FOR the procession of tourists that begins this time of year to swarm in ever increasing numbers through London's great British Museum, the famed Elgin Marbles may be the museum's best-known treasure. But equally magnificent in their way are the bas-reliefs (see color pages) from the palace of Assurbanipal, King of Assyria in the 7th century B.C. These shallow tablets recall an empire that once included Egypt on the south and Asia Minor on the north, with all the Fertile Crescent in between.

According to the nameless artists whose duty it was to record his glory, Assurbanipal was as fierce as he...

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