UGARIT , ancient city located about 7 mi. (11 km.) north of Latakia. Though it is not mentioned in the Bible, its discovery has had a profound effect on biblical studies, especially in the fields of religion, literature, and language.
The ancient mound of this city, known as Ras Shamra ("Hill of Fennel"), first came to the attention of modern scholars after a Syrian farmer accidentally uncovered a stone from the roof of a well-built tomb chamber containing Cypriot and Mycenean pottery. C. Virolleaud, then director of archaeological works for the (French mandatory) government of Syria, first excavated the tomb in 1928. In the following year the Mission de Ras Shamra under the direction of Claude F.A. *Schaeffer began systematic excavations that continued into the 1970s except for several years during World War ii.
Nine seasons from 1929 to 1937 were devoted to the seaport at Mînet el-Beiḍa (classical Leucos limen, "White Harbor") and to the acropolis on the western half of the tell, where two temples, one to Dagon and the other to Baal, were found; between them was the high priest's house, containing a rich collection of literary texts. The site of the town rises c. 65 ft. (20 m.) above the surrounding plain and stands about 3,980 ft. (1,200 m.) from the bay. Its total surface area is 22 hectares. From 1937 to 1939 and from 1948 to 1955 work was concentrated on the northwestern corner of the mound, where stables, various important residences, and above all the royal palace, were uncovered. The palace archives have furnished invaluable historical and social data. From 1953 to 1958 a large residential quarter came to light, and during the years 1959–66 the craftsmen's quarter on the south side of the tell was investigated. Some private archives have provided both legal and literary texts. An abundance of artifacts including statuettes, bowls, and other objects of bronze and gold have been found in various points on the mound.
The basic chronology for prehistoric Ras Shamra has been established by a series of deep soundings and can be briefly summarized thus: Level v, Neolithic, five meters of deposit beginning from the pre-pottery to the later ceramic Neolithic Age (seventh–fifth millennia b.c.e.); Level iv, early phase represented by wares of Hassuna and Tell Halaf (early fifth millennium b.c.e.), later phase with influence from el-Ubaid (c. 4500–4000); Level iii c and b, Chalcolithic (4000–3000 b.c.e.); Level iii a1 and a2, Early Bronze Age (3000–2350), probably destroyed during one of the campaigns of the rulers of the Akkad Dynasty – throughout this long period the settlement developed into a formidable city with ample storage space for surplus grains, etc.; Level iii a3 reflects the nomadic invasion by foreign elements that settled on the ruins of the previous civilization – they were the "torque wearers," whose only traces at this site are their tombs (c. 2250 to 2050 b.c.e.).
History – Middle Bronze (2050–1500 b.c.e.)
After the disappearance of the "torque wearers" a new ethnic element, the Amorites, became the dominant people of the Levant. The new urban center which they built at Ras Shamra must have arisen shortly before approximately 2000 b.c.e. (Level ii). The pharaohs of the 12th dynasty (1990–1780) strove to maintain strong diplomatic and commercial ties with Ugarit, as evidenced by the presence of numerous statuettes and other objects. The earliest known thus far is a bead inscribed with the cartouche of Senusret i (1971–1928); this is followed by the statuette of a queen of Senusret ii (1897–1877) and two sphinxes of Amenhemet iii (1842–1797). Other statues include that of an Egyptian vizier and his family and those of other priests and important women. Since Ugarit is not mentioned in the Egyptian Execration Texts, there is no reason to suppose that the city was under the direct suzerainty of Egypt.
In the later Middle Bronze Age, Ugarit is mentioned a few times in texts on the Euphrates. Hammurapi, king of Yamhad (Aleppo), wrote to Zimri-Lim (c. 1779–1761), king of *Mari, informing him that the ruler of Ugarit wanted to see the famous palace at Mari. Another letter, by an official who was evidently writing to Zimri-Lim, suggests that the latter planned a trip to Ugarit. Five other references to Ugarit appear in unpublished economic texts. The city was obviously one of the flourishing "Amorite" city-states of the Old Babylonian Age. The "Amorite" origin of the dynasty at Ugarit is also reflected in the rulers' names, which are also attested as Amorite in a later age. The "dynastic seal" used by kings of Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age was of Old Babylonian style and bears the name of Yaqarum son of Niqmaddu; one of these two, either the father or the son, was probably the founder of the dynasty. These two names also appear at the end of an unpublished list of deified rulers. A man from Ugarit is recorded on an administrative list from neighboring *Alalakh (Level vii) just slightly later than the Mari texts. During the 1969 excavations, Schaeffer began to uncover the palace from this period.
History – Late Bronze (1500–1100)
There are two allusions to Ugarit in the later Alalakh tablets (Level iv) from the 15th century b.c.e. One is an epistle or agreement having to do with thieves and the other is a fragment. A letter found at Ugarit from Niqmepa (of Alalakh?) to a certain Ibira, probably ruler of Ugarit, can be dated to about the same period; the subject was a fugitive groom. The dynastic roster alluded to above included three kings named Ibrn (for Ibiranu); one of them may have been this 15th-century Ibira(nu).
Though Thutmose iii (1490–1436) does not claim the conquest of Ugarit in his northern campaigns, he did overrun the neighboring states of Alalakh, Nughasse, and Niyi. A vase found at Ugarit is inscribed with the name of Thutmose iii. In addition, Amenhotep ii (1436–1416) apparently made a thoroughgoing foray into Ugarit's territory on his first campaign as sole ruler. The name of Ugarit is preserved only imperfectly in his annals; the initial error must have occurred in the first "historical" digest prepared as a preliminary to making the inscriptions. It would appear that the local ruler was loyal to the pharaoh and had an Egyptian garrison in his city. Another faction was plotting against the pro-Egyptian king. Amenhotep ii quelled the rebellion in the countryside and pacified the city.
The next information about Ugarit pertains to Ammistamru i, a contemporary of Amenhotep iii (1405–1367). He appealed to the pharaoh for help, evidently when the Hittite Suppiluliumas (1375–1335) was making his first foray into northern Syria. He seems to have had a dispute with a certain Niqmepa of Amurru. Other Tell *el-Amarna letters lacking the name of the sender must have come from Ugarit about this time or during the reign of Ammistamru's successor, Niqmaddu ii. They indicate that the ruler of Ugarit was a loyal "servant" of the pharaoh. A scarab and some vase fragments found at Ugarit bear the name of Amenhotep iii. The commercial relations between Ugarit and Egypt under this pharaoh are further illustrated by an epistle, apparently from the overseer of Ugarit's main port, Maʾh-adu (Mînet el-Beiḍa), addressed to Nimmuria (praenomen of Amenhotep iii). It is no surprise, therefore, that Ugarit is mentioned in a topographical list of Amenhotep iii.
The next ruler of Ugarit, Niqmaddu ii, seems to have continued his allegiance to Egypt. His portrait appears on the side of an alabaster vase; before him stands a lovely Egyptian maiden. She is evidently of noble birth and represents a marriage tie between Ugarit and Egypt. Niqmaddu sent a letter to Egypt asking for two Cushite page boys and a physician. His loyalty to the next pharaoh, Amenhotep iv (1367–1350), is proven by the name of the latter and of his wife, Nefertiti, on other alabaster vases discovered at Ugarit.
During the First Syrian War of Suppiluliumas in which he defeated the Mitannians and subdued the pro-Mitannian states of northern Syria, the Hittite ruler recognized that Ugarit was more closely allied to Egypt than to Mitanni and thus made the very clever offer to Niqmaddu of an alliance against the neighboring states of Mugish and Nughasse. These latter had also sought Niqmaddu's support against Suppiluliumas and had attacked Ugarit when he refused. Hittite troops were sent to rescue Ugarit. The ensuing conflict resulted in a conclusive Hittite victory throughout the area. Niqmaddu was rewarded with large portions of territory taken from Mugish on the north and Nughasse on the east. A report from Tyre to the pharaoh to the effect that Ugarit's palace had been burned may pertain to this affair.
Niqmaddu thus became a loyal vassal of the Hittites. Just as his father had clashed with the expansionist rulers of Amurru, so he and his own vassal, Abdi-khebat of Siyannu, ran foul of Baʿluya, brother of the infamous Aziru (probably while the latter was called to Egypt to give an accounting).
After Aziru's return, he continued the feud until he too was compelled to submit to Hittite rule. Since both states were now vassals of the same overlord, a treaty was arranged between them. Henceforth, the entire coastline from Ugarit to Byblos was subject to the Hittites.
Later, in the seventh year of Mursilis (c. 1334–1306), Niqmaddu was asked to furnish troops against his neighbors who were staging an Egyptian-inspired revolt. He evidently did so, and the revolt was suppressed; but just at this time he was followed on the throne by his son Arkhalbu, the only ruler of Ugarit to bear a Hurrian name. It would appear that pro-Egyptian elements at Ugarit had staged a coup at the instigation of Pharaoh Horemheb (c. 1335–1309; whose inscribed vases were also found in the Ugaritic palace); this would explain Ugarit's inclusion in a topographical list by that pharaoh. A second revolt by Nughasse, to which Ugarit may have been partner, was smashed by Mursilis who then removed Arkhalbu and placed his brother, Niqmepa, on the throne of Ugarit. The size of the kingdom was much reduced and even Siyannu was taken out of Ugarit's jurisdiction.
Niqmepa was the ruler of Ugarit who joined the Hittite allied forces in their confrontation with Pharaoh Ramses ii (1290–1224) at the battle of Kadesh (1285). He continued to reign for a considerable time after Mutawallis' death (1282). Under Hattusilis (1275–1250), his kingdom enjoyed a renewed era of wealth and prosperity, doubtless facilitated by the peace treaty between Hatti and Egypt. Ugarit's position as a key center in the Hittite imperial economy is illustrated by the fact that the Hittite king agreed to restrain the activity of even his own merchants from Ura (in Cilicia) vis-à-vis Niqmepa. Another decree by Hattusilis prevented Ugaritic citizens from deserting their own sovereign and fleeing to the ʿapiru territory, i.e., they could not escape the jurisdiction of Niqmepa by joining the freebooters.
At the demise of Niqmepa, there seems to have been some dispute over the succession. Two sons of Niqmepa's widow Ahatmilku (formerly a princess from Amurru), Hishmisharruma and Abdi-sharruma, committed an act of treason (lit. a "sin") against the new incumbent, Ammistamru ii. The queen mother was held responsible for seeing that the rebels took their shares of personal property and went into exile to Alashi (on Cyprus).
Ammistamru's domestic troubles were just beginning. He decided to divorce his own Amorite wife and apparently discovered, after she had gone back to her home country, that she had not only been a troublemaker but had also committed a "great sin" against him – probably adultery. Various attempts were made to adjudicate the affair, first before the Hittite viceroy in Carchemish and later before the emperor in Hattusas, now Tudkhaliyas. After certain acts of hostility between Ugarit and Amurru, the emperor imposed a settlement. The erring lady was returned to Ammistamru and promptly executed; in return an indemnity payment was made to her brother, the king of Amurru. Certain difficulties arise from the documents pertaining to this case; in fact, two separate women may be involved though it seems most unlikely that Ammistamru would have taken a second wife from Amurru after divorcing the first.
When the Assyrians (probably under Shalmaneser i; 1274–1245) began to put pressure on the eastern Hittite frontier, Ammistamru was not required to furnish support troops, but a payment of 50 minas of gold was imposed upon him as financial backing for the war. Neighboring Amurru did have to send troops.
The next ruler of Ugarit was Ibiranu, another son of Ammistamru (rather than the son of the deposed Amorite wife). A certain indifference toward the Hittites can be discerned in his failure to present himself at the capital and in his not sending the customary gifts upon his accession to the throne. His recalcitrant attitude may have been the result of the new Assyrian threat under Tukulti-Ninurta i (1244–1208). This time the Hittites were not content to accept money in lieu of soldiers. Ibiranu tried to stall, but they sent an officer to muster the troops of Ugarit.
Ibiranu was followed by his son Niqmaddu iii, whose reign must have been short. The last known king at Ugarit bore the name Hammurapi. Under the leadership of the last Hittite monarch, Suppiluliumas ii, he was more cooperative than his predecessors. The reason is clear; a new threat was looming, this time on the western horizon. The Ugaritic fleet was the backbone of Hittite resistance by sea. Tablets still baking in the kiln when the palace was finally destroyed tell the sad tale of failure and retreat in the face of an advancing foe. Some Ugaritic ships were lost near Cyprus; there was apparently an advance raid on the coast of Ugarit while the rest of the fleet was away. Land forces from Ugarit, led by the king, had joined the Hittites in an attempt to stem the tide of enemy troops advancing from the west and north.
Ugarit was sacked and burned in a mighty conflagration. Its civilization remained buried until the excavator's spade revived it in modern times. The small colony of Hellenic tradespeople that lived for a time at Ras Shamra during the Iron Age had no idea of the rich cultural treasures buried beneath their feet.
The Late Bronze Age archives from Ugarit provide a unique source for the study of social structure and institutions in the Levant on the eve of the Israelite conquest. Geographically and politically Ugarit was never a part of *Canaan; in fact, a Canaanite at Ugarit was listed like any other foreigner. The most prominent element in the Ugaritic population was West Semitic; but there were also many Hurrians there who seem to have been considered an integral element in the society. Unlike neighboring Alalakh, Ugarit has furnished administrative records in both the standard lingua franca, Akkadian, and the West Semitic dialect of the indigenous population, *Ugaritic. Thus many West Semitic equivalents for Akkadian social and political terms are available.
Ugarit was a monarchical despotism ruled by a dynasty that apparently had its roots in the previous "Amorite" culture of the Levant (cf. above). The kings, though themselves vassals of the Hittite emperor (and of the pharaoh before that), were recognized by international law as the absolute lords of all persons and real estate in their realm. At least for a time, the neighboring state(s) of Siyannu-Ushnatu stood in a vassal relationship to Ugarit.
By virtue of his ownership of all the lands in the kingdom, the king of Ugarit was able to provide estates for all his loyal supporters, especially the aristocracy of officials, soldiers, and other noble classes (including the priesthoods). In return, the landholders were obligated to serve the crown. A person who committed treason against the state or who fell hopelessly into debt to a foreign creditor would lose his patrimony. If an estate were left temporarily without an adult male to fulfill the incumbent duties to the crown, the king would protect the widow as well as his own interests.
The upper class included the principal palace officials such as the high commissioners (rābiṣū) and the overseers (sākinu), whose offices were either identical or parallel (the former term is Akkadian, the latter West Semitic). Scribes (tupšarrū/‡sāpirūma) had the great responsibilities of keeping official records and composing correspondence; many of them rose to higher government positions. There was also an elite band of "royal acquaintances," who shared special privileges in the palace.
Yeoman classes included various craftsmen, such as carpenters, shipwrights, metalsmiths, cooks, fowlers, etc. Many of these lived in a special quarter of the city (cf. above). Farmers and herdsmen were doubtlessly located in the many village precincts throughout the realm. Little is known about the administration of the local town or village. Sometimes a whole town would be given to a high-ranking officer as his patrimony. Overseers and village headmen governed most of the others. Each township was responsible for furnishing a certain number of man-days, evidently for corvée labor, each year. The peasantry was doubtless employed in the cultivation of the nobles' estates.
Ugarit's role as a major metropolitan focus of international trade is underlined by the presence of numerous foreign elements in the personnel rosters. Assyrians, Hittites, Egyptians, and Canaanites all made their way to Ugarit on diplomatic and commercial missions. The Ugaritic merchant fleet sailed the entire eastern Mediterranean from Egypt to Caphtor. The evidence from written records has been abundantly confirmed by the material finds produced in excavation. Vessels of gold and ivory reflect artistic styles of Semitic and other cultural traditions. Alabaster vessels testify to frequent and close contacts with Egypt (whenever political factors permitted).
C.F.A. Schaeffer (ed.), Ugaritica, vols. 1–6 (Mission de Ras Shamra, vols. 3, 5, 8, 9, 16, 17 (1939–69)); J. Nougayrol, Le palais royal d'Ugarit, vols. 3, 4 (Mission de Ras Shamra, vols. 6, 9, 11 (1955–70)); Ch. Virolleaud, Le palais royal d'Ugarit vols. 2, 5 (Mission de Ras Shamra, vol. 7, 11 (1957, 1965)); K.A. Kitchen, Suppiluliuma and the Amarna Pharaohs (1962); M. Liverani, Storia di Ugarit nell' età degli archivi politici [= Studi Semitici, 6] (1962); J.M. Sasson, in: jaos, 86 (1966), 126–38; M.C. Astour, in: American Journal of Archaeology, 69 (1965), 253–58; idem, in: Orientalia, 38 (1969), 381–414; idem, in: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 13 (1970), 113–27; M.S. Drower, in: cah2, 2 (1968), ch. 21. add. bibliography: M.S. Smith, Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century (2001); D. Psrdee, "Ugaritic Studies at the End of the 20th Century," in basor, 320 (2000), 49–86; W.G.E. Watson and N. Wyatt (eds.), Handbook of Ugaritic Studies [Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abteilung 1: Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten, Band 39] (1999).
An ancient city whose ruins form the mound (65 feet high and covering c. 63 acres) of Ras Shamra on the Syrian coast eight miles north of modern Latakia. Excavations have been conducted at this site by C. F. A. Schaeffer for the French Académie des Inscriptions annually, except in war years, since 1929. Before the accidental discovery by a farmer of an ancient tomb, which prompted this archeological undertaking, W. F. Albright had already localized at the spot the scattered references in Egyptian, Hittite, and Akkadian documents to the city of Ugarit.
The Late Bronze Age City. Apart from minor Iron Age and Hellenistic settlements, the excavations have revealed five strata that indicate a relatively continuous occupation from the 6th millennium to c. 1200 b.c., when Ugarit was definitively destroyed by the Sea Peoples. The top stratum (c. 1550–1200 b.c.) is of permanent importance for Old Testament and ancient historical studies; the first half of this period represents the golden age of Ugarit.
Structures that have been excavated include: two temples dedicated to baal and dagon, respectively; a temple library; the royal palace with 67 rooms and halls; two royal archive buildings and three private archives and libraries; royal stables; a warehouse containing numerous storage jars more than 40 inches high; hundreds of private homes, under many of which were found well-built tombs, often in Mycenaean style; and excellent drainage systems. The contents of the houses and tombs have been most diversified. Two gold bowls represent the finest examples of the Canaanite goldsmith's craft yet found. One bronze cache unearthed from beneath the floor of the high priest's house numbered 74 tools and weapons, five of which bore alphabetic cuneiform inscriptions showing they were the property of the high priest. Another cache included a large anvil and a double ax of Cretan style. In a goldsmith's house were found a number of weights and some molds for jewelry and ornaments. The king's palace, uncovered between 1950 and 1953, yielded a trumpet, two feet long, carved from a single elephant's tusk and bearing in relief and engraving, near the mouthpiece, a naked goddess guarded by sphinxes with outspread wings. This palace also contained the largest single ivory carving discovered in the Near East, a footboard 40 inches wide and 20 inches high, with 16 panels carved in a style mainly Egyptian. The central panel shows a standing goddess, probably Asherah, to judge from the literary mythological references; she is represented giving suck to two royal children standing in front of her. The pottery finds at Ras Shamra are among the most abundant and variegated in the Near East.
Languages and Literature at Ugarit. The most precious discoveries, however, are the thousands of clay tablets inscribed in seven different languages: Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Cypro-Minoan Linear B, and Ugaritic. The Akkadian texts, which alone number in the thousands (texts in Akkadian and Ugaritic found in the 1959 campaign alone filled 30 cases) are mainly juridical, administrative, commercial, and epistolary in nature. Of unusual philological importance are a quadrilingual lexicon, found in 1958, listing words syllabically written, in Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Ugaritic, and a Canaanite wisdom text, also written in Akkadian, which contains epigrams such as, "Where you put your wallet, tell not your wife."
The excavations of 1929 brought to light scores of clay tablets and fragments covered with a cuneiform script of Mesopotamian type, but differing in the form and number of the signs. This new script was deciphered within a year of the publication of the hand copies. The number of signs (30) led to an inference that the writing was alphabetic; the individual words, often separated by a word divider, generally contained three radicals, sometimes four, and rarely five. These observations, coupled with the fact that the tablets were discovered in Canaanite territory, prompted the hypothesis, fully confirmed in the decipherment, that the language was Semitic. H. L. Ginsberg labeled it Ugaritic. The precise linguistic classification of Ugaritic within the Semitic family has been continuously debated. The view that it is a Canaanite dialect—some prefer to call it a Northwest Semitic dialect— whose closest linguistic affinities are with the poetic sections of the Hebrew Bible seems to be the most reasonable. Religious texts, letters, diplomatic documents, recipes for curing ailing horses, administrative, statistical, and commercial documents, and several a-b-c tablets were written in this script, as well as literary texts in the strict sense. These last are of the greatest interest; they contain myths and legends of the Canaanites of the 2d millennium b.c., and enable the historian of religion to formulate the ethical ideals and the religious beliefs of the pre-Biblical Canaanites. The longest text, the Baal Cycle, a pure myth about the gods, is really a series of episodes narrating the contests between Baal, the god of the storm and fertility, and his two principal adversaries, Sea and Mōt (or Death, the god of aridity and sterility). The Legend of Keret tells about a just King Keret whose entire family is tragically wiped out. Through the counsel of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, who appears to him in a dream, Keret leads a military expedition to capture a wife who will bear him numerous offspring. The Legend of Aqhat, which is half myth and half legend, recounts how the childless King Daniel, through the intercession of Baal, is blessed with a son. This son, Aqhat, is later slain by the goddess Anat because he refuses to hand over to her a bow and some arrows given to him by the divine artisan Kothar. A curious composition, which seems to be a religious libretto, describes the birth of Shahar, the god of dawn, and Shalim, the god of evening, whom two wives bear to El. There is also a hymn that celebrates the marriage of the goddess Nikkal to the moon-god Yarikh.
Though the actual tablets discovered date to the period c. 1400 to 1350 b.c., the original composition of these myths and legends is considerably earlier; the Baal Cycle may go back even to the 3d millennium. Materials much more limited in quantity in a reduced cuneiform alphabet of 22 letters, corresponding to the standard Canaanite-Hebrew alphabet of the Iron Age, and attributable to the 13th century b.c., have also been found.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Ugaritic discoveries. In 1937 R. Dussaud rated the Ugaritic tablets as the most important discovery ever made in the realm of Biblical studies. New excavations at the site and subsequent progress in the study of the contents
of the Ugaritic tablets fully bear out the accuracy of Dussaud's evaluation.
Bibliography: c. f. schaeffer, The Cuneiform Texts of Ras Shamra-Ugarit (London 1939). c. h. gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Analecta Orientalia 38; Rome 1965), grammar, texts in transliteration, glossary; Ugaritic Literature (Rome 1949). h. l. ginsberg, "Ugaritic Myths, Epics, and Legends," j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton 1955). t. h. gaster, Thespis (rev. ed. New York 1961). g. r. driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh 1956). j. gray, The Legacy of Canaan: The Ras Shamra Texts and Their Relevance to the Old Testament (Vetus Testamentum Suppl 5; 2d ed. 1964).
[m. j. dahood]