'I am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of Assyria'

This article was previously published in Issue 19, ABSENCE (December 2018).


‘I am Ashurbanipal, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria.’


The British Museum’s new exhibition explores the reign of King Ashurbanipal, who ascended to the throne in 669 BC, ruling at the height of the Assyrian empire which then extended from the eastern Mediterranean to western Iran. ‘The greatest king you’ve never heard of’, Ashurbanipal has been thus far largely absent from the canon and this exhibition is attempting to change that.


The first/main part starts by looking at how the older South-West and newer North palaces at Nineveh, including their interiors, work as a display of the king’s power. These include panels depicting hunting scenes and protective guardian spirits such as The Sebetti Gods that decorated the throne room. Both this and the Aqueducts and Canals panel are periodically lit up with projected colour that imitates paint in an increasingly popular form of non-invasive reconstruction.