Cultures > Gutium



The Gutian period of Sumerian history occurred around 2150 BCE when Akkad was destabilized by invading Gutium from the Zagros Mountains. Nearly nothing is known about their true origins other than the fact that they first appeared by practicing guerrilla terrorist tactics on the cities of Sumer. They acted as ancient highwayman, robbing travelers and making the roads and travel generally unsafe. Due to their hit and run methods they would disappear before troop guards could arrive. During this period the King of Uruk known as Ur-Utu was defeated by these marauders and they eventually moved on to destroy Akkad and the rest of the Akkadian army in 2115 BCE. This invasion by the Gutians did not displace all of the autonomous city-states as many continued to exist uninterrupted by the conflict.

The Gutians were horrible rulers however, and prosperity in Sumer declined greatly. Since they were a more used to warfare and nomadic society they had no idea how to maintain the vast canal and irrigation networks essential to support massive cities in the region. Under Gutian rule the massive irrigation canal systems failed resulting in widespread famine and death. This resulted in a period of Mesopotamian Dark Ages that also resulted in the complete and utter destruction of the Akkadian capital Akkad and the collapse of the Akkadian Empire.

Many city-states were able to avoid the utter destruction of their city due to warfare or incompetence by paying tribute to these invading Gutians. After a few kings the Gutians began to develop a better sense of how to govern the territories but by then it was too late. By 2050 BCE the Gutians were pushed out of the region by a rebellion from Uruk and Ur. Soon king Utu-hegal of Uruk defeated the Gutian king Tirigan and the victory appeared to revive growth throughout the region and southern Sumer saw a revitalization of its economies and infrastructure. It was during this time that the spoke-wheeled chariot was invented, which may have contributed to the military victories over the Gutians. The Gutian people are regarded by some researchers and historians as the ancestors of the modern day Kurdish people who reside in northern Iraq and parts of Turkey and Syria.


The Gutians are a mysterious people whose origins are unknown. Nothing is known about their language, there are hardly any Gutian artifacts and pretty much the only thing we do know are the kings that ruled over Sumer for a period of time.

The Guti appear in Old Babylonian copies of inscriptions ascribed to Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab as among the nations providing his empire tribute. These inscriptions locate them between Subartu in the north, and Marhashe and Elam in the south. They were a prominent nomadic tribe who lived in the Zagros mountains in the time of the Akkadian Empire. Sargon the Great also mentions them among his subject lands, listing them between Lullubi, Armanu and Akkad to the north, and Nikku and Der to the south. According to one stele, Naram-Sin of Akkad's army of 360,000 soldiers defeated the Gutian king Gula'an, despite losing 90,000 slain by the Gutians. The epic Cuthaean Legend of Naram-Sin of a later millennium mentions Gutium among the lands around Mesopotamia raided by Annubanini of Lulubum during Naram-Sin's reign.[7] Contemporary year-names for Shar-kali-sharri of Akkad indicate that in one unknown year of his reign, he captured Sharlag king of Gutium, while in another year, "the yoke was imposed on Gutium".[8] According to the historian Henry Hoyle Howorth (1901), Assyriologist Theophilus Pinches (1908), renowned archaeologist Leonard Woolley (1929) and Assyriologist Ignace Gelb (1944) the Gutians were pale skinned and blonde haired.[12][13][14][15] This identification of the Gutians as fair haired first came to light when Julius Oppert (1877) published a set of tablets he had discovered which described Gutian (and Subarian) slaves as namrum or namrûtum, meaning "light colored" or "fair-skinned".[16][17] This racial character of the Gutians as blondes or being light skinned was also taken up by Georges Vacher de Lapouge in 1899 and later by historian Sidney Smith in his Early history of Assyria (1928).[18][19] Ephraim Avigdor Speiser however criticised the translation of "namrum" as "light colored". An article was published by Speiser in the Journal of the American Oriental Society attacking Gelb's translation.[20] Gelb in response accused Speiser of circular reasoning.[21] In response Speiser claimed the scholarship regarding the translation of "namrum" or "namrûtum" is unresolved.[22]


Reign Over Sumer

As the Akkadian Empire fell into decline the Gutians began to practice guerrilla tactics on the cities and trade routes of ancient Mesopotamia. Eventually their raids crippled the trade and economy of Sumer and both travel and work in the fields became unsafe. This resulted in famine as grain prices skyrocketed and widespread social chaos.

During this time the Gutians invaded the city of Akkad and Uruk as well. This led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and a period of dark ages for Mesopotamia. It does not appear the Gutians were able to take over every city for example the city of Lagash was able to retain independence under King Gudea. The Gutians soon overran neighboring Elam as well close to the reign of Kutik-Inshushinak.

After conquering the Akkadian Empire, Sumer and Elam it appears the Gutians began to adopt some of the culture. For example the Gutian king Erridupizir at the city of Nippur began calling himself "King of Gutium, King of the Four Quarters", much like the Akkadian kings before him.

There was one minor victory over the Gutians during this period. The Sumerian ruler named Utu-hengal is credited with defeating the Gutian ruler Tirigan and removing the Gutians from the country for a short period of time around 2,050 BCE. However, the Gutians were pushed further towards Ur where they encountered and defeated Ur-Nammu. The result was devastation and accordign to one Sumerian poem he was killed in battle with the Gutians after being abandoned by the army of Ur.


By 1000 BCE the Gutians had actually developed their own civilization that was referred to as Gutium that spanned from the Zagros Mountains to the Tigris River. It was also known as western Media and came to include all of the tribes that were east and northeast of Mesopotamia that were hostile to the people living in the fertile crescent.

In fact the term Gutian would come to mean anyone from Media until the reign of Cyrus the Great who would conquer Media and neighboring civilizations to form the Achaemenid Empire.

Gutian Language

The Gutian language (/ˈɡuːtiən/; also Qutian) was spoken by the Gutian people, who briefly ruled over Sumer during the Gutian dynasty of Sumer around 2100 BCE. The Gutians lived in the territory between the Zagros and the Tigris in present-day Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan. Nothing is known about the language except its existence and a list of Gutian ruler names in the Sumerian king list. The existence is attested by a list of languages spoken in the region, found in a clay tablet from the Middle Babylonian period presumably originating from the city of Emar,[2]:p.13 which also lists Akkadian, Amorite, Sutean, "Subarean" (Hurrian), and Elamite. There is also record of "an interpreter for the Gutean language" at Adab.[3][4] The Gutian king names from the Sumerian list are Inkishush, Zarlagab, Shulme (or Yarlagash), Silulumesh (or Silulu), Inimabakesh (Duga), Igeshaush (or Ilu-An), Yarlagab, Ibate, Kurum, Apilkin, La-erabum, Irarum, Ibranum, Hablum, Puzur-Suen, Yarlaganda, Si-um and Tirigan. Based on these names, some scholars claim that the Gutian language was neither Semitic nor Indo-European, and was unrelated to the languages spoken around it.[2] However, according to Tamaz V. Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, Gutian language was close to Tocharian languages of the Indo-European family.[5]

Modern Relations

The historical Guti have been regarded by some as among the ancestors of the Kurds.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] However, the term Guti had by late antiquity become a "catch all" term to describe all tribal peoples in the Zagros region, and according to J.P. Mallory, the original Gutians precede the arrival of Indo-Iranian peoples (of which the Kurds are one) by some 1500 years.[30] In the late 19th-century, Assyriologist Julius Oppert sought to connect the Gutians of remote antiquity with the later Gutones (Goths), whom Ptolemy in 150 AD had known as the "Guti" , a tribe of Scandia. Oppert's theory on this connection is not shared by any scholars today, in the absence of further evidence, but it persistently shows up in so-called Pro-Aryan media.


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Secondary Sources