History of Assyria: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

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Episode 20: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture concerns the library Assyrian king Ashurbanipal II built at Nineveh (which became the Assyrian capitol in the 8th century BC) in 668 BC. Aside from his military conquest and his prowess in killing lions from his chariot, Ashurbanipal II is best known as an intellectual and arts patron. In addition to his ability to read Akkadian and the classical language Sumerian, he had specializedĀ  knowledge of advanced mathematics and the interpretation of omens.

The library of Ashurbanipal II mainly contained texts about the interpretation of omens, although there also numerous texts concerning the most advanced medical knowledge. It also contained several copies of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest epic poem.

The Epic of Gilgamesh was already 500 years old when Ashurbanipal’s scribes made copies for his library. Gilgamesh was a real king (of Uruk in Sumeria) ruling somewhere around 2600 BC.

The poem concerns his friendship with a wild man named Enkidu. According to the myth, the latter was a wild man tamed by a prostitute. After Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight each other to a draw, they became fast friends and go off on adventures together. After they slay a ferocious creature named Humbaba, the goddess Ishtar falls in Enkidu with him. Infuriated by Enkidu’s rejection, she asks her father the moon god to send the Bull of Heaven after him. After Enkidu dies (as punishment for killing the Bull of Heaven), Gilgamesh is distraught. Determined to thwart off his own eventually death, he sees out Utnapishtim who has been rewarded with eternal life after saving his family from the Great Flood.


The Role of Refugees in Building the Babylonian Empire

Episode 12: Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture mainly concerns the foreign refugees that settled n Mesopotamia during the Ur III period. These included the Eblaites from Ebla (west of the Euprates); the Hurrians (from Assyria); the Gutians (from the Zagras mountains on Iran’s western border); the Elamites (from Elam – now western Iran); and the Amorites (originating in the Levant but occupying large portions of southern Mesopotamia from 2000 to 15000 BC).

Only the Amorites, who repeatedly raided Mesopotamian crop land to pasture their herds, posed a serious threat to the Ur III dynasty. During the 21st century BC, King Shulgi and King Shu-Sin constructed one of the world’s first defensive walls to keep them out. This would prove ineffective. When Amorite kings eventually took power in central and northwest Mesopotamia, their territory included a previously insignificant area known as Babylon,

Hamurabi was one of these kings. In 1900 BC, Yamhad (Aleppo in modern day Syria) eventually emerged as the largest Babylonian (Amorite) kingdom.

During this period, Mesopotamia had between 70 and 100 separate kingdoms thatĀ  formed military alliances with other powerful kingdoms and engaged in near constant warfare.

King Gilgamesh, who ruled Uruk around 2500 BC, was celebrated in the Akkadian epic poem the Epic of Gilgamesh. According to Podany, his rule was a prelude to the very successful Old Babylonian Period.

Podany spends a significant portion of the lecture discussing the trading colony Assyrian immigrants established in 2000 BC in Kanash in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). The merchants originated from Ashur, the religious capitol of Assyria on the west bank of the Tigris. Ashur tradesmen (usually extended family members) transported tin and fine textiles via donkey caravans from Assyria to Kanash, which they traded for silver (the medium of exchange).

The film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.