After more than a year of waffling, I’ve decided to formally write up my random speculations on the possibility that Niqmaddu (III?) and perhaps other kings of Ugarit were literate. I want to see if the resultant paper will convince first myself and then anyone else. I’m in what I think of as the second, and most tedious, phase of the literature search. This work takes lots of time with often minimal payback. I may have something to share from this search later. I’ve shared parts of the these speculations elsewhere. Today, I thought I’d share a little snipped of some additional very circumstantial and quite curious evidence. Well, at least its evidence for something; exactly what I’m not completely sure.
Depending on what and how one counts, there were eight locations at Ugarit where excavators found assemblages of classical Akkadian school tablets generally indicative of scribal training: 1) Rap’anu’s house, 2) Room 34, perhaps associated with Rap’anu’s house or that of his neighbor, 3) the Southern Villa (the Tablet House), 4) the Lamaštu archive, 5) the Central Villa, 6) Rašap’abu’s house, 7) the House of the Scholar (the house of the ‘letter’) but some of these tablets may have actually come from the adjacent house of Rašap’abu, and 8) the Royal Palace. Excavators also found somewhat less definitive assemblages of such tablets at other locations; the house of Yabninu (Southern Palace) and the house of the Hurrian Priest come to mind. In addition, nearby Ras Ibn Hani yielded a few typical school tablets.
There are fourteen tablets with abecedaries that reflect the canonical order of the Ugaritic alphabet from the city of Ugarit. Half of them, seven, come from the Royal Palace. This is by far more than from any other locations where, it is reasonable to assume, students learned to read and write Ugaritic; the next closest number is two tablets each from the vicinity of house of Rap’anu and Room 10 of the House of the Hurrian Priest.
One should compare this seeming disproportionately large number of abecedaries from the Royal Palace with the relatively few Akkadian, mostly lexical, school texts found there: nine compared with over 50 from the Southern Villa (Tablet House) and well over 100 from the house of Rap’anu. To be sure, the number of Akkadian school texts from the Royal Palace compares favorably with the number from the Central Villa (6) and the house of Rašap’abu (9). There is some danger in making too much of these numbers. Many questions are unanswered or unanswerable. How many master texts did each location maintain? How complete were their sets? How long and why did they keep student work?
- KTU 5.5, abecedary fragment (last three letters), west entrance, room 3(?)
- KTU 5.6, full abecedary, west entrance, room 3(?)
- KTU 5.8, partial abecedary (through w,) east area, room 45
- KTU 5.9, letter with two partial (through y) abecedaries and individual letter exercise, west area, room 73
- KTU 5.13, 6 multiple lines of partial abecedaries (through ṭ), the first in a practiced hand, followed by one complete abecedary plus a large letter z, southwest area room 81
- KTU 5.14, complete alphabet with syllabic equivalents, southwest room 81
- KTU 5.25, syllabic legal text followed by a fragmentary but likely complete abecedary, central area, courtyard IV
Another certain alphabetic school text, although not an abecedary, KTU 5.7, also came from the general area of the west palace entrance, room 3. The Royal Palace was a large complex. It covered over 7,000 square meters at the time of its final destruction. There is strong evidence, staircases etc, that much, if not all, of the palace had more than one story. It had nearly 100 rooms on the ground floor and several courtyards. If one looks at the physical distribution of the abecedaries found there, they are from all over the place – from the west entrance, or more likely from rooms above it, in the northwest corner of the palace; to room 45 in the eastern part of the complex; to room 81 near the southern extreme of the palace complex. I’m not sure what to make of this aside from noting the appearance that training in the Ugaritic alphabet occurred throughout the complex. The find spots of the few syllabic school texts discovered in the Royal Palace seem to cluster around room 63, part of the central courtyard complex. One syllabic school text, an Akkadian/Sumerian multilingual grammatical text, was found in the west entrance near two of the abecedaries. When, I told Shirley about the distribution of the school tablets, she said that the real scholars had their quarters in the center part of the palace, but the royal kids studied wherever they desired. I wish I was so sure of this and sure that the students were really the children of the king. But I do like the idea. There may be a footnote from this particular observation but little more. I’m still working out how the find spots of these tablets relate to the find spots of the many archival tablets found in the Royal Palace. Bordreuil and Padree have much of this information with regard to the texts in Ugaritic but the exact finds spots of most the Akkadian archives from the palace are somewhat harder to come by.
For completeness, here is a list of abecedaries from places other than the Royal Palace:
- KTU 5.4, complete abecedary, Northwestern area across the street from the Royal Palace sometimes thought to be the residence of the queen mother, also sometimes called the house of the lead ingots
- KTU 5:12, complete abecedary followed by a partial abecedary (through g) in a different hand (?), the house of Yabninu (Southern Palace) room 204
- KTU 5:16, four fragmentary partial (?) abecedaries of differing lengths, the second abecedary is complete and others may have been also, Rap’anu’s house (?), room 34
- KTU 5:17, two complete abecedaries separated by a scribe line plus three syllabic signs, Rap’anu’s house, room 5
- KTU 5:19, a complete abecedary plus three additional letters, q, h, ẓ, Southern Villa (the Tablet House)
- KTU 5.20, complete abecedary followed by another complete abecedary that mirrors the letter groupings by line of the first abecedary, House of the Hurrian Priest Room 10
- KTU 5:21 complete abecedary on two lines followed by the letter s on a third line, House of the Hurrian Priest Room 10
There are two other cuneiform abecedaries in roughly the order of the Old South Arabic alphabet rather than the “normal” order, one from Beth Shemesh, KTU 5.24, and the other from house of Urtēnu at Ugarit, RS 88.2215. While these two abecedaries are abnormally interesting and occupy special places in the history of the cuneiform alphabet, they do not seem to me to be within the scope of normal scribal training at Ugarit.
van Soldt, W. H., “Babylonian Lexical, Religious and Literary Texts, and Scribal Education at Ugarit and its Implications for the Alphabetic Literary Texts,” Ugarit: ein ostmediterranes Kulturzentrum in Alten Orient: Ergebnisse und Perspektiven der Forshung, Dietrich and Loretz eds., Abhandlungen zur Literatur Alt-Syrien-Palästinas; Bd. 7, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995, 171-212