?Another five centuries and the Hybori peoples are the possessors of a civilization so virile that contact with it virtually snatched out of the wallow of savagery such tribes as it touched. The most powerful kingdom is Aquilonia, but others vie with it in strength and mixed race; the nearest to the ancient root-stock are the Gundermen of Gunderland, a northern province of Aquilonia. But this mixing has not weakened the race. They are supreme in the western world, though the barbarians of the wastelands are growing in strength.? ? The Hyborian Age
As the most prominent of the Hyborian Nations, I feel it's only fair that Aquilonia should get her own thread to follow Acheron & the others.
In recent years, there's been quite a lot of confusion regarding the nature of Aquilonia, specifically whether it's a "Classical" or "Middle Ages" kingdom in flavour: Aquilonia is depicted either as a fantastic Roman Empire, or a long-lost High Medieval kingdom. Obviously the correct answer is "neither - it's Aquilonia!", but hopefully this topic can set the record straight in terms of what Howard said on the matter.
For starters, let's have a look at the possible "Roman" links to Aquilonia:
Many Aquilonians have distinctly Latin names: Tiberio, Publius, Servius, Soractus, Valeria/en/us. However, this is not inclusive, as some names are Greek, such as Pallantides, Dion, Epe(i)us, Thespius, Tiberias. Others are Greco-Latin adoptions of Gallic, Germanic or Indo-European, such as Albiona & Amalric. Some I can't even tell: Arpello, Attelius, Valannus, Vilerus, Volmana and Zelata all *sound* vaguely Greco-Latin, or at least Indo-European. There are Latin-inspired place names too, such as Pellia, Amilius, and Aquilonia itself, and others like Shamar & Tanasul that aren't.
Anyone else want to join in?
EDIT: Aquilonia Annotations
As promised, here are some of my thoughts on Aquilonia. I've had a bit of a time trying to correlate all the Aquilonia information, as of all the lands in the Hyborian Age, Aquilonia is undoubtedly the one we know most about. Aquilonia is detailed most thoroughly in the three King Conan stories, "The Phoenix on the Sword", "The Scarlet Citadel" and "The Hour of the Dragon", though a wealth of information can be found in the Pict tales "Beyond the Black River" and "Wolves Beyond the Border". To start off, let's have a look at Aquilonia's debut...
"The Phoenix on the Sword"
"But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west."
The second half of that sentence is one of my very favourite Howardisms: a touch of the romantic in a strong couplet. It also states in no uncertain terms that Aquilonia is the shining jewel of the west, in a world of such glorious kingdoms. It's a bit of a shame we never get to see much of Brythunia or Ophir, as although Aquilonia, Nemedia, Koth et al are recognizably of the same root stock, they're all still distinct from each other.
"Over shadowy spires and gleaming towers lay the ghostly darkness and silence that runs before dawn. Into a dim alley, one of a veritable labyrinth of mysterious winding ways, four masked figures came hurriedly from a door which a dusky hand furtively opened."
In a few sentences, Howard depicts a pretty evocative picture of Aquilonia's capital. "Spires" are a hallmark of gothic architecture, used as a symbol of spiritual pride - reaching up to the heavens - and to assert the city's wealth through grand architecture. Spires are most commonly seen adorning cathedrals and churches: in the absense of Christianity in the Hyborian Age, the spires of this city may be found on temples of Mitra. Indeed, they may even have no religious connotations at all, and could fill any number of purposes. What is important is that to construct spires requires quite impressive engineering ability, at least High Medieval. A case could be made that the "spires" referred to monuments similar to Egyptian Obelisks, Roman Steles or Islamic Minarets: however, Howard was quite precise in his descriptions, so it is my opinion that spires are spires, and not just shorthand for "big skinny towers".
It occured to me upon re-reading that, bizarrely, we don't actually know which city the story is set in! It's pretty obviously a major city where Conan's citadel can be found, but the question of Aquilonia's actual capital is a bit tricky in general. In "The Scarlet Citadel", the capital is Tamar: in "The Hour of the Dragon", it is Tarantia. I can think of a few explanations:
1. Tamar and Tarantia are two different cities which both served as capital at one time. Conan could have used Tamar as the capital in the beginning, and later moved to Tarantia. This is not uncommon in history, happening all the time as nations expanded and contracted their territory.
2. Tamar and Tarantia are one and the same. One could be an old name for the city, or possibly a reference to different districts. This is quite a likely situation, as the "Teamhair na R?" connection between the two words could allow, say, Tamar to be the the name of the original settlement, and Tarantia the name of the city proper.
3. Tamar and Tarantia are BOTH the capitals. There are a few examples of two cities in a country where a city is the economic, cultural and population centre of a country, but the seat of government is located elsewhere. Thus it could be possible that Tarantia is the great city of Aquilonia, but Tamar is the effective capital where the kingdom's decisions are made. Hence when Aquilonia is being invaded but is still intact, Conan takes a dragon taxi to Tamar, but when Aquilonia is half conquered, he makes a beeline to Tarantia.
I can see all three being reasonable, personally: though I kind of like the idea of dual capitals, the fact that Tamar and Tarantia aren't referred to outside their respective stories seems to indicate a change in venue. I'm open to opinions on the matter, but frankly the similarity of the two names has me leeaning towards 2. I'm also not entirely sure whether "Phoenix" is set in Tamar or Tarantia: I'd like to see others' thoughts on that matter. Anyway, moving on:
The Throne Room
"The room was large and ornate, with rich tapestries on the polished-panelled walls, deep rugs on the ivory floor, and with the lofty ceiling adorned with intricate carvings and silver scrollwork. Behind an ivory, gold-inlaid writing-table sat a man whose broad shoulders and sun-browned skin seemed out of place among those luxuriant surroundings."
Howard really loved his ivory: ivory floors, ivory altars, great round domes of ivory... and that's just the women! *rimshot* As with the gigantic ivory dome in "Black Colossus", Howard seemed to be hinting at something with this. Either the Hyborians had some incredible lost artistic talent, or there are some gargantuan elephants in the Hyborian Age. Although BC and HotD were mere glimmers in Howard's eye at this point, I still like to consider this another link with Acheron. Kuthchemes utilized the scientifically impossible in its architecture: the ivory floors and furniture could be antiques from Acheronian times. Of course, they could also be a reference to some other material similar to ivory, but where's the fun in that?
Conan's Sleeping Chamber
"Alone in the great sleeping chamber with its high golden dome King Conan slumbered and dreamed."
"High Golden Dome" indicates that in addition to spires, the Aquilonians could construct arches pretty well.
"The giant drew a deep breath and launched his mighty frame against the panels, which groaned and bent at the impact. Again he crouched and plunged. With a snapping of bolts and a rending crash of wood, the door splintered and burst inward."
Either Gromel's a veritable juggernaut, or Aquilonian carpentry leads a lot to be desired. I'd be inclined to the former, personally: men were men in the Hyborian Age!
"True; there had been lack of time to don the heavy plumed casque, or to lace in place the sideplates of the cuirass, nor was there now time to snatch the great shield from the wall."
Ever the cautious barbarian, Conan keeps his armour and weapons close to hand. The armour in this case appears to be based on medieval casques and cuirasses.
"... Conan leaped to the wall and tore therefrom an ancient battle-ax which, untouched by time, had hung there for half a century."
This axe is a nice little mystery: what significance, if any, did it have to be placed on the wall? Was it merely to be ornamental, or was placed to serve its deadly function in an emergency? Was it Aquilonian in origin, or a campaign trophy? Perhaps 50 years ago a great Aquilonian king defeated its wielder in combat: a Nemedian king, a mercenary warlord... a Cimmerian high-king?
Crown Jewels of Aquilonia
"In that instant Ascalante beheld, on a small table near the royal couch, the silver scepter and the slender gold circlet which was the crown of Aquilonia, and the sight maddened him with desire."
The Crown of Aquilonia appears to be more of a diadem or circlet than the more grandiose headgear of renaissance or modern crowns. I picture something like a thinner version of the Iron Crown of Lombardy, though with dragon imagery, or perhaps a wee diorama of the fall of Acheron.
"Now he laid down the golden stylus with which he had been laboriously scrawling on waxed papyrus..."
The use of Papyrus is a bit of a puzzle to me, since by definition, papyrus is made from the pith of the papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus). Quite why Conan uses Papyrus as opposed to parchment (which is mentioned in a few tales) or paper (which is alluded to in metaphor but not directly described) is unclear: I would guess that parchment is viewed as the paper of choice, but papyrus has some sort of cultural significance, perhaps linked to its ancient practise in Egypt-like Stygia aaaaaaand... you guessed it, Acheron!
"Already they openly sing The Lament for the King in which Rinaldo lauds the sainted villain and denounces Conan as 'that black-hearted savage from the abyss.' Conan laughs, but the people snarl."
"They have put a statue of that swine in the temple of Mitra, and people go and wail before it, hailing it as the holy effigy of a saintly monarch who was done to death by a red-handed barbarian."
Says much for Conan's character that he merely laughs at the people's 180 on Namedides, and doesn't just order the statue be torn down and the sculptor beheaded! Although saints are frequently considered a Christian phenomenon, the idea of a person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to their faith is certainly one shared by many religions - however, of Hyborian religions, Mitra alone has saints. "Saints of heaven" are mentioned by Trocero in HotD, indicating another interesting similarity to Christianity.
The Hall of Epimitreus
Now the mists grew lighter and he saw that he was in a great dark corridor that seemed to be cut in solid black stone. It was unlighted, but by some magic he could see plainly. The floor, ceiling and walls were highly polished and gleamed dull, and they were carved with the figures of ancient heroes and half-forgotten gods. He shuddered to see the vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones, and he knew somehow that mortal feet had not traversed the corridor for centuries.
He came upon a wide stair carved in the solid rock, and the sides of the shaft were adorned with esoteric symbols so ancient and horrific that King Conan's skin crawled. The steps were carven each with the abhorrent figure of the Old Serpent, Set, so that at each step he planted his heel on the head of the Snake, as it was intended from old times. But he was none the less at ease for all that.
A marked contrast to what we've seen of Aquilonian architecture, Epimitreus and Mitra could have their own thread. Nonetheless, I'll mention some thoughts here. Along with some other places like Tanasul, Golamira is pretty much a Howard Original.
The Legend of Epimitreus
"Men say you sleep in the black heart of Golamira, whence you send forth your ghost on unseen wings to aid Aquilonia in times of need..."
The messianic return of a great cultural hero to assist the people when they need them most is a common enough legend, most famously in Arthurian and Jewish traditions. Howard would expand on the Arthurian mythological aspect in HotD.
Set worship in Aquilonia?
Ages ago Set coiled about the world like a python about its prey. All my life, which was as the lives of three common men, I fought him. I drove him into the shadows of the mysterious south, but in dark Stygia men still worship him who to us is the archdemon.
Why does Epimitreus favour Aquilonia in particular over other Mitra-worshipping kingdoms? I would presume that Set worship was considered the "religion of the enemy" in newly founded Aquilonia, and was thus banned. HOWEVER... Epimitreus was considered dead 1,500 years ago. Acheron fell 3,000 years ago: if Epimitreus worked during his lifetime to rid the West from Set and his acolytes, and helped drive them south to Stygia, then the only option is that Set was still being worshipped in Aquilonia thousands of years after the fall of Acheron!
This might not be as strange as it sounds: Set worship is very pervasive, being around long before humanity and will likely outlive it. Set worship likely STILL exists in Aquilonia, in the underground and dark hills of Acheronian descendents: there may well have been a powerful Setite undercurrent for thousands of years after Acheron's fall. It's possible that a few centuries after the fall of Acheron, there was a major resurgence of Set worship, usurping Bori and threatening to bring about a second Acheron. Then, Mitra and his saints (and Ibis and Asura) come into play, driving Set into Stygia.
"The maps of the court show well the countries of south, east and west, but in the north they are vague and faulty. I am adding the northern lands myself. Here is Cimmeria, where I was born. And -"
"Asgard and Vanaheim," Prospero scanned the map. "By Mitra, I had almost believed those countries to have been fabulous."
It's interesting that the Aquilonians seem to know more about the Pictish lands than those of the Cimmerians: it's probably because the eastern shore could be graphed, and so the outline of the wilderness could be detailed. No such luck with Cimmeria.
It's also interesting that an "adventurer" like Prospero could imagine Nordheim to be fictional, given the fact that he seems to have actually met other Cimmerians. The only nation that would have direct experience to the contrary would be the Cimmerians and Hyperboreans, and possibly the Picts. While one can imagine why one couldn't ask the barbarians for geographical knowledge, it's quite a cool indirect reference to Hyperborea's insularity that one of their neighbours would be considered a mere myth as far north as Aquilonia.
"Who are they to match wits with Ascalante? Volmana, the dwarfish count of Karaban; Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion; Dion, the fat baron of Attalus; Rinaldo, the hare-brained minstrel."
"...Count Trocero of Poitain, seneschal of Aquilonia..."
Counts, Barons, Seneschals and Minstrels are all very Medieval European terms. Counts may argue descent from imperial "Comes", but barons, seneschals and minstrels are definately Middle Ages in etymology and nature. Volmana and Dion appear to be "hereditary" nobles, although Conan promises titles to those who would aid or impress him, indicating that titles as rewards would be commonplace.
"Volmana wishes to be reinstated in royal favor as he was under the old regime, so that he may lift his poverty-ridden estates to their former grandeur."
I guess Volmana bet on the wrong horse in the War of the Barons. One of Conan's biggest problems as King is in not getting rid of people who are likely to cause him trouble: I wouldn't consider this an example of Conan's naivete (he is pretty perceptive of such intrigue in his later years), more an example of his enemy's cunning, and the fatal underestimation of their foe.
Then a medley of voices reached his ears, and the room was thronged with the finally roused people of the court - knights, peers, ladies, men-at-arms, councillors - all babbling and shouting and getting in one another's way.
More examples of the Medieval aspect of Aquilonia.
"The sun was setting, etching the green and hazy blue of the forest in brief gold. The waning beams glinted on the thick golden chain which Dion of Attalus twisted continually in his pudgy hand as he sat in the flaming riot of blossoms and flower?trees which was his garden. He shifted his fat body on his marble seat and glanced furtively about, as if in quest of a lurking enemy. He sat within a circular grove of slender trees, whose interlapping branches cast a thick shade over him. Near at hand a fountain tinkled silverly, and other unseen fountains in various parts of the great garden whispered an everlasting symphony."
Here we see a description of Dion's country estate, full of lush foliage and opulent fountains. It certainly sounds like a Mediterranean escape, with some minor Shakespearean overtones.
The Black Legion
One military unit referred to here and never mentioned again is the Black Legion:
"...Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion..."
"... That leaves only the king's personal bodyguard in the city - besides the Black Legion."
"After the deed is done, even if the people do not rise to welcome us, Gromel's Black Legion will be sufficient to hold the city and the crown."
What was this Black Legion? A few clues can be found in historical examples: the most likely inspiration, to me, is the Black Brunswickers, who were also known as the Black Horde and the Black Legion. They wore black broadcloth, and their caps featured the Totenkopf military insignia: a silver skull and crossbones. The BB had a ferocious reputation during the Napoleonic Wars, and were very popular among the Victorians, inspiring some famous artwork and statues, most notably "The Black Brunswicker" by John Everett Millais.
Given Howard's partialness to stick a few gunpowder-era references into the Hyborian Age - the Kozaks/Cossacks being a notable other example - I can imagine the Aquilonian Black Legion being similar in some respects. My theory is that the Black Legion were a mercenary force raised by Gromel during the War of the Barons, taking advantage of the abundant bloodshed between the squabbling nobles to get a bit of action. When Conan became a force to be reckoned with, Gromel saw the writing on the wall, and joined with him: his army of mostly common or low-nobility soldiers would likely side with Conan anyway. As the historical Black Legion was composed of infantry, cavalry and artillery, I'd imagine the Aquilonian BL was similarly diverse: perhaps mostly infantry spearmen, with some Bossonian regiments (Gromel being Bossonian himself) and a mix of light and heavy cavalry.
What happened to the Black Legion after "The Phoenix on the Sword"? My guess is they were disbanded, the soldiers either going off to new pastures or joining the existing Aquilonian army. We never hear from the Black Legion again in Citadel or HotD, so it's likely without Gromel it dissolved, though it would be nice to imagine there's still a small battalion of soldiers in black with silver Death's Head regalia somewhere about Aquilonia.
"Days ago I saw the imperial squadrons ride from the city..."
"And Volmana made it possible to dispose of the rest of the imperial troops which remained in the city..."
"...he'll be accompanied by an imperial escort, as well as his own troops..."
"Your only danger is assassination, and that's impossible, with men of the imperial troops guarding you day and night."
These references to "imperial soldiers" are quite intriguing to me, as they obviously indicate some sort of Imperial slant to Aquilonia, many years before the events of "The Hyborian Age". Both Thoth-Amon and Prospero use the term "imperial" in relation to soldiers, so one can't put it down to one character's personal quirk. This sits somewhat ill-at-ease with Conan's later dismissal of Trocero's plea for empire-building in HotD. So if Conan isn't interested in forging an empire (yet), why the Imperial Soldiers?
The most obvious answer to me is that this is a relic of Namedides. This is the first story to feature Conan as King, and also the earliest chronologically, meaning that he hasn't quite made his mark yet. As such, it's likely to me that the imperial soldiers referred to are a result of Namedides' political ambitions. We have an idea of how rough Aquilonia was in the War of the Barons, but we don't seem to know what other countries felt about it. What if one of the reasons for the War of the Barons was a result of attempted conquest of other nations? A costly, failed invasion of Nemedia, Zingara, Ophir or barbarian lands could have ignited the internal conflict. It could also offer an interesting new light on Koth and Ophir's betrayal in "Citadel": perhaps Ophir's nobles felt justified in betraying Aquilonia if they themselves were treated poorly by Aquilonia. Perhaps the chaos Zingara's in in HotD is also a result of Namedides' imperial ambitions. Indeed, Numa of Nemedia seemed quite amicable with Conan: could it be because of his less cordial relationship with Namedides, so sour that he'd prefer a red-handed barbarian as a fellow statesman?
Whatever it is, Imperial soldiers, squadrons and troops are not referred to in either of the other King Conan tales: this suggests that they no longer exist, as artefacts of Aquilonia's aggressive and imperialist nature before Conan came in to shake things up. Exactly what these Imperial Troops were is unclear, but I think it's just a reference to their status than any particular difference in organization, equipment or nature: they're likely composed of the same tough dudes like Valannus and Tiberias, just under a different name.
The Black Dragons
"Gromel hates Pallantides, commander of the Black Dragons"
"The mercenaries are ours, and the Black Dragons, and every rogue in Poitain swears by you."
"They crowded back behind a cluster of carven pillars, and almost immediately ten giants in black armor swung by at a measured pace."
"The Black Dragons were on hand, wild with rage, swearing and ruffling, with their hands on their hilts and foreign oaths in their teeth."
Like the Black Legion, the Black Dragons make their only direct appearance in "Phoenix". Did it also seemingly disappear in the subsequent stories, or did it continue, with its name merely omitted? I think it's possible that, like the "Imperial Troops", the Black Dragons were a relic of Aquilonia's imperial phase, and that they were phased out during Conan's rule. However, it's also possible that they continued as Conan's bodyguard, since Pallantides continues to be his top general in the other King Conan tales, and they seemed far more loyal to Conan than the Black Legion.
The Black Dragons appear to employ "giants", and intriguingly swear by "foreign oaths". Although it's possible a few were Aquilonians, it's equally likely more than a few are from other lands. Since all ten of the black-armoured guards are called giants, this is probably a deliberate aspect of the job. Either they're recruited due to their imposing height, or the best men for the job just happened to be big tall dudes. It's my opinion that Pallantides' version of the Black Dragons consisted of the greatest mercenary warriors any nation had to offer to guard the king: with no noble ties, they would not have the divided loyalties of family to crown. They could be of any nation, but I could imagine established tall races such as Gundermen making up a large part, as well as Kush-ites, Shemites, maybe even some Cimmerians. I doubt Hyperboreans or Stygians would, given Conan's antipathy to those races.
Although this is particularly conjectural, I like to think that the Black Dragons are a particularly ancient relic of Aquilonian might - Acheron. Certain military corps in history gain a powerful cultural status: the Immortals of Achaemenid Persia had spiritual successors in the Athanatoi and Napoleon's Imperial Guard. Presumably the organization, role and equipment of Acheronian Black Dragons would have been very different from Aquilonia's, but the name and idea of a group of giant elite guards may itself have a resonance which resulted in such a legacy. After the conquest of Acheron, the Aquiloni invaders may have been so inspired by the ferocity and valour of Acheron's elite soldiers that in a few centuries their successors would be established.
Edited by Taranaich, 30 November 2008 - 05:57 PM.