Category Archives: Ugarit

Tablets as Archaeological Objects

Like Jim Davila, I missed the publication of a new, large, fragment of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš when it came out last year. Al-Rawi and George’s publication (“Back to the Cedar Forest: The beginning and end of Tablet V of the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgameš,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 66 [2014], 69-90) of the fragment is abnormally interesting for a number of reasons. Among these is their discussion of the role of the physical examination of tablets in the scholarly history of how to order the material in tablet V. In the course of this discussion they take a shot at much recent work.

Understanding cuneiform tablets as archaeological objects is a practice that had few exponents for much of the twentieth century, when Assyriologists too often gave all their attention to the inscribed text as a self-contained intellectual resource disembodied from the medium on which it was written. (71)

Al-Rawi and George are talking about the shape and other physical properties of the surface of tablets but the same can be said of the details of the provenance of tablets. In the case of their fragment the provenance is unknown. Even where we know the excavation site we often don’t know the exact find spot. This is particularly true of older excavations. I once asked an Assyriologist about the find spot of a tablet from Kuyunjik. He told me to just be happy that we are relatively sure it is from Nineveh!


Still, I think it is important to treat tablets as archaeological objects, as artifacts, whenever we can. Back in March I gave a paper at the SBL Pacific Coast Regional Meeting outlining some evidence for professional literacy at Ugarit. Much of that paper was based on features of tablet utilization, the curvature of the tablet surfaces, sign morphology and find spot. As I said in that paper,

My evidence for professional literacy at Ugarit depends on the study of tablets with alphabetic cuneiform writing as artifacts in their totality and not just as media for texts in the Ugaritic language.

Some of you know that I have toyed with the possibility that the later kings of Ugarit were literate in the local vernacular. Much of my thought process on is driven by the archaeological context of certain Ugaritic tablets as much as by what is on those tablets. More on this later – – maybe.

How a Footnote Stopped a Note

I’ve been writing a note on how an Ugaritic meteorological term (ģrpl) can be a trope for snake venom (ḥmt) in KTU 1.107 (RS 24.251+). I thought I discovered something. Enuma Elish V:49-52 mentions that Marduk reserved for himself wind, kaṣāṣa-rain, and fog, “spreading her (Tiamat’s) venom (Akkadian imtiša).” And then I found this in a footnote in Pardee’s 1988 edition of the Ugaritic text.

De Moor (OTS 24 [1986], p. 10) a cité comme parallèle littéraire pour les nuages porteurs de venin l’association de la brume et du poison dans l’Enuma Elish babylonien (V 51); dans le texte babylonien c’est Mardouk qui agit mais dans ce même contexte (ligne 45) il s’agit de l’établissement de la divinité solaire, Šapaš.

And so ended my hope for fame and fortune.

Oswald Loretz – January 14, 1928 – April 12, 2014

Oswald Loretz was a preeminent student of all things Ugaritic and of the ancient Near East more generally. His individual body of work is massive. When combined with the work he did in partnership with Manfried Dietrich, his contribution is almost unbelievable. My personal library has several works he wrote or edited. One of these I consult very frequently. I’m glad to know the others are on my shelves when I need them. Oswald Loretz, I never met you but I will miss you. The world of ancient Near Eastern scholarship will miss you.
Via Jack Sasson

Nuˁmu-Rašpu or Mudammiq-Nergal

How should I understand the name of the scribe who crafted the now fragmentary Akkadian account of the Flood (RS 25.421) from Ugarit? The first line of the colophon reads ŠU mSIG5.dGÌR.UNU.GAL, “(By the) hand of . . . ” – well by the hand of somebody. The same scribe’s name appears to also be written mSIG5.dMAS.MAS and mSIG5.dKAL. He likely worked at Ugarit during the reigns of Ammittamrru II, Ibrianu and Niqmaddu III.
The same signs I transliterated mSIG5.dGÌR.UNU.GAL are sometimes transliterated mSIG5.dNÈ.IRI11(x).GAL. Various scholars have preferences in this matter but those preferences are not based on the cuneiform signs themselves.
Let’s start with the theophoric element, dGÌR.UNU.GAL. This and dMAS.MAS are rather common writings for the Mesopotamian god Nergal. But in the pantheon texts from Ugarit (RS 1.017:27, 24.264:26, 20.024:26, 24.642:8) dGÌR.UNU.GAL equates to rsp. Not too surprising that Mesopotamian Nergal would equate to Ugaritic Rašap/Rašpu. There’s really nothing controversial about this. A dozen personal names from Ugarit have rsp as a theophoric element and either dGÌR.UNU.GAL or dMAS.MAS generally represents rsp in Akkadian texts from Ugarit. For example, alphabetic ilršp is written mdAN. MAS.MAS in RS 17.61:18.
Now for the first element: SIG5 generally stands for Akkadian damqu. Akkadian damqu is (nearly) semantically equivalent to Ugaritic ncm. Both mean “good, pleasant, beautiful.” We see mnu-ma-re-ša-ip in a list of 16 otherwise unidentified people (RS 2007:2). This is not necessarily our scribe but the name does represent a spelled out version of a very similar name in a western (Ugaritic?) form. [Note for later reference the u vowel in nu-ma-.] The alphabetic place name ykncm is written URUia-ku-SIG5 in RS 11:800:13’ and elsewhere. Finally one should note mSIG5na (RS 17.150+17.34:36 and elsewhere) which almost certainly equates to the Ugaritic personal name ncmn.
For the record, Nougayrol (Ug 5, 303) rendered our scribe’s name Na’amrašap; Lambert and Millard (Atra-Ḫasīs, 133) rendered it Mudammiq-Nergal; and Huehnergard (The Akkadian of Ugarit, 344) rendered it Nucmu-Rašpu. On this Münniche (The God Resheph in the Ancient Near East, 145, n240) says, “Lambert & Millard 1969, 132-133 translate the name as Mudammiq-Nergal, which is improbable at Ugarit both because of the Mesopotamian form of the god’s name and the reading of the sign SIG5.”
So how should I render mSIG5.dGÌR.UNU.GAL? I’m not sure. If I think this scribe is from Mesopotamia as Naḫiš-šalmu likely was, something like Mudammiq-Nergal might be on or near the mark. Such a name is known from Mesopotamia. But if I think he was born and raised at Ugarit or at least in the West then I think I need to render it Nucmu-Rašpu or the like.
Now if you thought that was fun, I bet you can’t wait for my post on the line in RS 22.121’s colophon that follows ŠU mSIG5.dGÌR.UNU.GAL. It reads S[A]G(?) dŠU.GAR .DURU2.NA or something very much like that. These concerns are diversions from the issue I’m really working on. Maybe I’ll get past these diversions and have something abnormally interesting to say about the Flood account as known at Ugarit.
Update: January 16, 2014
I just noticed that I posted the complete text and my translation of this tablet in August of 2010. What a memory! I still have a couple of things I what to say that I didn’t say then but it may take me a while to get them together.

Plotting Akkadian Scholarly Tablets

The other day I plotted the distribution of Ugaritic school tablets within the Royal Palace at Ugarit. Today I do the same thing for the Akkadian and Sumerian scholarly texts found there.

Akkadian scholarly texts

Considering the large number of Akkadian texts found in the Royal Palace, the first thing one notices about the scholarly texts is how few of them there are to plot – 7 if you count the one that is a surface find. Second, one notices that all these texts are advanced. Texts like Ḫarra=ḫubullu and 1 come quite late in the standard scribal curriculum. There is not TU-TA-TI, a Silbenalphabet A or a Sa Syllabary or Sa Vocabulary among them. These more elementary texts are all well represented in other centers of learning at Ugarit. Except for RS 16.364 and, of course, the surface fine, the scholarly texts from the Royal Palace were found among or very near large archives.
What to make of this? Again, I’m not sure. However, it does appear that Akkadian was taught in the Royal Palace at Ugarit. But to whom? Arguments from absence are dangerous but the presences of advanced texts to the exclusion of elementary ones leads me to speculate that the Akkadian students in the Palace were advanced students, perhaps apprentice scribers, who took their elementary training elsewhere.

Plotting Tablets

I’m still messing around with the question of why half of the abecedaries found at Ugarit were found in the Royal Palace. Part of the project involves plotting the find locations. I’ve plotted find spots over Yon’s map of the Royal Palace.

Plot of Ugaritic school tablets found in the Royal Palace

Some of you will note that I have not included KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80 on this plot. While some may see these two texts as school texts, I don’t. I see them as the work of a literate professional who lacked (full?) scribal training. Others may question the appropriateness of a few of the other tablets I do plot (KTU 193 for example). So do I.
The locations plotted on this map are at best approximate. Room location is reasonably accurate but exact locations within a room are not. One thing to notice is that there are two tablet clusters on this plot. The most obvious cluster of Ugaritic school texts in coincident with the Southwest Archives. It is in this area that archaeologists uncovered the tablet with equates alphabetic letters and syllabic equivalents (KTU 5.14). This archive is dominated by Ugaritic texts that are clearly not school texts but the work of professional scribes working as scribes rather than master teachers. Another cluster is the area just east of the Royal Plaza in the vicinity of the West Archives. Remember, in both cases, it is likely that tablets came from upstairs locations when the Palace collapsed. The other three school tablets, all abecedaries, are scattered around without clear association with each other or either of the two clusters. KTU 5.9 may be associated with the Annex Archives but the other two do not appear to be associated with any well-defined archive.
Below is a plot of the Location of the Royal Palace archives.

Plot of Royal Palace Archives

What can we learn from this? I’m not sure as yet. My views on this are in flux. My current working hypothesis is that two classes of students were taught to read and write Ugaritic in alphabetic script within the Royal Palace. I now imagine that those who studied Ugaritic in the vicinity of the Southwest archives were apprentice scribes well advanced in Akkadian but just learning Ugaritic. I tend to associate the other locations with a different class of student, possibly members of the royal family and/or palace officials other than scribes. I won’t recite my arguments for these opinions now. Suffice to say that my agreements are rather weak – barely strong enough to trigger self-confirming bias. I’m working to see how my arguments will develop as I look at other evidence. I will plot the find locations of the Akkadian scholarly texts found in the Royal Palace for a future post.

RS 1957.1 – From Where Did It Come?

There are likely no more than six people in the world that give a hoot about the topic of this post and of those only half will find the following abnormally interesting. But I am among that half, so here goes.

RS 1957.1 Reverse with seal

RS 1957.1 Reverse
Schøyen Collection Photo

I’ve mentioned the Akkadian tablet RS 1957.1 before. These days it’s sometimes referred to by its Schøyen Collection catalogue number, MS 1955. But I will always think of it as part of the Claremont Ras Shamra collection. (A pause please while I suppress a vile outbreak of involuntary swearing . . . . Now that’s better, but this understandable affliction could return at any time.) The tablet is a decree from Initeššub, king of Carchemish concerning Amistamru, king of Ugarit’s divorce of Piddu, the daughter of Benešena, king of the Amurru. But it is not the only tablet on this issue. Three other tablets address the issue rather directly: RS 17.159 (PRU IV 126), RS 17.396 (PRU IV, 127), and RS 17.348 (PRU IV, 128). Seven additional tablets relate in one way or another to Amistamru and his queen and two others may well inform the situation.
While there is no doubt that RS 1957.1 is from Ugarit its provenance beyond that is unknown. According to the official story it was illegally excavated in 1957 and appeared on the antiquities market in 1969 or perhaps a little before. See Fisher, 7. But can we nail its provenance down a little closer? Wilfred van Soldt collected the find spots of all (most?) of the tablets from Ugarit in his somewhat hard to get hold of but still important if somewhat out of date Studies in the Akkadian of Ugarit. Here are find spots of RS 17.159, RS 17.396 and RS 17.348. After the tablet’s excavation number and PRU page reference is the numeric point reference of the find spot, then comes the depth in meters and the find location in terms of its location among the various architectural features of the Royal Palace at Ugarit. Finally, in parentheses, I give the page in van Soldt from which I got this information
RS 17.159 (PRU IV, 126) 1006, 0.55 Room 68 (97)
RS 17.396 (PRU IV, 127) 1201, 3.00 Room 68 (99)
RS 17.348 (PRU IV, 128) 1238, 2.05 Room 69 (101)
Tablets found in Rooms 68 and 69 are associated with the South Archive. So are those from Court V. van Soldt subdivides Court V into three regions. There is no surprise here. With the exception of two tablets, all the tablets published by Nougayrol in PRU IV are from the South Archive. What van Soldt adds to Nougayrol’s listing, 272-276, are the associated architectural features. The current thinking is that tablets scattered in considerable number in these locations came from a second story collapse. Here are the find data for the seven tablets that I described as relating to the concerns of RS 1975.1, RS 17.159, RS 17.396, and RS 17.348.
RS 17.116 (PRU IV, 132) (103) 879, 2.10 Court V-1
RS 16.270 (PRU IV, 134) (82) 444, 068 Court IV/VI
RS 17.365+18.06 (PRU IV, 137) (105) 1206, 1.55 Court V-2; join PC/PS 1253, 0.90
RS 17.318+17.349A (PRU IV, 144) (98) 1202, 3.40(?) 91, 1.80 Room 68; join 1191, 1.8
RS 17.372A+360A (PRU IV, 139) (101) 1208, 2.20 Room 69; join 1207, 3.4 Room 68
RS 17.450A (PRU IV, 144) (101) 1029, 0.50 Room 69.
RS 17.82 (PRU IV, 147) (), 799, 16 (from Nougayrol, 272), ?
Note that five of these tablets come either from Rooms 68 or 69 or from Court V. In other words, they come from the South Archive. No surprise. RS 16.270 is an anomaly, one of the two exceptions in PRU IV. It comes from the Court IV/VI complex, in other words from the Central Archive. I didn’t know that I would be worrying about this exact problem, so I failed to record van Soldt’s summary of RS 17.82. If this ever becomes more than a blog post I will need to make sure I recover its information. But from PRU IV I am quite sure that it comes from the South Archive even if I’m not exactly sure where it was found. O yeah, the other two tablets that I mentioned above, RS 17.228 (PRU IV, 141) and RS 17.365 (PRU IV, 137), are also from the South Archive, both found in Room 68 to be specific.
Notice that the two fragments of the joined tablet RS 17.372A+360A are associated with different rooms. However, there can be no doubt that they were together (as a single tablet) at one time and likely became broken and separated during the collapse that brought them to the places Schaeffer found them. The fragments of RS 17.318+17.349A were found in the same room, Room 68. It’s not exactly clear where RS 18.06, the join of RS 17.365+18.06, came from. I don’t have a reference handy so I can’t identify point 1253. I will need to find it should this blog post develop into more than a blog post. PC/PS covers the whole of the Royal Palace and the South Palace (the house of Yabninu) complex. Perhaps we should think of the plaza, directly south of area of the Royal Palace that housed the South Archive. It separates the Royal Palace from the South Palace. Tablets were found in this plaza area. In any case, Nougayrol, 276, associates RS 18.06 with the South Archive.
Does any of this inform us concerning the provenance RS 1957.1? Well, it depends on what one means by “inform” and perhaps what one means by “provenance. It does not bring certainty. But I do think it does bring a relatively high probability to part of the issue; early in its sojourn RS 1957.1 was very likely part in the South Archive. With somewhat less probability, I think it is fair to say that it was associated with those tablets recovered form Rooms 68 and 69 in the Royal Palace of Ugarit.

Fisher, Loren R., ed., The Claremont Ras Shamra Tablets (Analecta Orientalia 48; Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1971)
Nougayrol, Jean, Textes Accadiens des Archives Sud, Le Palais Royal d’Ugarit IV (PRU IV; Claude Schaeffer, ed; Mission de Ras Shamra, IX; Paris: Kinchsieck, 1956)
van Soldt, Wilfred, Studies in the Akkadian of Ugarit (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 40; Neukirchener Verlag 1991).

KTU 1.79, Where? Oh Where Are You From?

After a multi-year diversion into divination, I’m back worrying about literacy and scribal practices at Ugarit and vicinity. Back in 2008 I speculated that KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80 (RS 13.006 and RS 15.072) might have something to say on these issues. These two descriptions of sacrificial practice were both found in the Royal Palace at Ugarit. But, as Pardee argues, they do not reflect royal sacrificial practice. Internally, the texts locate these sacrifices in the hinterlands of Ugarit – certainly not in the Palace or the big city.
van Soldt, 292 tells us, “Five major archives were discovered in this Late Bronze Age building, among which a clear distribution of genre and consequently, of language and script can be established.” So I wondered about the exact find spots of KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80. KTU 1.80 seems rather straight forward. It was unearthed at a depth of 0.82 meters in room 41 of the Royal Palace of Ugarit. I’m not sure that the situation with KTU 1.79 is so clear. The official inventory places its discovery at a depth of 0.80 meters in Courtyard I of the Royal Palace. I wonder.
The two tablets have much in common. Both are about the same size and color; both have the very unusual property of extending a line or lines from the obverse around the right edge and continuing it well across the reverse; both show the same peculiarities of ductus – for example, strange writing of the Š with two unusually oriented Winkelhaken; failure to rotate the stylus when forming vertical wedges. Both are on the same subject, have similar formal structures and refer to the same person (Ṣitqānu) and same place (the Ilishtami plantation).
Were these tablets kept more than 30 meters apart with neither of them clearly associated with a major archive? I somewhat doubt it. Room 41 is quite a ways from the find spots of other alphabetic tablets (of any tablets for that matter). The nearest archive is 25 meters or so to the east. Why would one keep such a tablet all by itself in Room 41 or, more likely, above Room 41? While a few other tablets were recovered from Courtyard 1, it is mid-way between the West Archive about 20 meters to the north, and the Annex Office Archive about 20 meters to the south. (Don’t worry about tablets found in courtyards, they likely come from the collapse of a second story.) Pardee, 428, makes an interesting observation about KTU 1.79, “The state of wear on the surface indicates that the tablet had to be exposed to the elements for a sufficient period [to cause that wear].” But when and under what circumstances? Pardee concludes, “We shall probably never know how these two tablets, which seem to have no relation to the palatial concerns, finally came to be separated by 30 meters.” While I think they were both written in the hinterlands, I wonder if perhaps they were both originally stored in Room 41 and became separated at some later (modern?) time. If so, they were both kept together in a part of the palace where few other tablets were stored. Pardee wonders if “ . . . the isolation provides an indication of fortuitous presence in the Palace.”
Is this important to the larger question I am investigating? I don’t know. It sure is a curiosity. In a future post I’ll discuss Pardee’s question concerning the possibility of one or both of these tablets being scribal exercises – as some scholars have suggested.

Pardee, Dennis, Les Textes Rituels (Ras Shamra-Ougarit XII; Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 2000).
van Soldt, Wilfred H., “Private Archives at Ugarit,” in Bongenaar, A. C. V. M., ed, Interdependency of Institutions and Private Entrepreneurs, Proceeding of the Second MOS Symposium (Leiden, 1998) (Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 2000), 292 – 245.

Est confirmée par collation

With these words my little research project on the meaning of SAL.É/KID.KAR comes to a cross roads. “. . .est confirmée par collation” is what Sylvie Lackenbacher wrote to justify reading SAL.KID.KAR at the end of RS 8.208 line 6. What this means is that she looked at the actual tablet and believes she saw SAL.KID.KAR rather than SAL.É.KAR as Thureau-Dangin and Nougayrol thought they saw. My working thesis requires that the tablet read SAL.É.KAR.
If you have really abnormal interests and are not sure what this is all about check out my posts on the Akkadian tablet RS 8.208 from Ugarit. At the time I wrote those posts I hadn’t read Sylvie Lackenbacher or Enst Kutsch’s translations and discussions of the tablet as a whole or these three signs in particular. I’ve now read them. Kutsch appears to be the first to suggest SAL.KID.KAR. Lackenbacher and the CAD lexicographers follow him.
Without actually seeing the tablet there is no way I can argue against something that “est confirmée par collation.”
So I now have a new set of questions. Do I believe strongly enough in my thesis to justify a trip to Paris (or maybe to Syria!) for the evidence in the clay. Or is there a high resolution photograph of RS 8.208 that will serve my purposes? While I’m sure Shirley would be happy to join me in Paris, I’m not so sure about Syria. I will try to look into the question of a high resolution photograph first. My total research budget for this project is the cost of a trip to Paris short of the cost of a trip to Paris.
But this is how research goes. I always learn more from the journey than from the destination. This little experience also shows the importance of a literature search.
I may have some more to say on all this and prostitution in an upcoming post.

Kutsch, Enst, Salbung als Rechtsakt im Alten Testament und im Alten Orient (BZAW 87; Berlin: A. Töpelmann, 1963), 16-17.
Lackenbacher, Sylvie, Textes akkadiens d’ Ugarit: textes provenant des vingt-cinq premières campagnes Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient, 1 (Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient, 20; Paris: Cerf, 2002), 332-34.
Nougayrol, Jean, “Textes Accadiens et Hourrites des Archives est, ouest et Centrales,” Claude Schaeffer ed., PRU III (Mission de Ras Shamra, VI ; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1995) 110-11.
Thureau-Dangin, F., “Trois Contrats de Ras-Shamra,” Syria, 18:3 (1937), 245-255

I’m Appealing To A Higher Power

Is there anyone among my abnormal readers who can help me sort something out? If not, I will need to write Marguerite Yon or P. Pierre Bordreuil or some curator at the Musée du Louvre and see if they can help.
Here’s the abnormal problem. Nougayrol, 110, n. 3, referenced a tablet he calls AO 17.203 in support of his rendering of SAL.É.KAR in line 6 of RS 8.208. In this note he says, “Ce nom d’état se retrouve dans un grand vocabulaire de Ras Shamra dont la publication est en préparation (AO 17.203, VI, 11 et suiv.).” AO 17.203 is certainly a Louvre catalogue number. It’s hard to believe that “grand vocabulaire de Ras Shamra” means anything other than the Sa polyglot vocabulary RS 20.123+ or one of the somewhat less grand texts from Ugarit of the same genre. But, when one looks at the published texts, it’s hard to understand the column and line designations. Bordreuil, Pardee, and Cunchillos, I, 30, identify this tablet as “RS 3.309 = RS 4.520” and call it a syllabary rather than a vocabulary. I can’t otherwise find a single reference to RS 3.309 or RS 4.520 and neither of them are, as far as I can tell, among the several fragments that make up RS 20.123+ or the other less grand vocabulary texts from Ugarit. In fact, if I weren’t so lazy, I’d call RS 20.123+ by its proper name, RS 20.123 + 180A + 180α + 185 A, B +180 A + 197 E + 426 C, E + 21.07 B. I also find it strange that Huehnergard doesn’t mention this tablet in either Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription or The Akkadian of Ugarit. At least I can’t find any reference to it in those works. And does Nougayrol mean that the ideogram complex SAL.É.KAR is in AO 17.203 or only KAR or something else?

Bordreuil, Pierre, Dennis Pardee, Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, La trouvaille épigraphique de l’Ougarit (2 vols.; Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les civilisations, 1989-1990).
Huehnergard, John, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription (Harvard Semitic Studies 32; Atlanta: Scholars Press 1987).
Huehnergard, John, The Akkadian of Ugarit (Harvard Semitic Studies 34; Atlanta: Scholars Press 1989).
Nougayrol, Jean, “Textes Accadiens et Hourrites des Archives est, ouest et Centrales,” Claude Schaeffer ed., Le Palais Royal d’Ugarit (PRU), III (Mission de Ras Shamra, VI; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1955).