Ugaritic alphabet

The Ugaritic alphabet is a cuneiform abjad (consonantal alphabet) used from around either the fifteenth century BCE[1] or 1300 BCE[2] for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language, and discovered in Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria, in 1928. It has 30 letters. Other languages (particularly Hurrian) were occasionally written in the Ugaritic script in the area around Ugarit, although not elsewhere.

Clay tablets written in Ugaritic provide the earliest evidence of both the North Semitic and South Semitic orders of the alphabet, which gave rise to the alphabetic orders of the reduced Phoenician alphabet and its descendants (including Greek and Latin) on the one hand, and of the Ge'ez alphabet on the other. Arabic and Old South Arabian are the only other Semitic alphabets which have letters for all or almost all of the 29 commonly reconstructed proto-Semitic consonant phonemes. (But note that several of these distinctions were only secondarily added to the Arabic alphabet by means of diacritic dots.) According to Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz in Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (eds. Wilfred G.E. Watson and Nicholas Wyatt, 1999): "The language they [the 30 signs] represented could be described as an idiom which in terms of content seemed to be comparable to Canaanite texts, but from a phonological perspective, however, was more like Arabic" (82, 89, 614).

The script was written from left to right. Although cuneiform and pressed into clay, its symbols were unrelated to those of Akkadian cuneiform.[3]

22 alphabet
The Ugaritic Alphabet
LanguagesUgaritic, Hurrian, Akkadian
Time period
from around 1400 BCE
ISO 15924Ugar, 040
Unicode alias


Ugaritic was an augmented abjad. In most syllables only consonants were written, including the /w/ and /j/ of diphthongs. However, Ugaritic was unusual among early abjads in also writing vowels after the glottal stop. It is thought that the letter for the syllable /ʔa/ originally represented the consonant /ʔ/, as aleph does in other Semitic abjads, and that it was later restricted to /ʔa/ with the addition, at the end of the alphabet, of /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.[4][5]

The final consonantal letter of the alphabet, s2, has a disputed origin along with both "appended" glottals, but "The patent similarity of form between the Ugaritic symbol transliterated [s2], and the s-character of the later Northwest Semitic script makes a common origin likely, but the reason for the addition of this sign to the Ugaritic alphabet is unclear (compare Segert 1983:201-218; Dietrich and Loretz 1988). In function, [s2] is like Ugaritic s, but only in certain words – other s-words are never written with [s2]."[6] The words that show s2 are predominantly borrowings, and thus it is often thought to be a late addition to the alphabet representing a foreign sound that could be approximated by native /s/; Huehnergard and Pardee make it the affricate /ts/.[7] Segert instead theorizes that it may have been syllabic /su/, and for this reason grouped with the other syllabic signs /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.[8]

Probably the last three letters of the alphabet were originally developed for transcribing non-Ugaritic languages (texts in the Akkadian language and Hurrian language have been found written in the Ugaritic alphabet), and were then applied to write the Ugaritic language.[9] The three letters denoting glottal stop plus vowel combinations were used as simple vowel letters when writing other languages.

The only punctuation is a word divider.


dark green shows approximate spread of writing by 1300 BCE

At the time the Ugaritic script was in use (ca. 1300–1190 BCE),[10] Ugarit was at the centre of the literate world, among Egypt, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete, and Mesopotamia. Ugaritic combined the system of the Semitic abjad with cuneiform writing methods (pressing a stylus into clay). However, scholars have searched in vain for graphic prototypes of the Ugaritic letters in Mesopotamian cuneiform. Recently, some have suggested that Ugaritic represents some form of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet,[11] the letter forms distorted as an adaptation to writing on clay with a stylus. (There may also have been a degree of influence from the poorly understood Byblos syllabary.[12]) It has been proposed in this regard that the two basic shapes in cuneiform, a linear wedge, as in 𐎂, and a corner wedge, as in 𐎓, may correspond to lines and circles in the linear Semitic alphabets: the three Semitic letters with circles, preserved in the Greek Θ, O and Latin Q, are all made with corner wedges in Ugaritic: 𐎉 ṭ, 𐎓 ʕ, and 𐎖 q. Other letters look similar as well: 𐎅 h resembles its assumed Greek cognate E, while 𐎆 w, 𐎔 p, and 𐎘 θ are similar to Greek Y, Π, and Σ turned on their sides.[11] Jared Diamond[13] believes the alphabet was consciously designed, citing as evidence the possibility that the letters with the fewest strokes may have been the most frequent.


Lists of Ugaritic letters (abecedaria, singular abecedarium) have been found in two alphabetic orders: the "Northern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in Arabic (earlier order), Hebrew and Phoenician, and more distantly, the Greek and Latin alphabets; and the "Southern Semitic order" more similar to the one found in the South Arabian, and the Ge'ez alphabets. The letters are given in transcription and in their Arabic and Hebrew cognates; letters missing from Hebrew are left blank.

North Semitic

ʾa b g d h w z y k š l m n s ʿ p q r ġ t ʾi ʾu s2
א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת

South Semitic

h l m q w š r t s k n b ś p ʾ ʿ g d ġ z y
ה ל ח מ ק ו ר ת ס כ נ ב פ א ע ג ד ט ז י ש צ


Ugaritic alphabet
Ugaritic Letters[14]
Sign Trans. IPA Hebrew Arabic
𐎀 ʾa ʔa א أ
𐎁 b b ב ب
𐎂 g ɡ ג ج
𐎃 x ח* خ
𐎄 d d ד د
𐎅 h h ה ه
𐎆 w w ו و
𐎇 z z ז ز
𐎈 ħ ח ح
𐎉 ט ط
𐎊 y j י ي
𐎋 k k כ ك
𐎌 š ʃ ש ش
𐎍 l l ל ل
𐎎 m m מ م
𐎏 ð ד ذ
𐎐 n n נ ن
𐎑 θ̴ ظ
𐎒 s s ס س
𐎓 ʿ  ʕ ע ع
𐎔 p p פ ف
𐎕 צ ص
𐎖 q q ק ق
𐎗 r r ר ر
𐎘 θ ת ث
𐎙 ġ ɣ ע* غ
𐎚 t t ת ت
𐎛 ʾi ʔi ئ
𐎜 ʾu ʔu ؤ
𐎝 s2
𐎟 word divider


Ugaritic script was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2003 with the release of version 4.0.

The Unicode block for Ugaritic is U+10380–U+1039F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1038x 𐎀 𐎁 𐎂 𐎃 𐎄 𐎅 𐎆 𐎇 𐎈 𐎉 𐎊 𐎋 𐎌 𐎍 𐎎 𐎏
U+1039x 𐎐 𐎑 𐎒 𐎓 𐎔 𐎕 𐎖 𐎗 𐎘 𐎙 𐎚 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝 𐎟
1.^ As of Unicode version 12.0
2.^ Grey area indicates non-assigned code point

Six letters for transliteration were added to the Latin Extended-D block in March 2019 with the release of Unicode 12.0:[15]


See also


  1. ^ A Primer on Ugaritic, William M. Schniedewind (pg 32)
  2. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  3. ^ The Early Alphabet by John F. Healey in Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet (1990) ISBN 0-520-07431-9, p. 216.
  4. ^ Florian Coulmas, 1991, The writing systems of the world
  5. ^ William Schniedewind, Joel Hunt, 2007. A primer on Ugaritic
  6. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  7. ^ Huehnergard, An Introduction to Ugaritic (2012), p. 21; Pardee, Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform in the context of other alphabetic systems in Studies in ancient Oriental civilization (2007), p. 183.
  8. ^ Stanislave Segert, "The Last Sign of the Ugaritic Alphabet" in Ugaritic-Forschugen 15 (1983): 201-218
  9. ^ The Early Alphabet by John F. Healey in Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet (1990) ISBN 0-520-07431-9, p. 216.
  10. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient-Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  11. ^ a b Brian Colless, Cuneiform alphabet and picto-proto-alphabet
  12. ^ A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language: With Selected Texts and Glossary, p. 19 by Stanislav Segert, 1985.
  13. ^ Writing Right | Senses | DISCOVER Magazine
  14. ^ Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). "Epigraphic Semitic Scripts". The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  15. ^ Suignard, Michel (2017-05-09). "L2/17-076R2: Revised proposal for the encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic characters" (PDF).

External links


Anat (, ), classically Anath (; Hebrew: עֲנָת‎ ʿĂnāth; Phoenician: 𐤏𐤍𐤕 ʿAnōt; Ugaritic: 𐎓𐎐𐎚 ʿnt; Greek: Αναθ Anath; Egyptian Antit, Anit, Anti, or Anant) is a major northwest Semitic goddess.


Cuneiform or Sumerian cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing, was invented by the Sumerians. It is distinguished by its wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets, made by means of a blunt reed for a stylus. The name cuneiform itself simply means "wedge shaped".Emerging in Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC (the Uruk IV period) to convey the Sumerian language, which was a language isolate, cuneiform writing began as a system of pictograms, stemming from an earlier system of shaped tokens used for accounting. In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller (Hittite cuneiform). The system consists of a combination of logophonetic, consonantal alphabetic and syllabic signs.

The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Semitic Akkadian (Assyrian/Babylonian), Eblaite and Amorite languages, the language isolates Elamite, Hattic, Hurrian and Urartian, as well as Indo-European languages Hittite and Luwian; it inspired the later Semitic Ugaritic alphabet as well as Old Persian cuneiform. Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC). By the second century AD, the script had become extinct, its last traces being found in Assyria and Babylonia, and all knowledge of how to read it was lost until it began to be deciphered in the 19th century.

Geoffrey Sampson stated that Egyptian hieroglyphs "came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and, probably [were], invented under the influence of the latter", and that it is "probable that the general idea of expressing words of a language in writing was brought to Egypt from Sumerian Mesopotamia". There are many instances of Egypt-Mesopotamia relations at the time of the invention of writing, and standard reconstructions of the development of writing generally place the development of the Summerian proto-cuneiform script before the development of Egyptian hieroglyphs, with the suggestion the former influenced the latter.Between half a million and two million cuneiform tablets are estimated to have been excavated in modern times, of which only approximately 30,000–100,000 have been read or published. The British Museum holds the largest collection (c. 130,000), followed by the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin, the Louvre, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, the National Museum of Iraq, the Yale Babylonian Collection (c. 40,000) and Penn Museum. Most of these have "lain in these collections for a century without being translated, studied or published", as there are only a few hundred qualified cuneiformists in the world.


In philology, decipherment is the discovery of the meaning of texts written in ancient or obscure languages or scripts. Decipherment in cryptography refers to decryption. The term is used sardonically in everyday language to describe attempts to read poor handwriting. In genetics, decipherment is the successful attempt to understand DNA, which is viewed metaphorically as a text containing word-like units. Throughout science the term decipherment is synonymous with the understanding of biological and chemical phenomena.

He (letter)

He is the fifth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Hē , Hebrew Hē ה, Aramaic Hē , Syriac Hē ܗ, and Arabic Hāʾ ه. Its sound value is a voiceless glottal fricative ([h]).

The proto-Canaanite letter gave rise to the Greek Epsilon, Etruscan 𐌄, Latin E, Ë and Ɛ, and Cyrillic Е, Ё, Є and Э. He, like all Phoenician letters, represented a consonant, but the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic equivalents have all come to represent vowel sounds.

History of the alphabet

The history of alphabetic writing goes back to the consonantal writing system used for Semitic languages in the Levant in the 2nd millennium BCE. Most or nearly all alphabetic scripts used throughout the world today ultimately go back to this Semitic proto-alphabet. Its first origins can be traced back to a Proto-Sinaitic script developed in Ancient Egypt to represent the language of Semitic-speaking workers in Egypt. This script was partly influenced by the older Egyptian hieratic, a cursive script related to Egyptian hieroglyphs.Mainly through Phoenician and Aramaic, two closely related members of the Semitic family of scripts that were in use during the early first millennium BCE, the Semitic alphabet became the ancestor of multiple writing systems across the Middle East, Europe, northern Africa and South Asia.

Some modern authors distinguish between consonantal scripts of the Semitic type, called "abjads", and "true alphabets" in the narrow sense, the distinguishing criterion being that true alphabets consistently assign letters to both consonants and vowels on an equal basis, while in an abjad each symbol usually stands for a consonant. In this sense, the first true alphabet was the Greek alphabet, which was adapted from the Phoenician. Latin, the most widely used alphabet today, in turn derives from Greek (by way of Cumae and the Etruscans).

Hurrian religion

The Hurrian religion was the polytheistic religion of the Hurrians, a Bronze Age people of the Near East. These people settled over a wide area, so there were differences between them, especially between the eastern Hurrians around Nuzi and Arrapha and the western Hurrians in Syria and Anatolia. From the 14th century BC, the Hurrian religion had a powerful influence on the Hittite religion and the Hurrian pantheon is depicted in the 13th century rock reliefs at the important Hittite sanctuary at Yazılıkaya.


Kaf (also spelled kaph) is the eleventh letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Kāp 𐤊‎ , Hebrew Kāf כ, Aramaic Kāp 𐡊‎ , Syriac Kāp̄ ܟܟ‎, and Arabic Kāf ک‎/ك‎ (in Abjadi order).

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek kappa (Κ), Latin K, and Cyrillic К.

National Museum of Damascus

The National Museum of Damascus (Arabic: المتحف الوطني بدمشق‎) is a museum in the heart of Damascus, Syria. As the country's national museum as well as its largest, this museum covers the entire range of Syrian history over a span of over 11 millennia, and displays various important artifacts, relics and major finds most notably from Mari, Ebla and Ugarit, three of Syria's most important ancient archaeological sites. Established in 1919, during King Faisal's Arab Kingdom of Syria, the museum is the oldest cultural heritage institution in Syria.Among the museum's highlights are, arguably, the Dura-Europos synagogue, a reconstructed synagogue dated to 245 AD which was moved piece by piece to Damascus in the 1930s and is noted for its vibrant and well preserved wall paintings and frescoes, also textiles from central Palmyra, and statues of the Greek goddess of victory from the south. The museum houses over 5000 cuneiform tablets, among them is the first alphabet in history, written down on a clay tablet, the Ugaritic alphabet. The museum is further adorned by 2nd-century murals, elaborate tombs, and the recently restored Lion of al-Lat, which originally stood guard at the National Museum of Palmyra but was whisked away to Damascus for safeguarding.The museum closed its doors in 2012 after the Syrian Civil War engulfed Damascus and threatened its rich cultural artifacts. The museum authorities quickly unloaded more than 300,000 artifacts and hid them in secret locations to safeguard Syria's cultural heritage from destruction and looting. After 6 years, the museum reopened 4 of the museum's 5 wings on October 29, 2018.

Old Persian cuneiform

Old Persian cuneiform is a semi-alphabetic cuneiform script that was the primary script for Old Persian. Texts written in this cuneiform have been found in Iran (Persepolis, Susa, Hamadan, Kharg Island), Armenia, Romania (Gherla), Turkey (Van Fortress), and along the Suez Canal. They were mostly inscriptions from the time period of Darius I, such as the DNa inscription, as well as his son, Xerxes I. Later kings down to Artaxerxes III used more recent forms of the language classified as "pre-Middle Persian".

Pe (letter)

Pe is the seventeenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Pē , Hebrew Pē פ, Aramaic Pē , Syriac Pē ܦ, and Arabic Fāʼ ف (in abjadi order).

The original sound value is a voiceless bilabial plosive: /p/; it retains this value in most Semitic languages except for Arabic, which having lost /p/ now uses it to render a voiceless labiodental fricative /f/.

The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek Pi (Π), Latin P, and Cyrillic П.

Phoenician alphabet

The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, is the oldest verified alphabet. It is an alphabet of abjad type, consisting of 22 consonant letters only, leaving vowel sounds implicit, although certain late varieties use matres lectionis for some vowels. It was used to write Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the ancient civilization of Phoenicia in modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and northern Israel.The Phoenician alphabet, which the Phoenicians adapted from the early West Semitic alphabet, is ultimately derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. It became one of the most widely used writing systems, spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, where it was adopted and modified by many other cultures. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet is a local variant of Phoenician, as is the Aramaic alphabet, the ancestor of the modern Arabic. Modern Hebrew script is a stylistic variant of the Aramaic. The Greek alphabet (with its descendants Latin, Cyrillic, Runic, and Coptic) also derives from the Phoenician.

As the letters were originally incised with a stylus, they are mostly angular and straight, although cursive versions steadily gained popularity, culminating in the Neo-Punic alphabet of Roman-era North Africa.

Phoenician was usually written right to left, though some texts alternate directions (boustrophedon).

Raoul Gregory Vitale

Raoul Gregory Vitale (12 February 1928 – 29 September 2003) was a Syrian musicologist who introduced the total description of the ancient Babylonian musical scales used in Music of Mesopotamia and Near East, and also a complete interpretation of the musical notation of the Hurrian Hymn 6 discovered in Ugarit which is considered to be the first known complete musical notation.

Tauba Auerbach

Tauba Auerbach (born 1981 in San Francisco, California) is a visual artist working across many disciplines including painting, artists' books, photography, and sculpture. Her work "operat[es] in the gap between conceptual art, abstraction and graphic art". She lives and works in New York.


Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one script to another that involves swapping letters (thus trans- + liter-) in predictable ways (such as α → a, д → d, χ → ch, ն → n or æ → ae).

For instance, for the Modern Greek term "Ελληνική Δημοκρατία", which is usually translated as "Hellenic Republic", the usual transliteration to Latin script is "Ellēnikḗ Dēmokratía", and the name for Russia in Cyrillic script, "Россия", is usually transliterated as "Rossiya".

Transliteration is not primarily concerned with representing the sounds of the original but rather with representing the characters, ideally accurately and unambiguously. Thus, in the above example, λλ is transliterated as 'll', but pronounced /l/; Δ is transliterated as 'D', but pronounced /ð/; and η is transliterated as 'ē', though it is pronounced /i/ (exactly like ι) and is not long.

Conversely, transcription notes the sounds but not necessarily the spelling. So "Ελληνική Δημοκρατία" could be transcribed as "elinikí ðimokratía", which does not specify which of the /i/ sounds are written as η and which as ι.


Tsade (also spelled Ṣade, Ṣādē, Ṣaddi, Ṣad, Tzadi, Sadhe, Tzaddik) is the eighteenth letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician Ṣādē , Hebrew Ṣādi צ, Aramaic Ṣāḏē , Syriac Ṣāḏē ܨ, Ge'ez Ṣädäy ጸ, and Arabic Ṣād ص. Its oldest sound value is probably /sˤ/, although there is a variety of pronunciation in different modern Semitic languages and their dialects. It represents the coalescence of three Proto-Semitic "emphatic consonants" in Canaanite. Arabic, which kept the phonemes separate, introduced variants of ṣād and ṭāʾ to express the three (see ḍād, ẓāʾ). In Aramaic, these emphatic consonants coalesced instead with ʿayin and ṭēt, respectively, thus Hebrew ereṣ ארץ (earth) is araʿ ארע in Aramaic.

The Phoenician letter is continued in the Greek San (Ϻ) and possibly Sampi (Ϡ), and in Etruscan 𐌑 Ś. It may have inspired the form of the letter Tse in the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets.

The corresponding letter of the Ugaritic alphabet is 𐎕 ṣade.

The letter is named "tsadek" in Yiddish, and Hebrew speakers often give it a similar name as well. This name for the letter probably originated from a fast recitation of the alphabet (i.e., "tsadi, qoph" → "tsadiq, qoph"), influenced by the Hebrew word tzadik, meaning "righteous person".


Ugarit (; Ugaritic: 𐎜𐎂𐎗𐎚, ʼUgart; Arabic: أُوغَارِيت‎ Ūġārīt or أُوجَارِيت Ūǧārīt) was an ancient port city in northern Syria, in the outskirts of modern Latakia, discovered by accident in 1928 together with the Ugaritic texts. Its ruins are often called Ras Shamra after the headland where they lie.

Ugarit had close connections to the Hittite Empire, sent tribute to Egypt at times, and maintained trade and diplomatic connections with Cyprus (then called Alashiya), documented in the archives recovered from the site and corroborated by Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery found there. The polity was at its height from c. 1450 BCE until its destruction in c. 1200 BCE; this destruction was possibly caused by the mysterious Sea Peoples. The kingdom would be one of the many destroyed during the Bronze Age Collapse.


Ugaritic () is an extinct Amorite language known through the Ugaritic texts discovered by French archaeologists in 1929. It is known almost only in the Ugarit texts found in the ruined city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra, Syria). It has been used by scholars of the Hebrew Bible to clarify Biblical Hebrew texts and has revealed ways in which the cultures of ancient Israel and Judah found parallels in the neighboring cultures.Ugaritic has been called "the greatest literary discovery from antiquity since the deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform".

Ugaritic grammar

Note: vowels in this article are reconstructed via comparative Semitics.Ugaritic is an extinct Northwest Semitic language. This article describes the grammar of the Ugaritic language. For more information regarding the Ugaritic language in general, see Ugaritic language.

Word divider

In punctuation, a word divider is a glyph that separates written words. In languages which use the Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic alphabets, as well as other scripts of Europe and West Asia, the word divider is a blank space, or whitespace, a convention which is spreading, along with other aspects of European punctuation, to Asia and Africa. However, many languages of East Asia are written without word separation .

In character encoding, word segmentation depends on which characters are defined as word dividers.


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