an ancient kingdom on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, whose capital of the same name was established on the mound of Ras Shamra, located 10 km (6 mi.) north of Latakia (35°36′ N, 35°47′ E). The mound of Ras Shamra is encircled by two small seasonal streams (Nahr Chbayyeb to the north and Nahr ed-Delbeh to the south) that join (Nahr el-Fidd) to flow into the bay of Minet el-Beida, about 800 m away; its broad agricultural plain divides the plateau of Bahluliyah, and the Alaouite Mountains from the sea. Five km (3 mi.) to the south lies the promontory of Ras Ibn Hani, where an Ugaritic settlement of the Late Bronze Age is located.
The kingdom extended for about 2,000 sq km (1,240 sq. mi.). It was bounded by the Mediterranean Sea (to the west); the Bayer and Bassit Mountains (to the north); the Alaouite Mountains (the so-called coastal chain of the Jebel Ansariyah), which are 1,567 m high (to the east); and the area of the Jableh and Nahr as-Sinn (to the south). A permanent river, the Nahr al-Kabir, drains the waters of the mountains to the north; its valley (to the northeast) opens the route to central Syria. On the northern horizon, the Jebel al-Aqra (1,780 m high) is ancient Mt. Sapanu (Mt. Zaphon; the Romans' Mt. Casius), where Baal, the storm god, resided.
The city visible on the surface of the mound is that of the Late Bronze Age (see figure 1). In its present state, it is defined by the surface area of the mound (more than 20 ha, or 49 acres), which does not correspond to the area of the LB town: to the northeast, more than 50 m were undermined by the meandering of the Nahr Chbayyeb; to the east, and especially the south, modern farming prevents examination of the extent of the ancient habitation.
In 1929, texts were recovered from the mound of Ras Shamra that were written in several languages. Among them was an otherwise unknown language, that of Ugaritic, inscribed in cuneiform writing according to a new alphabetic system. The texts revealed a new world of cultural, religious, and mythological traditions, essentially of the fourteenth–thirteenth centuries BCE, that further demonstrated the first-rank importance of Ugarit in the history of the Near East.
The interpretation of the texts discovered since 1929 at Ras Shamra led to the identification of the site as ancient Ugarit, mentioned in second-millennium BCE texts from Mari, Boğazköy, and Tell Amarna. Texts from Ebla have perhaps furnished the earliest mention of the name (2400 BCE) but it is questionable. [See Mari Texts; Boğazköy; Amarna Tablets; Ebla Texts.]
The port of Minet el-Beida is probably ancient Ma'ḫadu (Leukos Limen of the Greeks, the White Port of the Crusaders). There is some doubt about the ancient designation of the site of Ras Ibn Hani (Appu? Biruti? Rešu?). The single large river, the Nahr al-Kabir, is designated as Rahbanu. The Ugarit texts in Akkadian and Ugaritic from the fourteenth to the beginning of the twelfth centuries BCE enabled progress in localizing the ancient toponyms of the realm, sometimes identified by comparing them with present-day names. [See Ugarit Inscriptions.]
After the accidental discovery in 1928 of a funerary vault at Minet el-Beida, the Mission Archéologique Française, directed by Claude F.-A. Schaeffer explored the harbor foundation and then the mound of Ras Shamra 800 m from the shore (1929–1970). The mission was subsequently directed by Henri de Contenson (1971–1974), Jean Margueron (1975–1977), and Marguerite Yon (since 1978). [See the biography of Schaeffer.]
The first campaigns concentrated on Minet el-Beida's harbor settlement and tombs (1929–1935) and on excavating the mound of Ras Shamra. Urban areas were excavated on the Acropolis (1929–1937), including two temples and the House of the High Priest, with its mythological tablets and inscribed bronze tools that permitted the decipherment of Ugaritic in 1930 by Hans Bauer, Edouard Dhorme, and Charles Virolleaud. [See the biography of Virolleaud.] From 1932 to 1937, residential areas in the Lower City, East and West, and below the Acropolis (north and northeast) were explored.
Exploration of the northeastern part of the mound began in 1937–1939. Buildings were uncovered that are known as the Palace of the Queen Mother, the Building with Four Pillars, and the so-called Hurrian Temple. Excavation of the Royal Palace, with its fortification on the west, was begun at that time (see figure 2). It was resumed, after the discovery of the main archives, following World War II (1948–1955). The excavation of the once-inhabited areas to the east of the palace, the houses in the Residential Quarter, with their deposits of archives and rich furnishings, was continued between 1953 and 1974. Included in the monumental complexes sometimes recognized as palaces are the vast North Palace (excavated in 1968–1971), perhaps a royal palace that preceded the last royal palace; and the South Palace (the “Little Palace,” or “House of Yabninu,” excavated in 1964–1965), with its archives. Between 1959 and 1964, large north-south trenches revealed other habitation areas in the South City (1959–1960) and on the South Acropolis (1961–1964) that included important tablets. A post-Ugaritic installation in the middle of the mound (Persian and Hellenistic period) was excavated in 1971–1973.
Deep soundings were undertaken to explore periods earlier than the Late Bronze Age to the west of the Temple of Baal (1953–1960) and in the Garden of the Royal Palace, or court III (1954–1955). The most important of them, sounding H (1962–1974), on the west slope of the Acropolis, revealed 15 m of occupation and gave the most complete stratigraphy of the site (seventh-second millennia).
In 1975–1976, a large LB dwelling was excavated northwest of the mound. Since 1978, the project has focused on urbanism and architecture, including excavation of the area at the center of the city and an architectural study of the South City Trench (excavated in 1959–1960). A square opened in the southern area (South Center) produced new batches of tablets in an archaeological context, the “house of Urtenu” (1986–1994). A study of the urban topography led to the opening (since 1992) of a square on the Main Street, the principal access route in the city, on the axis of the bridge-dam (excavated 1988) that crossed the Nahr ed-Delbeh to the south.
The emergency excavation of a small mound next to the sea at Ras Ibn Hani (about 5 km, or 3 mi., from Ras Shamra) uncovered a new Ugaritic settlement with a palace, fortifications, and texts (thirteenth-twelfth centuries BCE) and a Hellenistic fortress. The site was explored by a Syro-French expedition directed by Adnan Bounni and Jacques Lagarce. [See Ras Ibn Hani.]
Stratigraphy and Chronology.
The best-known period on the mound of Ras Shamra in terms of texts and archaeological remains is the Late Bronze Age, in particular the fifteenth-twelfth centuries BCE). It is the apex of a history five millennia long.
Human occupation by farmers, hunters, and fishermen began in the period of sedentarism in Syria-Palestine (level VC, seventh millennium). Subsequently (levels VB, 6000–5750 BCE; VA, 5750–5250 BCE), new technologies appeared: the breeding of domesticated animals, houses built of stone according to a rectilinear plan, and the manufacture of containers (the “white ware” of plaster and baked ceramic).
In the Chalcolithic period (level IV), new influence from the East led to a profound transformation and reduction in the size of the inhabited area. The site's Halaf phase (5250–4300 BCE) is characterized by painted pottery, diversified architecture, the development of crafts, and the breeding of small livestock. Its Ubaid phase (level III C–B, end of the fifth-fourth millennia) witnessed the appearance of copper. [See Ḥalaf, Tell; Ubaid.]
Early Bronze Age.
After about 3000 BCE (level III A), occupation of the site evolved considerably. The Early Bronze stratum presented urban characteristics (alleys, a city wall). The site's architecture, formerly of unbaked brick (phase 1), utilized stone more and more. Tools, mainly of stone, now also included metal objects (copper, bronze). Pottery demonstrated relationships with the contemporary sites of Cilicia, North Syria, and Palestine. Phase 3 showed a rapid development of bronze metallurgy (weapons, tools). In about 2200 BCE, the mound was abandoned, like other sites in the Levant, for a period of about a century (or two?).
Middle Bronze Age.
In about 2000 BCE (level II), the site began a new life, with the arrival of nomadic populations that settled in Syria (cf. Amorites). Certain groups (porteurs de torques) seemed expert in metallurgy (molds for jewelry and weapons were recovered). The architecture of phase 1 is not known, only its large collective tombs. In phases 2 and 3 (c. 1900–1650 BCE), a new urban civilization united the Syrian coastal traditions and the new influences. The town, which gradually covered the entire surface of the mound, was protected by a strong wall. [See Amorites.]
Two temples on the Acropolis and the Hurrian Temple northeast of the mound may have their origin in the Middle Bronze Age. Excavation has produced many objects from the Middle Bronze period, notably Egyptian, with hieroglyphic inscriptions. Some scholars have proposed the political domination by pharaohs of the twelfth dynasty. The name Ugarit is also mentioned in the Mari texts (royal visits, the trade in tin), which attests to continued relations between northern Mesopotamia and the coastal realm (Courtois, 1979; Saadé, 1979).
Late Bronze Age.
The end of the MB period (c. 1650 BCE) and the phase that followed (until the Amarna period, fifteenth century BCE) remains an obscure period in the Levant. The building called the North Palace was probably constructed at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. The Late Bronze level I at Ugarit experienced a new expansion of urban development, spectacular prosperity, and the growing importance of royal power (fifteenth-thirteenth centuries BCE). The succession of kings and their relations with foreign powers are known from the texts found in the archives of Ugarit and elsewhere (e.g., Amarna) and by the seals that mark official documents. [See Seals.] The written documents give evidence for the use of several languages, mainly Akkadian and Ugaritic.
The history of the kingdom of Ugarit is tied to the powers that surrounded it and on which it depended (Mitanni, Egyptian, Ḫatti) and to neighboring realms—friendly or hostile, according to the circumstance or period (Carchemish, Amurru, Siyannu, Qadesh, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Berytus/Beirut). In about 1400–1350 BCE, Ugarit fell under Egyptian control. After 1350 BCE, the expedition of the king of Ḫatti, Šuppiluliuma made the Mitanni submit to Hittite domination. Ugarit, Amurru, Qadesh, and other small kingdoms also passed into the Hittite sphere of influence. [See Mitanni; Carchemish; Tyre; Sidon; Byblos; Beirut; Hittites.]
In the latter half of the thirteenth century BCE, the royal authority monopolized the wealth of Ugarit. The kingdom was founded on a flourishing economy, but its weak military capacity continued to fail. Ugarit was probably destroyed at the beginning of the twelfth century BCE, in raids by the Sea Peoples, who plundered and set fire to it and numerous other sites. [See Philistines, article on Early Philistines.] The annihilation of Ugaritic civilization necessarily had other causes as well—economic, social, and political—that explain the total and final abandonment of the town by its inhabitants in about 1180 BCE. Evidence of occupation in the later Persian and Hellenistic periods only appeared in a small portion of the site south of the Acropolis (Stucky, 1983).
The MB city was surrounded by ramparts (see figure 3) for most of that period. To the north, erosion caused their disappearance, except to the north of the Acropolis, where portions were found in a sounding (1934). Soundings revealed the remains of a wall to the east, as well. To the south, here and there below earthen embankments, traces of a Main Street appeared that ran from the south toward the center of the city.
To the east, an imposing fortification protected the access to the Royal Palace: a stone glacis (a 45-degree slope), a square tower (14 m on a side) protecting a pincer gate and hidden access by a ramp (now disappeared), and a postern leading behind the tower. This area was profoundly transformed in the Late Bronze Age with the construction of the Royal Palace. Successive enlargements were also carried out on the fortified gate that protected the palace on the west.
The fortified gate leading only to the royal area did not provide access to the town for its inhabitants or its merchants transporting merchandise from the port. Exploration of a wide depression on the south slope confirmed (1992) the hypothesis of a Main Street that crossed the Nahr ed-Delbeh by way of the bridge-dam (still being excavated). This would have been the principal route leading from the roads on the plain into the interior of the city. Other routes of access were probably used: another bridge was probably located to the north, and to the east, relatively gentle slopes lead toward the terrain cultivated for agriculture.
The space delimited by the contour of the mound allowed several occupation zones. About 6 ha (15 acres) were explored on the surface, less than one-third of the tell. One part of the urban area was reserved as the royal domain (the palace zone); it was spread over 10,000 sq m and was isolated architecturally from the rest of the city. The area of the Acropolis revealed two large temples. The remainder of the site consisted of residential areas.
The Royal Palace, constructed in several phases (fourteenth-thirteenth centuries BCE), is a spectacular monument in terms of its size (at its maximum 120 m east–west and 90 m north–south; it covers close to 1 ha, or 3 acres) and the quality of its construction (cut stone, rubble, wood, terre pisé). Its successive enlargement corresponded to the expansion of royal power and its administration. A dozen stone staircases and a number of walls preserved to the floor of the upper level attest to the existence of at least one upper story. In its final stage, its elaborate floor plan reveals the differentiation of space on several levels: administrative (regulation of the affairs of the realm mingled with those of the palace), public and official, and private.
On the northwest the palace was entered from a paved square that opened onto the fortified gate, entry was through a vestibule with two columns; a vast court (I) then led to the “throne room.” Various smaller rooms (guardrooms, administrative offices), with stairways leading to upper floors, yielded deposits of administrative documents and correspondence (the West Archives, Annex Office of Archives).
To the south and east of this official zone, groups of rooms were organized around other courts and rooms (II, IV, VI). The royal tombs were found to the north of court II. Numerous private houses were also found to include a family tomb. The area of court IV and room VI held the Central Archives (juridical texts and royal contracts; from which 135 impressions of dynastic seals permit the reconstruction of the succession of the kings of the fourteenth-twelfth centuries BCE). The grouping around court V, to the south, with its rectangular basin, constituted one of the most recent building efforts; in this area the very important South and Southwest Archives were found that may have fallen from an upper story.
The eastern part of the palace included a large garden (III), onto which private apartments opened: one room (northwest of the garden) yielded luxurious furniture inlaid with ivory (bed panels, a small round table). The rooms to the northeast of the garden yielded the East Archives (economic texts). Several groups of rooms to the north of the palace were connected to the area: the Arsenal; the Residence of the Military Governor; the Building with Pillars (once wrongly designated by Schaeffer as Stables); and the Hurrian Temple. The palace area carefully bounded and protected from the city by continuous walls and well-defended gates, also boasted elaborate arrangements, restricted to it, for personal hygiene, such as drainage pipes and sewer mains. [See Personal Hygiene.]
The administrative and financial texts and lists of villages and crafts lead scholars to believe that royal power was expanded in the course of the thirteenth century BCE (see above). The physical extension of the royal area in relation to the rest of the town and the concentration of the archives found in the palace confirm this conclusion.
The temples on the Acropolis were designated the Temple of Baal (it housed a stela of Baal with a thunderbolt and an Egyptian stela with a dedication to “Baal Saphon”) and the Temple of Dagan (its stelae are inscribed in Ugaritic). The Temple of Baal was built in an enclosure. Strong foundations supported a platform upon which the building stood. It was composed of a vestibule reached by a stair on its facade and a larger rectangular room. A monumental interior stairway wound around three sides of the structure, which permits an approximation of its total height at about 18 m. The temple, in the form of a tower, supported a platform on its roof on which certain rituals took place (cf. the mythological text found in 1930 [CTA 6; TO 1, 480–574], where the king Keret offers a sacrifice “at the top of the tower”). The height of this tower, on an acropolis 20 m above the plain, made it a characteristic element of the landscape and a landmark visible from far at sea. The seventeen stone anchors counted in this temple demonstrate its veneration by sailors. [See Anchors.] The quality of the offerings (e.g., gold vessels) indicate the importance of the cult. The Temple of Dagan, of which only the enormous foundations remain, took the same tower form.
Close to the temples isolated in their enclosures, blocks of houses were reached by narrow streets. This quarter was not only a simple middle-level habitation area, for the house known as the House of the Grand Priest or (the Library) is located between the two temples. From 1929 onward it yielded an important collection of bronze weapons and utensils bearing dedications to the “chief of the priests.” The inscriptions furnished one of the keys to the decipherment of Ugaritic, and the most important mythological texts were discovered there (TO 1).
Ugarit's city plan for the southern part of the mound reveals no regularity. As a result of excavation since 1992, a central axis has begun to appear, coming from the south (Main Street). From the Residential Quarter to the South Acropolis Trench, roughly parallel streets follow the curves of the site's east–west contour approximately; they are connected by short, narrow transverse alleys. These define blocks of varied shapes that lack both an orthogonal pattern and any regularity. This circulation network overlies an older network, created over the course of centuries by the disorderly evolution of a living habitat.
Ugarit's residential areas appeared in various parts of the city: in the Lower City, in housing on the acropolis, in the South Acropolis Trench, and in the Residential Quarter. How the residential areas were organized and their domestic architecture (materials, plans, construction techniques) have been studied recently in several quarters: the South City (RSO 10), City center (RSO 3), South Center, and Main Street.
In spite of the observations of former excavators, specific districts reserved for craftsmen and a population of elevated rank could not be confirmed. Clear social overlapping appeared: the large houses of the rich, small, simple habitations; and urban craft activities coexisted in the same blocks. The social rank or function of the owners (wealthy merchants, royal officials, representatives of foreign powers) can be deduced from the presence of archives, as in the Residential Quarter (in the Houses of Rasapabu, the Scholar, and Rap'anu, the bronze armorer), South City (House of the Literary Tablets), South Acropolis (House of the Priest-Magician), and South Center (House of Urtenu).
Cult places are identified across the city's habitation areas (religious activities were omnipresent). These sanctuaries integrated into the insulae opened directly onto the public streets or belong to blocks otherwise occupied by residential buildings. Their sacral character is recognizable in their architectural organization (the Rhyton Temple in the City Center) and/or, when the plan of an area is poorly preserved or difficult to interpret, in the furnishings discovered: ceremonial rhytons, cultic furniture, incense burners, statuettes and stelae), and objects tied to the practice of divination such as inscribed liver and lung models. Domestic cults, which are a manifestation of the popular religion, are attested by the number and dispersion across the inhabited areas of small idols (pendants in precious metal, terra-cotta figurines).
It is difficult to estimate the population of the town of Ugarit in the last phase of its history. Texts (financial, mainly) and the size of the houses and their supposed density suggest six thousand to eight thousand inhabitants for the thirteenth-century BCE city, out of twenty-five thousand inhabitants for the whole kingdom. Archaeological indices lead to the belief that the population increased in the course of the thirteenth century; the increase in the density of habitation agrees with what can be inferred from the texts.
Numerous objects, attesting to the technical competence of the craftsmen of Ugarit, reveal strong technical specialization and artistic skill. Craftsmen worked in all sorts of materials: ceramic, stone, ivory, metal, faience. Pottery was mainly of local manufacture. Mycenaean, Cypriot, and Minoan imports constitute statistically a small part of the ceramic repertoire, but the evidence they provide for international exchanges, the population's tastes, and the transfer of techniques is significant.
Sculpture is represented by several stelae (see figure 4) and stone statues (see figure 5); technical and stylistic analyses demonstrate the existence of local workshops. In the minor arts—molded figurine manufacture, vessel decorating, engraving, ivory carving and glyptic—the artists of Ugarit produced objects for the gods and kings that count among the most accomplished in the LB Levant, including ivory furniture from the Royal Palace and gold cups found on the Acropolis. [See Furniture and Furnishings, article on Furnishings of the Bronze and Iron Ages; Stelae.] Artistic and intellectual activities, strongly tied to religious concerns, are known from the texts moreso than from archaeology. The musical instruments discovered in the excavations (bronze cymbals, ivory rattles, and a horn) evoke the ceremonies that once produced the ritual texts and mythological recitations. [See Musical Instruments.] Literature was supported by a scribal profession. No precise arrangement for a school has yet been recognized, but several abecedaries, lexicographical documents, and student copies prove that students learned to write and that a fraction of the population learned technical vocabulary and foreign languages according to pedagogical techniques.
- Amiet, Pierre. Corpus des cylindres-sceaux, vol. 2, Sceaux cylindres en hématite et pierres diverses. Ras Shamra–Ougarit (RSO), 9. Paris, 1992.
- Bordreuil, Pierre, and Dennis Pardee. La trouvaille épigraphique de l'Ougarit, vol. 1, Concordance. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 5A. Paris, 1989.
- Bordreuil, Pierre, et al. Une bibliothèque au sud de la ville: Les texts de la 34e campagne. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 7. Paris, 1991.
- Callot, Olivier. Une maison à Ougarit: Études d'architecture domestique. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 1. Paris, 1983.
- Callot, Olivier. La tranchée ville sud. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 10. Paris, 1994.
- Caquot, André, et al. Textes ougaritiques (TO), vol. 1, Mythes et légendes. Paris, 1974.
- Caquot, André, et al. Textes ougaritiques, vol. 2, Textes religieux, rituels, correspondance. Paris, 1989.
- Contenson, Henri de. Préhistoire de Ras Shamra: Les sondages stratigraphiques de 1955 à 1976. 2 vols. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 8. Paris, 1992.
- Courtois, Jacques-Claude, et al. “Ras Shamra.” In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible (SDB), fasc. 52, cols. 1124–1466. Paris, 1979.
- Cunchillos, Jesús-Luis. La trouvaille épigraphique de l'Ougarit, vol. 2, Bibliographie. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 5B. Paris, 1989.
- Herdner, Andrée. Corpus des tablettes en cunéiformes alphabétiques découvertes à Ras Shamra–Ugarit de 1929 à 1939 (CTA). Paris, 1963.
- Le Monde de la Bible (MdB), no. 48 (March–April 1987). Special issue entitled “Ougarit,” edited by Marguerite Yon.
- Nougayrol, Jean. Palais royal d'Ougarit (PRU). Vols. 3, 4, 6. Paris, 1939–1979.
- Pardee, Dennis. Les textes hippiatriques. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 2. Paris, 1985.
- Pardee, Dennis. Les texts paramythologiques de la 24e campagne (1961). Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 4. Paris, 1988.
- Saadé, Gabriel. Ougarit, métropole cananéene. Beirut, 1979.
- Schaeffer, Claude F.-A., ed. Ugaritica. 7 vols. Paris, 1939–1979.
- Schaeffer, Claude F.-A. Corpus des cylindres-sceaux de Ras Shamra–Ugarit et d'Enkomi-Alasia. Paris, 1983.
- Stucky, Rolf A. Ras Shamra–Leukos Limen: Die Nach-Ugaritische Beseidlung vom Ras Shamra. Paris, 1983.
- Virolleaud, Charles. Le palais royal d'Ougarit. Vols. 2 and 5. edited by Claude F.-A. Schaeffer. Paris, 1957–1965.
- Yon, Marguerite, et al. Le centre de la ville (38–44e campagnes). Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 3. Paris, 1987.
- Yon, Marguerite, ed. Arts et industries de la pierre. Ras Shamra–Ougarit, 6. Paris, 1991.
For excavation reports since 1929 under the direction of successive directors, see Syria (Paris), Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes (Damascus), and Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (Paris). For specialized studies, see Ugarit-Forschung (Münster) and Newsletter for Ugaritic Studies (Calgary). The reader may also consult the following studies:
Translated from French by Nancy Leinwand