People > Ashurbanipal

Ashurbanipal

Background

Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE) was the last great king of the ancient empire of Assyria. He was the son of Esarhaddon and the grandson of Sennacherib. He is well known for being the most intellectual of the great kings and established the Library of Ashurbanipal where we get much of what we know about the Assyrians today. Much of this collection is currently housed at the British Museum and allows scholars and historians to have a better picture of not just Assyria but other cultures of Mesopotamia as well.

Under Ashurbanipal the civilization of Assyria would expand to its greatest heights, encompassing an area from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Iranian Plateau in the east, the Caucus Mountains to the north and as far south as Nubia in northern Africa. The Assyrians were the first true ancient superpower and established one of the greatest and most powerful ancient empires. They were universally hated by their conquered populations and this led to quick revolts upon the death of very powerful kings.

Upon the death of Ashurbanipal the civilization of Assyria would be wrecked by internal civil wars which created political and social strife that allowed oppressed vassal states to siege the inner-most cities of the empire. Ashurbanipal's successors were unable to hold onto the massive amount of territory held and it all began to unravel. Eventually the whole civilization would be assimilated by neighboring Babylonia with a unique blending of the cultures that allowed it to persist into the modern day.

Early Life

During his early life Ashurbanipal was made the successor Esarhaddon. He grew up in the small palace known as bit reduti or the house of succession that was built by Sennacherib in northern quadrant of the capital Nineveh. This was the house of his father who inherited it after Sennacherib built the Palace Without Rival in the southwestern corner. It was in this smaller palace that Sennacherib would be assassinated by the uncles of Ashurbanipal which would force Esarhaddon to return and avenge his death.

Known only as Adrammelech and Sharezer from the Biblical account Esarhaddon crushed the rebels and executed all the supporters and their families in 681 BCE. Following this event the smaller palace was given to Ashurbanipal and his mother along with Esarhaddon's other children. For himself he rebuilt the bit masharti or the weapons house as his residence. Ashurbanipal had five brothers and one sister that are known, including Sin-iddin-apli who was initially supposed to be heir to the throne but died in 672 BCE.

Since Ashurbanipal was never expected to take the throne he was trained in all sorts of academic subjects along with learning how to hunt, ride horses, chariots and be a great soldier. In his own autobiography he describes how he learned oil divination, mathematics, reading and writing as a kid and is known to possibly be the only Assyrian king that knew who to read or write.

Becoming King

When Esarhaddon's first wife died in 672 BCE his mother helped organize a treaty with the Medes in order to guarantee Ashurbanipal's right to rule. This worked because Media was a vassal state to Assyria and made sure Ashurbanipal would rule over Assyria and Shamash-shum-ukin over Babylonia. Esarhaddon constructed a massive stele that showed himself and his two sons on either side, hoping they would achieve a dual monarchy over the kingdom.

Esarhaddon would die suddenly while planning an expedition to Egypt in 669 BCE and the two sons ascended to the throne within a few months. Right away his grandmother Naqia/Zakutu made sure any reports of treason were brought directly to them in order to make sure the dynasty continued.

Ashurbanipal was officially made king in 668 BCE and was officially coronated in the traditional Assyrian custom during the second month of that year. He made his brother the king of Babylon and the two practiced a form of dual monarchy for the early years of Ashurbanipal's rule. However, Ashurbanipal would have supreme rule of Assyria and Babylonia and this would bring about conflicts in the future as ruling over Babylon always seemed to inspire some sense of drive for independence.

While known for being a fair, just, literate and effective leader he still had a cruel streak.

Egypt Campaign

See Egypt Campaign

Elam Campaign

See Elam Campaign

Babylonian Revolt

See Babylonian Revolt

Following the conquest of Babylonia the Assyrian Empire came to grow to its largest extent. This is a list of all the peoples and civilizations that were part of this massive political entity.

Ashurbanipal - Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE)

Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE) - Historical Atlas (1923)

As you can see this is a considerable amount and there were several forced relocations of people. Just like under the similar Achaemenid Empire there is a great consolidation of power and territory. This often meant the demise and collapse of specific independent civilizations for good who may never exert regional sovereignty again. For the rest of history they may only exist as vassal states or territories that are governed by larger empires.

Some populations may be relocated to the capital or a vacant area of the empire and thus their territory can be inhabited by a different group. This movement of people is key to understanding ancient history and the various interactions between all the disparate civilizations of the planet.

Library of Ashurbanipal

One of the greatest achievements of Ashurbanipal was his development of the Library of Ashurbanipal that was built within the palace complex at the city of Nineveh. This great library held many clay cuneiform tablets that recorded all aspects of Assyrian life and history. When the city of Nineveh was sieged the palace complex was burnt to the ground and the entire city razed. Nineveh was then abandoned and never occupied again which led to immaculate preservation of the tablets.

While papyrus books or scrolls would have been consumed by the fire the clay tablets simply got baked harder which preserved them even better. When the library was uncovered by archaeologists at the ruins of Nineveh it was a treasure trove of Assyrian history that let early archaeologists have a great view of the past. In addition the sources from this library allow us to corroborate claims made in other sources throughout the ancient world and help us gain a better understanding of the various interactions between civilizations.

Ashurbanipal - Library of Ashurbanipal

Library of Ashurbanipal - Story of the Nations (1915)

The library of Ashurbanipal was very well preserved and a significant percentage of the total content survives into the present day. Due to the nature of the writing medium the ancient clay tablets are probably one of the best methods for recording data for long term storage in history as they are much less subject to destruction than papyrus, parchment or paper.

The achievements of Ashurbanipal reflect his intellectual and literate nature and have been extremely beneficial to mankind in general. The development of intellectual achievement and libraries usually coincides with golden ages and Ashurbanipal definitely presided over one.

Death

Ashurbanipal died in the 42nd year of his reign in 627 BCE and was succeeded by Ashur-etli-ilani (626–623 BCE) who was able to rule for three years before Assyria descended into civil war. There is not much record from this period and what we do know is based on the Greek historian named Castor.

Ashurbanipal Legacy

See Ashurbanipal Legacy

Assyrian King List

King Name Years of Rule Kingdom
Eriba-Adad I 1380–1353 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit I 1353–1318 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-nirari 1317–1308 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Arik-den-ili 1307–1296 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari I 1295–1264 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser I 1263–1234 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta I 1233–1197 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nadin-apli 1196–1194 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari III 1193–1188 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-kudurri-usur 1187–1183 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-apal-Ekur 1182–1180 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan I 1179-1133 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-tukulti-Ashur 1333 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Mutakkil-nusku 1333 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi I 1133-1115 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser I 1115-1076 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Asharid-apal-Ekur 1076-1074 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-bel-kala 1074-1056 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad II 1056-1054 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-Adad IV 1054-1050 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal I 1050-1031 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser II 1031-1019 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari IV 1019-1013 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-rabi II 1013-972 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi II 972-967 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser II 967-935 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan II 935-912 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari II 912-891 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta II 891-884 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal II 884-859 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser III 859-824 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-adad V 824-811 BCE Middle Assyrian Empire
Shammu-ramat 811-808 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari III 811-783 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmeneser IV 783-773 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-dan III 773-755 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari V 755-745 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser III 745-727 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser V 727-722 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sargon II 722–705 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sennacherib 705–681 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Esarhaddon 681–669 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashurbanipal 669–631 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-etli-ilani 631-627 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shumu-lishir 626 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shar-ishkun 627-612 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit II 612-608 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources