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Digital Subscriptions > BBC History Revealed > February 2019 > Ashurbanipal


He was as bloodthirsty as Genghis, as magnificent an empire builder as Alexander, as much a scholar as Alfred – though history doesn’t remember him as great. Tat was an honour he bestowed upon himself, writes Jonny Wilkes
Ashurbanipal ruled an empire that stretched from Cyprus to Iran – little wonder he referred to himself as “king of the world”

The name Ashurbanipal can hardly be counted among the most famous when it comes to ancient leaders. Against the likes of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and many others, he may struggle, in the Western world at least, to get picked out of a line up. Even the curator of a the British Museum exhibition about him and his often-overlooked Assyrian Empire, Gareth Brereton, says that he is “the greatest king you’ve never heard of”.

Yet as has been revealed in ‘I am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of Assyria’, he was the most powerful person on Earth. As the dominant force in seventh-century-BC Mesopotamia, the crucible of civilisations, he furthered Assyria’s reach beyond what had been achieved in the previous two millennia. And he used his power to build a vast library of texts from across his empire – the oldest of its kind surviving – that has bestowed a wealth of knowledge about this ancient world and its peoples.

In recent years, the legacy of the Assyrian Empire has been under threat by destruction at the hands of Islamic State. With priceless items and landmarks lost, this exhibition highlights that it is more pressing than ever that Ashurbanipal does not become just another forgotten king.

“War and quashing rebellions were near-constant features of Ashurbanipal’s reign”

Lion hunting was a royal sport with symbolic importance: success was proof that a king could protect his throne
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About BBC History Revealed

Egyptologist Chris Naunton takes us on a tour of the greatest discoveries found in Egypt down the centuries. Plus: We look at the German resistance movements that stood up to Hitler, the tragic tale of the nine-day queen – Lady Jane Grey and the fall from grace of one of America’s once most-beloved politicians, Richard Nixon.