The Cimmerians

Before the Cimmerians, the ancestors of the Scythian peoples are represented, in the Bronze Age, by the cultures of the "frame tombs" (between Danube and Volga) and Andronovo (between Volga and Amou-Darya), genetically linked to the Neolithic complex and Chalcolithic "kourgans" that most archaeologists identify with Indo-European unity.

The Cimmerians

The Cimmerians

Their ethnogenesis is therefore linked to the steppes which will be their almost exclusive domain throughout Antiquity. It is important to underline this, because the terms "Iranians" or "Iranian speakers" can be a source of confusion: the linguistic family iranian goes far beyond the limits of present-day Iran, from which she is not a native.

The first known ethnonym in the steppes is that of the Cimmerians.
This name covers nomadic warrior populations in southern Ukraine and Crimea, and probably from the culture of "frame tombs". According to Herodotus, the Cimmerians were ousted by the Scythians who would have pursued them as far as Asia. In fact, Assyrian sources mention them at the beginning of the 7th century BC. AD as associates (vassals?) of the Scythians.

In some respects, the Cimmerians clearly prefigure the Scythians, to the point that after having long – and without proof – declared them to be of Thracian origin, the current tendency is to consider them as Iranians or at least as a population dominated by a layer Iranian. The fact that Cimmerians and Scythians seem to come from the same culture of “frame tombs”, the Iranian etymology of the names of Cimmerian kings proposed by V. Abaïev, indeed goes in this direction.

Some Russian archaeologists, however, maintain that the Cimmerians are not an ethnic reality, but a global designation given to different nomadic populations sharing the same way of life. These points of view are moreover not totally irreconcilable: we will see in the following periods the names of Scythians and Alans, initially designating Iranian-speaking ethnic formations, extending to different subjugated populations; Herodotus says this expressly about the Scythians, Ammian Marcellinus about the Alans.

There are close links between the remains attributed to the Cimmerians in Ukraine and the Caucasian culture of Koban (11th-4th centuries BC, “classical” period in the 11th-7th centuries). The weapons, for example, have striking similarities. It is very unlikely that the "Kobanians" were Cimmerians; rather, they are an indigenous ethnic group with a Protocaucasian language.

But we have here a significant testimony of cultural contacts between the Pontic steppes and the Caucasus. It is interesting to point out, on the one hand, that the memory of the Cimmerians has been preserved in the Caucasus (Georgian gmiri "hero", Ossetian gwymiry, gumeri "legendary giant"), on the other hand that the "Kobanians" played a role of ethnic substrate within the Iranian-speaking populations who succeeded them, including the Alans.

In fact, if this civilization is designated by the name of a village ofOssetia, it covers a large part of the future Alania between the courses of the Kuban and Terek rivers, and also the territory of South Ossetia (site of Tli). Throughout this area, there are high quality bronze and then iron objects.

The most characteristic are weapons (daggers, and perhaps emblematic or parade axes), jewelry, plaques and belt buckles. Many wear decorations based on geometric and especially animal motifs, in a style very different from the animal art of the steppes. Also found in Tli was a metal belt originating from the land of Urartu (Armenia): spoils revealing military expeditions to Transcaucasia, or product of trade or barter?

Koban's art features many subjects of mythological appearance. Their key to interpretation has been lost, but it is likely that the religious representations of the "Kobanians" passed in part into the mythology of their Iranian conquerors and into those of the various North Caucasian peoples.