Posted: February 27, 2014 in Ancient Near Eastern History, History
Tags: , ,

Ashurbanipal is regarded by many historians as the last of the great Kings of the Assyrian Empire. He was the son of Esarhaddon and the grandson of Sennacherib, who had between them expanded the Assyrian Empire to its greatest ever size.

Ashurbanipal from the Lion Hunt Reliefs (British Museum)

Ashurbanipal had elder brothers and was not expected to succeed his father as King of the Empire. As a result, he turned his mind to more scholarly pursuits. In a unique surviving autobiographical statement he tells of his studies in divination, mathematics reading and writing. Tradition tells us that he was in fact the only Assyrian king who knew how to read and write .
Sometime prior to 672 BCE Ashurbanipal’s older brothers died or were killed and he found himself unexpectedly in the position of Crown Prince. Three years later, his father Esarhaddon was killed while campaigning in Egypt and Ashurbanipal acceded to the throne in his place. Aware of the already difficult problems that were occurring with the government of such a large empire, Ashurbanipal installed his brother Shamash-shum-ukin as the King in the eastern part of the Empire, the region of Babylon.
To get the impression that this scholarly King was in anyway not made in the mold of his father or grandfather would be a mistake. He finally put Egypt under Assyrian control in 667 when he defeated the Nubian king Tarhaqa in a battle near Memphis with the aid of his Egyptian ally, Necho I , whom he then installed as client King of Egypt. In 652 Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against his brother and Civil War ensued. It took four years for Ashurbanipal to re-establish Assyrian control in the east. His brother died just before the city of Babylon surrendered to the Assyrian troops -whether he was killed or committed suicide is unclear . Ashurbanipal’s response was to kill anyone who was associated with the rebellion and to abolish the kingship of Babylon and replace him with the governor.
So in many respects Ashurbanipal was indeed a typical member of his family. Yet there is clearly another side to this fascinating figure . It seems clear that he was proud of his education.

ash autobio
The autobiography of Ashurbanipal (British Museum)

One inscription reads ‘I Ashurbanipal took care of the wisdom of Nebo [the Assyrian God of Knowledge], the whole of the inscribed tablets of all the clay tablets the whole of them their mysteries and difficulties I solved’. This inscription gives an insight into the nature of the scholar. During his kingship he collected together cuneiform texts from all over the Empire so that he could study them and in order to house them, he created a library in his palace at Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. This collection of material is regarded by many as one of the most important discoveries in our understanding of the ancient near East. Many types of documents were included – financial, administrative, literary and prophetic texts have been identified which is given us an insight into the running and religion of the Assyrian Empire at its height.
We’re not absolutely sure when Ashurbanipal’s rule came to an end but it is likely to have been some time between 631 and 627 . His death was followed by a number of Civil Wars and regional revolts which began to cripple the Assyrian Empire. The period also saw the rise of independent Kings in the Babylonian region of the Empire. This was the foundation of the neo-Babylonian Empire, which in due course would consume the entire Assyrian Empire all the way to the borders of Egypt.

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