Ancient Ugarit

Pictures of Ugarit

Ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra on the upper coast of Syria) was the capital of a kingdom of the same name that flourished in the 2nd Millennium BCE.  It gained importance in that ancient world for two reasons: (1) it was located in a rich agricultural setting, and  (2) because it became a maritime power.   Ugarit lay inland a few miles but controlled a harbor located at the present site of Minet el-Beida.  As a marintime power, Ugarit became a cosmopolitan center producing great wealth for the city.

At its heigth of power, Ugarit commanded a fairly sizeable land army (the King of Ugarit could call on 2000 horses from its feudal lords).  But far more impressive was its Navy which numbered as many as 150 ships with an estimated dispacement of 500 tons.  However, over the centuries, Ugarit's military weakened until the city fell prey to the advancement of the Sea Peoples around 1180 BCE.

Maps of Ugarit

Map of the Levantine Coast

(FROM: The Macmillan Bible Atlas)

Ugarit was located towards the northern end of the Levantine coast

Site Map of Ugarit

Map of the Acropolis of Ugarit

[From: "Ugarit" in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4]


A map of the main acropolis of Ugarit.  1.  Temple of Baal.  2. Temple of El.  The buildings between the temples of Baal and El is where the scribe's school, library, and the High Priests residence was located. In this area a horde of clay tablets were discovered.



Ancient Ugarit was discovered by a Syrian farmer who discovered an ancient tomb while plowing his field.  It was eventually excavated by French archaeologists in the 1930's.  Several palaces were uncovered.  And on the city's accropolis, temples to Baal and El were discovered.  The temple complex of Baal featuered a courtyard with an altar followed by a podium upon which the temple was built.  The temple consisted of a vestibule and then a large rectangular room that was nearly 50 feet high.  A large monumental staircase gave access to the top of the tower were part of the ceremonies to Baal took place.  With the temple of Baal placed on the city's accropolis which rose some 60 feet higher than the city, the temple of Baal would have been visable from some distance.

Baal Temple


Temple of Baal

Artist reconstrution of the Temple of Baal in Ugarit.

[FROM :]


The Stele of Baal



In the temple precint of Baal, a stele of Baal was found.  The stele depicts Baal with a club and a stylized spear/thunderbolt.  He stands atop two sets of wavy lines representing water.  Two horns representing his divine power reach out from his helmet. 

Stele of El

[FROM: James Prictchard, Ancient Near Eastern Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (1969)]

It has been conjectured that this stele is of El, the head god of the Ugaritic pantheon of deities.  Probably the high priest or the king of Ugarit is making an offering to a hearded deity sithing on an elaborate lion-footed throne while resting his feet on a footstool.  He is wearing a high crown from which horns emerge demonstrating that the image sitting on the throne is in fact a deity. 

Ugartic Tablets

Clay tablets

In the buildings between the temples of Baal and El were found hundreds of clay tablets.  Some of the tablets were used for teaching and practice.  It appears that some of these buildings may have been a scribe's school.   The chief priest of Ugarit had his residency in this same area.  Many of the tablets, when translated, proved to be the mythology of the Ugaritic people.  They have proved to be of great value in biblical studies as for the first time modern man has come to understand something about the beliefs of the Canaanite people living along the levantine coast.

An important myth discovered in among the clay tablets is about the Canaanite god, Baal.  For a transcript of the Epic of Baal, click here.