The Library of Ashurbanipal

Project team



Supported by

  • The Townley Group
  • The Andrew Mellon Foundation

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The oldest surviving royal library in the world is that of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria (668-around 630 BC). British Museum archaeologists discovered more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments at his capital, Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik). Alongside historical inscriptions, letters, administrative and legal texts, were found thousands of divinatory, magical, medical, literary and lexical texts. This treasure-house of learning has held unparalleled importance to the modern study of the ancient Near East ever since the first fragments were excavated in the 1850s.

The Ashurbanipal Library Project was set up in 2002 as a long-term co-operation with the University of Mosul, in Iraq. We aim to bring Ashurbanipal’s astonishing library back to life. Using modern technology, this most ancient library can be opened to new readers.

Project aims

The long-term aim of the project is to document the library as fully as possible, and to carry out a range of investigations aimed at better understanding of it as a whole, as well as the individual works within it. Currently we are producing an up-to-date electronic catalogue of the Library, richly illustrated with high quality images of every tablet within it.

The importance of this achievement would be hard to over-estimate. For Ashurbanipal’s Library is among the most significant discoveries from ancient Iraq, and indeed from the ancient world. From these texts we discover the secrets of more than a thousand years of Mesopotamian learning and literature, as well as religious life and imperial politics at the height of Assyria’s power.

Find out more about project aims 

A new institute in Mosul, Iraq

The Ashurbanipal Library project is a result of long-term co-operation with colleagues at the University of Mosul, in Iraq.

Museum research is designed to complement the University of Mosul’s new Institute of Cuneiform Studies, which is currently under construction. It will house departments of Archaeology, Assyriology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilisations, Excavation and Conservation. The Library will be a key focus of teaching and research. Iraqi archaeologists are now excavating at Nineveh; it is hoped that the rest of Ashurbanipal’s Library may soon be found there.

Project outputs

Our current focus is the production of high quality digital images of the Library tablets. This work is part of a wider international collaboration funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, aimed at making accessible the world’s shared cuneiform resources.

Around two thirds of the Library has been photographed, with the rest to be completed within the next two years. Each image is a composite of up to 14 images, which represents a virtual unfolding of the 3D object into a 2D facsimile. Future phases will work towards assembling electronic transliterations and translations of all the texts, further widening access to one of the most remarkable repositories of knowledge the world has ever known.

All images are being made available on the British Museum’s Collection database online.

Search for objects in the Collection online 


J. Fincke, The British Museum's Ashurbanipal Library Project, Iraq 66, (2004) pp. 55-60

J. Fincke, The Babylonian Texts of Nineveh. Report on the British Museum's Ashurbanipal Library Project, AfO 50 (2003/2004) pp. 111-149

J. Fincke, Babylonische Gelehrte am neuassyrischen Hof: zwischen Anpassung und Individualität, in Akten der 52ten Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, (Münster, forthcoming)