One moonlit night in 1853, an Iraqi excavator named Hormuzd Rassam and his team snuck into the hills outside of Mosul and began to uncover the massive palace of the last ancient Assyrian emperor, Ashurbanipal. Inside the palace was the largest trove of surviving documents from the ancient world that has ever been found. The massive library of over 30,000 tablets illuminated what had been the most mysterious empire of the Iron Age, brought to light the ancient masterpiece of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and provided the first window into the lost Near Eastern mythology that influenced the Biblical book of Genesis. While the discovery provided the greatest triumph of British imperial antiquarianism, in recent times Saddam Hussein and other Arab nationalists have attempted to reclaim its legacy by building a modern Library of Ashurbanipal.
Suggested further reading: Damrosch, “The Buried Book.”
Image: relief sculpture showing Ashurbanipal slaying a lion with a writing stylus tucked into his belt
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