Ashurbanipal, probably Esarhaddon's fourth eldest son, was not originally destined to be king of Assyria[1] and he was trained in the scribal arts while he was still a young prince.[2] A text written during his first regnal year (668), the so-called "School Days Inscription" (text no. 220 [L4]), describes this part of his education:

[The gods Šamaš (and) Adad] entrusted me with the lore of the diviner, a craft that cannot be changed; [the god Mardu]k, the sage of the gods, granted me a broad mind (and) extensive knowledge as a gift; the god Nabû, the scribe of everything, bestowed on me the precepts of his wisdom as a present; the gods Ninurta (and) Nergal endowed my body with power, virility, (and) unrivalled strength. I learned [the c]raft of the sage Adapa, the secret, hidden (lore), all of the scribal arts. I am able to recognize celestial and terrestrial [om]ens (and) can discuss (them) in an assembly of scholars. I am capable of deliberating with skilled diviners about (the series) "If the liver is an image of the heavens." I can resolve complex (mathematical) divisions (and) multiplications that do not have a(n easy) solution. I have read cunningly written text(s) in obscure Sumerian (and) Akkadian that are difficult to interpret. I have carefully examined inscriptions on stone from before the Deluge who(se meanings are) hidden (lit. "sealed"), muddled (lit. "stopped up"), (and) confusing.[3]

When his career path changed in late 673/early 672, and even after he ascended the throne in Kislīmu (IX) 669,[4] Ashurbanipal's interest in the literary arts did not diminish. In fact, his position as king helped facilitate that personal interest of his. It is clear that his passion for the scribal arts had a profound impact on scholarly life in Assyria and Babylonia, including the composition of inscriptions written in his name. For example, as demonstrated by this high-literary passage recording Marduk's return to his temple Esagil in early 668:

From the quay of Baltil (Aššur) to the quay of Babylon, wherever they stopped for the n[ight], sheep were butchered, bulls were slaughtered, (and) armannu-aromatics were scattered o[n ] ...s. They brought befo[re him] everything there was for morning (and) evening meals. Piles of brushwood were lit (and) torches ignited (so that) [th]ere was lig[ht] for one league. All of my troops were arranged in a circle (around him) like a rainbow (and) there were joyous celebrations day and night. The deities the Lady of Akkad, Nanāya, Uṣur-amāssa, Ḫanibiya, (and) Ada... had taken up residence on the banks of the river, waiting for the king of the gods, the lord of lords. The god Nergal, mightiest of the gods, came out of Emeslam, his princely residence, (and) approached the quay of Babylon amidst a joyous celebration, arriving safely. The god Nabû, the triumphant heir, took the direct ro[ad] from Borsippa. The god Šamaš rushed from Sippar, emitting radiance onto Babylon. The gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad (in their hurry) looked exhausted like tired foals. With the craft of the sage — "the wa[shing] of the mouth," ["the opening of the mouth," bathing, (and) purification] — he (Marduk) entered the fruit orchards of the luxuriant gardens of Karzagina ("Pure Quay" or "Quay of Lapis Lazuli"), a pur[e] place, before the stars of heaven — the deities Ea, Šamaš, Asalluḫi, Bēlet-ilī, Kusu, (and) Nin[girima] — an[d ... inside] it (Esagil) he took up residence on (his) [eternal] d[ais].[5]

It is abundantly clear from numerous letters and astrological reports that Ashurbanipal had surrounded himself with many learned men, just as his father Esarhaddon (680–669), his grandfather Sennacherib (704–681), and his great-grandfather Sargon II (721–705) had done. The most notable men in his inner circle were Ištar-šumu-ēreš, Balāssî, Akkullānu, Adad-šumu-uṣur, Marduk-šākin-šumi, Nabû-nādin-šumi, and Nabû-zēru-iddina; Ištar-šumu-ēreš was his (principal) scholar (ummânu)."[6] Presumably, some of these reputable, well-educated men aided in shaping texts written at the royal court at Nineveh, including royal inscriptions, although their involvement cannot be proven. Given Ashurbanipal's obsessive drive to acquire as many texts as possible pertaining to scribal learning and lore, as well as his deep personal interest in reading and writing, it should not come as a surprise that Ashurbanipal, Assyria's last great king, is the Assyrian ruler with the highest number of extant royal inscriptions. To date, approximately 270 firmly-attributed inscriptions are known from his long reign as king.[7]

As of March 2022, no one has yet edited all of the extant inscriptions of Ashurbanipal in a single place. This major accomplishment is still to be achieved. However, with the publication of The Royal Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal (668–631 BC), Aššur-etel-ilāni (630–627 BC) and Sîn-šarra-iškun (626–612 BC), Kings of Assyria, Part 2 (Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period 5/2), that Herculean task is one step closer to completion. The present volume, referred to hereafter as RINAP 5/2 or Part 2, brings together all of the firmly-attributable inscriptions of Ashurbanipal known from clay tablets discovered in the Assyrian heartland, thereby, completing the publication of the Assyrian inscriptions of this important, seventh-century ruler.


[1] See Novotny and Jeffers, RINAP 5/1 pp. 13–14 (with references to earlier scholarly literature).

[2] Some of his education took place under the tutelage of astrologer and scholar Balāssî, as suggested by a letter; see Parpola, SAA 10 p. 30 no. 39.

[3] Text no. 220 (L) i 9´–18´.

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

[5] Text no. 220 (L4) iii 7´–22´.

[6] See the entries in the PNA for these high-profile individuals: Pearce, PNA 2/1 pp. 577–579 sub Issār-šumu-ēreš 3; Åkerman and Radner, PNA 1/2 pp. 254–255 sub Balasî 3; Pearce and Radner, PNA 1/1 pp. 95­–96 sub Akkullānu 1; Luppert-Barnard, PNA 1/1 pp. 38–40 sub Adad-šumu-uṣur 5; Frahm, PNA 2/2 pp. 722–725 sub Marduk-šākin-šumi 2; and Baker, PNA 2/2 p. 852 sub Nabû-nādin-šumi 2 and pp. 908 sub Nabû-zēru-iddina 11.

[7] Sennacherib has the next highest number of known, certain inscriptions, with a total of 233 texts.

Jamie Novotny

Jamie Novotny, '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, 2022 []

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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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