He wasn’t meant to be king
Despite being one of Assyria’s greatest kings, Ashurbanipal wasn’t destined for the throne, as he was a younger son of the king.
When his eldest brother and the heir to the throne died, his father Esarhaddon passed over the next eldest son Shamash-shum-ukin, and made Ashurbanipal crown prince instead. This was a bold (and perhaps a slightly foolish) move. Esarhaddon’s own father had been brutally murdered by his sons after he put their younger sibling (i.e. Esarhaddon) on the throne!
Shamash-shum-ukin, would have been pretty annoyed about the decision to bypass him. As a consolation, Esarhaddon made Shamash-shum-ukin king of Babylon. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, not quite. At this time, Babylon was part of the Assyrian empire so he would essentially have to answer to his younger brother! Tensions would later explode into all-out war.
‘At the command of the great gods, [my father] greatly preferred me over the assembly of my elder brothers.’
He worked as a spymaster
When Ashurbanipal was appointed crown prince, he started his training to be king. He learnt royal etiquette, important military skills and was instructed in scholarship. He shadowed his father in court where he could learn the way of Assyrian kingship.
He also worked as a spymaster for his father, gathering information from agents across the empire and compiling intelligence reports. This helped to develop Ashurbanipal’s knowledge of the empire – and learn who his potential enemies were.