Since Classical Antiquity it has been believed that the Cimmerians were the early inhabitants of the Pontic steppes, preceding the Scythians there, although an attempt was made recently to use their name only for a small tribe that lived north of Urartu (see esp. A. I. Ivanchik, “K vopprosu o etnicheskoj prinadlezhnosti i archeologicleskoj kulture Kimmerijcev,” Vestnik Drevnej Istorii [1994]: 148–168 and [1995]: 3–22). Archaeologically, their culture stems partly from the previous Belozerka culture of the Pontic area, partly from the Oka-Kama area and Siberia, and partly from the Caucasian tradition of bronzeworking. More distant parallels are also known from other provinces of the eastern koine of the Early Iron Age Geometric styles in Transcaucasia, Iran (Luristan), and the Balkans. Their own archaeological culture in the Pontic area is called Chernogorovka (ninth–early eighth centuries BCE); its late stage—Novocherkassk (late eighth–early seventh centuries BCE)—may have belonged partly to the latest Cimmerians and partly to the earliest Scythians. Cimmerians were among the first mounted nomads to use real cavalry; the objects from their graves include personal ornaments, weapons, and horse harnesses: most importantly horse bits of North Caucasian types (according to H. Potratz, 1966), bimetallic daggers with an iron blade and bronze handle (the latter either in openwork or tanged, with a mushroom-shaped pommel), socketed arrowheads that are a rhomboid in section, and long spearheads. Natural stone whetstones with a hole for suspension were also part of the equipment of the Cimmerians; in addition to openwork bronze belt finials and “birdcage” rattles, cross-shaped ornaments are sometimes found decorated with spirals. Some of the decorated objects have parallels in Assyria. The belt and suspended weapons are depicted on so-called stag stones used as grave stelae, but not the human figure. Stag stones are known across the steppes from central Siberia (Tuva) to eastern Bulgaria (Belogradec, near Varna), while most of the characteristic objects in metalwork come from the Volga-Oka, Kuban, and North Pontic areas. Of more westerly distribution are related Thraco-Cimmerian bronzes from the eastern part of central Europe, evidence of Cimmerian western raids; the Cimmerian and Caucasian influence on the Thracian bronzes from Bulgaria, and Macedonian bronzes from the Axius valley and Chalcidice, may, at the same time, be connected with Strabo's reports of a military alliance between the Cimmerians and Thracian Treres and Edoni (Strabo, C 61, C 627 and C 329 fragment 11). Some Cimmerian decorated bronzes were probably connected with shamanism (there are ethnographic parallels for this usage; see Bouzek, 1983, pp. 219–220), and were adapted as personal ornaments and jewelry even by the European Hallstatt and Villanovan cultures and in Greek Late Geometric art.

There are two groups of written sources on the Cimmerians: Near Eastern and Greek. Most Cimmerians left their country in the Pontic steppes as the Scythians moved westward under pressure from the Massagetes. Herodotus (4.11–13 and 6.20) expressively mentions Tyras (Dniestre) as the place where the Cimmerian kings fought a fratricidal battle and were buried, and from where the common people left their homes along the Black Sea, west of the Caucasus as far as the area of Sinope, followed by the Scythians. The first Assyrian references to Gumurru (the Assyrian equivalent “Cimmerian”) date to early in the reign of Sargon II, prior to 713 BCE; the Scythians are also mentioned within the region of Urartu. [See Urartu.] Some small groups of Cimmerians, however, remained on the shores of the Azov Sea even later, as recorded by Plutarch (Life of Marius xi). The Cimmerian Bosporus, Cimmerian walls (an earthen-work across the East Crimean peninsula, constructed prior to the Greek colonization there), and Cimmerian peninsula are all in this area and the Araxes River (modern Syr Darya), according to Herodotus (4.11), originally formed the Cimmerians' eastern frontier. The battle on the Dniestre apparently marked the last stage of the retreat of the Cimmerians, which lasted for a considerable time, just as happened later in Sarmato-Scythian relations. During the reign of Sennacherib (705–681 BCE), the Cimmerians attacked large areas of Asia Minor and, according to tradition, destroyed the Phrygian Empire (the Phrygian king Midas committed suicide). This probably took place In 696/95 BCE (Eusebius's date)—although a date twenty years later cannot be excluded. Excavations at Gordion revealed destructions, but no characteristic Cimmerian objects. [See Gordion.] Only the arrowheads are known from Anatolia, while a few weapons finds and parts of horse harnesses from northeast Anatolia can be ascribed either to Late Cimmerians or Early Scythians. A group of Cimmerians probably settled near Sinope; Esarhaddon mentions an Assyrian victory over them In 679 BCE: their leader during the 679/78 military campaign is called Tušpa in Assyrian records. Another group of Cimmerians may well have entered Anatolia from Thrace. This is suggested by Strabo, when he speaks about an alliance between the Cimmerians and the Thracian Treres and Edoni (cf. above). The Lydian king Gyges sought an alliance against them with Ashurbanipal. A second attack In 652 BCE was successful: Sardis (with the exception of the citadel) was sacked and Gyges killed. [See Sardis.]

The leader of the Cimmerian troops In 652 BCE was called Lygdamis, and there is a parallel name, Tugdammu, in Assyrian records. According to Strabo, Lygdamis was later killed in Cilicia. This happened between 637 and 626 BCE and, according to Herodotus (1.16), the last Cimmerians were driven from Asia Minor by Alyattes in about 600 BCE.

There are no written records on Cimmerian military activities in the eastern part of central Europe, but the numerous destructions and so-called Thraco-Cimmerian bronzes recovered in the area make it probable that the military activities there were Cimmerian because they resembled those of the later Scythians. Because the Thraco-Cimmerian bronzes show some development and appear in contexts from the ninth to seventh centuries BCE, the dominant position of the Cimmerians (or nomads closely related to them) on the Great Hungarian plain must have lasted for more than a century. There were, however, other inhabitants there, who seem finally to have absorbed the nomadic population.

[See also Anatolia, article on Ancient Anatolia; Cilicia; Persia, article on Ancient Persia; and Scythians.]

Bibliography

  • Bouzek, Jan. Caucasus and Europe and the Cimmerian Problem. Sbornik National Museum, 37.4. Prague, 1983.
    In English with Czech summary
    .
  • Diakonoff, Igor M. “The Cimmerians and the Scythians in the Ancient Near East” (in Russian). Sovetskaya Arkheologiya, no. 1 (1994): 108–116.
    Includes an English summary
    .
  • Potratz, H. Pferdetrensen des alten Orients. Vatican, 1966.
  • Sulimirski, Tadeusz. “The Cimmerian Problem.” Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London 2 (1959): 45–64.
  • Terenozhkin, A. I. Kimmeriity (in Russian). Kiev, 1976.

Jan Bouzek