Posts Tagged ‘Nineveh’

Like many ancient civilisations the peoples of Mesopotamia had accounts of flood myths. To date we know of three versions of the flood myth. These epics are known as the epics of Attrahasis, Gilgamesh and Zuisudra. Attrahasis and Zuisudra are both accounts of the survival of a flood while the epic of Gilgamesh recounts the story of the flood. They all appear to date in written form from around the period 1700 to 2000 BCE, although most of the records that have survived come from a period around 600 to 800 BCE. It is likely that one of the functions of the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh was to copy old or damaged tablets in order to preserve their contents.

Attrahasis tablet
Cuneiform tablet of Attrahasis epic from British Museum collection

A version of the epic of Attrahasis was discovered in the library at Nineveh. However, we do know that these are later copies as a version was also found at Sippar, an ancient cultic centre, near Babylon, which dates to the 17th century BCE.

In this account of the myth, the gods weary of doing work, decide to create humankind to perform it in their place. Initially this works well, but as the population increases, humankind becomes very noisy. This irritates the gods and they send down drought, plague and famine in an attempt to reduce the population. Finally they decide to send down a flood to wipe out the whole of humankind. However, one of the gods, Enki or Ea [akkadian-sumarian variants], warns Attrahasis, the son of king Ubara-Tutu, and gives him instructions for building a boat. Unfortunately the section of the epic that actually deals with the boat and the flood has not yet been found and the next part of the story that is known sees Attrahasis sacrificing to the gods for his deliverance from the flood. His survival causes a great deal of argument amongst the gods, who decide in the end to grant him immortality to make him unlike other humans.

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.

The final scenes in the wall reliefs from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh show the conquering Assyrian army returning with the spoils of victory and presenting them to the King.





The reliefs of the Capture of Lachish are on display in a newly refurbished gallery at the British Museum

Arriving back in Ninevah following his campaign in Judea, King Sennacherib decided to record the battle of Lachish as a permanent reminder to all his subjects of what happens when you rebel.

The wall reliefs which he commissioned show us a lot of information about the Assyrian army.




They also depict scenes showing the defence of the city

From around the year 900 BCE, the Assyrian Empire began to expand and by 700 BCE had reached as far as the Mediterranean and the northern borders of Egypt.

The expansion of the Assyrian empire 900-700 BCE

The expansion of the Assyrian empire 900-700 BCE

in 701 BCE King Hezikiah of Judah was implicated in a rebellion against the Assyrians. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, responded promptly and marched into Judah where he crushed the combined Judaean and Egyptian armies. He laid siege to but did not manage to capture the Judean capital, Jerusalem (an account of this story from a Judean point of view is told in the biblical second book of Kings). Sennacherib did however attack and capture the town of Lachish to the south-west, which served as his headquarters during the campaign against the Judeans (see 2Kings chapter 18).


It was from here that Sennacherib negotiated the eventual peace settlement with Hezekiah.

The site of Lachish has been excavated and evidence for the city’s capture has been discovered. In addition, finds have cast light on some of the weapons used during the battle for the city

Finds from the gate area of Lachish

Finds from the gate area of Lachish

Sennacherib returned home to Ninevah and had his version of the story recorded on the walls of his palace.