Erich Lessing

With careworn features, melancholy eyes and clenched fists, this 18-inch-high, late-fourth-millennium B.C.E. alabaster bust of an unknown ruler of Uruk seems almost alive (and perhaps a little like Johnny Bench). His vivid, expressive features offer a stark contrast to later representations of Sumerian kings as idealized, godlike beings. According to author Jacob Klein, the notion of divine kingship did not take hold in Sumer until the late third millennium B.C.E., when King Shulgi (ruler of the Ur III dynasty from 2094 to 2047 B.C.E.) declared himself a divine being and an agent of the gods.