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Entrance to the Palace of Ugarit

Ugarit (modern site Ras Shamra رأس شمرة; in Arabic) 35°35´ N; 35°45´E) was an ancient cosmopolitan port city, sited on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria a few kilometers north of the modern city of Latakia. Ugarit was at its height about 1450 BC to 1200 BC. Ugarit sent tribute to Egypt and maintained trade and diplomatic connections with Cyprus, documented in the archives recovered from the site and corroborated by Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery found there.



Ugarit's location was forgotten until 1928 when an Alawite peasant accidentally opened an old tomb while plowing a field. The discovered area was the Necropolis of Ugarit. Excavations have since revealed an important city that takes its place alongside Ur and Eridu as a cradle of urban culture, with a prehistory reaching back to c. 6000 BC.

Most excavations of Ugarit were undertaken under extreme political conditions by archaeologist Claude Schaeffer from the Prehistoric and Gallo-Roman Museum of Strasbourg.


Though the site was inhabited earlier, Neolithic Ugarit was already important enough to be fortified with a wall in 6000 BC.

Later Structures

The Excavations uncovered a royal palace of 90 rooms laid out around eight enclosed courtyards, many ambitious private dwellings, including two private libraries (one belonging to a diplomat named Rapanu) that contained diplomatic, legal, economic, administrative, scholastic, literary and religious texts. Crowning the hill on which 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 on the site, several deposits of cuneiform clay tablets were found, constituting a palace library, a temple library and, apparently unique in the world at the time, two private libraries, all dating from the last phase of Ugarit, about 1200 BC. The tablets found at this cosmopolitan center are written in four languages: Sumerian, Akkadian (the language of diplomacy in the ancient Near East), Hurrian and Ugaritic of which nothing was known when the discoveries were made. No less than seven different scripts were in use at Ugarit: Egyptian and Hittite hieroglyphic, and Cypro-Minoan, Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Ugaritic cuneiform.

During excavations in 1958 another library 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, Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California. They were edited by Loren R. Fisher in 1971. 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 that cover the last years of the Bronze Age City's existence.


The first written evidence naming the city comes from the nearby city of Ebla, c. 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 Sesostris I, 1971 BC-1926 BC. A stela and a statuette from the Egyptian pharaohs Sesostris II and Amenemhet III have also been found.

Later Ugarit fell under the control of new tribes related to the Hyksos (probably Hurrians or Mitannians) who mutilated the Egyptian-style monuments. During its high culture, from the 16th to the 13th century BC, Ugarit remained in constant touch with Egypt and Cyprus.

The last Bronze Age king of Ugarit, Hammurapi/'Amurapi, was a contemporary of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma II. The exact dates of his reign are unknown. Ugarit was destroyed at the end of the Bronze Age. The destruction levels contained Late Helladic IIIB ware, but no LH IIIC (see Mycenaean period). Therefore, the date of the destruction is important for the dating of the LH IIIC-phase. As an Egyptian sword bearing the name of pharaoh Merneptah was found in the destruction levels, 1230 was taken as date for the beginning of the LH IIIC. A cuneiform tablet found in 1986 shows that Ugarit was destroyed after the death of Merneptah, that is, after 1190, probably 1195 BC. It is generally agreed that Ugarit was already destroyed in the 8th year of Ramses III. 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, maybe by invasions of the mysterious 'Peoples of the Sea.'


Scribes in Ugarit appear to have originated the ugaritic alphabet about 1400 BC; 30 letters, corresponding to sounds, were adapted from cuneiform characters and inscribed on clay tablets (but cf. Byblos). Eventually the Phoenician heirs of Ugaritic culture spread the alphabet through the Aegean. Compared to the difficulty of writing Akkadian in cuneiform, the flexibility of an alphabet opened a literate horizon to many more kinds of people.The very limited literacy of Minoan culture at contemporary Knossos may be compared to Ugarit.

Ugaritic literature

Ugaritic literature from tablets found in the libraries include mythological texts written in a narrative poetry, letters, legal documents such as land transfers, a few international treaties, and a number of adminitrative lists. Fragments of several poetic works have been identified: the "Legend of Keret," the "Legend of Dan-el" the "Myth of Baal-Aliyan" the "Death of Baal" and other fragments. Ugaritic poetry has many elements later found in Hebrew poetry: parallelisms, meters, rhythms. The discoveries at Ugarit have led to a new appraisal of the Old Testament as a literature. Some references to historical events, and even mythological concepts that appear in the Bible, also appear on the clay tablets from Ugarit.

Ugaritic Religion

Ugaritic religion centered on the chief god, El, the 'father of mankind, 'the creator of the creation,' titles that were to have counterparts in the Elohim of Israel. In 1 Kings 22:19-22, we read of Yahweh meeting with his heavenly council, the very description of heaven which one finds in the Ugaritic texts. The most important of the lesser gods were Baal (familiar to all readers of the Bible), Asherah (also familiar to readers of the Bible), Yam (the god of the stormy sea) and Mot (the god of death). What is of great interest here is that 'Yam' is the Hebrew word for sea and 'Mot' is the Hebrew word for death.

Ugarit also had profound influence on the religious cult of the Canaanites and Philistines that succeeded it, and not indirectly on religious practices developing in the succeeding kingdom of Israel.

Kings of Ugarit

Last kings of Ugarit according to cuneiform sources:

???? - 1349 ‘Ammittamru I
1349 - 1315 Niqmaddu II
1315 - 1313 Arhalba
1313 - 1260 Niqmepa
1260 - 1235 ‘Ammittamru II
1235 - 1220 Ibiranu
1220 - 1215 Niqmaddu III
1215 - 1185 ‘Ammurapi

See also: Ugaritic language, Ugaritic alphabet

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