Ashurbanipal succeeded his father Esarhaddon in 669 BC. He achieved the greatest territorial expansion of the Assyrian empire which included Babylonia, Persia, Syria, and Egypt (although Egypt was lost as a result of a revolt under the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetichus I). Ashurbanipal was a popular king who ruled his citizens fairly but was marked for his cruelty toward those whom he defeated (the best known example being a relief depicting the defeated king with the dog chain through his jaw being forced to live in a kennel after capture). When he sacked and destroyed the city of Susa in 647 BCE he left behind a tablet which recorded his triumph over the Elamites:
Susa, the great holy city, abode of their gods, seat of their mysteries, I conquered. I entered its palaces, I opened their treasuries where silver and gold, goods and wealth were amassed... I destroyed the ziggurat of Susa. I smashed its shining copper horns. I reduced the temples of Elam to naught; their gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. The tombs of their ancient and recent kings I devastated, I exposed to the sun, and I carried away their bones toward the land of Ashur. I devastated the provinces of Elam and on their lands I sowed salt.
Ashurbanipal was not only a feared warrior in battle and a just administrator but also a great patron of the arts. He established a famous library at his capital Nineveh of over 30,000 clay tablets. Among the works found in the Library of Ashurbanipal were the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian Epic of Creation) and the great epic tale of Gilgamesh, the oldest adventure story extant. Ashurbanipal claimed to be able to read cuneiform script in both Akkadian and Sumerian and the discovery of his library was one of the greatest archaeological finds in history.
After his death, a power struggle ensued between his brother, his leading General and the king of Babylonia which resulted in the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire to the Babylonians and Medes and subsequently the Assyrian empire and Ashurbanipal’s magnificent library were lost to history for almost 2,000 years.
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