Ashurbanipal's Collection of Babylonian Proverbs


Joshua J. Mark
published on 18 January 2012

King Ashurbanipal collected over 30,000 clay tablets at Nineveh to establish easily the greatest library of his age. Though not nearly as well known as the sayings collected and preserved in the Biblical Book of Proverbs, the Babylonian proverbs preserved by Ashurbanipal are most likely older works and, possibly, a source of inspiration for the Biblical work (as the first proverbs in the Bible are thought to have been written circa 600 BCE while the Babylonian proverbs much earlier).  

King Ashurbanipal

What follows are selected Babylonian Proverbs from the collection of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria. The translation is that of George A. Barton, 1920.

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  1. A hostile act you shall not perform, that fear of vengeance (?) shall not consume you.
  2. You shall not do evil, that life (?) eternal you may obtain.
  3. Does a woman conceive when a virgin, or grow great without eating?
  4. If I put anything down it is snatched away; if I do more than is expected, who will repay me?
  5. He has dug a well where no water is, he has raised a husk without kernel.
  6. Does a marsh receive the price of its reeds, or fields the price of their vegetation?
  7. The strong live by their own wages; the weak by the wages of their children.
  8. He is altogether good, but he is clothed with darkness.
  9. The face of a toiling ox you shall not strike with a goad.
  10. My knees go, my feet are unwearied; but a fool has cut into my course.
  11. His ass I am; I am harnessed to a mule---a wagon I draw, to seek reeds and fodder I go forth.
  12. The life of day before yesterday has departed today.
  13. If the husk is not right, the kernel is not right, it will not produce seed.
  14. The tall grain thrives, but what do we understand of it? The meager grain thrives, but what do we understand of it?
  15. The city whose weapons are not strong the enemy before its gates shall not be thrust through.
  16. If you go and take the field of an enemy, the enemy will come and take your field.
  17. Upon a glad heart oil is poured out of which no one knows.
  18. Friendship is for the day of trouble, posterity for the future.
  19. An ass in another city becomes its head.
  20. Writing is the mother of eloquence and the father of artists.
  21. Be gentle to your enemy as to an old oven.
  22. The gift of the king is the nobility of the exalted; the gift of the king is the favor of governors.
  23. Friendship in days of prosperity is servitude forever.
  24. There is strife where servants are, slander where anointers anoint.
  25. When you see the gain of the fear of god, exalt god and bless the king.

Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

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Recommended Books



  • George A. Barton. Archaeology and the Bible. (Sunday School Publications, Philadelphia, PA, 1920)

Cite This Work

APA Style

Mark, J. J. (2012, January 18). Ashurbanipal's Collection of Babylonian Proverbs. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Mark, Joshua J. "Ashurbanipal's Collection of Babylonian Proverbs." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012.

MLA Style

Mark, Joshua J. "Ashurbanipal's Collection of Babylonian Proverbs." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 18 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2018.

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