Ashurbanipal, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.
Ashurbanipal was king of the Assyrians. It is mentioned in biblical texts as Asenappar.
The ascent to the throne of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal was not easy, as he was inept to a large part of the population, the royal court and the clergy: for this reason the father, still alive, had drawn up real contracts with which he promised the future loyalty for his successor. In spite of this, Ashurbanipal is described as rich and powerful, cultured, even able to read and write (rare gift among the sovereigns of the time): moreover he established in Nineveh the first collection of cuneiform writing texts to which the Assyrians had a copy. The collection, ordered for the first time according to systematic classification criteria (albeit rudimentary), was innovative distinguished from the disordered archival repositories used up until then, and collected a corpus of texts (many of which are today at the British Museum in London) that ranged from the collection of astronomical-religious traditions to the detection of glosses on the Sumerian language.
The most complete texts on the Gilgamesh epic are, for example, from the library of Nineveh.
He also promoted the artistic working of stone, both in the art of sculpture and in architecture. Ashurbanipal was the last great king of Assyria who with him reached the apogee before the rapid decline. Legendary founder of Tarsus (the city of St. Paul, today in Turkey), of which a legendary foundation was narrated in a single day, he entered the war against Babylon, ruled by his brother Shamash-shum-ukin, who had aggregated a coalition of peoples (from Mesopotamia, but also from Egypt) against Nineveh.
Ashurbanipal defeated Babylon, expanded on the Arab territories and punished the Elamite collusion, destroying its capital Susa. Kandalanu posed as Assyrian regent to rule Babylonia. Legend has it that his death was to varying degrees, according to different versions, caused by his scandalous habits. A satrap named Arbace would have come to the palace from the territory of the Medes to have an audience and would have found him involved in sinful practices. Scandalized, he returned to his possessions, swearing that he would no longer obey such a sovereign. Instigated by Belesys, a Chaldean religious, he organized a conquest expedition on Nineveh and engaged a long conflict in which, according to some versions, Ashurbanipal would win three battles. Satisfied, the sovereign would have plunged back in the usual revelry: taking advantage of the distraction, Arbace would have at that point had easy game in capturing it and lead it in fetters together with the concubines in Media. Here the king would remain, thanks to his abundant wealth, in golden captivity until, abandoned by followers and allies, isolated from the outside, life would have come to boredom and would have burned on a funeral pyre with his favorite Myrrh , together with the other concubines. This episode was imagined and figured by Eugène Delacroix in the famous painting of the death of Sardanapalus.
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, is a collection of thousands of clay tablets and fragments containing texts of all kinds dated to the seventh century BC. Among the findings also figure the famous Epic of Gilgamesh. Because of the initial mistreatment of the original material found, much of the library is irreparably devastated, making it impossible for scholars to discern and reconstruct many of the original texts, even though some have remained intact. The materials were found at the archaeological site of Kouyunjik (ancient Nineveh, capital of Assyria) in northern Mesopotamia. The site is located in current Iraq. Ancient Persian and Armenian traditions indicate that Alexander the Great, seeing the great library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, was inspired to create his own.
He died before he could do it, but his friend and successor Tolomeo I Sotere oversaw the beginnings of Alexander’s library – a project that was to grow and become the famous Library of Alexandria. The library was a discovery due to the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard; most of the tablets were brought to England and are now in the British Museum. The fragments of the royal library include royal inscriptions, chronicles, mythological and religious texts, contracts, concessions and royal decrees, royal letters and various administrative documents. Some of the texts contain divination’s, omens, incantations and hymns to different gods, others deal with medicines, astronomy and literature.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, a masterpiece of Babylonian poetry, was found in the library, along with the story of the Creation of Enûma Eliš and the myth of Adapa first man, priest and son of the god Enki.
The texts were predominantly in Akkadian language with cuneiform writing, the evolution of which is illustrated in the Gallery below.
The database of the British Museum collection counts 30,943 “tablets” of the entire library of Nineveh, and the museum’s Board of Directors proposes to publish an updated catalog as part of the “Project of the Ashurbanipal Library”. If the smaller fragments belonging to the same text are subtracted, it is estimated that the “library” may have included around 10,000 texts in all. However, the original library documents, which would include leather scraps, wax tablets, and perhaps even papyri, certainly contained a much wider spectrum of knowledge than is currently known from the surviving texts inscribed in cuneiform clay tablets.
Gallery of tablets
Tablet of the Deluge. One of the most famous tablets, eleventh of the Gilgamesh Epic.
Tablet of Synonyms.
Tablet of Venus of Ammi-Saduqa, copy of the Neo-Assyrian period of records from the Paleobabilonian period.
Ashurbanipal, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.
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