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Publisher's Summary


  • Includes excerpts of ancient accounts 
  • Includes a bibliography for further listening 
  • Includes a table of contents  

“Naram-Sin destroyed the people of Babylon, so twice Marduk summoned the forces of Gutium against him. Marduk gave his kingship to the Gutian force. The Gutians were unhappy people unaware how to revere the gods, ignorant of the right cultic practices. Utu-hengal, the fisherman, caught a fish at the edge of the sea for an offering. That fish should not be offered to another god until it had been offered to Marduk, but the Gutians took the boiled fish from his hand before it was offered, so by his august command, Marduk removed the Gutian force from the rule of his land and gave it to Utu-hengal.” (The Weidner Chronicle, 6th century BCE)

World history is replete with many examples of nomadic barbarian hordes that swept into the kingdoms and countries of sedentary peoples, often leaving just as quickly as they had come. Sometimes, the hordes stayed in the territories they conquered and adopted the cultural attributes of the more sophisticated sedentary groups. It is important to know that barbarian invasions throughout history were usually not led by individuals or groups that hated or wanted to see the larger, often more powerful sedentary kingdoms or empires destroyed. Instead, they want a “taste” of it, and in many examples, they wanted to rule with the same style and ideology as the kingdom they had replaced. Many Sea Peoples bands of the eastern Mediterranean in the 13th century BCE entered the region as invaders and pirates, but many stayed and either assimilated into the sedentary kingdoms after their raids or even formed their own kingdoms, such as the Philistines, who were heavily influenced by the older kingdoms. 

The Turkic nomads, Mongols, and other nomads of the steppe in the Middle Ages are another example of this phenomenon. These groups entered Europe and the Near East as classic hordes in every sense of the word, but after hundreds of years, they became part of the Christian and Islamic states in the region. Perhaps the best examples of this process is are the Germanic tribes who entered Europe, helping to bring down the Roman Empire while adopting countless aspects of Roman culture in the process, including elements of language, government, and religion. 

The ancient Gutians are probably not one of the groups that come to most people’s minds when they think of barbarian hordes, but they were among the most important in the Bronze Age Near East. Little is known about the Gutians before they entered the historical record around 2200 BCE. in Mesopotamia, and even after that point, the contemporary records are open to interpretation because they are obviously biased against the outsiders. Since the Gutians had no written language, most of what modern scholars know about them has come from the works written by various groups in Mesopotamia, but they viewed the Gutians as uncivilized invaders, and with a healthy amount of fear and revulsion. 

Given their foreign status and the fact that they forcibly conquered parts of Mesopotamia when they entered the historical record, the memory of the Gutians survived in Mesopotamia long after their short-lived dynasty had been overthrown. They continued to live on as a literary trope of what could happen if societies ignored their ancient cultural practices, particularly the worship of the gods and the proper maintenance of their cults. With this in mind, it is important to approach any proper study of the Gutians with the realization that nearly everything historians know about them comes from people who viewed them with absolute contempt, but along with that and available archaeological evidence, it is possible to get an idea of what the Gutians’ history was truly like.

©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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