The Cimmerians (Akkadian: 𒆳𒄀𒂇𒊏𒀀𒀀 mat Gimirrāya; Ancient Greek: Κιμμέριοι Kimmérioi) were a nomadic Indo-European people, who appeared about 1000 BC. Originating in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, the Cimmerians subsequently migrated into Southwest Asia and into Central and Southeast Europe. While the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally Scythian, they may have differed ethnically from the Scythians proper, who also displaced and replaced the Cimmerians.
The Cimmerians themselves left no written records, and most information about them is largely derived from Assyrian records of the 8th to 7th centuries BCE and from Graeco-Roman authors from the 5th century BCE and later.
The source and meaning of the Cimmerians' name remain uncertain, and there have been various proposals for its origin. According to the linguist János Harmatta, it was derived from Old Iranian *Gayamira, meaning "union of clans", while Sergey Tokhtasyev and Igor Diakonoff derive it from an Old Iranian term *Gāmīra or *Gmīra, meaning "mobile unit," Askold Ivantchik derives the name of the Cimmerians from an original form *Gimĕr- or *Gimĭr-, of uncertain meaning.
The Cimmerians were most likely a nomadic Iranian people of the Eurasian Steppe. Other suggestions for the ethnicity for the Cimmerians include the possibility of them being Thracian, or Thracians with an Iranian ruling class, or a separate group closely related to Thracian peoples, as well as a Maeotian origin. However, the proposal of a Thracian origin of the Cimmerians has been criticised as arising from a confusion by Strabo between the Cimmerians and their allies, the Thracian tribe of the Treres.
The Cimmerians are first mentioned in the 8th century BCE in Homer's Odyssey as a people living beyond the Oceanus, in a land permanently deprived of sunlight at the edge of the world and the entrance of Hades, and, in the 6th century BCE, Aristeas of Proconnesus recorded that the Cimmerians had once lived in the Pontic Steppe. 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 Russia).
The social structure of the Cimmerians, according to Herodotus, comprised two groups of roughly equal numbers: the Cimmerians proper, or "commoners", and the "kings" or "royal race" – implying that the ruling classes and lower classes originally constituted two different peoples (or castes), who retained distinct identities as late as the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Hence the "kings" may have originated as an element of an Iranian-speaking people (such as the Scythians), who had imposed their rule on a section of the people of the Catacomb culture, i.e. the "commoners". Hence the subsequent Cimmerian culture has been more strongly associated with the Srubnaya (19th-15th centuries BCE) and/or Belozerskaya (12th-10th centuries BCE) cultures.
In Southwest AsiaEdit
In the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, the Cimmerians were expelled from their home in the Pontic Steppe and forced to migrate into Southwest Asia due to a significant movement of the nomads of the Eurasian Steppe. According to Herodotus, this movement started when the Massagetae migrated westwards, forcing the Scythians to the west across the Araxes river (likely the Volga), after which the Scythians moved into the Pontic Steppe and conquered the territory of the Cimmerians.
Under Scythian pressure, the Cimmerian aristocrats, who were unwilling to leave their lands, killed each other and were buried in a kurgan near the Tyras river; then the common people migrated to Southwest Asia. The Cimmerians fled to the south along the Black Sea coast and reached Anatolia. However, owing to the impracticability of the eastern Black Sea shore for horsemen, modern scholars instead suggest that the Cimmerians passed through the Klukhor, Alagir and Darial passes in the Greater Caucasus, that is through the western Caucasus and Georgia into Colchis, where the Cimmerians initially settled; the Scythians in turn pursued the Cimmerians, but followed the coast of the Caspian Sea and arrived in the region of present-day Azerbaijan.
Austen 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.
During the early phase of the Cimmerians' presence in Southwest Asia, their centre of operations was located in Transcaucasia until the early 660s BCE.
The first mention of the Cimmerians in the records of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was from between 720 and 714 BCE, when Assyrian intelligence reported to the king Sargon II that the king Rusa I of Urartu had been defeated after attempting to attack the Cimmerians, either in what is now Georgia, or near Gurania in eastern Cappadocia. According to another Assyrian intelligence report dated to those same years, the Cimmerians had attacked Urartu through the territory of the kingdom of Mannae.
In 705 BCE, the Cimmerians tried to cross the border of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but they were defeated by Sargon II, who died in this battle.
During the period coinciding with the rule of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (reigned 681–669 BCE), the bulk of the Cimmerians migrated from Transcaucasia into Anatolia, while a smaller group remained in the area near the kingdom of Mannae where they had been settled since the time of Sargon II, respectively forming a "western" and an "eastern" division of Cimmerians.
The "eastern" CimmeriansEdit
By 677 BCE, the eastern group of Cimmerians were present on the territory of Mannae, and in 676 BCE they were the allies of Mannae against an Assyrian attack, after which the eastern Cimmerians remained allied to Mannae against Assyria.
Around 675 BCE, the eastern Cimmerians were recorded by the Assyrians as a possible threat against the collection of tribute from Media. And around the same time, in alliance with the Scythians, the eastern Cimmerians were menacing the Assyrian provinces of Parsumaš and Bīt Ḫamban, and the eastern Cimmerians and the Scythians together were threatening communication between the Assyrian Empire and its vassal of Ḫubuškia.
By the late 670s BCE, the eastern Cimmerians were allied to Ellipi and the Medes, and when Ellipi and the Medes successfully rebelled against Assyria under Kashtariti from 671 to 669 BCE, the eastern Cimmerians were allied to them.
In 679 BCE the Cimmerian king Teušpa was defeated and killed by Esarhaddon near Ḫubušna in Cappadocia. Despite this victory, the military operations of the Assyrians were not fully successful and they were not able to firmly occupy the areas around Ḫubušna, nor were they able to secure their borders, and the Assyrian province of Quwê was left vulnerable to invasions from Tabal, Kuzzurak and Ḫilakku. An Assyrian contract dating to the same as Esarhaddon's victory over Teušpa records of the existence of a "Cimmerian detachment" in Nineveh, although it is uncertain whether this refers to Cimmerian mercenaries in Assyrian service, or simply of Assyrian soldiers armed in the "Cimmerian-style", that is using Cimmerian bows and horse harnesses.
Around 675 BCE, the Cimmerians in alliance with the Urartian king Rusa II invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Phrygia, whose king Midas committed suicide. The Cimmerians appear to have partially subdued the Phrygians, and an Assyrian oracular text from the later 670s BCE mentioned the Cimmerians and the possibly subdued Phrygians as allies against the Assyrians' newly conquered province of Melid.
A document from 673 BCE records Rusa II as having recruited a large number of Cimmerian mercenaries, and Cimmerian allies of Rusa II probably participated in a military expedition of his in 672 BCE. From 671 to 669 BCE, Cimmerians in service of Rusa II attacked the Assyrian province of Šubria near the Urartian border.
Between 671 and 670 BCE, some Cimmerian divisions were recorded as serving in the Assyrian army, although these divisions might have instead simply referred to the "Cimmerian style" armed Assyrian soldiers.
At yet unknown dates, the Cimmerians imposed their rule on Cappadocia, invaded Bithynia, Paphlagonia and the Troad, and took Sinope. In the beginning of that decade, the Cimmerians attacked the kingdom of Lydia, whose king Gyges contacted the Neo-Assyrian Empire beginning in 667 BCE. Gyges soon defeated the Cimmerians in 665 BCE without Assyrian help, and he sent Cimmerian soldiers captured while attacking the Lydian countryside as gifts to Ashurbanipal. According to the Assyrian records describing these events, the Cimmerians already had formed sedentary settlements in Anatolia.
According to Anthony Spalinger, the Cimmerians attacked Lydia again in 657 BCE, as recorded by contemporary Assyrian records, which referred to this attack as a "bad omen" for the "Westland", that is Lydia. However, this sequence of events is disputed by Askold Ivantchik, who instead identifies the "Westland" with western possessions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (possibly Quwê or somewhere in Syria) that the Cimmerians had conquered after their defeat by Gyges. These Cimmerian aggressions worried Ashurbanipal about the security of the northwest border of the Neo-Assyrian Empire enough that he sought answers concerning this situation through divination, and as a result of these Cimmerian conquests, by 657 BCE the Assyrian divinatory records were calling the Cimmerian king by the title of šar-kiššati ("King of the Universe"), a title which in the Mesopotamian worldview could belong to only a single ruler in the world at any given time and was normally held by the King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. These divinatory texts also assured to Assurbanipal that he would eventually regain the kiššūtu, that is the world hegemony, captured by the Cimmerians: the kiššūtu, which was considered to rightfully belong to the Assyrian king, had been usurped by the Cimmerians and had to be won back by Assyria. Thus, the Cimmerian king's successes against Assyria meant that he had become recognised in the ancient Near East as equally powerful as Ashurbanipal. This situation remained unchanged throughout the rest of the 650s BCE and the early 640s BCE.
As the result of these Assyrian setbacks, Gyges could not rely on Assyrian support against the Cimmerians and he ended diplomacy with the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The Cimmerians attacked Lydia for a third time in 644 BCE, under their leader Lygdamis (Ancient Greek: Λύγδαμις, Lúgdamis), the Tugdammi of the Assyrian records. This time, the Cimmerians defeated the Lydians and captured their capital, Sardis, and Gyges died during this attack. After sacking Sardis, Lygdamis led the Cimmerians into invading the Greek city-states of Ionia and Aeolis on the western coast of Anatolia, which caused the inhabitants of the Batinetis region to flee to the islands of the Aegean Sea, and later Greek writings by Callimachus and Hesychius of Alexandria preserve the record that Lygdamis had destroyed the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus during these invasions.
After this third invasion of Lydia and the attack on the Asiatic Greek cities, around 640 BCE the Cimmerians moved to Cilicia on the north-west border of the Assyrian empire, where Tugdammi allied with Mugallu, the king of Tabal, against Assyria. However, after facing a revolt against him, Tugdamme allied with Assyria and acknowledged Assyrian overlordship, and sent tribute to Ashurbanipal, to whom he swore an oath. Tugdammi soon broke this oath and attacked the Assyrian Empire again, but he fell ill and died in 640 BCE, and was succeeded by his son Sandakšatru.
In 637 BCE, the Cimmerians participated in another attack on Lydia, this time led by the Thracian Treres tribe who had migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia, under their king Kobos, and in alliance with the Lycians. During this invasion, in the seventh year of the reign of Gyges's son Ardys, the Lydians were defeated again and for a second time Sardis was captured, except for its citadel, and Ardys might have been killed in this attack. Ardys's son and successor, Sadyattes, might possibly also have been killed in another Cimmerian attack on Lydia. Soon after that, with Assyrian approval and in alliance with the Lydians, the Scythians under their king Madyes entered Anatolia, expelled the Treres from Asia Minor, and defeated the Cimmerians so that they no longer constituted a threat again, following which the Scythians extended their domination to Central Anatolia until they were themselves expelled by the Medes from Southwest Asia in the 590s BCE. This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes, who Strabo credits with expelling the Cimmerians from Asia Minor, and of Gyges's great-grandson, the king Alyattes of Lydia, whom Herodotus and Polyaenus claim finally defeated the Cimmerians.
The Cimmerians completely disappeared from history following this final defeat, after which they likely remained in Cappadocia, whose name in Armenian, Գամիրք Gamirkʿ, may have been derived from the name of the Cimmerians. A group of Cimmerians might also have subsisted for some time in the Troad, around Antandrus, until they were finally defeated by Alyattes of Lydia.
The origin of the culture is associated with the Belozerskaya culture (12th to 10th centuries BCE) and the later and more certain Novocerkassk culture (10th to 7th centuries BCE) between the Danube and the Volga.
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 Srubnaya 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 9th to 7th centuries BCE, so that the term "Thraco-Cimmerian" is now merely used by convention and does not necessarily imply a direct connection with either the Thracians or the Cimmerians.
The term Gimirri was used about a century after the Cimmerians disappeared from history in the Behistun inscription (c. 515 BC) as an Assyro-Babylonian equivalent of Iranian 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, noted by 17th-century Celticists. But the word Cymro "Welshman" (plural: Cymry) is now accepted by Celtic linguists as being derived from a Brythonic word *kom-brogos, meaning "compatriot".
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 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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According to the historian Muhammad Dandamayev and the linguist János Harmatta, the Cimmerians spoke a dialect belonging to the Scythian group of Iranian languages, and were able to communicate with Scythians proper without needing interpreters.
Only a few personal names in the Cimmerian language have survived in Assyrian inscriptions:
- Teušpa: according to the linguist János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Tavispaya, meaning "swelling with strength". However, based on linguistic analysis, Askold Ivantchik posits three alternative suggestions for an Old Iranian origin of Teušpa: *Taiu-aspa "abductor of horses"; Taiu-spā "abductor dog", or; Daiva-spā "divine dog".
- Dugdammê, also spelled Dugdammi and Tugdammê, and pronounced Lúgdamis by Greek authors: according to János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Duydamaya "giving happiness". Edwin M. Yamauchi also interprets the name as Iranian, citing Ossetic Tux-domæg "ruling with strength". Based on linguistic analysis, Askold Ivantchik suggests that the name Dugdammê/Lúgdamis was a loanword from an Anatolian language, more specifically Luwian, while also accepting the alternative possibility of a derivation from a variant of the name of the Hurrian deity Teyśəba/Tešub.
- Sandakšatru: this is an Iranian reading of the name, and Manfred Mayrhofer (1981) points out that the name may also be read as Sandakurru. According to János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Sandakuru "splendid son". Askold Ivantchik derives the name Sandakšatru from a compound term consisting of the name of the Anatolian deity Sanda, and of the Iranian term -xšaθra.
A genetic study published in Science Advances in October 2018 examined the remains of three Cimmerians buried between around 1000 and 800 BCE. The two samples of Y-DNA extracted belonged to haplogroups R1b1a and Q1a1, while the three samples of mtDNA extracted belonged to haplogroups H9a, C5c and R. 
Another genetic study published in Current Biology in July 2019 examined the remains of three Cimmerians. The two samples of Y-DNA extracted belonged to haplogroups R1a-Z645 and R1a2c-B111, while the three samples of mtDNA extracted belonged to haplogroups H35, U5a1b1 and U2e2.
In popular cultureEdit
Conan the Barbarian, created by Robert E. Howard in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales from 1932, was described as a native Cimmerian. In Howard's fictional Hyborian Age, the Cimmerians are described as a pre-Celtic people, the ancestors of the Irish and Scots (Gaels).
If on a winter's night a traveler, a novel by Italo Calvino, is a framed presentation of a series of incomplete novels, one of which purports to be translated from the Cimmerian. However, in Calvino's novel, Cimmeria is a fictional country.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Cimmerians.|