Assyrian kings ruled the world's largest empire prior to the rise of Persia in the 6th century bc, consolidating lands from Iran to Egypt. In 879 bc the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II began building his new royal residence at Nimrud. Originally brightly painted, this is one of some 300 reliefs that decorated the palace. Masterfully executed with incised details and exaggerated musculature, this giant, fierce, protective spirit raises his right hand in a ritual salute. His left hand grasps a branch bearing rosettes, perhaps a stylized date palm. Across the center of the relief are inscribed lines of Akkadian cuneiform recounting military victories, conquests, plundered loot, and the reconstruction of the city. Destroyed in 612 bc, the palace lay buried for 24 centuries until rediscovered in 1845.