In 669, on the tenth of Araḫsamna (VIII), Esarhaddon died en route to invade Egypt.[1] Unlike in 681, Assyria and Babylonia were prepared for a smooth transition of power.[2] The queen mother, Naqīʾa (Zakūtu), ensured that her son's succession plans were carried out exactly as he had planned in Ayyāru (II) 672: Ashurbanipal, Esarhaddon's fourth eldest son, was to sit on the throne of Assyria, while Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, his eldest living son, was to become king of Babylon.[3] Having already had several years of on-the-job training, not only in the House of Succession but also in the royal court itself, Ashurbanipal was sufficiently trained when he ascended the Assyrian throne in Kislīmu (IX) 669.[4] During his long reign,[5] the man who would be Assyria's last great king regularly sent his armies on military expeditions, commanding them to travel farther afield than his predecessors (including his father and grandfather), and undertook large-scale building projects in numerous Assyrian and Babylonian cities, Nineveh and Babylon in particular. His fame and notoriety were remembered long after Assyria ceased to exist as a political entity (ca. 610). Ashurbanipal's name and deeds were brought to light shortly after nineteenth-century European explorers began uncovering the ruins of Nineveh. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the texts and life of this late Neo-Assyrian king who is mentioned in the Bible (Asnappar) and classical sources (Sardanapalus) have been the subject of many scholarly publications.

Sources for Ashurbanipal's long reign are not only abundant, but informative; however, there are very few extant sources for the final decade of his reign (ca. 642–631). His royal inscriptions provide many details about his victories on the battlefield, the (unusual) fates of his contemporaries, and the construction and renovation of city walls, palaces, and temples. These self-aggrandizing compositions, which present biased accounts that do not always accurately record "historical reality," are supplemented by laconic chronographic texts (the so-called Babylonian Chronicle), (scholarly, priestly, and administrative) letters, astrological reports, queries to the sun-god, legal and administrative documents, and grants, as well as by numerous bas reliefs sculpted on orthostats that lined the walls of his and his grandfather's palaces at Nineveh. The Bible, some classical sources, and an Aramaic tale written in Demotic script also provide insight into his reign.


1 Grayson, Chronicles p. 86 no. 1 iv 30–31 and p. 127 no. 14 lines 28´–30´.

2 See below for details about the succession.

3 For information on Ashurbanipal's name, his family background, and his responsibilities during his father's reign (including the relevant source material), see in particular Grayson, CAH2 3/2 pp. 139–140 and 159; Novotny and Singletary, Studies Parpola pp. 167–177; Weissert, PNA 1/1 pp. 159–163 sub Aššūr-bāni-apli I (with references to earlier bibliography). It is now generally believed that Aššur-bāni-apli was not Ashurbanipal's birth name, but rather his throne name, and that he was Esarhaddon's fourth eldest son. It is commonly thought that Ešarra-ḫammat was his mother, despite the complete lack of direct evidence; the Assyrian queen is also believed to be the mother of Ashurbanipal's older brother Šamaš-šuma-ukīn.

Ashurbanipal's name appears as ʾsnpr (Asnappar) in the Bible (Erza 4:10), srbnbl (Sarbanabal) in an Aramaic tale written in Demotic script, and Σαρδαναπαλ(λ)οϛ (Sardanapal(l)us) in Greek and Latin sources. A document from Nineveh written ca. 670 (83-1-18,231) seems to imply that giving the name of the reigning king Ashurbanipal (or the former king Sennacherib) to a commoner was considered taboo, a sacrilege punishable by the river ordeal; see Kataja, SAAB 1 (1987) pp. 65–68.

4 Grayson, Chronicles p. 86 no. 1 iv 33 and p. 127 no. 14 line 34´.

5 The exact length of Ashurbanipal's reign is problematic. Scholars generally believe that he ruled over Assyria until 631, 630, or 627. Based on contemporary evidence, he was king up to at least Simānu (III) 631, but, according to an inscription of Nabonidus' mother Adda-guppī (Schaudig, Inschriften Nabonids p. 503 no. 3.2 ex. 1 i 30), he reigned until 627. The issue has received a great deal of attention, but no scholarly consensus has yet been reached. See, for example, Naʾaman, ZA 81 (1991) pp. 243–267; Zawadzki, ZA 85 (1995) pp. 67–73; Beaulieu, Bagh. Mitt. 28 (1997) pp. 367–394; Gerber, ZA 88 (1998) pp. 72–93; Reade, Orientalia NS 67 (1998) pp. 255–265; Oelsner, Studies Renger pp. 643–666; Liebig, ZA 90 (2000) pp. 281–284; and Fuchs, Studies Oelsner pp. 25–28 and 35. It is assumed in this publication that he died, abdicated, or was deposed in 631. The matter will be addressed in the introduction of Part 2.

Jamie Novotny & Joshua Jeffers

Jamie Novotny & Joshua Jeffers, 'Introduction', RINAP 5: The Royal Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, Aššur-etel-ilāni, and Sîn-šarra-iškun, The RINAP/RINAP 5 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2019 []

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The RINAP 5 sub-project of the University of Pennsylvania-based RINAP Project, 2015-. The contents of RINAP 5 are prepared in cooperation with the Munich Open-access Cuneiform Corpus Initiative (MOCCI), which is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-22.
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