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The Gutians were a tribe from northern and central ranges of Zagros mountains that overran southern Mesopotamia when the Akkadian empire collapsed in approximately 2154 BC. Sumerian sources portray the Gutians as a barbarous, ravenous people from Gutium or Qutium (Sumerian: Gu-tu-umki or Gu-ti-umki) in the mountains, presumably the central Zagros east of Babylon and north of Elam. Gutium is also mentioned based in modern-day Kurdistan. The Sumerian king list represents them as ruling over Sumer for a short time after the fall of the Akkadian Empire, and paints a picture of chaos within the Gutian administration.
Next to nothing is known about their origins, as no "Gutian" artifacts have surfaced from that time (comment: statues claiming to be of Gutians are fakes or misidentified); little information is gleaned from the contemporary sources. Nothing is known of their language either, apart from those Sumerian king names, and that it was distinct from other known languages of the region (such as Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite and Elamite).
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. 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 in Akkad. 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".
Gutian dynasty of Sumer
As Akkadian might went into a decline, the Gutians began to practice hit-and-run tactics on Mesopotamia; they would be long gone by the time forces could arrive to deal with the situation. Their raids crippled the economy of Sumer. Travel became unsafe, as did work in the fields, resulting in famine. The Gutians eventually overran Akkad, and as the King List tells us, their army also subdued Uruk for hegemony of Sumer — although it seems that autonomous rulers soon arose again in a number of city-states, notably Gudea of Lagash. The Gutians also seem to have briefly overrun Elam at the close of Kutik-Inshushinak's reign, around the same time. and in an inscribed statue of Gutian king Erridupizir at Nippur, in imitation of his Akkadian predecessors, he assumes the title "King of Gutium, King of the Four Quarters".
According to the Sumerian king list, "In the army of Gutium, at first no king was famous; they were their own kings and ruled thus for 3 years."
The Weidner Chronicle, of some 1500 years later, portrays the Gutian kings as uncultured and uncouth:
"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 Sumerian ruler Utu-hengal of Uruk is similarly credited on the King List with defeating the Gutian ruler Tirigan, and removing the Guti from the country (ca. 2050 BC (short)). Following this, Ur-Nammu of Ur had their homeland of Gutium devastated, though according to one lengthy Sumerian poem, he died in battle with the Gutians, after having been abandoned by his own army.
Gutium as a later geographic term
In the first millennium BC, the term "Gutium" was used to refer to the region between the Zagros and the Tigris, also known as western Media. All tribes to the east and northeast who often had hostile relations with the peoples of lowland Mesopotamia, were referred to as Gutian or Guti. Assyrian royal annals use the term Gutians to refer to Iranian populations otherwise known as Medes or Mannaeans; and as late as the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the famous general Gubaru (Gobryas) was described as the "governor of Gutium".
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. 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". 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).
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. Gelb in response accused Speiser of circular reasoning. In response Speiser claimed the scholarship regarding the translation of "namrum" or "namrûtum" is unresolved.
Modern connection theories
The historical Guti have been regarded by some as among the ancestors of the Kurds. 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.
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 many scholars today, in the absence of further evidence.