Negotiating Imperialism and Resistance in Late Bronze Age Ugarit: The Rise of Alphabetic Cuneiform
Ugarit was a highly cosmopolitan, multilingual and multiscript city at the intersection of several major Late Bronze Age political and cultural spheres of influence. In the thirteenth century BC, the city adopted a new alphabetic cuneiform writing system in the local language for certain uses alongside the Akkadian language, script and scribal practices that were standard throughout the Near East. Previous research has seen this as ‘vernacularization’, in response to the city’s encounter with Mesopotamian culture. Recent improvements in our understanding of the date of Ugarit’s adoption of alphabetic cuneiform render this unlikely, and this paper instead argues that we should see this vernacularization as part of Ugarit’s negotiation of, and resistance to, their encounter with Hittite imperialism. Furthermore, it stands as a specific, Ugaritian, manifestation of similar trends apparent across a number of East Mediterranean societies in response to the economic and political globalism of Late Bronze Age elite culture. As such, these changes in Ugaritian scribal practice have implications for our wider understanding of the end of the Late Bronze Age.