Charil Paulsen

Charil Paulsen

Published: 19 Sep 2023


The Library of Ashurbanipal is an ancient marvel that holds a wealth of knowledge and history within its walls. Located in the city of Nineveh, in present-day Iraq, this library was built by King Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in the 7th century BC. It is believed to be one of the oldest surviving libraries in the world and provides valuable insights into the Assyrian civilization and its contributions to literature, science, and art.

With its vast collection of cuneiform tablets, the Library of Ashurbanipal is a treasure trove for historians, archaeologists, and anyone interested in uncovering the secrets of the past. In this article, we will delve into 9 extraordinary facts about this remarkable library, shedding light on its significance and the intriguing discoveries made within its ancient halls.

Table of Contents

The Oldest Known Library

The Library of Ashurbanipal, located in the ancient city of Nineveh (present-day Iraq), is widely recognized as the oldest known library in the world. It dates back to the 7th century BC and was established by Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

A Vast Collection of Clay Tablets

The library housed a vast collection of clay tablets that covered various subjects, including literature, science, mathematics, religion, and history. These tablets are invaluable resources that provide insights into the ancient Mesopotamian civilization and its cultural, economic, and political aspects.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Among the many remarkable texts found in the Library of Ashurbanipal is the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known works of literature in human history. This epic poem, written in Akkadian, recounts the adventures and trials of the legendary King Gilgamesh.

A Treasure Trove for Linguists

The diverse collection of tablets found in the library includes texts written in multiple languages, such as Akkadian, Sumerian, Hittite, and Babylonian. This rich linguistic variety offers a unique opportunity for linguists to study the development and evolution of these ancient languages.

The First Historical Library Catalog

Ashurbanipal understood the value of organizing his impressive collection, and thus, he created the first known library catalog. This catalog served as a comprehensive inventory of the tablets, categorizing them based on their subject matter and facilitating access for scholars and researchers.

An Archival System Ahead of Its Time

The Library of Ashurbanipal featured a sophisticated archival system, with rooms meticulously organized to house different subjects. This pioneering approach to library organization laid the foundation for modern libraries and their classification systems.

Preserving Mesopotamian Literature

Thanks to the efforts of Ashurbanipal, countless literary works from Mesopotamia were preserved within the library’s walls. Many of these texts would have been lost to history if not for his dedication to collecting and preserving the written word.

Inspiration for Alexandria’s Great Library

The Library of Ashurbanipal served as an inspiration for subsequent libraries, including the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Its model of cataloging and preserving knowledge set a precedent for the libraries that came after it.

Rediscovery and Archaeological Importance

The Library of Ashurbanipal was rediscovered by archaeologists in the mid-19th century. The excavation of its ruins unveiled a treasure trove of ancient knowledge and significantly contributed to our understanding of the Mesopotamian civilization.


The Library of Ashurbanipal is truly a remarkable historical landmark, showcasing the advanced knowledge and rich culture of the ancient Assyrian civilization. With its vast collection of cuneiform tablets, stunning architecture, and fascinating historical significance, it continues to captivate historians, archaeologists, and visitors from around the world. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or simply curious about the wonders of the past, a visit to the Library of Ashurbanipal is an experience that will leave you in awe of the human achievements that have shaped our world.


1. What is the significance of the Library of Ashurbanipal?

The Library of Ashurbanipal is significant because it contains one of the earliest recorded libraries in human history. It provides valuable insights into the culture, literature, and history of ancient Assyria.

2. How many cuneiform tablets are in the library?

The library is estimated to have held around 30,000 clay tablets, covering various topics such as literature, religion, law, and mathematics.

3. Can visitors access the original tablets?

No, the original tablets are not accessible to the public. However, some replicas and translations are available for study and display.

4. Where is the Library of Ashurbanipal located?

The Library of Ashurbanipal was located in the ancient city of Nineveh, near present-day Mosul, Iraq.

5. How was the library discovered?

The library was discovered in the mid-19th century by archaeologists Henry Layard and Austen Henry Layard, during excavations in Nineveh.

6. What happened to the library after its discovery?

After the discovery, many of the tablets were taken by European and American institutions, including the British Museum. Today, the tablets are spread across several museums around the world.

7. Are there any notable artifacts in the library?

Yes, the library contained several notable artifacts, including the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, the Enuma Elish creation myth, and various royal inscriptions.

8. Is the library open to the public?

The original library is not open to the public, as it no longer exists. However, visitors can explore replicas, translations, and artifacts related to the library in various museums.

9. Can I visit the ancient city of Nineveh?

Nineveh is an archaeological site with ongoing excavations. While the ancient city itself is not accessible to tourists, visitors can explore the ruins and artifacts in the surrounding area.