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King of Assyria
Ashurbanipal on a chariot
during a royal lion hunt.
Reign 668 – ca. 627 BC
Akkadian Aššur-bāni-apli
Greek Sardanapalos
Latin Sardanapalus
Born 685 BC
Died 627 BC
Predecessor Esarhaddon
Successor Ashur-etil-ilani
Father Esarhaddon

Ashurbanipal (Akkadian: Aššur-bāni-apli, "Ashur is creator of an heir";[1] 685 B.C. – c. 627 B.C.),[2] also spelled Assurbanipal or Ashshurbanipal, was the son of Esarhaddon and the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (668 B.C. – c. 627 B.C.).[2] He established the first systematically organized library in the ancient Middle East,[3] the Library of Ashurbanipal, which survives in part today at Nineveh.

In the Bible he is called Asenappar (Ezra 4:10).[4] Roman historian Justinus identified him as Sardanapalus.[5]


Early life

Ashurbanipal hunting, a palace relief from Nineveh.
Ashurbanipal as High Priest.

Ashurbanipal was born toward the end of a fifteen-hundred-year period of Assyrian ascendancy.

His father, Esarhaddon, 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 not the son of Sennacherib's queen, Tashmetum-sharrat, but of the West Semitic "palace woman" Zakutu, known by her native name, Naqi'a. 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 Adrammelek and Sharezer. From this conspiracy, Esarhaddon emerged as king in 680 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, Ashurbanipal was trained in scholarly pursuits as well as the usual horsemanship, hunting, chariotry, soldierliness, 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. Ashurbanipal was the only Assyrian king who learned how to read and write.{fact}

Royal succession

In 672, upon the death of his queen, Esarhaddon reorganized the line of succession at the instigation of his mother. He used the submission of Median chieftains to draft the "Vassal Treaty".[6] The chieftains swore that if Esarhaddon died while his sons were still minors, they and their children would guarantee the succession of Ashurbanipal as king of Assyria and Shamash-shum-ukin as king of Babylon even though Ashurbanipal was the younger of the two. Before this, his elder brother Sin-iddina-apla was Esarhaddon's heir but he died in the same year. A monumental stela set up two years later in a northwestern province portrays Esarhaddon in high relief upon its face and each of the sons on a side. These portraits, the earliest dated for Ashurbanipal and his brother, show both with the full beard of maturity.

The princes pursued diverse educations thereafter. Extant letters from Shamash-shum-ukin offer his father reports of the situation in Babylon; Ashurbanipal at home received letters as crown prince. The situation came to an immediate crisis in 669, when Esarhaddon, on campaign to Egypt, died suddenly. Ashurbanipal did not accede to the kingship of Assyria until late in the year. His grandmother Zakutu required all to support his sole claim to the throne and to report acts of treason from now on to him and herself. This shows how influential the old lady was at the beginning of Ashurbanipal's reign. The official ceremonies of coronation came in the second month of the new year, and within the same year (668 BC), Ashurbanipal installed his brother as King of Babylon. The transition took place smoothly, and the dual monarchy of the youthful brothers began. Texts describe their relationship as if they were twins. It was clear, however, that Ashurbanipal, as king of Assyria, like his fathers before him, was also "king of the universe."

Military accomplishments

Despite being a popular king among his subjects, he was also known by enemy nations for his exceedingly cruel action to defeated kings. Some accounts and pictures depict him putting a dog chain through the jaw of a defeated king and then making him live in a dog kennel.[7] Many bold pictures and paintings even boast of such cruel acts, showing he was proud of all that he did.

The inheritance of Esarhaddon not only included the throne but also his war with Egypt and its Kushite lords, the kings of Dynasty 25. In 667 he sent an army against it that defeated king Taharqa near Memphis, Ashurbanipal stayed at his capital in Nineveh. At the same time the Egyptian vassals rebelled and the Assyrian army had to crush them. All of the leaders were sent to Nineveh, only Necho I the Prince of Sais, convinced the Assyrians of his loyalty and was sent back to become king of Egypt. After the death of Taharqa in 664 BC his nephew and successor Tantamani invaded Upper Egypt and made Thebes his capital. In Memphis he defeated the other Egyptian princes and Necho may have died in the battle. Another army was sent by Ashurbanipal and again it succeeded in defeating the Kushites. Tantamani retreated to his homeland and stayed there. The Assyrian plundered Thebes and took much booty home with them. How the Assyrian interference in Egypt ended is not certain but Necho's son Psammetichus I gained independence while keeping his relations with Assyria friendly. An interesting Assyrian royal inscription tells us of how the Lydian king Gyges received dreams from the Assyrian god Ashur. The dreams told him that when he submitted to Ashurbanipal he would conquer his foes. After he sent his ambassadors to do so he was indeed able to defeat his Cimmerian enemies. But when he supported the rebellion of one of the Egyptian rebels his country was overrun by the Cilicians.[8]

For the time being the dual monarchy went well. For his assignment of his brothers, Ashurbanipal sent a statue of the divinity Marduk with him as sign of good will.[9] Shamsh-shuma-ukin's powers were 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 even claimed that he sent food supplies during a famine. Around 664 BC the situation changed and Urtaku, the Elamite king, attacked 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 or Ashurbanipal might simply not have been present at that time. Elamites retreated before the Assyrian troops, and in the same year Urtaku died. He was succeeded by Teumman (Tempti-Khumma-In-Shushinak) who was not his legitimate heir, so many Elamite princes had to flee from him to Ashurbanipal's court, including Urtaku's oldest son Humban-nikash. In 658/657 BC the two empires clashed again. The reason for this was the treasonous province of Gambulu in 664 acting against the Assyrians. Ashurbanipal finally decided to punish them for that. On the other hand, Teumman saw his authority threatened by the Elamite princes at the Assyrian court and demanded their extradition. When the Assyrian forces invaded Elam a battle followed at the Ulaya river.[10]

Elam was defeated in the battle in which, according to Assyrian reliefs, Teumman committed suicide.[11] Ashurbanipal installed Humban-nikash as king of Madaktu and another prince, Tammaritu, as king of the city Hidalu. Elam was considered a new vassal of Assyria and tribute was imposed on it. With the Elamite problem solved the Assyrians could finally punish Gumbulu 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 they lost control; one tore out his beard and the other committed suicide but this wasn't enough. 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.[12]

Friction must have grown between the two brother kings and in 652 BC Babylon rebelled. This time Babylon was not alone – it had allied itself with Assyrian Chaldean tribes, its southern regions, the kings of "Gutium", Amurru, and Malluha, 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.[13] Again the Assyrians delayed an answer, this time due to unfavourable omens. It's not certain how the rebellion affected the Assyrian heartlands but some unrest in the cities indicates that there were problems.[14] When Babylon finally was attacked, the Assyrians proved to be more powerful. Civil war prevented further military aid, and in 648 BC Borsippa and Babylon were 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 terrible massacre of the rebels took place, according to the king's inscriptions. Ashurbanipal allowed Babylon to keep its independence but it became even more formalized than before. The next king Kandalanu left no official inscription, probably as his function was only ritual.[15]

The end of the Assyrian Empire

During the final decade of his rule, Assyria was quite peaceful, but the country apparently faced a serious decline. Documentation from the last years of Ashurbanipal's reign is very scarce but the latest attestations of Ashurbanipal's reign are of his year 38 (631 BC), but according to later sources he reigned for 42 years (627 BC).[16]

Whatever may have been the case, after his death there was a power struggle. The contenders included Ashur-etil-ilani, his brother Sinsharishkun, general Sin-shumu-lishir, and the eventual new king of Babylonia, Nabopolassar; who fought against whom is not certain.

Art and culture

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.”[17]. He was one of the few kings who could read the cuneiform script in Akkadian and Sumerian, and claimed that he even understood 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, and especially Babylonia, in the library in Nineveh.[18]

The Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh is perhaps the most compelling discovery in the Ancient Near East. There have been over 30,000 clay tablets uncovered in Ashurbanipal’s library[19], providing archaeologists with an amazing wealth of Mesopotamian literary, religious and administrative work. Among the findings was the Enuma Elish , also known as the Epic of Creation,[20] which depicts a traditional Babylonian view of creation where the god Marduk slays Tiamat, the personification of salt water, and creates the world from her body. In this particular version, man is created from the blood of a revolting god, Quingu, in order to toil on behalf of the gods. Also found in Nineveh, The Epic of Gilgamesh[21] is a compelling account of the hero and his friend Enkidu seeking out to destroy the demon Humbaba. The Gods punish the pair for their arrogance, however, by having Enkidu die from illness. After Enkidu’s death Gilgamesh seeks Ut-napishtim, the survivor of the Deluge, in order to find out the secret of immortality.

Aside from the many other myths found in Nineveh, a large selection of “omen texts” has been excavated and deciphered. Marc Van de Mieroop points out the Enuma Anu Enlil was a popular text among them: “It contained omens dealing with the moon, its visibility, eclipses, and conjunction with planets and fixed stars, the sun, its corona, spots, and eclipses, the weather, namely lightning, thunder, and clouds, and the planets and their visibility, appearance, and stations.”[22]

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 cuneiform.[18]

All of these texts shed some light on the religious beliefs surrounding Mesopotamian and Assyrian belief, but the library also can be interpreted as a manifestation of the value Ashurbanipal must have had for the preservation of Mesopotamian literature and culture.

An incredible collection of reliefs and carvings portraying ideological scenes of Ashurbanipal are also part of the legacy left behind by the king. The British Museum in London boasts an exhilarating exhibit of carvings from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal, also excavated at Nineveh, depicting the king hunting and killing 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.[23] 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 posterity.[24]

See also

References and footnotes

  1. ^ Dictionary of the Ancient Near East, Editors Piotr Bienkowski and Alan Millard, p.36
  2. ^ a b These are the dates according to the Assyrian King list, Assyrian kinglist
  3. ^ Ashurbanipal, from the Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ See other versions at Ezra 4:10
  5. ^ 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."  
  6. ^ Grayson, Kirk A. "Akkadian Treaties of Seventh Century B.C." Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987): pg.130 : “… Esarhaddon imposes oaths to respect the right to succession of his two sons upon various peoples: the Medes in the Vassal Treaties and probably the people of Sippar in Text 3.”
  7. ^ D.D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia II, p. 314
  8. ^ M. Roaf, cultural atlas of Mesopotamia and the ancient near east 2004, p. 190-191
  9. ^ G. Frame, Babylonia 689-627, p. 104
  10. ^ This is the name according to Assyrian sources, today we identify the river with either the Karkheh or Karun.
  11. ^ Banipal, Cem. The War of Banipalian, p. 31-52, Bilkentftp Press, Çankaya 1986
  12. ^ G. Frame, Babylonia 689-627 B.C. p.118-124
  13. ^ Steiner and Ninms, RB 92 1985
  14. ^ G. Frame, Babylon 689-627 BC, p. 131-141
  15. ^ J. Oates, Babylon, 2003, p. 123
  16. ^ Most important examples are the Harran inscription and the Uruk king list
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ a b M. Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East 2004, p. 191
  19. ^ "Assurbanipal Library Phase 1", British Museum One
  20. ^ Epic of Creation in Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford, 1989: pg.233-81
  21. ^ Epic of Gilgamesh in Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford, 1989: pg.50-135
  22. ^ Van De Mieroop, Marc. A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC. Oxford,UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007: pg. 263
  23. ^ "Assyria: Lion Hunt (Room 10a).” British Museum.
  24. ^ “'Garden Party' relief from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal (Room S),”. British Museum.
Preceded by
King of Assyria
668–ca. 627 BC
Succeeded by

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ASSUR-BANI-PAL ("Assur creates a son"), the grand nzonarque of Assyria, was the prototype of the Greek Sardanapalus, and appears probably in the corrupted form of Asnapper in Ezra iv. 10. He had been publicly nominated king of Assyria (on the 12th of Iyyar) by his father Esar-haddon, some time before the latter's death, Babylonia being assigned to his twinbrother Samas-sum-yukin, in the hope of gratifying the national feeling of the Babylonians. After Esar-haddon's death in 668 B.C. the first task of Assur-bani-pal was to finish the Egyptian campaign. Tirhakah, who had reoccupied Egypt, fled to Ethiopia, and the Assyrian army spent forty days in ascending the Nile from Memphis to Thebes. Shortly afterwards Necho, the satrap of Sais, and two others were detected intriguing with Tirhakah; Necho and one of his companions were sent in chains to Nineveh, but were there pardoned and restored to their ' As essentially a national god, he is almost identical in character with the early Yahweh of Israel. See Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, Religion of Ancient Babylonia, p. 129.

789 principalities. Tirhakah died 66 7 B.C., and his successor Tandaman (Tanuat-Amon) entered Upper Egypt, where a general revolt against Assyria took place, headed by Thebes. Memphis was taken by assault and the Assyrian troops driven out of the country. Tyre seems to have revolted at the same time. Assurbani-pal, however, lost no time in pouring fresh forces into the revolted province. Once more the Assyrian army made its way up the Nile, Thebes was plundered, and its temples destroyed, two obelisks being carried to Nineveh as trophies (see Nahum iii. 8). Meanwhile the siege of insular Tyre was closely pressed; its water-supply was cut off, and it was compelled to surrender. Assur-bani-pal was now at the height of his power. The land of the Manna (Minni), south-east of Ararat, had been wasted, its capital captured by the Assyrians, and its king reduced to vassalage. A war with Teumman of Elam had resulted in the overthrow of the Elamite army; the head of Teumman was sent to Nineveh, and another king, Umman-igas, appointed by the Assyrians. The kings of Cilicia and the Tabal offered their daughters to the harem of Assur-bani-pal; embassies came from Ararat, and even Gyges of Lydia despatched envoys to "the great king" in the hope of obtaining help against the Cimmerians. Suddenly the mighty empire began to totter. The Lydian king, finding that Nineveh was helpless to assist him, turned instead to Egypt and furnished the mercenaries with whose help Psammetichus drove the Assyrians out of the country and suppressed his brother satraps. Egypt was thus lost to Assyria for ever (660 B.C.). In Babylonia, moreover, discontent was arising, and finally Samas-sum-yukin put himself at the head of the national party and declared war upon his brother. Elamite aid was readily forthcoming, especially when stimulated by bribes, and the Arab tribes joined in the revolt. The resources of the Assyrian empire were strained to their utmost. But thanks in some measure to the intestine troubles in Elam, the Babylonian army and its allies were defeated and driven into Babylon, Sippara, Borsippa and Cutha. One by one the cities fell, Babylon being finally starved into surrender (648 B.C.) after Samas-sum-yukin had burnt himself in his palace to avoid falling into the conqueror's hands. It was now the turn of the Arabs, some of whom had been in Babylon during the siege, while others had occupied themselves in plundering Edom, Moab and the Hauran. Northern Arabia was traversed by the Assyrian forces, the Nabataeans were almost exterminated, and the desert tribes terrorized into order. Elam was alone left to be dealt with, and the last resources of the empire were therefore expended in preventing it from ever being again a thorn in the Assyrian side.

But the effort had exhausted Assyria. Drained of men and resources it was no longer able to make head against the Cimmerian and Scythian hordes who now poured over western Asia. The Cimmerian Dugdamme (Lygdamis in Strabo i. 3, 16), whom Assur-bani-pal calls "a limb of Satan," after sacking Sardis, had been slain in Cilicia, but other Scythian invaders came to take his place. When Assur-bani-pal died in 626 (?) B.C. his empire was already in decay, and within a few years the end came. He was luxurious and indolent, entrusting the command of his armies to others whose successes he appropriated, cruel and superstitious, but a magnificent patron of art and literature. The great library of Nineveh was to a considerable extent his creation, and scribes were kept constantly employed in it copying the older tablets of Babylonia, though unfortunately their patron's tastes inclined rather to omens and astrology than to subjects of more modern interest. The library was contained in the palace that he built on the northern side of the mound of Kuyunjik and lined with sculptured slabs which display Assyrian art at its best. Whether Kandalanu (Kineladanos), who became viceroy of Babylonia after the suppression of the revolt, was Assur-bani-pal under another name, or a different personage, is still doubtful (see Sardanapalus).


George Smith, History of Assurbanipal (1871); S. A. Smith, Die Keilschrifttexte Asurbanipals (1887-1889); P. Jensen in E. Schrader's Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, ii. (1889); J. A. Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengott (1893); C. Lehmann, Schamashschumukin (1892). (A. H. S.)

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Kings of Assyria
Ashur-rabi II.
Tiglath-pileser II.
Ashur-dan II.
Adad-nirari II.
Tukulti-Ninurta II.
Ashurnasirpal II.
Shalmaneser III.
Shamshi-Adad V.
Adad-nirari III.
Shalmaneser IV.
Ashur-dan III.
Ashur-nirari V.
Tiglath-pileser III.
Shalmaneser V.
Sargon II.
Ashur-urballit II.
Ashurbanipal was the last great king of Assyria, reigning from 669 – ca. 631 BC or 627 BC. He is mentioned in Scripture at Ez 4:10 (Aramaic Osnapper or Asnapper) as the king who deported "the men from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa" and others.

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