Detail of relief showing Ashurbanipal on horseback, arrow drawn on bow

Event information

20 July 2024

09.55–16.45

Stevenson Lecture Theatre

Free

18+

Sign up to our emails and be the first to hear about upcoming events.

New research reveals secrets from the world's first attempt to gather all useful knowledge. How did Ashurbanipal build his library, and what was really in it?

The reign of Ashurbanipal (about 669–631 BC) – 'king of the world, king of Assyria' as inscriptions tell us – marked the high point of the Assyrian empire, which stretched from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the mountains of western Iran. Ashurbanipal was proud of his education and assembled for himself a library that far surpassed anything that had been attempted before. His scribes copied for him the accumulated knowledge of centuries of ancient Iraqi scholarship. These immaculately crafted clay tablets were inscribed in the clearest possible handwriting. Shortly after his death, Ashurbanipal's collection was smashed into pieces by invaders. 

In the 170 years since the library's remains were first found, scholars have been piecing Ashurbanipal's tablets back together and translating his texts. The field of Assyriology is built on their results. We can read about everything from the Flood and Gilgamesh's epic deeds to spy reports from beyond Assyria's frontiers. But while we know a lot about the individual books, the library itself has long remained a mystery. 

New research by the major Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal project, bringing together the British Museum and the Ludwig-Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich, has revealed many of Ashurbanipal's secrets. In this study day, project members bring the library to life through their discoveries. They are joined by expert colleagues who share their own research, including new excavations at Ashurbanipal's capital, Nineveh.

Booking information

  • Book now to secure your place.
  • The event will be held at the Stevenson Lecture Theatre at the British Museum.
  • Light refreshments will be provided during the morning and afternoon breaks in the foyer.
  • Please note this event will be held at full capacity. In line with current government and NHS guidance, face masks are not mandatory but guests are welcome to wear them if they wish.

Programme overview

09.55–10.00: Welcome

10.00–10.30: Ashurbanipal, his library, and the Ashurbanipal library project
Jon Taylor

10.30–11.00: Writing tablets for the king's library
Babette Schnitzlein

11.00–11.30: Break

11.30–12.00: Navigating Ashurbanipal's library: catalogues and inventories
Enrique Jiménez

12.00–12.40: The reconstruction and transmission of the omen series Šumma ālu
Catherine Mittermayer

12.40–13.50: Lunch

13.50–14.30: Ashurbanipal the scholar: writing tablets and internalising knowledge
Uri Gabbay

14.30–15.00: Someone else's tablets in the royal collection
Sophie Cohen

15.00–15.30: Break

15.30–16.00: Medicine for the king's library: Ashurbanipal and the Nineveh Medical Encyclopaedia
Krisztián Simkó

16.00–16.45: Five years of Iraqi-Italian excavations at Nineveh (2019–2023): New archaeological discoveries and perspectives
Nicolò Marchetti

About the speakers

Jon Taylor

Jon Taylor is Curator of Cuneiform Collections at the British Museum. Since 2008 he has led the Museum's long-term project to document and explore Ashurbanipal's library. With the cuneiform collection now digitised, the focus turns to research. He recently led a project to reconstruct and translate medical books from the library, and now leads the Museum's involvement in the Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal project. He is also part of the team deciphering newly excavated texts from Nineveh. 

Enrique Jiménez

Enrique Jiménez holds a chair in Ancient Near Eastern Literatures at Ludwig-Maximilian University (LMU) Munich since 2018 and is the winner of a 2017 Sofja Kovalevskaja Award. He specialises in the literature and scholarly texts from ancient Mesopotamia, in particular from the first millennium BC. He is the Principal Investigator of the Electronic Babylonian Literature project (www.ebl.lmu.de).

Babette Schnitzlein

Having earned her PhD in Assyriology at the University of Berlin, Babette Schnitzlein was research associate at the Warburg Institute, London. From 2020 she was project curator on the Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal project at the British Museum. Her research focuses on the aesthetics of writing and the transfer of knowledge. Her book Untersuchungen zur Schreibkultur Mesopotamiens im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. ('Studies on the writing culture of Mesopotamia in the 1st millennium BC') was published in 2023.

Sophie Cohen

Sophie Cohen is a PhD Student and research assistant at the Institute for Assyriology at LMU Munich. Her research focuses on the textual traditions of the tablets found in Ashurbanipal's library, based on the evidence of the colophons (the publisher's imprint).

Nicolò Marchetti

Nicolò Marchetti is Full Professor of Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Bologna. He directs archaeological excavation and survey projects in Turkey at Karkemish and in Iraq at Nineveh and Dur-Kurigalzu. He has also coordinated several national and international research projects, including the EU-funded ARCHAIA, HeAT, WALADU, EDUU and BANUU. He currently coordinates the Volkswagen Foundation-funded project KALAM which aims at protecting endangered landscapes in Iraq and Uzbekistan. He is the editor of the open science website orientlab.net.

Catherine Mittermayer

Catherine Mittermayer is Professor at the University of Geneva. She has worked extensively on the literature of ancient Iraq, including texts found at the Assyrian site of Ashur. Since 2017 she has directed a major research project on the divinatory series Shumma Alu 'If a City', containing omens based on everyday city life. The series is known mostly from Ashurbanipal's library. 

Uri Gabbay

Uri Gabbay teaches Assyriology at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near East at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research deals with the religion of Mesopotamia in the first millennium BC, with a focus on rituals and Sumerian liturgy, and with the intellectual history of Mesopotamia in the first millennium BC, with a focus on Akkadian commentaries.

Krisztián Simkó

Krisztián Simkó earned his PhD at the University of Budapest. He worked on a major project in Berlin on Babylonian medicine, before becoming project curator on the British Museum's project Introducing Assyrian Medicine: Healthcare Fit for a King. More recently he worked as project curator on the Reading the Library of Ashurbanipal project at the British Museum. He is currently co-authoring a book on the treatment of stomach diseases.