ASHURBANIPAL (ă-shĕr-bă'nĕ-păl, Ashur creates a son). King of Assyria. He was grandson of the famous Sennacherib and son of Esarhaddon. Ashurbanipal, or, as he was known to the Greeks, Sardanapalus, reigned from 668 to 626 b.c. and therefore was contemporary with Manasseh, Jotham, and Josiah of Judah. Modern scholars have reason to be grateful to Ashurbanipal because he was a lover of learning and collected a great library of cuneiform tablets (over 22,000 in number) that have given to us most of what we know of Babylonian and Assyrian literature. In
ASHURBANIPAL ăsh’ ər băn’ ə pəl (Assyrian personal name aššur-bān-apli, “Ashur has created an heir,” traditionally identified with אָסְנַפַּר Osnappar,
In May 672 b.c. Esarhaddon publicly designated Ashurbanipal to be the crown-prince and future ruler of Assyria and his twin brother Shamash-shum-ukin to the same office in Babylonia. Among the vassal kings present to endorse this agreement would have been Manasseh (Akkad., Minsē) of Judah. In 669 b.c. Ashurbanipal came to the throne in Nineveh and continued operations against Egypt, the northern and eastern tribes (Cimmerians and Mannaeans), Elam, the Arabs, and Babylonia. Campaigns in the latter country followed the revolt of Shamash-shum-ukin who interfered with the direct control Ashurbanipal exercised over the strategic centers of Nippur, Erech, and Ur. These dated their documents by the years of the Assyrian king’s reign. Ashurbanipal advanced to support the beleaguered garrisons and defeated the Elamites, cutting off Babylon from its supporting tribesmen. Babylon itself fell after a two-year siege, and Shamash-shum-ukin committed suicide in his burning palace. In 640 b.c. Elam was invaded and Susa (Shusan) sacked, some of its inhabitants being exiled to Samaria (
The end of Ashurbanipal’s reign is obscure, for few contemporary records and references are extant after 639 b.c. The aging monarch seems to have withdrawn to Harran, leaving one son, Ashur-etil-ilāni, in control of Assyria proper and another, Sin-shum-lishir, to oppose the new Chaldean dynasty led by Nabopolasar in 626 b.c. The general decline of the Assyrian authority at this time was perhaps the cause and opportunity for the defection of the outlying vassal states, including Egypt and Judah, which now took steps to assert their independence.
Operations in the West.
On accession, Ashurbanipal continued the expedition against Egypt on which his father had died. The primary aim was to defeat the Nubian Tirhakah. He, however, retreated to Thebes, and the Assyrians contented themselves with restoring the local Assyrian governors in the Delta and capturing the rebel leaders. At this time Ashurbanipal claims to have received tribute, as had his father, from twenty-two kings of Syro-Pal. including Ba’al, king of Tyre; Manasseh, king of Judah; Qaushgabri, king of Edom; Musuri, king of Moab; Sili-Bel, king of Gaza; Mitinti, king of Ashkelon; Ikausu, king of Ekron. Soon Egypt interfered again in Palestinian affairs and Ashurbanipal despatched a punitive force in 664/3 against Tirhakah’s successor Tandamane (Tanut-Amun) who abandoned Memphis and was besieged in Thebes, which was sacked. The destruction of Thebes (No-Amun) was described in
Ashurbanipal claimed to be able to read and write the cuneiform script. At Nineveh he amassed copies of Babylonian literary texts, including the epic of creation, hymns, omens, and other traditional and scientific works which formed a royal library representing 6,000 or more texts. He also built extensively at his capitals of Assur and Nineveh, decorating the palace at the latter site with new style sculptures portraying his military and hunting successes.
M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzten assyrischen Könige (1916); R. C. Thompson, The Prisms of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal (1931); A. C. Piepkorn, Historical Prism Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal (1933); ANET (1955), 294-300; J. Oates, Iraq, XXVII (1965), 135-259.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Before setting out on his last campaign to Egypt, Esarhaddon king of Assyria doubtless having had some premonition that his days were numbered, caused his son Ashurbanipal to be acknowledged the crown prince of Assyria (668 BC). At the same time he proclaimed his son Shamash-shum-ukin as the crown prince of Babylonia. At the father’s death the latter, however, was only permitted to become viceroy of Babylonia.
Ashurbanipal is generally believed to be the great and noble Osnappar (
Another reference in the Old Testament, at least to one of the acts of Ashurbanipal, is the prophecy of Nahum, who in predicting the downfall of Nineveh, said, "Art thou (Nineveh) better than No-amon?" This passage is illustrated by the annals of the king, in which he recounts the destruction of the city. No (meaning "city") is the name of Thebes, while Amon (or Amen) was the chief deity of that city.
Esarhaddon died on his way to Egypt, which he had previously conquered, an insurrection having taken place. Tirhakah, whom Esarhaddon had vanquished, and who had fled to Ethiopia, had returned, and had advanced against the rulers appointed by Assyria. He formed a coalition with Necho and others. Not long after Ashurbanipal came to the throne, he set out for Egypt and defeated the forces. The leaders of the insurrection were carried to Nineveh in fetters. Necho, like Manasseh, as mentioned above, was restored to his rule at Sais. Tirhakah died shortly after. His sister’s son Tanut-Amon (Tandami) then took up the cause, and after the departure of the Assyrian army he advanced against the Assyrian vassal governors. The Assyrian army returned and relieved the besieged. Tanut- Amon returned to Thebes, which was conquered and which was spoiled by the rapacious Assyrians, 663 BC. This is what the prophet Nahum referred to (3:8). A few years later Psammetik, the son of Necho, who had remained faithful after his restoration, declared his independence. As the Assyrian army was required elsewhere, Egypt was henceforth free from the yoke of the Assyrian. Ba`al of Tyre, after a long siege, finally submitted. Yakinlu, king of Arvad, paid tribute and sent hostages. Other rebellious subjects, who had become emboldened by the attitude of Tirhakah, were brought into submission. Under Urlaki, the old enemy Elam, which had been at peace with Assyria since the preceding reign, now became aggressive and made inroads into Babylonia. Ashurbanipal marched through the Zagros mountains, and suddenly appeared before Susa. This move brought Teumman, who had in the meanwhile succeeded Urlaki, back to his capital. Elam was humiliated.
In 652 BC the insurrection of Shamash-shumukin, the king’s brother, who had been made viceroy of Babylon, broke out. He desired to establish his independence from Assyria. After Ashurbanipal had overcome Babylon, Shamash-shum-ukin took refuge in a palace, set it on fire, and destroyed himself in the flames.
There is much obscurity about the last years of Ashurbanipal’s reign. The decadence of Assyria had begun, which resulted not only in the loss to the title of the surrounding countries, but also in its complete annihilation before the century was over. Nineveh was finally razed to the ground by the Umman-Manda hordes, and was never rebuilt.
Ashurbanipal is also distinguished for his building operations, which show remarkable architectural ingenuity. In many of the cities of Assyria and Babylonia he restored, enlarged or embellished the temples or shrines. In Nineveh he reared a beautiful palace, which excelled all other Assyrian structures in the richness of its ornamentations.
During his reign the study of art was greatly encouraged. Some of his exquisite sculptures represent not only the height of Assyrian art, but also belong to the most important aesthetic treasures of the ancient world. The themes of many of the chief sculptures depict the hunt, in which the king took special delight.
Above all else Ashurbanipal is famous for the library he created, because of which he is perhaps to be considered the greatest known patron of literature in the pre-Christian centuries. For Bibliography see Assyria.