Copyright British Museum

Food fit for a king, but perhaps not for a modern gourmet. The Assyrian ruler Assurbanipal (668–627 B.C.E.) reclines on a plush royal divan during a feast celebrating the defeat, in about 646 B.C.E., of the rebellious Elamites, a people who lived to the east of the Tigris River. Four attendants fan him and Queen Ashur-sharrat, left, as they sip from decorated bowls in this relief from the North Palace at Nineveh.

The discovery of three cuneiform tablets inscribed with Mesopotamian recipes challenged scholar-gourmets to attempt to replicate the ancient royal cuisine. The results have been mixed: One scholar declared that the fare was fit only for his worst enemies, but another attempt met with a resounding success.