Probably originating in the Pontic steppe and invading by means of the Caucasus, they are likely to be those who in c. 714 BC assaulted Urartu, a state in north eastern Anatolia subject to the Neo-Assyrian Empire. They were defeated by Assyrian forces under Sargon II in 705 and turned towards Anatolia, conquering Phrygia in 696/5. They reached the height of their power in 652 after taking Sardis, the capital of Lydia; however an invasion of Assyrian controlled Anshan (Persia) was thwarted. Soon after 619, Alyattes of Lydia defeated them. There are no further mentions of them in historical sources, but it is likely that they settled in Cappadocia.
The origin of the Cimmerians is unclear. They are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking groups which migrated under pressure of the Scythian expansion of the 9th to 8th century BC.
According to Herodotus, the Cimmerians inhabited the region north of the Caucasus and the Black Sea during the 8th and 7th centuries BC (i.e. what is now Ukraine and Southern Russia), although they have not been identified with any specific archaeological culture in the region.
The supposed origin of the Cimmerians north of the Caucasus at the end of the Bronze Age loosely corresponds with the early Koban culture (Northern Caucasus, 12th to 4th centuries BC), but there is no compelling reason to associate this culture with the Cimmerians specifically.
There is a tradition in archaeology of applying Cimmerian to the archaeological record associated with the earliest transmission of Iron Age culture along the Danube to Central and Western Europe, associated with the Cernogorovka (9th to 8th centuries) and Novocerkassk (8th to 7th centuries) between the Danube and the Volga. This association is "controversial", or at best conventional, and is not to be taken as a literal claim that specific artifacts are to be associated with the "Cimmerians" of the Greek or Assyrian record.
The use of the name "Cimmerian" in this context is due to Paul Reinecke, who in 1925 postulated a "North-Thracian-Cimmerian cultural sphere" (nordthrakisch-kimmerischer Kulturkreis) overlapping with the younger Hallstatt culture of the Eastern Alps. The term Thraco-Cimmerian (thrako-kimmerisch) was first introduced by I. Nestor in the 1930s. Nestor intended to suggest that there was a historical migration of Cimmerians into Eastern Europe from the area of the former Srubna culture, perhaps triggered by the Scythian expansion, at the beginning of the European Iron Age. In the 1980s and 1990s, more systematic studies[by whom?] of the artifacts revealed a more gradual development over the period covering the 9th to 7th centuries, so that the term "Thraco-Cimmerian" is now rather used by convention and does not necessarily imply a direct connection with either the Thracians or the Cimmerians.
Sir Henry Layard's discoveries in the royal archives at Nineveh and Calah included Assyrian primary records of the Cimmerian invasion. These records appear to place the Cimmerian homeland, Gamir, south rather than north of the Black Sea.
The first record of the Cimmerians appears in Assyrian annals in the year 714 BC. These describe how a people termed the Gimirri helped the forces of Sargon II to defeat the kingdom of Urartu. Their original homeland, called Gamir or Uishdish, seems to have been located within the buffer state of Mannae. The later geographer Ptolemy placed the Cimmerian city of Gomara in this region. The Assyrians recorded the migrations of the Cimmerians, as the former people's king Sargon II was killed in battle against them while driving them from Persia in 705 BC.
The Cimmerians were subsequently recorded as having conquered Phrygia in 696–695 BC, prompting the Phrygian king Midas to take poison rather than face capture. In 679 BC, during the reign of Esarhaddon of Assyria (r. 681–669 BC), they attacked the Assyrian colonies Cilicia and Tabal under their new ruler Teushpa. Esarhaddon defeated them near Hubushna (Hupisna), and they also met defeat at the hands of his successor Ashurbanipal.
A people named Kimmerioi is described in Homer's Odyssey 11.14 (c. late 8th century BC), as living beyond the Oceanus, in a land of fog and darkness, at the edge of the world and the entrance of Hades.
According to Herodotus (c. 440 BC), the Cimmerians had been expelled from their homeland between the Tyras (Dniester) and Tanais (Don) rivers by the Scythians. Unreconciled to Scythian advances, to ensure burial in their ancestral homeland, the men of the Cimmerian royal family divided into groups and fought each other to the death. The Cimmerian commoners buried the bodies along the river Tyras and fled across the Caucasus and into Anatolia. Herodotus also names a number of Cimmerian kings, including Tugdamme (Lygdamis in Greek; mid-7th century BC), and Sandakhshatra (late-7th century).
In 654 BC or 652 BC – the exact date is unclear – the Cimmerians attacked the kingdom of Lydia, killing the Lydian king Gyges and causing great destruction to the Lydian capital of Sardis. They returned ten years later during the reign of Gyges' son Ardys II; this time they captured the city, with the exception of the citadel. The fall of Sardis was a major shock to the powers of the region; the Greek poets Callinus and Archilochus recorded the fear that it inspired in the Greek colonies of Ionia, some of which were attacked by Cimmerian and Treres raiders.
The Cimmerian occupation of Lydia was brief, however, possibly due to an outbreak of plague. They were beaten back by Alyattes II of Lydia. This defeat marked the effective end of Cimmerian power.
The term Gimirri was used about a century later in the Behistun inscription (c. 515 BC) as an Assyro-Babylonian equivalent of Persian Saka (Scythians). Otherwise, Cimmerians disappeared from the historical record.
In sources beginning with the Royal Frankish Annals, the Merovingian kings of the Franks traditionally traced their lineage through a pre-Frankish tribe called the Sicambri (or Sugambri), mythologized as a group of "Cimmerians" from the mouth of the Danube river, but who instead came from Gelderland in modern Netherlands and are named for the Sieg river.
Early modern historians asserted Cimmerian descent for the Celts or the Germans, arguing from the similarity of Cimmerii to Cimbri or Cymry. The etymology of Cymro "Welshman" (plural: Cymry), connected to the Cimmerians by 17th-century Celticists, is now accepted by Celtic linguists as being derived from a Brythonic word *kom-brogos, meaning "compatriot". The Cambridge Ancient History classifies the Maeotians as either a people of Cimmerian ancestry or as Caucasian aboriginals under Iranian overlordship.
According to Georgian national historiography, the Cimmerians, in Georgian known as Gimirri, played an influential role in the development of the Colchian and Iberian cultures. The modern Georgian word for "hero", გმირი gmiri, is said to derive from their name.
It has been speculated[by whom?] that the Cimmerians finally settled in Cappadocia, known in Armenian as Գամիրք, Gamir-kʿ (the same name as the original Cimmerian homeland in Mannae).
It has also been speculated that the modern Armenian city of Gyumri (Arm.: Գյումրի [ˈgjumɾi]), founded as Kumayri (Arm.: Կումայրի), derived its name from the Cimmerians who conquered the region and founded a settlement there.
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Only a few personal names in the Cimmerian language have survived in Assyrian inscriptions:
- Te-ush-pa-a; according to the Hungarian linguist János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Tavis-paya "swelling with strength". Mentioned in the annals of Esarhaddon, has been compared to the Hurrian war deity Teshub; others interpret it as Iranian, comparing the Achaemenid name Teispes (Herodotus 7.11.2).
- Dug-dam-mei (Dugdammê) king of the Ummân-Manda (nomads) appears in a prayer of Ashurbanipal to Marduk, on a fragment at the British Museum. According to professor Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Duγda-maya "giving happiness". Other spellings include Dugdammi, and Tugdammê. Edwin M. Yamauchi also interprets the name as Iranian, citing Ossetic Tux-domæg "Ruling with Strength." The name appears corrupted to Lygdamis in Strabo 1.3.21.
- Sandaksatru, son of Dugdamme. This is an Iranian reading of the name, and Manfred Mayrhofer (1981) points out that the name may also be read as Sandakurru. Mayrhofer likewise rejects the interpretation of "with pure regency" as a mixing of Iranian and Indo-Aryan. Ivancik suggests an association with the Anatolian deity Sanda. According to Professor J. Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian Sanda-Kuru "Splendid Son". Kur/Kuru is still used as "son" in the Kurdish languages, and in modified form in Persian as korr, for the male offspring of horses.
Some researchers have attempted to trace various place names to Cimmerian origins. It has been suggested that Cimmerium gave rise to the Turkic toponym Qırım (which in turn gave rise to the name "Crimea").
Based on ancient Greek historical sources, a Thracian or a Celtic association is sometimes assumed. According to Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt, the language of the Cimmerians could have been a "missing link" between Thracian and Iranian.
- 721–715 BC – Sargon II mentions a land of Gamirr near to Urartu.
- 714 – suicide of Rusas I of Urartu, after defeat by both the Assyrians and Cimmerians.
- 705 – Sargon II of Assyria dies on an expedition against the Kulummu.
- 695 – Cimmerians destroy Phrygia. Death of king Midas.
- 679/678 – Gimirri under a ruler called Teushpa invade Assyria from Hubuschna (Cappadocia?). Esarhaddon of Assyria defeats them in battle.
- 676-674 – Cimmerians invade and destroy Phrygia, and reach Paphlagonia.
- 654 or 652 – Gyges of Lydia dies in battle against the Cimmerians. Sack of Sardis; Cimmerians and Treres plunder Ionian colonies.
- 644 – Cimmerians occupy Sardis, but withdraw soon afterwards
- 637-626 – Cimmerians defeated by Alyattes II.
- map based on Археология Украинской ССР vol. 2, Kiev (1986).
- MacKenzie, David; Curran, Michael W. (2002). A History of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Beyond. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. p. 12. ISBN 9780534586980.
- "Cimmerian (people)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
- "The origin of the Cimmerians is obscure. Linguistically they are usually regarded as Thracian or as Iranian, or at least to have had an Iranian ruling class." "Cimmerian", in Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006, Retrieved August 30, 2006. Quote: "The origin of the Cimmerians is obscure. Linguistically they are usually regarded as Thracian or as Iranian, or at least to have had an Iranian ruling class."
- J.Harmatta: "Scythians" UNESCO Collection of History of Humanity: Volume III: From the Seventh Century BC to the Seventh Century AD, Routledge/UNESCO. 1996, p. 182
- Renate Rolle, "Urartu und die Reiternomaden", in: Saeculum 28, 1977, 291–339
- Encyclopædia Britannica (2006): "They [the Cimmerians] probably did live in the area north of the Black Sea, but attempts to define their original homeland more precisely by archaeological means, or even to fix the date of their expulsion from their country by the Scythians, have not so far been completely successful"
- Ioannis K. Xydopoulos, "The Cimmerians: their origins, movements and their difficulties" in: Gocha R. Tsetskhladze, Alexandru Avram, James Hargrave (eds.), The Danubian Lands between the Black, Aegean and Adriatic Seas (7th Century BC – 10th Century AD), Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress on Black Sea Antiquities (Belgrade – 17–21 September 2013, Archaeopress Archaeology (2015), 119–123. Dorin Sârbu, "Un Fenomen Arheologic Controversat de la Începutul Epocii Fierului dintre Gurile Dunării și Volga: 'Cultura Cimmerianã'" ("A controversial archaeological phenomenon of the early Iron Age between the mouths of the Danube and the Volga: the Cimmerian Culture"), Romanian Journal of Archaeology (2000) ((in Romanian) online version (with bibliography); English abstract)
- K. Deller, "Ausgewählte neuassyrische Briefe betreffend Urarṭu zur Zeit Sargons II.," in P.E. Pecorella and M. Salvini (eds), Tra lo Zagros e l'Urmia. Ricerche storiche ed archeologiche nell'Azerbaigian Iraniano, Incunabula Graeca 78 (Rome 1984) 97–122.
- Cozzoli, Umberto (1968). I Cimmeri. Rome Italy: Arti Grafiche Citta di Castello (Roma).
- Salvini, Mirjo (1984). Tra lo Zagros e l'Urmia: richerche storiche ed archeologiche nell'Azerbaigian iraniano. Rome Italy: Ed. Dell'Ateneo (Roma).
- Kristensen, Anne Katrine Gade (1988). Who were the Cimmerians, and where did they come from?: Sargon II, and the Cimmerians, and Rusa I. Copenhagen Denmark: The Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters.
- "Cimmerians" (Κιμμέριοι), Henry Liddell & Robert Scott, Perseus, Tufts University
- Herodotus, Histories, Book 4, sections 11–12.
- Herodotus, 1.16; Polyaenus, 7.2.1, Sergei R. Tokhtas’ev "Cimmerians" in the Encyclopedia Iranica (1991), several nineteenth-century summaries.
- Geary, Patrick J. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988
- Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, vol. I, p. 770. Jones, J. Morris. Welsh Grammar: Historical and Comparative. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Russell, Paul. Introduction to the Celtic Languages. London: Longman, 1995. Delamarre, Xavier. Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris: Errance, 2001.
- Boardman & Edwards 1991, p. 572
- Robert Drews, Early Riders, 2004, p 119. He also links them to Gog and Magog.
- Berdzenishvili, N., Dondua V., Dumbadze, M., Melikishvili G., Meskhia, Sh., Ratiani, P., History of Georgia (Vol. 1), Tbilisi, 1958, pp. 34–36
- ""Kumayri infosite". Cimmerian. Retrieved 14 June 2015". Archived from the original on 6 November 2012.
- Yamauchi, Edwin M (1982). Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes. Grand Rapids MI USA: Baker Book House.
- Asimov, Isaac (1991). Asimov's Chronology of the World. New York: HarperCollins. p. 50.
- Meljukova, A. I. (1979). Skifija i Frakijskij Mir. Moscow.
- Strabo ascribes the Treres to the Thracians at one place (13.1.8) and to the Cimmerians at another (14.1.40)
- Posidonius in Strabo 7.2.2.
- Boardman, John; Edwards, I. E. S. (1991). The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume 3. Part 2. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521227178. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
- Ivanchik A.I. "Cimmerians and Scythians", 2001
- Terenozhkin A.I., Cimmerians, Kiev, 1983
- Cimmerian. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved August 30, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9082650
- Collection of Slavonic and Foreign Language Manuscripts – St.St Cyril and Methodius – Bulgarian National Library: http://www.nationallibrary.bg/slavezryk_en.html