c. 9th century BCc. 630s BC
The Cimmerian migrations across West Asia
The Cimmerian migrations across West Asia
Common languagesScythian
Scythian religion (?)
Ancient Iranic religion (?)
Luwian religion (?)
Historical eraIron Age Scythian cultures
• Established
c. 9th century BC
• Disestablished
c. 630s BC

The Cimmerians were an ancient Eastern Iranic equestrian nomadic people originating in the Pontic–Caspian steppe, part of whom subsequently migrated into West Asia. Although the Cimmerians were culturally Scythian, they formed an ethnic unit separate from the Scythians proper, to whom the Cimmerians were related and who displaced and replaced the Cimmerians.[1]

The Cimmerians themselves left no written records, and most information about them is largely derived from Assyrian records of the 8th to 7th centuries BC and from Graeco-Roman authors from the 5th century BC and later.


The English name Cimmerians is derived from Latin Cimmerii, itself derived from the Ancient Greek Kimmerioi (Κιμμεριοι),[2]) of an ultimately uncertain origin for which there have been various proposals:

The name of the Cimmerians is attested in Akkadian as māt Gimirāya (𒆳𒄀𒂆𒀀𒀀) or awīlū Gimirrāya (𒇽𒄀𒂆𒊏𒀀𒀀),[6][7] and in the form Gōmer (גֹּמֶר‎) in Hebrew.[8][9]


The Cimmerians were a nomadic Iranic people of the Eurasian Steppe.[2][10][11][12][13][14] Archaeologically, there was no difference between the material cultures of the pre-Scythian populations living in the areas corresponding to the Caucasian steppe and the Volga and Don river regions around it, and there were also no other significant differences between the Cimmerians and the Scythians, who were related populations indistinguishable from each other in terms of culture and origins.[15][16]

In 1966, the archaeologist Maurits Nanning van Loon described the Cimmerians as Western Scythians, and referred to the Scythians proper as the Eastern Scythians.[17]

Other suggestions for the ethnicity for the Cimmerians include the possibility of their being Thracian,[18] or Thracians with an Iranic ruling class, or a separate group closely related to Thracian peoples, as well as a Maeotian origin.[19] 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 Treri.[2][20]


The original homeland of the Cimmerians before they migrated into West Asia was in the steppe situated to the north of the Caspian Sea and to the west of the Araxēs river until the Cimmerian Bosporus, and some Cimmerians might have nomadised in the Kuban steppe; the Cimmerians thus originally lived in the Caspian and Caucasian steppes, in the area corresponding to present-day Southern Russia.[20][15][21] The region of the Pontic Steppe until the Lake Maiōtis was instead inhabited by the Agathyrsi, who were another nomadic Iranic tribe related to the Cimmerians, and the claim in earlier scholarship that the Cimmerians lived in the Pontic Steppe appears to be erroneous and lacks evidence to support it.[22] The later claim by Greek authors that the Cimmerians lived in the Pontic Steppe around the Tyras river was a retroactive invention dating from after the disappearance of the Cimmerians.[20]

During the initial phase of their presence in West Asia, the Cimmerians lived in a country which Mesopotamian sources called māt Gamir (𒆳𒂵𒂆), that is the Land of the Cimmerians, located around the Kuros river, to the north and north-west of Lake Sevan and the south of the Darial or Klukhor passes, in a region of Transcaucasia to the east of Colchis corresponding to the modern-day Gori, in southern Georgia.[20][23]

The Cimmerians later split into two groups, with a western horde located in Anatolia, and an eastern horde which moved into Mannaea and later Media.[24]


See also: Indo-European migrations and Andronovo culture

Cimmerian invasions of Colchis, Urartu and Assyria in 715–713 BC.


The Cimmerians were originally part of a larger group of Central Asian nomadic populations who migrated to the west and formed new tribal groupings in the Pontic and Caspian steppes, with their success at expanding into Eastern Europe happening thanks to the development of mounted nomadic pastoralism and the adoption of effective weapons suited to equestrian warfare by these nomads.[20] These first truly nomadic pastoralist groups, which belonged to the Srubnaya culture, emerged in the Central Asian and Siberian steppes during the 9th century BC as a result of the cold and dry climate then prevailing in these regions,[25] and, archaeologically, the Srubnaya culture is recorded to have expanded into the territory to the west of the Volga in two to three waves.[26]

The migration of the Cimmerians from Central Asia to the Caspian and Caucasian steppes archaeologically corresponds to a movement of a population originating from Tuva in southern Siberia in the 9th century BC to the west and reaching Ciscaucasia in the 8th century BC,[2] with the Novocherkassk-Chernogorovka culture identified with the Cimmerians exhibiting a strong material influence from the Altai, Arzhan, and Karasuk cultures from Central Asia and Siberia,[27] thus making it difficult to distinguish from the Late Srubnaya culture of the early Scythians who later became dominant in the Pontic steppe and replaced the Cimmerians in the Caucasian steppe.[28] The steppe cultures that the Cimmerians were part of in turn influenced the cultures of Central Europe such as the Hallstatt culture.[29]

Within the western Eurasian steppe, the Cimmerians lived in the steppe situated to the north of the Caspian Sea and to the west of the Araxēs river, while the region of the Pontic Steppe until the Lake Maiōtis was instead inhabited by the Agathyrsi, who were another nomadic Iranic tribe related to the Cimmerians.[20][22]

The Cimmerians thus never formed the mass of the population of the Pontic Steppe, and neither Aristeas nor Hesiod ever recorded them as living in this area; names such as the "Cimmerian Bosporus" given to the strait connecting the Lake Maeotis to the Black Sea were instead given to it by the Greeks, who perhaps based themselves on folk tales of the later Scythian inhabitants of the Pontic steppe of an ancient lost people whom the Scythians had identified with the Cimmerians, while the native name of the strait was Pantikapa, meaning "fish path," in Scythian.[30]

Eurasia around 1000 BC, showing location of the Cimmerians and their neighbors

In the 8th to 7th centuries BC, the Cimmerians were disturbed by a significant movement of the nomads of the Eurasian Steppe: this movement started when the bulk of a related nomadic Iranic tribe, the Scythians, migrated westwards across the Araxēs river,[15] under the pressure of another related Central Asian nomadic Iranic tribe, either the Massagetae[31] or the Issedones,[20] following which the Scythians moved into the Caspian and Caucasian Steppes, assimilated most of the Cimmerians and conquered their territory,[16] with this absorption of the Cimmerians by the Scythians being facilitated by their similar ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles,[32] while the rest of the Cimmerians were displaced and forced to migrate to the south into West Asia.[16] These changes are attested archaeologically in a disturbance of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture associated with the Cimmerians.[3][31][22]

Under Scythian pressure, the Cimmerians migrated to the south into West Asia.[2] The story recounted by Greek authors, according to which the Cimmerian aristocrats, unwilling to leave their lands, killed each other and were buried in a kurgan near the Tyras river, after which only the Cimmerian "commoners" migrated to West Asia, is contradicted by how powerful the Cimmerians were according to Assyrian sources contemporaneous with their presence in West Asia; this story was thus was either a Pontic Greek folk tale which originated after the disappearance of the Cimmerians[20] or a later Scythian legend reflecting the motif of vanished ancient lost peoples which is widespread in folk traditions.[33]

The movement of the Cimmerians from the Caspian and Caucasian steppes to West Asia corresponds to their archaeological culture expanding into Transcaucasia in the 8th century BC, and then Anatolia in the 7th century BC.[2]

In West Asia

The Cimmerians who migrated into West Asia fled through the Klukhor [ru], Alagir and Darial Gorge passes in the Greater Caucasus mountains,[30][20] that is through the western Caucasus and Georgia into Kolkhis, where the Cimmerians initially settled during the 720s BC.[34] During this period, Cimmerians lived in a country which Mesopotamian sources called Gamir, the Land of the Cimmerians, located around the Kuros river, to the north and north-west of Lake Sevan and the south of the Darial or Klukhor passes, in a region of Transcaucasia to the east of Kolkhis corresponding to the modern-day Gori, in southern Georgia.[20][23] Transcaucasia would remain the Cimmerians' centre of operations during the early phase of their presence in West Asia until the early 660s BC.[2]

The Scythians later also expanded to the south, appearing in West Asia forty years after the Cimmerians, although they followed the coast of the Caspian Sea and arrived in the region of present-day Azerbaijan.[35][36][20][8]

The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 6th centuries BC would destabilise the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the states of Assyria, Urartu, Mannaea and Elam on one side and the mountain and tribal peoples on the other.[15]

In Transcaucasia

An Assyrian relief depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors

The Cimmerians might have defeated attacks by the Urartian kings against Colchis and the nearby areas during the 720s BC.[20]

The Assyrian king Sargon II (left) and the crown prince Sennacherib (right).

The first mention of the Cimmerians in the records of the Neo-Assyrian Empire was from between 720 and 714 BC, when Assyrian intelligence by the crown prince Sennacherib reported to the king Sargon II that the Cimmerians had attacked Urartu's province of Uasi through the territory of the kingdom of Mannaea. A counter-attack against the Cimmerians at Guriania in what is now Georgia by the Urartian king Rusa I,[2][37] during a campaign where Rusa I himself, his commander in chief, as well as thirteen governors united all the armed forces of the kingdom, was however heavily defeated by the Cimmerians, and the governor of the Urartian province of Uasi was killed. This defeat weakened Urartu significantly enough that Sargon II was able to successfully attack and defeat it, and Rusa I committed suicide in consequence.[23]

After the Cimmerians' defeat of Urartu, who had until then contained their advances, they were able to expand in the region,[38] and during the period corresponding to Sargon II's reign, a section of the Cimmerians moved into the area of the kingdom of Mannaea.[24]

The Cimmerians' presence in Anatolia might have started around 709 BC, and the king Midas II of Muški (Phrygia), who had previously been a bitter opponent of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in Anatolia, consequently ended hostilities with the Assyrians after and sent a delegation to Sargon II to attempt to form an alliance against the Cimmerians.[39][40][41]

In 705 BC, Sargon II died in battle, most likely during a campaign against the Anatolian kingdom of Tabal, or possibly during a battle in which the Cimmerians were participants in either the region of Tabal or in Nedia.[42][23][39][40]

After Sargon II's death, his son and successor Sennacherib secured the northwestern Assyrian borders,[40] and the Cimmerians ceased being mentioned in Assyrian records during Sennacherib's reign (from 705 to 681 BC); the Cimmerians would start being mentioned again by the Assyrians only under the reign of Sennacherib's own son and successor, Esarhaddon.[24] During this time, the Cimmerians were allied with the Scythians, and the two groups, in alliance with the Medes, who were an Iranic people of West Asia to whom the Scythians and Cimmerians were distantly related, were threatening the eastern frontier of Urartu during the reign of its king Argishti II.[21] Argishti II's successor, Rusa II, built several fortresses in the east of Urartu's territory, including that of Teishebaini, to monitor and repel attacks by the Cimmerians, the Mannaeans, the Medes, and the Scythians.[39]

During the period coinciding with the rule of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (reigned 681–669 BC), the bulk of the Cimmerians migrated from Transcaucasia into Anatolia, while a smaller group remained in the area near the kingdom of Mannaea where they had been settled since the time of Sargon II, respectively forming a "western" and an "eastern" division of Cimmerians.[24]

On the Iranian plateau

Between 680/679 and 678/677 BC,[43] the eastern group of Cimmerians allied with the Mannaeans and the Scythian king Išpakaia to attack Assyria, with the Scythians raiding far in the south till the Assyrian province of Zamua. These allied forces were in defeated c. 677 BC by Esarhaddon, who had become the king of the Neo-Assyrian empire, and Išpakaia was killed during this Assyrian counter-attack.[44][15]

By 677 BC, the Cimmerians were present on the territory of Mannai,[2] and in 676 BC they were its allies against an Assyrian attack, after which the eastern Cimmerians remained allied to Mannai against Assyria.[24] In the western Iranian plateau, these eastern Cimmerians might have introduced Bronze articles from the Koban culture into the Luristan bronze culture.[45] The Mannaeans, in alliance with the eastern Cimmerians and the Scythians (the latter of whom attacked the borderlands of Assyria from across the territory of the kingdom of Ḫubuškia), were able to expand their territories at the expense of Assyria and capture the fortresses of Šarru-iqbi and Dūr-Ellil. Negotiations between the Assyrians and the Cimmerians appeared to have followed, according to which the Cimmerians promised not to interfere in the relations between Assyria and Mannai, although a Babylonian diviner in Assyrian service warned Esarhaddon not to trust either the Mannaeans or the Cimmerians and advised him to spy on both of them.[15]

The eastern Cimmerian group later moved to the south, into Media, with the Scythians as their northern neighbours and occasional allies, and in the mid 670s BC, these eastern Cimmerians were recorded by the Assyrians as a possible threat against the collection of tribute from Media. Around the same time, in alliance with the Scythians, the eastern Cimmerians were menacing the Assyrian provinces of Parsumaš and Bīt Ḫamban, and these joint Cimmerian-Scythian forces together were threatening communication between the Assyrian Empire and its vassal of Ḫubuškia.[24][44] In 676 BC, Esarhaddon responded by carrying out a military campaign against Mannai during which he killed Išpakaia.[15]

By the late 670s BC, the Scythians had become the allies of the Assyrians after Išpakaia's successor, Bartatua, had married a daughter of Esarhaddon, while the eastern Cimmerians remained hostile to Assyria and were allied to Ellipi and the Medes. When Ellipi and the Medes successfully rebelled against Assyria under Kashtariti from 671 to 669 BC, the eastern Cimmerians were allied to them.[24][39]

Reproduction of a depiction of Cimmerian mounted archers from a Greek vase.

In Anatolia

By the later 7th century BC, the centre of operations of the larger, western, division of the Cimmerians was located in Anatolia.[2][24]

In 679 BC the Cimmerian king Teušpa was defeated and killed by Esarhaddon near Ḫubušna in Cappadocia.[39][40][2][24][46] 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;[24] the Cimmerians had thus ended all Assyrian control in Anatolia.[47] 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.[24]

Around 675 BC, the Cimmerians, under their king Tugdammi (the Lugdamis of the Greek authors), in alliance with the Urartian king Rusa II carried out a military campaign to the west, against Muški (Phrygia), Ḫate (the Neo-Hittite state of Melid), and Ḫaliṭu (either the Alizōnes or the Khaldoi);[39] this campaign resulted in the invasion and destruction of Phrygia, whose king Midas II committed suicide.[42][39][37][40][24][20] The Cimmerians plundered the Phrygian capital of Gordion, but they neither settled there nor destroyed its fortifications,[48] although they appear to have consequently partially subdued the Phrygians, and an Assyrian oracular text from the later 670s BC mentioned the Cimmerians and the Phrygians, who had possibly been subdued by the Cimmerians, as allies against the Assyrians' newly conquered province of Melid.[2][24]

A document from 673 BC 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 BC.[42] From 671 to 669 BC, Cimmerians in service of Rusa II attacked the Assyrian province of Šubria near the Urartian border.[45][24]

Between 671 and 670 BC, some Cimmerian divisions were recorded as serving in the Assyrian army, although these divisions might have instead simply referred to Assyrian soldiers armed in the "Cimmerian style."[2]

At yet unknown dates, the Cimmerians imposed their rule on Cappadocia, invaded Bithynia, Paphlagonia and the Troad,[42] and took the recently founded Greek colony of Sinope, whose initial settlement was destroyed and whose first founder Habrōn was killed in the invasion, and which was later re-founded by the Greek colonists Kōos and Krētinēs.[49] Along with Sinope, the Greek colony of Cyzicus was also destroyed during these invasions and had to be later re-founded.[50] In the beginning of that decade, the Cimmerians attacked the kingdom of Lydia,[42] which had been filling the power vacuum in Anatolia created by the destruction of Phrygia by establishing itself as a new rising regional power.[39] The Lydian king Gyges, attempting to find help to face the Cimmerian invasions, contacted Esarhaddon's successor who had succeeded him as king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Ashurbanipal, beginning in 667 BC, and his struggle against Cimmerians soon turned in his favour.[47][51][48] Gyges soon defeated the Cimmerians in 665 BC without Assyrian help, and he sent Cimmerian soldiers captured while attacking the Lydian countryside as gifts to Ashurbanipal.[48][52][2] According to the Assyrian records describing these events, the Cimmerians already had formed sedentary settlements in Anatolia.[51]

A Thracian mounted warrior followed by a warrior on foot.

Assyrian records in 657 BC of a "bad omen" for the "Westland"[48] might have referred to either another Cimmerian attack on Lydia,[49][47] or a conquest by Tugdammi of the western possessions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, possibly Quwê or somewhere in Syria,[53] following their defeat by Gyges.[51] These Cimmerian aggressions worried Ashurbanipal about the security of the north-west border of the Neo-Assyrian Empire enough that he sought answers concerning this situation through divination.[2]

As a result of these Cimmerian conquests, by 657 BC 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 Ashurbanipal 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 Cimmerians had become a force feared by Ashurbanipal, and Tugdammi'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 BC and the early 640s BC.[51]

Painting depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors from a Klazomenian sarcophagus.

Because of these Assyrian setbacks, Gyges could not rely on Assyrian support against the Cimmerians and he ended diplomacy with the Neo-Assyrian Empire,[51] and Ashurbanipal responded to Gyges's disengagement from Assyria by cursing him.[48][54]

The Cimmerians attacked Lydia for a third time in 644 BC: this time, they defeated the Lydians and captured their capital, Sardis, and Gyges died during this attack.[49][47][2][42][37][48] Gyges was succeeded by his son Ardys, who resumed diplomatic activity with Assyria;[55][49] Ashurbanipal, whose Anatolian borders were still in a delicate situation due to the Cimmerians, was himself willing to form alliances with any state in Anatolia which was capable of successfully fighting the Cimmerians.[47][48]

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 Batinētis 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 Artemision of Ephesus.[51] Among the other Greek cities destroyed during these invasions was Magnesia on the Meander.[50]

Reproduction of a depiction of a Cimmerian archer from a Greek vase.

After this third invasion of Lydia and the attack on the Asiatic Greek cities, around 640 BC 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, during which period the Assyrian records called him a "mountain king and an arrogant Gutian (that is a barbarian) who does not know how to fear the gods." However, after facing a revolt against himself, 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 BC, and was succeeded by his son Sandakšatru, who attempted to continue Tugdammi's attacks against Assyria but failed just like his father.[49][2][47][51][56][57][58]

By the later part of the 7th century BC, the Cimmerians were nomadising in West Asia together with the Thracian Treri tribe who had migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia.[15][20] In 637 BC, Sandakšatru's Cimmerians participated in another attack on Lydia, this time led by the Treres under their king Kōbos, and in alliance with the Lycians.[49] 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.[59] Ardys's son and successor, Sadyattes, might possibly also have been killed in another Cimmerian attack on Lydia in c. 635 BC.[48]

The power of the Cimmerians had dwindled quickly after Tugdammi's death, and soon after these Cimmerian attacks on Lydia, with Assyrian approval[60] and in alliance with the Lydians,[61] 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[8] until they were themselves expelled by the Medes from West Asia in the 600s BC.[49][2] This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes, whom Strabo credits with expelling the Treres and Cimmerians from Asia Minor, and of Sadyattes’s son, Ardys’s grandson, and Gyges's great-grandson, the king Alyattes of Lydia, whom Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Polyaenus claim finally defeated the Cimmerians.[51][62][20]

A relief depicting mounted Lydian warriors on slab of marble from a tomb.

Following this final defeat,[2] the Cimmerians likely remained in the region of Cappadocia, whose name in Armenian, Gamirkʿ (Գամիրք), may have been derived from the name of the Cimmerians.[42] A group of Cimmerians might also have subsisted for some time in the Troas, around Antandrus,[42] until they were finally defeated by Alyattes of Lydia.[63] The remnants of the Cimmerians were eventually assimilated by the populations of Anatolia,[20] and they completely disappeared from history after their defeat by Madyes and Alyattes.[2]

In Europe

It has been hypothesised that some Cimmerians might have migrated into Eastern, South-east and Central Europe, although such identification is presently considered very uncertain.[20]

Proponents of a Cimmerian migration into southwestern Europe suggest that it affected as far as Thrace, where between 700 and 650 BCE the Edoni allied with the Cimmerians to expand their territories by occupying Mygdonia and the area up to the Axios river at the expense of the Sintians and the Siropaiones.[64] This Cimmerian invasion would have also affected south-eastern Illyria, where raids by Cimmerians allied to Thracians ended the hegemony of Illyrian tribes around 650 BCE, and possibly into Epirus as well, where distinctive Cimmerian horse trappings were found offered in dedication at the temple of Dodona.[65]


The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 6th centuries BC had destabilised the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the states of Assyria, Urartu, Mannaea and Elam on one side and the mountain and tribal peoples on the other, resulting in the destruction of these former kingdoms and their replacement by new powers, including the kingdoms of the Medes and of the Lydians.[15]



After the end of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the scribes of the Neo-Babylonian Empire which replaced it used the term Gimirri indiscriminately to refer to all the nomads of the steppes, including both the Pontic Scythians and the Central Asian Saka.[1] The Persian Achaemenids who conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire continued this tradition of using the name of the Cimmerians to refer to all steppe nomads in the Akkadian language, as attested in the Behistun inscription.[22] The Byzantines from a millennium and onwards later similarly referred to the Huns, Slavs, and other populations as "Scythians."[22]

The first mention of the Cimmerians in Graeco-Roman literature dates from the 8th century BC in Homer's Odyssey, which describes them as a people living beyond the western shore of Oceanus river which encircles the world, at the entrance of Hades in a land covered with mist and clouds and permanently deprived of sunlight, where they dwelled where the Sun-god Hēlios sets.[2][66]

This mention of the Cimmerians in the Odyssey was purely poetic and contained no reliable information about the real Cimmerian people, and this image was created as a poetic opposite of the Laestrygonians and Aethiopians, who in ancient Greek mythology lived in a permanently lit land on the eastern borders of the world.[67] Homer's story might however have used as its source the story of the Argonauts, which itself focused on the kingdom of Colchis, on whose eastern borders the Cimmerians were living in the 8th century BC. Thus, Homer's source on the Cimmerians was the Argonautic myth, which itself recorded of their existence when they were still living in Transcaucasia.[68]

The location of the Cimmerians as recorded by the Argonautic myth corresponds to the record in the 6th century BC poem Arimaspeia by Aristeas of Proconessus and the later writings of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, according to whom the Cimmerians lived in the steppe to the immediate north of the Caspian Sea,[69] with the Volga river forming their eastern border which separated them from the Scythians.[70][71]

Homer's mention of the Cimmerians as living deprived from sunlight and close to the entrance of Hades influenced later Graeco-Roman authors who, writing centuries after the disappearance of the historical Cimmerians, conceptualised of this people as the one described by Homer, and therefore assigned to them various fantastical locations and histories:[2][20][72]

The Cimmerians appear in the Hebrew Bible under the name of Gōmer (גֹּמֶר‎), where Gōmer is closely linked to ʾAškənāz (אשכנז), that is to the Scythians.[15][8][9]

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote legendary accounts of the arrival of the Scythians into the lands of the Cimmerians for which evidence is lacking:[73][74]


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. The historical Sicambri, however, were a Germanic tribe from Gelderland in modern Netherlands and are named for the Sieg river.[76]


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".[77][78][79][80]

In the 18th to 20th centuries, the racialist British Israelist movement developed a pseudohistory according to which, after population of the historical kingdom of Israel had been deported by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 721 BC and became the Ten Lost Tribes, they fled north to the region near Sinope, from where they migrated into East and Central Europe and became the Scythians and Cimmerians, who themselves moved to north-west Europe and became the supposed ancestors of the white Protestant peoples of North Europe, with the Cymry being the supposed descendants of those among them who maintained their Cimmerian identity. Being an antisemitic movement, British Israelists claim to be the most authentic heirs of the ancient Israelites while rejecting Jews as being "contaminated" through intermarriage with Edomites; or, they adhere to the antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming that Jews descend from the Khazars.[81][82] According to the scholar Tudor Parfitt, the proof cited by adherents of British Israelism is "of a feeble composition even by the low standards of the genre."[83]

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.[84] The modern Georgian word for "hero", გმირი gmiri, is said to derive from their name.[citation needed]

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.[85]

In popular culture

The character of Conan the Barbarian, created by Robert E. Howard in a series of fantasy stories published in Weird Tales from 1932, is canonically a Cimmerian: in Howard's fictional Hyborian Age, the Cimmerians are a pre-Celtic people who were the ancestors of the Irish and Scots (Gaels).

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a novel by Michael Chabon, includes a chapter describing the (fictional) oldest book in the world, "The Book of Lo", created by ancient Cimmerians.

Isaac Asimov attempted to trace various place names to Cimmerian origins. He suggested that Cimmerium gave rise to the Turkic toponym Qırım (which in turn gave rise to the name "Crimea").[86] The derivation of the name of Crimea from that of the Cimmerians is however no longer accepted, and it is now thought to have originated from the Crimean Tatar word qırım, which means "fortress."[87]

Manau's song "La Tribu de Dana" recounts an imaginary battle between Celts and enemies identified by the narrator as Cimmerians.



RegionNorth Caucasus
Eraunknown-7th century BC
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

According to the historian Muhammad Dandamayev and the linguist János Harmatta, the Cimmerians spoke a dialect belonging to the Scythian group of Iranic languages, and were able to communicate with Scythians proper without needing interpreters.[88][3][89] The Iranologist Ľubomír Novák considers Cimmerian to be a relative of Scythian which exhibited similar features as Scythian, such as the evolution of the sound /d/ into /l/.[90]

The recorded personal names of the Cimmerians were either Iranic, reflecting their origins, or Anatolian, reflecting the cultural influence of the native populations of Asia Minor on them after their migration there.[15]

Only a few personal names in the Cimmerian language have survived in Assyrian inscriptions:

According to the Scythologist Sergey Tokhtas’ev [ru], the original form of this name was likely ***Dugdamiya, formed from the word *dugda, meaning "milk."[92]

  • According to János Harmatta, it goes back to Old Iranic *Sandakuru "splendid son."[3]
  • Askold Ivantchik derives the name Sandakšatru from a compound term consisting of the name of the Anatolian deity Šanta, and of the Iranic term -xšaθra.[51]


The Cimmerians lived an equestrian nomadic pastoralist way of life, similar to that of the Scythians.[89]


The Cimmerians practised mounted warfare just like the Scythians.[89]


A genetic study published in Science Advances in October 2018 examined the remains of three Cimmerians buried between around 1000 and 800 BC. 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. [93]

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.[94]

Distribution of "Thraco-Cimmerian" finds. From map in Archaeology of Ukrainian SSR (rus. Археология Украинской ССР) vol. 2, Kiev (1986)


Main article: Thraco-Cimmerian

Archaeologically, the Cimmerians in their Caspian and Caucasian steppe homeland as well as the Scythians proper both belonged to pre-Scythian cultures,[95] and the Cimmerians are associated with the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk Culture of the west Eurasian steppe, which itself showed strong influences originating from the east in Central Asia and Siberia (more specifically from the Karasuk, Arzhan, and Altai cultures), as well as from the Kuban culture of the Caucasus which contributed to its development.[22]

Materially, the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture is difficult to distinguish from the Late Srubnaya culture of the early Scythians who later became dominant in the Pontic steppe and replaced the Cimmerians in the Caucasian steppe, with both the Cimmerians and the Scythians being part of the larger Chernagorovsk-Arzhan cultural complex,[96] and both Scythians and the Cimmerians used Novocherkassk objects when the Scythians initially arrived into the Caucasian and Pontic steppes.[32]

The transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture appears to have itself been a continuous process,[96] and the Cimmerians cannot be distinguished from the Scythians during the period of transition from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk culture to the Scythian culture.[97]

By the time the Cimmerians had moved into West Asia, they had come into contact with the native cultures of Transcaucasia, of the Iranian Plateau, and the Armenian Highlands, under the influence of which their material culture became indistinguishable from the archaeological Scythian culture,[95] which itself had developed from the contact of the Early Scythians who initially belonged to the Srubnaya culture with the native cultures of Transcaucasia[98][99][100] and Mesopotamia.[22][101]

Therefore, the Cimmerians in West Asia are considered to have materially belonged to the Early Scythian culture,[49] and archaeological remains of the Scythians and Cimmerians are difficult to distinguish from each other, with "Scythian" arrowheads have been found among the weapons of besieging armies of ruined cities in parts of Anatolia where Cimmerians are attested have operated but where Scythians were not active.[95]

Cimmerian remains from the period of their presence in Anatolia include a burial from the village of İmirler in the Amasya Province of Turkey which contains typically Early Scythian weapons and horse harnesses. Another Cimmerian burial, located at about 100 km to the east of İmirler and 50 km from Samsun, contained 250 Scythian-type arrowheads.[49]

Cimmerian kings

Kings of the western (Anatolian) Cimmerians

See also



  1. ^ a b Tokhtas’ev 1991: "As the Cimmerians cannot be differentiated archeologically from the Scythians, it is possible to speculate about their Iranian origins. In the Neo-Babylonian texts (according to D’yakonov, including at least some of the Assyrian texts in Babylonian dialect) Gimirri and similar forms designate the Scythians and Central Asian Saka, reflecting the perception among inhabitants of Mesopotamia that Cimmerians and Scythians represented a single cultural and economic group"
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  3. ^ a b c d e Harmatta 1996.
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  5. ^ a b Ivantchik 1993, p. 134-140.
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  9. ^ a b Barnett 1975.
  10. ^ von Bredow 2006: "(Κιμμέριοι; Kimmérioi, Lat. Cimmerii). Nomadic tribe probably of Iranian descent, attested for the 8th/7th cents. BCE."
  11. ^ Ivantchik 1999, p. 517: "the Cimmerians, another group of Eurasian nomads, probably also Iranians"
  12. ^ Dandamayev 2015: "It seems that Cimmerians and Scythians (Sakai) were related, spoke among themselves different Iranian dialects, and could understand each other without interpreters."
  13. ^ Harmatta 1996, p. 181.
  14. ^ Kohl, Philip L.; Dadson, D.J., eds. (1989). The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran, by Muhammad A. Dandamaev and Vladimir G. Lukonin. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0521611916. Ethnically and linguistically, the Scythians and Cimmerians were kindred groups (both people spoke Old Iranian dialects) (...)
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  18. ^ Frye, Richard Nelson (1984). The History of Ancient Iran. Verlag C.H. Beck. p. 70. ISBN 978-3406093975. 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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