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See also: Cimmeria (poem)

Cimmeria is a northern land of the Hyborian Age. It is the homeland of Conan.

Overview[]

There is little of worth in this land, mostly a place of endless hills and low, rough mountains, of dusky, wooded valleys and dark scrub forests, steep gulleys and stony plains upon which little grows. A few mean rivers and streams run through the countryside, feeding bogs and ponds and some isolated lakes. Cloud and fog shrouds the land, forcing upon it a lonely and dismal mien, and wind wails through the hills like a banshee, a never-ending lament that shortens tempers and drives men to gloomy, monstrous thoughts.

There are no major cities, no great accomplishments of engineering, and few roads, with the only notable man-made structures being the few forts made by Aquilonian colonists and ruins dating to the time before the Cataclysm. Despite this, the Cimmerians cling to it fiercely, and few stray from their homeland, though the south — with its wantonness, wealth, and indolence — beckons always. To a Cimmerian, their homeland is their rightful place, though at times it can seem more a purgatory than a heaven.

Cimmerian People[]

Cimmerians are among the oldest races, descended from the Atlanteans from a land that long ago sunk beneath the waves and was lost to history, and they have scarcely changed in appearance, demeanor, or temperament. Like the Atlanteans, they are dark-haired and have eyes of gray, blue, or green. They are tall and rangy, with powerful builds, and their skulls are long. Unlike the Nordheimer, though, Cimmerians are generally darker-skinned, almost as much so as the Picts, a race they despise. And also like the Picts, the Cimmerians are adept climbers, able to find purchase in any rock-face or tree and scale it quickly and without fear. In temperament, Cimmerians are a dour and moody lot, practical, yet proud, prone to both brooding and boastfulness, often maddened by the futility of life. Cimmerians only exult in the heat of battle, and the rest of the time their moods are black and occasionally morose.

To Cimmerians, family and kith are the strongest bonds, and clans spread across settlements and throughout the land, so that they might find kin-folk far and wide. It is a rare Cimmerian that is curious about the world beyond their village, much less showing an interest in anything outside their grim and bleak country. Their language, called Cimmerian by others and Gaeilge by the Cimmerians themselves, is their own, and is not spoken outside their lands. It has little in common with the speech of other folk, and has more to do with the Atlantean strain than any of the Hyborian tongues spoken by their neighbors to the south, or the language of the Nordheimer.

Cimmerians as a people are independent and clannish, and are stubborn foes, holding fast in their hills, their valleys, and their bogs, resisting even the ancient Acheronians, who could gain no purchase against them, leaving the fierce hill-men to their own rocky abode. Many have tried to unite them, to no avail. Generally, the greatest of their leaders is little more than a glorified clan chief claiming to be king or queen, but such boasts are empty and meaningless when one’s own neighbors show little interest in respecting any claim of rule.

Cimmerian and Aquilonia[]

A new threat to Cimmeria was brewing in its southern reaches: Aquilonian expansion under King Vilerus. Hungry for territory and resources in the iron-rich foothills, the Aquilonians had already divided up the Bossonian Marches, giving the land to Vilerus’ cronies and favored barons. Blocked by the Pictish Wilderness to their west and the mountain range separating Aquilonia from Nemedia to the east, Aquilonia saw scarcely-populated Cimmeria as a potential bounty, and pushed the people of the Gunderland into establishing their fort at Venarium, miles into Cimmerian territory,

If left on their own, the Cimmerians would no doubt remain unchanged in their ways for centuries. They wage war only in defense of their land and amidst themselves, and otherwise have no strong kings or queens pushing to expand their borders, no desire to claim new territory, and their fractious nature prevents any individual clan leader from amassing too much power.

Despite this, Cimmerians on the whole are savage fighters, almost without compare when roused, and over the past century many ambitious Aquilonians have sought to utilize that savage strength to their own ends. Seeking an advantage over their rivals, these nobles and barons ride into Cimmeria and attempt to make peace with one or more clans of Cimmerians, offering them wealth, arms and armor, and other fine goods in return for their service. Inevitably, these entreaties have ended in disappointment, with the Cimmerians unwilling to be hired out, sometimes killing the messengers, and at other times agreeing to terms and then simply refusing to show up.

Society and culture[]

The Four Tribes[]

There are four distinct strains of the Cimmerian folk, each descended from an ancient Atlantean bloodline or emerging in the centuries following. These tribes are the Ciannechta, Dal Cais, Erianne, and Fianna, described below in additional detail. Though to outsiders these tribes seem roughly equivalent, each has its own dialect and minor cultural differences.

  • Ciannechta: The largest and most prosperous of the tribes, the Ciannechta are also the most widespread, inhabiting a region that dominates the center of their homeland’s expanse. Perhaps the most gregarious and sociable of the Cimmerian people, they are nonetheless characteristically Cimmerian in demeanor and custom. They are famed for silver-smithing and weaving, and are primarily herders of goats and sheep. Their coloration is lighter than some Cimmerians: hair is usually black, though brown hair is not uncommon. The self-titled “High-King” Cumal is one of the Ciannechta, and his home village of Temair is central within the Ciannechta territory.
  • Dal Cais: The oldest and northernmost of the Cimmerian tribes, the Dal Caissians claim the purest relation to their Atlantean heritage, and are oft at war with the Picts over the mountainous regions adjacent to their territory. They are perhaps the dourest of Cimmerians, and are harsher and unrulier than any of their brethren, refusing to acknowledge any ruler greater than village chief. Despite this, they are also regular allies with the Æsir, though contact is limited. They are perhaps the most superstitious of the Cimmerian people. Physically, Dal Caissians are darker-skinned than most Cimmerians, and their hair is always raven-black. They are known for their smithwork and for their temper, and are among the best climbers.
  • Erianne: The southernmost of the Cimmerian tribes, the Erianne have suffered the most from Aquilonian expansionism. Historically, they were the most favorable towards the people of Gunderland and the Bossonian Marches, until their tolerance was tested by the Aquilonian colonizing incursion into their territory. Their lands are perhaps the richest, agricultur- ally, and they enjoy thick, if hilly, forests to hunt and forage within. Of all Cimmerians, they are the most “civilized”, having learned much from their neighbors in the Bossonian Marches and Nemedia.
  • Fianna: Fianna: Inhabiting the northeast and east of Cimmeria, the Fianna are perhaps the least characteristic of Cimmerians. Some intermingling with Nordheimer over generations has produced lighter-skinned, red-haired Cimmerians, a rarity elsewhere in Cimmeria. They are also the greatest of orators and storytellers, and their humor, while dark, is uncharacteristically light by Cimmerian standards. They have suffered the harshest when it comes to Hyperborean slavery, and are savage foes of those people.

Cimmerian Clans[]

While most Cimmerians are members of the four major tribes, each tribe contains many smaller clans, groups related almost entirely by blood and made up of extended and interrelated families. These clans often dominate a small region, usually centered in one or more villages, but in some rare cases a larger village might be inhabited by two or even three clans, usually related to one another closely, and all claiming relation to the larger clan.

Cimmerians might introduce themselves with their clan name as being “Rhean of Criodan”, for example, or might even use their father’s name, such as “Decan Mac Morgh”, “Mac” meaning “son”. Daughters use “Ni” in the same fashion.

Some clans even span tribes, so there is no guarantee that someone from the Calleaigh clan is always of the Dal Cassian tribe: they could be a member of the Ciannechta tribe, from a village bordering both tribes’ territories. It is rarely a good idea to assume anything about a Cimmerian’s lineage, as there are few things that rouse a Cimmerian’s anger as surely as a perceived insult about family.

The following list of clans is divided by tribe:

  • Ciannechta: Ahern, Carrigan, Donough, Cronin, Cullinane, Dineen, Gavan, Heyne, Horgan, Marward, Mulraine, Rhynne, Rourk, Somohan, Tiernan, Whelan.
  • Dal Cais: Calleaigh, Conn, Curran, Derig, Dugan, Erris, Gormley, Greal, Kearn, Keevane, Killala, Kirwan, Leehan, Madigan, Mulrenin, Neylan, Roddan, Ruane, Sheah.
  • Erianne: Aylward, Brennan, Carew, Esmond, Fallon, Henebry, Kinsellagh, Leighlan, Linnegar, Magrath, Murrough, Tallon, Wadden, Whelan, Wyse.
  • Fianna: Breen, Callan, Carolan, Creehan, Criodan, Donnelan, Hannon, Hession, Kernaghan, Langan, Kerr, Mallan, Marron, Shiel, Riddell, Riordan, Teighe, Tyre.

Cimmerian Way of Life[]

Cimmerian villages are humble and smallish, and their homes are wooden, split-beam and thatch-roofed, though they oft dig into the sides of foothills and slopes to make their homes, and the roofs of these are covered in sod. They do not build castles, or even keeps, and few even are the villages with high halls where all might meet. They govern by way of a head-man for each village, an elder, and when a matter of great import arises, the clans gather and plan, a boisterous affair that usually ends in bloodshed. On the borders of their land, their villages have fences or walls surrounding, but this practice is not so common for Cimmerians that dwell far from their raid-prone neighbors.

The mighty kingdom of Aquilonia, which rules over many lands, sought foolishly to colonize Cimmeria, and built settlements among its border, thinking that nearby Gunderland was enough to keep them safe. The greatest of the Aquilonian settlements into the North was the fortress-town and garrison of Venarium, where they sought to cow the Cimmerians into servitude. Instead of docile cows, though, the Aquilonians faced enraged Cimmerian bulls, and the united force of dozens of clans of howling hill-men surged over the walls of Venarium one fell night and sacked it, slaying all within, leaving only ashes and broken stones. Tales are told of that night throughout the north and the south, and no other land has dared risk such a foolhardy trespass into Cimmerian territory.

One grim custom the Cimmerians practice is their habit of making stone piles before battle. Each able-bodied man or woman entering the combat contributes a fist-sized stone to the pile, usually immediately outside their village. On the return from the conflict, each living combatant removes a stone from the pile, scattering it into the wilderness. The stones that remain are tally of the dead, a sacred reminder of those that fell. To disturb these cairns is ill-luck, and it is believed that curses fall upon any who do so, though some witches do indeed steal these stones as talismans in fell magic.

Cimmerian Villages[]

A typical Cimmerian village is humble by the standards of nearly any other Hyborian kingdom. Amongst the stony foothills of their country they scratch out small steadings: farming; herding goats, sheep, and cattle; mining; logging; hunting, and keeping to themselves. They are barely defended, with only the rudiments of walls in those areas closest to Pictland, relying primarily on the mountains surrounding their land for defense.

Many Cimmerians dwell in dugout or sod-topped houses, whether cut into the sides of hills and strengthened with rocks, or free-standing and built of dirt and rock, though in some parts of the country they dwell in roundhouses or rough-hewn log cabins. Few have any interest in masonry, and more advanced structures are uncommon. There are no paved roads crossing the country, and faint trails are the closest they have towards any sense of road, so clannish and insular are they that visiting their neighbors is not common. If there is a wall, it will be rudimentary, either sod and stone or little more than a cattle fence.

The most sophisticated structures are the closest to the Bossonian Marches, where wattle-and-daub houses were built by Aquilonian settlers with delusions of cohabitation, abandoned shortly thereafter and now inhabited by Cimmerians of wealth. Farms here are small and often on the sides of hills and other slopes, with the lowlands used for grazing sheep, goats, or cattle.

Most Cimmerian villages are built around one larger structure, a great house where the village chief lives, but this is again rarely the scale of any western dwelling, generally containing one larger chamber capable of hosting a half-dozen elders or prominent villagers, and a few side chambers for the family, storage, and livestock. These chieftains rarely have any household to speak of, other than family, unlike the halls of their Nordheimer neighbors or the courts of the Hyperboreans.

Facilities are meager. Most villages have a blacksmith and granary as their centers, serving as a trade and meeting-place, but essentially the village is little more than a central hub for a cluster of surrounding farms and fields. Trade is conducted on a one-to-one basis, without any merchants or other intermediaries, and barter is the rule rather than the exception. Few Cimmerians other than those dwelling in the uttermost south of their country ever see a minted coin, for they have little use for such an abstraction.

Geography[]

"A gloomier land never was - all of hills, darkly wooded, under skies nearly always gray, with winds moaning drearily down the valleys."
―Conan, "The Phoenix on the Sword"

Cimmeria is located north of Aquilonia, and east of the Pictish Wilderness. The Eiglophian Mountains separate Cimmeria from the Nordheim countries Asgard and Vanaheim. The Border Kingdom separates Cimmeria from Nemedia in the south east.

Cimmeria appears to contain wolves, panthers, deer, and rabbits, but has no snakes or reptiles.

Cimmeria was undoubtedly a rugged wilderness, hilly, probably mountainous, heavily forested, and often cold and overcast.[1] 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..."

When Hyboria is superimposed over modern Europe, Cimmeria occupies the a region containing Denmark and the east coast of Scotland, most of the land submerged under the North Sea. In the interval between the Older and Younger Dryas 10,000 years ago (which is when Robert E. Howard placed the Hyborian Age), much of the North Sea area was in fact above water.

The Cimmerian Marches[]

One could look the breadth and width of the world and fail to find a place drearier than Cimmeria. The surrounding mountain ranges make for a land that seems perpetually fog- shrouded, and the mist’s only virtue being that it obscures view of mostly barren hills, endless ranges of rocky crags and bluffs, and fields and valleys full of meager scrub grass, bogs, and dismal hillocks. It is nonetheless an ancient land, still dotted with ancient ruins and stones that predate the Cataclysm, carvings that display clearly the link between the Cimmerians and Atlanteans of that bygone age.

It is a land without much natural beauty, unless one’s tastes tend towards the morose. The fog only rarely breaks, even less so does the chill, and the plant life is sparse, making even the basics of a farming and sustenance existence a challenge. Peat bogs abound, with the virtue of being a ready source of bog iron for those far from the iron-rich western mountain ranges. Peat’s other use is in the brewing of an immensely powerful liquor the Cimmerians call uisge (“water”), a name that causes many outsiders to think that the Cimmerians drink naught but water.

The natural rockiness of the land ensures that Cimmerians are frequently forced to scale cliffs or rocky walls to travel far from their homes, and as such Cimmerians are as famed for their climbing ability as they are the blackness of their moods. The hills, too, are dotted with caverns and tunnel complexes, and the Cimmerians believe that these are dark and accursed places, full of wyrms, malicious dwarfs, goblins, and other devilish beings. One characteristic of the wide openness of the Cimmerian countryside is that few Cimmerians enjoy being in darkness or confined spaces overmuch.

Barrows and old tombs dot the land, interspersed with cromlechs and other standing stones. Many are long since broken open or collapsed, while others remain apparently inviolate. The old runes and markings threatening curses and misfortune upon graverobbers have apparently worked in these cases. Some of the less rocky regions, such as grassy hillsides or plains, are decorated with unusual figures laid into the ground: primitive shapes of humans, beasts, and other patterns formed by digging low ditches and filling them with white powdered lime. These figures are visible from nearby hillsides on the rare days they are not shrouded with fog, but their significance is lost to history. Perhaps they depict gods no longer worshiped by the Cimmerians, or represent symbolic offerings to the heavens.

Unlike the region of Nordheim, Cimmeria has many small creeks, ponds, lakes, and other pools. Naturally for the superstitious Cimmerians, legends and stories abound about many of them, whether lakes from which monsters spawn, pools whose surfaces are windows to mirrored otherworlds, or wells containing water that can grant immortality at a price.

Notable Places in Cimmeria[]

The following locales are found within Cimmeria’s borders but are not home to any Cimmerian people. Some of these places are known in legend.

The Cave of Broken Gods[]

This cavern, located in a hidden place high in the rocky Cimmerian highlands, is ancient beyond reckoning, existing prior to the Cataclysm at the latest, perhaps older still. It is a sprawling labyrinth, with caverns and tunnels and chambers beyond counting, some inaccessible and some easily traversed by humans. In its deepest reaches, the sounds of rushing water and dripping echo in the darkness, suggesting hidden reservoirs and rivers, cold and wreathed in an eternal darkness. Whether it was submerged when the oceans drank Atlantis or it remained on some small mountaintop-turned-island does not matter, as the denizens of the cavern care little about their environment.

Arrayed in the caverns and grottos of this cavern are scores — perhaps even hundreds — of statues, representing ancient gods, demons, monsters, heroes, and other beings whose natures are too strange and foreign to determine. The only unifying characteristics between all of them are that the humanoid ones are generally squat and down to mere figurative representations, barely more than stony columns with the vestiges of features, while the others are so finely made and bear such realism and detail that they seem all but ready to stir and live again. All were made out of the same stone as found in the cavern, and may have been stalagmites, columns of sediment formed over the course of a hundredfold millennia, carven into place. Not all have survived the eons, and some have been deliberately disfigured or damaged, while others seem to have collapsed on their own, broken and ruined at the feet of others.

Over centuries, Cimmerian witches have gone to the cavern, seeking wisdom and communion with the ancient gods these graven images represent, though the practice has died with neglect and few living Cimmerians know where the god-cave is. However, legends persist as superstitions and stories told to frighten children. Most Cimmerians have some belief in the existence of demons, goblins, and dwarves, and that their pitiless god Crom holds court in a great mountain filled with such monstrous subjects. It is possible that this is the place from which that legend was given birth.

The Cavern of Death[]

This rough cave, high in the foothills of Cimmeria over-looking a small village, is feared and thought to be inhabited by a demon of the elder times, a fearsome beast with great curling teeth, cloven hooves, and a foul stench. The beast, called “Tyrwich” (also the name of the cavern) by the villagers, emerges from the cavern at night, often killing livestock, and sometimes attacking herders or wayward travelers, leaving their corpses in ghastly condition for the morning light to reveal.

Many young warriors seeking to test their bravery have gone into that cavern, following Tyrwich’s tracks back to their origin, and sought to pit their spears or swords against its rough hide. None have succeeded thus far, though one badly mauled lad staggered back to his village, blurting something about burning eyes and shining tusks.

Some Cimmerians hold the boar to be sacred, as an ancestral hero was reputedly transformed into a giant boar, his fate beyond that unknown. Boar imagery is often used to adorn weapons, particularly sword-hilts and helmets, and many regard the beast as a symbol of war and stubborn resistance, a fitting symbol for the people of Cimmeria.

The Witch-Oak[]

In a small clearing in the middle of a dense part of the woods looms a tree, ancient by any standard, so wide at its base that four large men could not link their hands and encircle it — though few would ever attempt such a thing, knowing the nature of the tree. Long, long ago, centuries perhaps, the tree was struck by lightning, and set afire from within, burning a great hollow into the trunk that extends upwards for three times the height of a man.

Even such a wound cannot kill a thing as mighty as a tree of this size, and the tree still thrives, though the leaves are pale now in summer and in winter, eschewing the colors of fall. Upon the lowest branches hang charms of wood and bronze and silver and tin, some of metal so ancient and verdigrised that its nature cannot be guessed at. These charms rattle against one another in the breeze, and occasionally when there is no wind whatsoever, filling the surrounding forest with their haunting and wanton chime.

Inside the tree dwells a witch, a practitioner of the old magic, skilled in the use of herbs and the ways of nature. Soothsayings drip from her lips, and she is sought by brave or foolhardy villagers, to bestow curses upon enemies or blessings upon friends, and sometimes the reverse. She is often hooded, and sometimes even veiled; some say she is a crone while others claim she is matronly, and one hapless wanderer claims to have been drawn into the space inside, emerging without any knowledge that several months had passed, cycles of the moon coming and going without notice. That man described the witch as the most beautiful woman in the world, and spent the rest of his days looking for that tree again, to no avail.

Whether it is one particularly long-lived witch or an unbroken line of them is unknown, nor is it particularly important. There are times when the village folk who go to see her find the tree empty, seemingly abandoned, but then the next day another might report finding her there, with a small cooking fire beside the tree. One brave child who looked inside said it was appointed like a small homely hut, with shelves and nooks carved into the wood upon which were jars and crocks, skulls and bowls of fresh-cut plants, as well as strange stones that gleamed in the darkness. Others who found it deserted said that the only thing inside was charred wood, an empty column with a hole at the top through which rain fell to the ground.

If the folk tales are true and the witch-tree exists, the inhabitant might be a witch or something even worse, a malignant spirit or monstrous creature.

Fort Venarium[]

There is little left now of the Aquilonian settlement once called Fort Venarium, built on the site of a Cimmerian village called Drumanagh, a place all-but expunged. This onetime small but thriving village near the border between Cimmeria and Aquilonia’s Bossonian Marches enjoyed a relative peace with the Gundermen and Bossonians that came to trade. This came to an end when King Vilerus forced the Gundermen to establish a garrison fort there, seizing Cimmerian property, ousting the people, and divvying up the land for Aquilonian landowners. The Cimmerians were ousted, many of their number killed to serve as examples for the price of resistance.

It is said that Cimmerians can disagree over just about anything, but this incident was enough to bring them together. Word spread between the clans, across the whole of Cimmeria, and the entire country was united in anger at the incursion. Warriors came from all over, drawn to Venarium for the sole unifying force in the Cimmerian temperament: hatred of outsiders. Howling mobs of Cimmerian clan warriors and youths besieged the fort, climbing its walls in the dark of night and killing anyone inside who was not Cimmerian: whether able-bodied defender or stripling child pulled from a mother’s breast.

Though Cimmerians usually refrain from violence against children or those who do not fight, in the case of Venarium there was no mercy. They ran amok within the fort’s walls, setting fire to the log-houses and leaving the corpses where they lay. The only spoils the Cimmerians took from that raid were weapons, armor, and valuable iron tools: the rest they left with the dead, soon to be claimed by the fires the Cimmerians set.

Now there is little left standing, save for the occasional rock wall and burnt wall-posts, darkened skeletons of log- houses. Scavengers have long since claimed the bones of those slain, and anything of value disappeared in the raid or shortly thereafter. Cimmerians avoid the place, claiming it is haunted, accursed at the very least.

History and politics[]

Cimmeria is a country where colonists from Atlantis survived the Cataclysm. Devolving in little more than ape-men, eventually they re-evolved into the people known as Cimmerians, through fighting against their old enemies, the Picts, and the Nordheimir to the north. Cimmeria remained immune and unaccessible to the advances of the Hyborian civilization.

Cimmerians also fought against the Bossonian Marches and even fought their way to Aquilonia for plundering raids. Once, an Aquilonian army was routed from Cimmeria, one of the few humiliating defeats of the almighty empire. The Aquilonian kings toyed with the idea of putting Picts and Cimmerians against each other and let both barbarian peoples destroy each other.

While Aquilonia was being invaded by the Picts and their vassals were deserting them, the Cimmerians found the opportunity and came from their hills, looting the cities and devastating the lands, completing the ruin, before returning with the plunder to their land.

Shortly after the fall of Aquilonia, Hyrkanians invaded from the east and north. A united force of riders swept into the Cimmerian hills, where their horses were less effective. The Cimmerians turned on them, and after a whole day of bloody fighting, the Hyrkanian hosts retreated to escape complete annihilation. Cimmeria remained unconquered both by the Pictish and the Hyrkanian empire that dominated the former Hyborean world. Only the restless Nordic tribes warred continually with the Cimmerians.

When the glacier age came, the Cimmerians fled before the Nordic onrush.

Cimmeria was afterwards covered by the waves in another cataclysm. Its mountains became the British Isles.

Stories set in Cimmeria[]

References[]

  1. Cimmeria (poem)
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