Ras Shamra lies on the Mediterranean coast, some 7 miles north of Latakia, near modern Burj al-Qasab.
Though the site is thought to have been inhabited earlier, Neolithic Ugarit was already important enough to be fortified with a wall early on, perhaps by 6000 BC. Ugarit was important perhaps because it was both a port and at the entrance of the inland trade route to the Euphrates and Tigris lands.. The city reached its heyday between 1800 and 1200 BC, when it ruled a trade-based coastal kingdom, trading with Egypt, Cyprus, the Aegean, Syria, the Hittites, and much of the eastern Mediterranean.
The first written evidence mentioning the city comes from the nearby city of Ebla, ca. 1800 BC. Ugarit passed into the sphere of influence of Egypt, which deeply influenced its art. The earliest Ugaritic contact with Egypt (and the first exact dating of Ugaritic civilization) comes from a carnelian bead identified with the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senusret I, 1971 BC – 1926 BC. A stela and a statuette from the Egyptian pharaohs Senusret III and Amenemhet III have also been found. However, it is unclear at what time these monuments got to Ugarit. Amarna letters from Ugarit ca. 1350 BC record one letter each from Ammittamru I, Niqmaddu II, and his queen.
From the 16th to the 13th century BC Ugarit remained in constant touch with Egypt and Alashiya (Cyprus).
In the second millennium BC Ugarit's population was Amorite, and the Ugaritic language probably has a direct Amoritic origin. The kingdom of Ugarit may have controlled about 2,000 km2 on average.
During some of its history it would have been in close proximity to, if not directly within the Hittite Empire.
Scribes in Ugarit appear to have originated the "Ugaritic alphabet" around 1400 BC: 30 letters, corresponding to sounds, were inscribed on clay tablets; although they are cuneiform in appearance, that is, impressed in clay with the end of a stylus, they bear no relation to Mesopotamian cuneiform signs. A debate exists as to whether the Phoenician or Ugaritic "alphabet" was first. While the letters show little or no formal similarity, the standard letter order (preserved in the Latin alphabet as A, B, C, D, etc.) shows strong similarities between the two, suggesting that the Phoenician and Ugaritic systems were not wholly independent inventions.
The Ugaritic language is attested in texts from the 14th through the 12th century BC. Ugaritic is usually classified as a Northwest Semitic language and therefore related to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician, among others. Its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic and Akkadian. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive); three numbers: (singular, dual, and plural); and verb aspects similar to those found in other Northwest Semitic languages. The word order in Ugaritic is verb–subject–object (VSO); possessed–possessor (NG) (first element dependent on the function and second always in genitive case); and noun–adjective (NA) (both in the same case (i.e. congruent)).
Apart from royal correspondence with neighboring Bronze Age monarchs, Ugaritic literature from tablets found in the city's libraries include mythological texts written in a poetic narrative, letters, legal documents such as land transfers, a few international treaties, and a number of administrative lists. Fragments of several poetic works have been identified: the "Legend of Keret," the "Legend of Danel", the Ba'al tales that detail Baal-Hadad's conflicts with Yam and Mot, and other fragments.
The discovery of the Ugaritic archives in 1929 has been of great significance to biblical scholarship, as these archives for the first time provided a detailed description of Canaanite religious beliefs, during the period directly preceding the Israelite settlement. These texts show significant parallels to Biblical Hebrew literature, particularly in the areas of divine imagery and poetic form. Ugaritic poetry has many elements later found in Hebrew poetry: parallelisms, metres, and rhythms. The discoveries at Ugarit have led to a new appraisal of the Hebrew Bible as literature.