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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Syria

 

Ugarit (Syria)

FeatureAncient Syria was much larger than its modern counterpart, being bordered by the Taurus Mountains in the north, the Upper Euphrates to the north-east, and the Syrian Desert to the south-east (see feature link). The name is Greek, which they used to describe various Assyrian peoples.

Although Ugarit was probably occupied much earlier, its first permanent settlement seems to date to around 6000 BC, at which point a fortified wall was put up around it. The city was located on the Syrian coast, and the site remains located within modern Syria. It lay on the crossroads of trade routes from Babylonia, Anatolia and Egypt and, thanks to its good sea harbour, traders from all the major states conducted business there. First mentioned in records in about 1800 BC by Ebla, the city reached its height during the mid-fifteenth century BC under Egyptian overlordship. It maintained that position until the start of the twelfth century BC and the climate-induced social and economic collapse which claimed many Syrian cities along with the mighty Hittites.

Ugarit has so far provided archaeologists with the largest selection of Syrian texts, including something unique to this city: two private libraries which both date from Ugarit's last days Other cities such as Emar have yielded literary material as well, but nothing so far matches Ugarit. The city's own script seems to have originated about 1400 BC, when cuneiform characters were adapted to the local language. Such works are the only extensive remnants of literature from this area, except for the later Hebrew Old Testament. Culturally, Ugarit was heavily influenced by the Hurrian empire of Mitanni during the middle centuries of the second millennium BC. Syrian musicians at Ugarit performed Hurrian compositions.

The ruins of Alalakh in Syria

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Mittani Empire and the Question of Absolute Chronology: Some Archaeological Considerations, Mirko Novák (published as part of The Synchronisation of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium BC III, Manfred Bietak & Ernst Czerny (Eds), Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Denkschrift Band XXXVII; Wien, 2007), from Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000 to 500 BC, John Haywood (Barnes & Noble, 2000), from The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC, Amélie Kuhrt (Volumes I & II, Routledge, 2000), from The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, Colon McEvedy (which misses the period 1600-1300 BC but shows a Mitanni kingdom in 1300-1000 BC, by which time it had certainly disappeared - Penguin Books, 1967, revised 2002), from The Hurrians, Gernot Wilhelm (Aris & Philips Warminster 1989), and from A History of the Ancient Near East c.3000-323 BC, Marc van der Mieroop (Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 2007).)

c.6000 BC

Ugarit is first founded as a permanent settlement, probably after some centuries (or even millennia) of being used as a seasonal encampment. The erection of a fortified wall at this point shows that the settlement pattern here has changed, and that the site's current occupants have no plans to leave.

Cuneiform tablets from Ugarit
Clay tablets which were found in Ugarit include a letter (above left) from Hittite King Tudhaliya IV to his counterpart in Ugarit and a legal text (above right) in Mesopotamian cuneiform which dates to the reign of King Niqmaddu II

c.1776 BC

Following the break-up of the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia, Yamkhad becomes the dominant force in north-western Syria, controlling Ugarit.

c.1478 BC

Egypt expands rapidly through Palestine and reaches Mitanni-controlled Syria, making Ugarit a vassal state. The Egyptians also raid further inland, where local resistance is supported by Mitanni. Hittite agents are constantly at work, trying to draw Syrian states over to them, a policy which gradually sees them gain more influence.

c.1430 BC

The Hittite ruler, Tudhaliya II, begins a restoration of Hittite power, conducting his third campaign against the Kaskans in the north and concluding a treaty with Arzawa. Probably coincidentally, a series of kings rule in Ugarit from this period onwards, although it is more likely that the Hittite resurgence also sparks a more general resurgence which encourages better records-keeping. However, nothing is known about the three earliest-named rulers of Ugarit.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
Small cities and minor states which had been founded by the Hittites littered the meeting point between Anatolia and Syria (in the ancient period there was significant overlap between the two), with the coastal city of Ugarit being located directly to their south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.1420s?

Niqmadu I / Nqmd

Name alone recorded.

Yaqurum

Name alone recorded.

Ibiranu I

Name alone recorded.

? - c.1354 BC

Ammistamru I / Amttmr / Am-my-is-tam-ru

Son of Ibiranu?

c. 1353 - 1318 BC

Niqmadu II / Nqmd

Son. Became a vassal of the Hittites.

c.1340 BC

Suppiluliuma, the new Hittite ruler, takes control of northern Syria by dealing Mitanni a final defeat. To all intents and proposes this also ends Hurrian culture which has previously provided a heavy influence upon Ugarit.

The king of Ugarit informs the Hittites of a planned revolt by Alalakh, so that kingdom is incorporated directly into the empire and its lands are assigned to Ugarit as a reward, along with the territories of Nuhašše and Niya (in northern Syria). Ugarit remains a Hittite subject state but with its own royal house still in place.

The 'Aleppo Treaty' of the fourteenth century BC
The 'Aleppo Treaty' was drawn up on a cuneiform tablet between Mursili II of the Hittites and Talmi-Sharruma of Alep in the mid-fourteenth century, reflecting the increasing Hittite influence in the region at the expense of the Mitanni

c.1317 - 1314 BC

Arhalba / Ar-Khalba

Son. Removed for revolting against Hittite control. Exiled?

c.1313 - 1251 BC

Niqmepa

Brother. Selected by Mursili II.

1286 BC

The Battle of Kadesh (the earliest surviving report of a major engagement) sees the forces of Egypt, under Ramses II, and the Hittites together with their various allies, including troops from Arzawa, plus the Lukka and Karkisa, clash for control of former Mitanni Syria.

The battle ends with no clear outcome although the Hittites come out on top, gaining uncontested control of Syria, and also raiding further south into Canaan. The victory, though, seems to spark the beginnings of a civil war in the Hittite nobility which lasts for about three generations.

c.1250 - 1210 BC

Ammistamru II

Son. Divorced his wife, daughter of Benteshina of Amurru.

c.1209 - 1200 BC

Ibiranu II

Son.

c.1200 - 1195 BC

The Hittite empire is destroyed by the Kaskans and the Sea Peoples. Other important Hittite cities such as Emar also disappear after a period of troubles which are characterised by attacks by seaborne raiders. There may be a severe attack on Ugarit around 1195 BC, as some sources date this as the city's last days.

Ekwesh warriors in relief
The group of people known as the Ekwesh were involved in the destruction of the Hittite kingdom around 1200 BC, although their origins are clouded in mystery

c.1199 - 1192 BC

Niqmadu III / Nqmd

Son. Vassal to Carchemish.

c.1191 - 1182 BC

Ammurapi / Hammurabi

Possible usurper, emphasising the absence of Hittite control.

c.1182 BC

Ammurapi is the last ruler of Ugarit. Much of Ugarit's army is in Hittite Anatolia (and probably lost by this time), and the fleet is near the Lukka lands, despite advice from the kings of Alashiya and Carchemish that Ugarit should look to its own defence. Such warnings are a clear sign of ongoing social collapse.

Consequently, the city is attacked by seven ships of Sea Peoples (believed to be the Shekelesh) and is destroyed. The state disappears from the historical record and its location is forgotten until 1928, although the former 'summer palace' at Ras Ibn Hani is soon reoccupied and rebuilt.

 
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