Royal Library of Ashurbanipal

Contributor: Roxann Penny. Lesson ID: 12705

Do you borrow books from a library? Do you like the feel of books or do you prefer electronic versions? What if books were made of hardened clay like the books in this ancient library? Heavy reading!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Would you like to give your computer fingers a rest and try writing a story using these tools? How about filling up a library with those stories?

The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal is often described as the "first library," and was considered one of the largest collections of texts during its time.

It is named after the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal (pronounced ah-shoor-bah-nee-pahl). Ashurbanipal ruled from 669 to 631 B.C. in the capital city of Nineveh in the Assyrian Empire, which today would span areas of northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, Turkey, and Iran. You can look at the map below to locate these countries:

Map of Turkey

During his reign, King Ashurbanipal was known to be very cruel to his enemies. However, unlike most kings of his time, King Ashurbanipal could read and write, and was knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects. The following image depicts a stone carving of King Ashurbanipal hunting on his horse (645-635 BC):

King Ashurbanipal

Image by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, via Wikimedia Commons, depicts an alabaster bas-relief housed in the British Museum, London. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The library is a collection of whole clay tablets and broken pieces of tablets. Altogether, the collection contains approximately 30,000 pieces. The information recorded in the tablets includes matters of law, finance, medicine, literature, and hymns to various gods. Researchers have determined that the tablets in the library were often organized according to their shape and subject matter. Some tablets, for example, were four-sided, while others were rounded in shape.

One important document discovered in the library was a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is considered to be the earliest surviving great work of literature. Today, most of the library's tablets can be found at the British Museum in London.

Take a look at the next two images. They depict two examples of the remaining tablets from the Royal Library. Observe the shape of the tablets. Notice that the tablet in the first image is rectangular in shape, whereas the tablet in the second image is rounded:

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First image by Fae, via Wikipedia, is of a clay tablet currently housed in the British Museum, London. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This next image shows a sample of an Assyrian wall carving. The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal would have contained many similar carvings.

  • Why do you think the ancient Assyrians made so many carvings?
  • Do you think the wall carvings were important? If so, why?

Share with your thoughts with your parent or teacher.

wall carvings

Next, continue your discovery about the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal.

In the Got It? section, you will challenge your knowledge about the library by identifying key features of the library using a fun interactive.

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