Ashurbanipal (Akkadian: Aššur-bāni-apli; Syriac: ܐܫܘܪ ܒܢܐ
ܐܦܠܐ; 'Ashur is the creator of an heir'), also spelled
Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
from 668 BC to c. 627 BC, the son of
Esarhaddon and the last strong
ruler of the empire, which is usually dated between 934 and 609 BC.
He is famed for amassing a significant collection of cuneiform
documents for his royal palace at Nineveh. This collection, known
as the Library of Ashurbanipal, now in the British Museum, which also
holds the famous
Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal
Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal set of Assyrian palace
In the Hebrew Bible he is called Asenappar (Hebrew:
אָסְנַפַּר, Modern 'Asnapar,
Tiberian 'Āsenapar - Ezra 4:10). Roman historian Justinus
identified him as Sardanapalus, although the fictional
depicted as the last king of
Assyria and an ineffectual, effete and
debauched character, whereas three further kings succeeded
Ashurbanipal, who was in fact an educated, efficient, highly capable
and ambitious warrior king.
1 Early life
2 Royal succession
3 Military accomplishments
4 Library of Ashurbanipal
5 Art and culture
6 See also
7 References and footnotes
9 Further reading
10 External links
Ashurbanipal was born toward the end of a 1,500-year period of
His father, Esarhaddon, the youngest son of Sennacherib, had become
heir when the crown prince, Ashur-nadin-shumi, was deposed by rebels
from his position as vassal for Babylon.
Esarhaddon was the son not of
Sennacherib's queen, Tashmetum-sharrat, but of the "palace woman"
Zakutu, "the pure" (cf. Modern Standard Arabic زكاة [zakāt],
"that which purifies"), known by her native name, Naqi'a. There are
some suggestions Zakutu may have been an
Israelite or Aramean
concubine, while others point to her family origins being in the
northern Assyrian city of Harran. The only queen known for
Esarhaddon was Ashur-hamat, who died in 672 BC.
Ashurbanipal grew up in the small palace called Bit Reduti (house of
succession), built by his grandfather
Sennacherib when he was crown
prince in the northern quadrant of Nineveh. In 694 BC, Sennacherib
had completed the "Palace Without Rival" at the southwest corner of
the acropolis, obliterating most of the older structures. The "House
of Succession" had become the palace of Esarhaddon, the crown prince.
In this house, Ashurbanipal's grandfather was assassinated by uncles
identified only from the biblical account as Adrammelech, Abimlech and
Sharezer. From this conspiracy,
Esarhaddon emerged as king in 681 BC.
He proceeded to rebuild as his residence the Bit Masharti (weapons
house, or arsenal). The "House of Succession" was left to his mother
and the younger children, including Ashurbanipal.
The names of five brothers and one sister are known.
Sin-iddin-apli, the intended crown prince, died prior to 672 BC. Not
having been expected to become heir to the throne,
trained in scholarly pursuits as well as the usual horsemanship,
hunting, chariotry, soldiery, craftsmanship, and royal decorum. In a
unique autobiographical statement,
Ashurbanipal specified his youthful
scholarly pursuits as having included oil divination, mathematics, and
reading and writing; he was able to read and write in Sumerian,
Akkadian and Aramaic.
Detail of a stone monument of
Ashurbanipal II as a basket-bearer.
668-655 BC. From the temple of Nabu at Borsippa, Iraq, currently
housed in the British Museum
Ashurbanipal succeeded his father
Esarhaddon (reigned 681–669 BC) as
Assyria and ruler of the Assyrian Empire in 668 BC. Esarhaddon
had prepared for the accession of his son by imposing a vassal treaty
upon his Persian,
Median and Parthian subjects, ensuring that they
accepted Ashurbanipal's dominance in advance. He had also rebuilt
Babylon and set up another of his sons
Shamash-shum-ukin to rule
there, subject to his brother
Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.
Despite being a popular king among his subjects, he was also known for
his cruelty to his enemies. Some pictures depict him putting a dog
chain through the jaw of a defeated Arab king and then making him live
in a dog kennel. Many paintings of the period exhibit his
brutality; however, Assyrian harshness was reserved solely for those
who took up arms against the Assyrian king, and neither Ashurbanipal
nor his predecessors conducted genocides, massacres or ethnic
cleansings against civilian populations.
Ashurbanipal inherited from
Esarhaddon not only the throne of the
empire but also the ongoing war in
Egypt with Kush/Nubia. Ashurbanipal
ended Egyptian interference in the Near East, destroyed the Kushite
Empire, drove the Kushites/Nubians from Egypt, and conquered
Libya. However the Nubians still had ambitions to regain control of
Egypt and resurrect their empire.
Ashurbanipal sent an army against them in 667 BC that defeated the
Nubian king Taharqa, near Memphis, while
Ashurbanipal stayed at his
capital in Nineveh. At the same time some Egyptian vassals rebelled
and were also defeated. All of the vanquished leaders save one were
sent to Nineveh. Only Necho I, the native Egyptian Prince of Sais,
convinced the Assyrians of his loyalty and was sent back to become the
Pharaoh of Egypt. After the death of
Taharqa in 664 BC
his nephew and successor
Tantamani invaded Upper
Egypt and took
control of Thebes. In Memphis he defeated the native Egyptian princes
and Necho may have died in the battle. Another army was sent by
Ashurbanipal and again it succeeded in defeating the Kushites/Nubians.
Tantamani was routed and driven back to his homeland in
Nubia and was
never again to threaten
Assyria or Egypt. The Assyrians plundered
Thebes and took much booty home with them. How Assyrian rule in Egypt
ended is not certain, but at some point Necho's son Psammetichus I
gained independence while wisely keeping his relations with Assyria
An Assyrian royal inscription tells how the Lydian king Gyges received
dreams from the Assyrian god Ashur. The dreams told him that when he
Ashurbanipal he would conquer his foes. After Gyges sent
his ambassadors to accept Assyrian vassalage he defeated his Cimmerian
enemies. But later when he supported the rebellion of the Egyptian
rebels his country was overrun by the Cilicians.
Assyria was by then master of the largest empire the world had yet
seen, stretching from the Caucasus in the north to
North Africa and
Arabian peninsula in the south, and from
Cyprus and the east
Mediterranean in the west, to central
Iran in the east. Ashurbanipal
enjoyed the subjugation of a myriad of nations and peoples, including
Babylon, Chaldea, Media, Persia, Egypt, Libya, Elam, Gutium, Parthia,
Cissia, Phrygia, Mannea, Corduene, Aramea, Urartu, Lydia, Cilicia,
Commagene, Caria, Cappadocia, Phoenicia, Canaan, the Suteans, Sinai,
Israel, Judah, Samarra, Moab, Edom, Ammon, Nabatea, Arabia, the
Neo-Hittites, Dilmun, Meluhha, Nubia, Scythia, Cimmeria,
Cyprus, with few problems during Ashurbanipal's reign. For the time
being, the dual monarchy in
Mesopotamia went well, with
Shamash-shum-ukin accepting his position as the vassal of his brother
peaceably.[not specific enough to verify]
For his assignment of his brother,
Ashurbanipal sent a statue of the
Marduk with him as sign of good will.
Shamash-shuma-ukin's power was limited. He performed Babylonian
rituals but the official building projects were still executed by his
younger brother. During his first years
Elam was still in peace as it
was under his father.
Ashurbanipal sent food supplies to the Elamites
during a famine. Around 664 BC the situation changed and Urtaku, the
Elamite king, attacked Assyria's colony of
Babylonia by surprise.
Assyria delayed in sending aid to Babylon. This could have been caused
for two reasons: either the soothing messages of Elamite ambassadors
Ashurbanipal might simply not have been present at that time.
However the Assyrians eventually attacked and the Elamites retreated
before the Assyrian troops, and in the same year
Urtaku died. He was
Teumman (Tempti-Khumma-In-Shushinak), who was not his
legitimate heir, so many Elamite princes had to flee to Ashurbanipal's
court, including Urtaku's oldest son Humban-nikash. In 658/657 BC the
two empires clashed again, when the province of
Gambulu in 664
rebelled against the Assyrians and
Ashurbanipal decided to punish
them. On the other hand,
Teumman saw his authority threatened by the
Elamite princes at the Assyrian court and demanded their extradition.
The Assyrian forces invaded
Elam and fought a battle at the Ulaya
Elam was defeated in the battle in which, according to Assyrian
Teumman committed suicide.
Humban-nikash as king of Madaktu and another prince, Tammaritu, as
king of the city Hidalu.
Elam was considered a vassal of
tribute was imposed on it. With the Elamite problem solved the
Assyrians could finally punish
Gambulu and seized its capital. Then
the victorious army marched home taking with them the head of Teumman.
In Nineveh, when the Elamite ambassadors saw the head, one tore out
his beard and the other committed suicide. As further humiliation the
head of the Elamite king was put on display at the port of Nineveh.
The death and head of
Teumman was depicted multiple times in the
reliefs of Ashurbanipal's palace.
Friction grew between the two brother kings and in 652 BC Babylon
rebelled. This time
Babylon was not alone – it had allied
itself with a host of peoples resentful of Assyrian rule, including
Sutean, Chaldean and
Aramean tribes dwelling in its southern regions,
the kings of "Gutium", Amurru, and Meluhha, the Persians, the Arabs
Nabateans dwelling in the Arabian Peninsula, and even Elam.
According to a later Aramaic tale on Papyrus 63, Shamash-shum-ukin
formally declared war on
Ashurbanipal in a letter where he claims that
his brother is only the governor of
Nineveh and his subject. Again
the Assyrians delayed an answer, this time due to unfavourable omens.
It is not certain how the rebellion affected the Assyrian heartlands
but there was some unrest in the cities. When
Babylon finally was
attacked, the Assyrians were victorious. Civil war prevented by
further military aid, and in 648 BC
besieged. Without aid the situation was hopeless. After two years
Shamash-shum-ukin met his end in his burning palace just before the
city surrendered. This time
Babylon was not destroyed, as under
Sennacherib, but a massacre of the rebels took place, according to the
king's inscriptions, with the Assyrians exacting savage revenge upon
the Babylonians, Arameans, Chaldeans and Persians, together with an
Arabia and the brutal subjugation of the Arab tribes to
the south of Mesopotamia.
Babylon to keep its
semi autonomous position, but it became more formalized than before.
The next king
Kandalanu (an Assyrian governor) left no official
inscription, probably as his function was only ritual.
During the final two decades of Ashurbanipal's rule,
peaceful and its dominance went unchallenged, but the country
apparently faced an underlying decline due to over-expansion, the lack
of funds from its devastated colonies, and insufficient troops to
govern its vast empire. Documentation from the last years of
Ashurbanipal's reign is scarce. The last attestations of
Ashurbanipal's reign are of his year 38 (631 BC), but according to the
Greek historian Castor, he reigned for 42 years until 627 BC.[citation
After Ashurbanipal's death c. 627 BC he was succeeded by
Ashur-etil-ilani (626–623 BC). However,
Assyria soon descended into
a series of internal civil wars that would ultimately lead to its
Library of Ashurbanipal
Main article: Library of Ashurbanipal
The king, detail from the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal
Ashurbanipal was proud of his scribal education. He asserts this in
the statement: “I Assurbanipal within [the palace], took care of the
wisdom of Nebo, the whole of the inscribed tablets, of all the clay
tablets, the whole of their mysteries and difficulties, I
solved.” He was one of the few kings who could read the
cuneiform script in Akkadian and Sumerian, and claimed that he even
read texts from before the great flood. He was also able to solve
mathematical problems. During his reign, he collected cuneiform texts
from all over Mesopotamia, especially Babylonia, in his royal library
at Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. He commissioned copies of
literary works from libraries around the kingdom in order to obtain
"the hidden treasures of the scribe's knowledge." The results
were stored in what became known as the Library of Ashurbanipal.
Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC but many of the library's clay tablets
survived the devastation. Ashurbanipal’s palace was excavated in
December 1853 and the surviving contents of the library
re-discovered. Over 30,000 clay tablets and fragments were
uncovered in the library, providing archaeologists with a wealth
of Mesopotamian literary, religious and administrative work. The
library included hymns and prayers, medical, mathematical, ritual,
divinatory and astrological texts, alongside all sorts of
administrative documents, letters and contracts. Other genres found
during excavations included standard lists used by scribes and
scholars, word lists, bilingual vocabularies, lists of signs and
synonyms, lists of medical diagnoses, astronomic/astrological texts.
The scribal texts proved to be very helpful in deciphering
Hunting Lions, Smarthistory
Ashurbanipal is considered by some library scholars as an archetypal
academic librarian, in that his library set the course for how the
libraries of today operate. While the library at Ninevah was
utilized by a select elite and
Ashurbanipal himself, the basic
purposes of the library and the services provided are similar to those
currently seen in modern academic libraries.
Art and culture
British Museum in London has the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal, a set
Assyrian palace reliefs
Assyrian palace reliefs from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal, also
excavated at Nineveh, depicting the king hunting and killing
Mesopotamian lions. In Assyria, the lion hunt was seen as a royal
sport; the depictions were seen as a symbol of the king’s ability to
guard the nation. The “Garden Party” relief shows the king and
his queen having a banquet celebrating the Assyrian triumph over
Tuemman in the campaign against Elam. The fine carvings serve as
testimony to Ashurbanipal’s high regard for art, but also
communicate an important message meant to be passed down for
The sculptor Fred Parhad (1947–) created a larger-than-life statue
of Ashurbanipal, which was placed on a street near the San Francisco
City Hall main square in 1988. The sculpture shows Asurbanipal
wearing a short tunic and holds a lion cub in his proper right arm.
The figure stands on a concrete base, with bronze plaque and rosettes.
The statue stands across from City Hall next to the Asian Art Museum
and faces the San Francisco Library.
Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard wrote a short story entitled "The Fire of
Asshurbanipal" (sic), first published in the December 1936 issue of
Weird Tales magazine, about an "accursed jewel belonging to a king of
long ago, whom the Grecians called
Sardanapalus and the Semitic
Ashurbanipal was used as the ruler of the Assyrians in the second
expansion pack (Brave New World) for the game Civilization V.
Ancient Near East portal
Kings of Assyria
References and footnotes
^ These are the dates according to the Assyrian King list, Assyrian
Ashurbanipal - king of Assyria". Encyclopedia Britannica.
^ See other versions at Ezra 4:10
^ Marcus Junianus Justinus. "Epitome of the Philippic History of
Pompeius Trogus". His successors too, following his example, gave
answers to their people through their ministers. The Assyrians, who
were afterwards called Syrians, held their empire thirteen hundred
years. The last king that reigned over them was Sardanapalus, a man
more effeminate than a woman.
^ a b c Northen Magill, Frank; Christina J. Moose; Alison Aves; Taylor
and Francis (1998). Dictionary of World Biography: The ancient world.
^ 1.^ Jump up to: a b c d e f Melville, Sarah C. (1999). The role of
Naqia/Zakutu in Sargonid politics. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus
Project. ISBN 9514590406.
^ Luckenbill, D.D. Ancient Records of
^ "It must be noted, however, that these atrocities were usually
reserved for those local princes and their nobles who had revolted and
that in contrast with the Israelites, for instance, who exterminated
the Amalekites for purely ethno-cultural reasons, the Assyrians never
indulged in systematic genocides." (Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, Third
Edition, p. 291)
^ They have been maligned. Certainly they could be rough and tough to
maintain order, but they were defenders of civilization, not barbarian
destroyers." (H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, p. 2)
^ Roaf, M. Cultural atlas of
Mesopotamia and the ancient near east
2004. pp. 190–191.
^ Georges Roux – Ancient Iraq
^ Frame, G.
Babylonia 689-627. p. 104.
^ This is the name according to Assyrian sources; the river is today
identified with either the
Karkheh or Karun.
^ Banipal, Cem (1986). The War of Banipalian. Çankaya: Bilkentftp
Press. pp. 31–52.
^ Frame, G.
Babylonia 689–627 BC. pp. 118–124.
^ Steiner and Ninms, RB 92 1985
^ Frame, G.
Babylonia 689–627 BC. pp. 131–141.
^ Oates, J. (2003). Babylon. p. 123.
^ Most important examples are the
Harran inscription and the Uruk king
^ Cylinder A, Column I, Lines 31–33, in Smith, George. History of
Assurbanipal, Translated from the
Cuneiform Inscriptions. London:
Harrison and Sons, 1871: pg.6
^ a b Roaf, M. (2004). Cultural Atlas of
Mesopotamia and the Ancient
Near East. p. 191.
^ Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. Chicago:
^ Coogan, Michael (2009). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament.
New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 292.
^ Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. New
York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. pp. 3–10.
"Assurbanipal Library Phase 1",
British Museum One
^ Briscoe, Peter; Bodtke-Roberts, Alice; Douglas, Nancy; Heinold,
Michele; Koller, Nancy; Peirce, Roberta (1986). "Ashurbanipal' s
Enduring Archetype: Thoughts on the Library's Role in the Future".
College & Research Libraries: 121.
^ Ashrafian, H. (2011). "An extinct
Mesopotamian lion subspecies".
Veterinary Heritage. 34 (2): 47–49.
^ ""Assyria: Lion Hunt (Room 10a)." British Museum". Retrieved 23
^ ""'Garden Party' relief from the North Palace of
S),". British Museum". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
^ "Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog – Ashurbanipal,
(sculpture)". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
Ashurbanipal Statue at the Main San Francisco Library in San
Francisco". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
^ Price, R. M. (ed.): Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of
Robert E. Howard, Chaosium (2001), pp. 99–118.
^ "Civ V's Brave New World expansion lets you conquer the world with
trade or culture wars". Venture Beat. 12/04/2013. Retrieved
10/01/2018. Check date values in: access-date=, date= (help)
Barnett, R. D. (1976). Sculptures from the North Palace of
Nineveh (668–627). London: British Museum.
Grayson, A. K. (1980). "The Chronology of the Reign of Ashurbanipal".
Zeitschrift für Assyriologie. 70 (2): 227–245.
Luckenbill, Daniel David (1926). Ancient Records of
Babylonia: From Sargon to the End. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago
Murray, S. (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. New York, NY::
Oates, J. (1965). "Assyrian Chronology, 631-612 B.C". Iraq. 27 (2):
Olmstead, A. T. (1923). History of Assyria. New York: Scribner.
Russell, John Malcolm (1991). Sennacherib's Palace without Rival at
Nineveh. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ito, Sanae (2015). Royal Image and Political Thinking in the Letters
of Assurbanipal. Ph.D. thesis. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ashurbanipal.
The Library of King
Ashurbanipal Web Page
Assurbanipal Coronation Hymn
History Of Assurbanipal, Translated from the
Cuneiform Inscriptions by
Historical Prism Inscriptions of
Ashurbanipal I: Editions E, B1–5,
D, and K – Oriental Institute
King of Assyria
668–c. 627 BC
Early Bronze Age
"Kings who lived in tents"
(ca. 2500 – 2000 BC)
"Kings who were forefathers"
(ca. 2000 BC)
"Kings whose eponyms are destroyed"
(ca. 2000 – 1900 BC)
Middle Bronze Age
Old Assyrian period
(ca. 1906 – 1380 BC)
(Seven usurpers: Ashur-dugul
Late Bronze Age
Middle Assyrian period
(ca. 1353 – 1180 BC)
Middle Assyrian period
(ca. 1179 – 912 BC)
(ca. 912 – 609 BC)
ISNI: 0000 0000 8394 7339
^ Lyons, Martyn (2011). Books: A Living History. Los Angeles: J. Paul
Gerry Museum. pp. 16–17. access-date= req