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Inside the court of Ashurbanipal, king of the world (1843magazine.com)
94 points by jedwhite 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

Obligatory Dan Carlin history podcast reference :




(should be available through your favourite podcast app).

This King of Kings series is about the Achaemenid Persian Empire but it does go into details about the Assryian Empire and Ashurbanipal.

Thanks for sharing! The Assyrian language itself is threatened by various factors, so I created an online English to Assyrian dictionary using (React & MongoDB for the app. Scrapy + Java to power the data matching) to help preserve the language. I owe alot of the development choices behind the web app to the useful posts on hackernews! The frontend code is also available on GitHub. I get feedback from Assyrian parents trying to keep the language alive and from non Assyrians trying to learn, typically to impress their significant other and share a commonality.


What I'll try to do next is create an Alexa skill. Languages are important

Please note the modern Assyrian language is not directly related to the old Assyrian language that was used on the tablets at the time of Ashurbanipal. Modern Assyrian derives from the Aramean, which became the vernacular language in most of the Near East during the first millenium BC. The written Assyrian language of tablet derived from the Akkadian, with a few traces of the Sumerian language. All of these were semitic languages, so they had similarities, except for the Sumerian which is an isolate.

> Modern Assyrian derives from the Aramean

From Wikipedia it seems Aramean refers to the people, their language was Aramaic.

It's complicated ... But as the previous poster said what is called Assyrian today is indeed derived from ancient Aramean rather than ancient Assyrian.

The real contention is that the same group of modern people today can't decide what their ancestry is: Assyrian or Aramean. They fight about it a lot.

I had a roommate who spoke Assyrian and one thing I learned as a result was that the contemporary Assyrian language is not the same as ancient Assyrian and may not be directly related to it.


But apparently the question of whether there is some relation is quite a culturally sensitive one.


Like Coptic to Egyptian, modern Greek to Old Greek, Italian to Latin, etc.

As a Greek, while of course Modern is not the same as Ancient, it is a lot closer to it than the other mentioned languages, for sure. I can read Ancient Greek texts easily, after only minimal education, which focuses a lot more on learning different meanings of the same words than new words (for instance δαίμονας). Heck, the grammar is practically the same on many things.

No, not like that at all. Old Assyrian = Akkadian, New Assyrian = Aramaic.

A closer analogy would've been "Arabic to Egyptian", or "Macedonian-Slavic to Ancient Macedonian", as in it's the same language family, but a very different language. In other words, Aramaic did not evolve from Akkadian, it replaced it.

Actually, the modern Greek is quite close to the classical Greek (much, much closer than, say, Italian is to Latin). As to Egyptian, it has gone through several stages (Coptic being the last one) which, for some reason, were all rather dissimilar.

I think that comparison is in controversy, because in these cases the older language didn't stop being spoken while transforming into the newer one. In the Assyrian case, scholars seem confident that ancient Assyrian stopped being spoken entirely some time before the emergence of modern Assyrian and that modern Assyrian can't be viewed as directly derived from ancient Assyrian (although both are Semitic languages).

Excellent sounding project -- great thing to do for the web!

How are you going to deal with pronunciation in the Alexa skill?

Appreciate that! Regarding Alexa, the sargonsays app does store the phonetic pronunciations so that you could sound it out by saying the word / phrase aloud. To your point though, Alexa won't know how to sound it out correctly. For that reason, the most popular terms have audio recordings already so I'll try to have Alexa just play the recording. I've had some success in the past getting local Assyrian organizations and churches to help with the manual effort of audio recordings. Thoughts?

Yeah, recordings are a great idea! It's been a long time since I did my Alexa skill (...a long time in internet-scale, anyway!) and they may have a way to do some kind of International Phonetic Alphabet kind of text now.

But I know they support playing recordings, so that's a great place to start.

> they may have a way to do some kind of International Phonetic Alphabet kind of text now

A recording is a better idea. Even meticulous IPA isn't going to be a good guide to the pronunciation of any language. Consonants are straightforward, but vowels are points in a continuous multidimensional space and all IPA characters for them are, by necessity, only rough approximations.

To get good pronunciation of IPA from a computer, you'd need the computer to already know (1) what language it's supposed to be pronouncing in, and (2) how it should interpret IPA vowels for that language.

"The god of scribes has bestowed on me the gift of the knowledge of his art. I have been initiated into the secrets of writing. I can even read the intricate tablets in Shumerian; I understand the enigmatic words in the stone carvings from the days before the Flood …”

-- Ashurbanipal

(Horrible translation, but the best I could do now.)

That name sounds like something from ancient India. Ashur-Bani-Pal could be translated to Demon-Voice-Protector or Sky-Voice-Protector. I wonder if there were some links between the two cultures.

Ashurbanipal means something like "Assur Protects Him" in Akkadian, the Semitic language of Mesopotamia.

There were significant contacts with India going back thousands of years, apparently.

Also I've heard in Zoroastrianism asuras are the good guys and devas the bad guys whereas in Hinduism it's the other way around... So ashurbanipal literally means God protects him

Here's one interesting read on how the myths evolved https://videshisutra.com/2013/03/22/hariti-saraswatis-persia...

>in Zoroastrianism asuras

Yes, except that they call them ahura, IIR(ead)C. Similarly, that sacred / intoxicating drink of the Vedas, called soma, was called haoma in Persia, I've read.


Thanks this makes more sense. My father's name is Anil which is another name for God of wind in India. I was surprised to find out Enlil was also god of air in that region. Such an long journey for that word.

'Assur protects him' might actually be a better translation for an earlier Assyrian king, Aššurnaṣirpal, 'Ashur is the protector of the heir.'

Ashurbanipal is the rendering of the king's name from the Hebrew Bible; in the Akkadian it would be more like Aššur‑bāni‑apli, which translates to 'Ashur is the creator of an heir.'

Akkadian names were like full sentences, and make sense when thought of as the joyous exclamations of a parent upon grasping their newborn baby.

Thanks! I was wondering if I had the wrong king there.

Almost certainly as there were extensive trade links between Harappan society and the Fertile Crescent going back at lease 4,500 years (attested by archeological artifacts). Also of course writing diffused from this region into India.

However I am not sure there would have been any linguistic connection between the regions’ tongues, but who knows?

Considering that they were not too far from each other, geographically, there could be a linguistic connection.

It’s quite possible but nobody knows what the harappan people spoke. I am not an expert in this area but I am not sure there are Semitic fossils in the modern non-PIE-derived languages of the subcontinent.

But I am not an expert so this is simply my surmise. There’s plenty of tantalizing evidence against my guess!

I'd say it's probably Proto-Indo-European roots, although I seem to think the Assyrians were always classed as Semetic in my textbooks.

Gilgamesh was written ~2000 years after PIE's theorized origins. It actually lines up well with the Rigveda, one of the oldest surviving Vedic Sanskrit texts.

If you consider a gap of roughly 700 years to be "lining up well", then sure.

But from a more conventional perspective, the epic of Gilgamesh is much, much, much older than the Rigveda.

I believe it was originally written in Sumerian, a language isolate originally found in southern Mesopotamia.

I should check out the Rigveda.

Yep definitely true. I meant that the original author of Gilgamesh would have lived at a time when certain Sanskrit names may have been heard of in Mesopotamia.

Sumerian and the story of Gilgamesh predated Sanskrit.

We have a similar story in one of the older Sanskrit works.


Your link suggests the Indian story is based on the Sumerian or Akkadian. That would be news to me. It’s certainly possible, but in my personal opinion people often go astray with these methods - there’s little reason to believe many examples couldn’t have evolved independently based on similar real world occurrences or common human archetypes.

You should. It is interesting. I've read it.

Yes, Assyrian was a dialect of Akkadian, an East-Semitic language.

Not really; Akkadian is East Semitic and Assyrian is Central Semitic.

It was (at the time).

Is. Assyrian is still spoken.

Giving one language the same name as another language from which it doesn't descend isn't really a good reason to claim that the earlier language is "still" spoken.

Right, but the modern Assyrian is "Neo-Aramaic," not a dialect of Akkadian like the old one.

The wikipedia article points Ashur to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashur_(god), which could very well influence words in other languages.

In India Ashur is a Demon and gods are called Dev, while in old Persia Devs are demons and Ashur (Ahura) is a God.

Where I work, Devs are considered demons and Ashurance, god.

Very cool, I endorse this post!

Older episodes of Dan Carlin’s hardcore history podcast that cover this period have put the whole ancient near east into context. highly recommend.

I keep suggesting that folks name their next child Ashurbanipal, Shalmaneser, or Tiglath-Pileser. So far nobody has taken up the offer ... but think of the excellent nicknames: "time to wrap up The Prince and study some more endgame strategies, Tiggy!"

Even the name percolates down the sands of time. The fifth Mughal emperor and builder of the Taj Mahal took the name "Shahjahan," i.e., King of the World. Like Ceasar becoming Kaiser, etymology recapitulates history.

Though Assurbanipal doesn't really translate to 'king of the world' (see my comment below), the title in Akkadian is actually 'shar mātāti,' which is all the more striking. I haven't been able to find whether Akkadian shar shares a common root with Persian shah, although the ancient Achaemenid Persian empire did consciously model itself on a friendlier, ecumenical Assyrian model.

Ashurbanipal sounds so much like Sanskrit. Did the Assyrians have Indian heritage or links with ancient (medieval) India.

Also how is “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, the world’s oldest epic? We have far older epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata etc.

According to the estimates cited on Wikipedia, the Epic of Gilgamesh is about 9-10 centuries older than the Mahabharata, which in turn is older than the Ramayana.

Ramayana predates Mahabharata. I think that's what you meant.

But even Wikipedia estimates that Gilgamesh himself lived between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. The authentic date of an existing record of the Gilgamesh epic is only from 700 BC. The Mahabharata on the other hand, is from at least 5000 BC. The Ramayana is even older, from 7000 BC.

This is outside my wheelhouse of history, but the citations on Wikipedia claim the Ramayana is at most from 7th century BC. That's a big pretty difference from your claim (which I find extremely suspect to begin with).

I can understand why you may find it suspicious. The problem is the abundance of the rather fake history about the dating of the great Indian events & epics. For a very long time, the narrative was monopolized by people who believed that the history of mankind (or life?) is not more than 5000 years ago, (mainly because of the bible or something else)? Therefore, when the British & other Marxist historians found something older than the purported 5000 years, they had to adjust every event in Indian / Hindu history to match it. Too many things have been "adjusted" in this way, unfortunately.

When modern human species evolved approximately 200,000 years ago, it should not be so far fetched to imagine that advanced civilizations existed 10,000 years ago?

A google search provides many good resources & links that I will just fill up my comment to provide. These resources have documented many many proofs, events more than 3000 years ago cannot be treated the same as events 500 or even 1000 years ago, because the archeological remains would not survive that long unfortunately. Please try this: https://www.google.com/search?q=dating+the+ramayana

I think the research done by PN Oak & Dr. Koenraad Elst would be most pertinent. I am assuming that you are not limited or prejudiced by the timelines provided in the bible or something else.

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