Cultures > Cyrtians



The Cyrtians, also known as the Cyrtii, were an ancient people who inhabited the mountainous regions of western Iran, particularly in the Zagros Mountains. They are mentioned by several classical authors, including Strabo, Polybius, and Pliny the Elder. The Cyrtians played a significant role in the history of the region, especially during the time of the Achaemenid and later empires. Here’s an overview of the Cyrtians, their historical context, and their significance:

Geographical Location

  1. Zagros Mountains:
    • The Cyrtians lived primarily in the Zagros Mountains, a rugged and formidable range in western Iran. This region provided natural fortifications and made the Cyrtians well-suited to a semi-nomadic, pastoral lifestyle.
    • The exact boundaries of their territory are not well-defined, but they were known to inhabit areas that are part of modern-day Kurdistan, Lorestan, and Kermanshah provinces.

Historical References

  1. Strabo:

    • The Greek geographer Strabo mentioned the Cyrtians in his work "Geographica." He described them as a warlike people who lived in the mountainous regions and engaged in raiding and guerrilla warfare.
    • Strabo noted their presence in the service of the Parthian kings as well, indicating their military prowess and the strategic importance of their homeland.
  2. Polybius:

    • The Greek historian Polybius referenced the Cyrtians in the context of their involvement with the Parthians. He mentioned that the Parthians employed Cyrtian mercenaries due to their skills in mountain warfare.
  3. Pliny the Elder:

    • Pliny the Elder, in his "Natural History," mentioned the Cyrtians among the various tribes of the region. His accounts provide additional context to the geographical and cultural setting of the Cyrtians.

Role and Significance

  1. Military Contributions:

    • The Cyrtians were renowned for their martial abilities, particularly in mountainous terrain. Their skills in guerrilla tactics and their knowledge of the rugged landscape made them valuable allies and formidable opponents.
    • During the Achaemenid Empire, the Cyrtians would have likely been involved in local conflicts and may have served as mercenaries or auxiliary troops.
  2. Interactions with Empires:

    • The Cyrtians’ strategic location in the Zagros Mountains placed them at the crossroads of major empires, including the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian empires. Each of these empires would have had to deal with the Cyrtians, either through military campaigns or alliances.
    • Their role as mercenaries and local warriors was significant during periods of imperial conflict and expansion.
  3. Economic and Social Structure:

    • The Cyrtians were likely semi-nomadic pastoralists, relying on livestock such as sheep and goats for their livelihood. The rugged terrain of the Zagros Mountains would have been well-suited to pastoralism.
    • They also engaged in raiding and local trade, supplementing their economy through these activities. Their social structure would have been organized around tribal affiliations and kinship ties.

Cultural Aspects

  1. Language and Identity:

    • The exact linguistic and ethnic identity of the Cyrtians is not well-documented. They may have been related to other Iranian-speaking peoples of the region, such as the Medes or the Kassites.
    • Their cultural practices and identity would have been influenced by their environment and their interactions with neighboring tribes and empires.
  2. Legacy:

    • The legacy of the Cyrtians is reflected in the historical accounts of their interactions with major empires and their role as mountain warriors. Their reputation as fierce and skilled fighters persisted through the classical period.
    • The history of the Cyrtians contributes to our understanding of the complex ethnic and cultural mosaic of ancient Iran and the broader Near East.


The Cyrtians were a significant ancient people known for their martial prowess and strategic importance in the mountainous regions of western Iran. Their interactions with the Achaemenid and subsequent empires highlight their role as key players in the military and political landscape of the region. The legacy of the Cyrtians, preserved through classical references, provides valuable insights into the diverse and dynamic history of the ancient Near East.


G. Asatrian, Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds, Iran and the Caucasus, Vol.13, pp. 1–58, 2009: "Evidently, the most reasonable explanation of this ethnonym must be sought for in its possible connections with the Cyrtii (Cyrtaei) of the Classical authors."

Schmitt, Rüdiger. "CYRTIANS". Center for Iranian Studies, Encyclopædia Iranica. New York: Columbia University. Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved 2009-05-09.

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