Family, Succession Arrangement, and Education

Ashurbanipal was a son of Esarhaddon by one of the latter's wives, very likely Ešarra-ḫammat.[79] His paternal grandfather and grandmother were Sennacherib and Naqīʾa (Zakūtu). Esarhaddon had many sons and daughters and Ashurbanipal may have been his fourth eldest son. Sîn-nādin-apli, Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, and Šamaš-mētu-uballiṭ were his older brothers, Šērūʾa-ēṭirat his older sister, and Aššur-taqīša-libluṭ, Aššur-mukīn-palēʾa, and Aššur-etel-šamê-erṣeti-muballissu were the eldest of his younger brothers.[80] As a younger son of the king, Ashurbanipal appears not to have been destined to be the next king of Assyria, an honor that had been originally planned for Sîn-nādin-apli, and, thus, the young prince was trained in the scribal arts.[81] One of his early inscriptions (the so-called School Days Inscription) describes this part of his education:

[The gods Šamaš (and) Adad] placed at my disposal the lore of the diviner, a craft that cannot be changed; [the god Mardu]k, the sage of the gods, granted me a broad mind (and) extensive knowledge as a gift; the god Nabû, the scribe of everything, bestowed on me the precepts of his craft as a present; the gods Ninurta (and) Nergal endowed my body with power, virility, (and) unrivalled strength. I learned [the c]raft of the sage Adapa, the secret (and) hidden lore of all of the scribal arts. I am able to recognize celestial and terrestrial [om]ens (and) can discuss (them) in an assembly of scholars. I am capable of arguing with expert diviners about (the series) "If the liver is a mirror image of the heavens." I can resolve complex (mathematical) divisions (and) multiplications that do not have a(n easy) solution. I have read cunningly written text(s) in obscure Sumerian (and) Akkadian that are difficult to interpret. I have carefully examined inscriptions on stone from before the Deluge that are sealed, stopped up, (and) confused.[82]

By late 673/early 672, the situation had changed: Sîn-nādin-apli, Esarhaddon's eldest son who is presumed to have been heir designate since 677, had died or fallen out of favor[83] and the king was very concerned about who would follow him on the thrones of Assyria and Babylonia. Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, now the eldest living son, was chosen to be the next king of Babylon, and Ashurbanipal, then the third eldest son, was nominated to be the next ruler of Assyria; Šamaš-mētu-uballiṭ, for whatever reason, was overlooked.[84] Given the circumstances of his own accession to the throne,[85] Esarhaddon, with the assistance of his mother Naqīʾa, went to great lengths to ensure a smooth transition. In Ayyāru (II) 672, the king assembled people from every part of the empire and had them swear by the gods to respect the succession and protect his sons, before and after sitting on their respective thrones. It took days to complete all the oath swearing ceremonies and an army of scribes to prepare tablet copies of the treaty that were to accompany their oath takers home.[86] Ashurbanipal, and probably also Šamaš-šuma-ukīn, took up residence in the House of Succession at Nineveh and began their training. In his School Days Inscription, Ashurbanipal states the following about this period of time:

With (carefully) selected companion(s), this is how I spent all of my days: I cantered on thoroughbreds, rode stallions that were raring to go; I [h]eld a bow (and) made arrows fly as befits a warrior; I threw quivering lances as if they were javelins; I took the reins (of a chariot) like a charioteer (and) made the rims of the wheels spin; I ... arītu-shields (and) kabābu-shields like a military specialist. I am proficient in the best technical lore of all specialists, every one of them. At the same time, I was learning proper lordly behavior, becoming familiar with the ways of kingship. I stood before the king who had engendered me, regularly giving orders to officials. N[o] governor was appointed without me, no prefect installed without my consent.[87]

Despite Esarhaddon's best efforts, not everyone was happy with the succession arrangement. In late 671 and early 670, high-ranking officials plotted to kill the king and his family.[88] The conspiracy was discovered and the instigators and their supporters were publicly executed.[89] In the days following the failed rebellion, the Assyrian king promoted more vigorously than before the roles of the future kings of Assyria and Babylon, especially in the western part of the empire, where images of the heir designates appeared together with representations of Esarhaddon.[90]

On his way to Egypt in 669, Esarhaddon fell ill and died on the tenth day of Araḫsamna (VII).[91] Naqīʾa carried out her son's wishes and saw that her grandson Ashurbanipal became king of Assyria. In Kislīmu (IX), presumably after Esarhaddon's funeral, the queen-mother gathered together the royal family and court and made them swear once again their allegiance to Ashurbanipal, at the time of his coronation.[92] Shortly after becoming king, at the beginning of his first official year as king, Ashurbanipal fulfilled some of his father's wishes: he installed his younger brothers Aššur-mukīn-palēʾa and Aššur-etel-šamê-erṣeti-muballissu as šešgallu-priests in Aššur and Ḫarrān, placed Šamaš-šuma-ukīn on the throne of Babylon, and returned Marduk and his entourage to their rightful place in Esagil ("House whose Top is High).[93] Ashurbanipal's reign got off to a good start.


79 Despite the lack of direct evidence, most scholars generally believe that Ashurbanipal's mother was Ešarra-ḫammat, the only queen of Esarhaddon for whom we have a name. She is also usually regarded as the mother of Ashurbanipal's older brother Šamaš-šuma-ukīn. For further details and discussions of the evidence, see in particular Weissert, PNA 1/1 pp. 160–161 sub Aššūr-bāni-apli I.1.b; and Novotny and Singletary, Studies Parpola pp. 174–176.

80 For further information on Ashurbanipal's large family, see Parpola, LAS 2 pp. 117–118; Weissert, PNA 1/1 pp. 160–163 sub Aššūr-bāni-apli I.1; and Novotny and Singletary, Studies Parpola pp. 167–177.

81 Some of his education took place under the tutelage of astrologer and scholar Balāssî, as suggested by a letter; see Parpola, SAA 10 p. 30 no. 39.

82 K 2694 + K 3030 i 14–23 (L4; Novotny, SAACT 10 p. 77 no. 18).

83 The fate of this prince, who is mentioned by name in only one text (Starr, SAA 4 pp. 160–161 no. 149), is not known. Following more recent scholarship, it is assumed here that Sîn-nādin-apli and Ashurbanipal are two separate individuals; it seems unlikely that Sîn-nādin-apli was the birth name of Ashurbanipal. For details, see Weissert, PNA 1/1 p. 161 sub Aššūr-bāni-apli I.1.f–g.1'; and Weissert, PNA 3/1 pp. 1138–1139 sub Sīn-nādin-apli.

84 E. Weissert (PNA 1/1 p. 162 sub Aššūr-bāni-apli I.1.h) has suggested that Esarhaddon bypassed his third eldest son because of his sickly nature, a fact that one might deduce from his name: "The god Šamaš has revived the dead."

85 See, for example, Grayson, CAH2 3/2 pp. 119–121; Leichty, RINAP 4 p. 2; and Grayson and Novotny, RINAP 3/2 pp. 28–29.

86 Because Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (Parpola and Watanabe, SAA 2 pp. 28–58 no. 6) has received a great deal of attention, especially after the discovery of a new copy of it at Tell Tayinat in 2009, it will only be discussed briefly here. According to text no. 11 (Prism A) and some later copies of text no. 9 (Prism F), some of the oaths were sworn on 12-II-672; see the on-page note to text no. 9 (Prism F) i 10 for further details. According to early copies of text no. 9 (Prism F) and copies of the treaty itself, other oaths were sworn on 16-II and 18-II-672. It is certain from this evidence that the oath-swearing ceremonies took at least seven days to complete. The number of copies written out on this occasion is still a matter of speculation, but it has recently been tentatively suggested that there may have been as many as 200 copies (Fales, RA 106 [2012] p. 148). Whatever the original number may have been, only parts of ten of those tablets survive today. Eight were found in the throne room of Ezida (the Nabû temple at Kalḫu), one (comprising three fragments) was discovered at Aššur (provenance not recorded), and one was found in a temple at Tell Tayinat. For further details, see in particular Harrison and Osborne, JCS 64 (2012) pp. 125–143; Lauinger, JCS 64 (2012) pp. 87–123; Fales, RA 106 (2012) pp. 133–158; and Taylor, "The Succession Treaties of Esarhaddon," Nimrud: Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production ( successiontreaties/ [ successiontreaties/]).

87 K 2694 + K 3030 i 24–33 (L4; Novotny, SAACT 10 p. 77 no. 18). Numerous extant Neo-Assyrian letters to and from the heir designate of Assyria support the fact that Ashurbanipal was active in the royal court after his promotion to the rank of crown prince.

88 For the details, see Nissinen, SAAS 7 pp. 108–153.

89 According to two Babylonian chronicles (Grayson, Chronicles p. 86 no. 1 iv 29 and p. 127 no. 14 line 27'), "In Assyria the king put his numerous officers to the sword."

90 The most famous of these are known from the steles discovered at Zinçirli (ancient Samʾal) and Tell Aḥmar (ancient Til Barsip); see Leichty, RINAP 4 pp. 179–186 nos. 97–98 (with references to previous literature), especially p. 183 fig. 5. A letter from the chief scribe Ištar-šumu-ēreš to Esarhaddon (Parpola, SAA 10 pp. 12–13 no. 13) records that images of Ashurbanipal and Šamaš-šuma-ukīn were also placed at Ḫarrān.

91 Grayson, Chronicles p. 86 no. 1 iv 30–31 and p. 127 no. 14 lines 28'–30'.

92 Parpola and Watanabe, SAA 2 pp. 62–64 no. 8. Ashurbanipal's older brothers Šamaš-šuma-ukīn and Šamaš-mētu-uballiṭ are singled out in the Zakūtu Treaty. A.T.E. Olmstead (History of Assyria p. 408) suggests that the latter did not accept the new treaty and paid for it with his life. There is nothing in the textual record to suggest that Šamaš-mētu-uballiṭ sought ill will against his younger brother and was executed as a result. What happened to this prince after he swore an oath to protect Ashurbanipal in IX-669 is completely unknown. His "disappearance" from Neo-Assyrian sources is not surprising, especially since he is mentioned by name in only two texts. This is less shocking when one takes into account the fact that Naqīʾa disappears from the textual record immediately after Ashurbanipal's coronation. For a hymn celebrating this king's coronation, see Livingstone, SAA 3 pp. 26–27 no. 11.

93 K 891 obv. 10–13 (L3; Novotny, SAACT 10 p. 80 no. 19) and 2694 + K 3030 ii 26'–iii 29' (L4; Novotny, SAACT 10 pp. 78–79 no. 18).

Jamie Novotny & Joshua Jeffers

Jamie Novotny & Joshua Jeffers, 'Family, Succession Arrangement, and Education', RINAP 5: The Royal Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, Aššur-etel-ilāni, and Sîn-šarra-iškun, The RINAP 5 sub-project of the RINAP Project, 2018 []

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The RINAP 5 sub-project of the University of Pennsylvania-based RINAP Project, 2016-. The contents of RINAP 5 are prepared in cooperation with the Munich Open-access Cuneiform Corpus Initiative (MOCCI), which is based the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar - Alte Geschichte and is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation through the establishment of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-14.
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