Up on Level Three at the British Museum you’ll find the Mesopotamian galeries; a civilisation that gave us writing, a system of counting, and a 30 thousand volume library.
The British Museum is currently involved in a project to recatalogue the library and to make its contents available for modern readers to access. It’s called the Ashurbanipal library Project, as although several kings were involved in its creation, Ashurbanipal seems to have been the keenest.
Until the small display of clay tablets appeared several months ago at the BM I had rather assumed that the library had been mainly composed of financial records and accounts of religious practices.
Ashurbanipal library project (BM blog)
It turns out to be much more interesting, and a reminder that all that separates us from these people who lived two and half thousand years ago is technology. The ancient Assyrians were very keen on divination, rather in the same way that the Greeks consulted the Oracle at Delphi, so there are numerous reference works to help tell the future.
Ashurbanipal is described as writer, acquirer, chief librarian. He wrote about his own life, and his wife and sister could also read and write. His sister seems the keener scholar, and my favourite fragment shows a note from her to her brother’s wife asking why she isn’t doing her scribing and practising her homework.
It’s a fabulous glimpse into a lost civilisation, and for someone like myself who loves libraries, it has a magic that is nothing to do with divining the future. Continue reading