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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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The sequel to Iranian Tribes in the East Europe during the Bronze Age

The Iranian identity of the Cimmerians is in no doubt. Looking at the Iranian names of historically attested Cimmerian leaders (Teushpa, Ligdamis a.o.) gives this statement a solid basis. Nevertheless, the authoritative expert on the history of Cimmerians, Askold Ivanchik, regards the Cimmerians as a mysterious people… as everything is not clear enough with it. Obviously, the issue will become clear if a reason can be found for connecting the Cimmerians with any of the modern Iranian peoples. Restoration of the migration pathways of the Iranians to modern habitats can offer solutions of this issue.

The reasons forcing the Iranians to leave their original habitats between the Dnieper and the Don may be different. Perhaps the transition of the Balts and the Anglo-Saxons to the left bank of the Dnieper set in motion the local Iranian population of the Zrubna culture. However, we can think about other reasons. Steppe areas could be abandoned due to climate change, which led to a decrease in the productive possibilities of the steppe. In any case, archaeological data indicate a temporary desolation of the Azov and Black Sea regions:

… in the 12th -10th BC comparing with the previous period the steppes between the Don and the Danube reveals tenfold decrease of the number of settlements and burials. The same trend of decline population is manifested in the Pontic steppe also in the subsequent Cimmerian era, what is confirmed by the absence of settlements and stationary burial grounds in this area (MAKHORTYKH S.V., 1997: 6-7).

Thus, the Iranian tribes moved in search of dwelling places with more favorable conditions. Evidenced fact is that their presence has been historically recorded in Central Asia at the end of the second millennium BC:

Iranian names appeared in the Assyrian written sources in the 11-10th cent. BC, and are associated with regions of Western Iran which were in the sphere of political activity of the Assyrian empire. What happened further east at this time – in the Central and Eastern Iran – is not reflected in these sources (ARTAMONOV M.I., 1974: 10).

Left: Historical regions in Central and Southwest Asia during the time of the Achaemenid (7th-4th century B.C.)

Shown on the map above are the historical areas to aid in our vision/restoration of the migratory routes that the Iranian tribes are most likely to have taken from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Two points of view exist about the Iran-Aryans incursions to the Near East – a) the way through Central Asia or b) the way through the Caucasus (PIANKOV I.V., 1979). At least the migration of Iran-Aryans in Asia Minor must have been going through the Caucasus (or even the Balkans), what is reflected in the Hittite sources (SOKOLOV S.N., 1979-2: 235). In North Ossetia there are a number of toponyms containing the element of Gimara, which goes back to the ethnonym of the Cimmerians (TSAGAEVA A. Dz. 2010: 5). Obviously, the resettlement of Irano-Aryans went in several waves and paths, but the main path of movement of most of the Irano-Aryans lay along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea and further along the Amu Darya and Syr-Darya River to the south and south east, as described by E. Kuzmina (KUZ'MINA E.E., 1986: 203-204). The path through the Caucasus is the other option. Taking into consideration the location of the modern residency of Iranian peoples (EDELMAN D.I., 1968: the map 1) and their ancestral homes in Eastern Europe, one may suppose that the Sogdians (the forefathers of the modern Yagnobi) moved as the last in the chain of migrants around of the Caspian Sea because they have occupied extreme northern part of the modern residences of Irano-Aryans in the Central Asia near to Afghans whom they adjoined on the ancestral home too. Their northern neighbours on the Urheimat, the Ossets populate the mountains of the Caucasus at present and, undoubtedly, never abandoned Eastern Europe.

Some part of migrated Iranians remained in southern Kazakhstan in the foothills of the western Tien Shan among local Turkic population, as evidenced by the local place names: Madikent/Mankent, Orungent, Syutkent, Chimkent, having a partial word Ir. kent "town, village, space" (POPOVA V.N., 2000, 53). This word was accepted by Turks and was used for the names of settlements with Turkic components (for example, Tashkent out of taš "stone"). However, Shymkent settlement had to be founded by Iranians, likely by Sogdians (Yagn. čim "meadow, grass"). This interpretation is supported by the name of the Lugovoi village (Russian "on meadow"), also located in this area, evidently covered by thick grass at that time. There are also Iranian terms of orography of South Kazakhstan darbaza/darvaza "gate, entry, passage", dašt/dešt "steppe, plain, desert", zax/zexab "source, spring" (ibid).

The territory of modern residence of the Kurd, the other neighbours of the Sogdians on the ancestral home, gives the reason to suppose, that they have come to these places by some other way, than the first wave of Irano-Aryans, i.e., through the Caucasus or through the Balkans. If they moved around of the Caspian Sea, they should have left behind many other Iranian wandering groups – this seems improbable. We have already noted that extension of the residence or the resettlement of ancient people went sequentially according to their mutual location on former habitats. According B. Gornung, this important feature of migrated Indo-European tribes, was noted already by Franz Specht (GORNUNG B.V. 1963, 53). As the forebears of the Kurd and the Sogdians had their areas being adjacent in adjacency on the ancestral home, therefore, at the movement by the same way, their new residences should not be so far one from another as we have this at present. The most plausible way of the resettlement of the ancestors of the Gilaki and the Talishi to the southwest coast of the Caspian Sea, where they have their residences at present, was the way through the Derbent pass. First, it is the shortest way. Second, the Talishi residence is in the vicinity of the Gilaki’s habitat now and, wath is very important, to the south of them, h.e. this is exact the same location as on the Urheimat. The disposition of their habitats had to be other if they would move by some other way. But whatever the migration path of the ancestors of the Kurd, Talyshi, and Gilaki was taken to the Middle East we have reason to believe that until that time, they, as well as the ancestors of the Ossets, they left their Urheimats under the pressure of the Balts. However thet still remained in Eastern Europe, when the most deal of the Irano-Aryans migrated to Asia. The ancestors of the Baluchi and Mazandarani were among these Iranian tribes as their languages belong to the same north-western group of the Iranian languages as Kurdish, Talyshi and Gilaki.

The beginning of the Iranian migration.

The names of the tribes having formed the first wave of the migration are marked by red color.

Thus, we can assume that the first wave of Iranian immigrants in Central Asia was formed by the ancestors of the modern Sarikolis, Pamir Iranians (Shugnans, Bartangs, Yazgulams, etc.), Persians, Afghans, and Sogdians (Yagnobi), i.e., the Iranian tribes that settled in the southern part of the common Iranian territory and in areas along the Dnieper. It is natural to assume that these habitats were once occupied by other Iranian tribes, who for some time remained in Europe and they should be related to the historical Cimmerians. The above-mentioned climate change, which led to a decrease in productivity of the steppe, can not lead to its complete abandonment. Another thing is that, newly arrived population to the steppe could not be numerous and to maintain its existence, except for economic activity, was to looting neighboring populations of forest-steppe zone.

General picture of the Iranian migration in Minor and Central Asia

It is believed that the Cimmerians (Cimmerii) came to the Black Sea region from Central Asia, or more generally – "from the depths of Eurasia," but this view is vigorously contested, therefore, there is no point in stopping on this topic with the fact that thw ancestral home of Iranians was in Europe and the Cimmerians would have no time to migrate to Central Asia, and then back again. At the historically time Cimmerians settled Azov and Black Sea steppes, and left traces of their presence in the steppes of the Ukraine and North Caucasus in archaeological sites which are united in the common Cimmerian culture. It is logical to assume that it should continue the tradition of the Zrubna culture, which we identified as an Iranian (STETSYUK VALENTYN., 1998: 82-83) and this tradition is seen by Ukrainian archaeologists in the funeral rite of the Cimmerians:

The late Cimmerian culture developed in the tradition of the Zrubna culture… what can be traced in the funeral ceremony (Arkheologiya Ukrainskoy SSR., 1986: 23)

The appearance of the Cimmerians in Asia, according to cuneiform sources, related to the end of the 8th century BC, and the Scythians are known in Iran "not earlier than 670-680", which contradicts Herodotus' statement about persecuting the Cimmerians by the Scythians. Moreover, there are facts that speak about their joint raids on the Assyrian province. In general, the sources reported mainly about Cimmerians but the Scythians were mentioned for several years and then only in Iran (MEDVEDSKAYA I,N. 2000)

According to Assyrian sources, in the late 8th B.C., the king of Urartu Rus declared “I was defeated in battle by the army of the Gimirrai people which were attested by historians to be the Cimmerians (MASON RICHARD, Ed., 2004: 13-15). In 679/678 the Cimmerians were defeated by the Assyrians, their leader Teushpa was killed in that battle but nevertheless, later they attacked Phrygia, Lydia, and Cilicia, under the leadership of their new leader, Ligdamis:

… Akkadian sources allows us to establish that in 644 B.C., the Cimmerians’ most successful raid was on Lydia, in which King Gig was killed. Apparently, this raid affected not only Lydia, but also Ionia, and that is what Greek sources meant when they report the same raid by the Cimmerians. The same Akkadian sources describing the death of Ligdamis/Dugdamme dating it to 641 BC, i.e., three years later (IVANCHIK A.I. 2005: 123).

The issue of joining of the Cimmerians with the Thracians for the invasive campaigns to Asia Minor from the Balkans is controversial. Information about this campaign "from the Bosphorus to Ionia" was given by Strabo, but for some reason he refers this event to the time of Homer or to a little earlier (STRABON. 1964: I, 1-10). Certain preconditions for the assumption about the possibility of a military alliance between the Thracians and the Cimmerians give unreliable evidence about the presence of the Cimmerians in Hungary, this was probably inspired by Strabo's dubious message: :

The presence In Hungary of some horse people, identified with the Cimmerians, is established on the basis of finds of bronze objects of harness and iron bridles, bronze boilers, weapons (swords and daggers). (SHUSHARIN V.P., 1971, 23).

The doubt about Cimmerian affiliation of the finds is caused by the obvious penetration of Cimmerian products into the territory of Hungary by trade routes, since the Thracian culture was still dominant here. In the best case we can assume special Thracian-Cimmerian period from 750 to 550 years (Ibid, 24).

In addition, the possibility of a joint action by the Thracians and Cimmerians in Asia Minor is completely excluded after studying the Middle Eastern sources. A. Ivanchik found in them only information about the rivalry between the Thracians and the Cimmerians in the struggle for possession of Bithynia, which ended in the complete expulsion of the latter (IVANCHIK A.I. 2005, 131-132).

Nevertheless, certain traces of the presence of Kurds in Hungary can be found in place names:

Csengele, a village in Csongrád county – Kurd. cengel "forest".

Dévaványa, a town Békés county – Kurd. dêw "daeva, evil spirit", wanî "similar".

Felgyö, a village in Csongrád county – Kurd. felg "curl".

Gelej, a village in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county – Kurd. gelî "ravine".

Right: Kurdish toponymy in Hungary and the Balkans.

Heves, a small city in eastern Hungary – Kurd hevs "fear", hevşî "sheep house".

Ibrány, a town in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg county – Kurd. îbram "request".

Kecel, a town in Bács-Kiskun county – Kurd. keçel "bald".

Miskolc, a city in northeastern Hungary – Kurd miş "abundant, plentiful", qulç "corner".

Szelevény, a village in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, – Kurd. selef "spring, wellhead".

Some interpretations are convincing enough, so the search for Kurdish toponymy in neighboring countries was carried out. They were found in Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria and generally formed a chain leading from Western Ukraine through the Balkans in the direction of the Bosphorus. Such an arrangement may mark the path of the Kurds to Asia Minor.

A search for lexical correspondences between the Hungarian and Kurdish languages was also conducted. They were found in small numbers, so some of them may be casual

Hung. háború – Kurd. herb "war";

Hung. vendég – Kurd. xwendi "guest";

Hung. kör – Kurd. ger "ring";

Hung. hús – Kurd. goşt "flesh";

Hung. ered – Kurd. sereta "start";

Hung. alacsony – Kurd. alçax "low";

Hung. mező - Kurd. mezr "field";

Hung. folyó – Kurd. felat "river".

Some of the Hungarian words cited here could have been borrowed by the Magyars from other Iranian languages even in their ancestral homeland between the Khoper and Medveditsa rivers. If borrowing took place on the territory of modern Hungary, then it should be assumed that a part of the Kurds remained there until the arrival of the Hungarians.

Left: North Pontic region and Southwest Asia in the era of the Cimmerian and Scythian migrations (VII-VI cen. BC) (The map from MASON RICHARD, 2004, 27).

One way or another, some part of the Cimmerians advanced from Hungary to the Balkans, but did not stay there for a long time, because there are no noticeable Cimmerian traces on the territory of Bulgaria (MELUKOVA A.I., 1979: 6). Thus, it should be assumed that one stream of Cimmerians penetrated into the Transcaucasus either through the Derbent Pass, or through the Daryal Gorge, or Belorechensky Pass, and the second one moved through Asia Minor from the west.

In 50-60 years after the appearance of the Cimmerians in Asia Minor the Scythians invaded here too. Passing through the Derbent, they settled in Azerbaijan and founded their kingdom between the rivers Kura and Araks, that is somewhere near the Lake Sevan. Only then did they first encounter the Cimmerians. The Scythians may have even reached Iran. Asian sources recall the Scythian kingdom in the late 90s of the 6th century B.C., after which time no data in the history were found. It is believed that the bulk of the Scythians retreated back to the North Caucasus.

Northern Black Sea Region and Asia Minor in the VII-VI cen BC (The map from MASON RICHARD, 2004, 21).

Taking into account the historical data and the results of our research, we can confidently but fairly say that the common name of Cimmerians has to be connected first of all with the ancestors of the Talyshis and Gilakis, as well as the ancestors akin to the Baluchi and Mazandarani. Now the Baluchi dwell in Pakistan but we know that they came here from the southern coast of the Caspian Sea (FROLOVA V.A., 1960: 68; ORANSKIY I.M., 1979: 89), that is before (in the 5th to 6th century B.C.) their settlements were near the settlement of the Gilakis and Talyshes (the Mazandarani dwell in these places too).

Since there is reason to believe that some part of the Cimmerians penetrated into Asia Minor through the Balkans (obviously from Right-Bank Ukraine), it can be assumed that this part of them could belong to a completely different Iranian tribe, whose settlements should have been on Right-Bank Ukraine, that is somewhere near the habitat of the ancient Bulgars, located in the basin of the Upper Dniester (see the section Türks as Carriers of the Corded Ware Cultures). This could be some kind of Iranian tribes and it is possible to specify which namely was it.

The Chuvash language has quite a lot of words with matches in the Iranian languages or even just a few of them, but the Chuvash-Kurdish lexical parallels are the most numerous. Table 15 shows some of them sometimes with matches in other Iranian languages:

Table 15. Chuvash-Kurdish lexical parallels

Kurdish and other Iranian Chuvash
bet “a bustard” větel “woodkock”
kere “butter”, Gil kəre “butter” kěrě "fat"
kerdî “furrow” kěrche “wrinkled”
qarîk “a raven”, qarîtk “a partridge” karăk “a wood grouse”
qure “proud” küren “to be offended”
nar “fire”, Pers nar “fire” nar “blush”
pek “suitable” pek “like, similar”
sap “a ladle” sapa "basket"
saman “riches" semen “riches”
stûr “thick”, and other Ir. satur “strong”
soma “pupil of eye” săna “to observe”
sor “red”, Pers sorx “red” sără “paint”
sehre “sorcery, witchcraft” seõre "fear";
semer “darkness” sěm “darkness”
çal “a pit”, Pers čal “a pit” çăl “a well, source”
çîrt “pus” çěrt “to let rot”
çîban “a pimple” çăpan “a furuncle”
çêl “a cow” çile “udder”
tar “a pole” tar “a poplar”
taw “a downpour” tăvăl “a storm”
tobe “an oath” tupa “an oath”
toraq “cheese” turăx “fermented baked milk”
xumar “morose”, xumari “darkness” xămăr “brown”

Without a doubt, the forefathers of the Kurds and Bulgars were living in close proximity for a long time. While analyzing place names of the Ukraine, it was appeared that many of them, particularly in the West Ukraine, can be explained by means of the Kurdish language (see "Iranian Place Names"). Formerly, a certain part of the Scythian Onomasticon was explained using Kurdish (STETSYUK V.M., 1999: 89-93; STETSYUK VALENTYN. 2000: 23-28). All this leads to the assumption that some part of the Scythian people spoke a Proto-Kurdish language, which for convenience we shall henceforth simply call Kurdish.

The presence of the ancient Kurds on the Dnieper right bank immediately raises the question of how they got there. According the general movement of the Iranian tribes from their initial settlements between the Dnieper and the Don eastward and southeastward, it can be assumed that the ancestors of the Kurds came to the Azov steppes, and from there crossed the Dnieper and later moved northwestward, displacing more ancient settlers – the Thracians to the south-west and the Bulgar to the west. The band of Kurdish settlements from the town of Gaysin and further along the Dniester River on the west may mark the path, but the presence of names of Kurdish origin in Chernigov, Kiev and Zhitomir Regions gives warrant to consider an option when the ancestors of the Kurds from their Urheimat went – downstream of the river Desna to the Dnieper River, crossed it and moved westward. This migration could last a long time, and some of the inhabitants of new sites were retained, whilst others went away. They could keep the names of villages and rivers for a long time.

By itself, the amazing fact of preserving the names of old Kurdish settlements to this day cannot help us in defining the chronological framework within which the Kurds were in Western Ukraine, but they were unlikely to take part in those raids into the Transcaucasus at the end of the 8th and early 7th. th centuries BC, which we mentioned above. However, there is reason to attribute the Kurds to the Cimmerians as well. They could be the ancestors of the Kurds who welt to Asia Minor together with the Thracians. Their self-name Kurmanj includes a root that somewhat resembles the name of the Cimmerians. The same root can be the name of the city of Zhmerinka in the Vinnitsa Region, where Kurdish place names have been preserved in large numbers.

It was in those places along the middle reaches of the Dniester, where the accumulation of Kurdish toponyms is observed, twice, in 1878 and 1897, treasures of gold objects were found in the village of Mikhalkiv, Ternopil Region, on the right bank of the Nichlava River. Treasures are dated back to the 6th cent. BC, that is they are two centuries older than the finds from the famous Scythian barrows Kul Oba and Chertomlyk. The treasures with a total weight of more than seven kilograms include a diadem, a hryvnia, five bracelets, 12 brooches, seven badges, a pyramid pendant, four bowls and other items [PETROVS'KIY OLEKSANDR., 1993: 8]. M.I. Artamonov believed that there was a certain similarity between some items of the Mikhalkov treasure and the finds in the Vysoka Mohyla (High Grave mound) near the village of Balki within the Vasilkovsky district of the Zaporozhye Region and wrote:

This strengthens the relationship of so-called Cimmerian culture with the Carpatho-Danube Hallstatt and reinforces the hypothesis of the origin of this culture on the basis of forms widened in the northern Black Sea region not from the North Caucasus but from Central Europe, and North Caucasus itself was in the area of their existencen (ARTAMONOV M.I., 1974: 37).

Thus, the strip of Kurdish place names along the Dniester River may indicate the advancement of the Kurds not from the steppes, but into the steppes of right-bank Ukraine, from where they, as the Cimmerians, could make trips to Asia Minor together with the Thracians. Staying there, they could participate in a wide variety of wars, including in alliance with those Cimmerians who had passed through the Caucasus or even the Scythians. However, allegedly after the defeat of Lydia in the war with Media and Neo-Babilonia, the Cimmerians and Scythians who supported Lydia, according to the terms of the peace treaty, “had to go where they came from, that is, in the Northern Black Sea Region" (Ibid, 34).

The farther fate of the Cimmerians was defined by M.I Artamonov, based on the archaeology of Kuban kurgans of Scythian time, so:

Settling in Maeotian country, the Cimmerians due to their higher culture and the organization took leading position in the Kuban region, but remaining in the minority, were unable to preserve their ethnic identity and eventually merged with the native population. It is possible that the direct descendants of the Cimmerians were Cindies represented the most progressive part of the population of the Lower Kuban – the Taman Peninsula and the adjacent part of the Black Sea coast (ARTAMONOV M.I., 1974: 34).

The fact that the Cimmerians could really populate the Kuban area, says the fixed ethnonym Δανδαριοι (the name of a people at Low Kuban and the Maeotia). As the lower part of the Kuban region lies between the Azov and Black Seas, Kurd. derya/darya "sea" and dan "inside", i.e., "surrounded by the sea" suits perfect for explaining the name of this people.

However, the majority of Kurds-Cimmerians stayed in Podolia. At some time, the Polish professor Tadeusz Sulimirsky distingwished the West Podolian local group among all sites of the early Scythian time. Its specific features are as follows:

… the use of stone with the tree in the construction of the burial chambers; the complete absence of horses in the graves of graves accompanying the dead; gray-clay circular ceramics, which existed only in this area of the Scythian forest-steppe; the use of certain types of jewelry, unknown or little known in other regions … (SMIRNOVA GALINA IVANOVNA, 2004: 419)

Sites of Western Podolian Group of Early Scythian Time

The map is composed on the data of Galina I. Smirnova (SMIRNOVA GALINA IVANOVNA, 2004: 411, Fig.1)
The red line drows around the aglomeration of place names os Kurdish origin in Podolia.
These sites are marked by numbers: 1. Bratyshiv. 2. Beremiany. 3. Horodnytsia. 4. Lysychnyky. 5. Rakiv Kut. 6. Novisilka of Hrymayliv. 7. Sukhostav. 8. Myshkivtsi. 9. Nyvra. 10. Shydlivtsi. 11. Zalissia. 12. Ladychyn. 13. Bilche Zolote. 14. Sapohiv. 15. Ivane Puste. 16. Zozulyntsi. 17. Perebykivtsi. 18. Vikno. 19. Novosilka (near Chernivtsi). 20. Ivakhnivtsi. 21. Zavadyntsi. 22. Servatyntsi. 23. Skipche. 24. Shutkivtsi. 25. Tarasivka. 26. Verkhni Panivtsi. 27. Vrublevtsi. 28. Verkhniy Olchedaiv. 29. Loyivtsi. 30. Dolyniany (kurgans). 31. Dolyniany (settlement). 32. Kruhlyk. 33. Oselivka. 34. Lenkavtsi. 35. Ivanivtsi. 36. Selyshche. 37. Neporotiv. 38. Bilousivka.

Partial congruence of spread areas of sites of the Western Podolia group and Kurdish place names suggests that these sites were left by Kurds, that is some part of the population of the area stayed a certain time on the previous settlements. Later this part of Kurds moved to Central Europe (see section Cimbri).

Long presence of Cimmerian Kurds on Ukraine is confirmed by Slavic-Iranian Language Connections. Words of Kurdish origin in the Ukrainian language, which have no correspondence in the other Slavic languages, evidence that some part of the Kurds remained on Ukrainian territory until Slavs arrived here. The Northern Black Sea epigraphy say the same – so the Kurd can be related to some of the nations mentioned by ancient historians, including Herodotus. Apparently, such people could be Alazonians which Herodotus placed somewhere south from the Scythians tilling the ground, in the locality where the Tyras (Dnister) and the Hypanis (Southern Bug) approach one another in their windings. There is just in this place the greatest concentration of Kurdish place names, see map above, where the two rivers highlighted in blue.

Herodotus, speaking of the myths and beliefs of the Scythians, dindn’t mention of the cult of fire, wheels, and chariots, always present in the beliefs of various Iranian tribes. It is doubtful that the Scythians, being of Iranian origin, could radically change their beliefs. Therefore the absence at the Scythians of these cults gives an additional argument against identifying them with the Iranians. However, the Iranian element, if not among the Scythians, then, at least among the different population of Scythia is present. We have seen that the Petrov’s Onomastikon has Iranian matches mostly from the Kurdish language (about six dozen). At the same time more than twenty words of Onomastikon have counterparts only in the Kurdish language, and some of them well-suited for anthroponymy (see Αβαβοσ, Αβλωνακοσ, Διζα-Ζελμισ, etc). Keeping in mind that Onomastikon could have not only Scythian words, we can say with certainty about the presence of Kurds in the South of Ukraine in the late first millennium BC and early first millennium A.D.