veterinarians were "physicians" — no separate term existed for animal doctors — who cared for cattle and whose practice was based on human medicine. There are no records to indicate clearly how valued the veterinarian, or any of these animal-related positions, was in Egyptian society. Agriculturists worked harder than anyone at what was considered one of the most important jobs, but these individuals apparently received little recognition or appreciation.

Fowlers came from the lower class, as bird catching was considered one of the dirtiest jobs. Bird hunting, on the other hand, was a sport of the upper class. As one Egyptologist has observed:

Much of the country formerly covered by marshes and tropical forests was already arable land. At the same time old river beds remained ... [and] the greatest delight perhaps that the Egyptian knew was to row in a light boat between the beautiful waving tufts of the papyrus reeds, to pick the lotus flowers, to start the wild birds and then knock them over with the throw-stick, to spear the great fish of the Nile and even the hippopotamus, with the harpoon. Pictures of all periods exist representing these expeditions, and we have but to glance at them in order to realize how much the Egyptians loved these wild districts.36

Both bird hunting and spearfishing, as opposed to commercial bird catching and fishing, were sports of the wealthy. Other sports included harpooning hippopotamus and crocodile and desert hunts for gazelle, antelope, hyena, jackal, fox, leopard, lion, and numerous small mammals.

In addition to being a sport of the wealthy, desert hunting was a professional occupation of archers who patrolled the deserts and who protected the honey and resin gatherers working far into these deserts from marauding tribes. Royal hunts ventured not only to the desert regions, but also to more remote regions outside of Egyptian territory. Kings of the New Kingdom dynasties traveled up the Nile River into African territory and along the Euphrates River into western Asia to hunt elephant, rhinoceros, lion, and wild bull. Although hunting in the wild deserts and other remote regions predominated, "there is hardly a decorated tomb without its scene of the owner launching showers of arrows with unfailing accuracy at gazelles and antelopes in a fenced-in park rather like a zoo."37

Wealthy Egyptians . at all times kept menageries, in which they brought up the animals taken by the lasso or by the dogs in the desert, as well as those brought into Egypt by way of commerce or as tribute. From the neighboring deserts they obtained the lion and the leopard (which were brought to their masters in great cages), the hyena, gazelle, ibex, hare, and porcupine, were also found there; from the incense countries and from the upper Nile came the pard, the baboon, and the giraffe; and from Syria the bear and the elephant.38

Egyptians particularly liked to tame (and eventually domesticate, as has been mentioned) as many of these species as possible. Tuthmosis IV (1425-1408 b.c.) was accompanied by two tame lions used to hunt antelope, and Ramesses II (1298-1235 b.c.) had a tame lion that not only accompanied him into battle, but also guarded the royal tent at night.

Monkeys and birds were often kept as pets. Birdcages in the houses of royalty and wealthy citizens became popular in the New Kingdom, in addition to the more common birdhouses that had always been used for keeping fowl for food, tribute, and sacrifice. Egyptians took special delight in displaying wild birds from the marshes, birds of prey, and imported exotic species. Fishponds and beehives were also maintained, and were often used to complement gardens. Pools became microhabitats containing fish, birds, papyrus, lotus, and other aquatic plants. Grander houses and palaces had rooms opening onto gardens in such a way that painted gardens on the walls and floor blended with the real garden just outside the rooms. Paintings of plants, birds, and marsh life, together with live birds in cages, blurred the boundary between house and garden as the garden was entered from these rooms.

Trading expeditions were made to obtain needed resources, exotic materials, and animals. These expeditions were made to the Holy Land in the east extending up through Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia for wood, gold, silver, precious stones, horses, bears, elephants, fish, and cattle. They extended to Nubia in the south via the Nile River for gold, ebony, ivory, acacia wood, precious stones, dogs, cattle, ostrich feathers and eggs, panthers, panther skins, giraffes, and monkeys. They extended to the land of Punt farther south in Africa via the Red Sea for incense, myrrh, other plants, and exotic African animals. Little is known about these trading expeditions other than those to the land of Punt.39,40

When the Greek Ptolemaic dynasties (323-30 b.c.) replaced the Egyptian New Kingdom dynasties, the city of Alexandria boasted many great amenities. One of these included the largest and most varied animal collection in the ancient world. When the Romans took over Egypt in 30 b.c., this animal collection in Alexandria continued and was probably the source of supply for African animals used in Roman spectacles. Since the collection during these later periods was more properly Greco-Roman than Egyptian, it will be discussed later.

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