Ugarit was an ancient harbor city located on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria. The site is known today as Râs Shamra. Archaeological expeditions began there in 1929, and since that time over 1,250 clay tablets containing cuneiform texts have been discovered.

The tablets, dating from the middle of the second millennium b.c.e., are written in the alphabetic language of Ugaritic, a northwest Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. The culture reflected in the texts has shed great light on the Canaanite backdrop of the jewish bible, providing scholars a look at the linguistic and cultural conditions of the Canaanites from their point of view.

In addition to the clay tablets, archaeologists have uncovered a royal palace and several administrative buildings, as well as an extensive residential area. The palace was enormous, consisting of approximately 90 rooms and six large courtyards. In addition, several temples have been found, one of which was dedicated to Baal.

Although the material finds at Ugarit are certainly impressive, the most significant find is the texts. In the very first season of excavations, clay tablets were found littering the floor of a house. This nicely built house turned out to be the home of the high priest of Baal. It was near the temple of Baal, and the texts were from the priest’s personal library.

Particularly interesting are the numerous tablets containing mythological poems about the Canaanite gods Baal, Baal’s sister the warrior goddess Anat, El, the head of the pantheon, and El’s consort, Asherah, the mother of the gods. Other gods in the texts include Athtar (biblical Ashtaroth) and the divine craftsman Kothar wa-Hasis.

These mythological texts help scholars understand the backdrop of biblical admonitions to avoid contact with the gods of Canaan, as well as the worldview of the ancient inhabitants of Ugarit. Legendary figures in the texts include the hero Daniel and his son, Aqhat.

The main mythological texts from Ugarit are the Baal cycle, the Kirta epic, and the legend of Aqhat. The Baal cycle tells the story of Baal’s efforts to establish his kingship over the universe as well as the building of his temple. The Kirta epic tells of the near extinction of a royal house and its subsequent restoration at the hands of the creator god El.

The legend of Aqhat, who is the son of Daniel, is the primary text showing the relationship between a human hero and the gods. Since the mythological texts are poetic, much has been learned about the conventions of Canaanite poetry, helping scholars understand the biblical poetry contained in the Psalms and Proverbs.

There have also been many administrative and ritual texts discovered at Ugarit. Five separate archives have been found at the royal palace, yielding texts in Ugaritic as well as Akkadian. Other libraries have been recovered from the private homes of priests, lawyers, government officials, and professional scribes.

The administrative documents show how the kingdom of Ugarit was organized as well as the nature of its interactions with surrounding nations, allowing scholars to reconstruct the political history of the last seven kings of the city. The ritual texts shed light on Canaanite cultic rituals and present many parallels to the sacrificial sections of the Jewish Bible. The kingdom of Ugarit ended with the invasion of the Sea Peoples in approximately 1200 b.c.e.

Tablets discovered abandoned in a kiln date to the fall of the city and describe the transfer to the north of Ugarit’s army and navy, leaving the city defenseless against attack. One tablet records the sack of the city from which the kingdom was never able to recover.