Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ashurbanipal, or Assurbanipal, (reigned 668 - 627 BCE), the son of Esarhaddon and Naqi'a-Zakutu, was the last great king of ancient Assyria. He is famous as one of the few kings who could himself read and write. Assyrian sculpture reached its apogee under his rule (Northern palace and south-western palace at Nineveh, battle of Ulai ). The Greeks knew him as Sardanapal; Latin and other medieval texts refer to him as Sardanapalus.
During his rule the Assyrian splendour was not only due to its military power but also to the culture and art. Ashurbanipal created a library at Nineveh in which he gathered all cuneiform literature available by that time. He assembled "the first systematically collected library" at Nineveh. A library, in Oppenheim's view, apparently, was distinct from an archive: earlier repositories of documents had accumulated passively, in the course of administrative routine. Tablets from the library of Nineveh preserve the most complete source for the Sumerian/Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Other sets of tablets offer what is essentially a Sumerian/Akkadian dictionary. There are arcane astronomical/astrological texts. By far the largest group of tablets (almost all of which are in the British Museum, London) however, are 'omen' texts that taught the scribes how to recognize the significance of portents.
Assurbanipal only became crown prince in 672, when Esarhaddon's oldest son Sin-iddina-apla died. Assurbanipal was very unpopular with the court and the priesthood. Contracts were made with leading Assyrians, members of the Royal family and foreign rulers to assure their loyalty to the crown prince. But it was only the energy of his mother Naqi'a-Zakutu that assured his ascent to the throne when Esarhaddon suddenly died during his Egyptian campaign.
Ashurbanipal's reign, like that of most Assyrian kings was marked by incessant warfare. He began by making war on his brother Shamash-shum-ukin, who had been installed as king in Babylon; Ashurbanipal conquered Babylon and destroyed it. Assurbanipal ruled with an iron hand, crushing Egyptian insurrections as well as the one his own brother led against him in Babylon. He also conquered Elam, Phoenicia, Armenia and a great part of the Arab territories, and overcame the city of Susa.
Oppenheim's dates for Ashurbanipal (as given here) are drawn from references in the inscription of the mother of Nabonidus. Oppenheim notes the curious break in all documentation during the final decade of his rule. The date of his death is not known with certainty, the last tablet to mention his name is a private contract from Nippur dated to 631, the 38th year of his rule. Other texts say that he ruled 42 years, that is, till 627/626).
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