The Cimmerian migrations across West Asia
The Cimmerian migrations across West Asia
Common languagesScythian
Scythian religion (?)
Ancient Iranic religion (?)
Luwian religion (?)
• Unknown–679 BC
• 679–640 BC
• 640–630s BC
Historical eraIron Age
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex

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),[7][8][9] and in the form Gōmer (גֹּמֶר‎) in Hebrew.[10][11]

In 1966, the archaeologist Maurits Nanning van Loon described the Cimmerians as Western Scythians, and referred to the Scythians proper as the Eastern Scythians.[12]


See also: Indo-European migrations and Andronovo culture

There are three main sources of information on the historical Cimmerians:[13][14][15][16][17][18]


The arrival of the Cimmerians in Europe was part of the larger process of westwards movement of Central Asian Iranic nomads towards Southeast and Central Europe which lasted from the 1st millennium BC to the 1st millennium AD, and to which also later participated other Iranic nomads such as the Scythians, Sauromatians, and Sarmatians.[19]

Beginning of steppe nomadism

The formation of genuine nomadic pastoralism itself happened in the early 1st millennium BC due to climatic changes which caused the environment in the Central Asian and Siberian steppes to become cooler and drier than before.[20] These changes caused the sedentary mixed farmers of the Bronze Age to become nomadic pastoralists, so that by the 9th century BC all the steppe settlements of the sedentary Bronze Age populations had disappeared,[21] and therefore led to the development of population mobility and the formation of warrior units necessary to protect herds and take over new areas.[22]

These climatic conditions in turn caused the nomadic groups to become transhumant pastoralists constantly moving their herds from one pasture to another in the steppe,[21] and to search for better pastures to the west, in Ciscaucasia and the forest steppe regions of western Eurasia.[20]

The Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex

The Cimmerians originated as a section of the first wave[23][24][25][26] of the nomadic populations who originated in the parts of Central Asia corresponding to eastern Kazakhstan or the Altai-Sayan region,[27] and who had, beginning in the 10th century BC and lasting until the 9th to 8th centuries BC,[28] migrated westwards into the Pontic-Caspian Steppe regions, where they formed new tribal confederations which constituted the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex.[23]

Among these tribal confederations were the Cimmerians in the Caspian Steppe, as well as the Agathyrsi in the Pontic Steppe,[23][24][29] and possibly the Sigynnae in the Pannonian Steppe.[30] The archaeological and historical records regarding these migrations are however scarce, and permit to sketch only a very broad outline of this complex development.[31]

The Cimmerians corresponded to a part of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex,[23] to whose development three main cultural influences contributed to:

The Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex thus developed natively in the North Pontic region over the course of the 9th to mid-7th centuries BC from elements which had earlier arrived from Central Asia, due to which it itself exhibited similarities with the other early nomadic cultures of the Eurasian steppe and forest steppe which existed before the 7th century BC, such as the Aržan culture, so that these various pre-Scythian early nomadic cultures were thus part of a unified Aržan-Chernogorovka cultural layer originating from Central Asia.[34]

Thanks to their development of highly mobile mounted nomadic pastoralism and the creation of effective weapons suited to equestrian warfare, all based on equestrianism, these nomads from the Pontic-Caspian Steppes were able to gradually infiltrate into Central and Southeast Europe and therefore expand deep into this region over a very long period of time,[35][24] so that the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex covered a wide territory ranging from Central Europe and the Pannonian Plain in the west to Caucasia in the east, including present-day Southern Russia.[2][23]

This in turn allowed the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex itself to strongly influence the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe:[35] among these influences was the adoption of trousers, which were not used by the native populations of Central Europe before the arrival of the Central Asian steppe nomads.[30]

In the Caspian and Ciscaucasian Steppes

Within the western sections of the Eurasian Steppe, the Cimmerians lived in the Caspian[23][36] and Ciscaucasian Steppes,[37][38][39] situated on the northern and western shores of the Caspian Sea[40][41][23] and along the Araxes river,[42] which acted as their eastern border separating them from the Scythians;[43][44] to the west, the territory of the Cimmerians extended till the Kuban Steppe until the Bosporus.[45][42]

The Cimmerians were thus the first large nomadic confederation to have inhabited the Ciscaucasian Steppe,[39] and they never formed the basic mass of the population of the Pontic Steppe,[46][23] with neither Hesiod nor Aristeas of Proconnesus ever recording them living in this area;[46] moreover the groups of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex from the Pontic Steppe and Central Europe have so far not been identifiable with the historical Cimmerians.[41] Instead, the main grouping of Iranic nomads of Central Asian origin belonging to the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex in the eastern parts of the Pontic Steppe were the Agathyrsi to the north of the Lake Maeotis.[35][24]

Some later place names, such as the "Cimmerian ferry" (Ancient Greek: πορθμηια Κιμμερια, romanizedporthmēia Kimmeria), "country of Cimmeria" (Ancient Greek: χωρη Κιμμερια, romanizedkhōrē Kimmeria), and "Cimmerian Bosporus" (Ancient Greek: Βοσπορος Κιμμεριος, romanizedBosporos Kimmerios), mentioned by the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC as existing in the Bosporan region,[47] might have owed their origin to the historical presence of the Cimmerians in this area,[48][45] although a derivation of these names from the historical Cimmerian presence is still very uncertain.[42]

The displacement of the Cimmerians

Arrival of the Scythians

A second wave of migration of Iranic nomads corresponded arrival of the early Scythians from Central Asia into the Caucasian Steppe,[35][26] which started in the 9th century BC,[49] when a significant movement of the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppe started after the early Scythians were expelled out of Central Asia by either the Massagetae, who were a powerful nomadic Iranic tribe from Central Asia closely related to the Scythians,[50][51][52] or by another Central Asian people called the Issedones,[47][40] thus forcing the early Scythians to the west, across the Araxes river and into the Caspian and Ciscaucasian Steppes.[53]

Like the nomads of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex, the Scythians originated in Central Asia[54][44] in the steppes corresponding to either present-day eastern Kazakhstan or the Altai-Sayan region, which is attested by the continuity of Scythian burial rites and weaponry types with the Karasuk culture, as well as by the origin of the typically Scythian Animal Style art in the Mongolo-Siberian region.[55]

Therefore, the Scythians and the nomads of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex were closely related populations who shared a common origin, culture, and language,[56] and the earliest Scythians were therefore part of a common Aržan-Chernogorovka cultural layer originating from Central Asia, with the early Scythian culture being materially indistinguishable from the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex.[57]

This western migration of the early Scythians lasted through the middle 8th century BC,[31] and archaeologically corresponded to the movement of a population originating from Tuva in southern Siberia in the late 9th century BC towards the west, and arriving in the 8th to 7th centuries BC into Europe, especially into Ciscaucasia, which it reached some time between c. 750 and c. 700 BC,[35][2] thus following the same general migration path as the first wave of Central Asian Iranic nomads who had formed the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex.[26]

Migration of the Cimmerians

The westward migration of the Scythians brought them around c. 750 BC[58][59] to the lands of the Cimmerians,[60][44] who around this time were leaving their homelands in the Caspian Steppe to move into West Asia.[23] The Cimmerians might possibly have migrated under the pressure from the Scythians,[39][41] although sources are lacking for any such pressure on the Cimmerians by the Scythians or ofany conflict between these two peoples at this early period.[18] Moreover, the arrival of the Scythians in West Asia about 40 years after the Cimmerians did so suggests that there is no available evidence to the later Graeco-Roman account that it was under pressure from the Scythians migrating into their territories that the Cimmerians crossed the Caucasus and moved south into West Asia.[61][62]

The remnants of the Cimmerians in the Caspian Steppe were assimilated by the Scythians,[60]with this absorption being facilitated by their similar ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles,[63] thus transferring the dominance of this region from the Cimmerians to the Scythians who were assimilating them,[42][24] after which the Scythians settled between the Araxes river to the east, the Caucasus mountains to the south, and the Maeotian Sea to the west,[64][35] in the Ciscaucasian Steppe where were located the Scythian kingdom's headquarters.[51]

The arrival of the Scythians and their establishment in this region in the 7th century BC[56] corresponded to a disturbance of the development of the Cimmerian peoples' Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex,[35] which was thus replaced through a continuous process[57] over the course of c. 750 to c. 600 BC by the early Scythian culture in southern Europe, which itself nevertheless still showed links to the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex.[65]

In West Asia

Over the course of the second half of the 8th century BC and the 7th century BC, the equestrian steppe nomads from Ciscaucasia expanded to the south,[66][18] beginning with the Cimmerians, who migrated from the Caspian Steppe into West Asia,[61][67][23] following the same dynamic of the steppe nomads like the Scythians, Alans and Huns who would later invade West Asia via Caucasia.[68] The Cimmerians entered West Asia by crossing the Caucasus Mountains[69][61][23] through the Alagir, Darial, and Klukhor [ru] Passes,[37][70][46][61][68] which was the same route that Sarmatian detachments would later take to invade the Arsacid Parthian Empire,[68] after which Cimmerians eventually became active in the West Asian regions of Transcaucasia, the Iranian Plateau and Anatolia.[66][25]

Reasons for southwards nomad expansion

The involvement of the steppe nomads in West Asia happened in the context of the then growth of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which under its kings Sargon II and Sennacherib had expanded from its core region of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to rule and dominate a large territory ranging from Quwê (Plain Cilicia) and the Central and Eastern Anatolian mountains in the north to the Syrian Desert in the south, and from the Taurus Mountains and North Syria and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Iranian Plateau in the east.[71][72]

Surrounding the Neo-Assyrian Empire were several smaller polities:[73][72]

Beyond the territories under the direct Assyrian rule, especially in its frontiers in Anatolia and the Iranian Plateau, were local rulers who negotiated for their own interests by vacillating between the various rival great powers.[71]

This state of permanent social disruption caused by the rivalries of the great powers of West Asia thus proved to be a very attractive source of opportunities and wealth for the steppe nomads.[74][75] And, as the populations of the nomads of the Ciscaucasian Steppe continued to grow, their aristocrats would lead their followers southwards across the Caucasus Mountains in search of adventure and plunder in the volatile status quo then prevailing in West Asia,[76] not unlike the later Ossetian tradition of the ritual plunder called the balc (балц),[77][78] with the occasional raids eventually leading to longer expeditions, in turn leading to groups of nomads choosing to remain in West Asia in search of opportunities as mercenaries or freebooters.[79]

Thus, the Cimmerians and Scythians became active in West Asia in the 7th century BC,[60] where they would vacillate between supporting either the Neo-Assyrian Empire or other local powers depending on what they considered to be in their interest.[74][80] Their activities would over the course of the late-8th to late-7th centuries BC disrupt the balance of power which had prevailed between the states of Elam, Mannai, the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Urartu on one side and the mountaineer and tribal peoples on the other, eventually leading to significant geopolitical changes in this region.[37][81]

Nevertheless, a 9th or 8th century BC barrow grave, belonging from Paphlagonia to a warrior, and containing typical steppe nomad equipment, suggests that nomadic warriors had already been arriving in West Asia since the 9th century BC.[82][72] Such burials imply that some small groups of steppe nomads from Ciscaucasia might have acted as mercenaries, adventurers and settler groups in West Asia, which laid the ground for the later large scale movement of the Cimmerians and Scythians into West Asia.[82]

There appears to have been very little direct connection between the Cimmerians' migration into West Asia and the Scythians' later expansion into this same region.[59] Thus, the arrival of the Scythians in West Asia about 40 years after the Cimmerians did so suggests that there is no available evidence to the later Graeco-Roman account that it was under pressure from the Scythians migrating into their territories that the Cimmerians crossed the Caucasus and moved south into West Asia.[61][62][18]

In Transcaucasia

During the early phase of their presence in West Asia until the early 660s BC, the Cimmerians moved into Transcaucasia, which acted as their initial centre of operations:[2] after having passed through Colchis and western Caucasia and Georgia,[69][83] during the 8th century BC, the Cimmerians settled in a region located to the east of Colchis, in the areas of central Transcaucasia[84][45][42][85] to the immediate south of the Darial and Klukhor passes[86] and on the Cyrus river,[68] which corresponds to territory of Gori in modern-day central and southern Georgia.[2][87][61][68] Archaeologically, this Cimmerian presence is attested by remains associated to nomadic populations dating from between c. 750 to c. 700 BC.[68]

The presence of the Cimmerians in this area led Mesopotamian sources to call it māt Gamir (𒆳𒂵𒂆), that is lit.'the Land of the Cimmerians'.[2][88][85]

The territory of the Cimmerians at this time was separated from the kingdom of Urartu by an Urartian vassal country named Quriani, itself located near the countries of Kulha and Diauhi, to the east and northeast of the Lake Çıldır and the north and northwest of Lake Sevan.[84][89]

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

The Cimmerians appeared to have first become active in the territories to the south of the Caucasus in the c. 720s BC, where they helped the inhabitants of Colchis and of the nearby regions defeat attacks by the kingdom of Urartu.[90]

The oldest known activities of the Cimmerians in West Asia date from the mid-710s BC,[91][92] when they launched a sudden attack on Urartu's province of Uasi through the territory of the kingdom of Mannai,[93][2][94][68][95] which therefore took the Urartians by surprise[96] and forced the governor of Uasi to ask for support from the king of the neighbouring small state of Muṣaṣir located on the Assyro-Urartian border region.[97]

The first recorded mentions of the Cimmerians date from spring or early summer[94] of 714 BC[98][88][99][92][16][100][101][102] and are from the intelligence reports of the then superpower of West Asia, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, sent by the crown prince Sennacherib to his father the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II, recording that the Urartian king Rusa I had launched a counter-attack against the Cimmerians:[103][2][104][68][95] Rusa I had gathered almost all of the Urartian armed forces to campaign against the Cimmerians, with Rusa I himself as well as his commander in chief and thirteen governors personally participating in this campaign.[105] Rusa I's counter-attack was heavily defeated, and the governor of the Urartian province of Uasi was killed while the commander in chief and two governors were captured by the Cimmerian forces, attesting of the significant military power of the Cimmerians.[106][107][93][103][104][105][86][108][95]

Although Assyrian intelligence reports claimed that the Urartians were fearing an attack by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and that panic spread had among them following this defeat,[109] the situation within Urartu remained calm,[94] and the king Urzana of Muṣaṣir personally,[110] as well as a messenger from the kingdom of Ḫubuškia,[111] went to meet Rusa I to reaffirm his allegiance to Urartu.[111]

This defeat against the Cimmerians had nonetheless weakened Urartu significantly enough[86] that, when Sargon II campaigned against Urartu in 714 BC itself,[112] in the month of Tamūzu,[94] he was able to defeat the Urartians[86][113] in the region of mount Uauš, and annex Muṣaṣir,[114] while Rusa I consequently committed suicide[115] and his son Melarṭua was crowned as the new king of Urartu.[116] Although Urartu's power was shaken by these defeats,[117] it nevertheless remained a major power in West Asia under Melarṭua's successor, Argišti II r. 714 – 680 BC.[95]

Death of Sargon II

Possibly out of fear from the danger of the Cimmerians, the Phrygian king Midas I, who had previously been a bitter opponent of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, ended hostilities with the Neo-Assyrians in 709 BC and sent a delegation to Sargon II to attempt to form an anti-Cimmerian alliance.[117][118][119][120]

Around this same time, the Neo-Hittite kingdom of Tabal in Anatolia was rising into an ascending power under its king Gurdi,[120] in response to which Sargon II led a campaign there in 705 BC during which he was killed, possibly in a battle where he also fought the Cimmerians.[121][117][122][120]

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

After Sargon II's death, his son and successor Sennacherib defeated Gurdi at Til-Garimmu[120] and secured the northwestern Neo-Assyrian borders,[117] due to which the Cimmerians ceased being mentioned in Neo-Assyrian records under his reign (r. 705 – 681 BC) and would re-start being mentioned by the Assyrians only under the reign of Sennacherib's own son and successor Esarhaddon.[106][123][124]

The Cimmerians might however have possibly ended their hostilities with Urartu and acted as mercenaries in the Urartian army during this period,[124] under the reign of Argišti II.[106][121][95] Some of these Cimmerians serving in the Urartian army might have been responsible for the creation of several human funerary statues in the region of Muṣaṣir which resemble the funerary statues of steppe nomads.[125]

Cimmerians in the Assyrian army

By 680 and 679 BC, Cimmerian detachments composed of individual soldiers were serving in the Neo-Assyrian army. These might have been Cimmerian captives or Cimmerians recruited into the Neo-Assyrian military or merely Assyrian soldiers equipped in the "Cimmerian stype," that is using Cimmerian bows and arrows.[93][2][126][127]

Division of the Cimmerians

During the period corresponding to the rule of the Neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon r. 681 – 669 BC, the Cimmerians split into two major divisions:[128][129][85][73]

The two groups of the Cimmerians might themselves have continued to remain part of the same steppe nomad polity, which was itself nevertheless organised along various divisions depending on political changes. Such a structure was also present among:[130]

The Cimmerian and Scythians movements into Anatolia and the Iranian Plateau would act as catalysts for the adoption of Eurasian nomadic military and equestrian equipments by various West Asian states:[80] it was during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE that "Scythian-type" socketed arrowheads and sigmoid bows ideal for use by mounted warriors, which were the most advanced shooting weapon of their time and were both technically and ballistically superior to native West Asian archery equipment, were adopted throughout West Asia.[133][80][65]

Cimmerian and Scythian trading posts and settlements on the borders of the various West Asian states at this time also supplied them with goods such as animal husbandry products, not unlike the trade relations which existed the mediaeval period between the eastern steppe nomads and the Chinese Tang Empire.[134]

On the Iranian Plateau

The eastern group of Cimmerians would remain on the northwestern Iranian plateau, where they were initially active in Mannaea before later moving southwards into Media.[129][135][136]

In Mannai
Scythian expansion into West Asia

After having settled into Ciscaucasia, the Scythians became the second wave of steppe nomads to expand southwards from there, following the western shore of the Caspian Sea[46] and bypassing the Caucasus Mountains to the east through the Caspian Gates,[69][37][106][137][138][139][61][18] with the Scythians first arriving in Transcaucasia around c. 700 BC,[140] after which they consequently became active in West Asia.[141][60][35][66] This Scythian expansion into West Asia, nonetheless, never lost contact with the core Scythian kingdom located in the Ciscaucasian Steppe and was merely an extension of it, as was the concurrently occurring westward Scythian expansion into the Pontic Steppe.[65]

Once they had finally crossed into West Asia, the Scythians settled in eastern Transcaucasia and the northwest Iranian plateau,[142][139][143][85] between the middle course of the Cyrus and Araxes rivers before expanding into the regions corresponding to present-day Gəncə, Mingəçevir and the Muğan plain[144] in the steppes of what is presently Azerbaijan, which became their centre operations until c. 600 BC,[145][142] and this part of Transcaucasia settled by the Scythians consequently became known in the Akkadian sources from Mesopotamia as māt Iškuzaya (𒆳𒅖𒆪𒍝𒀀𒀀, lit.'land of the Scythians') after them.[85]

The arrival of the Scythians in West Asia about 40 years after that of the Cimmerians suggests that there is no available evidence to the later Graeco-Roman account of the Cimmerians crossing the Caucasus and moving south into West Asia under pressure from the Scythians migrating into their territories.[61][62][18]

The first ever recorded mention of the Scythians is from the records of the Neo-Assyrian Empire[60][146] of c. 680 BC, which detail the first Scythian activities in West Asia and refer to the first recorded Scythian king, Išpakāya, as an ally of the Mannaeans.[69][106][140][147][148][74][149][150][151][152][65] Around this time, the Scythians who had arrived into the territory of Ḫubuškia from Mannai were threatening the Neo-Assyrian territories,[153] and were recorded by the Neo-Assyrians along with the eastern Cimmerians, Mannaeans and Urartians as possibly menacing communication between the Neo-Assyrian Empire and its vassal of Ḫubuškia.[74][154][155][82]

During these attacks, the Scythians were menacing the Neo-Assyrian provinces of Parsumaš and Bīt-Ḫamban and raiding until as far as Zamua along with the eastern Cimmerians, who were located on the border of Mannai,[148][2] with the Neo-Assyrian records referring these joint Cimmerian-Scythian forces, along with the Medes and Mannaeans, as a possible threat against the collection of tribute from Media.[140][154][80]

Meanwhile, Mannai, who had been able to grow in power under its king Aḫšeri, possibly thanks to its adaptation and incorporation of steppe nomad fighting technologies borrowed from its Cimmerian and Scythian allies,[156] was able to capture the territories including the fortresses of Šarru-iqbi and Dūr-Enlil from the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[157]

Under Argišti II, Urartu attempted to restore its power by expanding to the east towards the region of Mount Sabalan, possibly to relieve the pressure on the trade routes across the Iranian Plateau and the steppes from the Scythians, Cimmerians, and Medes.[158] Urartu remained a major power under Argišti II's successor Rusa II r. 680 – 639 BC, the latter of whom carried out major fortification construction projects around Lake Van, such as at Rusāipatari, and at Teišebaini near what is presently Yerevan[120] other fortifications built by Rusa II were Qale Bordjy and Qale Sangar north of Lake Urmia, as well as the fortresses of Pir Chavush, Qale Gavur and Qiz Qale around the administrative centre of Haftavan Tepe to the northwest of the Lake, all intended to monitor the activities of the allied forces of the Scythians, Mannaeans and Medes.[159]

These allied forces of the Cimmerians, Mannaeans and Scythians were defeated some time between c. 680 and c. 677 BC by Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon (r. 681 – 669 BC), who had succeeded him as the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire[160][152][65] and carried out a retaliatory campaign which reached deep into Median territory until Mount Bikni and the country of Patušarra (Patischoria) on the limits of the Great Salt Desert.[161][162] Išpakāya was killed in battle against Esarhaddon's forces during this campaign, and he was succeeded as king of the Scythians by Bartatua,[69][140][149][163][164][151] with whom Esarhaddon might have immediately initiated negotiations.[165]

At some point before c. 675 BC, negotiations had taken place between the Neo-Assyrian Empire and the eastern Cimmerians, who confirmed to the Assyrians that they would remain neutral and promised not to interfere in when Esarhaddon invaded Mannai again in c. 675 BC, although his diviner and advisor Bēl-ušēzib referred to these eastern Cimmerians instead of the Scythians as possible allies of the Mannaeans and advised Esarhaddon to spy on both the Cimmerians and the Mannaeans.[81][166]

This second Assyrian invasion of Mannai however met little success, and the relations between Mannai and the Neo-Assyrian Empire remained hostile while the Cimmerians remained allied to Mannai[167] until the period lasting from 671 to 657 BC.[168]

Alliance with the Medes

By 672 BC, the Scythians had become the allies of the Neo-Assyrian Empire after Išpakāya's successor, Bartatua, had asked for the hand of the eldest daughter of Esarhaddon, the Neo-Assyrian princess Šērūʾa-ēṭirat, and promised to form an alliance treaty with the Neo-Assyrian Empire in an act of careful diplomacy.[169][106][165][170][171][149][172][173][16][65][174][124][76][175]

The marriage between Bartatua and the Šērūʾa-ēṭirat likely took place,[169][165][108][172][173] in consequence of which[65] the Scythians ceased to be referred to as an enemy force in the Neo-Assyrian records[174] and the alliance between the Scythian kingdom and the Neo-Assyrian Empire was concluded,[176][65] following which the Scythian kingdom therefore remained on friendly terms with the Neo-Assyrian Empire and maintained peaceful relations with it.[124]

The eastern Cimmerians meanwhile remained hostile to Assyria,[177] and, along with the Medes, were the allies of Ellipi against an invasion by the Neo-Assyrian Empire between c. 672 and c. 669 BC.[178] The eastern Cimmerians attacked the Assyrian province of Šubria during this time.[148][2]

It consequently became more difficult for the Neo-Assyrian Empire to control the Median city-states and the various polities in the Zagros Mountains at this point.[152] And when the Median ruler Kaštaritu rebelled against the Neo-Assyrian Empire and founded the first independent kingdom of the Medes after successfully liberating them from Neo-Assyrian overlordship in c. 671 to c. 669 BC,[179] the eastern Cimmerians were allied to him.[148][180][149][181]

Around c. 669 BC, the eastern Cimmerians experienced a defeat by the Neo-Assyrian army and were forced to retreat into their own territory,[181] and they were still on the territory of Mannai by c. 667 BC.[2]

Some eastern Cimmerians might have moved to the southern Iranian Plateau, where they possibly introduced Bronze articles from the Koban culture into the Luristan bronze culture.[128]

In Anatolia

The western Cimmerian group moved into Anatolia,[151] where it would be particularly active in the regions of Tabal, Phrygia and Lydia[135] and would be involved in wars against these latter two states as well as against the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[68] This Cimmerian movement into Anatolia is archaeologically attested in the form of the expansion of the Scythian culture into this region.[2]

Defeat by Esarhaddon

Around the same time, and following the death of Warpalawas II of Tuwana, the Neo-Assyrian Empire was trying to secure their control of Ḫubišna, which might have been opposed by the rulers of Ḫubišna who demanded help from the Cimmerians, or the Cimmerians might have attempted to invade this region on their own.[152] The Neo-Assyrian Empire reacted to maintain its control of Cilicia by conducting a campaign in 679 BC during which Esarhaddon killed the western Cimmerian king Teušpā and annexed a part of the territory of the kingdom of Ḫilakku and of the kingdom of Kundu and Sussu in the region of Quwê.[106][93][148][182][183][184][121][2][185][186][187][101][139][151]

Despite this victory, and although Esarhaddon had managed to stop the advance of Cimmerians in the Neo-Assyrian province of Quwê so that this latter region remained under Neo-Assyrian control,[152] the military operations were not successful enough for the Assyrians to firmly occupy the areas around of Ḫubušna, nor were they able to secure the borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, leaving Quwê vulnerable to incursions from Tabal, Kuzzurak and Ḫilakku,[188] who were allied to the western Cimmerians who were establishing themselves in Anatolia at this time.[189]

Activities in Anatolia

With Urartu incapable of stopping the Cimmerian advance,[120] some time around c. 675 BC,[190] under their king Dugdammē[191][151][124] (the Lygdamis of the Greek authors[151][124]), the western Cimmerians invaded and destroyed the empire of Phrygia, whose king Midas committed suicide, and sacked its capital of Gordion,[69][191][192][107][93][193][194][121][2][187][136][101][16][120][124][25] although they appear to have neither settled within the city nor destroyed its fortifications.[195]

The western Cimmerians consequently settled in Phrygia[151] and subdued part of the Phrygians[196] so that they controlled a large area consisting of Phrygia from its western limits which bordered on Lydia to its eastern boundaries neighbouring the Neo-Assyrian Empire,[197] after which they made Cappadocia into their centre of operations.[69][198][121][2] According to a tradition later recorded by Stephanus of Byzantium, the Cimmerians found several tens of thousands of medimni of wheat in the underground granaries of the Phrygian village of Syassos that they used as food for a long time.[196]

When Esarhaddon conquered the nearby state of Šubria in 673 BC, Rusa II supported him, attesting of a period of non-aggression between Urartu and Assyria under the reigns of Rusa II and Esarhaddon.[120]

Assyrian sources from around this same time also recorded a Cimmerian presence in the area of the Neo-Hittite state of Tabal,[199] and, between c. 672 and c. 669 BC, an Assyrian oracular text recorded that the Cimmerians, together with the Phrygians and the Cilicians, were threatening the Neo-Assyrian Empire's newly conquered territory of Melid.[2][200][196][136] The western Cimmerians were thus active in Tabal, Ḫilakku and Phrygia in the 670s BC,[196] and, in alliance with these former two states, were attacking the western Neo-Assyrian provinces.[189][136] At unknown dates, the western Cimmerians also invaded Bithynia, Paphlagonia and the Troad.[69][121][2][197]

Thus, the western Cimmerians became the masters of Anatolia,[93] where they controlled a large territory[143] bordering Lydia in the west, covering Phrygia, and reaching Cilicia and the borders of Urartu in the east.[151][125] The disturbances experienced by the Neo-Assyrian Empire as result of the activities of the Cimmerians in Anatolia led to many of the rulers of this region to try to break away from Neo-Assyrian overlordship,[191] with Ḫilakku having become an independent polity again under the king Sandašarme[152] by the time that Esarhaddon had been succeeded as king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by his son, Ashurbanipal, so that by then the Cimmerians had effectively ended Neo-Assyrian control in Anatolia,[184]

These western Cimmerians soon became sedentary, and by c. 670 BC, they had formed their own settlements in Anatolia which were governed their own local lords,[201] with the town of Ḫarzallē being the capital city of the Cimmerian king Dugdammē.[73]

First contacts with the Greeks
Reproduction of a depiction of Cimmerian mounted archers from a Greek vase.

Beginning in the 8th century BC, the ancient Greeks were first starting to make expeditions in the Black Sea, and encounters with friendly native populations quickly stimulated trade relations and the development of more regular commercial transits, which in turn led to the formation of trading settlements.[202] The first Greek colony in the Black Sea, founded by settlers from Miletus around c. 750 BC, was that of Sinope,[52] in whose region the Cimmerians were active at this time.[2][203][135]

The Cimmerians destroyed Sinope during the 7th century BC and killed its founder, Habrōn, during a raid into Paphlagonia.[204][205][206] The Greek colony of Cyzicus might also have been destroyed by the Cimmerians so that it had to be re-founded at a later date.[207] Thus, it was at this time that the Cimmerians first came into contact with the Greeks in Anatolia,[45] constituting the first encounter between the ancient Greeks and steppe nomads.[68][65][208]

In 671 to 670 BC, Cimmerian contingents were serving in the Assyrian army,[2] and Neo-Assyrian sources were referring to the spread of military technology and animal husbandry products referred to in Assyrian sources as "Cimmerian leather straps" and "Cimmerian bows" into the Neo-Assyrian Empire from c. 700 to c. 650 BC.[80]

First attack on Lydia

In the late c. 670s and early c. 660s BC, the western Cimmerians attacked the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia,[2][191][209][136][124] which under its king Gyges had been filling the power vacuum in Anatolia created by the destruction of the Phrygian Empire and was establishing itself as a new rising regional power.[210][211]

However, the Lydian forces were initially not able to resist this invasion,[212] and Gyges sought to find help to face the Cimmerian invasions by initiating diplomatic relations with the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 666 BC:[213] without accepting Assyrian overlordship, Gyges started to send regular embassies and diplomatic gifts to Ashurbanipal, with another Lydian embassy to the Neo-Assyrian Empire being attested from c. 665 BC.[214][215][216][212][217][218][156]

Gyges's struggle against the Cimmerians soon turned in his favour without Neo-Assyrian support, so that he was able to defeat them between c. 665 and c. 660 BC[191][219][215][121][2][220][221][136][218][124] and send captured Cimmerians as diplomatic gifts to Ashurbanipal.[222][223][224]

The defeat of the Cimmerians by Gyges weakened their allies of Mugallu of Tabal and Sandašarme of Ḫilakku enough that they were left with no choice but to submit to the authority of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in c. 662 BC.[225][156]

Hegemony in the Levant
An Assyrian relief depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors

Facing resistance from the Lydians in the west, the western Cimmerians moved eastwards, against the Neo-Assyrian Empire:[226] despite their defeat by Gyges in the c. 660s BC, the western Cimmerians' power soon grew much so that by c. 657 BC they were not only in control of a large territory in Anatolia and were one of the main political forces operating in this region, but were also able conquer part of what had previously been secure western possessions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, such as the province of Quwê or even part of the Levant.[227][227][222][2][228]

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.[229] And, as a result of these Cimmerian conquests, by 657 BC, the Assyrian astrologer Akkullanu was calling the Cimmerian king Dugdammē by the title of šar-kiššati (lit.'King of the Universe'),[151][156] which in the Mesopotamian worldview was a title that could belong only a single ruler in the world at any given time, and was normally held by the King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. This attribution of the title of šar-kiššati to a foreign ruler was an unprecedented situation of which there is no other known occurrence throughout the duration of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[230]

Akkullanu nevertheless also assured to Ashurbanipal that he would eventually regain the kiššūtu, that is the world hegemony which rightfully belonged to him, from the western Cimmerians who had usurped it.[230]

This extraordinary situation meant that, under their most powerful king, Dugdammē,[151] the western Cimmerians had become a force feared by Ashurbanipal, and the western Cimmerians' successes against the Neo-Assyrian Empire meant that they had become recognised in ancient West Asia as equally powerful as Ashurbanipal himself.[230]

This situation remained unchanged throughout the rest of the 650s and the early 640s BC,[231] with the Cimmerian aggressions worrying Ashurbanipal regarding the security of his northwestern border so much that he often sought answers regarding this situation through divination.[232] One of the oracular responses received in 652 BC (that is the year that Ashurbanipal's younger brother, the Babylonian king Šamaš-šuma-ukin, had rebelled against Ashurbanipal himself) claimed that the goddess Ishtar had promised to Ashurbanipal that the Cimmerians would be defeated similarly to how Ashurbanipal himself had defeated the Elamites and killed their king Teumman in 653 BC.[233]

These setbacks discredited Neo-Assyrian power enough that Gyges understood that he could not rely on Assyrian support against the Cimmerians, and he therefore ended diplomacy with the Neo-Assyrian Empire and instead sent troops to help the Egyptian kinglet Psamtik I of Sais,[234][222][226][224] who had himself been a Neo-Assyrian vassal who was then eliminating the other Neo-Assyrian vassal kinglets in Lower Egypt to unite the whole of Egypt under his own rule.[235][222] Ashurbanipal responded to Gyges's disengagement with the Neo-Assyrian Empire by cursing him.[234][222]

Exhaustion of Assyria

Neo-Assyrian power experienced another significant blow in 652 BC, when Esarhaddon's eldest son, Šamaš-šuma-ukin, who had succeeded him as king of Babylon, rebelled against his younger brother Ashurbanipal: it took Ashurbanipal four years to fully suppress the Babylonian rebellion by 648 BC, and another year to destroy the power of Elam, who had supported Šamaš-šuma-ukin,[156] and, although Ashurbanipal would nevertheless be able to maintain control over Babylonia for the rest of his reign, the Neo-Assyrian Empire finally emerged out of this crisis severely worn out.[236]

Attack on Šubria

In the 650s BC, the western Cimmerians were allied to Urartu[136][125] and supporting its king Rusa II's (r. 680 – 639 BC) attempts to attack the newly conquered Assyrian province of Šubria near the Urartian border.[191][237][124]

Alliance with the Treres
A Thracian mounted warrior followed by a warrior on foot.

At some point in the 7th century BC itself, the Thracian tribe of the Treres migrated across the Thracian Bosporus and invaded Anatolia from the north-west,[93] after which they allied with the Cimmerians,[2] and, from around the c. 650s BC, the Cimmerians were nomadising in Anatolia along with the Treres.[136]

Second attack on Lydia

The Cimmerians and Treres under Lygdamis and the Treran king Kōbos,[238] and in alliance with the Lycians, attacked Lydia for a second time in 644 BC:[239] this time they defeated the Lydians and captured their capital city of Sardis except for its citadel, and Gyges died during this attack.[191][240][234][210][241][209][222][2][242][187][243][136][217][139][16][218][213][156][124][25] The Neo-Assyrian sources blamed Gyges's death on his own hubris, that is on his own independent actions, by claiming that the Cimmerians invaded Lydia and killed him as punishment for him providing Psamtik I with the troops he used to eliminate the other pro-Assyrian Egyptian kinglets and unify Egypt under his sole rule.[244]

After this attack, Gyges's son Ardys succeeded him as king of Lydia and resumed diplomatic activity with the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[245][234][246]

Attack on Ionia and Aeolia

After sacking Sardis, Lydgamis and Kobos led the western Cimmerians and the Treres into invading the Greek city-states of Ionia and Aeolia on the western coast of Anatolia,[37][210][2][243][247][139][125] where they destroyed the city of Magnesia on the Meander as well as the Artemision of Ephesus.[248][249][250][243][135][139][16][213][124][208] The city of Colophon joined Ephesus and Magnesia in resisting the Cimmerian invasion.[251]

Painting depicting Cimmerian mounted warriors from a Klazomenian sarcophagus.
Reproduction of a depiction of a Cimmerian archer from a Greek vase.

The Cimmerians remained on the western coast of Anatolia inhabited by the Greeks for three years, from c. 644 to c. 641 BC, which forced a large number of the inhabitants of the coastal Batinētis region to flee to the islands of the Aegean Sea.[252][16][208]

Activities in Cilicia

Sensing the exhaustion of Neo-Assyrian power following the suppression of the revolt of Šamaš-šuma-ukin, the Cimmerians and Treres moved to Cilicia on the north-west border of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in c. 640 BC itself, immediately after their third invasion of Lydia and the attack on the Asian Greek cities. There, Tugdammi allied with Mugallu's son and successor as king of the then rebellious Assyrian vassal state of Tabal to attack the Neo-Assyrian Empire.[69][2][225][156][124][25]

Although the Urartians had sent tribute to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 643 BC, Urartu was at this time forced to accept the suzerainty of the Cimmerians.[253][156]

However, the king of Tabal died before the planned attack on Neo-Assyrian Empire, while Dugdammē carried it out but failed because, according to Neo-Assyrian sources, fire broke out in his camp.[254][184][225] Following this, Dugdammē was faced with a revolt against himself, after which ended his hostilities against the Neo-Assyrian Empire and sent tribute to Ashurbanipal to form an alliance with him.[238]

Death of Dugdammē

Dugdammē soon broke his oath and attacked the Neo-Assyrian Empire again, but during his military campaign he caught a grave illness whose symptoms included paralysis of half of his body and vomiting of blood as well as gangrene of the genitals and committed suicide in 640 BC[191][238][254][184][255][225][151][124] in Ḫilakku itself.[252][217][213][151][236]

Dugdammē was succeeded as king of the western Cimmerians in Ḫilakku by his son Sandakšatru,[238][2][151] who continued Dugdammē's attacks against the Neo-Assyrian Empire[256] but failed just like his father.[121][225]

The power of the Cimmerians dwindled quickly after the death of Dugdammē,[255] although the Lydian kings Ardys and Sadyattes might however have either died fighting the Cimmerians or were deposed for being incapable of efficiently fighting them, respectively in c. 637 and c. 635 BC.[257]

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

Despite these setbacks, the Lydian kingdom was able to grow in power, and the Lydians themselves appear to have adopted Cimmerian military practices such as the use of mounted cavalry, with the Lydians fighting using long spears and archers, both on horseback.[258]

Around c. 635 BC,[259] and with Neo-Assyrian approval,[260] the Scythians under their king Madyes conquered Urartu,[149][217] entered Central Anatolia[37] and defeated the Cimmerians and Treres.[240][93][121][261][2][243][163][262][65] This final defeat of the Cimmerians was carried out by the joint forces of Madyes's Scythians, whom Strabo of Amasia credits with expelling the Treres from Asia Minor, and of the Lydians led by their king Alyattes,[263] who was himself the son of Sadyattes as well as the grandson of Ardys and the great-grandson of Gyges, whom Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Polyaenus of Bithynia claim permanently defeated the Cimmerians so that they no longer constituted a threat.[2][121][264][136][213][265][65]

The Cimmerians completely disappeared from history following this final defeat,[121][65] and they were soon assimilated by the populations of Anatolia.[136] It was also around this time that the last still-existing Syro-Hittite and Aramaean states in Anatolia, which had been either independent or vassals of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, Phrygia, Urartu, or of the Cimmerians, also disappeared, although the exact circumstances of their end are still very uncertain.[236]

Scythian power in West Asia thus reached its peak under Madyes, with the West Asian territories ruled by the Scythian kingdom extending from the Halys river in Anatolia in the west to the Caspian Sea and the eastern borders of Media in the east, and from Transcaucasia in the north to the northern borders of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the south.[266][259][267] And, following the defeat of the Cimmerians and the disappearance of these states, it was the new Lydian Empire of Alyattes which became the dominant power of Anatolia,[93] while the city of Sinope was re-founded[217][206] by the Milesian Greek colonists Kōos and Krētinēs.[268][205]

Impact in West Asia

The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 7th centuries BC had destabilised the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the dominant great powers of Assyria, Urartu, and Phrygia,[269] and also caused the decline and destruction of several of these states' power, consequently to the rise of multiple new powers such as the empires of the Medes and Lydians,[270] thus irreversibly changing the geopolitical situation of West Asia.[37][271] These Cimmerian and Scythian activities also influenced the developments in West Asia through the spread of the steppe nomad military technology brought by them into this region, and which were disseminated during the periods of their respective hegemonies in West Asia.[269]

Possible migration in Europe

It has been hypothesised that some Cimmerians might have migrated into Eastern, Southeast and Central Europe,[272] although this identification is presently considered very uncertain.[273]

Proponents of a Cimmerian migration into southeastern 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.[274]

The proponents of this hypothesis of a Cimmerian invasion also suggest that it 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.[275]



In Europe

The peoples of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex of which the Cimmerians were part of introduced the use of trousers into Central Europe, whose local native populations did not wear trousers before the arrival of the first wave of steppe nomads of Central Asian origin into Europe.[30]

In West Asia

The inroads of the Cimmerians and the Scythians into West Asia over the course of the 8th to 7th centuries BC had destabilised the political balance which had prevailed in the region between the dominant great powers of Assyria, Urartu, and Phrygia,[269] and also caused the decline and destruction of several of these states' power, consequently to the rise of multiple new powers such as the empires of the Medes and Lydians,[270] thus irreversibly changing the geopolitical situation of West Asia.[276]

These Cimmerians and Scythians also influenced the developments in West Asia through the spread of the steppe nomad military technology brought by them into this region, and which were disseminated during the periods of their respective hegemonies in West Asia.[269]

After the end of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the scribes of the Neo-Babylonian Empire which replaced it used the name of the Cimmerians (𒆳𒄀𒈪𒅕 Gimirri; 𒆳𒄀𒂆𒊑 Gimirri) indiscriminately to refer to all of the nomads of the steppes, including both the Pontic Scythians and the Central Asian Saka.[277][143] The Persian Achaemenids who conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire continued this tradition of using the name of the Cimmerians in texts written in Neo-Babylonian Akkadian to anachronistically describe the Scythians and Saka peoples because of their similar nomadic lifestyles.[143][8][85] The Byzantines similarly used the name of the Scythians as an archaising term to designate the Huns, Slavs and other eastern peoples centuries after the actual Scythians had disappeared.[278]

The Cimmerians appear in the Hebrew Bible under the name of Gōmer (Hebrew: גֹּמֶר‎; Ancient Greek: Γαμερ, romanizedGamer), where Gōmer is closely linked to ʾAškənāz (אשכנז), that is to the Scythians.[279][141][85][280]

An inscription from 283 BC mentioned that the Greek city-states of Samos and Priene were still engaging in a lawsuit disputing the territory of Batinetis which had been abandoned during the Cimmerian invasion of Ionia and Aeolia.[16][281][208]

Based on an association of the Biblical Gōmer, the Armenians gave the name of Gamirkʿ (Գամիրք) to the Konya Plain and to Cappadocia.[151]

In Graeco-Roman literature
In Homer's Odyssey

The first mention of the Cimmerians in Graeco-Roman literature dates from the 8th century BC in Homer's Odyssey,[282] which describes them as a people living in a city located at the entrance of Hades beyond the western shore of the Oceanus river which encircles the world, in a land towards which Odysseus sailed to obtain an oracle from the soul of the seer Tiresias, and which was covered with mists and clouds and therefore remained permanently deprived of sunlight although the Sun-god Helios sets there.[133][2][283][101][17]

This mention of the Cimmerians in the Odyssey was purely poetic and combined fantasy with records of real events, and naturalism with supernatural elements, and therefore contained no reliable information about the real Cimmerian people.[284] This image was created as a poetic opposite of the Laestrygonians and Aethiopians who, in ancient Greek mythology, lived in a permanently sunlit land on the eastern borders of the world.[285][17] Due to this location, the Ancient Greek name of the Cimmerians was identified with the word for mist, kemmeros (κεμμερος).[17]

Homer's passage relating to the Cimmerians had however used as its source the Argonautic myth, which dealt with the region of the Black Sea and the country of Colchis, on whose eastern borders the Cimmerians were still living in the 8th century BC.[286] Thus, Homer's source on the Cimmerians was the Argonautic myth, which itself recorded of their existence when they were still living in northern Transcaucasia:[87][41] the location of the Cimmerians as recorded by the Argonautic myth corresponds to the same one recorded by the late 7th century BC poem Arimaspeia by Aristeas of Proconessus and the later writings of Herodotus of Halicarnassus,[287] who both described the Cimmerians as having once dwelt in the steppe to the immediate north of the Caspian Sea,[287] with the Araxes river forming their eastern border separating them from the Scythians.[44]

In the 6th century BC

The Greeks living in Anatolia in the 6th century BC still evoked the memory of the Cimmerians with fear a century after their disappearance.[83]

The Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus, drawing from information acquired by the army of the Persian army during its invasion of Scythia in 513 BC, later started the tradition of locating Homer's Cimmerians and "Cimmerian" places (such as a "Cimmerian city") in the Scythian-dominated Pontic Steppe[288] between the Araxes and the Bosporus.[42]

According to Herodotus of Halicarnassus

Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote a legendary account, partly based on Hecataeus's narrative,[42] of the arrival of the Scythians into the lands of the Cimmerians: after the Scythians were expelled from Central Asia by the Massagetae, they moved to the west across the Araxes, and took possession of the Cimmerians' lands after chasing them away; the approach of the Scythians led to a civil war among the Cimmerians because the "royal tribe" wanted to remain in their lands and defend themselves from the invaders, while the rest of the people saw no use in fighting and preferred to flee; since neither side could be persuaded by the other, the "royal tribe" divided themselves into two equally numerous sides that fought each other till death, after which the commoners buried them by the Tyras river.[2][289][52][25][290][18]

Basing himself on Greek folk takes from the city of Tyras, Herodotus claimed the tombs of the Cimmerian princes could still be seen in his days near the Tyras river.[203]

Herodotus also referred to the presence of "Cimmerian walls" (Ancient Greek: Κιμμερια τειχεα, romanizedKimmeria teikhea), a "Cimmerian ferry" (Ancient Greek: πορθμηια Κιμμερια, romanizedporthmēia Kimmeria), a "country of Cimmeria" (Ancient Greek: χωρη Κιμμερια, romanizedkhōrē Kimmeria), and a "Cimmerian Bosporus" (Ancient Greek: Βοσπορος Κιμμεριος, romanizedBosporos Kimmerios), as existing in the Bosporan region.[46][47][52] Herodotus likely used Bosporan Greek folk tales as source for these claims, although some of the "Cimmerian" toponyms in the Bosporan region might have originated from a genuine Cimmerian presence in this area.[291][46][45]

The story of the fratricidal war of the Cimmerian "royal tribe," that is of the defeat and destruction of its ruling class, is contradicted by how powerful the Cimmerians were according to the Assyrian records contemporaneous with their presence in West Asia. Another inconsistency in Herodotus's description of the flight of the Cimmerians is the direction through which they retreated: according to this narrative, the Cimmerians moved from the Pontic Steppe to the east into Caucasia to flee from the Scythians, who were themselves moving from the east into the Pontic Steppe.[43]

These inconsistencies suggest that Herodotus's narrative of an eastern flight of the Cimmerians was a later folk tale invented by Greek colonists on the north shore of the Black Sea to explain the existence of ancient tombs, reflecting the motif of assigning old tombs and buildings with mythical heroes or with lost ancient valiant peoples, similarly to how the Greeks within Greece proper claimed similar remains had been built by the Pelasgi and the Cyclops,[46][43][135] or how later Ossetian tradition recounted the death of the Narts.[292]

According to Herodotus's account of the Cimmerians' flight, they moved south by following the shore of the Black Sea, while their Scythian pursuers followed the Caspian Sea's coast, thus leading the Cimmerians into Anatolia and the Scythians into Media.[75][25] While Cimmerian activities in Anatolia and Scythian activities in Media are attested, the claim that the Scythians arrived in Media while pursuing the Cimmerians is unsupported by evidence,[75] and the arrival of the Scythians in West Asia about 40 years after that of the Cimmerians suggests that there is no available evidence to the later Graeco-Roman account of the Cimmerians crossing the Caucasus and moving south into West Asia under pressure from the Scythians migrating into their territories.[61][62]

In later Graeco-Roman literature

Drawing on similar older Graeco-Roman sources, Strabo of Amasia claimed that the Cimmerian Bosporus had been named after the Cimmerians,[293] who were once powerful in that region, and that the city of "Kimmerikon" (Ancient Greek: Κιμμερικον; Latin: Cimmericum) used a trench and a mount to close the isthmus.[64] According to Strabo, there was in Crimea a mountain called "Kimmerius" (Ancient Greek: Κιμμεριος; Latin: Cimmerius), which had also been named because the Cimmerians had once ruled the region of the Bosporus.[294]

In the 4th century BC, a town called Cimmeris was established in the Sindic Chersonese.[294]

Homer's description 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,[295] and therefore assigned to them various fantastical locations and histories:[41]

The eastern Greeks living on the north shore of the Black Sea, who were familiar with the Cimmerian activities in Asia, nevertheless criticised these western locations assigned to the Cimmerians.[45]


Basing themselves on the location of the Cimmerians in the Odyssey as living on the western shore of the Oceanus, some earlier modern interpretations tried to locate them in the far north of Europe, such as in Britain and Jutland.[300]

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.[301][302] 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."[303]

Research in the late 20th century AD eventually concluded that the various "Cimmerian" toponymies from the Pontic Steppe were invented during the 6th century BC, that is when the Pontic Steppe was under Scythian rule, long after the historical Cimmerians had disappeared.[294]

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").[304] 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."[305]

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

Culture and society


In the Caspian Steppe

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.[306][307][308] The region of the Pontic Steppe to the north of 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.[309] 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.[306]

In West Asia

In Transcaucasia

During the initial phase of their presence in West Asia, the Cimmerians lived in a country which Mesopotamian sources called māt Gamir (𒆳𒂵𒂆) or māt Gamirra (𒆳𒂵𒂆𒊏), 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.[140][306][310]

In Anatolia and on the Iranian Plateau

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.[311]


The Cimmerians were a Iranic people[70][312][163][313][314][17] sharing a common language, origins and culture with the Scythians,[56][315] although they may have been an ethnically heterogeneous tribal confederation living under an Iranic aristocracy, not unlike how the polity of the Scythians consisted of various peoples living under the dominance of the Iranic Royal Scythians.[8]

And, while the Cimmerians are archaeologically, culturally and linguistically indistinguishable from the Scythians, all Mesopotamian and Greek sources contemporary to their activities sources both nevertheless clearly distinguished between the Cimmerians and the Scythians as separate political entities,[108][315][92][82] suggesting that the Scythians and Cimmerians were merely two member tribes of a single cultural group.[108]

Other suggestions for the ethnicity of the Cimmerians include the possibility of them being Thracian.[136] However the proposal of a Thracian origin of the Cimmerians is untenable and arose from a confusion by Strabo of Amasia between the Cimmerians and their allies, the Thracian tribe of the Treres.[313] According to the scholar Igor Diakonoff, the possibility of the Cimmerians being Thracian-speakers is less likely than that of them being Iranic-speakers.[70]


RegionNorth Caucasus
Eraunknown-7th century BC[citation needed]
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.[316][187][63]

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 /ð/.[317]

According to Igor Diakonoff, the Cimmerians spoke a Scythian language[318] belonging to the eastern branch[38] of the Iranic language.[70] The Scythologist Askold Ivantchik also considers the Cimmerians to have been linguistically very close to the Scythians.[315]

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.[38] Only a few personal names in the Cimmerian language have survived in Assyrian inscriptions:

Social organisation

Tribal structure

The Cimmerians might have been a confederation composed of several tribes spread across Anatolia and the western Iranian Plateau,[73] and which was in turn divided into larger groups depending of political changes. A similar structure is attested in mediaeval times among the Oguz Turks, whose single kingdom was divided into two wings each ruled by a member of the same dynasty and each made up of several tribes.[130]

Administrative structure

The Cimmerians, like the Scythians, were organised into a tribal nomadic state with its own territorial boundaries, and comprising both pastoralist and urban elements.[73]

Such nomadic states were managed by institutions of authority presided over by the rulers of the tribes, the warrior aristocracy, and ruling dynasty.[73]


The Cimmerians were ruled by a supreme king whose power was passed down a single dynasty. The names of three Cimmerian kings have been recorded: Teušpā, Dugdammē, and Sandakšatru.[151]


The Cimmerians had military assemblies composed of their troops, which the king had the power to convene to assist him.[73] Warlords who were capable of rebelling against the king also existed among the Cimmerians.[73]

Once the Cimmerians in Anatolia had become sedentary, they formed settlements which were ruled by city-lords not unlike those who ruled the city-states of the Medes.[73]


Nomadism and sedentarisation

The Cimmerians shared a common culture and origin with the Scythians[56][322] and lived an equestrian nomadic pastoralist way of life similar to that of the Scythians,[38][8][63] which is reflected by how West Asian sources mentioned Cimmerian arrows, bows and horse equipment, which are typical of steppe nomads.[8]

After the Cimmerians who had migrated into West Asia had divided into two groups, the western horde living in Anatolia had become sedentary and were living in settlements which by the c. 660s BC were ruled by city-lords (Akkadian: 𒇽𒂗𒌷𒈨𒌍, romanized: bēl ālāni) not unlike those ruling the Median city-states.[201][131] The capital of the Cimmerians at this time was a city by the name of Ḫarzallē.[131]


The "mare-milkers" (Ancient Greek: ιππημολγοι, romanizedhippēmolgoi) and "milk consumers" (Ancient Greek: γαλακτοφαγοι, romanizedgalaktophagoi) from Homer's Odyssey might have been a reference to the Cimmerians, who had this lifestyle in common with the Scythians, as attested by Hesiod's description of the Scythians as living in the same way.[133][56]

The Cimmerians used the same types of horse harness as the Scythians.[187]


The Cimmerians used the same type of "Animal-style" art as the Scythians.[187]


The western group of the Cimmerians who migrated into West Asia appeared to have adopted the worship of the Anatolian deity Šanta from the local inhabitants of Ḫilakku and Tabal. The name of the god Šanta might possibly appear as a theophoric element in the name of the Cimmerian king Sandakšatru.[323]


The Cimmerians used the same types of weapons as the Scythians,[187] and practised mounted warfare just like them.[63]

The Cimmerians who moved in Anatolia also adopted the use of chariot warfare and unmounted infantry.[83]


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. [324]

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.[325]


Main articles: Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex and Scythian culture

In the Eurasian Steppe

The Cimmerians before their migration into West Asia archaeologically correspond to a part of the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex of the northern Pontic steppe regions over the course of the 9th to 7th centuries BC.[60]

The Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex thus developed natively in the North Pontic region over the course of the 9th to mid-7th centuries BC from elements which had earlier arrived from Central Asia, due to which the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk complex itself exhibited similarities with the other early nomadic cultures of the Eurasian steppe and forest-steppe which existed before the 7th century BC, such as the Aržan culture, so that these various pre-Scythian early nomadic cultures were thus part of a unified Aržan-Chernogorovka cultural layer originating from Central Asia.[34]

Both the Cimmerians and the early Scythians thus belonged to pre-Scythian archaeological cultures,[133] and the material culture of the Cimmerians was therefore similar enough to that of the later Scythians who followed them[56] that the Chernogorovka-Novocherkassk and Proto-Scythian cultures are archaeologically indistinguishable from each other.[46][82]

In West Asia

The movement of the Cimmerians and Scythians into West Asia archaeologically corresponds to the movement of these pre-Scythian archaeological cultures into this region,[81] where both groups used identical arrowheads, thus making it difficult to distinguish the Cimmerians from the early Scythians.[326]

By the time the Cimmerians had moved into West Asia, their culture along with the pre-Scythian culture of the Scythians had evolved into the Early Scythian culture:[327] several "Early Scythian" remains are known from West Asia which correspond to the activities of the Cimmerians in this region,[328][329] 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.[133]

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.[330]

Cimmerian kings

Kings of the western (Anatolian) Cimmerians

See also



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  298. ^ Olbrycht 2000a, p. 88.
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  303. ^ Parfitt 2003, p. 61.
  304. ^ Asimov 1991, p. 50.
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  308. ^ Barnett 1982, pp. 333–356.
  309. ^ Olbrycht 2000b.
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  312. ^ Harmatta 1996, p. 1996.
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  317. ^ a b Novák 2013.
  318. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 93-94.
  319. ^ Vitchak 1999, p. 53-54.
  320. ^ Tokhtas’ev 2007, p. 610-611.
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  323. ^ Ivantchik 1993a, p. 121-123.
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  325. ^ Järve et al. 2019, Table S2.
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  328. ^ Ivantchik 2001, p. 338.
  329. ^ Ivantchik 2010, p. 67.
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