Ashurbanipal

(reigned ca. 668-627 b.c.)
   The last powerful and important king of Assyria. Ashurbanipal succeeded his father, Esarhaddon, on the Assyrian throne. After Esarhaddon died while campaigning in Egypt, the new king proceeded to consolidate Assyria's hold on the region of Syria-Palestine, then invaded Egypt. The Egyptian pharaoh, Taharqa, fled and eventually died in exile. After most of the Assyrian forces had left Egypt, Taharqa's son, Tanu-atamun, launched a rebellion, and Ashurbanipal responded by invading Egypt again. Although Ashurbanipal sacked the major Egyptian city of Thebes, a few years later (ca. 655 b.c.) he once more lost control of Egypt when the forces of the pharaoh Psamtik expelled the Assyrians from the country.
   It appears that Ashurbanipal failed to invade Egypt still again because he suddenly found himself embroiled in a major war with Elam, a strong kingdom situated southeast of the Mesopotamian plains. He drove the Elamites back into their own country. But then Ashurbanipal's own brother, Shamash-shuma-ukin, who had administered the city of Babylon for seventeen years, challenged him for the Assyrian throne. At first the king attempted to deal with the problem diplomatically. He issued a public appeal to the Babylonian people, admonishing them not to follow his rebellious brother. But this approach came to nothing. A full-scale war soon broke out, in which some Babylonian towns backed Shamash-shuma-ukin and others sided with Ashurbanipal. After three years of bloodshed, the rebellion collapsed; in despair, Shamash-shuma-ukin, set fire to his own palace and died in the blaze.
   Shortly after the civil war ended, Ashurbanipal was forced to deal with more unrest in Elam. This time the king showed the Elamites no mercy. His armies swept into Elam and went on a rampage of destruction, virtually erasing that kingdom from the map. Ashurbanipal's scribes recorded the campaign in his annals, which read in part:
   The sanctuaries of Elam I destroyed totally. Its gods and goddesses I scattered to the winds. ... The tombs of their earlier and later kings, who did not fear Ashur . . . and who had plagued the kings, my fathers, I destroyed.... I exposed them to the sun. Their bones I carried off to Assyria. ... I devastated the provinces of Elam. Salt ... I scattered over them.
   Ashurbanipal apparently did not have much time to gloat over his victory. It appears that a series of disasters - rebellions, invasions by foreign tribes, and civil strife - occurred more or less simultaneously. Details are lacking, however, because late in 639 b.c. the king's scribes stopped producing annals. As a result, the last twelve years of Ashurbanipal's reign are extremely obscure. Perhaps he abdicated the throne; or maybe he died in battle. What is more certain is that at the time of his passing the Assyrian realm was caught in a rapid and fatal decline.
   See also: Assyrian Empire; Elam; Esarhaddon

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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