Ugarit (Hebrew אוּגָרִית): Bronze Age port in northern Syria, destroyed in the early twelfth century BCE, modern Ras Shamra. Cuneiform tablets illustrate the religion of ancient Canaan, i.e., the gods against which the first Jewish prophets polemicized.
- The Neolithic settlement was already a port of sufficient importance to need a wall
- Mentioned for the first time in texts from Ebla, about 1800 BCE
- From the sixteenth century on regular contact with Egypt, the Hittites, Cyprus (Enkomi), and - probably indirectly - Crete and Mycenaean Greece
- Among the finds is a ceremonial axe, made of iron to which a bit of carbon was added, which proves that the smith understood the principle of steel
- From the cuneiform tablets found in Ugarit, we know quite a bit about the city's kings. The last one of these was called Hammurapi and was a contemporary of king Suppiluliuma II of the Hittites.
- This was the age of the Sea People, who may have destroyed Ugarit in about 1175 BCE. Generally speaking, this was the end of the Bronze Age system. It is not known whether the attacks of the Sea People caused this crisis or were its consequence.
Like its language, Ugarite religion can be called "West-Semitic" or "Canaanite". This means that the pantheon and myths of Ugarit may, in some way or another, have been known to the people of ancient Israel and Judah.
For example: the Ba'al mentioned as Canaanite idol in the Bible, is known from Ugarit as well. In lists of deities, Ba'al is usually named immediately after El and Dagan, but we are also lucky to have the nearly complete text of a myth. In this text, Ba'al defeats the seagod Yam in a conflict that probably represents the war between order and chaos. Later, Ba'al builds a palace and wants to succeed El as king of the gods, but he is somehow - temporarily - defeated by Mut, the god of death. However, Ba'al overcomes his opponent, and becomes ruler of the Netherworld himself, where he resides for several months every year.
Fighter, king of the gods, ruler of the Netherworld: Ba'al had several important roles. But he had more functions: he was also believed to reside on Mount Saphon (or Mount Casius, north of Ugarit), was considered to be the judge of the gods, the lord of wind and weather, the controller of rain, storm, thunder, and lightning, and responsible for the annual renewal of vegetation. His divine consort is called Anath.
- Many tablets, written in a West-Semitic language that was related to Amorite
- Among these tablets are very old alphabetic texts, with thirty signs. They are not the world's oldest texts in an alphabetic script, though: inscriptions from the Sinai desert and Egypt's western desert are considerably older.