Born: 685 BC
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 54
Also Known As: Assurbanipal, Asshurbanipal, Asurbanipal
Born Country: Iraq
Born in: Assyria, Iraq
Famous as: Last Great Ruler of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
children: Ashur-etil-ilani, Ashur-uballit II, Sinsharishkun
Died on: 631 BC
place of death: Nineveh, Iraq
Ashurbanipal was the last great ruler of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. He reigned from 669 BC to his death in 631 BC. The fourth monarch of the Sargonid dynasty, he is remembered for constructing the world’s first systematically organized library, ‘Library of Ashurbanipal’. His reign saw the Neo-Assyrian Empire become the largest empire ever at that time. Born as the fourth son to King Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal was selected as the heir to the throne in 672 BC. His elder brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, ruled separated as the king of Babylon. During the early years of his reign, Ashurbanipal fought against Egypt. His greatest campaigns were against the pre-Iranian civilization, Elam, which was eventually destroyed between 665 and 646 BC. The king also fought against his brother Shamash-shum-ukin who hated the former for his overbearing control over him. Shamash-shum-ukin was subsequently defeated, and he later committed suicide. Ashurbanipal died in 631 BC after ruling the empire for 38 years. He was succeeded by his son, Ashur-etil-ilani.
Childhood & Early Life
Ashurbanipal was born as the fourth eldest son to King Esarhaddon and his wife of Assyrian origin. His three elder brothers were the crown prince Sin-nadin-apli, Shamash-shum-ukin, and Shamash-metu-uballit.
Following the death of the crown prince in 674 BC, his father appointed Ashurbanipal as the crown prince of Assyria in 672 BC, and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin as the heir to Babylonia. His other elder brother, Shamash-metu-uballit, was neglected due to his poor health.
After he was declared the heir to Assyria, Ashurbanipal started studying military tactics. He also served as a spymaster and prepared reports after collecting information about the Assyrian Empire.
Ashurbanipal received royal education and also mastered religious knowledge. He also became proficient in reading different languages, including his native Akkadian language.
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Early Egyptian Campaigns
After Ashurbanipal’s father Esarhaddon died while campaigning against Egypt in 669 BC, Ashurbanipal became the Assyrian king and his brother Shamash-shum-ukin the ruler of Babylon.
He began focusing on Egypt that had been conquered by his father in 671 BC. The Pharaoh Taharqa, whose wife and son had been captured by Esarhaddon, had escaped to the south. However, he reappeared from his hiding in 669 BC.
Ashurbanipal invaded Egypt in c. 667 BC to quell this threat. He marched toward Thebes and sacked many revolting cities. After the rebellion was over, Ashurbanipal appointed Necho I and his son Psamtik I as his vassal rulers in Egypt.
Although Ashurbanipal defeated Taharqa's designated successor Tantamani, he lost Necho in the battle. After this battle, Psamtik was made the full pharaoh of Egypt.
First Campaign Against Elam
In 665 BC, Ashurbanipal fought against the Elamite King Urtak who attacked Babylonia. Consequently, three of his sons, including Teumman, escaped to Assyria.
After his victory over the Elamites, he battled against Bel-iqisha, the chieftain of the Gambulians in his own Babylonia after the latter was found to have been supporting the Elamites.
Bel-iqisha was ultimately killed, and his son Dunanu surrendered to Ashurbanipal. By 653 BC, Ashurbanipal’s brother Shamash-shum-ukin had become frustrated due to Ashurbanipal's rule in his own kingdom. To suppress his rule, Shamash-shum-ukin sent diplomats to Teumann.
A fierce war ensued between Teumann and Ashurbanipal. The final battle of the campaign was won by Ashurbanipal after killing King Teumann. Following his victory, two of Urtak’s sons, Tammaritu I and Ummanigash, were made rulers at Hidalu and Madaktu, respectively.
Bel-iqisha’s son Dunanu, who fought from the Elamites’ side, was executed. Another noble called Rimutu was appointed the new Gambulian chieftain in his place.
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Fight against Brother Shamash-shum-ukin
By the 650s BC, the enmity between the brothers Shamash-shum-ukin and Ashurbanipal had become apparent.
In 652 BC, Shamash-shum-ukin rebelled against Ashurbanipal and fought him for about three years. He created a strong alliance after joining hands with several groups, including Arameans, Chaldeans, and Elamites.
Despite his strong army, Shamash-shum-ukin was defeated in 648 BC, and Babylon was eventually captured by Ashurbanipal.
After his defeat, Shamash-shum-ukin committed suicide by setting his own palace on fire. A new governor of the city, Kandalanu, was appointed in his place.
Second Campaign against Elam
The Elamites under Ummanigash tried to restore control over the region of Elam that Ashurbanipal had integrated with the Assyrian Empire. Ummanigash was, however, defeated by Elam’s then-king Tammaritu II.
In 649 BC, Tammaritu II was deposed in a battle. The new king, Indabibi, was also eventually murdered.
Humban-haltash III, who became the new Elam king, continued battling against Ashurbanipal along with the Chaldean warlord Nabu-bel-shumati.
In 647 BC, Ashurbanipal invaded Elam and Humban-haltash abandoned Madaktu and escaped into the mountains. As a result, Tammaritu II regained his throne. However, Humban-haltash once again took back his throne after a while.
Ashurbanipal again invaded Elam in 646 BC, forcing Humban-haltash to once again abandon Madaktu. The last battle of his campaign resulted in the brutal destruction of Susa; the city was looted and the statues of the Elamite gods were destroyed.
After this campaign, Ashurbanipal made no attempts to integrate Elam with Assyrian provinces. He left the Elamite cities open and undefended.
Over the course of his reign, Ashurbanipal had also led campaigns against the Arabians and its King Yauta, who had sided with his brother Shamash-shum-ukin.
Family & Personal Life
Ashurbanipal was married to Libbali-sharrat. They had two children, Ashur-etil-ilani, who ruled from 631–627 BC, and Sinsharishkun, who ruled from 627–612 BC as king of Assyria.
Ashurbanipal also had a son from another wife, Ninurta-sharru-usur, who seems to have held no significant political position.
Death, Succession & Legacy
Ashurbanipal died in 631 BC. Following his death, his eldest son Ashur-etil-ilani was made the king.
The Library of Ashurbanipal, which is considered the first systematically organized library in the world, is known to be one of Ashurbanipal's best accomplishments. Many famous tales, including the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ and the ‘Myth of Etana’ had survived due to the library.
The British Museum in London has an artwork that depicts ‘The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal.’ In 1958, Leonora Carrington painted the great king on canvas, now kept in the Israel Museum.
In 1988, sculptor Fred Parhad unveiled Ashurbanipal’s statue near the San Francisco City Hall. The statue cost $100,000 and was the first sizable bronze statue of the great king.