The Ugaritic writing system
Script type
Time period
from around 1400 BCE
DirectionLeft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesUgaritic, Hurrian, Akkadian
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Ugar (040), ​Ugaritic
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Ugaritic writing system is a Cuneiform Abjad, consonantal alphabet, with syllabic elements used from around either 1400 BCE[1] or 1300 BCE[2] for Ugaritic, an extinct Northwest Semitic language. It was discovered in Ugarit, modern Ras Al 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 writing system and its descendants, including the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and Latin, and of the Ge'ez alphabet, which was also influenced by the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system,[3] and adapted for Amharic. The Arabic and Ancient South Arabian scripts are the only other Semitic alphabets which have letters for all or almost all of the 29 commonly reconstructed proto-Semitic consonant phonemes.

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, 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.[4]


The Ugaritic writing system was an augmented abjad. In most syllables only consonants were written, including the /w/ and /j/ of diphthongs. Ugaritic was unusual among early abjads because it also indicated vowels occurring 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/.[5][6]

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]."[7]

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/.[8] Segert instead theorizes that it may have been syllabic /su/, and for this reason grouped with the other syllabic signs /ʔi/ and /ʔu/.[9]

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.[4] 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.[citation needed]


Dark green shows the approximate spread of writing by 1300 BCE

At the time the Ugaritic script was in use (c. 1300–1190 BCE),[10] Ugarit, although not a great cultural or imperial centre, was located at the geographic 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). 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 is similar to the one found in Phoenician, Hebrew and Arabic, the earlier, so-called ʾabjadī order, and more distantly, the Greek and Latin alphabets. The "Southern Semitic order" is more similar to the one found in the South Arabian, and the Ge'ez alphabets. The Ugaritic (U) letters are given in cuneiform and transliteration.

North Semitic

Letter: 𐎀 𐎁 𐎂 𐎃 𐎄 𐎅 𐎆 𐎇 𐎈 𐎉 𐎊 𐎋 𐎌 𐎍 𐎎 𐎏 𐎐 𐎑 𐎒 𐎓 𐎔 𐎕 𐎖 𐎗 𐎘 𐎙 𐎚 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝
Transliteration: ʾa b g d h w z y k š l m n s ʿ p q r ġ t ʾi ʾu s2

South Semitic

Letter: 𐎅 𐎍 𐎈 𐎎 𐎖 𐎆 𐎌 𐎗 𐎚 𐎒 𐎋 𐎐 𐎃 𐎁 𐎔 𐎀 𐎓 𐎑 𐎂 𐎄 𐎙 𐎉 𐎇 𐎏 𐎊 𐎘 𐎕 [ 𐎛 𐎜 𐎝 ]
Transliteration: h l m q w š r t s k n b ś p ʾa ʿ g d ġ z y [ ʾi ʾu s2 ]


Ugaritic alphabet
Ugaritic Letters[14]
Sign Trans. IPA Phoenician Hebrew
𐎀 ʾa ʔa 𐤀 אַ
𐎁 b b 𐤁 ב
𐎂 g ɡ 𐤂 ג
𐎃 x
𐎄 d d 𐤃 ד
𐎅 h h 𐤄 ה
𐎆 w w 𐤅 ו
𐎇 z z 𐤆 ז
𐎈 ħ 𐤇 ח
𐎉 𐤈 ט
𐎊 y j 𐤉 י
𐎋 k k 𐤊 כ
𐎌 š ʃ 𐤔 ש
𐎍 l l 𐤋 ל
𐎎 m m 𐤌 מ
𐎏 ð
𐎐 n n 𐤍 נ
𐎑 θˤ
𐎒 s s 𐤎 ס
𐎓 ʿ  ʕ 𐤏 ע
𐎔 p p 𐤐 פ
𐎕 𐤑 צ
𐎖 q q 𐤒 ק
𐎗 r r 𐤓 ר
𐎘 θ
𐎙 ġ ɣ
𐎚 t t 𐤕 ת
𐎛 ʾi ʔi
𐎜 ʾu ʔu
𐎝 s2 su
𐎟 word divider 𐤟

Ugartic short alphabet

Two shorter variants of the Ugaritic alphabet existed with findspots primarily not in the area of Ugarit. Findspots have included Tel Beit Shemesh, Sarepta, and Tiryns. It is generally found on inscribed objects vs the tablets of the standard Ugaritic alphabet and unlike the standard version it is usually written right to left.[15] One variant contained 27 letters and the other 22 letters. It is not known what the relative chronology of the different Ugaritic alphabets was.[16][17][18]


Main article: Ugaritic (Unicode block)

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 15.1
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:[19]

See also


  1. ^ A Primer on Ugaritic, William M. Schniedewind (pg 32)
  2. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  3. ^ Ullendorf, Edward (July 1951). "Studies in the Ethiopic Syllabary". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. 21 (3). Cambridge University Press: 207–217.
  4. ^ a b Healey, John F. (1990). "The Early Alphabet". Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet. p. 216. ISBN 0-520-07431-9.
  5. ^ Coulmas, Florian (1991). The writing systems of the world.
  6. ^ Schniedewind, William; Hunt, Joel (2007). A primer on Ugaritic.
  7. ^ Ugaritic, in The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Stanislave Segert, "The Last Sign of the Ugaritic Alphabet" in Ugaritic-Forschugen 15 (1983): 201–218
  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. ^ [1]Fossé, Cécile, et al., "Archaeo-Material Study of the Cuneiform Tablet from Tel Beth-Shemesh", Tel Aviv 51.1, pp. 3-17, 2024
  16. ^ [2]Ferrara, Silvia, "A ‘top-down’ re-invention of an old form: Cuneiform alphabets in context", Understanding Relations Between Scripts II, pp. 15-51, 2020
  17. ^ Bordreuil, P., "Cunéiformes alphabétiques non canoniques", I. La tablette alphabétique sénestroverse RS 22.03’, Syria 58 (3–4), pp. 301–311, 1981
  18. ^ Dietrich, M. and Loretz, O., "Die Keilalphabete. Die phönizisch kanaanäischen und altarabischen Alphabete in Ugarit", Münster, 1988
  19. ^ Suignard, Michel (2017-05-09). "L2/17-076R2: Revised proposal for the encoding of an Egyptological YOD and Ugaritic characters" (PDF).