How did one man negotiate family politics, the pressures of kingship, and the will of the gods? Ashurbanipal, proud of his scholarship, assembled the greatest library in existence during his reign. Guided by this arsenal of knowledge, he defined the course of the empire and boldly asserted his claim to be ‘king of the world, king of Assyria’.
This will be the first ever major exhibition to explore the life of Ashurbanipal in such depth. The exhibition will tell Ashurbanipal’s remarkable story through the vivid narratives recorded on his palace sculptures, the hundreds of cuneiform texts that survive from his library, and from the wealth of objects discovered by archaeologists working in the region. Innovative displays bring to life the tumultuous story of Ashurbanipal’s reign; his conquest of Egypt, the crushing defeat of his rebellious older brother, and his ruthless campaigns against all who defied his rule.
Over 200 extraordinary objects from all corners of the empire reveal how one of the greatest Assyrian monarchs stamped an indelible mark on the history of the world. The British Museum’s world-renowned collection of Assyrian treasures will be complemented by key loans from across the globe. These include unique objects and artworks from the collections of the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan; the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Vorderasiatisches Museum, in Berlin; the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City; and the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia. Many of these remarkable objects have never travelled to the UK before.
The exhibition will immerse visitors in the life at the great Assyrian court. Massive stone sculptures, intricately carved reliefs, painted glazed bricks and rare wall paintings evoke the splendour of the cities and palaces. Delicately carved ivories, extravagant metalwork, cosmetic vessels and gold ornaments show how the elites lived in splendour. Ornate chariot fittings and elaborate weaponry reveal how this was an age of conflict, as rival kings fought for power and glory. Ashurbanipal’s prowess as a valiant warrior is recorded on a series of vividly carved reliefs in the British Museum’s collection that depict the royal lion hunt. Lion hunts were drama-filled public spectacles staged within the hunting grounds at Nineveh.
Ashurbanipal claimed to be unlike his predecessors for he could read, write and debate with expert scholars. During his reign he assembled a unique and visionary library at his palace in Nineveh. Knowledge was power; this library was a practical tool that helped the king to manage his empire. Using the British Museum’s world-renowned collection of documents dating to Ashurbanipal’s reign, the exhibition will recreate the king’s great library to evoke its scale and present its contents and significance.
Many of the objects featured in the exhibition come from archaeological sites in Iraq such as Nineveh and Nimrud that have been systematically targeted and destroyed by Daesh (IS). The final section of the exhibition will highlight the challenges faced in protecting Iraqi cultural heritage under threat and will showcase the work of the ‘Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme’. In response to the destruction of heritage sites in Iraq, the British Museum developed this scheme to train Iraqi archaeologists in rescue archaeology and emergency heritage management. An overview of the project’s training and research will be presented to visitors through film footage of the excavations and exclusive interviews with participants.
The BP exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria runs from 8 November 2018 – 24 February 2019 in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery at the British Museum.
The beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue, The BP exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria, edited by Gareth Brereton will be published by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with the British Museum.
BP is proud to support the British Museum exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria, an exciting exhibition that tells the story of the Assyrian Empire under its last, great ruler.
BP’s support for UK Arts and Culture spans a period of over 50 years. The company’s partnership with the British Museum began in 1996, enabling a diverse range of initiatives including the development of the BP Lecture Theatre. Today support for the Museum is focused on its special exhibitions programme.
BP’s long-term partnerships with the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House represent one of the most significant corporate investments in UK arts and culture.
BP has a history in Iraq, stretching back to the 1920s when the company helped Iraq locate, produce and export oil from Baba Gurgur in Kirkuk, Northern Iraq. This was the largest oilfield in the world at that time. In 2009, BP became the first international oil company to return to Iraq after a period of 35 years. Today, BP, PetroChina and BOC are working in partnership to develop Rumaila, the third-largest producing field in the world.
In support of our operations at Rumaila, we deliver a sustainable social investment programme for the benefit of our communities in and around Basra, southern Iraq. Our programme is focused on improving health, access to potable water, community infrastructure and vocational training.
Aligned with BP’s support of arts and culture, in 2010 through the BP Foundation we also provided a significant grant to the Basra Museum which helped to establish the new museum that celebrates the rich cultural history of Iraq.
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In 2015, in response to the appalling destruction by Daesh (also known as so-called Islamic State, ISIS or IS) of heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, the British Museum developed a scheme which, in the face of frustration and outrage, could offer something positive and constructive. The ‘Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme’, or simply ‘Iraq Scheme’, received the support of the UK government, and the Museum was granted £2.9m over five years of Official Development Assistance (ODA) through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). The scheme, which became a pilot project for the Cultural Protection Fund, builds capacity in the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage by training 50 of its staff in a wide variety of sophisticated techniques of retrieval and rescue archaeology.