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The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal had over 30,000 clay tablets, among them is the original “Epic of Gilgamesh”

Tijana Radeska
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal
The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal

The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal had more than 30,000 clay tablets and fragments containing different texts from the 7th century, BC. It is the first library in the Near East with a systematical organization of its material.

The library was created for the royal family, and it contained the king’s personal collection, but it was also opened to priests and respected scholars. The library was named after Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Ashurbanipal as High Priest

Ashurbanipal as High Priest

The library was built in modern-day northern Iraq, near the city of Mosul. The materials from the library have been discovered by Sir Austen Henry Layard, an English traveler, and archaeologist, in the archaeological site of Kouyunjik, Nineveh.

Austen Henry Layard

Austen Henry Layard

According to some theories, the Library of Alexandria was inspired by the Library of Ashurbanipal. Alexander the Great was amused by it and wanted to create one in his kingdom. He started the project which was completed by Ptolemy after Alexander’s death.

The plan of the library

The plan of the library

Ashurbanipal was an educated man and proud of it. He had stated: “I, Assurbanipal within (the palace), took care of the wisdom of Nebo, of all the inscribed and clay tablets, of their mysteries and difficulties which I solved.”

He was an excellent mathematician and one of the very few Kings who were able to read the cuneiform script in Akkadian and Sumerian.

Akkadian language in wedge writing

Akkadian language in wedge writing

He reigned from 668 to 627 BC, and during this time he collected texts from all over Mesopotamia, especially from Babylonia.  Much of the original material has been damaged and impossible for reconstruction. Many of the tablets and writing boards are severely damaged fragments.

"The Stone Library On The Walls Of Which Assyrian Records Were Kept, Assyrian Palace" Frontispiece. Photo credit

“The Stone Library On The Walls Of Which Assyrian Records Were Kept, Assyrian Palace” Frontispiece. Photo credit

The collected texts were on medicine, astronomy, and literature. Over 6,000 of the discovered tablets’ content was on legislation, foreign correspondences and engagements, aristocratic declarations, and financial matters. The rest was on divinations, omens, incantations, and hymns to various gods.

Tablet containing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 11 depicting the Deluge), now part of the holdings of the British Museum. Photo credit

Tablet containing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet 11 depicting the Deluge), now part of the holdings of the British Museum. Photo credit

Most of the texts were mainly written in Akkadian in the cuneiform script while others were written in Assyrian.

Among the epics and myths was the masterpiece “Epic of Gilgamesh,” the myth of Adapa, the Babylonian creation myth “Enûma Eliš,” and stories such as “The Poor Man of Nippur.”

Tablet of synonyms. Photo credit

Tablet of synonyms. Photo credit

 

 

"Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa" with astrological forecasts. Photo credit

“Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa” with astrological forecasts. Photo credit

 

The Fall of Nineveh, John Martin. Photo credit

The Fall of Nineveh, John Martin. Photo credit

It is ascertained that the library burned in a fire during 612 BC when Nineveh was destroyed. However, in the fire were preserved the tablets for the next two millennia until their rediscovery in 1849.

We have another fun read on a related topic: Dating back to 5500 BC The Tărtăria tablets, earliest form of writing in the world

All of the discovered Ashurbanipal Library’s collection is now part of the British Museum’s holdings.