(bn) agptr / (Binu) Agaptarri's House: A Functional Analysis of an Ugaritic "Archive" (PH Room 10).

Author:Del Olmo Lete, Gregorio

In contrast to other archaeological sites of the ancient Near East that have preserved groups of tablets, generally only a single collection each, (1) Tell Ras Shamra/Ugarit offers the rare opportunity of demonstrating the existence of many so-called "archives." Some of these were recovered from topographical points (henceforth p.t.) of official importance (palaces and temples), while others belonged to private mansions. (2) It is usual to presume that both types of archives--official and private--accomplished different functions and followed different criteria of compilation, according to their owners' interests. Such criteria are clear enough in case of official archives, taking into account the requirements of public administration: commercial, financial, diplomatic, etc., on the one hand, and cultic and religious on the other. As for private or personal archives, the motivation for their compilation is more uncertain, given the variety of materials preserved in them, keeping in mind that in Ugarit there was seemingly a more or less "private" cult, (3) which might be reflected in the categories of texts preserved by individuals.

The epigrapher or commentator, even the mere text editor, has not in general up to now paid much attention to the archaeological context of the text, focusing only on its contents. Things have now begun to change in this regard. Within the complex panorama of the Ugaritic archival system we aim here to present a functional analysis of the archive found in the house complex recovered in the so-called "Tranchee Sud-acropole," consisting of three units named by the excavators "Maison d'Agipshari," "Maison du pretre-magicien / du pretre aux modeles de foies et du poumon" (Fig. 1), and "Bibliotheque de Lamashtu." (4)

Mme. Yon designates this architectural complex as an "Ensemble de batiments lies au culte et a la divination," (5) adding: "II se compose, semble-t-il, de deux batiments mitoyens, qui communiquent apparemment par une seule porte." In his turn, Courtois remarks more precisely about the "Maison du pretre-magicien": "Au total, et tout bien pense, il apparait que notre maison abritait a la fois la bibliotheque et le mobilier cultuel et liturgique d'un pretre-devin pratiquant l'hepatomancie pour des particuliers de haut rang, notament de gens du palais; ce pretre abritait egalement une ecole ou il instruisait un nombre restreint d'eleves-scribes mais, selon nous, cette activite etait secondaire par rapport a l'activite principale, relative aux divers aspects de la celebration du culte officiel d'Ougarit..." (6) We are in agreement with this view, with some doubts, however, concerning the "secondary" nature of the scribal training provided by the master.

As for the complex activity of the diviner-priest, we will return to the opposition--or rather complementarity--between his official sacrificial cultic responsibilities and his divinatory-magical practice. In any case, we already have a sketchy answer to the question put forward above on the compilation and practical criteria of a private archive. The question now is to determine to what extent and in what sense the materials collected there match these criteria. (7)

Seen from inside, the tripartite archaeological space actually forms a single intercommunicating area, which means that it constituted a unit, as regards ownership and use. The northern part can be understood as the private residence, while the southern portion would constitute the functional space devoted to the practice of the professional activities of the owners, cultic-magical as well as pedagogical, which were in all probability intimately related. The magician apprentices would have acted as "deacons" or "acolytes" in the performances of the master magician priest.

The northern part of the building offered access to the southern section through a door opening into the hall in its southwest corner; the southern part in turn had direct access from outside. In this way, the hall was a real "vestibule" through which access to the cultic and training area was afforded to people from outside--individuals requesting the performance of an oracle or the services of a magician or scribal apprentice. The professional owners thereby maintained their domestic privacy, and also had a door to the outside in the other hall.

The second space suffered complete destruction in its southeastern section and thereby became wholly unidentifiable in function (court, aula, workshop ...?). Preserved here are two sub-areas: one on its northeastern edge ("Cella des tablettes" and "Fosse aux foies"), with its own access door, and the other in the southwestern portion of the complex ("Bibliotheque de Lamashtu"), whose entrance and point of contact with the rest of the abode have been lost. Herein were recovered the tools of the performance of magic (texts and exta models) and literary texts of the Babylonian tradition that supported the prestige and efficacy of the magical practice and in addition served as pedagogical material (see Fig. 2). "Une relation etroite existait manifestament entre ces deux nouvelles bibliotheques d'Ugarit, distantes seulement d'une quinzane de metres." (8)

However it must be always taken into account, as Mme. Yon constantly stresses, that tablets were in general very likely kept on the upper floor of buildings and fell into their present spot upon the destruction of the town. This is particularly likely in the case of the second southern library. Nevertheless, as far as I know, no archaeological description of this complex mentions the remains of staircases, so abundant in other Ugaritic archaeological spaces. Is it then possible that this particular very large building had only a ground floor? (9)

We take as our point of departure the two suggestions just discussed: 1) that we are dealing with an archive/workshop devoted to magical activities, mainly divination, carried out by an officially recognized cultic functionary, and 2) that the building complex in question forms an architectural unit, the home of this functionary, named (bn) Agaptarri, (10) who gathered in his archive texts and magical implements that served to certify his claims to office and that make clear to us his activity as a magician priest. Such an archive was in need of scribes, and apprentices were trained in the course of its operations. For the time being this interpretation must remain a hypothesis.

We will first focus our attention on the analysis of the epigraphic materials found in the space designated "PH Room 10" or "Cella aux tablettes." The so-called "cella" is divided into two areas by a partition wall with a "fosse" in its eastern part opening directly into the funerary space where tomb 3709 lies, (11) and may be considered a working space for magical incantations and necromantic practices. This division lends the "fosse" special ritual importance, namely that of afavissa where exta models, texts, or vessels that had been used in personalized magical practices and were thereby "contaminated" or had exhausted their magic efficacy were buried; they could not be reused. (12) The sense of contamination / purification and sacralization / desacralization was very strong in ancient society, as shown by ritual practice regarding the monarch.


As a starting point we may take the documents in both alphabetic Ugaritic and in Akkadian found in this spot, according to their distribution in KTU, and then according to the following categories:

KTU 1: literary and religious texts: KTU 1.100-105(1. 106), 1.107-11, 1.113-45(1.146), 1.147-58

  1. KTU 4: economic texts: KTU 4.689, 4.727-37, 4.815

  2. KTU 5: scribal exercises: KTU 5.20-21

  3. KTU 6: inscription: KTU 6.62

  4. KTU 7: unclassified texts and fragments: KTU 7.134-96, 7.201-13

  5. KTU 8: illegible tablets and uninscribed fragments: KTU 8.15-22

Note that that we have no texts here belonging to the categories KTU 2 (letters) or KTU 3 (legal and juridical texts). We do find a pair of Akkadian texts and a small number of Hurrian texts (in all probability Human was the magician's mother tongue and the language of his original textual material). (13) We will return later to the main corpus of Akkadian texts, preserved in the Lamashtu (14) archive.

If we take "literary" in the sense of "mythological" or "epic," there are no texts of this sort in the archive. It is true that the archaeologists speak of "textes mythologiques," (15) but the editor of these texts had already remarked on the inappropriateness of this label, calling them rather "para-mythologiques," mythological in a secondary sense. (16) On the other hand "religious" is too generic a designation, so we will distinguish:


KTU 1.118 / RS 24.264 + 24.280 (from the "cella," p.t. 3751 + 3772), also found in the archive of the High Priest (KTU 1.47). (18) For another text of the same kind see the Akkadian god list AN = Anum, perhaps a library document from outside the "cella."

KTU 1.113 / RS 24.257

KTU 1.102/RS 24.246

KTU 1.123 / RS 24.271 (prayer?)


KTU 1.100 / RS 24.244 (from the "cella," p.t. 3687): (20) the great hierbs logos that introduces and justifies magical praxis within the Ugaritic religious system, in the guise of an incantation against the snakebite of horses. (21) Here the god of magic is introduced into the Ugaritic pantheon (whose other gods do not have magical powers), thus legitimating magic as a divinely sanctioned cultic praxis. The magician thereby becomes a priest. This composition might have been recited as an introitum to any magical performance.

KTU 1.114 / 24.258 (from the "cella," p.t. 3780): hierbs logos of the marzeah, establishing the efficacy of a medico-magical remedy for an alcoholic hangover through which contact with ghosts is achieved. (22) This usage is shown to be legitimate in restricted circumstances, in particular the gatherings of the so-called marzeah cultic...

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