Modern Ras Shamra, a large (greater than 20 hectares [50 acres]) commercial entrepôt slightly inland from the Syrian coast, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Latakia. Ugarit (Egyptian ʿIkrit, Akkadian U-ga-ri-it) prospered during the second millennium BCE because of the agricultural richness of the large (greater than 2,000 square kilometers) kingdom of the same name that it controlled and its important role in maritime and overland trade. The palace archives of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE provide abundant evidence for the commercial, political, religious, and social history of the town. The port of ancient Ugarit is at nearby Minet el-Beidha, about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) west of Ras Shamra; a second Ugaritic coastal settlement, founded in the mid thirteenth century BCE, lies about 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the southwest, at Ras Ibn Hani.

Following the accidental discovery of a burial cave at Minet el-Beidha in 1928, the French Archaeological Mission initiated excavations at Ugarit in 1929 and has continued working there almost every year since, under the direction of Claude F. A. Schaeffer, Henri de Contenson, Jean Margueron, and, most recently, Marguerite Yon. Ugarit's five major stratigraphic levels cover more than five thousand years of settlement history. The earliest evidence for occupation (Level VC = Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period) dates to the seventh millennium BCE, while the latest stratum (Level I = Late Bronze Age) ended in the early twelfth century BCE. The excavation of Minet el-Beidha was conducted by Schaeffer between 1929 and 1935, while that of the Late Bronze Age settlement at Ras Ibn Hani took place between 1975 and 1995 as a joint Franco-Syrian project headed by Jacques Lagarce and Adnan Bounni.

The early history of Egyptian relations with Ugarit is unclear. Several Egyptian stone vessels of late Predynastic and Early Dynastic period dates have been found at the site, but their find-spots (mostly Late Bronze Age contexts) suggest that they reached Ugarit long after their time of manufacture. Any commercial or political relationship between Ugarit and Egypt during the third millennium BCE (the time of Level IIIA) was probably of little significance, unlike that between Byblos and Egypt.

A variety of Egyptian Middle Kingdom objects have come from the excavations at Ugarit (or were purchased at Latakia) and are said to be from the site. The items containing royal names include a carnelian bead and a cylinder seal naming Senwosret I, a fragmentary seated statue of Princess Khnemetneferkhedjet, and fragments of a sphinx of Amenemhet III. Parts of several Egyptian nonroyal statues (including a statue group of the vizier Senwosretankh and his family) have also been found at Ugarit. Because the excavated items derive mostly from contexts after the early second millennium BCE, some of this material may have reached Ugarit later in the Middle Bronze Age or during the Late Bronze Age. The number of objects involved, combined with the occurrence of numerous Middle Kingdom royal-name objects at Byblos, make it more likely, however, that the royal finds represent diplomatic gifts from the Egyptian court to the local rulers of Ugarit. There is no mention of Ugarit in the Egyptian Execration Texts. The evidence for relations between Egypt and Ugarit during the Second Intermediate Period is limited to a few alabaster (calcite) vessels found in tombs dating to the second half of the Middle Bronze Age.

Connections between Egypt and Ugarit expanded significantly during the Late Bronze Age, when Ugarit became a major emporium for Egyptian maritime trade in the eastern Mediterranean, especially that with Cyprus. The name of the town first appears in New Kingdom topographical lists in the reign of Amenhotpe III (the long-supposed mention of Ugarit in the records of Amenhotpe II's Syrian campaign of his seventh year of reign is now generally dismissed). By the early fourteenth century BCE, the town and kingdom of Ugarit were already a vassal of Egypt.

Ugarit is the source of at least two cuneiform tablets in the diplomatic archive from Tell el-Amarna (Amarna Letters EA 45, 49); it probably is the source of three others (EA 46–48) and is mentioned in five additional letters (EA 1, 89, 98, 126, 151). In Letter 45, Ammistamru I, the ruler of Ugarit professes his loyalty to the Egyptian king (evidently Amenhotpe III); in Letter 49, Ammistamru's successor, Niqmadu II, asks Amenhotpe IV to send him a physician. Niqmadu appears along with an Egyptian princess or noblewoman on a fragment of an alabaster vessel from the palace, suggesting a diplomatic marriage linking Egypt and its Ugaritan vassal kingdom late in the reign of Amenhotpe III or IV. Ugarit (especially the palace area of the site) has yielded Egyptian alabaster vase fragments containing the names of Amenhotpe II, Amenhotpe III, Queen Tiye, Nefertiti, and Horemheb, as well as many uninscribed alabaster vessels. A Ugaritic tablet from the palace mentions a king Nmry, a name some scholars identify with the prenomen of Amenhotpe III. Small scarabs of Thutmose IV and Amenhotpe III have also been found at Ugarit as has one of the large marriage scarabs of Amenhotpe III and Tiye (the latter item coming from the palace). During the Amarna period, the Hittites moved down into Syria, and much of the northern Levant that had formerly been under Egyptian hegemony was lost. Ugarit was integrated into the Hittite Empire, which ruled the kingdom through its representative in Syria, the king of Carchemish.

Relations between Egypt and Ugarit probably continued through the late eighteenth dynasty and into the nineteenth, though at a reduced level of activity. Following the peace treaty that the Hittites and Egyptians signed in regnal year 21 of Ramesses II, contacts expanded substantially. Egyptian and Egyptianizing finds are numerous at Ugarit for the period covering the remainder of the thirteenth and early twelfth centuries BCE: several alabaster vessels inscribed with the names of Ramesses II, as well as many uninscribed alabaster vessels; a bronze sword containing the cartouche of Merenptah; several statues of nonroyal figures and gods; a nonroyal stela containing a dedication to the god Baal-Saphon; and various amulets, scarabs, and other small items. Close relations between Egypt and Ugarit are also attested by several letters found on cuneiform tablets: the earliest of these letters (tablet RS 20.182) was sent by the king of Ugarit to Ramesses II, while the latest (RS 86.2230) was sent by the well-known late nineteenth dynasty Egyptian official of Near Eastern origin, Bay, to the last ruler of Ugarit, Ammurapi. In addition, a cuneiform tablet found at Aphek near Tel Aviv contains a letter datable to the reign of Ramesses II from the governor of Ugarit, Takuḫlinu, to an Egyptian official, ḫaya, regarding a transaction involving the purchase of wheat at Joppa for Ugarit.

The town of Ugarit suffered massive destruction early in the twelfth century BCE, probably at the hands of the Sea Peoples, and Ras Ibn Hani evidently was abandoned just shortly before Ugarit's demise. Following a brief reoccupation of the town, perhaps by squatters, Ugarit was left abandoned until the Persian period, while Ras Ibn Hani saw almost immediate resettlement.

Bibliography

  • Giveon, Raphael. “Ugarit.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie 6: 838–842. Weisbaden, 1986. History of Egyptian relations with Ugarit.
  • Helck, Wolfgang. “Ägyptische Statuen im Ausland—Ein Chronologisches Problem.” Ugarit-Forschungen 8 (1976), 101–115. Author contends that the Middle Kingdom statuary found in various foreign places (including Ugarit) got there as a result of the looting of Egyptian sites during the early Hyksos period.
  • Lackenbacher, Sylvie. “Une correspondance entre l'administration du pharaon Merneptah et la roi d'Ougarit.” In Le pays d'Ougarit autour de 1200 av. J.-C., edited by Marguerite Yon et al., pp. 77–83. Ras Shamra-Ougarit, 11. Paris, 1995. Preliminary report on a letter sent from the Egyptian administration to the king of Ugarit.
  • Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore, 1992. Includes excellent translations of the letters pertaining to Ugarit.
  • Schaeffer, Claude F.-A. Ugaritica III. Mission de Ras Shamra, 8. Paris, 1956. Pp. 164–226 contain articles on the “Marriage Vase” of Niqmadu II, the bronze sword containing Merenptah's cartouche, and the marriage scarab of Amenhotpe III and Tiye.
  • Ward, William A. “Remarks on some Middle Kingdom Statuary found at Ugarit.” Ugarit-Forschungen 11 (1979), 799–806. Author argues that some of the twelfth dynasty statuary found at Ugarit may come from contexts contemporary with that period.
  • Yon, Marguerite, ed. Arts et industries de la pierre. Ras Shamra-Ougarit, 6. Paris, 1991. Individual chapters contain much information on the Egyptian and egyptianizing alabaster vessels, stelae, sculpture, and other stone items from Ugarit.
  • Yon, Marguerite. “The End of the Kingdom of Ugarit.” In The Crisis Years: The 12th Century B.C.: From Beyond the Danube to the Tigris, edited by William A. Ward and Martha Sharp Joukowsky. Dubuque, 1992. Study of the last years of Ugarit and the kingdom's relations with Egypt.
  • Yon, Marguerite. “Ugarit.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, vol. 6, pp. 695–706. New York, 1992. Recent summary of the archaeological history of the site.
  • Young, Gordon Douglas, ed. Ugarit in Retrospect: Fifty Years of Ugarit and Ugaritic. Winona Lake, 1981. Proceedings of symposium honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the start of excavations at Ugarit; contains several essays relating to Egypt.

James M. Weinstein