Ugarit Corbel.jpg
Entrance to the royal palace at Ugarit
Ugarit is located in Syria
Shown within Syria
Location Latakia Governorate, Syria
Coordinates 35°36′07″N 35°46′55″E / 35.602°N 35.782°E / 35.602; 35.782
Type settlement
Founded ca. 6000 BC
Abandoned ca. 1190 BC
Periods Neolithic—Late Bronze Age
Cultures Canaanite
Events Bronze Age Collapse
Site notes
Excavation dates 1928–present
Archaeologists Claude F. A. Schaeffer
Condition ruins
Ownership Public
Public access Yes
Excavated ruins at Ras Shamra.

Ugarit[1] was an ancient port city in the eastern Mediterranean at the Ras Shamra headland[2] near Latakia, Syria. It is located near Minet el-Beida ("White Harbor") in northern Syria. It is some seven miles north of Laodicea ad Mare and approximately fifty miles east of Cyprus. Ugarit sent tribute to Egypt and maintained trade and diplomatic connections with Cyprus (called Alashiya), documented in the archives recovered from the site and corroborated by Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery found there. The polity was at its height from ca. 1450 BC until 1200 BC.



Though the site is thought to have been inhabited earlier, Neolithic Ugarit was already important enough to be fortified with a wall early on, perhaps by 6000 BC. Ugarit's location was forgotten until 1928 when a peasant accidentally opened an old tomb while ploughing a field. The discovered area was the Necropolis of Ugarit located in the nearby seaport of Minet el-Beida. Excavations have since revealed a city with a prehistory reaching back to ca. 6000 BC, that was important perhaps because it was both a port and at the entrance of the inland trade route to the Euphrates and Tigris lands.

The first written evidence mentioning the city comes from the nearby city of Ebla, ca. 1800 BC. Ugarit passed into the sphere of influence of Egypt, which deeply influenced its art. The earliest Ugaritic contact with Egypt (and the first exact dating of Ugaritic civilization) comes from a carnelian bead identified with the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senusret I, 1971 BC – 1926 BC. A stela and a statuette from the Egyptian pharaohs Senusret III and Amenemhet III have also been found. However, it is unclear at what time these monuments got to Ugarit. Amarna letters from Ugarit ca. 1350 BC records one letter each from Ammittamru I, Niqmaddu II, and his queen.

Boar rhyton, Mycaenean ceramic imported to Ugarit, 14th–13th century BC (Louvre)

From the 16th to the 13th century BC Ugarit remained in constant touch with Egypt and Cyprus (named Alashiya).


The last Bronze Age king of Ugarit, Ammurapi, was a contemporary of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma II. The exact dates of his reign are unknown. However, a letter[3] by the king is preserved, in which Ammurapi stresses the seriousness of the crisis faced by many Near Eastern states from invasion by the advancing Sea Peoples in a dramatic response to a plea for assistance from the king of Alasiya. Ammurapi highlights the desperate situation Ugarit faced:

My father, behold, the enemy's ships came (here); my cities(?) were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots(?) are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?...Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.[4]

Unfortunately for Ugarit, no help arrived, and the city was burned to the ground at the end of the Bronze Age. Its destruction levels contained Late Helladic IIIB ware, but no LH IIIC (see Mycenaean period). Therefore, the date of the destruction of Ugarit is important for the dating of the LH IIIC phase in mainland Greece. Since an Egyptian sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah was found in the destruction levels, 1190 BC was taken as the date for the beginning of the LH IIIC. A cuneiform tablet found in 1986 shows that Ugarit was destroyed after the death of Merneptah (1203 BC). It is generally agreed that Ugarit had already been destroyed by the 8th year of Ramesses III (1178 BC). Recent radiocarbon work indicates a destruction between 1192 and 1190 BC.[5]

Whether Ugarit was destroyed before or after Hattusa, the Hittite capital, is debated. The destruction is followed by a settlement hiatus. Many other Mediterranean cultures were deeply disordered just at the same time, apparently by invasions of the mysterious "Sea Peoples."

Kings of Ugarit

Language and literature


Scribes in Ugarit appear to have originated the "Ugaritic alphabet" around 1400 BC: 30 letters, corresponding to sounds, were inscribed on clay tablets; although they are cuneiform in appearance, that is impressed in clay with the end of a stylus, they bear no relation to Mesopotamian cuneiform signs. A debate exists as to whether the Phoenician or Ugaritic "alphabet" was first. While the letters show little or no formal similarity, the standard letter order (preserved in the latin alphabet as A, B, C, D, etc.) shows strong similarities between the two, proving that the Phoenician and Ugaritic systems were not wholly independent inventions.[6]

Ugaritic language

The Ugaritic language is attested in texts from the 14th through the 12th century BC. Ugaritic is usually classified as a Northwest Semitic language and therefore related to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician, among others. Its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic and Akkadian. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive); three numbers: (singular, dual, and plural); and verb aspects similar to those found in other Northwest Semitic languages. The word order in Ugaritic is verb–subject–object (VSO); possessed–possessor (NG) (first element dependent on the function and second always in genitive case); and nounadjective (NA) (both in the same case (i.e. congruent)).[7]

Ugaritic literature

Apart from royal correspondence with neighboring Bronze Age monarchs, Ugaritic literature from tablets found in the city's libraries include mythological texts written in a poetic narrative, letters, legal documents such as land transfers, a few international treaties, and a number of administrative lists. Fragments of several poetic works have been identified: the "Legend of Kirtu," the "Legend of Danel", the Ba'al tales that detail Baal-Hadad's conflicts with Yam and Mot, and other fragments. [8]

The discovery of the Ugaritic archives in 1929 has been of great significance to biblical scholarship, as these archives for the first time provided a detailed description of Canaanite religious beliefs, during the period directly preceding the Israelite settlement. These texts show significant parallels to Biblical Hebrew literature, particularly in the areas of divine imagery and poetic form. Ugaritic poetry has many elements later found in Hebrew poetry: parallelisms, meters, and rhythms. The discoveries at Ugarit have led to a new appraisal of the Old Testament as literature.

Ugaritic religion

The important textual finds from the Ras Shamra (Ugarit) site shed a great deal of light upon the cultic life of the city.[9]

The foundations of Ras Shamra, the Bronze Age city, were divided into "quarters." In the north-east quarter of the walled enclosure the remains of three significant buildings were unearthed; the temples of Baal and Dagon and the library (sometimes referred to as the high priest's house). Within these structures atop the acropolis numerous invaluable mythological texts were found. Since the 1930s these texts have opened some initial understanding of the Canaanite mythological world. The Baal cycle represents Baal's destruction of Yam (the chaos sea monster), demonstrating the relationship of Canaanite chaoskampf with those of Mesopotamia and the Aegean: a warrior god rises up as the hero of the new pantheon to defeat chaos and bring order.


A Baal statuette from Ugarit.

The site is a sixty-five foot high mound. A brief investigation of a tomb at Minet el-Beida being ransacked by locals was conducted by Léon Albanèse in 1928, who also examined the main mound of Ras Shamra.[10] The first scientific excavations of Ugarit were undertaken by archaeologist Claude Schaeffer from the Musée archéologique in Strasbourg in 1929.[11] Work continued under Schaeffer until 1970, with a break from 1940 to 1947 because of World War II.[12][13]

The excavations uncovered a royal palace of ninety rooms laid out around eight enclosed courtyards, and many ambitious private dwellings. Crowning the hill where the city was built were two main temples: one to Baal the "king", son of El, and one to Dagon, the chthonic god of fertility and wheat.

On excavation of the site, several deposits of cuneiform clay tablets were found; all dating from the last phase of Ugarit, around 1200 BC. These represented a palace library, a temple library and—apparently unique in the world at the time—two private libraries, one belonging to a diplomat named Rapanu. The libraries at Ugarit contained diplomatic, legal, economic, administrative, scholastic, literary and religious texts. The tablets are written in Sumerian, Hurrian, Akkadian (the language of diplomacy at this time in the ancient Near East), or Ugaritic (a previously unknown language). No less than seven different scripts were in use at Ugarit: Egyptian and Luwian hieroglyphs, and Cypro-Minoan, Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Ugaritic cuneiform.

During excavations in 1958, yet another library of tablets was uncovered. These were, however, sold on the black market and not immediately recovered. The "Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets" are now housed at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, School of Religion, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California. They were edited by Loren R. Fisher in 1971.[14]

After 1970, the excavations were led by Henri de Contenson followed by Jean Margueron, Marguerite Yon, and then Yves Calvet and Bassam Jamous in succession ending in 2000.[15]

In 1973, an archive containing around 120 tablets was discovered during rescue excavations; in 1994 more than 300 further tablets were discovered on this site in a large ashlar building, covering the final years of the Bronze Age city's existence.

The most important piece of literature recovered from Ugarit is arguably the Baal cycle, describing the basis for the religion and cult of the Canaanite Baal.

There is also the famous hymn tablet to the moon goddess Nikkal. Offers both words and music, which were a series of 2-toned intervals played up a 9-string lyre. See Prof Anne D. Kilmer. 1984. "A Music Tablet from Sippar(?): BM 65217 + 66616". Iraq 46:69–80. This covers all 6 readable tablets up to that time.

See also


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