British Museum Prepares For Magnificent Exhibition Of King Ashurbanipal, The ‘Psychotic Bookworm’ Of Nineveh

King Ashurbanipal could rightly be called the world's first librarian and created the Library of Ashurbanipal during the 7th century BC.

The British Museum is putting together an exhibition for Nineveh and Assyrian King Ashurbanipal.
Kristine Moore / Kristine Moore Photography

King Ashurbanipal could rightly be called the world's first librarian and created the Library of Ashurbanipal during the 7th century BC.

The British Museum is currently preparing for a major exhibition dedicated to King Ashurbanipal, the “greatest king you’ve never heard of,” with I Am Ashurbanipal: King Of The World, King Of Assyria scheduled to open later this year.

During the 7th century BC, Ashurbanipal’s vast Assyrian empire, which was centered in Nineveh, commanded much of the world, from Egypt to Turkey to Iran, as the Standard reported. As such, this was a man who could truly have said that the world was his.

An intellectual and avid reader and writer, King Ashurbanipal made sure that his sister and wife were also able to read and write themselves. According to Assyrian reliefs, his love of reading and writing was so strong that he even had a stylus to write with tucked safely away in his belt while he was engaged in fierce battles and shooting a bow from his horse.

However, despite the image that was portrayed of the king as a great Assyrian warrior, British Museum exhibition curator Gareth Brereton has called Ashurbanipal a complex individual with perhaps a few psychopathic tendencies. Brereton explained that Ashurbanipal was really more of a quiet homebody than anything else and preferred reading his books at home to fighting and conquering in battlefields, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“He portrayed himself as this great warrior king but in reality, unlike previous kings, he rarely went to battle himself. He liked to stay at home. Some people describe him as a psychopathic bookworm, where he’s happy at home, with his library, sending out his armies out to devastate regions… He’s a complex character.”

  Kristine Moore / Kristine Moore Photography

Organizers of the exhibit said that during King Ashurbanipal’s reign, he was “arguably the most powerful person on the planet when he came to power” having devised a “terrifying war machine,” with which he swiftly took over the world.

The upcoming British Museum exhibition will be showcasing over 200 different objects relating to the Nineveh king, including cuneiform documents, wall paintings, beautiful ivory and gold furniture, and massive stone sculptures.

Excitingly for book lovers everywhere, the British Museum will also attempt to recreate the 7th century BC Library of Ashurbanipal, which was sadly burned to the ground by rival forces in 627 BC. However, it was this destructive fire that ironically ended up preserving all of the cuneiform tablets, according to Brereton.

“The city was sacked after his death when the empire fell apart, and his library was burnt down. But because it was all on clay tablets, burning them actually preserved the documents so we are able to tell so much of the story.”

If you have ever been inside Room 55 of the British Museum, you will have seen some of these cuneiform texts that were recovered from the Library of Ashurbanipal.

You may also be aware that the British Museum set up the Ashurbanipal Library Project in 2002 and have been working on this in conjunction with the University of Mosul to “bring Ashurbanipal’s astonishing library back to life.” The Library of Ashurbanipal Project team explained, “Using modern technology, this most ancient library can be opened to new readers.”

The planisphere of Nineveh circa 3,300 BC.
The planisphere of Nineveh circa 3,300 BC. Kristine Moore / Kristine Moore Photography

To let visitors know what will be in store for them when they visit the British Museum’s upcoming King Ashurbanipal exhibition, curator Gareth Brereton explained that this will be a rare chance to catch a glimpse at what was once the mighty Assyrian world, and also an opportunity to reflect on the many precious artifacts that were destroyed and bulldozed by militants in Iraq.

“This autumn, the British Museum will reveal the history of Ashurbanipal, the greatest king you’ve never heard of. We hope many visitors will discover the stories of ancient Assyria and Ashurbanipal for the very first time, and experience the splendor of his palace at Nineveh and the impact of the Assyrian empire. As present day Iraq looks to recover the history of damaged sites at Nineveh and Nimrud, this exhibition allows us to appreciate and relive the great achievements of an ancient world and celebrate its legacy.”

The British Museum exhibition I Am Ashurbanipal: King Of The World, King Of Assyria, will begin on November 8, 2018, and conclude on February 24, 2019.