Source: Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Wisdom Literature.
From the Oxford University Press edition published in 1963, reprinted in 1996 by Eisenbrauns, here included for aid in research and studies purposes

Modern scholarship has brilliantly succeeded in proving wrong the assumption that Mesopotamian kings were typical despots, following their own whims and unchallenged within their domains. Indeed, a closer look at the extant body of Mesopotamian literature reveals exactly the contrary, as put so well by Professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1992):

"Instead of capricious gods acting only in the pursuit of their own desires, we meet deities concerned with the proper ordering of the universe and the regulation of history. Instead of divine cruelty and arrogance, we find deliberation and understanding. Instead of lawlessness and violence, we see a developed legal system and a long tradition of jurisprudence. Instead of immoral attitudes and behavior, we find moral deliberation, philosophical speculation and penitential prayer. Instead of wild orgiastic rites, we read of hymns, processions, sacrifices and prayers. Instead of the benighted paganism of Western imagination, cuneiform literature reveals to us an ethical polytheism that commands serious attention and respect." (pages 2-3, of Professor Frymer-Kensky´s exceptional work In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, Fawcet-Columbine, New York, 1992).

The Advice to a Prince illustrates how a king should behave towards his people setting out to caution him against the divine retribution which will overtake him should he oppress his subjects. At the end, the king´s officers are similarly warned.

The text is written on a tablet from the libraries of Assurbanipal, and no duplicate copy has yet been found. The writer has imitated the style of omens, once the Mesopotamians believed that the future could be ascertained from current events. The literary form, on the other hand, was well suited for warnings to a king. The aim of the text is clearly to protect the rights of the citizens of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon from taxation, forced labour and misappropriation of their property. These are duties of any righteous sovereign, and the main flaws of an arrogant despot. The picture that emerges from the annonymous king in the text is of a very weak king vainly trying to become great. The loose style of the piece suggests one of the kings of Babylon between 1000 and 700 BCE (by Lishtar)


1. If a king does not heed justice, his people will be thrown into chaos and his land will be devastated.

2. If he does not heed the justice of his land, Ea, king of destinies, 3. Will alter his destiny and he will not cease from hostilely pursuing him.

4. If he does not heed his nobles, his life will be cut short.

5. If he doe snot heed his adviser, his land will rebel against him.

6. If he heeds a rogue, the status quo in his land will change.

7. If he heeds a trick of Ea, the great gods 8. In unison and in their just ways will not cease from prosecuting him.

8. If he improperly convicts a citizen of Sippar, but acquits a foreigner, Shamash, judge of heaven and earth, 10. Will set up a foreign justice in his land, where the princes and judges will not heed justice

11. If citizens of Nippur are brought to him for judgement, but he accepts a present and improperly convicts them 12. Enlil, lord of the lands, wil bring a foreign army against him 13. to slaughter his army, 14. whose prince and chief officers will roam his streets like fighting-cocks.

15. If he takes silver of the citizens of Babylon and adds it to his own coffers, 16. Of if he hears a lawsuit involving men of Babylon but treats it frivolously, 17. Marduk, lord of Heaven and earth, will set his foes upon him, 18. And will give his property and wealth to his enemy.

19. If he imposes a fine on the citizens of Nippur, Sippar or Babylon, 20. Of if he puts them in prison, 21. The city where the fine was imposed will be completely overturned, 22. And a foreign enemy will make his way into the prison in which they were put.

23. If he mobilized the whole of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon, 24. And imposed forced labour on the people, 25. Exacting from them a corvée at the herald´s proclamation, 26. Marduk, the sage f the gods, the prince, the counsellor, 27. Will turn his land over to his enemy 28. So that the troops of his land will do forced labour for his enemy, 29. For Anu, Enlil and Ea, the great gods, 30. Who dwell in heaven and earth, in their assembly affirmed the freedom of those people from such obligations.

31, 32. If he gives the fodder of the citizens of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon to his own steeds, 33. The steeds who eat the fodder 34. Will be led away to the enemy´s yoke, 35. And those men will be mobilized with the king´s men when the national army is conscripted.

36. Mighty Erra, who goes before his army, 37. Will shatter his front line and go at this enemy´s side.

38. If he looses the yokes of their oxen, 39. And puts them into other fields 40. Or gives them to a foreigner, [...] will be devastated [...] of Addu.

41. If he seizes their ... stock of sheep, 42. Addu, canal supervisor of heaven and earth, 43. Will extirpate his pasturing animals by hinger 44. And will amass offerings for Shamash.

45. If the adviser or chief officer of the king´s presence 46. Denounces them (i.e. the citizens of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon) and so obtains bribes from them, 47. At the command of Ea, king of the Apzu, 48. The adviser chief officer will die by the sword, 49. Their place will be covered over as a run, 50. The wind will carry away their remains and their achievements will be given over to the storm wind.

51. If he declares their treaties void, or alters their inscribed treaty stele, 52. Sends them on a campaign or press-gangs them into hard labour, 53. Nabu, scribe of Esagila, who organizes the whole of heaven and eath, who directs everyting, 54. Who ordains kingship, will declare the treaties of his land void , and will decree hostility.

55. If either a shepherd or a temple overseer, or a chief officer of the king, 56. Who serves as a temple overseer of Sippar, Nippur or Babylon 57. Imposes forced labour on them (i.e. the citizens of Sippar, Nippur and Babylon) in connection with the temples of the great gods, 58. The great gods will quit their dwelling i their fury and 59. Will not enter their shrines.


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