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(o͞ogərēt`), ancient city, capital of the Ugarit kingdom, W Syria, on the Mediterranean coast N of modern Latakia. Although the name of this city was known from Egyptian and Hittite sources, its location and history were a mystery until the accidental discovery (1928) of an ancient tomb at the small Arab village of Ras Shamra. Excavations begun in 1929 established the identity of the mound as the site of ancient Ugarit. The site was been particularly rich in finds, which have yielded much valuable historical information and from which a partial account of the city has been constructed.

Ugarit was probably occupied from the first appearance of humans in Syria. The lowest level of the mound dates from the Neolithic period, the 5th millennium B.C. It developed as a great center of commerce, having important connections with Mesopotamia. By the 4th millennium Ugarit had reached a high stage of development and was part of the general civilization of ancient Syria. Between 3000 and 2000 B.C., important ethnic changes took place at Ugarit, brought about by the northward migrations of Amorites and Semitic Canaanites. Early in the 2d millennium, because of invasions from the north and east, Ugarit turned to an alliance with Egypt, and from this period Egyptian influence was strong in the city. The city was also the most important center of Minoan trade in Syria. The 15th and 14th cent. B.C. were the period of highest prosperity for Ugarit. Trade developed tremendously, and the city expanded in size. The rich and abundant art of this period shows that an important Mycenaean colony existed in the city. Foreign invasions and economic change in the 12th cent. B.C. caused Ugarit to decline. By the end of the century, although it was not completely abandoned, it had ceased to exist as an important town.

Among the more important discoveries at Ugarit are tablets from the 14th cent. B.C. Written in a cuneiform script, in a hitherto unknown language, Ugaritic, they record the poetic works and myths of the ancient Canaanites. They are written in an alphabet that is one of the earliest known. Ugaritic has been identified as a Semitic language, related to classical Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, and these tablets, the first authentic specimens of pagan Canaanite literature, have been of great importance to students of language and of the Bible. They offer evidence that the stories of the Old Testament were based on written Canaanite documents as well as being passed down orally.


See C. F. A. Schaeffer, The Cuneiform Texts of Ras Shamra-Ugarit (1939); J. Obermann, Ugaritic Mythology (1948); D. A. Rolles, Canaanite Myths and Legends (1956); C. H. Gordon, Ugarit and Minoan Crete (1966); R. Whitaker, Concordance of the Ugaritic Literature (1972); S. Stanislav, A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ancient city-state of Ugarites and Canaanites in northern Phoenicia, on the site of present-day Ras Shamra. First mention of Ugarit dates from early in the second millennium B.C., when the city-state was controlled by Egypt and Jamhad. Beginning in the 16th century B.C., Ugarit was under the dominion of Egypt; it came under the rule of the Hittites in the early 14th century B.C. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 12th century B.C.

Ugarit included approximately 180 communal farming settlements, whose inhabitants paid taxes and rendered services to the state, that is, the king. The king controlled trade, large landholdings, and handicrafts, which relied on semislaves known as “the king’s people.” The royal servants included the maryans, warriors to whom the king distributed land, chariots, and horses. The ruling class, which owned the movable property and slaves, comprised large landowners, higher royal officials, “friends of the king, ” and merchants.

Ugarit was an international trading center for Egypt, the Aegean countries, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and the interior of Syria.


Liverani, M. Storia di Ugarit nell’etá degli archivi politici. Rome, 1962.
Nougayrol, J. “Guerre et paix á Ugarit.” Iraq, 1963, vol. 25, part 2.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.