Photo by C. Lenars/EXPLORER, Paris

Vigilantly guarding the sacred royal precincts, this relief carving of an Assyrian dignitary once adorned a wall of the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 B.C.) in ancient Kalhu, modern Nimrud in Iraq. According to Simo Parpola (“Sons of God”), Assyrian art presents a theology of kingship, in which rulers are portrayed as semi-divine beings responsible for maintaining the vitality of the cosmos. Associated with the gods Ashur and Ishtar, as well as with the sacred Tree of Life, Assyrian kings are worldly manifestations of the divine.