Gutian people

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An inscription dated c. 2130 BCE. "Lugalanatum prince of Umma ... built the E.GIDRU [Sceptre] Temple at Umma, buried his foundation deposit [and] regulated the orders. At that time, Siium was king of Gutum [or Qutum]." (Collection of the Louvre Museum.)

The Guti (/ˈɡti/) or Quti, also known by the derived exonyms Gutians or Guteans, were a nomadic people of the Zagros Mountains (on the border of modern Iran and Iraq) during ancient times. Their homeland was known as Gutium (Sumerian Gu-tu-umki or Gu-ti-umki [1][2] The Guti are often regarded as precursors of the modern Kurds.[3]

Conflict between people from Gutium and the Akkadian Empire has been linked to the collapse of the empire, towards the end of the 3rd Millennium BCE. The Guti subsequently overran southern Mesopotamia and formed a royal dynasty in Sumer. The Sumerian king list suggests that the Guti ruled over Sumer for several generations, following the fall of the Akkadian Empire.[4]

By the 1st Millennium BCE, usage of the name Gutium, by the peoples of lowland Mesopotamia, had expanded to include all of western Media, between the Zagros and the Tigris. Various tribes and places to the east and northeast were often referred to as Gutians or Gutium.[5] For example, Assyrian royal annals use the term Gutians in relation to populations known to have been Medes or Mannaeans. As late as the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the famous general Gubaru (Gobryas) was described as the "governor of Gutium".


Little is known of the origins, material culture or language of the Guti, as contemporary sources provide few details and no artifacts have been positively identified.[6] As the Gutian language lacks a text corpus, apart from some proper names, its similarities to other languages are impossible to verify. The names of Gutian-Sumerian kings, suggest that the language was not closely related to any languages of the region, including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite and Elamite. However, the Gutian language has been described as the earliest documented Indo-European language, by linguists and archaeologists such as W. B. Henning, T. V. Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav V. Ivanov.[7][8] The same scholars have suggested, more controversially, that Gutian was closely related to the later Tocharian languages of the Tarim Basin (in modern Xinjiang, China).


Since Gutian appears to have been a unwritten language, for information about the Guti, scholars must rely on external sources – often highly-biased texts composed by their enemies.

Initially, according to the Sumerian king list, "in Gutium ... no king was famous; they were their own kings and ruled thus for three [or five] years".[9] This may indicate that the Gutian kingship was rotated between tribes/clans, or within an oligarchical elite. Sumerian sources generally portray the Guti as an "unhappy", barbarous and rapacious people from the mountains – apparently the central Zagros east of Babylon and north of Elam.[10] The period of the Gutian dynasty in Sumer is portrayed as chaotic.

The Guti appear in texts from Old Babylonian copies of inscriptions ascribed to Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab as among the nations providing his empire tribute. These inscriptions locate them between Subartu in the north, and Marhashe and Elam in the south. They were a prominent nomadic tribe who lived in the Zagros mountains in the time of the Akkadian Empire.

Sargon the Great (r. circa 2340 – 2284 BCE) also mentions them among his subject lands, listing them between Lullubi, Armanum and Akkad to the north, and Nikku and Der to the south. According to one stele, Naram-Sin of Akkad's army of 360,000 soldiers defeated the Gutian king Gula'an, despite having 90,000 slain by the Gutians.

The epic Cuthaean Legend of Naram-Sin of a later millennium mentions Gutium among the lands around Mesopotamia raided by Annubanini of Lulubum during Naram-Sin's reign (c. 2254–2218 BCE).[11] Contemporary year-names for Shar-kali-sharri of Akkad indicate that in one unknown year of his reign, he captured Sharlag king of Gutium, while in another year, "the yoke was imposed on Gutium".[12]

As the Akkadians went into decline, the Gutians began to practice hit-and-run tactics on Mesopotamia; they would be long gone by the time forces could arrive to deal with the situation. Their raids crippled the economy of Sumer. Travel became unsafe, as did work in the fields, resulting in famine. The Gutians eventually overran Akkad, and as the King List tells us, their army also subdued Uruk for hegemony of Sumer, in about 2147–2050 BCE. However, it seems that autonomous rulers soon arose again in a number of city-states, notably Gudea of Lagash.

The Gutians seem also to have briefly overrun Elam at around the same time, towards the close of Kutik-Inshushinak's reign (c. 2100 BCE).[13] On a statue of the Gutian king Erridupizir at Nippur, an inscription imitates his Akkadian predecessors, styling him "King of Gutium, King of the Four Quarters".

The Weidner Chronicle (written c. 500 BCE), portrays the Gutian kings as uncultured and uncouth:

Naram-Sin destroyed the people of Babylon, so twice Marduk summoned the forces of Gutium against him. Marduk gave his kingship to the Gutian force. The Gutians were unhappy people unaware how to revere the gods, ignorant of the right cultic practices.

Utu-hengal, the fisherman, caught a fish at the edge of the sea for an offering. That fish should not be offered to another god until it had been offered to Marduk, but the Gutians took the boiled fish from his hand before it was offered, so by his august command, Marduk removed the Gutian force from the rule of his land and gave it to Utu-hengal.

The Sumerian ruler Utu-hengal of Uruk is similarly credited on the King List with defeating the Gutian ruler Tirigan, and removing the Guti from the country (ca. 2050 BCE (short)).[9]

Following this, Ur-Nammu of Ur had their homeland of Gutium devastated, though according to one lengthy Sumerian poem, he died in battle with the Gutians, after having been abandoned by his own army.

A Babylonian text from the early 2nd Millennium refers to the Guti as having a "human face, dogs’ cunning, [and] monkey’s build”.[5]

Biblical scholars believe that the Guti may be the "Koa" (qôa), named with the Shoa and Pekod as enemies of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 23:23,[14] which was probably written in the 6th Century BCE.Qôa also means "male camel" in Hebrew, and in the context of Ezekiel 23, it may be a deliberate, insulting distortion of an endonym such as Quti.[citation needed]

Physical appearance

According to the historian Henry Hoyle Howorth (1901), Assyriologist Theophilus Pinches (1908), renowned archaeologist Leonard Woolley (1929) and Assyriologist Ignace Gelb (1944) the Gutians were pale in complexion and blonde. This was asserted on the basis of assumed links to peoples mentioned in the Old Testament.[15][16][17][18] This identification of the Gutians as fair haired first came to light when Julius Oppert (1877) published a set of tablets he had discovered which described Gutian (and Subarian) slaves as namrum or namrûtum, one of its many meanings being "light colored".[19][20] This racial character of the Gutians as blondes or being light skinned was also claimed up by Georges Vacher de Lapouge in 1899 and later by historian Sidney Smith in his Early history of Assyria (1928).[21][22]

Ephraim Avigdor Speiser however criticised the translation of namrum as "light colored". An article was published by Speiser in the Journal of the American Oriental Society criticizing Gelb's translation and consequent interpretation.[23] Gelb in response accused Speiser of circular reasoning.[24] In response Speiser claimed the scholarship regarding the translation of namrum or namrûtum is unresolved.[25] Modern scholars now don't regard the Gutians as fair skinned for lack of any proof as the only proof was the translation of a word.

Modern connection theories

The historical Guti have been regarded by some as among the ancestors of the Kurds.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32]

However, the term Guti had by late antiquity become a "catch all" term to describe all tribal peoples in the Zagros region, and according to J.P. Mallory, the original Gutians precede the arrival of Indo-Iranian peoples (of which the Kurds are one) by some 1500 years.[33]

In the late 19th-century, Assyriologist Julius Oppert sought to connect the Gutians of remote antiquity with the later Gutones (Goths), whom Ptolemy in 150 AD had known as the "Guti", a tribe of Scandia. Oppert's theory on this connection is not shared by any scholars today.

Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran


  1. ^ ETCSL. The Sumerian King List. Accessed 19 Dec 2010.
  2. ^ ETCSL. The Cursing of Agade Accessed 18 Dec 2010.
  3. ^ Kurds/History. p. 382. 
  4. ^ ETCSL - Sumerian king list
  5. ^ a b Van De Mieroop, Marc. "GUTIANS". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Patton, Laurie L., et al. (2004) The Indo-Aryan Controversy
  7. ^ W. B. Henning, 1978, "The First Indo-Europeans in History", in G. L. Ulmen (ed.), Society and History: Essays in Honor of Karl August Wittfogel, The Hague, Mouton, pp. 215–30.
  8. ^ Гамкрелидзе Т. В., Иванов Вяч. Вс. Первые индоевропейцы на арене истории: прототохары в Передней Азии // Вестник древней истории. 1989. № 1.
  9. ^ a b ETCSL - The victory of Utu-ḫeĝal
  10. ^ Eller, Jack David. Kurdish History and Kurdish Identity. p. 153. 
  11. ^ Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie By Erich Ebling, Bruno
  12. ^ Year-names for Sharkalisharri
  13. ^ Martin Sicker, 2000, The Pre-Islamic Middle East, p. 19,
  14. ^ See, for example, J. D. Douglas & Merrill C. Tenney, 2011, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.), HarperCollins, p. 1897.
  15. ^ "The Early History of Babylonia", Henry H. Howorth, The English Historical Review, Vol. 16, No. 61 (Jan. 1901), p.32.
  16. ^ The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia, Theophilus Goldridge Pinches, Kessinger Publishing, 2005 (reprint), p. 158
  17. ^ The Sumerians, Leonard Woolley, Clarendon Press, 1929, p. 5.
  18. ^ Hurrians and Subarians, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, Gelb, 1944, p.88.
  19. ^ Gelb, 1944, p. 43
  20. ^ Gelb, 1944, p. 88 - further translates a tablet passage as "a light (-coloured) slave girl who is pleasing to your eye."
  21. ^ Der Arier und seine bedeutung für die gemeinschaft, Georges Vacher de Lapouge, M. Diesterweg, 1939.
  22. ^ Early history of Assyria, Vol. 1, 1928, p. 72: " notable physical trait the Subaraeans and Gutians shared. Documents of the period of the Babylonian Amorite or First Dynasty mention slaves from Gutium and Subir (that is, Subartu), and specify that they shall be of fair complexion".
  23. ^ Were the ancient Gutians really blond and Indo-Europeans?, JAOS 50 (1930) p.338.
  24. ^ Gelb 1944, p.43: "Speiser's...reaction against the normal interpretation of namrum as 'light (-colored)' was caused by... assumption that Hurrians or Subarians belonged to the Armenoid race, which according to them could hardly be called light-colored".
  25. ^ Hurrians and Subarians, E. A. Speiser, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1948), p. 12.
  26. ^ "How to Get Out of Iraq with Integrity". 
  27. ^ "The Middle East: A Reader". 
  28. ^ "Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East". 
  29. ^ "Peoples of the Near East Without a National Future". 
  30. ^ "Central Asiatic Journal". 
  31. ^ "Great Soviet Encyclopedia". 
  32. ^ "Art and Archaelogy". 
  33. ^ Mallory, J.P. (1989), In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth, London: Thames & Hudson.