Relief: Assurbanipal on a lion hunt
King Assurbanipal on a lion hunt, relief from the palace of Assurbanipal II in Nineveh, photograph from 1900/1940
Foto Marburg, Aufnahme-Nr. 1.000.007
c. 668-627 BCE


An Assyrian library founder

I (…) have always read artfully transcribed tablets in barely comprehensible Sumerian and barely decipherable Akkadian and have an insight into the inscribed stones, which are completely incomprehensible, from the period before the deluge.

Assurbanipal, c. 668-627 B.C.

The literate Assyrian king Assurbanipal commissioned a cuneiform script archive in his palace in Nineveh (modern-day Iraq) that can be considered one of the very first national libraries. In amassing his collection, he commissioned scribes from all across his empire to copy texts. He also requested transcripts from temple archives and confiscated a range of foreign collections. His library contained up to 30,000 clay tablets with texts sourced from all across Mesopotamia. It stood as the largest collection of written works in the Ancient Near East. A number of preserved book directories reveal a thorough organisation of the library.

When the palace library was excavated in the 19th century, the oldest existing example of literary poetry was discovered, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is roughly 4,000 years old. Similar to the Old Testament, it tells the mythical story of a great flood sent to destroy mankind. ‘’