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The Cimmerians or Kimmerians; (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 both Western Europe and Southwest Asia, and, while the Cimmerians were often described by contemporaries as culturally Scythian, they evidently 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 century BCE and from Graeco-Roman authors from the 5th century BCE onwards.
The source and meaning of the Cimmerians' name remain uncertain, and there have been various proposals for its origin. According to Sergey Tokhtasyev and Igor Diakonoff, it was derived from an Old Iranian term *Gāmīra or *Gmīra, meaning "mobile unit," while János Harmatta derives it from Old Iranian *Gayamira, meaning "union of clans."
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), although they have not been identified with any specific archaeological culture in the region.
Herodotus described the Cimmerians as consisting of two groups of equal numbers: the Cimmerian people properly called, that is the Cimmmerian common people, and the kings, or "royal race", implying that the Cimmerian ruling classes and lower classes originally constituted two different peoples who still had their own distinct identities at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. The Cimmerian kings most likely were an Iranian people who had imposed their rule on a section of the people of the Catacomb culture.
Migration into Southwest Asia
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.
Transcaucasia and Mesopotamia
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.
The centre of operations of the Cimmerians until the beginning of the 660s BCE was located in western Transcaucasia. A document from 673 BCE records the Urartian king 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.
Around 696 and 695 BCE, the Cimmerians in alliance with Rusa II invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Phrygia, whose king Midas committed suicide, although an Assyrian oracular text from between 676 and 660 BCE also mentioned the Cimmerians and Phrygians as allies against the Neo-Hittite kingdom of Melid. In 679 BCE the Cimmerian king Teušpa was defeated and killed by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon near Ḫubušna in Cappadocia, and in 675 BCE, the Cimmerians were to be found on the borders of Mannea. During the Medes' rebellion against Assyria from 674 to 672 BCE, the Cimmerians were allied to them and attacked Parsua and Ellipi, and from 672 to 669 BCE, the Cimmerians attacked Šubria, although some Cimmerian divisions could also be found serving in the Assyrian army between 671 and 670 BCE. In the western Iranian Plateau, the Cimmerians might have introduced Bronze articles from the Koban culture into the Luristan bronze culture.
By 667 BCE, the Cimmerians were present on the territory of Mannae.
Beginning in the early 660s BCE, the Cimmerians moved their centre of operations to Anatolia, and at yet unknown dates, they imposed their rule on Cappadocia, entered Paphlagonia and took Sinope. In 665 BCE the Cimmerians attacked the kingdom of Lydia but were defeated by the Lydian king Gyges. Around the same time, Gyges contacted the Neo-Assyrian Empire, soon after which he defeated the Cimmerians without Assyrian help and sent Cimmerian soldiers captured while attacking the Lydian countryside as gifts to Ashurbanipal.
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. 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.
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 this third attack on Lydia, around 640 BCE the Cimmerians under Tugdammi moved to Cilicia on the north-west border of the Assyrian empire, where he 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. But he 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 Treri 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 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 expelled by the Medes from Southwest Asia in the 590s BCE.
In the late 7th century BCE or in the early 5th century BCE, the Cimmerians were defeated again, this time by Gyges' great-grandson, the king Alyattes of Lydia, after which the Cimmerians completely disappeared from history.
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) 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". The Cambridge Ancient History classifies the Maeotians either as a people of Cimmerian ancestry or as Caucasian 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 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.
|Era||8th century BC|
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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, mentioned in the annals of Esarhaddon. According to the Hungarian linguist János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Tavispaya.
- Dugdammê, also spelled Dugdammi and Tugdammê, king of the Umman Manda (nomads) appears in a prayer of Ashurbanipal to Marduk, on a fragment at the British Museum, and pronounced Lúgdamis by Greek authors. According to Professor Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Duydamaya. Edwin M. Yamauchi also interprets the name as Iranian, citing Ossetic Tux-domæg "Ruling with Strength".
- Sandakšatru, 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. Ivantchik suggests an association with the Anatolian deity Sanda. According to Professor J. Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranian *Sandakuru.
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 culture
Conan the Barbarian, created by Robert E. Howard in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales in 1932, was described as a native Cimmerian, though in Howard's fictional world, his Cimmerians dwelt in a mythological Hyborian Age. The Cimmerians of Hyboria are a pre-Celtic people said by Howard to be the ancestors of the Irish and Scots (Gaels).
If on a winter's night a traveler: The novel by Italo Calvino is a framed presentation of a series of incomplete novels, one of them purported to be translated from the Cimmerian. However, in Calvino's novel, Cimmeria is a fictional country.
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The Scythian archeological culture embraces not only the Scythians of the East-European steppes, but also the population of the forest steppes, about whose language and ethnic origins it is difficult to say anything precise, and also the Cimmerians
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(Κιμμέριοι; Kimmérioi, Lat. Cimmerii). Nomadic tribe probably of Iranian descent, attested for the 8th/7th cents. BC.
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The Cimmerians lived north of the Caucasus mountains in South Russia and probably were related to the Thracians, but they surely were a mixed group by the time they appeared south of the mountains, and we hear of them first in the year 714 B.C. after they presumably had defeated the Urartians
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A Scythian army, acting in conformity with Assyrian policy, entered Pontis to crush the last of the Cimmerians
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It seems that Cimmerians and Scythians (Sakai) were related, spoke among themselves different Iranian dialects, and could understand each other without interpreters.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article Cimmerians.|