People > Ashurbanipal



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.


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 NameYears of RuleKingdom
Eriba-Adad I1380–1353 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit I1353–1318 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-nirari1317–1308 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Arik-den-ili1307–1296 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari I1295–1264 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser I1263–1234 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta I1233–1197 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nadin-apli1196–1194 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari III1193–1188 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Enlil-kudurri-usur1187–1183 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-apal-Ekur1182–1180 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan I1179-1133 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ninurta-tukulti-Ashur1333 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Mutakkil-nusku1333 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi I1133-1115 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser I1115-1076 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Asharid-apal-Ekur1076-1074 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-bel-kala1074-1056 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad II1056-1054 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-Adad IV1054-1050 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal I1050-1031 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser II1031-1019 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari IV1019-1013 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-rabi II1013-972 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-resh-ishi II972-967 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser II967-935 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-Dan II935-912 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari II912-891 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Tukulti-Ninurta II891-884 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nasir-pal II884-859 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser III859-824 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shamshi-adad V824-811 BCEMiddle Assyrian Empire
Shammu-ramat811-808 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Adad-nirari III811-783 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmeneser IV783-773 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-dan III773-755 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-nirari V755-745 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Tiglath-Pileser III745-727 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Shalmaneser V727-722 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Sargon II722–705 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Sennacherib705–681 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Esarhaddon681–669 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashurbanipal669–631 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-etli-ilani631-627 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shumu-lishir626 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Sin-shar-ishkun627-612 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire
Ashur-uballit II612-608 BCENeo-Assyrian Empire


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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