A rocky crag, called Qal'at Sherqat in Arabic, towers high above a bend of the river Tigris. Shaped like the prow of a ship, this cliff rises 40 meters above the valley, providing shelter and opportunities for the people that first settled there about 5,000 years ago. This is the site of the ancient city of Assur and the temple at its heart. This sanctuary is dedicated to the god Aššur. That god and city share the same name is no coincidence. The city was seen as a manifestation, an extension, another dimension of the deity. The rocky cliff on which the city and the temple in its centre were founded was the god. As a mountain deity, Aššur was inseparable from the city, and the temple at Assur was the god's only shrine. A ruler called Ušpia, who lived in the 3rd millennium BC, was credited by the later inhabitants of Assur with the construction of the earliest version of the huge temple complex that occupied the top of the crag. For well over 2,500 years, the people of Assur cared for the sanctuary, until its last manifestation was destroyed in 240 AD during the Sasanian conquest of Mesopotamia. The basic relationship of the god Aššur and the Assyrian rulers was defined by their belief that “the god Aššur is king, and I am the representative of the god Aššur”. For the first half of documented Assyrian history, the title of king, šarru in Assyrian, was reserved only for the god, while the ruler governing on his behalf was known either as waklu, which means “overseer of a group of people”, or iššakku, which means “city lord”, or šangû, the highest sacred office, which we usually translate as “priest”. These titles emphasise different aspects of his role, and taken together, neatly sum up the basic job description of the Assyrian ruler: that he held an office that was religious in nature, and focused on a specific city, namely Assur, and that he led the city's inhabitants. The ruler was seen as the divinely chosen instrument of Aššur, his human agent and representative invested by the deity's grace with the power and duty to lead. He provided religious and spiritual guidance to the people of his city. But in contrast to the pharaohs of Egypt, for example, who are deemed to be living gods, the Assyrian ruler was not thought to be a god himself, but merely divinely chosen and inspired. One may compare this concept of legitimation to that of the Catholic Pope. His influence was balanced by the political power wielded by the city assembly. Where the heads of Assur's family clans represented the collective citizen body. The traditional division of power in Assur can be described as a parliamentary monarchy, where the head of state is not actively involved in governmental leadership. This is instead carried out by parliament, in Assur's case, the city assembly. However, in the 14th century BC, the nature of the realm and its organization changed drastically, from a city-state to a territorial state. And when the former overlord, Mittani's frailty was exploited, not only did Assur break free, but it won additional territories by war. The new state included most of northern Iraq, and a century later, also large parts of Syria and some regions in eastern Turkey. At the same time, also the nature of the Assyrian ruler underwent a dramatic change. Aššur-uballiṭ was the first to take the title of king for himself, thereby openly demanding much more power than any of his predecessors. His traditional religious and spiritual authority was now enhanced by the claim to military leadership. Success in war was seen as divinely granted, and every victorious ruler demonstrated, therefore, that he enjoyed the favor of the god Aššur, as well as the other gods of the rapidly expanding state. The city-state Assur also had not been known for its prowess on the battlefield, but the kingdom of Assyria was now a leading military power. As agent of the god Aššur, King Aššur-uballiṭ was now both high priest, and high commander of the army, and this combination of power made him and his successors the most powerful men in the realm. The parliamentary monarchy of the city-state of Assur turned into the absolute monarchy of the kingdom of Assyria. The royal family held a very special status in Assyrian society. Only its male members were eligible to kingship. On occasion, there were usurpations and succession wars, as killing the predecessor did not disqualify the perpetrator from taking the crown. Like victory in battle, prevailing over one's rivals was seen as divine favour and an expression of divine grace. But all Assyrian rulers, until the disintegration of the kingdom, around 600 BC, were without exception, descended through the male line from this one family, making it one of the longest serving royal houses of all time. No wonder, then, that the Assyrian king came to be seen as a being not only superior to ordinary humans, but also quite separate from them. According to a poem about the creation of mankind, the gods were thought to have fashioned the king in a separate act after having already created mankind. “Ea, the god of wisdom, opened his mouth to speak, saying to Belet-ili, the goddess of creation, you are Belet-ili, the sister of the great gods. It was you who created man, the human. Fashion now the king, the human advisor. Shape the whole of his figure so pleasingly, make perfect his countenance, and well-formed his body. And Belet-ili fashioned the king, the human adviser.” In accordance to this idea, the Assyrian king was required to be a perfect specimen of a man in body and mind. A eunuch, for example, as a castrated man, was therefore automatically disqualified from kingship due to his mutilation. We will discuss this and other reasons why eunuchs made excellent aids to the royal house in Module Four. Some 500 years after Aššur-uballiṭ's first adoption of the title of king, we can observe another big change to the character of the Assyrian ruler. In 879 BC, the city of Assur was stripped of its traditional role as the seat of political power. The royal court, and with it the state administration, moved to Kalhu, an ancient but hitherto unremarkable city some 70 kilometres north of Assur. Assyria in the 9th century BC was a state like no other in the region. Once it reclaimed the territories it had lost 200 years before, in the course of the Late Bronze Age System Collapse, the kingdom exceeded its neighbours many times over in extent and manpower. The Assyrian king capitalised on the success of the reconquest, and assumed a new role as overlord over his neighbours. Assyria was now an imperial power, commanding not only its own territories, but also those of the neighbouring states that had to accept Assyrian leadership. The new capital, Kalḫu, was conceived and created to express this new imperial power, its architecture designed to overwhelm and impress anyone who visited it. But the creation of the new centre was also part of a wider strategy designed to strengthen the position of the king at the expense of the old urban elites. The days when the city assembly of Assur wielded political power in the state were now gone for good. And perhaps even more importantly, by leaving the city of Assur, the king also left the god Aššur behind, who was so deeply and intimately connected to his place. At Kalḫu, there was no temple for Aššur. Many other sanctuaries were erected for the great gods of Assyria, but even combined, their shrines were smaller in size than the enormous royal palace. At Kalhu, the king, and no god, was centre stage of the realm. The king who engineered this truly radical departure from tradition, and who thus emancipated Assyrian kingship from the god Aššur was called Ashurnasirpal, the second of his name. The images that he chose as decoration for the throne room in his new palace at Kalḫu were designed to convey a twofold ideological message to all visitors. The first message was that King Ashurnasirpal controlled all lands making up the empire. To that end, orderly, calm scenes of audiences and tribute delivery showed the king interacting with his dutiful subjects and clients. On the other hand, chaotic, violent scenes of conquest and siege highlighted how the king reacted to resistance. The second message communicated by the decoration of the throne room concerned the relationship of the king with the god Aššur. This message was communicated in only one image, but this was depicted twice, and in the two most prominent spots in the long hall. On the wall opposite the main entrance, and again at the far end above the platform on which the royal throne stood. In this way, as visitors entered the room, they could not avoid taking notice of the image. It showed King Ashurnarsirpal with the god Aššur, and emphasised that despite the kings radical move away from Assur and the temple of Aššur, the relationship between the god and the king was as close and strong as ever. An angel-like creature, a winged protective spirit, stands behind the king, guarding him. The king raises his right hand in the typical Assyrian gesture of worship to the god. The scene is shown twice, on either side of the god. This is meant to indicate that this was not a particular moment in time, but timeless, eternal. The god Aššur is shown in human, yet disembodied form as the divine counterpart of the king, in the shape of a bearded man wearing the distinctive fez like headdress of the Assyrian ruler, and holding the emblem of kingship, a circle. A winged disk surrounds his figure, stressing the god's ethereal otherworldliness. It hovers above a holy symbol that we today call the sacred tree. This imagery powerfully suggests that the King did not need the temple at Assur in order to commune with the god. So strong was their link that the blessed king himself served as a conduit to the deity. The king did not not need to be in Assur to be with Aššur. This carefully calibrated message was disseminated across the empire in the shape of portable art such as cylinder seals that copied the distinct image. It played a key part in the fact that the people of Assyria accepted the drastic break with tradition that took the king away from Assur and out of the god's shadow. With Aššur’s blessing, the king's power was absolute no matter where he was. None of King Ashurnarsirpal's successors ever resided in Assur again. Assyria, and with it the world, had come to see the Assyrian king no longer as the pawn of the god Aššur, but as the master of the universe in his own right.