National Museum Of Damascus ( Syria ) - First Hall Of Ugarit


"Excavations of the French Mission"

The Site :

In March 1928 , a Syrian peasant who was tilling his land near the bay of Minet-el-Baida , about 13 Km north of Latakia , unearthed a burial vault .

Shortly after, a French archaeological mission under the direction of Dr. Claude Schaeffer was assigned to dig up the site . The mission soon shifted its work into a near-by Tell name Shamra situated about one kilometre from the sea

Consequently , in May 1929 , the mission discovered a city carrying the name Ugarit which was an Important Canaanite  Metropolis and a centre of one of the richest civilizations of  the ancient Orient . The city enjoyed its hey-day in the fifteenth , fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B. C.

Thanks to the exploration effected in different points of the Tell ,  the existence of four other cities were discovered .The  earliest of these cities dates back to the Neolithic period . About 31 campaigns of excavations under Dr. Claude Schaeffer have been conducted so far at that very Tell

The Tell is in the shape of a trapezoid . Its height is about 20 meters in proportion to the surrounding coastal plain . The following are the five principal strata of the Tell from top to bottom :

1st stratum : Recent Bronze (1600 to 1200 B.C. )

2nd stratum : Middle Bronze ( 2100 to 1600 B.C..(

3rd stratum Ancient Bronze ( from the second half of IV millennium until about 2100 B.C. ) .

4th stratum Stone-copper age ( from the first half of the IV millennium B.C.).

5th stratum : Neolithic ( VII? , VI and V millennia B.C).

On the acropolis , at the highest point of the Tell , some Greek installations of the 5th C. B. C. were discovered . There were also different installations on the surface of the Tell dating back to the Hellenistic , Roman and late Islamic ages .

The Canaanites set foot on the Syrian shore In general and on Ras-Shamra (Ugarit) in particular in the late 3rd millennium .  It seems that their advent was as of the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. Then they began to constitute the majority of the inhabitants of Ugarit .

A text written on a clay tablet found in Mari (Tell-al-Hariri) on the Euphrates , tells us that the city which was existing on the site of Ras-Shamra carried the name ( Ugarit ) . The name is probably derived from s  ( Ugarus )a which means " field " in Babylonian.

The name ( Ugarit )  also appeared in the letters found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt . It was an important commercial centre and its merchants frequented the shores of the Mediterranean .

Its name was also mentioned in the cuneiform texts uncovered in Anatolia . at Boghaz Koy , capital of the Hittite Empire

The city was completely destroyed in the beginning of the 2nd century B. C. in the wake of the invasion of tribes coming from the north , called the Sea People , who destroyed all the cities of the Syrio-Palestinlan coast-Line .

From that time onward . Ugarit disappears from history .

In the 6th century B. C. some Greek merchants brought their ships to anchor at the bay of Minet-el-Baida (to which they gave the name Leucos Limen i. e. white haven in Greek ) and constructed some habitations on the ruins of Ugarit .

The excavations which have been carried out from 1929 so far brought to light the following :

ó A fortress , the Royal Palace , another small palace the acropolis and many districts of the town .


Clay Tablets :

As far as the writing is concerned , the texts of Ras-Shamra ( Ugarit ) adopt two main systems of cuneiform one is syllabic
i.e. the Akkado-Babylonian and the second is alphabetical namely the Ugaritic , invented in Ugarit itself by some men of genius.

From these two systems , the Cypro-Minoan script , the Hittite and the Egyptian Hieroglyphs were derived . Thus Ugarit knew five types of scripts used to express the following eight different languages Sumerian , Akkadian , Babylonian , Hurrian , Hittite Ugaritic , Egyptian , Hieroglyphic Hittite and Cypro-Minoan .

The Ugaritic language was spoken by the majority and was used for all everyday purposes . The other languages with the exception of the Akkado-Babylonian language were the tongues of the foreign colonics that lived in Ugarit for commercial and political purposes . The Accoda-Babylonian along with the Ugarit languages were used in the official political . religious literary and military documents . A good number of bilingual texts ( Accado- Babylonian and Ugarit ) was discovered during the excavations . They helped considerably in the decipherment of the other languages .

There are many treasures of science and culture still buried in the ruins of this eternal city . Undoubtedly , the future campaigns will reveal more facts about its history .

Here is the most important piece found during the campaigns, namely the alphabet :

Ras-Shamra alphabet : ( Syria is the birth land of the first alphabet in the world ).

It is a small clay tablet , about the size of a finger ( L. 5.1cm , W. 1.3cm ) , bearing thirty characters of the Ugaritic alphabet derived from cuneiform .
Humanity owes the Canaanites , who migrated from Arabian Peninsula and lived in Ugarit in 2nd millennium B.C. , a debt of gratitude for being the originators of the alphabet . A scribe of Ugarit in the 14th century B.C. engraved this tablet to serve as a model for students who were apprenticed to the hand-writing . The alphabet is written from left to right . The order of the letters is the same as that of the classical Phoenician alphabet ( alphabet of Byblos ) . It was the same order adopted by Greeks and the other European peoples as a base for their actual alphabet . In fact , the invention of alphabet has greatly contributed to the spread of knowledge among people and to the rapid progress of humanity .


The alphabet of Ugarit 1400 B.C.

Ugaritic , Latin and Arabic letters.

Bronze Statuettes :

The beliefs of the ancient man were vividly reflected upon his behavior and action . Therefore , the influence of religion was evident in whatever related to manís life such as worship faith, beliefs, myths, literature, medicine and the ancient man represented his deities in various forms and attitudes according to the importance and function of each deity . Thus, the war god was represented as a strong-built man carrying an arm .
The god of sky , rain and storm , appeared holding a three-prouged thunderbolt and standing on a bull ( Symbol of the earth and vegetation ). God El, the supreme deity was represented as a venerable man whose features express sovereignty mercy and love. He is shown sitting on a throne holding a scepter . Goddess Ashtart was represented standing on a lion and by her side a moon , or a star or a sun .
Polytheism characterized the ancient periods before monotheism . There were hundreds of deities .
Several human and animal statuettes in bronze are displayed in this hall. Prominent among which are:


Bronze statuette plated with gold , representing El , the supreme deity of the Canaanites . He is sitting on a throne with a crown on his head . On his temples one can see tow holes for fixing the horns , symbol of divinity . The god was holding a scepter in his left hand ( now missing ) . He is wearing a long garment and upturned shoes . The right hand is raised as a gesture of benediction . The general attitude shows that the god is receiving submission from worshippers.

H. 13.8 cm. W. 8.3 cm.


Carving in ivory :

The excavations at Ras Shamra have yielded quantities of ivories . They are of such exquisite workmanship and beauty as to render them among the most prized pieces found in the ancient Orient during the second millennium B. C. The ivory-carving industry was certainly flourishing at Ugarit . The ivory was imported into Ugarit from Africa via the Nile and Egypt . It constituted the most important revenue of the city and was deemed to be the essential commodity for commercial exchange between Ugarit and Egypt .
The Ugaritic artists left us several masterpieces of ivories ,some of which reached us in good condition .These pieces indicate the degree of perfection which this industry attained in the second half of the second millennium B. C. They also reveal the influence of the Egyptian art on that of Ugarit . The commercial relations between Egypt and Ugarit had their repercussion over the cultural and artistic exchange.

Human head in ivory incrusted with gold , silver copper or lapis lazuli. Probably belongs to a prince or a princess of Ugarit . The head has an incomplete high tiara . This unique piece that was made by one of the artists of Ugarit was found in the Royal Palace . It goes back to the 13th century B. C. ( H. 15 cm. W. 9.5 cm. ) .

Jewelry :

Specimens of gold , silver and bronze jewelry as well as some necklaces of faience beads are displayed in this hall .
The jewelers and gold-smiths of Ugarit were highly reputed craftsmen . The industry constituted one of the most important products for export .


Second Hall Of Ugarit




Last updated 26 October 2002 By Jan Joury , See References
© 2003 National Museum Of Damascus