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5Feb/108

The Real Cimmerians

The Cimmerians

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So I'm working on a fantasy novel, based on my love of Norse and Celtic mythology. And heavy metal. It's called "Therial's Song".

I'm reading a book right now, by Barry Cunliffe, one of the big academic mucky-mucks when it comes to the Celts. And guess what? It turns out the Cimmerians were a real people!

Most people know the Cimmerians from Robert E. Howard; everyone's favorite barbarian, Conan, was a "Cimmerian", a vaguely Germanic/Celtic people living of the periphery of the great civilizations of Hyboria.

The real Cimmerians inhabited the Pontic Steppe, the huge expanse of plains on the northern fringe of the Black Sea. Apparently, in the dim mists of antiquity, the Scythians chased them out of their homeland, into the Danube River basin, where the mingled with the indigenous "Urnfield" culture, transmitting their advanced knowledge of horsemanship, contributing to the rise of the Halstatt culture...

...and as we all know, the Hallstatt people were the proto-Celts! In other words, the real-life Cimmerians may have contributed to the culture of the real-world Celts!

Reading about the ancient Celts is totally fascinating. Cunliffe's book is a little dry, and I wish he'd included more pictures of the stuff he discusses, but it's still a worthy read.

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  1. As late as the later days of the Roman Republic, the Greek speaking peoples of Asia Minor called the Pontic Steppe ‘Cimmeria’ and the modern Crimea the ‘Cimmerian Bore.’ The Scythians who lived there were pretty tough cookies and were worthy of Conan.

    Between his wars with Rome, King Mithridates Eupator of Pontus tried to re-establish his clout with the barbarian tribes in the less civilized parts of his kingdom by leading a campaign into Cimmeria. They kept him busy enough that his campaign was not ended by the time winter set in. His army was bogged down in snow and mud and he lost most of his troops to cold, starvation, and cavalry raids.

    Conan would have been proud.

  2. Chris, thanks so much for this very scholarly exegesis on the “real” Cimmerians. Yes, if I understand correctly, it’s not entirely clear what the “Cimmerians” called themselves, or who they really were…

  3. I’m not checking in as often as I keep meaning to for some reason…

    The ‘originals’ were pretty much just like you said. Their ancestors had been part of the original Aryan westward migration and then got driven on by the Scythians and moved West again.

    I added the extra because I am a pedantic know-it-all who can’t help myself. :(

  4. Oh, you’ll find pedantic know-it-alls gets a lot of empathy here… :)

    Do you know of examples of Cimmerian art/material culture survived the aeons?

  5. I LOVE IT!

  6. Rock ’n roll, bay-bee!

  7. Armenians share some Kimmerian/Thrakian ethnogenesis and also Slavic people share too.

  8. Interesting. There’s a little Cimmerian in all of us, it seems.

    I wonder if they were an Indo-European people…


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