The Battle of Jaxartes (329 BCE)



In what is said to be Alexander the Great’s most spectacular battle, the Macedonian king tested their most daring tactics against the fierce Central-Asian mounted Scythian nomads on the banks of the Jaxartes River.

Before charging into the battle, a little geography would not hurt. The Jaxartes River, what is known today as the Syr Darya, originates in the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan and eastern Uzbekistan. The river flows for 2,212 kilometers (1,374 miles) west and northwest through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan to the remains of the Aral Sea.

Sunset over Sir-Darya river, Kazakhstan.

Sunset over Sir-Darya river, Kazakhstan. In Ancient Greek river is called Yaxartes (Ἰαξάρτης). (Petar Milošević /CC BY-SA 3.0)

Map of the Syr Darya Basin watershed, of the Syr Darya and Chu Rivers in Central Asia.

Map of the Syr Darya Basin watershed, of the Syr Darya and Chu Rivers in Central Asia. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The battle of Jaxartes was a result of an earlier rebellion between the Scythians and the Macedonians.

A man named Spitamenes instigated the cause that would lead up to the battle. Spitamenes was famous for his capture of Bessus, in which he put him in chains and left him for Alexander, resulting in Spitamenes becoming the invisible tribal leader among the Sogdiana, an ancient civilization of Iranian people.

The Punishment of Bessus, by Andre Castaigne

The Punishment of Bessus, by Andre Castaigne (Public Domain)

Alexander had targeted Cyropolis in 329 BC in his conquest of Sogdiana.

Beginning with Cyropolis

Spitamenes, now Sogdian warlord, skillfully planned a rebellion of which not even Alexander had a clue. Spitamenes attacked Alexander’s rear, disabling the fortification system on the frontier starting with Cyropolis.

Silk road figure head, thought to be Sogdian.

Silk road figure head, thought to be Sogdian. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sogdians, depicted on a Chinese Sogdian sarcophagus of the Northern Qi era.

Sogdians, depicted on a Chinese Sogdian sarcophagus of the Northern Qi era. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Spitamenes’ men caught them by surprise, storming the fort and taking no mercy. Spitamenes also garrisoned these fortresses with his own men afterwards. Once word reached Alexander, it must have been a total shock to him, as he was busy building the new city of Alexandria Eschate.

Sogdiana and Alexandria Eschate, in the north of the map.

Sogdiana and Alexandria Eschate, in the north of the map. (Public Domain)

Alexander quickly assembled his men for battle and sent them to the nearest fortress called Gaza. From Gaza, Alexander and his forces captured four fortresses in two days, killing the inhabitants inside. Next, Alexander turned his forces to Cyropolis.

Out of all the forts, Cyropolis was the hardest to take.

Alexander’s plans to march further east were now on hold due to the rebellion. Alexander could not leave with tension existing in his empire. So, Alexander went on a policy of terror as he did at Thebes, but this did not seem to faze the Sogdians, and in doing so, prompted the mighty nomadic confederation of Massagetae to assemble with many horse archers on the right side of Jaxartes River, waiting to invade if the Macedonians failed in stamping out the revolt.

The rebellion became so serious that news came to Alexander that Spitamenes had besieged Maracanda. Alexander quickly sent forces to lift the siege under the command of Pharnuches, who was a diplomat and not a soldier. Once Pharnuches made it to the outskirts of the city, he engaged the enemy and was teased by the Scythians to follow them into the desert.

Scythian Horseman depicted on felt artifact, circa 300 BC.

Scythian Horseman depicted on felt artifact, circa 300 BC. (Public Domain)

Once in the middle of nowhere, Spitamenes and his Sogdiana Scythian nomads enveloped them from all sides. Pharnuches ordered his forces to form a square formation, leaving the center empty during the battle. The Macedonian forces fought well during the battle, but needed to withdraw quickly, and once they spotted the river Polytimetus to cross for safety, they made a mad dash for it. This very act of breaking rank and battle formation is a mistake when fighting the Scythians, for once the Macedonian forces exposed themselves by breaking rank, the heavier Scythian cavalry mowed them down and totally annihilated them.

This would prove to be the worst disaster that any of Alexander forces would ever face in battle. Alexander knew he would have to react quickly in order to put down the rebellion by defeating those responsible with a show of force.

The Men of War

When it came to the size and composition of both military forces, the estimations are relatively unknown. As far as technology, there is no exact information regarding what was used at the battle, but due to the circumstances of the time and what we do know regarding the Macedonian army Alexander led, we have only to look at the main army Alexander brought with him.

Mosaic detailing the famous military leader and conqueror Alexander the Great/Alexander III of Macedon.

Mosaic detailing the famous military leader and conqueror Alexander the Great/Alexander III of Macedon. (Public Domain)

What history books tell us is that Alexander had a mix of Macedonian infantry and cavalry along with Thessalian and Thracian cavalry. In addition, Alexander required the Greek states to provide additional cavalry and infantry alongside his main forces when he invaded Asia. However, we should consider that by the time Alexander’s forces had made it up to this point in history, those men that accompanied him from Macedonia into Persia, and right before the battle of Jaxartes, were not the vast majority, but rather a mix of forces and foreigners in his ranks. Thus, to get an idea of what units partook in the battle is unknown, but assumptions can be made.

The Scythians on the other hand, were pure cavalry, carrying the bow and arrow. They may have had some heavy cavalry among their ranks, but it is doubtful. Rather, we can gather that the Scythians were mainly light cavalry archers since there are no descriptions of heavy cavalry mentioned.

As for military doctrine and training, Alexander the Great learned warfare, tactics, and strategy from his father Philip. Before Alexander became king, he had already experienced battles beforehand as the commander of Philips left wing, such as at the battle of Chaeronea. Alexander was a practitioner of his father’s style of organized warfare, which was called the hammer and anvil tactic. The Macedonian phalanx served as the anvil while the cavalry served as the hammer.

Alexander the Great liked to charge head on with his men but always kept a close eye on the situation. His leadership skills were numerous due to the many detailed battles provided in historical chronicles. Alexander was a leader who led his men into battle, charging in head-first at every chance he got. He led by example and bore the scars to prove it. He desired not to sit in the back of his army and shot out orders like a manager. He was a natural leader, with a natural gift. Not many leaders in the annals of war have ever had such a gift as had by Alexander.

As for the Scythian leader Satraces, there is nothing known about him other than by name for being at the battle. Leadership is crucial under such circumstances, but in this case, there is virtually nothing known about Satraces leadership ability. As for skills, he was a true Scythian tactician, wherein swarming and deception was the game. One only knows this due to the battle description provided.

From the info gathered before the battle, Alexander had no choice but to cross the Jaxartes River and engage the Scythians. If he did not, the situation could have gotten out of hand and the number of Scythians may have started to grow. Alexander only had one choice and that was to attack them and win. If he lost, it might have cost him his empire or at least part of it. These Scythians were most likely paid by Spitamenes to harass and engage Alexander. Alexander had no choice but to deal with the enemy.

Feasts and Fights

The opening moves before the battle were actually feasting. Once Alexander founded a new city-fort named after him, he held an elaborate feast with a sacrifice to the gods and even held a gymnastic contest. Alexander was having a merry ole’ time.

But while feasting and having a luxurious time with his men, Scythians on the far side of the bank of the River Jaxartes began to shout insults at Alexander and his men. Alexander knew that if he ignored this and allowed it to continue, the numbers of these men might swell and become too big to handle. Alexander stopped the party and began planning.

Alexander was in no mood for combat, but rather relaxation and celebration. He was still recovering from a leg wound he received from an earlier battle, and the bone splinters were making their way out of Alexander’s leg. Alexander had no choice but to send in his advance cavalry. However, in order to do this, he needed to establish a beachhead first to protect his forces that would be crossing.

The Hammer and Anvil

He moved his artillery to the bank of the river and began to shower the Scythians with projectiles—one of the projectiles said to have killed the Scythian chief Satraces or their champion warrior, nevertheless, it remains unknown, but the outcome seems to have not rattled the Scythians knees.

The artillery Alexander placed on the bank of river worked well for its intended use, which was to push the Scythians back, allowing the Macedonian forces to cross the river safely. Once the river was safe to cross, Alexander sent in a portion of cavalry first. However, some think that the use of cavalry was a military blunder that turned in his favor.

Battle between the Scythians and their enemies.

Battle between the Scythians and their enemies. (Public Domain)

Stephen Tanner, who wrote the popular book, “Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban Insurgency” argues that the Macedonian element (cavalry) advanced to quickly and was surrounded by the Scythians. However, it seems Alexander may have done this intentionally. The tactician knew better than to just send in an attack force for the slaughter. He knew he had to bait the Scythians, for if he did not, the Scythians would play a cat and mouse game of reverse attrition. In other words, the Scythians would lose few while the bigger forces would lose many!

Battle of the Jaxartes, Alexander crossing river. Battle movement images by Stephen Smith.

Battle of the Jaxartes, Alexander crossing river. Battle movement images by Stephen Smith. (Creative Commons)

As the advance Macedonian cavalry came closer into contact with the Scythians, the Scythians broke themselves up into units and quickly moved into position surrounding the enemy from afar. Each unit began to form a circle and rode around like they were in a race, chasing each other’s tails. This was like how a hurricane is perceived; it is a deadly circle that rotates about, spewing forth projectiles. The high winds represent the bow and whatever the winds spit out are the arrows.

With the advanced Macedonian cavalry now surrounded by many Scythian cavalry circles showering them down with arrows, Alexander began to advance with the rest of his force. Alexander knew that by sending in a small cavalry force as bait, the Scythians would quickly go after it. What the Scythians did not expect was what was coming next.

Battle of the Jaxartes, Alexander luring Scythians to battle.

Battle of the Jaxartes, Alexander luring Scythians to battle. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Alexander then gave the orders for his light infantry to advance towards the Scythian cavalry in front of Alexander. Now, as the light infantry advanced towards the Scythians, Alexander than gave the order for a second part of his cavalry to block any flanking attempt by the Scythian horse archers. Once the pieces were in place, half of the Scythian cavalry found themselves surrounded. Alexander then gave the order to his heavy cavalry to charge at the surrounded Scythian horse archers. The heavy cavalry shot through the gaps between his light infantry and anti-flanking cavalry and plunged right into the Scythian ranks, thus allowing the advance cavalry unit that was sent in as bait to now focus on the Scythians that found themselves surrounded. This allowed Alexander’s anti-flanking cavalry to ward off the remaining Scythian cavalry, thus allowing the light infantry men to advance in quickly in order to dislodge any enemy combatants on horseback. Overall, it was a brilliant maneuver on Alexander behalf.

The Battle of Jaxartes – Alexander traps the nomadic Scythian cavalry.

The Battle of Jaxartes – Alexander traps the nomadic Scythian cavalry. (Creative Commons)

The outcome of the battle was a Macedonian victory through Alexander’s brilliance. As for deaths, the Macedonians only killed a small number, roughly around 1,000 with another 150 captured. The main part of the Scythian cavalry force escaped capture. It was a small battle that produced a new tactic for consideration when facing the Scythians.

The Economy of Force

Assessing the significance of the actions and the lessons learned from the battle of Jaxartes is one-sided. The Scythians deceived themselves with over confidence. They figured that this foreign element was no different than what they had encountered before, thus making themselves one-dimensional. As for Alexander, he quickly looked at the situation, understood what he was facing, and quickly executed his objective with precision.

In order for Alexander to accomplish this, he had confidence in his men and captains, and his men, in turn, showed faith in him and his battle plan. In other words, when it came to the economy of force, every Macedonian was responsible for the other. Because of this, Alexander placed his men in areas that they would be effective against the enemy and allowed his captains and men to build on their effectiveness.

Alexander won many battles before Jaxartes using the hammer and anvil tactic made so famous by the Macedonians. However, the traditional Macedonian way of war came to a standstill when confronting the Scythians and this demonstrated not only their strength but also their weakness. Nevertheless, the strength and simplicity of these tactics are obvious; adapt to your enemy’s method and incorporate some of your own—innovate!

Alexander knew that if he were stay with the same old tactical method it would kill him in the end. Alexander also felt that he and his men were in an ‘unholy land’ and had to fight in ‘unholy ways’ in order to achieve victory.

As for the Scythians, their form of guerrilla-like warfare has gone unnoticed for thousands of years, but every so often hordes (camps) from the east have pushed successfully west. Nevertheless, the methods of these steppe peoples are very unorthodox, innovative, and asymmetrical. They fight without touching you and deceive you without notice. However, the Scythians could have given Alexander a bigger hassle, but they did not. And in turn, Alexander knew that it was best to beat them and leave them alone. Alexander the Great did not want or need the weight of Central Asia pouring down on him like lava from a volcano; it was not worth it. The Scythians would have loved if Alexander had marched into the open fields of Central Asia—but Alexander knew better.

Featured image: Another of Alexander’s important battles – The battle of Issos between Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia. Representative image only (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea


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Ward, Steven R. Immortal: a military history of Iran and its armed forces. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2009.

Madyes: Master of Asia, Historical Enigma

Top Image: Deriv; Man With Cap, Probably Scythian, Bamiyan 3-4th Century (PHGCOM/CC BY-SA 3.0) and Gold Scythian neckpiece (FreeArtLicence)

Madyes, the mysterious Scythian stepped onto the world stage. There is not a great deal of information about him, nor has his name turned up in any of the Assyrian tablets. Herodotus and Strabo are the only two writers who mention him other than Arrian, who refers to him as “Idanthyrsus.”

Herodotus provides the most information about Madyes. Most historians have read and used Herodotus’ work for their research in dealing with this matter. But what if Herodotus was wrong? This would not be a new statement by any means nor is it to meant to demean Herodotus’ work. So let us look at Herodotus’ chronology from the Scythian invasion to the massacre of the Scythians by Cyaxares.
According to Herodotus, Madyes was the son of Bartatua (Protothyes) but there is no concrete evidence for this even though some suggest he is the son of Bartatua and the Assyrian Princess. Unfortunately, no evidence says Esarhaddon handed over his daughter in marriage. That is not to say it is not possible, but it has a high likelihood of being improbable.

Herodotus tells us that Madyes “burst into Asia in pursuit of the Cimmerians whom they had driven out of Europe, and entered the Median territory.” This seems to be true to a certain extent, except for the fact that Madyes drove the Cimmerians from the battle into Europe rather than from Europe into Asia and not in the migratory sense. The sources provided by Herodotus and Strabo, along with Ashurbanipal’s inscriptions, do attest that Dugdammi’s defeat was by an outside element close to his borders and of the same ethnic stock, as both Herodotus and Strabo provide. Therefore, either Ashurbanipal paid for Madyes’ services or it is true that Bartatua married an Assyrian princess to strengthen Assyrian-Scythian relations through Bartatua’s son, Madyes. Madyes would become king of the Scythians and most likely was the nephew of Esarhaddon and cousin to Ashurbanipal, if this is true.

Now, Madyes was not king of all the Scythians, Umman-manda, or Cimmerians. However, it does seem that Madyes had a large army and possibly many provinces. His influence proved effective enough to sway Assyrian politics, as Bartatua had done to a certain degree. After Madyes took his father’s throne, Ashurbanipal may have asked him to deal with Dugdammi. Thus, according to Herodotus, Madyes defeated and chased the remaining forces of Dugdammi out of Asia and into Europe.
Herodotus goes on to say, “The Scythians, having thus invaded Media, were opposed by the Medes, who gave them battle, but, being defeated, lost their empire. The Scythians became masters of Asia.” After Madyes effectively defeated Dugdammi in 639 BCE, he thus sets off to conquer the eastern half of Dugdammi’s empire. The eastern half of Dugdammi’s empire would be the regions of Media and Mannea. Thus, the Scythians under Madyes took full control of Dugdammi’s empire. Therefore, to say, “The Scythians became masters of Asia” is incorrect and correct. It is incorrect to say the Scythians are the masters when they already had been, under Dugdammi, but it is correct to say the Scythians and other nomads have a new master by the name of Madyes.

The Scythians continued to push on conquering, for Herodotus states:

After this they marched forward with the design of invading Egypt. When they had reached Palestine, however, Psammetichus the Egyptian king met them with gifts and prayers, and prevailed on them to advance no further.

When Psammetichus became king of Egypt in 664 BCE, Assyria still held a tight grip over the country, which he was able to shake off over time, allowing him to reunite Egypt. Ashurbanipal could do little about the events transpiring in Egypt, since his borders were already buckling under pressure from systematic warfare with neighboring states. Thus, Ashurbanipal effectively pulled out of Egyptian affairs. Whether he removed Assyrian troops out of Egypt is a matter of debate, for the Assyrian inscriptions are silent on this matter, other than some reliefs that depict the issues going on in Egypt.

Assyrian troops would pull out of Philistia and the northern portions of what used to be the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 640 BCE. With Assyrian troops effectively gone from the region, Psammetichus moved into Philistia around 640 BCE, while King Josiah of Judah pushed north to retrieve the remnants of Israel shortly after 630 BCE. As for the Scythian invasion of Palestine, the year remains uncertain, but some suggest 626 BCE or shortly after.

The reason for the Scythian invasion of Palestine seems to be due in part to the destabilization of the Assyrian Empire shortly after Ashurbanipal’s death in 631 BCE. This led to the rise of his son Ashur-etil-ilani. Ashur-etil-ilani’s reign would be very short and much undocumented. Ashur-etil-ilani would be deposed of in 627 BCE by a usurper named Sin-shumu-lishir, who reigned on the throne for a year or less. With this transfer of power through what looks to be a coup d’état, the Assyrian Empire was fractured and open to foreign conquest.

Egypt at that time had been spreading its sphere of influence throughout Palestine, but how much land they controlled the further they pushed north remains unknown. It seems possible that when Sinsharishkun recaptured the throne in 626 BCE, he sent messengers to the Scythians and Cimmerians to check the Egyptian advancement. But once the Scythians arrived on the scene they were paid off by the Pharaoh, as Herodotus mentions. Another alternative as to why the Scythians may have pressed on into Palestine is that they felt the pressure of the Egyptian advancement northward. Remember, the Scythians had hegemony over the lands to the north of Palestine and felt the need to attack or at least check out their new neighbor. If so, then the Egyptians must have made an impression, for they paid off the Scythians with either a handsome gift or tribute.

Herodotus’ description shows that the Egyptians were weak in terms of military power but were rich in treasure, and therefore were able to bribe the Scythians from pillaging or conquest. In doing this, the Egyptians had exposed themselves, admitting their vulnerability, but at the same time showed their value. Treasure defeated the potential threat and allowed Egypt to carry on unopposed from the nomadic north to fight another day. The amount of money given to the Scythians must have been great, but some decided to pillage “the temple of Celestial Aphrodite” at Ascalon, where “female sickness” overcame some few of the greedy. Those suffering from the curse would be deemed, “Enarees.”

Many do not accept the Scythian invasion of Palestine, finding the “female sickness” too similar to the story found in the book of I Samuel of how the Philistines got hemorrhoids in the same area that the Scythians would pass through later on. Tales can be intermingled over time. Another argument is that the Scythians were Assyrian mercenary troops assigned to certain posts to guard Assyria’s interests and borders. This I agree with somewhat, as indicated earlier, for Assyria had pulled out of the region before the invasion took place, while others just outright reject the whole invasion. However, I do think the Scythians really did invade Palestine, for “female sickness” is our clue.

Female sickness, according to Herodotus created Enarees. The Enarees were women-like men who were soothsayers or prophets who received training from the goddess Aphrodite. These Enarees were not homosexual or transvestite, but rather transsexual, as implied by the Roman poet Ovid. Ovid tells us that these Enarees were young boys who had been castrated and says, “Ah me, that you, neither man nor woman, serve the lady; you who can’t know the mutual delights of Venus! Whoever first cut off a boy’s genitals, that one, who made the wound, should suffer it himself.” Ovid, in book 1 section 8 of the Amores, explains further concerning the process of male to female transsexual gender change. “She’s a witch, mutters magical cantrips, can make rivers run uphill, knows the best aphrodisiacs – When to use herbal brews, or the whirring bullroarer, How to extract that stuff from a mare in heat.” The women are really men, and the urine that mares in heat produced allowed them to look more feminine, as Ovid explains. He tells the men to avoid this, and states, “Put no faith in herbals and potions, abjure the deadly stuff distilled by a mare in heat.” This deadly stuff is mare’s urine. The urine from a pregnant mare is high in estrogen levels and helps males develop female sexual characteristics.
Herodotus is partially right in his statement that the Scythians pillage the temple of Aphrodite at Ascalon. Nevertheless, the temple of Aphrodite Herodotus mentions most likely was the temple of the goddess Atargatis, where emasculation was practiced among the cult followers.
The followers of Atargatis, particularly men, would dance to the music and work themselves into a frenzy of wild behavior. During the music and orgies, from among the onlookers of the frenzy, a young man taken up in the emotions of the frenzy would strip off his clothes, pick up a sword, and make a loud shout in the midst of the crowd, then castrate himself before the onlookers. Then he would run through the streets carrying his testicles in hand and from whatever house he threw his testicles in, he would receive women’s garb to wear in order to join the temple priesthood of Atargatis.
Notice that the priesthood of Atargatis is similar to the soothsayers and prophets of the Scythians. Both are castrated, both dress as women and have woman-like features. Thus, the few Scythians that pillaged the city or temple of Ascalon may not have pillaged the temple at all, but might have been caught up in the Atargatis cult. A few, if not all who were there, castrated themselves and brought the practice home, and Herodotus and many others would describe this later on. Therefore, the Scythian invasion of Palestine is proved by these two descriptions of the adoption of a local religious practice.

Besides the Scythian invasion of Palestine, Herodotus continues to explain that the Scythians went on to become masters of Media for the next twenty-eight years. That rule would end when Cyaxares invited the leaders to a banquet, rendered them defenseless by getting them drunk with wine and massacred them. Afterward, the Medes regained their empire.
Herodotus says that King Madyes reigned for those twenty-eight years, but I doubt it. If Madyes reigned for twenty–eight years, he would have to start at the death of Dugdammi, which was around 640/39 BCE, and when you subtract twenty-eight years we come to either 612/11 BCE as the year of Madyes death. But if we take The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle into account, then Madyes would have to have died much earlier, because the first time we read of Cyaxares is in The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, and according to its chronology, Cyaxares arrived on the scene in 614 BCE. Thus, Madyes was dead and his reign over Asia after defeating Dugdammi did not last twenty-eight years as Herodotus says. Therefore, Cyaxares was free to go about his business in Asia unopposed as no Scythian threat seems near or far, and it could be argued that the Scythians, who did not oppose Cyaxares, joined his forces.

Whether or not the Scythians controlled the whole of Asia for twenty-eight years is true to some extent if you consider Dugdammi and add the reign of Madyes; then you have twenty-eight years and more. Now, this is not to say Herodotus is wrong, but if one considers that from the time Nineveh fell in 612 BCE to the Battle of the Eclipse or Halys, then you would get twenty-eight years. The notion of the Medes led by Cyaxares conquering a portion of Anatolia while bringing on the downfall of Urartu may in fact have been an invention of Herodotus.

Robert Rollinger’s paper, The Median “Empire”, the End of Urartu and Cyrus’ the Great Campaign in 547 B.C. (Nabonidus Chronicle II 16), makes a great argument that it was not the Medes who made their presence felt in Anatolia, but rather the Babylonians. This is shown in the inscription provided from The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle during the seventeenth year (609 BCE) of Nabopolassar’s reign:

The king of Akkad went to help his army and … [ … ] he went up [to] Izalla and / the numerous cities in the mountains … [ … ] he set fire to their [ … ] / At that time the army of [ … ] / [ma]rched / as far as the district of Urartu. / In the land … [ … ] they plundered their [ … ].

The Babylonians in 608-607 BCE continued to attack Urartu and the surrounding area including eastern Anatolia, and according to the inscriptions, acted alone, without the help from the Medes, during the eighteenth year of Nabopolassar’s reign. Overall, The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle supports a Babylonian domination of the north, including portions of eastern Anatolia. This does not mean that the Babylonians occupied or controlled the lands mentioned;, rather they are the only ones named as having conducted military activities in the areas and having some influence over the regions for a time. At least until the arrival of Cyrus the Great in which the Nabonidus Chronicle mentions that in 547 BCE Cyrus attacked and conquered the Kingdom of Urartu, leaving behind a garrison to watch over his newly acquired territory.
Therefore, I agree with Rollinger’s conclusion concerning Herodotus and the Halys River in which he states, “Herodotus’ image of the Median “Empire” has been modeled to a high degree on the Achaemenid Empire and the Halys border seems to be a much later invention.”

Beside the twenty-eight year domination by the Scythians, Herodotus goes on further to say:

The dominion of the Scythians over Asia lasted eight-and-twenty years, during which time their insolence and oppression spread ruin on every side. For besides the regular tribute, they exacted from the several nations additional imposts, which they fixed at pleasure; and further, they scoured the country and plundered every one of whatever they could.

This description is usual applied to Madyes. However, Herodotus may be attributing to Maydes acts described in the passage carried out by someone else, such as Dugdammi. Assyrian sources remain silent about Madyes and the troubles that came with him.

If Madyes did do the things that Herodotus suggests, whom did it affect? The civilizations of Mesopotamia and Palestine, particularly Judah, seem to have escaped this ransacking. Egypt did pay a fee to the Scythians during what would have been the rule of Madyes. However, if we consider Dugdammi, mentioned in Assyrian sources, then we may have a case, for the Assyrians feared Dugdammi and it seems if anyone could get Assyria to pay tribute, Dugdammi would have been the person to do so. But even the Assyrians mention Dugdammi paying tribute to them. Therefore, I would suggest that the statement made by Herodotus is in fact much broader than he realized. In other words, if you consider the Scythians and Cimmerians from Esarhaddon to Ashurbanipal, you will find these nomadic peoples raiding and pillaging whoever they can whether it is Assyria, Lydia, or others in their vicinity. This is not to say Herodotus is wrong, but rather he is right in one sense and that is the Scythians and Cimmerians did in fact, regardless of the leader mentioned or not, before Madyes, pillage and raid. Madyes is not the pillager who is forcing tribute with ease as Herodotus tells.

As for the Scythian dominion that Herodotus speaks of, I do question whether the Scythians ruled as a single entity. It seems more plausible that they controlled Asia, not as a centralized united empire, but rather as a loose tribal community that goes about their own business, unless an outside element threatens their pastures and way of life. Consider the Assyrian inscriptions earlier in the book: the Assyrians name names, but none of chieftains seem to hold a firm grip on their own people, other than those tribes who are sympathetic to rebellion against Assyria. Once again, the only true Scythian king, according to Assyrian sources, was Dugdammi, but I am skeptical about Madyes kingship over the nomadic peoples.

During the Scythian-Cimmerian presence in Asia, most of the conquered or neighboring peoples would adopt the manners and customs of the Scythians and Cimmerians. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and others may have sent selected trainees to go to the Scythians to learn certain military skills, such as with bows and arrows, much desired by the regional powers, particularly Assyria, and then Babylonia. Thus, Scythianization became the trend from Asia Minor to the Indus valley and from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf for twenty-eight or more years. Once King Madyes died, Cyaxares hosted a banquet and invited the many Scythian chieftains, possibly in order to debate who should be king. However, the question remains, why did Cyaxares go on to massacre them?

Cyaxares invited Scythians of noble status and possibly many others, including those of non-Scythian birth. Every nomadic nation within the confines of the loosely held Scythian confederation was invited to dine and debate. As for the massacre, not everyone at the banquet was murdered.
I would suggest that the only people targeted were those that supported a continuation of an alliance with Assyria, or would protect Assyria in a time of crisis. This would be due to treaties and loyalty oaths that may have been undertaken when Madyes was alive and Assyria needed extra help in dealing with Dugdammi. The massacre that took place does not mean that Cyaxares hated the Scythian lords, but rather their continued policy of supporting the Assyrians. Remember, Cyaxares had no blood ties with the country, nor treaties or oaths to tie him to the Assyrians. Cyaxares most likely understood that a continued alliance with Assyria was dangerous due to its history of instability with neighboring countries.

There is an alternative to consider concerning the massacre: fratricide. This may be farfetched speculation, but Cyaxares actually may have been killing his brothers or cousins to acquire the throne of Madyes. Therefore, it is possible that the father of Cyaxares was Madyes.

With a weakened Assyria stumbling around due to all the previous conflicts conducted by Ashurbanipal, the time was right for war. Once the personages of power who supported Assyria were removed, Cyaxares drove out the remainder who escaped execution. The forces of Cyaxares must have been in hot pursuit of those who did not yield to his rule. Cyaxares was in charge with no real threat to challenge him since both Madyes and Ashurbanipal were now dead. Cyaxares most likely thanked the gods that these “two birds” had been killed with one stone.

By Cam Rea


Arrian. Anabasis Alexandri (Books V-VII) Indica (Book VIII). Translated by E. Iliff Robson. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 1966.

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

Glassner, Jean-Jacques and Benjamin R. Foster. Mesopotamian Chronicles. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.

Herodotus. The Histories.

Ivantchik, Askold I. Les Cimmeriens au Proche-Orient

Kristensen, Anne. Who were the Cimmerians, and where did they come from? Copenhagen: Det kongelige Danske videnskabernes selskab, 1988.

Morkot, Robert. Historical Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian Warfare. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

Na’aman, Nadav. “Chronology and History in the Late Assyrian Empire 631-619 BC.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 1991: 81:243-267.

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

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

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

Stern, Ephraim. Archaeology of the land of the Bible: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian periods, 732-332 BCE Vil II. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Tsestkhladze, Gocha R. Ancient Greeks West and East: edited by Gocha R. Tsetskhladze. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Dugdammi: The Man Who Shook Assyria

Scythian comb.jpg



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