Ugarit, Syria   (notes)           The first alphabet in human history

The people of Ugarit were the Canaanites, precursors to the Phoenicians. They were perhaps the first to recognize that human speech consists of only a finite number of atomic sounds and all that was really needed was a symbol for each. They devised 30 symbols from which the alphabets of all phonetic languages are derived (yes all: Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, etc.). As a result, writing opened up and scribal power reduced; any child (or foreigner) could now easily learn to read and write. This may sound simple but it took nearly two millennia to arrive at it ... the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians. The names of most letters in the Greek/Phoenician alphabets are clearly related - alpha/aleph (ox), beta/bet (house), gamma/gimel (camel), delta/dalet (door), etc. Notably, the Ugaritic alphabet only had consonants - the pre-Homeric Greeks added the vowels.

Ugarit was an independent kingdom from the 18th century BCE. Its military and economic history has been revealed by the tablets found in the palace archives. The Canaanites had a golden age from about 1450 to 1200 BCE; it produced great royal palaces, temples and shrines, a high priests' library and other libraries on the acropolis. With their strong ships built of the cedars on the mountains of Lebanon, they became the greatest naval power of the age and knew many key principles of navigation. They traded textiles, ivory,  weapons and silver with the cities of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Aegean Sea, Egypt and Asia Minor. Around 1200 BCE, Ugarit likely fell prey to the invasion of Philistines, northern tribes sometimes called the Sea Peoples. But other possibilities like a big earthquake, a famine or a massive fire have not been ruled out. Its population then was likely under 10,000 ... ( more )

Entrance doorway

The entrance to this early 2nd millennium BC city which invented the only phonetic alphabet ever invented by Man (all the rest are derived from it)

Nine millennia old remains

Very wealthy at its peak, Ugarit came up with innovations like a piped water system and drainage for many citizens. This is the surface -- buried settlements go back nine millenniums.

Land of the Canaanites

Ugarit is regarded as the most significant discovery for biblical studies in the 20th century. Its literature has proved very useful to old testament studies.

Ancestors to the Phoenicians

Herodotus acknowledges that the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians.


Before the Ugaritic alphabet, the two main writing systems in the region were the Egyptian hieroglyphics and Mesopotamian Cuneiform, both of which had hundreds of symbols for either entire words or syllables

The Ras Shamra mound

Ugaritic is a simplified system of 30 alphabets from which the roots of Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Arabic and other phonetic languages are derived.

Banquet room 

The Greeks added the innovation of vowels to the Ugaritic alphabet, which only had consonants

Weeds cover all 

Ugarit collapsed around 1200 BC, around the same time many other great civilizations of the near East came to an end for reasons still not entirely clear


A forward looking town on the mediterranean coast where the young women do not shy away from emphasizing their feminine charms

Local mosque

The loudspeakers call the faithful to prayer


"Grand the plans of gods and man,

But when the day is done --

Bones broadly scattered in the sun,

For ironic Moira the fray hath won.

And naught remains for Apollo's progeny,

But to sing her praise,

In comic agony." 

-- From the Canaanite epic, The Legend Of Keret, c. 1500 BCE, Ugarit.


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