Cimmeria is a fictional land of barbarians in the Hyborian Age, and the homeland of Conan the Barbarian in the works of Robert E. Howard. Howard originally described Cimmeria in a poem by that name and went on later to expand the idea into book form. Although the rest is Howard's creation, the original name and description of Cimmeria are from Homer's Odyssey, Book 11, lines 12-18.
An Indo-European people by that name appears in ancient record. They were supposed to have originated in the Pontic steppe around 1000 BC and expanded to the Caucasus, Iran, and Anatolia.
The origins of the Cimmerians stretch back to the Thurian Age. The Cimmerians are the descendants of colonists from Atlantis. Living on the main Thurian continent, the colonists survived the great cataclysm which submerged Atlantis and destroyed most of the Thurian civilizations. The survivors, at this point reduced to a Stone-Age level of sophistication, eventually found themselves locked in multigenerational warfare with survivors of a Pictish colony. This prolonged conflict caused the Atlanteans to further devolve into little more than ape-men. With no memory of their history or even of language and civilization itself, these beings eventually redeveloped into a people known as Cimmerians.
In his essay The Hyborian Age, Howard states that "the Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and Highland Scots, descended from pure-blooded Cimmerian clans", and he names Conan with a Celtic name. Also, Howard portrays him cursing by Celtic gods.
In Howard's poem "Cimmeria" the region is described as a rugged wilderness, hilly, probably mountainous, heavily forested, and often cold and overcast. Based on the Hyborian map as it overlaps a modern map of Europe, there was likely a mountain range along Cimmeria's western border. Howard confirms this in The Hyborian Age: "...the ocean flowed around the mountains of western Cimmeria to form the North Sea; these mountains became the islands later known as England, Scotland and Ireland..."
According to The Hyborian Age, "the Cimmerians are tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or grey eyes". They are a proto-Celtic or proto-Gaelic people. From the evidence in the stories, they appear to be partly or completely tribal hunter-gatherers, with no central government. As was the case with the ancient Celts, the Cimmerians are divided into clans who ceaselessly fight one another over resources, territory, and to test themselves in battle. Feuding between the clans is continuous unless the Cimmerian people as a whole are faced with outside threats, such as when the country of Aquilonia attempted to create the outpost of Venarium within the boundaries of Cimmerian territory.
Although they know of the craft of iron-working (Conan's father was a blacksmith), they still seem to have a nearly Stone-Age society, as Conan himself remarks in Hour of the Dragon: "I saw myself in a pantherskin loin-cloth, throwing my spear at the mountain beasts."
The Cimmerians are a people forged by the very harsh conditions of their land. Howard often makes reference to the Cimmerian people's hardiness and martial prowess, as well as to their many other impressive skills. They can climb seemingly unscalable cliffs, track humans or animals with ease, and stalk their prey without making a sound.
The apparent primitiveness of the Cimmerians and their sense of justice (see Noble Savage) is often juxtaposed with the corruption of the "civilized" races in Hyboria. For instance, Cimmerians don't force vanquished foes into slavery, nor do they sell their children as slaves, or for any other reason, whereas these are common occurrences among the "civilized" peoples of the Hyborian kingdoms. Keeping one's word is also of extreme importance to the sense of honor.
Cimmerian religion is quite uncomplicated, especially when compared to the rest of the nations of the Hyborian Era. The chief deity of Cimmerian belief is Crom. However, Cimmerians never perform religious ceremonies and traditions, nor do they have priests or temples. Cimmerians have no formal prayers and believe Crom grants courage (plus a will to survive) to a Cimmerian when he or she is born. These are all the boons Crom grants to Cimmerians and they believe that is all anyone should ask for or expect from the gods.
Conan swears often by Crom but also mentions Lir and Manannan mac Lir by name. Howard, in his notes, also listed some other familiar Celtic deities as belonging to the Cimmerian pantheon:
Howard, in The Hyborian Age, correlates Cimmerians to the Cymric people, the Cimbri, the Gimirrai, the historical Cimmerians and the Crimea.
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- Hyborian Age
- Cimmeria (poem)
- Cimmerians (historical)
- The Robert E. Howard Guide by Patrice Louinet (Skelos Press, 2018) discusses Cimmeria on several pages.
- Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography edited by Bob McClain (Pulp Hero Press, 2018) also discusses Cimmeria, including the influence of Howard's hometown in Texas on the creation of the fictional land.
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