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The British Museum's Ashurbanipal Library Project*

  • Jeanette C. Fincke

Extract

The purpose of the British Museum's Ashurbanipal Library Project is to investigate the content of the significant tablet collection that this Assyrian king assembled for his royal library. The initial project is focused on the Babylonian texts in order to establish the compositions involved and their relation to the rest of the Kouyunjik Collection and to the collecting activities of Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC).

The examination of the Babylonian texts of Ashurbanipal's library is a difficult task. Whoever is familiar with the Nineveh texts knows that the tablets were originally stored in four different buildings (see Fig. 1): in the South-West Palace, in the North Palace, and in the vicinity of the temples of Ištar and Nabû, with some additional find spots on and off the mound Kouyunjik. It is the tablet collection of the South-West Palace that formed the library of Ashurbanipal, but the excavation reports of Nineveh very seldom refer to the places where the tablets were found. To reconstruct the different libraries and archives is a very time-consuming task and beyond the possibilities of the six-month timetable for this project. Therefore, for the time being, I decided to consider the Babylonian literary tablets and all legal documents written during the reign of Ashurbanipal and his predecessors as coming from one place, namely Ashurbanipal's library or libraries at Nineveh.

While surveying the approximate figure of 26,000 tablets and fragments that the British excavators unearthed in Nineveh I entered the genre and content of the Babylonian texts in a database, together with a short description of the fragments, e.g. shape, colour, number of columns, lines and dividing lines. This database includes information on about 4290 tablets and fragments, of which 610 have already been rejoined to other fragments. Therefore, until now, the total number of Babylonian texts and fragments excavated in Nineveh is about 3680 — or in other words about one-seventh of all of the British Museum's Nineveh collection. The database I created also serves as a basis for collecting all texts of the same kind in order to identify joining fragments.

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*

This is a slightly revised version of the paper I gave at the 49e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in London as an interim report on the project. I would like to thank the staff of the Department of the Ancient Near East of the British Museum for their support, especially Christopher Walker, who initiated this part of the “Ashurbanipal Library Project”, and St John Simpson, who corrected my English in the original version of the paper. I am very much indebted to the Townley Group of the Friends of the British Museum for funding the project.

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1 CT 54, 451 (79-7-8, 257) rev. 1-3: ù E GIŠS.DA.MEŠ-n[i ki-i](2) [ú-še-ṣ]u-nu a-na mdAMAR.UTU-IBILA-SUM-[n]a (3) [ul-te-b]i-lu; see Dietrich, Manfried, WdO 4 (19671968) 86–7 (A VI lb), and id., The Babylonian Correspondence of Sargon and Sennacherib, SAA XVII, 2003, 165 (No. 201).

2 Waterman, Leroy, Royal Correspondence of the Assyrian Empire 1, 1930, 360–1 (No. 516); Radner, Karen(ed.), PNAE 1.II: B–G, 1999, 312 ; Dietrich, , SAA XVII 43, see p. xxxv.

3 Dietrich, , WdO 4 (19671968) 90 ; Chamaza, Vera, Die Omnipotenz Aššurs. Entwicklungen in der Aššur-Theologie unter den Sargoniden Sargon II, Sanherib und Asarhaddon, AOAT 295, 2002, 308–9 (No. 65).

4 ABL 516 (81-7-27, 31)) = SAA XVII 43 , 6: áš-šu GIŠ.le-u 5-um šá É.KUR.MEŠ.

5 Ibid. rev. 6–9: GIŠ.le-u 5-um (7) liš-šá-ṭar ṭá la LUGAL pal-ḫa-ku-ma (8) a-na BÀD-AN.KI ù NIBRU.KI (9) ul al-lak it-ti dul-li-ia “Let a writing-board be written, because without the king I am in fear and I will not proceed to Dēr and Nippur with my work.”

6 Dietrich, , SAA XVII 43 , describes the letter as “Inspection of Work on Temples all over Babylonia”.

7 ABL 447 (K. 821) = SAA XI 156 obv. 10: si-par-ri AN.BAR šá-kin; see also Parpola, Simo, Iraq 34 (1972) 33–4.

8 ABL 1245 (83-1-18, 121) = SAA XVI 65 .

9 CT 22, 1 (BM 25676 and 25678). This letter has been studied by various scholars, see e.g. Thompson, R. Campbell, Late Babylonian Letters, London 1906, 25 ; Martin, François, Lettres néo-babyloniennes, Paris 1909, 1922 ; Pfeiffer, Robert H., State Letters of Assyria, AOS 6, 1935, 179–80 (No. 256); Ebeling, Erich, Neubabylonische Briefe, München 1949, 13 ; Lieberman, Stephen J. in: Abusch, T. et al. (eds.), Lingering over Words. Studies … Moran, HSS 37, Atlanta 1990, 3 .

10 CT 22, 1 obv. 8–10: DUB.MEŠ ma-la ina É.MEŠ-nu-i-ba-áš-šú-ú (9) ù DUB.MEŠ ma-la ina é-zi-da šak-nu (10) ḫi-pi-ir-ma.

11 Ibid. rev. 25, 27-31: šá a-na LUGAL-ú-ti ṭa-a-bi (26) … (27) … u mim-ma ḫi-šiḫ-ti (28) i-na É.GAL ma-la ba-šú-ú ù DUB.MEŠ (29) aq-ru-tu šá mé-dak-ku-nu-šim-ma (30) i-na KXiR.aš-sur.KI ia-'-nu bu-'-a-nim-ma (31) šu-bi-la-a-ni “whatever is good for the kingship … and whatever is needed in the palace, as much as there is, and rare tablets that are known to you and do not exist in Assyria, search for them and send them to me!”

12 CT 22, 1 rev. 33–9: man-ma (34) ṭup-pi ul i-kil-lak-ka u ki-i (35) mim-ma ṭup-pi u ni-pi-šú šá a-na-ku (36) la áš-pu-rak-ku-nu-šú-u ta-tam-ra-ma (37) a-na É.GAL-ia ṭa-a-bu (38) it-ti-'-im-ma i-šá-nim-ma (39) šu-bi-la-a-ni.

13 BM 45642 (81-7-6, 35). I learned about this text from an unpublished manuscript kindly sent to me by Eckart Frahm (Eckart Frahm, Headhunter, Bücherdiebe und wandernde Gelehrte: Anmerkungen zum altorientalischen Wissenstransfer im ersten Jahrtausend v. Chr., to appear in CDOG 4 “Wissenskultur im Alten Orient. Weltanschauung, Wissenschaften, Techniken, Technologien; 4. Internationales Colloquium der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 20.–22. Februar in Münster”). The text itself will be published in Iraq 67/1 by Andrew George, who gave a paper on this subject at the 49e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, 2003, in London. In Parpola, S. and Whiting, R. M. (eds.), Assyria 1995, Helsinki 1997, 71–2, n. 9, George gave the first information about this text and transliterated and translated some lines.

14 BM 45642 (81-7-6, 35) obv. 9: um-ma kul-lat LÚ.DUB.SAR-tú š[á Š]À NÍG.GA dAG EN-ía šu-ṭu-ra-a' šu-bil-la-ni.

15 Ibid. obv. 12–13: n[a-aš-pa]r-tum (12) ˹ina UGU˺ GIŠ.DA šá GIŠ.MES.KAN.NU nu-pal〈-lu〉 … UL DÙ.A.[B]I (13) [š]á taš-pu-ru al-la šá ina É.SAG.GÍL ia-a-nu.

16 Parpola, S., JNES 42 (1983) 129 ; SAA VII 4956 . The following statistical study uses only the records published as SAA VII 4952 , because the others are much too fragmentary to give significant information.

17 See e.g. Weidner, Ernst, AfO 16 (19521953) 198 , and Parpola, S. in: Veenhof, K. R. (ed.), Cuneiform Archives and Libraries (CRRAI 30), PIHANS 57, Leiden 1986, 224 .

* This is a slightly revised version of the paper I gave at the 49e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in London as an interim report on the project. I would like to thank the staff of the Department of the Ancient Near East of the British Museum for their support, especially Christopher Walker, who initiated this part of the “Ashurbanipal Library Project”, and St John Simpson, who corrected my English in the original version of the paper. I am very much indebted to the Townley Group of the Friends of the British Museum for funding the project.

The British Museum's Ashurbanipal Library Project*

  • Jeanette C. Fincke

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