Where in the world can you sit in silence and yet have access to all quarters of the earth?
Where in the world can you find a theme park of the imagination alongside a cathedral of great minds?
Let me give you a hint. It is a place that has the smell of ancient knowledge and the feeling of freedom hidden between paragraphs and letters.
A library (including our virtual E-library!) is all of this and more. For me, it is the perfect cross between a lifesaver buoy and joyful merriment.
Who are we to thank for this wonderful idea?
It all started with the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal (died ca. 630 B.C.).
He was a literate intellectual and a passionate collector of texts and tablets, but also a ruthless warrior that hunted lions in his free time.
Ashurbanipal spent years making Nineveh, his favourite city, beautiful. His palace was opulent and the surrounds magnificent, but he was not satisfied.
“Is that enough? Will it last after I am dead? Will anyone know of my greatness 100 years from now?”
The birth of a ground-breaking idea
One night, while reading a clay tablet found in the ruins of Babylon’s old walls, he realized that texts like these will keep history alive. He set his new idea into action and ordered his scribes to collect all the tablets they could find. He also summoned them to go out and ask the people of Assyria to repeat the stories from their grandfathers and grandmothers. The scribes wrote them on clay tablets to preserve them forever.
The birth of the first library.
In the end, Ashurbanipal’s royal library had a collection of 30 000 tablets and other writings. It was separated by content and kept in different rooms. It contained royal letters, literary works, divination, magical, medical, admin and legal texts.
Unfortunately, Ashurbanipal’s Empire came to ruin as Nineveh was destroyed in 612 B.C. by Babylonia. The fire that raged in the library, destroyed many writings, but also helped with the preservation process of the clay tablets.
Leaving a legacy that changed the world.
In 1849, British archaeologists rediscovered the royal library in Nineveh and transported the clay tablets to their new home in the British Museum.
Ashurbanipal’s wish came true. Although many of the writings were destroyed in the Assyrian wars, the ones that are left is a constant reminder of Ashurbanipal: the first librarian who was also a king.