The Flood Tablet  Room 55

Copyright British Museum

The Flood tablet – A piece of the world’s oldest literature



There are many oral traditions in the world telling of a great flood that covered the earth. One of these versions is found on the Flood Tablet of Gilgamesh

This Assyrian tablet tells the story of a plan by the gods to destroy the world by means of a great flood. Ut-napishti, like the biblical Noah, builds a huge boat to rescue his family and every type of animal.

Mesopotamian poets had told versions of the story of the flood for 2,000 years before this tablet was written for King Ashurbanipal’s Library. This version is part of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh – the first great epic of world literature. Gilgamesh is a hero who sets off on a quest for immortality. He battles with monsters and ultimately must confront his own nature and mortality.



One of the most remarkable things about clay tablets is that they survive at all. Had the Assyrians written with parchment, nothing would have remained of this great library.  This means that we have not just the words of the texts, but also the very clay manuscripts on which those texts were originally written.



  • The Flood Tablet is part of a collection of tablets which record the
    ancient Epic of GUgamesh. The epic tells the story of Gilgamesh, a
    legendary ruler, and his search for immortality. It is the longest
    literary work in ‘Akkadian’ which was the language of the Babylonian
    and Assyrian people.


  • The Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal (reigned 668-627BC), collected
    thousands of cuneiform tablets in his palace at Nineveh. They
    recorded legends and scientific information. The tablet of the Epic
    was found there in 1853.