Stephanie Dalley

Stephanie Mary Dalley FSA (née Page; March 1943) is a British scholar of the Ancient Near East. She has retired as a teaching Fellow from the Oriental Institute, Oxford. She is known for her publications of cuneiform texts and her investigation into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and her proposal that it was situated in Nineveh, and constructed during Sennacherib's rule.


As a schoolgirl Stephanie Page worked as a volunteer on archaeological excavations at Verulamium, Cirencester, and Bignor Villa. In 1962 she was invited by David Oates, a family friend, to an archaeological dig he was directing in Nimrud, northern Iraq.[1] Here she was responsible for cleaning and conserving the discovered ivories.[2] Between 1962 and 1966 she studied Assyriology at Cambridge University,[3] and followed it up with a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.[1]

In the years 1966–67, Page was awarded a Fellowship by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, and she worked at the excavation at Tell al-Rimah as Epigrapher and registrar.[4] The tablets excavated at Tell al-Rimah formed the subject of her PhD thesis and later for a book for general readership, Mari and Karana, two Old Babylonian Cities. In Iraq she met Christopher Dalley, now a Chartered Engineer, whom she later married. They have three children.

From 1979 to 2007, Dalley taught Akkadian and Sumerian at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University, being appointed Shillito Fellow in Assyriology in 1988.[5] She is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow of Somerville College, a member of Common Room at Wolfson College, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Dalley took part in archaeological excavations in the Aegean, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. She has published extensively, both technical editions of texts from excavations and national museums, and more general books. She has been involved in several television documentaries.

Contributions to Assyriology


Dalley published her own translations of the main Babylonian myths: Atrahasis, Anzu, The Descent of Ishtar, Gilgamesh, The Epic of Creation, Erra and Ishum. Collected into one volume, this work has made the Babylonian corpus accessible for the first time to the student of general mythology and it is widely used in university teaching.

The Nimrud Princesses

In 1989 the Iraqi Department of Antiquities excavated one of a series of tombs in the ancient Palace of Nimrud.[6] A sarcophagus contained the skeletons of two women who had been buried with over 26 kg of gold objects, many of them inscribed. The inscriptions identified the women as queens from c 700 BC. Dalley showed that the name Ataliya was of Hebrew origin. The name of the other queen, Yaba could also have been Hebrew, a word possibly meaning Beautiful and equating to another, Assyrian name form Banitu which is also found on the jewellery. She concluded that these women, probably mother and daughter as they had been buried together, were Judean princesses, probably relatives of King Hezekiah of Jerusalem, given in diplomatic marriage to the Assyrian Kings. This arrangement sheds a new light on the political relationships between Judah and Assyria at that time. The analysis also offers an explanation for an otherwise obscure passage in the Old Testament (II Kings 18.17–28 and also Isaiah 36.11–13). The besieging Assyrian commander, who would have been a close relative of the King, calls on the people of Jerusalem advising them to abandon their rebellion. "Then Rab-shakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said 'Hear ye the words of the great king, the King of Assyria'". He could speak in Hebrew because he had learned it at his mother's knee.

Legacy in later cultures

In several academic articles Dalley has traced the influence of Mesopotamian culture in the Hebrew Old Testament, early Greek epics, and the Arabian Nights. In particular she has studied the transmission of the story of Gilgamesh across the cultures of the Near and Middle East and shown its persistence to the Tale of Buluqiya in the Arabian Nights, examining the evidence for Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the tale, as well as contrasting Akkadian and later Arabic stories. She has also noted the appearance of the name Gilgamesh in the Book of Enoch.[7]

Hanging Garden of Babylon

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were not found despite extensive archaeological excavations. Dalley has suggested, based on eighteen years of textual study, that the Garden was built not at Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, but in Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrians, by Sennacherib, around 2700 years ago. She deciphered Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform, and reinterpreted later Greek and Roman texts, and determined that a crucial seventh century BC inscription had been mistranslated. While none of Nebuchadnezzar's inscriptions ever mentioned any gardens, Dalley found texts by Sennacherib about a palace he built and a garden alongside that he called a wonder for all people. The texts also described a water screw, pre-dating Archimedes, using a new bronze-casting methodology that raised water all day, and related these to extensive aqueducts and canals that brought water from hills eighty kilometres away. A bas-relief from Nineveh and now in the British Museum depicts a palace and trees suspended on terraces, which Dalley used as further supporting evidence. Her research confirms the description of later Greek writers that the gardens were, in fact, terraces built up like an amphitheatre around a central pond. She compiled these conclusions into her book The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, published in 2013.[8][9]

The Sealand

Dalley published in 2009 an archive of some 470 newly-found cuneiform texts and deduced that they had originated in a southern Mesopotamian kingdom previously known only as the Sea land which flourished c 1,500 BC. This fills a significant gap in modern historical knowledge. Her analysis of the texts has made it possible to identify tablets in other museums and collections as being from the Sealand dynasties.

Selected publications

A full list of publications up to 2014 is available on


  • Mari and Karana: Two Old Babylonian Cities. Longman. 1984. ISBN 978-0582783638.
  • The Tablets from Fort Shalmaneser (Cuneiform Texts from Nimrud). The British School of Archaeology in Iraq. 1984. ISBN 978-0903472081.
  • Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford. 1998. ISBN 978-0192835895.
  • The Legacy of Mesopotamia. Oxford. 2005. ISBN 978-0199291588. (Editor)
  • Esther's Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus. Oxford. 2007. ISBN 978-0199216635.
  • Babylonian Tablets from the First Sealand Dynasty. CDL Press. 2009. ISBN 978-1934309-087.
  • The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced. Oxford. 2013. ISBN 978-0199662265.


  • "The Tablets from Tell Al-Rimah 1967: A Preliminary Report". Iraq. 30 (1): 87. Spring 1968. doi:10.2307/4199841.
  • "Old Babylonian Dowries". Iraq. 42 (01): 53. 1980. doi:10.2307/4200115.
  • "Foreign Chariotry and Cavalry in the Armies of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II". Iraq. 47: 31. January 1985. doi:10.2307/4200230.
  • "The God Ṣalmu and the Winged Disk". Iraq. 48: 85. January 1986. doi:10.2307/4200253.
  • "Yahweh in Hamath in the 8th Century BC: Cuneiform Material and Historical Deductions". Vetus Testamentum. 40 (1): 21. January 1990. doi:10.2307/1519260.
  • "Ancient Assyrian Textiles and the Origins of Carpet Design". Iran. 29: 117. 1991. doi:10.2307/4299853.
  • "Nineveh after 612 BC". Altorientalische Forschungen. 20 (1). 1993. doi:10.1524/aofo.1993.20.1.134.
  • "Nineveh, Babylon and the Hanging Gardens: cuneiform and classical sources reconciled". Iraq. 56. January 1994. doi:10.1017/S0021088900002801.
  • "Sennacherib and Tarsus". Anatolian Studies. 49: 73. December 1999. doi:10.2307/3643063.
  • "Sennacherib, Archimedes, and the Water Screw: The Context of Invention in the Ancient World". Technology and Culture. 44 (1): 1–26. January 2003. doi:10.1353/tech.2003.0011.
  • "Gods from north-eastern and north-western Arabia in cuneiform texts from the First Sealand Dynasty, and a cuneiform inscription from Tell en-Naṣbeh, c.1500 BC". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 24: 177–185. 2013. doi:10.1111/aae.12005.
  • "Review of Andre Salvini,ed. La Tour de Babylone; Etudes et recherches sur les monuments de Babylon". Bibliotheca Orientalis. LXXII: 751–755. 2015.
  • "The Cuneiform inscriptions found at Tas-Silge (Malta); banded agate, "targets" and "cushions"". Ancient Near Eastern Studies. supplement 50, in honour of A Frendo: 21–28. 2017. ISBN 978-90-4293419-1.
  • Heffron, Stone, Worthington, eds. (2017). At the Dawn of History. Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honour of J N Postgate. Of arches, vaults and domes. pp. 127–131. ISBN 9781575064710.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • Parham, Westling, eds. (2017). "The natural world in ancient Mesopotamian literature". A Global History of Literature and the Environment. pp. 21–36. ISBN 978-1-107-10262-0.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  • Sherratt,Bennet, eds. (2017). "Gilgamesh and heroes at Troy: myth, history and education". Archaeology and Homeric Epic. pp. 116–134. ISBN 978-1-78570-295-2.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)

Radio and Television

  • BBC Horizon "Noah's Flood", 1996 [10]
  • BBC Secrets of the Ancients episode 5: "Hanging Gardens of Babylon", 1999
  • BBC Radio, "Babylon and the Gilgamesh Epic". 2006
  • BBC Masterpieces of the British Museum, Series 2 Episode 1, "The Assyrian Lion Hunt Reliefs", 2006
  • Channel 4 UK: "Secrets of the Dead, The Lost Gardens of Babylon", 2013
  • PBS Secrets of the Dead, "The Lost Gardens of Babylon", 2014



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