Dugdammi: The Man Who Shook Assyria

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In 660 BCE, mighty Assyria was about to be shaken. A Scythian named Dugdammi united many nomadic tribes into a confederation. This nomadic confederation pushed at the borders of Assyria which so frightened King Ashurbanipal that they felt Assyria had finally met its equal.
The Assyrians were already facing problems other than the Scythians and Cimmerians to the northeast of Assyria and to the west in Anatolia. This specific issue was regional and internal. Ashurbanipal had many problems even after conquering or putting down rebellions in Babylonia, Elam, and Egypt. Assyria was not in a position to take on more problems after a failed policy of economic aid to those affected by their own hand, which led in turn to brutish subjugation of the rebels, such as when Assyria sacked Elam sometime around the mid-640’s BCE.

Besides the events transpiring in and around Assyria of a non-nomadic nature, the Cimmerians were on the move again but seemed to be in greater numbers than in the past. Assyria’s new threat was slowly materializing on their northwestern and northeastern border. As mentioned before, these groups were typically unorganized and insufficient to pose a real threat other than hit-and-run guerilla tactics, and on some rare occasions, as you read earlier, joining in a battle. It is possible that this new Cimmerian-Scythian threat was loosely united, but by and large they did not mix, only getting involved in the affairs of the region they jointly controlled or roamed. Assyria at the time had no real control over Anatolia or Media. These two regions could be considered Assyria’s blind spot. In this blind spot, a certain chieftain would rise up to become not only a king of the Cimmerians but also the “king of the world.” His name was Dugdammi.

The origin of Dugdammi is rather vague according to most historians, but we will try to discover the facts. His name in classical Greek was Lygdamis, in Assyrian it was either Dugdammi or Tugdammi. He was either a Cimmerian or Scythian since the names are interchangeable and are practically the same. His story begins around 660 BCE. It seems that the first known attacks from Dugdammi were against Greek coastal cities such as Sardis of Lydia. Afterward, he pushed at the Assyrian empire around 652 BCE. Because of this external pressure, Assyria would be drawn into another war against Urartu and Dugdammi’s forces. Ashurbanipal mentioned Dugdammi in his annuals as “King of the Sakai and Qutu.” The term Sakai (Scythians) was used primarily by Western Iranians to indicate those who spoke in the Iranian vernacular.

Before discussing Dugdammi and his effect on Assyria, we should focus on the various names mentioned such, as Sakai and Qutu.

The term Qutu, also rendered as Quti, Qutians, or even Gutium, is a loosely used generic and archaic expression during this period of Assyrian history that has no real value for identifying a particular people. The term Gutium when used by Ashurbanipal, refers to those who were hostile to Assyria, particularly those who lived along the Zagros Mountains. However, the term was also applied to Manneans or Medes during this period. In other words, the term Gutium indicates anyone who is hostile and lives from east of the Tigris River into lands of Western Iran. Therefore, it seems evident that when Ashurbanipal speaks of Dugdammi, he is telling us that Dugdammi is from the region of Gutium, which could mean that he came from Media or maybe from the province of Mannea. What is certain is that Dugdammi is King of the Sakai, while his base of operations is evidently in the lands of Gutium.

There are two interesting letters given to Ashurbanipal by his astrologer Akkullanu that discuss revelations about the origins of the Cimmerians, Scythians, and Umman-manda:

To the king, my Lord, your slave Akkullanu. Peace be with the king, my Lord, may Nabu and Marduk bless the king, my Lord. March was visible on the path of the (stars) of Enlil, close to the feet of Persee; he/it was drab and pallid. I saw (it) the 26th day of the month of Aiaru, when it had risen strongly. I sent its interpretation later to the king, my Lord.”[If] March approaches from Persee, there will be revolt in the Amurru country, the brother will kill his brother. The sovereign’s palace will be robbed, the treasures of the country will be carried away to another country. The sign of the country is unfavorable. The king of the world will be delivered by his gods to his enemy.” It is a bad omen for the Amurru country. Your Assur gods (and), your god, will surely remove the power acquired by the Cimmerians, so great that it is, and will give it to the king, my Lord.” [“If] the starry Sanuma approaches of the Enmesarra god, the heart of the country will be happy, [the people will increase.”] Sanuma is March. [It is] a good omen for the king, my Lord. “So March rises while changing its color and if its radiance is yellow, the king of Elam will die this year.” “So Nergal is small and pallid at the time of its apparition and that he changes his color strongly like a celestial star, he will be understanding for Akkad. The forces of my army will resist and undo the enemy. The enemy’s army won’t resist against my army. The livestock of Akkad will lie down quietly on grazing. The sesame and the dates will be abundant. The gods will be understanding for Akkad.” “So March is visible in the month of Aiaru, some hostile actions will take place, (there will be) the defeat of Umman-manda.” Umman-manda are the Cimmerians.

What is interesting about this letter is that Akkullanu is referring to the Amurru as Umman-manda, but he goes on to reveal that the Umman-manda is the Cimmerians. But what does this mean? It means that the term Amurru in this inscription tells us that the Umman-manda and the Cimmerians are the same and that they are Amurru. If this is true, then the Cimmerians and Scythians are originally from the lands west of Mesopotamia.

The term Amurru in Akkadian means, “the west lands” or the land west of Mesopotamia which includes the Mediterranean coast. The Assyrians are notorious for using archaic terms when referring to peoples who inhabit certain regions, such as the region of Syria, which would be a province within the lands of the Amurru and over which, as discussed earlier, the Scythians had hegemony. On the other hand, Dugdammi’s title, “King of the Sakai and Qutu” may refer to tribal identity and location of the residence, as previously mentioned. If this is the case, then one should consider that the Cimmerians and Scythians came from the lands west of Assyria originally.

As for the term Umman-manda, the Assyrians and Babylonians have equated the Umman-manda with the Medes as described in the Fall of Nineveh Chronicle. Moreover, the meaning of Umman-manda could be “Manda-host” or “host of the Manda.” It has also been suggested that Umman-manda could mean “Who Knows,” “Barbarous people,” or “Nomads.” Nevertheless, one could say that the term means nothing more than a mixed multitude of uncivilized people from the north.

The meaning of the term Umman-manda has evolved among the regional people that mentioned them. Take for instance the name Tidcal or Tudkhul. Tidcal/Tudkhul is said to be the king of the Hittites, but he is also called king of the Umman-manda or “Nations of the North.” Consider also a much older event in which Naram-Sin, king of the Akkadian empire, defeated the Umman-manda and he states, “the powers of the Umman-manda are struck down.”

So what does this mean? This means from the time the Umman-manda first were mentioned by Naram-Sin up to the time of Ashurbanipal, over a thousand years had elapsed between events. This suggests that the term Umman-manda is generic and does not identify one particular people, but rather a horde of many tribes with various names, and Ashurbanipal’s Umman-manda are the Cimmerians. Therefore, the term Umman-manda was just a Mesopotamian stereotype used when referring to people not native to the civilized powers in the region. The Umman-manda of Naram-Sin and the Umman-manda of Ashurbanipal were indeed two different peoples.

The next interesting aspect of this letter indicates that Dugdammi is not only king but also king of the world, for the letter states, “The King of the world will be delivered by his gods to his enemy.” The Assyrians saw King Dugdammi worthy to hold the title “Sar kissati,” which means “King of the universe” or “King of the world” which is translated as “King of Kish.” This does not mean Dugdammi used the title or even considered the title, let alone even knew about the title, but rather that the Assyrians found him worthy of the title. The meaning of the title “Sar kissati” suggests that Dugdammi controlled regions rather than smaller provinces. In ancient times, this title went to those who controlled vast regions within or outside the boundaries of Mesopotamia. Akkullanu tells Ashurbanipal that he will gain back the power and title once King Dugdammi is defeated. It seems that if Ashurbanipal defeats Dugdammi, he will gain back the respect of his people, as well as his enemy, and in doing so, he will control the four corners of the known world.

Since there could only be one king of the world, Ashurbanipal of Assyria desired such a title. Ashurbanipal was most likely envious that Dugdammi, a man of non-Assyrian birth, held such a prestigious and sacred title. Ashurbanipal desired the title for it meant the defeat of his regional rival and would secure Assyria’s borders. The title Dugdammi holds brings up another question. The title “Sar Kassati,” as discussed earlier, suggests that his domain would have been vast, extending from Anatolia to Western Iran if not further to the east. This would mean that Dugdammi was the first Cimmerian-Scythian king to rule, unlike his predecessors, who were mere chieftains. However, this is only speculation. For how extensive his nomadic empire may have been is a matter of debate, but to the Assyrians it was rather threatening.

Another interesting name comes from the next letter provided by Akkullanu to Ashurbanipal concerning a people known as the Ahlamu:

[“So to him] month of Simanu [the moon] appears (for the first time) on 30th day (of Aiaru), the Ahlamu will eat the wealth of the Amurru country”. [These] omens are bad for Amurru. [Assour, Be] Nabu, your gods, [if hostility,] to the king’s hands, my Lord […] [… the defeat] of your ene[mies[…] […]

Once again, we notice the name Amurru being used that was shown previously to apply to the Cimmerians. Now we have the name Ahlamu added to the list as eating the riches of the Amurru. What is fascinating about this inscription is the Ahlamu are now side by side with Amurru. The Ahlamu were a tribe of Arameans who were semi-nomadic and occupied northern Syria, many times giving Assyria trouble during the reign of Tiglath-pileser I around the 12th-11th centuries BCE. The Ahlamu gave the Amurru people trouble during Biblical times, as well, for the people living within the lands of southern Syria and Canaan or any inhabitant who lived west of the Euphrates River, were considered Amurru by the Assyrians. An example of this trouble is illustrated in I Chronicles 18:1-17, in which King David slew many Arameans. In other words, we have what the Assyrians would consider Amurru, that is Israel, and this is not due to ethnicity, but that Israel lives in the region designated by the Assyrians as Amurru country at the time. But what does this say about the Cimmerians and the Ahlamu? The answer to that question is difficult but within reach. The Cimmerians under Dugdammi seem to have origins in Amurru country, but further investigation is needed due to the wording of the inscriptions.

Now, the letter or inscription you read says, “the Ahlamu will eat the wealth of the Amurru country.” This seems to indicate that the Ahlamu are living within the confines of Dugdammi’s empire and may be hostile to the Cimmerians, as indicated by eating the wealth of the Amurru. The Assyrians would know this due to their vast spy network and hoped the Ahlamu would cause a revolt significant enough to allow the Assyrians to take advantage of the situation. However, only two letters mention the Ahlamu as having a possible effect on the Cimmerians, but nothing more is mentioned other than possible hope. Ashurbanipal’s inscriptions for some time would continue referring to Dugdammi as “the king of Amurru” without mentioning his name:

The king of Amurru will die, his country will be reduced (in size) or again it will be devastated. The experts will probably have something to say about Amurru to the king my lord.

On the 15th day of Tebet, during the middle watch, a lunar eclipse took place: it began in the East and passed toward the West: a sinister omen, whose evil (import) is confined to Amurru and its territory. (Indeed) it portends evil to the king of Amurru and to his country. Since the chief enemy of the king my lord is in Amurru, the king my lord may do as he wishes: the arms of the king my lord shall conquer, the king shall accomplish his defeat. The text of their decision is reliable: Shamash and Marduk are giving into the hands of the king my lord a passage through the land, which you have seized by force of arms, from the upper to the lower sea. From the shore of the sea I lift up my hands toward the king my lord, for you are benign. May Marduk and Sarpanitum intercede for me before the king my lord.

Ashurbanipal must have been happy with his spy’s reports that the soothsayers used to fill the king’s ears with prophetic victory fast approaching. This also suggests the Assyrians may have become strong enough to make a challenge, thus giving Ashurbanipal the confidence to approach his enemy. Whatever reason allowed Ashurbanipal to feel more secure about his position seems to have backfired, for Dugdammi goes on to threaten the Assyrian border along with Mugallu’s son, “ussi.”

The name of Mugallu’s son remains unknown, all that is left of his name on the inscription is “-ussi:” This ussi along with Dugdammi would attack Assyria, but the outcome of the battle remains undecided:

[x x] ussi, his son sent every year, without interruption his heavy tribute and implored [my] lordship. I made him swear by the great gods, my Lords, he (but) despised the oath by their (sic) great gods. He has conferred with Dugdammi, king of the barbarian destroyer? destructive. Assour, great mountain, whose signs / borders don’t change, has it terrace [of] far and burned his body by the flaming fire. Without bow, nor horses, nor [mules], (nor?) his brothers, (nor?) his parent, seed of his father’s house, his great army, the aid of his hands, sent emergency following his own decision of the horses and mules without number in Assyria. Dugdammi, king highlander (?), Gutium, insolent that didn’t know the terror of Assour, has trusted in his own strength and has gathered his army to wage fight and battle. He established his camp on the border of Assyria. Assour, Ellilitu, Beautiful, Nabu, Ishtar living in Arbela […] Blood flowed out of his mouth and its sick tomb. Following it [the fire of the sky has fallen on them (the Cimmerians), and himself, his army and his camp, he burned them. Dugdammi was terrified, he is in a deplorable situation and removed his army and his camp; he came back… in his country. The terror of Assour, of Ellilitu, of Beautiful, of Nabu, of Ishtar of Arbela, gods who help me in striking him and he sent his captains (to establish) friendship and peace. I received [his heavy tribute]. Gold, multicolored clothes […] with great horses […horses of horsemanship of his lordship, military equipment, his heavy tribute, he sent it to me and he has kissed my feet. I made him swear to Assour and Ellilitu not to sin against the borders of the Assyria, and I have reinforced (it) while concluding with him a treaty under oath. He hasn’t respected the bill under oath by the great gods. He has entered in the borders of Assyria with the intention to make pain […]. He sinned against the borders of Assyria on the place of libation; for the establishment […The weapon] of Assour, my Lord has stricken him; he became a madman, and in (his) madness he bit his fingers.

From this inscription, we gather that Mugallu’s son ussi was loyal for some time to Assyria but did go on to join Dugdammi and his forces. Some have suggested that ussi was pressured by Dugdammi’s power. This is plausible, for ussi would feel pressured to make a decision based on the interest of his kingdom, since Dugdammi was a much closer threat than Ashurbanipal. In addition, consider also that ussi, like many others, grew tired of Assyrian dominance that imposed heavy tribute. Assyria would impose heavy tribute as a form of punishment to those that rebelled. It would perpetuate bad feelings, leading to further uprisings as in the case of ussi. Because of this, one could look at Dugdammi as a way out of Assyrian dominance. Dugdammi was not a threat, after all, but a blessing.

The next part of this inscription indicates a cease-fire. Ashurbanipal would impose heavy tribute on Dugdammi. Notice that in the inscription it says divine intervention defeated Dugdammi and his forces. This defeat could have come from another force but it is unclear. It may have been that Dugdammi’s attacker could not beat him and so they had settled for a draw. Had Ashurbanipal really defeated Dugdammi, the title “Sar Kassati” would be his; however, Ashurbanipal did not trounce Dugdammi and the Assyrian soothsayers never mention the title, while the Assyrian spies report only hostility.

These next inscriptions are somewhat similar to the previous one, particularly the next one you are about to read.

Dugdammi, demon gallu, barbarian-destructor […] that doesn’t bring [the yearly tribute,] [has trusted in] his own strength, [covered] the country like an invasion of locusts. He has gathered [his army and] established [his] camp [on the border of Assyria…] […]… the coming down (?) Assour, sin, [Shamash, Ishtar of] Nineveh, Ishtar of Arbela […] Blood flowed out [of his mouth;] he is [sick tomb.] […] size, established place (?)] [… the fire of the sky is tomb and himself, [his army and his camp,] it burned [them]. [Dugdammi] [was terrified and] he is put in [a deplorable situation; [he removed his army and his camp,] in Harsale […]… […] (of) his countries rebelled against him and […] he has expired. He was in a bad place and […] [..] he plotted against my gods in the inside of his army. […] theirs. The terror of Assour, of Sin, of Shamash of Ishtar of Nineveh, of Ishtar of Arbela, [gods, my Lords,] that helped me, striking him; his captains (to establish) friendship and peace […] with [great (?)] horses […]horses of horsemanship of his lordship, […]…military equipment, his heavy [tribute,] he sent it to me and he has kissed my feet. I made him swear by the great gods, [my Lords not to sin] against the borders of Assyria and I have reinforced (it) [while concluding with him the treaty under oath. He rejected the treaties under oath by the great gods and [didn’t respect it.] He has entered in the borders of Assyria with the intention (to make) pain. He sinned against the borders of Assyria [on the place] of libation; for the establishment (?) […The weapon of Assour, my Lord struck him; [he became a madman,] and in (his) madness he bit his fingers. […] he has changed and has inflicted upon him a stern punishment. [The moist of sound (body) has been reached of paralysis,] a sharp pain has pierced his heart; […] of him didn’t have, his army […] his penis was claw and was tomb. […His life ended…]

The inscription starts with Dugdammi being described as a “demon gallu” we will address this description later. As for the rest of the inscription, notices that it is a rehash of the previous inscription until you reach the last few portions. These last few lines suggest Dugdammi died in battle, using the imagery of a “pierced his heart” or his “penis was claw and was tomb.” Overall, the message is simple, Dugdammi is dead and shall no longer pose a threat to Assyria, but there is more:

[I have] killed, I have changed [Dugdammi, the king of Ummanmanda, destructive-barbarian…]

And Dugdammi, king of Umman-manda, creation of Tiamat, a species of gallu demon, despised the oath [by the gods] not to make crime, not to sin against the borders of my country; he didn’t fear your great name that the Igigis [venerate.] To magnify your lordship and the power of your divinity […] Following the message of your divinity that you sent: “I will disperse [his] army […] will I hurl down (?)] Sandakkurru / Sandaksatru, son (his), his offshoot that one designated like his heir.” I heard (it) and I have glorified the powerful Marduk.

Dugdammi is clearly dead according to the inscriptions, but another interesting aspect is the insults used to describe Dugdammi by Ashurbanipal. The term “demon gallu” and “Tiamat” as you read are descriptions of Dugdammi’s character according to Ashurbanipal. The term “demon gallu” is in reference to seven demons who love to eat flesh. You could take this meaning at face value, for some Scythian groups such as the Androphagoi and Massagetae, did consume human flesh and it is possible that Dugdammi partook of such a practice. On the other hand, Dugdammi may not have consumed any human flesh, but rather his sword consumed the flesh of the many thousands he and his forces had slain. However, it could be a stereotype, for certain Scythians and Cimmerians may have partaken in the consumption of human flesh, while Dugdammi took no part in, but due to his relation to them, one would think otherwise. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstance is one can agree that the term shows the distaste Ashurbanipal had for Dugdammi and his nomadic forces.

The next term mentioned in the last inscription is “Tiamat.” Tiamat represents the goddess of chaos. According to Babylonian mythology, Marduk slew Tiamat to create order and peace. Ashurbanipal obviously saw himself as being in the same position as Marduk and that something had to be done in order to bring about social order. In other words, this war with Dugdammi was a clash of civilizations in Ashurbanipal’s mind. You have the civilized Assyrians, keeping the peace and stability throughout the known world; while on the other hand, you have the uncivilized Dugdammi and his nomadic forces that represent palpable darkness.

The Assyrian inscriptions do not mention where Dugdammi died or how he died, but the statement is rather clear, Dugdammi is dead for, “a sharp pain has pierced his heart.” According to the historian Strabo, Dugdammi died at the Cilicia gates, but refers to him as Lygdamis and says, “Lygdamis, however, at the head of his own soldiers, marched as far as Lydia and Ionia and captured Sardes, but lost his life in Cilicia.” Unlike Strabo’s account, Ashurbanipal’s letters do not mention where the battle took place but only mention Dugdammi’s death. The inscriptions remain silent concerning a battle or a series of battles that most likely took place. However, the inscriptions do suggest a possible ceasefire at one time before the renewal of hostilities between the two.

The Ashurbanipal inscriptions mention two types of death; one is physical and the other spiritual. For the physical, Ashurbanipal says, “I have glorified the powerful Marduk.” Ashurbanipal claims the kill for himself, while in another inscription provided earlier speaks of the supernatural being responsible for slaying Dugdammi and says, “The weapon of Assour, my Lord struck him.” Regardless of the inscriptions, Ashurbanipal is responsible for Dugdammi’s death. However, it is interesting that Ashurbanipal speaks of himself as the taker of life, while in other he speaks of a god having taken Dugdammi’s life. It seems both are true, but with a twist.

To summarize, it is safe to say that Dugdammi was no friend of Assyria and he held in his grasp a huge nomadic empire that threatened the civilization of Assyria. Before the hostilities began, it seems that a “soft alliance” existed between them, perhaps because Dugdammi had been bought off by Ashurbanipal in preparation for dismembering the kingdom of Lydia. If true, it would have been a great move by Ashurbanipal at the time, but the Cimmerians still proved too wild to control directly or indirectly, and they quickly turned their attention back toward Assyria. This turning could be due to the desperate plea for help of Ardys, son of Gyges, to Ashurbanipal, and his willingness to patch up their differences over past issues.
Ashurbanipal may have accepted the terms, which is a cause for concern. At this point, we could say that Dugdammi was still on comfortable terms with Assyria, but felt threatened and undermined by a possible new alliance between Ashurbanipal and Ardys. The reason Ashurbanipal might have rekindled his trust in Lydia rather than with the Cimmerians could relate to economics and trade.
Lydia had an abundance of natural resources at its disposal, such as gold and silver. Trade routes also crossed through Lydia, making it and a commercial powerhouse for business and trade. The fact is that Assyria needed resources such as iron ore. However, the Cimmerians that lived and roamed in the Anatolian region were also in control of the iron ore. The Cimmerians were bad for business and they had to go. It seems that by making a pact with Lydia there was a chance to squeeze and expel the Cimmerians, as well as to establish trade relations with Lydia.
Earlier we discussed the death of Dugdammi and touched on the inconsistency of the battles, which suggest both Ashurbanipal and Dugdammi could have claimed victory. Both sides suffered heavy losses. However, it does seem that Ashurbanipal suffered most of the casualties in this conflict. Before the events that culminated in the death of Dugdammi, it appears that he took a short break before going on to violate the border agreement. This in turn would have caused upheaval along the borders and within Assyrian territory. In the inscriptions, one could glean from them that Ashurbanipal was quietly saying he was defeated. By invoking the god’s name as the sole benefactor in defeating Dugdammi, it does suggest that an outside element was possibly responsible. This outside element may have been Madys, according to Strabo:
Lygdamis, (King of the Cimmerians) however, at the head of his own soldiers, marched as far as Lydia and Ionia and captured Sardes, but lost his life in Cilicia. Oftentimes both Cimmerians and Trerans made such invasions as these; but they say that the Trerans and Cobus were finally driven out by Madys, the king of the Scythians. Let these illustrations be given here, inasmuch as they involve matters of fact which have a bearing upon the entire
compass of the world in general.

As Strabo suggests, it is quite possible that Madys did defeat and kill Dugdammi (Lygdamis) in Cilicia around 640 BCE if not 639 BCE. Ashurbanipal might have sent envoys to invite Madys to invade the lands of Dugdammi and kill him. The reason could be due to the wars in which Ashurbanipal was already engaged. Ashurbanipal was still intermittently fighting the Scythians and Cimmerians and at the same time having to suppress rebellions in Elam and Babylonia. Because of this, not only was he depleting his forces, he was also overextending his lines of supply and support. This massive onslaught on Assyria meant Ashurbanipal had to find someone to aid him, or hope for something or someone to intervene. He needed something as mighty as Dugdammi’s forces in the north, whether it was by force or influence. Madys was the choice. Strabo also says that Madys drove the Cimmerians out of Anatolia. This could be true, but unlikely. Madys may have defeated the forces led by Dugdammi, but more likely, that the dwindling remainder of Dugdammi’s force simply joined Madys. This region was under Cimmerian control and they probably did not mind being ruled by one of their own kin.

Dugdammi did have a son by the name of Sandaksatru who would succeed Dugdammi after his death. However, nothing is really known about him or where he went. It is possible that Sandaksatru was with his father at Cilicia during the battle, and fled into Europe along with the remainder of the forces when his father was defeated and killed. Nevertheless, the inscriptions definitely make no mention of Sandaksatru’s presence at this particular battle.


Askold I. Ivantchik, Les Cimmeriens au Proche-Orient

Cam Rea, March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to the Fall of Nineveh

Dr. E.V. Cernenko, The Scythians 700-300 BCE

Robert Drews, Early Riders: The Beginnings of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe

H.W.F. Saggs, The Might that was Assyria

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By Cam Rea

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