a-shoor-ba'-ne-pal (Ashur-bani-apal, "Ashur creates a son"): Before setting out on his last campaign to Egypt, Esarhaddon king of Assyria doubtless having had some premonition that his days were numbered, caused his son Ashurbanipal to be acknowledged the crown prince of Assyria (668 BC). At the same time he proclaimed his son Shamash-shum-ukin as the crown prince of Babylonia. At the father's death the latter, however, was only permitted to become viceroy of Babylonia.
Ashurbanipal is generally believed to be the great and noble Osnappar (Ezr 4:10). See OSNAPPAR. If this identification should not prove correct, the king is not mentioned by name in the Old Testament. In the annals of Ashurbanipal there is a list of twenty tributary kings in which Manasseh (written Minse) of the land of Judah is mentioned. With a few exceptions the list is the same as that given by Esarhaddon, his father. In 2 Ch 33:11 ff we learn that the captains of the host of the king of Assyria took Manasseh with hooks and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. The king to whom reference is made in this passage was either Esarhaddon or Ashurbanipal. If the latter, his restoration of Manasseh was paralleled in the instance of Necho, the vassal king of Memphis and Sais, who also had revolted from Assyria; for he was accorded similar treatment, being sent back to Egypt with special marks of favor, and reinstated upon his throne.
Another reference in the Old Testament, at least to one of the acts of Ashurbanipal, is the prophecy of Nahum, who in predicting the downfall of Nineveh, said, "Art thou (Nineveh) better than No-amon?" This passage is illustrated by the annals of the king, in which he recounts the destruction of the city. No (meaning "city") is the name of Thebes, while Amon (or Amen) was the chief deity of that city.
Esarhaddon died on his way to Egypt, which he had previously conquered, an insurrection having taken place. Tirhakah, whom Esarhaddon had vanquished, and who had fled to Ethiopia, had returned, and had advanced against the rulers appointed by Assyria. He formed a coalition with Necho and others. Not long after Ashurbanipal came to the throne, he set out for Egypt and defeated the forces. The leaders of the insurrection were carried to Nineveh in fetters. Necho, like Manasseh, as mentioned above, was restored to his rule at Sais. Tirhakah died shortly after. His sister's son Tanut-Amon (Tandami) then took up the cause, and after the departure of the Assyrian army he advanced against the Assyrian vassal governors. The Assyrian army returned and relieved the besieged. Tanut-Amon returned to Thebes, which was conquered and which was spoiled by the rapacious Assyrians, 663 BC. This is what the prophet Nahum referred to (3:8). A few years later Psammetik, the son of Necho, who had remained faithful after his restoration, declared his independence. As the Assyrian army was required elsewhere, Egypt was henceforth free from the yoke of the Assyrian.
Ba`al of Tyre, after a long siege, finally submitted. Yakinlu, king of Arvad, paid tribute and sent hostages. Other rebellious subjects, who had become emboldened by the attitude of Tirhakah, were brought into submission. Under Urlaki, the old enemy Elam, which had been at peace with Assyria since the preceding reign, now became aggressive and made inroads into Babylonia. Ashurbanipal marched through the Zagros mountains, and suddenly appeared before Susa. This move brought Teumman, who had in the meanwhile succeeded Urlaki, back to his capital. Elam was humiliated.
In 652 BC the insurrection of Shamash-shumukin, the king's brother, who had been made viceroy of Babylon, broke out. He desired to establish his independence from Assyria. After Ashurbanipal had overcome Babylon, Shamash-shum-ukin took refuge in a palace, set it on fire, and destroyed himself in the flames.
There is much obscurity about the last years of Ashurbanipal's reign. The decadence of Assyria had begun, which resulted not only in the loss to the title of the surrounding countries, but also in its complete annihilation before the century was over. Nineveh was finally razed to the ground by the Umman-Manda hordes, and was never rebuilt.
Ashurbanipal is also distinguished for his building operations, which show remarkable architectural ingenuity. In many of the cities of Assyria and Babylonia he restored, enlarged or embellished the temples or shrines. In Nineveh he reared a beautiful palace, which excelled all other Assyrian structures in the richness of its ornamentations.
During his reign the study of art was greatly encouraged. Some of his exquisite sculptures represent not only the height of Assyrian art, but also belong to the most important aesthetic treasures of the ancient world. The themes of many of the chief sculptures depict the hunt, in which the king took special delight.
Above all else Ashurbanipal is famous for the library he created, because of which he is perhaps to be considered the greatest known patron of literature in the pre-Christian centuries.
For Bibliography see ASSYRIA.
A. T. Clay