King Cumal of Cimmeria


I'm not far into my rereading of REH's Conan stories, so there may be something that contradicts the following (and supports the RPG's statement that the Cimmerian tribes never unite against their enemies). But we know from REH's notes (The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian p. 418) that Cimmeria is ruled by a King Cumal, and I think the political structure of the Pre-Cataclysmic Picts described in the Kull fragment beginning "Three men sat..." and titled by Lin Carter as "Wizard and Warrior" might apply. Indeed, that Pictish king's name -- "We all acknowledge Nial of the Tatheli as over-king, but his rule is loose" -- as well as Bran Mak Morn's, shows how the Celts/Cimmerians and Picts weren't entirely distinct in Howard's imagination. The king doesn't levy tolls, or intervene when tribes fight except to adjudicate the details of the aftermath, and he does send forth for all tribes to join against outside attacks.

Does this work?
I have to agree with the previous poster. Most people seem to labor under the false impression that all kings fit the Medieval European model of rulership, where a defined chunk of territory was a nation with one ruler. For much of history, a king was only the lord of as much land as he could hold with military, financial and political power. Kings of the less-developed Hyborian lands were more like the kings of Greek city-states. Or there could be several kings in allegiance to a High King, as is suggested among the Celts.
And among the medieval Gaels (as among most barbarian people), who were the the descendents of the Cimmerians, a king was a king of his people, not of a land. "Kings" could well be king of a family, clan, or tribe, and there would be several kings within one group. Here is an excerpt from an Irish history I found on the web. It sounds much like what I imagine Cimmerian society to have been like.

"Politically, the Celts divided Ireland into four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht. Even before the Celts, the basic units of Irish society were the tuatha, or petty kingdoms, each of which was quite small, perhaps 150 tuatha for a population of less than 500,000. This societal structure perfectly suited the newly arrived Celts, who were predisposed -- by their ancient culture, presumably, or was it in the genes -- towards relatively small and autonomous tribal units. Indeed, a recurring theme throughout Irish history is popular resistance to strong centralized government under a strong monarch, and insistence instead upon a loose confederation of small and autonomous units of government.

Although the tuatha were autonomous, the people shared a common language (Q-Celtic) and religion (Druidism), plus a remarkably uniform rural society -- there were no towns or villages -- which included a variety of social classes, including the Brehons (judges and lawmakers), Fili (professional poets or scholars, custodians of oral history) and Druids (priests). The two principal classes were free and landed nobles, and unfree peasants (slaves, laborers, and workingmen). Nobles and peasants alike passionately loved their land, and this evolved into the ancient Brehon law of gravelkind, under which land was the common property of society, subject to the preferential (but not permanent) rights of families who worked or lived on it; and although the petit king nominally "owned" it, he did so only as trustee, i.e., he could not transfer it. Under another Brehon law, tanistry, during the tenure of any particular king, his successor was determined, and the selection was made not through inheritance, but rather by consensus or election from within a group of extended royal families that included all relations in the male line of descent for four or five generations. "

Here's a link to the site of that history:
'But some day a man will rise and unite thirty or forty clans, just as was done among the Cimmerians, when the Gundermen tried to push the border northward, years ago.'

REH, Beyond the Black River

He didn't say someone united the whole nation, just a fair number of clans. Cimmeria is large enough to hold far more clans than forty.

North of Aquilonia, the westernmost Hyborian kingdom, are the Cimmerians, ferocious savages, untamed by the invaders, but advancing rapidly because of contact with them; they are the descendants of the Atlanteans, now progressing more rapidly than their old enemies the Picts, who dwell in the wilderness west of Aquilonia.

Robert E. Howard, The Hyborian Age

Clans of ferocious savages rarely have a united kingdom.

The country claimed by and roved over by his clan lay in the northwest of Cimmeria, but Conan was of mixed blood, although a pure-bred Cimmerian. His grandfather was a member of a southern tribe who had fled from his people because of a blood-feud and after long wanderings, eventually taken refuge with the people of the north.

Robert E. Howard, Letter to P.S. Miller

The clans of Cimmeria have blood-feuds with each other, another piece of evidence against a unified country.

'I never saw another Cimmerian who drank aught but water, or who ever laughed, or ever sang save to chant dismal dirges.'

'Perhaps it's the land they live in,' answered Conan. 'A gloomier land never existed on earth. It is all of hills, heavily wooded, and the trees are strangely dusky to that even by day all the land looks dark and menacing. As far as a man may see his eye rests on the endless vistas of hills beyond hills; the skies are nearly always gray. Winds blow sharp and cold, driving rain or sleet or snow before them, and moan drearily among the passes and down the valleys. There is little mirth in that land.'

'Little wonder men grow moody there,' quoth Prospero with a shrug of his shoulders, thinking of the smiling sun-washed plains and blue lazy rivers of Poitain, Aquilonia's southern-most province.

'Strange and moody, indeed,' answered Conan. 'Life seems bitter and hard and futile. The men of those dark hills brood overmuch on unknown things. They dream monstrous dreams. Their gods are Crom and his dark race, and they believe the ghosts go wailing forevermore. They have no hope here or hereafter, and they brood too much on the emptiness of life. I have seen the strange madness of futility fall upon them when a little thing like a spinning dust cloud, or the hollow crying of a bird, or the moan of the wind through bare branches brought to their gloomy minds the empiness of life and the vainness of existence. Only in war are the Cimmerians happy.'

Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword (draft)

Since the Cimmerians are elsewhere described as raiding occasionally into Pictland, Gunderland, Hyperborea, and Nordheim (and explicitly said not to be a war), then these wars must be inter-tribal, which again implies the lack of a unified king.

Keep in mind, that same document you are using indicates kings of Asgard and Vanaheim, which are also contra-indicated in the stories.

'Tall and fair and blue-eyed. Their god is Ymir, the frost giant, and each tribe has its own king. They are wayward and fierce. They fight all day and drink ale and roar their wild songs all night.'

R. E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword (I did the underlining for emphasis)

Also he indicates Brythunia was to the south of Aquilonia, which is something else he later changed. I think it is best to regard that document as evidence of brainstorming, but not canonical information.

That said, it is your campaign, and if you want a Cimmerian king, go for it!
Thanks. That first quote seems clearest -- though perhaps that man was Cumal, and he called himself king though not all Cimmerians served him -- just a particularly powerful chief, not a king as the Hyborean nations have, or some scenario as James describes. Otherwise, the Picts of Kull's time were also ferocious savages, with warring tribes, and they had the king Nial mentioned just in that fragment. So it looks inconclusive to me, and maybe Howard wasn't sure since he never brought the focus on Cimmeria.
As an example one might point to the Shoguns of Japan. At one point a Shogun succeeded in uniting all the clans, but before that it varied from shogun to shogun.
When the Mongols tried to communicate with the "King of Japan", there was only the Emperor, who even then was a figurehead, and a shogun, who only united a few clans...