From inscriptions on palace walls and incisions in cuneiform tablets, he was styled “Great King, the Mighty King, King of Assyria, King of Sumer and Akkad, the King of the World.” Those titles might seem exaggerated today, but for his time, they just might have been warranted. For almost 40 years, Ashurbanipal reigned over the Assyrian Empire and ruled over the largest kingdom of its time—and perhaps the greatest up to the seventh century B.C.
When trying to discuss Ashurbanipal’s greatness as a world leader, understanding what his contemporaries, the Assyrians, meant by “world” is vital. Their world was Mesopotamia, but Assyria’s holdings extended farther than that—from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, and from Egypt to the mountains of southeastern Turkey. The Assyrians were certainly aware that beyond lay other lands, peoples, tribes, and cities, but they referred to what was outside their realms as “empty lands:” territories of no interest, occupied by uncivilized people with nothing of value to offer.