Ugarit

By the Editors of the Madain Project

  • This article is a stub as it does not provide effective content depth for the core subject discussed herein. We're still working to expand it, if you'd like to help with it you can request expansion. This tag should be removed, once the article satisfies the content depth criteria.
    What is this?

Ugarit (ʾUgarītu) was an ancient coastal city located in northern Syria, near present-day Latakia. It was accidentally uncovered in 1928 along with the Ugaritic texts. The archaeological remains of the city are commonly referred to as Ras Shamra, named after the nearby headland where these ruins are situated.

Overview

The ancient city of Ugarit had close ties to the Hittite Empire, occasionally offering tribute to Egypt, and establishing trade and diplomatic relations with Cyprus, referred to as Alashiya at that time. These connections are well-documented in the recovered archives from the site, and further supported by the presence of Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery discovered there. The prominence of Ugarit reached its zenith around 1450 BCE and endured until its demise around 1185 BCE, a destruction possibly attributed to the purported Sea Peoples, climate change or environmental shifts or even internal conflicts. The kingdom was among the many entities dismantled during the Bronze Age Collapse.

The remains appear to have covered the whole tell of Ras Shamra, the Late Bronze Age capital of Ugarit.

Although ancient Ugarit is not directly mentioned or related to the Biblical spectrum, but it does help us understand the Late Bronze Age period of Biblical history and broader world at the time. Even though the Ugarite writting and culture is not Canaanite per se, but it does seem to revolve around the same characters and themes that we know from the Biblical texts to be part of Canaanite culture. For instance the Ugarite people seem to share a pantheon with the Canaanites. Ugaritic and Hebrew, both are classified as north-west Semitic languages.

Brief History

circa

During the Neolithic period, Ugarit held significance, evident in its early fortification with a wall, potentially dating back to around 6000 BCE, though the site's habitation likely predates this period. Ugarit's strategic importance stemmed from its dual role as a port and a gateway to the inland trade route leading to the Euphrates and Tigris regions. The city experienced its zenith from 1800 to 1200 BCE, establishing itself as a dominant coastal kingdom centered around trade. Ugarit engaged in commerce with various civilizations, including Egypt, Cyprus, the Aegean, Syria, the Hittites, and much of the eastern Mediterranean.

The earliest written records mentioning Ugarit can be traced back to around 1800 BCE in clay tablets from the nearby city of Ebla. Ugarit subsequently fell under the influence of Egypt, which left a profound impact on its art and culture. The earliest documented interaction between Ugarit and Egypt, marking the precise dating of Ugaritic civilization, is noted in a carnelian bead linked to the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senusret I, reigning from 1971 to 1926 BCE. Additionally, artifacts such as a stela and a statuette from the Egyptian pharaohs Senusret III and Amenemhet III have been discovered, although the timing of their arrival in Ugarit remains uncertain. Furthermore, Amarna letters dating back to around 1350 BCE, found in Ugarit, include correspondence from Ammittamru I, Niqmaddu II, and his queen.

Throughout the second millennium BCE, Ugarit maintained regular contact with Egypt and Alashiya (Cyprus) from the 16th to the 13th century BCE. During this period, Ugarit's population was predominantly Amorite, and the Ugaritic language is believed to have a direct Amoritic origin. The kingdom of Ugarit possibly governed an average area of about 2,000 square kilometers. At some points in its history, Ugarit may have been geographically located close to, if not directly within, the Hittite Empire.

The ancient city of Ugarit is believed to have been sacked during the reign of Ammurapi (circa 1215 to 1180 BCE), the last Bronze Age king of Ugarit who was a contemporary of the last known Hittite king, Suppiluliuma II.

Notable Structures

circa

Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Ugarit served as the official residence for the rulers of the ancient Ugarit kingdom situated along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. The palace complex was enclosed by a fortified wall dating back to the fifteenth century BCE, constructed from ashlar stone blocks and wooden crossbeams, covered with a thick layer of plain plaster. This defensive wall, built with stones at its base that inclined at a 45-degree outward slope. The construction features follow the architectural style typical of palaces in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ancient Near East. The palace itself displays an irregular outline and an asymmetrical layout, indicative of continuous additions and modifications.

On the northern side of the palace, three underground burial chambers were discovered. These chambers featured corbelled vaults, demonstrating architectural connections to Hittite and Mycenaean styles.

circa

Royal Tombs
Since most of the remains excavated so far date back to the Late Bronze Age, the majority of the underground burial crypts or tombs that have been discovered so far (some 200) are believed to date to the same period. Usually the deceased were buried in underground burial chambers, sometimes very well constructed with vaulted roofs, under the houses. Though it was suggested that each house in Ugarit may have have possesed a underground tomb, but after extensive excavations it was noted that the distribution of tombs within the domestic quarters of the city was more complex, as some houses had no tomb at all and some had more than one. It is also noted that the integration of the burial chambers in the housing district was deliberate and planned. The tombs not only featured on the initial building plans but were constructed at the same time as the foundations.

The plan of the tombs was usually simple, and were often placedunderneath two adjoining rooms corresponding to it two main elements, a funerary or burial chamber and an entrance corridor (dromos).

circa 1500-1200 BCE

Entrance Tower
The enclosure wall, which does not survive much today, of the ancient city of Ugarit was built on a base of slanted props tipped up (glacis). From the mid-fifteenth to late fourteeenth century BCE; the entrance to the city was built at an angle passing through the fortification tower, entring from the north and then turning eastwards to enter the city. This passage through the massive tower lead to a small open space in front of the palace precinct. During this period a second access portal or postern gate (inspect) was located on the southern side of the tower which provided access to the royal temenos through an angled vaulted passageway built over a set of stair.

During the later period (circa thirteenth to twelfth century BCE) this lower gate or the secret gate was filled with earth and a ramp was constructed leading up to the tower entrance. At this time the northern portal of the tower-gate was closed up and a new access was opened on the western side of the fortification tower. This may have been done in order to make the royal access to the city easier, and this tower-gate may have been made exclusive for the royality and nobility.

Notable Artefacts

circa 1500 BCE

Baal with Thunderbolt
The Baal with Thunderbolt, also known as the Baal stele or as Baal with the Vegetation Spear, is a bas-relief stele made of white limestone originating from the ancient kingdom of Ugarit in northwestern Syria. Unearthed in 1932, approximately 20 meters from the Temple of Baal within the acropolis of Ugarit, this discovery was made during excavations led by French archaeologist Claude F. A. Schaeffer. Depicting Baal (or Hadad), the Aramean god associated with storms and rainfall, the stele is regarded as the most significant among the Ugaritic stelae. It is currently showcased at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

In the stele's central portrayal, Baal faces to the right while standing on a substantial pedestal. Carved representations on the pedestal depict Baal's domains of power—mountains and the sea. Baal is depicted with a raised right hand, wielding a club or battle-mace overhead, while his left hand extends forward, holding a thunderbolt shaped like a spearhead that points toward the ground. The spear's shaft takes on the form of a plant, likely a cultivated grain symbolizing nourishment by the storm. The bearded god wears a helmet adorned with bull's horns, beneath which his braided hair cascades over his back and right shoulder. Baal appears solely in a kilt with striped embellishments, held by a finely carved wide belt that also secures a curved dagger.

Adjacent to the spear and the god, a smaller figure stands on a horned altar. Presumably representing the king of Ugarit, this figure is portrayed with a bare head, donning ceremonial attire. The king's hands are clasped in prayer and concealed under a robe adorned with braiding.

circa 1400-1200 BCE

Baal Statue
It is a small statue of Canaanite god Baal that was discovered at the ancient site of Ugarit. It is now housed in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

circa 1300 BCE

Hippopotamus Ivory Duck Container
It is a small Ivory container in the shape of a duck from the ancient city of Ugarit, discovered during the 1931 CE field excavation season. It is now housed at the Louvre, designation no. A011601.

circa 1300-1200 BCE

Ugaritic Texts
The "Ugaritic texts" refer to a collection of ancient clay-tablet writings discovered in the city of Ugarit, an ancient city-state located on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in what is now modern-day Ras Shamra, Syria. These texts provide valuable insights into the language, culture, religion, and administration of the people of Ugarit during the Late Bronze Age, approximately from the fourteenth to the twelfth century BCE.

The Ugaritic texts or the Ugarite texts are written in a script derived from the cuneiform writing system, but the language itself belongs to the Northwest Semitic language family. Ugaritic is considered one of the earliest known forms of the Canaanite languages.

The discovery of the Ugaritic texts is credited to the French archaeologist Claude F. A. Schaeffer, who led excavations at Ugarit in the 1920s and 1930s CE. The texts were found on clay tablets and cover a wide range of topics, including religious and mythological literature, administrative and economic records, diplomatic correspondence, and lexical lists.

One of the most significant aspects of the Ugaritic texts is their contribution to the understanding of the religious beliefs of the ancient Canaanites. The texts contain myths, hymns, and rituals related to the Ugaritic pantheon, which includes gods such as El, Baal, Anat, and others. The poetic and literary quality of some of these texts is noteworthy.

Gallery Want to use our images?

See Also

References

Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy



Top