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The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon



The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
A representation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Photo Credit: Ferdinand Knab

The mention of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon conjures up images of an oasis in the midst of a bustling city; a vibrant Eden of lush trees, shrubs, and vines supported with beautiful pillars and architecture. The gardens are thought to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar II sometime in the 6th century BCE. While it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, its actual existence is quite contested, with three theories prevailing: that the gardens were purely mythical and idealized in the minds of writers and travellers; that they did exist, but were razed in the first century BCE; and that the “hanging gardens of Babylon” actually refers to a garden built in Nineveh by the Assyrian King Sennacherib.

Like many ancient marvels, our knowledge of the hanging gardens comes down to us via written record and subsequently should be taken with a grain of salt.

Diodorus Siculus wrote that the gardens were square, tiered, and made of 22 feet thick brick walls. He mentions that the terraces themselves resembled a theatre, sloping upwards to a height of 20 meters. Strabo writes that the gardens were located by the Euphrates river, running through Babylon, and utilized complex irrigation to draw up water from the river to water the gardens. It is very likely that any classical writer focusing on the hanging gardens would have had to reference earlier works from the 5th and 4th centuries. Unfortunately, the earliest extant writing we have of the gardens comes to us in quotes from the Babylonian priest, Berossus, around 290 BCE.

North Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II
North Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II

Nonetheless, these authors provide us with a baseline of what these gardens may have looked like and where they may have been located. Gardens such as these would have required a great deal of resources to build and maintain, and so it is likely that they were located in or near the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, if they existed at all. Extensive excavations of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II has revealed gates, vaulted rooms, double walls, tablets, large drains, and a possible reservoir. Nothing has been produced though, either in the archaeological record or the written records, that corroborates the Greek description of the gardens of Babylon. Since the written records consist of an exhaustive list of Nebuchadnezzar’s achievements while king, if he built the gardens they would have surely been listed, but they are not.

Artistic Illustration of the Gardens of Babylon

What do we make of this lack of evidence? Did Greek authors just fall victim to hearsay without ever even seeing the gardens, having never existed at all? Or did they just exist perhaps at a different time and place?

The fact that the gardens are discussed in a wide variety of Greek sources, spanning hundreds of years, and the fact that gardens like the fabled one at Babylon were quite common and not out of the question, it is difficult to outright deny the existence of the gardens altogether.

One possibility is that the gardens were not in fact located in Babylon, but 350 miles north in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Recent scholarship from Stephanie Dalley claims to have found evidence in Nineveh texts of King Sennacherib that describes an “unrivaled palace” and a “wonder for all peoples.” Extensive aqueduct systems as well as water-raising screws have both been found in Nineveh and may have certainly provided the irrigation needs of such prominent gardens.

The confusion may be as simple as ancient geographers and authors attributing the name “Babylon” to several places, or just getting the kingdoms of Babylon and Assyria confused in the first place. Since the Greek and Latin texts we have on the hanging gardens all reference back to one another, using the same base sources, a mistake in one is unsurprisingly carried through them all.

Still, whether real or not, the very idea of the hanging gardens of Babylon was a prevalent one in the minds of the Greeks and Latins. The literary attention that persisted on the subject must have captured the imagination of Hellenistic Greeks and Romans of the Empire, much like it does today.

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The Great And Powerful Xiongnu



Photo Credit: Henan Museum

Between approximately 300 BC and 450 AD, there existed a nomadic group known as the Xiongnu. Their ethnic identity has been greatly contested, but they were a very powerful tribal confederation that was considered a great threat to China. In fact, it was their repeated invasions that prompted the small kingdoms of North China to begin erecting barriers, in what later became the Great Wall of China.

The Xiongnu formed their tribal league in the area that is now known as Mongolia. It is believed that they stemmed from the Siberian branch of the Mongolian race, although it has been hotly debated whether they are ethnically Turkic, Mongolic, Yeniseian, Tocharian, Iranian, Uralic, or some mixture. Some say the name “Xiongnu” has the same etymological origin as “Hun,” but this is also controversial. Only a few words from their culture, mostly titles and individual names, were preserved in Chinese sources. 

Map showing the territory of the Xiongnu Empire. (Wikipedia)

It is believed that the Xiongnu created their empire under the supreme leadership of Modu Chanyu sometime around 209 BC. This political unification allowed them to build stronger armies and use better strategic coordination, turning them into a more formidable state. They adopted many Chinese agriculture techniques, built Chinese-styled homes, and wore silk like the Chinese. The Xiongnu worshipped the sun, moon, heaven, earth, as well as their ancestors. They formed a number of tribes, called the Chubei, Huyan, Lan, Luandi, Qiulin, and Suibu.

The Xiongnu had an established hierarchy system. The leaders following Modu Chanyu formed a dualistic political system, with branches to the right and left. The supreme ruler was known as the “Chanyu” and was equivalent to the Chinese “Son of Heaven.” Under the Chanyu were the “Wise Kings of the Left and Right.” Beneath the Wise Kings were the guli (kuli, ‘kings’), the army commanders, the great governors, the dunghu (tung-hu), the gudu (ku-tu). Directly beneath them were the commanders of groups of either 1000, 100, or ten men. When a Chanyu died, power would pass to his son, or to a younger brother if he did not have a son of age.

Although numerous skirmishes were fought between the Xiongnu and the Han Empire, in 129 BC, a great war broke out between the two arch-enemies. The Han emperor wanted to form an alliance with the Yuezhi people to fight against the Xiongnu, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Forty thousand Chinese cavalry attacked the Xiongnu at the border markets. The war was difficult for the Han due to difficulties transporting food and supplies over long distances, and there was low availability of the fuel they needed to survive the harsh Xiongnu climate. Nevertheless, the Chinese gained control over the Xiongnu, causing instability and weakness of the Xiongnu Empire.

Battle between the Xiongnu and the Han (Henan Museum)

Between 60-53 BC, the Xiongnu empire faced a civil war. Upon the 12th Chanyu’s death, a grandson of his cousin, known as Woyanqudi, took power. This was viewed as usurpation, and led to turmoil. Few supported Woyanqudi, and he eventually fled and committed suicide. As the lineage provided several heirs to the throne, there was disagreement as to who should take over as the 14th Chanyu. Those who supported Woyanqudi pushed for his brother, Tuqi, to be Chanyu in 58 BC. The following year, three more men declared themselves to be Chanyu. This led to a series of forfeitures and defeats. Tuqi was defeated by Huhanye, and then two more claimants appeared: Huhanye’s elder brother Zhizhi, and Runzhen. Zhizhi killed Runzhen in 54 BC, and only Zhizhi and Huhanye were left. Zhizhi grew in power, and Huhanye eventually submitted to the Chinese. After this, power shifted back and forth between the Xiongnu and the Han Dynasty for years, with many battles.

After the Battle of Ikh Bayan in 89 AD, the Northern Xiongnu were driven out of Mongolia, and the Southern Xiongnu became part of Han China. Some believe that the Northern Xiongnu continued west, came under the leadership of Attila, and took on the new name “the Huns.”

Attila the Hun by Eugene Delacroix (Wikiart)

The unique culture of the Xiongnu Empire was very powerful during its time. The fortifications that were initially built to keep the Xiongnu away were eventually transformed into the Great Wall of China. This demonstrates the size and power of the Xiongnu – an ancient nomadic group that played an important role in the history of Mongolia and China.

This article (The Great And Powerful Xiongnu) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Medieval Inscription Found In Teutonic Knights’ Castle Of Cēsis



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The famous Cēsis Castle in central Latvia has given up an ancient secret carved within its blood-stained stone walls.

Cēsis Castle is one of the most iconic medieval castles in Latvia. Founded in 1213 or 1214 AD by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, it prospered from 1237 AD during its time as one of the key administrative and economic centres of the Teutonic Order. At this time the original fortifications were replaced by a monumental square castellum with various service buildings and outer baileys resulting in what Stephen Turnbull’s 2011 book, Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights, describes as “one of the largest and most powerful castles of the Teutonic Order.”

Ivan the Terrible damaged the castle in 1577 AD during a siege in the Livonian War and Cēsis Castle fell after the Great Northern War of 1700–1721 AD when the Tsardom of Russia contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. Today, this magnificent castle is the most visited heritage site in Cēsis, and one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the Baltic States.

Cēsis Castle, Cēsis, Latvia
Carved Whispers from A Violent Past

During a recent inspection of a previously hidden spiral staircase located in the South Tower of Cēsis Castle that had been inaccessible for centuries, a stone was discovered bearing a unique inscription from the second half of the 16th century. According to a report on LSM.LV  the carving is written in Latin and German and represents “the oldest, culturally and historically most significant inscription in stone to have survived at Cēsis Castle,” and parts of it has already been deciphered.

The discovery came after Gundars Kalniņš, head of the Medieval Castle Department at Cēsis Museum, noticed light illuminating the previously unknown engraved coat of arms with the initials “WKVA” carved around it, and again in the middle of the ancient design with what is known as a house mark. Next to the carved shield some German text has now faded, but the angled Latin inscription on the right of the stone reads “Si Deus pro nobis quis contra nos” i.e. “If God is for us, who can be against us” the question asked by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.

Inscription found at Cēsis Castle. Credit: Cēsis Castle
Inscription found at Cēsis Castle. Credit: Cēsis Castle
Reverse Engineering the Carving

According to Kalniņš, the ancient carving is only visible under particular lighting conditions and similarly to the rest of the tower’s inner walls the engraved stone was once coated in limewash, but fortunately the archaeologist was able to find enough contrast between the white coating and the engraving to read the text, and after close examination it was determined that the design had been executed with a “pointed iron tool,” which he says would have blunted during the job.

Kalniņš also says the content of the writing suggests that the inscription may have been made during the siege of Cēsis Castle in 1577 AD, and he says this episode of the Livonian War has gone down in history as one of the most tragic events in 16th century Europe. The archaeologists said that for five days the Russian heavy artillery battered the castle walls until they besieged the garrison. Many ordinary townsfolk who “blew themselves up” unwilling to succumb to Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and many hundreds of Livonians died in this tragedy.

Castle of Cēsis
Cēsis Castle in Latvia (CC by SA 4.0)
Trapped in Shadows for 500 Years

So far as what this symbolic inscription might have represented to its maker, Kalniņš says that in the Middle Ages Latvia town dwellers adopted “rune-like symbols as a kind of coat of arms,” used by owners of property to identify their most valuable possessions. Known as a personal “house mark,” the carved symbol is a form of signature, stamp and seal, and while the specific carver will never be known, this specific decorative shield is characteristically from the second half of the 16th century.

And the reason this timeworn motif has gone unnoticed for 500 years is because it was only last year that archaeologists gained access the South Tower of Cēsis Castle to restore the tower’s ceilings and winding stairs, which are referred to at the castle as “Tall Hermann,” matching the name of the tower in the famous medieval tower of the Toompea Castle, on Toompea hill in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, both of which Kalniņš says are excellent examples of medieval military architecture in Latvia, and the example at Cēsis Castle with the ancient inscription is soon to be opened to the public.

This article (Medieval Inscription Found in Teutonic Knights’ Castle of Cēsis) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Kailasa Temple, The Massive Temple Was Chiseled By Hand For More Than 20 Years

The Kailasa Temple was carved over dozens of years, under several rulers, out of a single piece of stone.



Kailasa Temple
Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/

Kailasa Temple in Ellora, Maharashtra, India, is the world’s largest monolithic piece of art. Master craftspeople carved the gigantic structure from a single piece of solid rock in a cave on a mountainside. The entire building took more than two decades to carve. There are plenty of other mind-boggling facts about this ancient wonder while some of the history behind the temple has a bit of controversy attached to it.

Hindus created the temple to honour Lord Shiva, and they intended to mimic his home on Mount Kailash in the Himalayan Mountains. Legend has it a Hindu king ordered the temple built after he prayed to Shiva to save his wife from sickness.

The top of Kailasa Temple. Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/
The top of Kailasa Temple. Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/

Architects started from the top of the mountain and worked downward to carve the structure. The painstaking process removed more than 200,000 tons of volcanic rock between 757 and 783 A.D., according to archaeologists. Kailasa Temple is one of 34 caves in the area carved from solid rock. Other similar caves date back as early as 300 B.C.

In modern terms, it would take around 200 days, working at 24 hours per day, to excavate the entire site using contemporary technology. That doesn’t take into account the elaborate carvings all over the monolithic structure.

A depiction of the Hindu deity Gajalakshmi. Notice the white plaster in some spots. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A depiction of the Hindu deity Gajalakshmi. Notice the white plaster in some spots. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The temple has a U-shape and is about 150 feet deep. Kailasa Temple is three stories tall. Large stone carvings along the outer walls depict various Hindu deities. Two internal flagstaff pillars show stories from Lord Shiva’s saga. There are also enormous carvings honouring Lord Vishnu, another main Hindu deity.

Almost every inch of the interior structure contains an intricate carving.

Towards the top, you see carvings of elephants that point your way down. On the bottom of the main building it appears as if an army of huge stone elephants are holding up the entire temple. The elephants surround a 100-foot-tall pillar that appears to serve as the main edifice in the temple complex.

Kailasa Temple covers more square footage than the Parthenon in Athens. Somehow, civilizations in India came and went without anyone noticing this magnificent art until 1682.

That’s when Mughal King Aurangzeb, a Muslim, ordered the temple destroyed so he could erase all traces of it. Despite three years and 1,000 men, Kailasa Temple endured. The rock was simply too hard to demolish, even though artisans used only hammers, chisels and picks to construct it.

The Kailasa elephants standing watch over the temple. Photo Credit: cool_spark/Flickr
The Kailasa elephants standing watch over the temple. Photo Credit: cool_spark/Flickr

The current-day structure is mostly black volcanic rock. Back when it was built, architects ordered the sculptures covered in white plaster to give it the illusion of snow. This made the temple appear as if it was in the Himalayan Mountains. Visitors can still see some of the white plaster today.

These amazing works of art hide some secrets. Archaeologist estimate there are more than 30 million Sanskrit carvings that have yet to be translated. If experts can find a way to unlock the hidden meaning of the language, it would make Kailasa Temple one of the most valuable historical artifacts on Earth.

One of the many stories carved into the walls of Kailasa Temple. Photo Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr

Some people argue that the Kailasa Temple is much older because there is no way humans in that time period could excavate such a huge structure.

The surrounding caves have carvings that are much older than Kailasa Temple, but that could simply mean that no one got around to carving Kailasa until much later. Ancient alien theorists contend that the people of this part of India had extra-terrestrial help, but there is no evidence to support this fantastic notion.

In all, the temple is a monument to Lord Shiva. There are five shrines inside Kailasa that pay homage to the greatest of Hindu gods. No matter how long it took or how old it is, Kailasa Temple is truly a marvel to behold.

This article (Kailasa Temple, The Massive Temple Was Chiseled By Hand For More Than 20 Years) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.

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1,800-Year-Old Roman Signet Ring Engraved With The Goddess Of Victory Found In A Field In Somerset



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An amateur treasure hunter has made a ‘stunning’ find from the Roman era in the South-West of England. With the help of a metal detector, the man discovered a golden ring at a site being investigated by local archaeologists.

The find is being hailed as very important and one of the most significant finds from the Roman-era in the area in recent years. This discovery has kindled a new excitement regarding the importance of the location where it was discovered and illustrates once again the significant role amateur archaeologists play in unearthing the past.

The Roman gold signet ring with an engraving of ancient victory goddess Victoria / Nike has been found by Jason Massey in a field near Crewkerne, BBC News reports.

The ring was found by an amateur metal detectorist, Jason Massey.
The ring was found by an amateur metal detectorist, Jason Massey.

Massey, who is part of the Detecting for Veterans group, found the Roman gold ring last Sunday after he unearthed some 60 Roman coins.

At first, he thought he had found his first gold coin but the find turned out to be a gold ring weighing 48 grams (1.7 oz).

The Roman ring is described as one of the most substantial archaeological finds in the recent history of England’s Somerset County and is thought to date back to the period between 200 and 300 AD.

The 3rd century AD Ancient Roman gold ring has been discovered in the same spot. Massey and other amateur detectorists stumbled upon a large number of coins and a Roman grave containing coffin lined with lead.

According to Massey, the site in question near Crewkerne, Somerset County, may have once housed a “very high-status Roman villa”.

There’s a load of figures floating about [for the value of the ring] but we’re interested in the villa, who’s lived there and where they’ve come from and who the person was that wore this ring,” he says.

There are a couple of gold rings of that sort of date from Somerset but they’re not common. Gold is… an indication that the owner is fairly wealthy,” comments Ciorstaidh Hayward-Trevarthen, finds liaison officer for South West Heritage Trust.

The 3rd century AD Roman gold ring from Somerset weighs 47 grams. Photos: TV grabs from the BBC
The 3rd century AD Roman gold ring from Somerset weighs 47 grams. Photos: TV grabs from the BBC.

The Ancient Roman grave containing a lead coffin and over 250 coins that Massey and other amateur detectorists found in last year that was dated to ca. 400 AD

A total of six out of some 200 similar Roman lead coffins found in all of the UK have been discovered in the South-Western Somerset County.

In 2016, there were a total of 37 reported cases of treasure found in Somerset, the most in five years.

Somerset County is in England’s top 10 local authority areas for treasure, according to official figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Norfolk County topped the list with 130 discoveries in 2016.

This article (1,800-Year-Old Roman Signet Ring Engraved With The Goddess Of Victory Found In A Field In Somerset) was originally created for Archaeology World and is published here under Creative Commons.

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