Ancient coin from Olbia in a historical picture associated with Armenia

This coin was minted in 310 BC in Olbia, (Ὀλβία Ποντική) a town on the northern coast of the Black Sea, which was settled by Miletan Greeks in the 7th century BC. The name in Greek means “happy” or “wealthy”. It depicts the bearded river-god Borysthenes, which contributed to the wealth of the city.

The Greek historian Herodotus describes both the river and the town in some detail in his Histories:
“The Borysthenes, the second largest of the Scythian rivers, is, in my opinion, the most valuable and productive not only of the rivers in this part of the world, but anywhere else, with the sole exception of the River Nile…

It provides the finest and most abundant pasture, by far the richest supply of the best sorts of fish and the most excellent water for drinking – clear and bright… no better crops grow anywhere than along its banks, and where grain is not sown the grass is the most luxuriant in the world”

The point of this post is as usual the bigger picture related to Armenia. Before the Ionian Greeks arrived, the northern Black Sea coast was occupied by the Cimmerians up to the 8th century BC, when they were pushed out of the region by the Scythians.

That whole region of present-day Ukraine and extending all the way to the borders of China was inhabited by a group of tribes called the Scythians, a nomadic conglomerate of tribes of indo-european origins.

The old Iranians called them Saka, meaning “roam”, hence “nomadic”. The root of “Scythian” comes from “skud” which means shoot, propel. “Skuda” means “archer”. Old Armenian: սկիւթ

The Hellenic city settlements along the Black Sea coast during the 7th – 1st centuries BC had to fend off constant invasions of Scythians, but in peaceful times they otherwise cooperated with the Greeks in trade. Apparently the Scythians in their warlike forays would loot and enslave, and the Greeks would gladly buy off their slaves to ship to mainland Greece.

Coming back to the Cimmerians, they were also fierce warriors and usually indomitable. Herodotus, Xenophon and Homer all mention the Cimmerians, as Κιμμέριοι, (Kimmérioi). Both Scythians and Cimmerians were constantly at war with the Assyrians.

Briefly allied together, and according to the annals of Sargon II, “with the aid of a people called “Gimirri”, they destroyed the kingdom of Urartu in the 714 BC. The Assyrians in turn were destroyed by the Scythians a century later. After the Cimmerians were pushed out of their Black Sea domains by Scythians, they migrated south through the Caucasus, and became close neighbors with the Armenians.

The present city of Gyumri was actually a Cimmerian settlement, the old Armenian name being Kumayri. Gyumri or Gümri is a turkified version of the original name and it is a riddle to me why in modern times the pure ancient name was not adopted.

In their southward migration, when they met resistance by the Assyrians, they swerved westwards into Asia Minor, where they became a formidable force and warred against the Lydians and the Phrygians.

The province of Cappadocia actually became their domain, as attested by her old Armenian name of Գամիրք (Gamirk) The Cimmerians stayed in Asia Minor for centuries until they were eventually assimilated into the local cultures.

A large branch migrated through Europe and some scholars relate them to the Celtic Cimmerians who gave rise to a Germanic tribe called the Cimbrii, other branches of the Celts, as well as the Welsh (they call themselves the Cymry).

The name of the modern disputed Crimea also derives from Cimmerians. The reader has to realize that many ancient scripts did not have vowels, therefore the root for Cimmerians is found in inscriptions as KMR, closer to the Armenian pronounciation of “Kamir”, but also as “Gomar”.

By the time the Romans appeared on the scene, the Scythians and Cimmerians had either assimilated into the local populations, including Armenians and Cappadocians, or simply vanished from the scene.

By Joseph Sarkissian

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