Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Blue East

Cartographic Curiosities of the Hyborian Age, part 3
By Dale E Rippke
This article originally appeared in REHupa # 201

Blue East
researched and created by Dale E Rippke

Seventy odd years ago, author Robert E. Howard created a fantastic world that he termed the Hyborian Age. It was set in our world, thousands of millennia ago, before the last great ice-age. The hero of these Hyborian Age tales, Conan the Cimmerian, traveled far and wide across the lands of his age. Howard drew several maps showing the nations of the “European” region. He left the rest of the world to our imaginations.
Howard wrote a letter to P. Schuyler Miller on March 10, 1936 in which he explained his view of the regions south of Stygia and east of the Vilayet Sea: “I've never attempted to map the southern and eastern kingdoms, though I have a fairly clear outline of their geography in my mind. However, in writing about them I feel a certain amount of license, since the inhabitants of the western Hyborian nations were about as ignorant concerning the peoples and countries of the south and east as the people of medieval Europe were ignorant of Africa and Asia. In writing about the western Hyborian nations I feel confined within the limits of known and inflexible boundaries and territories, but in fictionizing the rest of the world, I feel able to give my imagination freer play. That is, having adopted a certain conception of geography and ethnology, I feel compelled to abide by it, in the interests of consistency. My conception of the east and south is not so definite or so arbitrary.”
Howard refused to pin himself down on the layout of the East during his lifetime, but after his death in 1936, this area became fair game to all. His imagination had become fixed, like a fly in amber.
The first map of the eastern regions that I recall was published in 1975 in a graphic magazine called the Savage Sword of Conan. In issue #9, artist Tim Conrad plotted out a new map of the Hyborian continent from its western to eastern edges. His black & white map was based on the Lancer/Ace version of the Conan saga, adding the material created by Lin Carter and L. Sprague DeCamp into the mix, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your point of view. He made a couple of deductive placements. All in all, it was a great, moody map.
This was quickly followed up by the stunningly beautiful Starmont House map of Hyboria a few years later. The full-color Starmont map showed the East in greater detail than the Conrad map. It followed Conrad’s lead by leaving his placements intact. Unfortunately, it was marred by a faulty placement; Howard’s Mu IS NOT the continent of Australia.
The next important Hyborian world map appeared in the GURPS Conan role-playing game. It was a black & white map like Conrad’s, and is, in all honesty, nothing really special. Its importance derives from it being the basis of every professional Hyborian map that has been produced since, from the map produced in Marvel Comic’s Handbook of the Conan Universe to the gorgeous Conan’s world gaming maps currently produced by Mongoose Publishing.
I decided a long time ago to break with tradition and produce a map of the East that corresponds only with Howard’s writings; no pastiche material need apply. An accurate map of the Hyborian world should really only reflect Howard’s agenda and intent. This requires an examination of the Conan material with an eye to determining what lands that lie within the “Asian” region of Howard’s continent. I figured, since there isn’t a great deal of information about this area, that it would be an easy exercise; treading ground already traversed by others.
Boy was I wrong…
The East, as described in Howard’s tales, is a somewhat different place than the recent maps of the area convey. Facts and clues, when placed in context, refused to neatly arrange themselves into the patterns determined by the prior cartographers. Amazingly, I found something wrong in nearly every single country that I examined.
The key to understanding the area is to try to see it as Howard imagined it. The Hyborian Age geography is extremely similar, and its climate doesn’t appear to be markedly different from that of today. From the few stories set in the eastern regions, it gives the impression of being a thinly disguised Asia; Khitai as China, Vendhya as India, etc. However it isn’t this simple, and this is where the previous cartographers went wrong.
In order to properly understand the area, the various relationships between the countries need to be ascertained and understood. These relationships, in several cases, are culturally and racially intertwined. The history of each country, where given, has to factor in. Another point to consider is that it all has to fit within the clues that Howard has provided. It needs to make sense in context.
From a plate-tectonics standpoint, the Eastern continent suffers from a complex series of interactions between it and the surrounding plates. It will be necessary to simplify this somewhat. From Howard’s writing we know there is pretty impressive uplift present in the lands to the southwest (the Red Sea and Persian Gulf are above sea level). The lands in the west and northwest are depressed and partially submerged (the Vilayet Sea). There are also signs of uplift in the southeast as a region to the south of Khitai is in evidence. So what can we deduce from this?
Assuming that the Eastern plate is fairly rigid, then the regions in opposition should reflect a positional opposition (in this simplified model). This means that the northeast should be depressed, while some uplift is present in the east. The only regions not accounted for are the north and south parts, and we can use logic to understand those parts. For instance, since the southwest and southeast are uplifted, then it stands to reason that the southern position should either be in uplift or at the least in a neutral position; it should not be depressed. That means the north region is either depressed or neutral. I’m going to average out those regions so that the south (Vendhya) is mildly uplifted, while the northlands are mildly depressed.
With that in mind, let’s proceed to map this out.
Turan and the Vilayet (Inland) Sea
The eastern sections of the 3 Hyborian Age maps drawn by Robert E. Howard
Left: 1932-rough map - Turan is shown in its correct position, although the Vilayet is enlarged.
Center: 1932-final map - Turan isn't shown, and the Vilayet is in its final configuration.
Right: 1936 map - Turan is shown in a different configuration than the actual stories suggest.

The first land that I’m exploring is the Hyrkanian kingdom of Turan. It is a nation with lands originally extending primarily along the southwestern reaches of the Vilayet Sea; imperial ambitions caused it to expand dramatically during Conan’s lifetime. Howard’s stories show it expanding as far west as the Zamoran border and the Shemitish city of Shushan, southward to the city of Zamboula, as far north as Hyperborea, and eastward into Hyrkania and Ghulistan. Turan was founded relatively recently, perhaps a thousand years or so prior to Conan’s reign. A Hyrkanian tribe skirted the southern edge of the Vilayet and established the new nation on the sea’s southwestern shore. The capital of the nation is the great port-city of Aghrapur. Other major cities of Turan include Sultanapur, Khawarizm, Shahpur, Khorusun (Khurusun), Zamboula, and purple-gardened Akif.
The people of Turan are a Lemurian race of southern Hyrkanian ancestry. They are dark-complected, tall and slender, with dark hair, dark eyes, and straight features. Turan’s gilt-helmeted swordsmen and horsemen wear silvered chain mail and are considered by Howard to be the most skilled archers in the Hyborian world.
Turan is the only nation of the Blue East to be represented on Howard’s actual Hyborian Age maps. It first appears on his 1932-rough map, although it is depicted as a modestly-sized nation hugging a portion of the southwestern shore of a much enlarged Vilayet Sea. Turan doesn’t appear at all on Howard’s other 1932 map; instead the map just shows an undefined region under the catch-all name “Hyrkanians”. His third and final 1936 map depicts the standard Turanian nation that has appeared on every map until the late 70’s and on about half of the maps made since then. The 1938 LANY map produced by P. Schuyler Miller and John Clark is the first map to show several Turanian locations provided in the Howard stories, most notably Aghrapur, Khawarizm, and the Zaporoska River. Other maps since that time have added cities and rivers until we have reached the state of the current Hyborian-world maps.
Interestingly enough, the information that Howard relates about Turan in his The Hyborian Age (written in early 1932), Iron Shadows in the Moon (written late 1932) and The Devil in Iron (written early 1933) conforms far closer to his drawing of Turan on the 1932-rough map version than to the depiction on his later 1936 map. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, since this map is what Howard had to work with at the time he wrote the stories. Examination of the inconsistencies between the stories and the two maps can be revealing. The Hyborian Age states that the Hyrkanians established the nation of Turan on the southwestern shore of the great inland sea. The 1932-rough map shows this to be true, while the 1936 map really stretches the meaning of southwest to depict a nation that covers the lower 2/3rds of the entire western coast of the Vilayet. In Iron Shadows in the Moon, Conan describes his plan to escape Turan by rowing a boat from a point near the mouth of the Ilbars River: “The southwestern shore is held by the Hyrkanians for hundreds of miles. We still have a long way to go before we pass beyond their northern boundaries. I intend to go northward, until I think we have passed them. Then we’ll turn westward, and try to land on the shore bordered by the uninhabited steppes.” This plan is perfectly reasonable the way the Turanian nation is drawn on the 1932-rough map. Using the national borders from the 1936 map makes Conan look like he’s ignorant of the geography, since he now needs to row his boat over TWICE AS FAR to clear the boundaries of Turan by going northward instead of southward. Finally, Howard’s physical description of the southern Vilayet Sea in The Devil in Iron shows that the nation of Turan does not appear to extend all the way to the southernmost point of the sea. This is exactly the way Turan is depicted on the 1932-rough map; the 1936 map shows the nation’s southern boundary extending to the southern tip of the Vilayet.
I’m torn between two positions on this issue. On one hand, Turan should be depicted on a map the way it’s described in the stories. On the other hand Turanian expansion during Conan’s lifetime makes Turan’s boundaries a moving target and in reality a moot point. The only real way I can reconcile the problems arising between stories and maps is to try to graft the 1932-rough map’s Turan onto the much smaller Vilayet Sea of the 1936 map. It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s the one that best serves the actual stories.
The next step in mapping Turan is to define the course of the two major Turanian rivers; the Ilbars River from Iron Shadows in the Moon and the Zaporoska River from The Devil in Iron. From the stories it appears that the Zaporoska is the southernmost river and the Ilbars lies to the north of it.
The Zaporoska River does not appear in its proper position on any map of the Hyborian world that I’ve ever seen. It was first depicted on the 1938 LANY map produced by P. Schuyler Miller and John Clark as being a Hyrkanian watercourse that drained into the extreme southern Vilayet Sea. Examining the internal evidence from The Devil in Iron does show the Zaporoska as emptying into the southern Vilayet, but from the Turanian side. This is how I see the case for a Turanian placement laying out.
The Devil in Iron shows that Howard placed the Yuetshi homeland as being "along the southern shore of the Sea of Vilayet since time immemorial". He also describes the area around Xapur; "The adjacent coast of the mainland was uninhabited, a reedy marsh given over to the grim beasts that haunted it. The (Yuetshi) fisher's village lay some distance to the south, on the mainland. A storm had blown his frail fishing craft far from his accustomed haunts, and wrecked it in a night of flaring lightning..." So what this tells me is that the isle of Xapur lies to the north of the southern edge of the Vilayet, adjacent to either the western or eastern coast. While it is described as laying "some distance" and "far" from Yuetshi lands, it can really only be as far away as a small boat can be blown over the course of a single night. So it possibly lies within a hundred miles of the northern end of the Yuetshi homeland, but it is much more realistic to place it within fifty miles. Howard describes the lower reaches of the Zaporoska River as a “wilderness of reeds” and a “swampy jungle”. The "reedy marsh" adjacent to Xapur is the same area as "the lower reaches of the Zaporoska", since Conan was set to flee from the isle "across the blue waters to the distant camp at the mouth of the Zaporoska".
Furthermore, The Devil in Iron relates that the role of the governor of Khawarizm is to "guard the frontier". This implies that the city is near the outer border of Turan, not near the heavily settled center of the nation. When Octavia escapes from Khawarizm, she steals a horse, rides all night to the edge of the sea, and swims out to Xapur. So Khawarizm isn't on the sea coast, and it isn't all that far from Conan's war camp on the Zaporoska River, either.
Howard describes the Kozaki raiders as a force that bedevils the western frontiers of Turan: "On the broad steppes between the Sea of Vilayet and borders of the easternmost Hyborian kingdoms, a new race had sprung up in the past half-century…” It is important to note that Howard describes the location of the Kozaki in two stories: The Devil in Iron and Iron Shadows in the Moon. Both stories place these brigands in the same location; along the western borders of Turan. There is not one mention of the Kozaki either to the south or the east of the Sea of Vilayet. The site of Conan’s war camp seems ideally placed as an interface between the Kozaki to the west and the Hyrkanian pirates he deals with on the sea to the east. Textually, it seems reasonably certain that the Zaporoska River empties into the southern reaches of the Vilayet that lies within the land of Turan. Why the 1938 LANY map doesn't reflect this I can only guess.
The Ilbars River is mentioned in Iron Shadows in the Moon, but the story doesn’t describe the course of the river at all. Its debut on a Hyborian map was on the modified David Kyle map that appeared in the Conan series published by Lancer Books. That map shows the Ilbars’ source lying far to the south in an Iranistani mountain range. Its course runs northward, paralleling the southeastern Vilayet for hundreds of miles before finally turning eastward and emptying into the sea near Aghrapur. Unfortunately, this placement conflicts with the details of Howard’s stories.
The Ilbars River watercourse can’t be the way it’s depicted on the Lancer map because it would run into the Zaporoska River long before it got far enough north to make its eastward turn toward the Vilayet. The source of the Ilbars can only be the uplands to the west of Turan; in “the mountains that fringe the eastern frontiers of Zamora”.
It seems fairly easy to reconstruct the nation of Turan using Howard’s descriptions. In a large part, its geography is defined by the western portion of the Vilayet Sea. The first thing I would do is draw Turan at the proper scale to the Sea of Vilayet. Turan is about a thousand miles long, according to the 1932-rough map, while Howard shows the Sea of Vilayet as being 2400 miles from its southernmost to northernmost points on his other two maps. The Turanian border would start around 300 miles from the southern tip of the Vilayet and extend in a rough arc northward, ending on the shore of the sea at a point 1,000 miles from where it began. This aligns it with the description given in the stories. In the far north of Turan, along the seacoast, would lie one of the nation’s major cities, which I believe would be Shahpur (if The Devil in Iron lists them in the order of importance). Along the coast to the southwest of that port-city would lie a huge swampland; the center of which is the estuary of the Ilbars River. The city of Akif would lie along the Ilbars River at the point where the fertile coastal plains turns into the western steppe. The source of the Ilbars would be the mountains to the west in Zamora. South of the swampland, on the westernmost bulge of the sea, would lie the second-greatest Turanian port, Sultanapur. South of that city would be the heartland of Turan; the fertile coastal plains between it and the opulent capital city of Aghrapur (the first city founded by the Hyrkanian settlers from the south). West of this heartland, on the boundary between the western steppes and the desert is the Turanian outpost of Vezek. I would make part of the southwestern shore of the Vilayet below Aghrapur another massive swampland; placing the estuary of the Zaporoska River in the center of it, adjacent to the Isle of Xapur and directly to the north of the city of Khawarizm. I would make its source be the eastern uplands of Koth (it’s the river that Conan observes while crucified on the cross that forms the southern boundary of Khauran) and its watercourse would roughly parallel the southern edge of the steppes, beyond which lies the southwestern desert lands. I would place Khawarizm on the coastal plains southwest of the swamp, near the edge of the desert. Fort Ghori lies to the northwest of the city, on the edge of the steppes. The Yuetshi homeland would lie to the south of the swamplands, in the coastal wastelands outside of Turan’s borders. The other two major Turanian cities lie outside of the nation’s official borders; Zamboula in the Kharamun Desert and Khorusun in Hyrkania.
Historically, Turan was the Old Persian name for Turkestan. The nation was featured in the Persian Book of Kings, the Shâhnâmeh. Turan was continually trying to conquer ancient Iran and was constantly thwarted in its attempts by the Iranian hero, Rustam.
The Sea of Vilayet is a huge body of water that separate Howard’s Hyborian lands from the nations of the East. It is sometimes referred to as the Inland Sea and once as the Blue Sea. The sea is presumably a fresh-water sea, since it has no direct oceanic outlets (Hyrkanians rode around the north end as easily as the south end). The Sea has two rivers that are known to empty into it; the Ilbars and the Zaporoska. They are a myriad of uninhabited isles that dot the great Inland Sea. The southwestern (Turanian) coast is covered in reedy marshlands, while to the west lies grassland steppes and in the extreme north and south, deserts. The eastern coast is described as mountainous, with forested hills haunted by grey apes. The Sea was formed during the lesser cataclysm that shook the world five hundred years after the Great Cataclysm ended the Thurian world. The earliest known nation of the Vilayet was the city-state of Dagon on the isle of Dagonia (Xapur), destroyed, “lost and forgotten before the conquering Hyborians had ridden southward”. In Conan’s time the nation of Turan lies on its southwestern edge, while the land of Hyrkania lies to its east.
The first map to show the Vilayet (Inland) Sea is the 1932-rough map that Howard drew. It shows a Vilayet that is nearly twice the size of the ones drawn on Howard’s other two maps. It encompasses the basins of both the Caspian and Aral Seas and it southern region is part of the Persian Gulf. Its northern end lies at about the same latitude as the nation of Hyperborea. Howard’s other 1932 and his 1936 maps both show a much smaller Vilayet Sea. The sea is now just an enlarged version of the Caspian Sea, and it no longer encompasses the Aral Sea, or the Persian Gulf. This version of the Vilayet Sea is 2400 miles long north to south and 500 miles east/west at its widest point. It is depicted on pretty much every map of the Hyborian world drawn since 1936.
Historically, the Caspian (Mazandaran) Sea was also known as the Hyrcanium Mare. The closest approximation to the “Vilayet Sea” that I could discover was that it was called the Vaurukesh in Avesta (the old Persian language). The name Vilayet is the Turkish word for “province”.
The land of Hyrkania is far and away the largest political entity of the blue east. Hyrkania isn’t a nation as much as it’s a cultural region of nomadic horse-warrior clans and small independent city-states scattered across the country. It stretches from the mountainous eastern coast of the Inland Sea of Vilayet eastward to “the very shores of the eastern ocean”. It lies to the north of Iranistan, Ghulistan, the Himelian Mountains and Khitai. It is a land of semiarid prairie, steppes, tundra, and deserts. Interestingly, nearly every physical description of the land by Howard mentions its mountainous terrain. The forested hills of the mountains along the Vilayet are haunted by carnivorous grey apes. Hyrkanian ports lie to the south of the mountains along the southeast coast of the Vilayet Sea. The Hyrkanians are the descendants of Lemurian refugees that were enslaved by a race called the Khari. After thousands of years of brutal servitude, and approximately one thousand years after the Lesser Cataclysm, the Lemurians overthrew the Khari. The slaves were “savages stalking among the ruins of a strange civilization.” Hordes of these savage, former slaves spread up onto the fertile plains to the north of the destroyed Khari nation, forming the hunter/gatherer style culture that eventually became known as Hyrkania. During this time they domesticated the horse, learned mastery of the recurved bow, and perfected metallurgy to the point where they could design intricate silvered chain mail armor. After a period of several millennia  in the Far East, nomadic Hyrkanians tribes began spreading westward into the heart of the continent, a process that lasted over the next several centuries. Their westward expansion was briefly obstructed by the impediment of the Vilayet Sea. The Hyrkanians finally entered into the western lands with the founding of the Hyrkanian nation of Turan on the western shores of the Vilayet, a thousand or so years prior to the reign of King Conan. The nomadic nation flowered around five hundred years after the death of Conan, when the fractious Hyrkanian tribes were united by a great chief who came riding from the very shores of the eastern ocean, and joined with Turan in destroying the eastern Hyborian nations in an irresistible surge.
There are two types of Hyrkanian people described by Howard; “The Hyrkanians are dark and generally tall and slender, though a squat slant-eyed type is more and more common among them, resulting from mixture with a curious race of intelligent, though stunted, aborigines, conquered by them among the mountains east of Vilayet, on their westward drift.”
The only actual Hyrkanian city mentioned by Howard in the Conan texts was the city of Khorusun (Khurusun). Thought to lie on the southeastern coast of the Vilayet Sea, the city sent troops on an invasion of Vendhya. It is interesting to note that Khorusun is listed in The Devil in Iron as one of five major Turanian cities, since it lies outside of Turan proper. It is my belief that Khorusun is the original home city-state of the Hyrkanian tribe that founded Turan. Most Hyborian world-maps also show the cities of Secunderam and Bhalkhan as Hyrkanian, but this is in error as they are Turanian-controlled cities of Ghulistan.
Historical Hyrcania was the Greek name of Varkâna, a satrapy of Achaemenid Persia. The land lay on the southeastern coast of the Caspian (Hyrcanian) Sea.
Personal note: After I first posted this essay, I realized that the Hyrkanians had been living on the fertile plains of northern China for something like 2,000-2,500 years before expanding into western Hyrkania. This implies that if there is a heavily settled, cultural center to the Hyrkanian nation, an "Old Hyrkania" as it were, it is in the east, along the shore of the Eastern Ocean and not in the west along the eastern edge of the Vilayet Sea. Nearly all of the pastiche works about Hyrkania and even the Mongoose role-playing game present Hyrkania's cultural region as being centered around the Vilayet Sea and the east as relatively undeveloped. I think that's the wrong way to look at it.
I think a good model would be to view Hyrkania as something like the USA during the mid-19th century. Most of the US population lived along the eastern seaboard, and even though California and Oregon (think Turan) were settled in the west, nearly everything in between was lightly settled at best, with hunter-gatherer tribes roaming the wilder areas (though in this case they are nomadic Hyrkanian tribes).
Howard provided practically no information on the nation of Iranistan in his Conan tales. Basically, we are told that that the nation is a monarchy and that the Iranistani people are the root race for the people of Ghulistan. That means that the Iranistani are a dark-eyed, white-skinned race. They have a dark-complexion (swarthy) and are excessively hairy. This is important because of the way that it impacts the regions around the nation within a historical context.
The geography of Iranistan is completely unknown; Howard didn’t describe it at all. We can, however, make a few educated guesses based on what we know about how cultures evolve. Nearly every important ancient civilization makes its start along the floodplain of a permanent watercourse; Iranistan should be no different. The question is “Where does it start?” The regions lying to the west of Iranistan are for the most part desert. To the north lies the Sea of Vilayet and the lands surrounding it. If the river of Iranistan drained into the Vilayet Sea, then the nation would have eventually spread out along the Inland Sea. This would have seriously impacted the history of Turan as written by Howard. That means the river of Iranistan must drain into the ocean lying to its southeast. This implies that there needs to be a substantial mountain range lying to the north and possibly to the west of Iranistan to collect the moisture that serves as the source of the water for the river. These mountains are also important as they serve as a shield protecting Iranistan from the imperial ambitions of Turan.
The Iranistani race is apparently tribal in nature, and as population pressures grew along the river, migrating tribal groups would head out in search for a new place to call home. The most promising directions to travel were south and east along the coasts of the ocean. This worked out well, as the Iranistani race spread itself eastward as far as Vendhya, northeast into Ghulistan and southern Hyrkania, and southward onto the grasslands north of Zembabwei. Eventually, a great charismatic leader arose in one of the cities along the river and consolidated the tribes into the nation of Iranistan. Building a nation wouldn’t have been easy and there is evidence of prior inhabitants being displaced and moving away; the Sons of Shem early on and possibly the Tlazitlans much later.
The nation of Iranistan is an economical powerhouse. It acts as a crossroads, receiving trade from both the Black lands to the south and the nations of the East and channeling them to the west into Stygia and north to Turan. Turan has recently usurped Iranistan’s role by capturing the Stygian city of Zamboula; it now controls all major trade routes to the West.
There are no specific Iranistani locations mentioned in Howard’s Conan saga, however I believe it’s likely that Ghaza is located between the Iranistani river and the (possibly volcanic) western mountains.  The Man-Eaters of Zamboula describes the selling of cheap Ghazan wine in the city of Zamboula, and it makes more sense that this cheap wine is produced locally instead of fifteen-hundred to the west in the meadowlands of Shem. According to apocryphal texts, the capital of Iranistan is called Anshan.
The only mention in Howard's corpus of stories of a possible Iranistani city appears in his oriental adventure story, The Blood of Belshazzar. In the tale, Howard describes a sunken city lying far below the surface of the Green Sea (the Persian Gulf). Since Howard's maps show the Persian Gulf region to be above sea level during the Hyborian Age, this sunken city most likely dates from that era. The unnamed city is described as being built of marble and lapis lazuli, and Iranistan was certainly advanced enough, and wealthy enough, to construct such a place. The pearl diver that discovered the lost city also found a huge ruby of rare beauty in the talons of a monstrous, mummified king sitting upon a jade throne. This implies that the Iranistani placed some import on publicly displaying the remains of their cultural leaders. What is interesting is that the dead king is described as being both monstrous and mummified; features that tenuously link Iranistan to Old Stygia, and its Giant-Kings. Food for thought, at least...
Historically, the ancient country of Aryānām was renamed Persia until recently, when it became known as Iran.
Ghulistan is a mountainous land that lies to the southeast of Turan and to the northwest of Verndhya. According to Howard’s synopsis of The People of the Black Circle, Ghulistan isn’t just a wilderness region as most people believe, but an actual nation. His synopsis states that “The armies of Turan had marched through their valleys but had not conquered the hill tribes. The chief cities, Hirut, Secunderam, Bhalkhan, were in the hands of the Turanians but Khahabhul, where dwelt the king of Ghulistan, whose rule the tribes seldom acknowledge, was free, and the Turanians made no attempt to tax or otherwise oppress the mountain tribes”.
As far as I can determine, Howard’s depiction of Ghulistan in The People of the Black Circle isn’t far removed from the description in the synopsis. Ghulistan in the actual story is presented as a nation that has been torn asunder. The governor of Peshkhauri relates that the Turanians are stirring up the Ghulistani hill-tribes into raiding the borders of Vendhya and have “established themselves in Secunderam and the other northern cities, though the hill tribes remain unconquered”. The synopsis shows that Secunderam and Bhalkhan are cities of Ghulistan, not Hyrkanian cities as they are usually depicted on most other maps. There is even evidence that Ghulistan has a capital. The synopsis states that the capital is named Khahabhul. When Howard wrote The People of the Black Circle, he apparently changed the name from Khahabhul to Khorbhul, since it is obvious that both names are phonetic variants of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul. It is interesting that the city of Khorbhul is not specifically named as being Ghulistan’s capital in The People of the Black Circle, but rather is supposed to become the capital of the Himelian empire that Gitara fantasizes about. The city is firmly located in Ghulistan, however, since Khemsa’s hired army was supposed to capture the city, drive the Turanians out of the surrounding hills, and then turn and conquer the kingdoms to the south. This makes for a reasonable assumption that Khorbhul is the capital of Ghulistan.
It’s actually pretty easy to reconstruct the nation of Ghulistan. In a large part, its geography is defined by the western portion of the Himelian Mountains. Westward from the Zhiabar region the massive ramparts break into two long ranges, although both are still identified as being part of the Himelians. The southern range (proto-Karakorum range) runs to the southwest and is the western border of the land of Vendhya and possibly the northern border of other unidentified nations. The higher northern range (proto-Hindu Kush range) runs nearly straight west, bisecting the nation of Ghulistan. North of the northern range is the region where the Turanian-controlled cities of Hirut, Secunderam, and Bhalkhan lie. There are two accessible passes across the northern range. The easternmost one is called the Shalizah Pass and it lies nearly directly north of the Zhiabar region of Ghulistan.  The westernmost pass is called the Amir Jehun Pass and it lies high on the south end of the Gurashah valley astride the main road from Secunderam to the Afghulistani region of Ghulistan. The bulk of southern Ghulistan lies between the two arms of the Himelian Mountains; a western lowland region known as Afghulistan that contains the capital city of Khorbhul and a broken, untamed eastern region populated by fractious hill tribes. The main part of The People of the Black Circle is set in the eastern hill region where men lived by the law of the knife. The northeastern tribes are the Dagozai, who abide in the area around Shalizah Pass. The southeast is home to the Zhiabari hill tribes, who naturally live in the region on the north side of Zhiabar Pass. In the valleys to the west of the Zhiabari live the Wazuli tribes of Khurum, Khojur, and Jugra. North of the Wazuli region lies the tribes of the Galzai, who live within sight of Mount Yimsha to the northwest in the northern range. The westernmost part of this hill-country is dominated north to south by the fierce Afghuli tribes. Conan’s base of operation is in the Afghuli hill-country at a place called Ghor. A final tribe of Ghulistan is mentioned in the story called the Khurakzai. Their location is not specifically given, although they live near the Afghuli tribes. I believe that they abide in the hills to the west of Amir Jehun Pass on the south side the northern range.
The inhabitants of Ghulistan are derived from the same racial stock as the people of Iranistan. They are hairy, swarthy-skinned white people with dark eyes. I believe that the first Iranistani migrants into the Ghulistan region founded a nation called Afghulistan in the southwest. The nation eventually expanded, incorporating the unaffiliated tribes to the east as well as moving onto the plains north of the Himelians. They renamed their country Ghulistan to reflect the mixed tribal status.
In historical Asia, this area would be considered Afghanistan, with its capital of Kabul and the Khyber Pass. Interestingly enough, a real-world version of Mount Yimsha exists; Tirich Mir, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush range. The inhabitants used to avoid it because of all the Jinns, demons, witches and fairies who lived up there.
Vendhya is the wealthiest of the “golden kingdoms” that lie to the south of the Himelian Mountains. It figures quite prominently in the Howard tale, The People of the Black Circle. Vendhyans wear distinctive robes made of filmy, gossamer silk, and their religion involves the worship of their principle deity, the god Asura.
The best described part of the nation is the northern province around the city of Peshkhauri. According to Howard, Peshkhauri is located where “the hot Vendhyan plains meet the crags of the Himelians”. The foothills of the Himelian Mountains, an hour’s ride to the north and west of the city, are cleft by the famed Zhiabar Pass, beyond which lies the land of Ghulistan. Hill-tribes of the Irakzai make their abode in the lower Himelian foothills and the river valleys to the south of the Zhiabar Pass. The area to the south of Peshkhauri is where the geology of Vendhya created by Howard seems somewhat at variance with the way that the previous cartographers have presented it. All of the prior map-makers have shown the nation of Vendhya as encompassing the entire Indian sub-continent. That doesn’t track with the way Howard presents Vendhya. First of all is the location of the Jhumda River. Most cartographers show it as a proto-Indus River, running from Peshkhauri along the western border of Vendhya to the sea. Howard’s synopsis of The People of the Black Circle, describes the Jhumda River as lying somewhere to the south of Peshkhauri. Beyond the river, further south, lies Ayodhya, the capital of Vendhya. Ayodhya, according to Howard, lies within the nation’s “southern provinces”. Combine this with Howard’s description of Yasmina as having been “born in the hot, luxuriant southern plains”, and it becomes apparent that the southernmost provinces of Vendhya are located on the plains of the northern Indian sub-continent. It certainly isn’t described as extending very far into the jungle regions of the southern sub-continent, if at all. One further location is mentioned in The People of the Black Circle; Jhelai, a place in Vendhya with caves beneath it. Its location isn’t certain, however it most likely lies in the south since Yasmina visited the place prior to her journey to Peshkhauri.
The inhabitants of Vendhya are a race that resembles the olive-skinned people of old Kosala, according to the Conan story, Red Nails. The rulers of Vendhya are the Kshatriyas, the dark-eyed, white-skinned race that make up the warrior nobility. The Kshatriyan rule of Vendhya extends back into antiquity, since the traditions of “a thousand generations of sovereignship” were the heritage of the Devi Yasmina, described by Howard as being the “daughter of a thousand proud emperors”.  It seems fairly obvious that the Kshatriyas are another branch of white-skinned Iranistani stock, although far removed by time. The Devi Yasmina was effectively disguised as a Ghulistani hill-woman by replacing her distinctive Vendhyan robes with simple Galzai garments. Also, part of the Devi’s royal education was learning the language of Iranistan and the kindred tongues of Ghulistan, which implies that those people hold some import to the Kshatriyan nobility.
Howard’s Vendhya seems to call to mind on an ancient Hindu text, the Ramayana and its legends of the empire of Rama and his glittering capital city of Ayodhya in an archaic India long since vanished.
Historically, the name Vendhya comes from the Vindhya Mountains of India. Howard’s fictional nation seems to parallel the ancient Indus-valley civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which covered all of Pakistan and much of northern India. First discovered in 1856 and finally excavated starting in the 1920’s, almost no information about this civilization existed in Howard’s day.
The nation of Kosala is one of the kingdoms that lie to the south of the Himelian Mountains. Howard never actually showed Conan visiting the country; most of what we know is second-hand information. A short description of the people and history of Kosala is given in Red Nails. The original inhabitants of Old Kosala apparently have “Lemurian” roots, since they were “slender, olive-skinned men and women with finely chiseled, exotic features”. They wore filmy robes and many delicate jeweled ornaments. The powerful nobility of Old Kosala included wizards, steeped in the necromantic arts, wielding powerful magical weapons. Even so, the people of Old Kosala seem to prize peace greatly. A number of them were eventually driven into exile when the present-day inhabitants came up from the south and took over the nation. The exiles wandered westward into the black kingdoms, founding the city of Xuchotl. While Red Nails doesn’t tell us what these present-day inhabitants of Kosala look like, a description of one can be found in The Man-Eaters of Zamboula. A Kosalan, Baal-Pteor, is described as being brown-skinned, with black hair and black eyes. He was a Strangler of Yajur, a priest in the Kosalan city of Yota-pong. Thus, it’s logical to assume that Kosala is racially diverse; brown-skinned people from the south mixing with the olive-skinned “Lemurian” stock.
The first map to show the location of Kosala was Tim Conrad’s back in 1975. His map placed Kosala west of Vendhya, south of Ghulistan, and east of Iranistan. While I don’t know what his actual reasoning was for this placement, I imagine it had to do with Conan claiming that his familiarity with Kosalan physiology occurred during his stint as an Afghuli war-chief. The Cimmerian planned to raise a horde to plunder the kingdoms to the south. So Conrad decided that Kosala must be one of those kingdoms south of Ghulistan. Even though his placement of Kosala seems reasonable, it is hardly compelling. Conan’s familiarity with the Kosalan people could be due to his looting of their caravans instead of his pillaging the nation’s villages. Even so, every single Hyborian world-map from 1975 to present mirrors Tim Conrad’s placement of Kosala.
The Conrad placement is troublesome because it is inconsistent with what little we know about the nation from Howard’s descriptions. Red Nails states Kosala was invaded by a race from the south, but Conrad’s placement shows an un-named sea to the south. Assuming that the invasion came from the southwest or the southeast also presents problems. An invasion from the southwest would be from Iranistan, a desert nation of swarthy-skinned white people. An invasion from the southeast would have to come from Vendhya, a land with two racial components as described by Howard; the white-skinned Kshatriyans and a race resembling the olive-skinned people of old Kosala. Any invasion by Vendhya would be a Kshatriyan invasion, since they constitute the warrior caste. Which means that, from either direction, the new Kosalan overlords would be white, not the brown-skinned race described in The Man-Eaters of Zamboula. It’s also troubling that Kosala isn’t described by Howard as having a white-skinned racial component, since Conrad has it surrounded by nations that are either completely (Ghulistan, Iranistan) or partially (Vendhya) white.
The Kosalan invasion was described by Howard in his final Conan story, Red Nails. He had to have known where Vendhya and Kosala lay in relation to each other, since both nations had been previously mentioned in several earlier tales. If Vendhya was the invading nation, why didn’t Howard just say so? If he intended for Kosala to be one of the “golden kingdoms” south of Ghulistan, and to use an un-named Vendhya as the invasion source, why didn’t he state that the invasion came from the east instead of the south? Another point to consider is that an invasion of Kosala from southland nations beyond either Iranistan or Vendhya would pose the problem of why neither nation was overthrown by the brown-skinned invaders prior to their settling in Kosala. A successful large-scale invasion by sea, while not impossible, seems rather unlikely. All of these irksome problems do nothing to recommend Kosala being one of those kingdoms south of Ghulistan. So where is it?
In Red Nails, Conan comments that the friezes of Xuchotl resemble Easterners; either Vendhyans or Kosalans. This suggests that the land’s original populations derived from a common source and that the two nations border on each other. The geography of The People of the Black Circle makes it clear that Kosala doesn’t lie to the north of Vendhya, and the evidence of Howard’s own writings pretty much discounts that it could lie to the west, either. There is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence to support a placement to the east of Vendhya. First of all, the name of the Kosalan city of Yota-pong sounds far-eastern, almost as if it were from the Indo-China region (like Hong Kong or Ha Long Bay, or the Mekong River, for examples) of Asia. Another point of evidence revolves around the use of the mineral jade. In Red Nails, Conan speaks of looting Khitaian caravans of their jade, so it seems reasonable that the use of jade is a unique part of the Khitaian cultural landscape. Yet, the Kosalans also show the same affinity toward jade, since the exiles from Old Kosala used jade as the primary building material when building Xuchotl. Both of these examples show the effect of cultural cross-pollination between Old Kosala and Khitai.
One subtle point of evidence revolves around the king of Vendhya’s relationship with the Kosalan princess. In The People of the Black Circle, Howard writes that the princess of Khosala loved Bhunda Chand vainly. She asks him for a lock of his hair as a token of remembrance, which he provides. Agents for the Black Seers steal the lock of hair. Howard writes: “Then the genuine lock travelled by camel-caravan up the long, long road to Peshkhauri, thence up the Zhaibar Pass, until it reached the hands of those for whom it was intended.” A trip from the capital of Kosala to Mount Yimsha really isn’t much more than a couple of hundred miles, if the country was located as per Tim Conrad. However, a trip from the eastern part of the Vendhyan sub-continent to Mount Yimsha covers nearly a thousand miles and would definitely qualify as a “long, long” journey. Finally, there is the historical location of Kosala.
In historical India, the land of Kosala existed as part of King Asoka’s empire in the time of the Buddha (circa 500 B.C.). It was located on the fertile plains of the Ganges River on the East Indian subcontinent and its capital was the city of Ayodhya (Saketa).
It seems fairly obvious that Kosala must lie to the east between Vendhya and Khitai. This leaves the southern jungles of the Vendhyan subcontinent free to be the homeland of the brown-skinned race that invaded Kosala and aligns the region with Howard’s imagination. It resolves all of the niggling inconsistencies.
Personal note: In my essay, The Mystery of the Green-stone Cities, I speculated that Old Kosala was founded by migrants from the dissolution of the empire called “Lemuria of the East”. My moving Kosala from the west of Vendhya to the east has no real effect on my theory. If anything, it’s made it more interesting, since a case can be made that conflict between Old Kosala and the Khari nation may have weakened the Khari to the point that a successful Lemurian slave rebellion was inevitable. I also like the notion that the archaic magical traditions of “Lemuria of the East” were the building blocks for the wizards of the East becoming more powerful than those in the West. It seems a reasonable assumption that Kosala is the foundation of Eastern magical practices, since a Kosalan, Baal-Pteor, attempts to use mesmerism magic against Conan in The Man-Eaters of Zamboula and The People of the Black Circle has Howard stating that most Eastern magic is illusion based on hypnotism (mesmerism).
Khitai is a mysterious Far-Eastern nation referred to in several of Howard’s stories. Khitians are an ancient yellow-skinned race, ranging from powerful wizards plumbing the “deeper gulfs of cosmic sorcery”, to kindly jungle-folk. The people wear colorful robes made of silk. The history of Khitai is complex and intriguing. Originally, this region was inhabited by the Khari, a dusky-skinned race from across the sea. When the Great Cataclysm occurred, yellow-skinned refugees from the island nation of Lemuria fled to the lands of the Khari hoping to find shelter. Instead, they were enslaved by the ancient race and forced into brutal servitude that lasted for millennia. Eventually, the Lemurians, who had been reduced to a brutish level by the harshness of their slavery, rebelled and completely destroyed the Khari civilization. Howard wrote that the Lemurian slaves were “savages stalking among the ruins of a strange civilization.” It is at this point where Howard leaves a large gap in the history of these people; further history requires a bit of extrapolation. Apparently some of the yellow-skinned savages settled in the jungles while a large number spread up onto the fertile plains to the north, forming a hunter/gatherer style culture that eventually became known as Hyrkania. The brutishness of their slavery had eradicated all trace of their own Lemurian culture; they were a people who had lost their past. Fortunately, an ancient civilization espousing Lemurian values existed to their immediate west; the land of Old Kosala. They raised the jungle-folk up from their ignorance and reminded them what it was to be Lemurian. The newly formed nation of Khitai owed a great deal to their western partner. They regained their culture, their style of magic, even their love of jade - the revered mineral that reminded them of their oceanic origins. Unfortunately they also inherited the propensity for devil-worship, “owning no gods save the demons of the Outer Gulfs”. This is how Yag-kosha came to dwell as a god among the ruined temples of jungle-lost Khitai, “where the grey apes danced to the pipes of the yellow-skinned priests”. Another interesting point is that Khitaian galleys were visiting the lands of the Unknown West approximately 1500 years prior to Conan’s reign, according to Marchers of Valhalla. Khitai must be a pretty robust maritime nation; understandable given its Lemurian origins.
Every single Hyborian world-map portrays the nation of Khitai as occupying the entire land of China, starting with the 1975 Tim Conrad map. This is a bit at variance with the way that Howard describes the county in his Conan stories. Every single description shows Khitai to be a “jungle-lost” land; a place of “haunted, forbidden jungles”. Some understandably exotic foliage grows in those Khitaian jungles; black lotus and a living Tree of Death. Even the nation’s capital lies amid the jungle, since the wizard that rescued Salome took her to “purple-towered Paikang, its minarets rising amid the vine-festooned jungles of bamboo”. I determined in an earlier essay that the earth’s climate during the Hyborian Age isn’t really much different from our present climate. For Khitai to exist as a jungle land, it needs to lie much farther to the south, in the present day regions of Southern China and Indo-China (South East Asia).
Historically, Khitai was the Tartar name for China.
The Conan story The People of the Black Circle implies that a number of “golden kingdoms” lie on the plains to the south of the Himelian Mountains of Ghulistan. The size and number of these nations are unknown, however the easternmost one was Vendhya and Iranistan is probably the westernmost. A small amount of information can be inferred about homogeneous nature of this region from the clues Howard gives us. Howard claims that the rulers of these kingdoms were considered little short of divine. This implies that the nations share a very similar set of religious values, if not a common religion. Part of the Vendhyan Devi’s royal education was learning the language of Iranistan and the kindred tongues of Ghulistan. There is no mention of the languages spoken in these southern kingdoms, which implies that they probably speak Iranistani. Since Iranistani settlers populated this region, it’s a fairly safe theory that the “golden kingdoms” were once provinces and/or city-states that broke away from their motherland. The southern kingdoms figured prominently in the plans of several characters in The People of the Black Circle. Conan came into Ghulistan with the express purpose of raising a horde to plunder the kingdoms to the south. The same nations, situated to the south of Khorbhul, were to be the building blocks in Gitara’s fantasy of empire. Conan makes reference to the political nature of these lands when he speculates that Yasmina’s fate is to “marry some withered old king of the plains”.
From a purely speculative standpoint, I imagine that the names of these small kingdoms reflect their Iranistani heritage; they would most likely be “Howardized” versions of actual historical Persian provinces. One example would be Bakhtrish (Bactria), because its capital could be Bakhaurus, a city that Howard refers to in a couple of stories; it makes those impressive Bakhauriot (Bakhariot) belts and girdles. Another interesting name would be Kherdistan.
There is mention of one of these “golden kingdoms” in one of the apocryphal writings. According to the text in question, there is a small nation named Venji that lies directly to the east of Iranistan, to the south of a mountain range. Its capital of Tarqheba lay on the county’s seacoast. The text stated that the Turanians invaded the country and renamed it Venjipur. The text also states that the land is a rainy, jungle country, which really isn’t possible for this region.
There is a region that lies to the south of the hot Vendhyan plains; the rain-forested part of the subcontinent. In the tale Red Nails, Howard explains that the ancestors of the people dwelling in present-day Kosala came up from the south and drove the original inhabitants of Old Kosala into exile. The Old Kosalans were olive-skinned people, while The Man-Eaters of Zamboula describes a different ethnic type of Kosalan; one having a dark brown-skin tone. It seems logical to conclude that the southern part of the Vendhyan subcontinent is inhabited by a brown-skinned folk.
It is unknown whether there are nations, city-states, or unaffiliated tribes inhabiting the area. It could be some of them; it could be all of them. While Howard doesn’t actually place a specific group of people into this area, he does describe a member of a group that may fit the bill nicely. In the city of Zamboula, Conan ogled a handsome, brown-skinned woman at the Sword-Maker’s Bazaar. Howard called the woman a Ghanara. Several of the Conan gazetteers tend to equate the Ghanara with another people called the Ghanata; treating the name as a variant spelling. This is wrong for two reasons: Ghanara have brown-skin and Ghanatas are described as black-skinned. Also, she is referred to as a Ghanara, which means that she’s a member of the Ghanar tribe. Ghanatas are members of the Ghanata tribe. They are two different peoples. Since there is no mention of where the brown-skinned Ghanara make their home, I think that it is perfectly reasonable to assume that they live in the jungle region to the south of Vendhya and Kosala – in the land of brown-skinned people.
Another group of people presumably living in this area are a small enclave of Picts. According to Marchers of Valhalla, the Picts were living “among the jungle-clad hills of a far land that marked the easternmost drift of his race…” and were discovered by a wandering horde of Æsir. The trail of the Æsir led to a land whose description sounds very much like the Vendhyan subcontinent; “the land of palm trees and elephants”. From Vendhya, their travels led to the eastern coast of ancient Asia and then northward toward Beringia. The only jungles that the Æsir would have traversed would have been on the Vendhyan subcontinent and in the lands of Kosala and Khitai. Since the Picts are so irrepressible, it seems less than likely that Kosala and Khitai would have tolerated them in their countries; thus a placement in the jungles south of Vendhya.
Howard, in a 1936 letter to P. Schuyler Miller wrote about a land that lay north of Hyrkania: “(Conan) travelled widely, not only before his kingship, but after he was king. He travelled to Khitai and Hyrkania, and to the even less known regions north of the latter and south of the former.” While we will never know exactly what Howard meant for this region to entail, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s a different cultural milieu than that of Hyrkania. If I were to hazard a guess, I believe that the people of this region are probably related to the intelligent, slant-eyed aborigines of the western Hyrkanian mountains, most likely the ancestors of present-day East Asians. The region would be located somewhere to the north of either central or eastern Hyrkania, since northwestern Hyrkania stretches to the northern tip of the Sea of Vilayet. Howard never placed anything in this region, although the apocryphal texts claimed that the land of Pathenia lay far to the north of Khitai.
In the same statement referenced in the previous entry, Howard wrote about a little known land that lay to the south of the nation of Khitai. Intriguingly enough, the most likely candidate for this region would be the long-lost Southeast Asian subcontinent of Sundaland. Due to tectonic activity and rising sea-levels, Sundaland broke up shortly after the end of the Ice Age into the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. An area larger than India, Sundaland is considered by experts to be the homeland of the Austronesian peoples. One thing is certain; the region would have provided unique challenges to anyone making his home there. Sundaland’s coastlines were extremely low-lying and prone to frequent flooding and the lands would have been racked by violent volcanic and seismic events.
Unfortunately, we have no real way of knowing what Howard’s conception of the region would have actually entailed; whether there were civilized kingdoms or a wilderness area. The only location in this area that he mentions is from Rogues in the House. The story describes a place lying beyond the land of Khitai called the Swamps of the Dead. The insanity-inducing gray lotus grows in this swamp. It makes sense to place it here since Sundaland would, in large parts, be a swampy, tropical rainforest.
My map is going to follow in the tradition of my Stygia/Black nations map and appear in much the same way that Howard’s handmade maps appeared. It won’t be all-inclusive and show every point of interest; only the nations and a few land formations are shown. I will save the more inclusive map for a later time. All in all, I think that this exercise worked out really well; I really feel that the most accurate cartographic excursion of the region that I’ve seen. It fits with literally everything that Howard wrote on the subject of the “Blue East”. That was, after all, the entire reason for doing it.

The Blue East essay and map,  Copyright 2006-2010 Dale E. Rippke
All rights reserved

To the Styx and Beyond

Cartographic Curiosities of the Hyborian Age, part 2
By Dale E Rippke

This revised article originally appeared in two parts as:

Stygia and the Black Kingdoms, part 1 (REHUPA #189)

Stygia and the Black Kingdoms, part 2 (REHUPA #193)

Stygia and the Black Kingdoms of Kush
researched and created by Dale E Rippke

It was with great anticipation and a modicum of enthusiasm that I finally cracked opened my copy of Del Rey’s THE COMING OF CONAN THE CIMMERIAN. The long wait had ended; I finally got to see the two maps of Hyboria drawn by the hand of Robert E. Howard, the world’s creator, in 1932.
Both maps were drawn by hand, over what appears to be a tracing of a Mercator projection of Europe/North Africa. While I have no way of positively knowing which map was drawn first, the map on page 425 seems somewhat more “roughly sketched” than the map on page 423. This impression is reinforced by the recent identification of a third Howard-drawn map published in Starmont’s A GAZETEER OF THE HYBORIAN WORLD OF CONAN, published during the late seventies. This third map, which Howard sent to P. Schuyler-Miller in 1936, is a more detailed copy of the page 423 map, and tends to confirm the notion that the page 425 map was Howard’s rough draft.
The two maps, 1932-rough (page 425) and 1932-final (page 423), while largely identical, contain several interesting differences. The two maps are drawn at slightly different latitudes. The 1932-rough map shows part of the southern nation of Stygia while relegating the northern nations (Nordhiemr and Hyperborea) to mere border areas. The 1932-final map reverses this showing the northern nations in full (for the most part) while dropping nearly all of Stygia off map with the exception of its northern border, the River Styx. Other differences include the size and location of Turan and the Inland (Vilayet) Sea, as well as the border areas between Argos, Koth, and Shem, and the border areas between Zingara and Pictland.
In 1936, Howard received a fan letter from P. Schuyler-Miller containing a Hyborian world map that he and Dr. John Clark had created. Howard claimed that their map was surprisingly accurate considering how vague the data incorporated into it was. Having drawn quite a few maps in my time, I feel pretty safe to say that the accuracy shown by the two fans was mostly due to the cartographic relationships between the various Hyborian countries and not so much as to the actual size and shape of each nation. It would be enlightening to actually examine this fan-produced map; unfortunately it seems to have disappeared with Howard’s death.
Howard addressed the matter of the fan-map and his take on the cartography of the Hyborian world in his return letter to Schuyler-Miller: “I have the original map - that is the one I drew up when I first started writing about Conan-- around here somewhere and I'll see if I can't find it and let you have a look at it. It includes only the countries west of Vilayet and north of Kush. I've never attempted to map the southern and eastern kingdoms, though I have a fairly clear outline of their geography in my mind. However, in writing about them I feel a certain amount of license, since the inhabitants of the western Hyborian nations were about as ignorant concerning the peoples and countries of the south and east as the people of medieval Europe were ignorant of Africa and Asia. In writing about the western Hyborian nations I feel confined within the limits of known and inflexible boundaries and territories, but in fictionizing the rest of the world, I feel able to give my imagination freer play. That is, having adopted a certain conception of geography and ethnology, I feel compelled to abide by it, in the interests of consistency. My conception of the east and south is not so definite or so arbitrary.”
It appears that Miller/Clark’s cartographic depiction of Kush disturbed Howard, since he felt the need to explain his vision to them: “Concerning Kush, however, it is one of the black kingdoms south of Stygia, the northern-most, in fact, and has given its name to the whole southern coast. Thus, when an Hyborian speaks of Kush, he is generally speaking of not the kingdom itself, one of many such kingdoms, but of the Black Coast in general. And he is likely to speak of any black man as a Kushite, whether he happens to be a Keshani, Darfari, Puntan, or Kushite proper. This is natural, since the Kushites were the first black men with whom the Hyborians came in contact - Barachan pirates trafficking with and raiding them.” It would be interesting to see what the fans had wrong about Kush’s cartography. It sounds like they that they had just made the nation of Kush a far bigger place than Howard imagined it to be.
Howard responded to the fan letter by sending P. Schuyler-Miller an updated version of his Hyborian world map (the page 423 final map), detailing the locations of a number of cities, as well as adding a couple of countries (Khauran and Khoraja). He also showed the direction of several off-map cities and countries by the use of pointers. This is the map that was incorrectly identified as being the map created by John Clark and P. Schuyler-Miller in A GAZETEER OF THE HYBORIAN WORLD OF CONAN.
Two years after Howard’s death in June 1936, the LANY Corporation published a booklet titled THE HYBORIAN AGE. Its contents included Howard’s essay, “The Hyborian Age” as well as “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” by P. Schuyler-Miller and Dr. John Clark. The booklet also contained a map of the Hyborian lands, drawn by Miller and Clark, and based on the map that Howard had mailed them. The LANY map was the first Hyborian Age map that the general public had ever seen, and has since become the basis for all of the maps that have been produced over the decades.
So how accurate is it?
For the most part, it’s pretty darn close. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they traced Howard’s map, the differences between the two are really minimal. The LANY map doesn’t show the world as far north as the Howard map does, but it does show various rivers, as well as the nation of Stygia and the lands to its south, something the Howard map lacks. In essence, Miller and Clark conjured the southern section of the map out of clues and hints in the texts and grafted the result onto their map. By claiming that the LANY map was based on a map prepared by Robert E. Howard, they gave the impression that every feature on their map had its origin on Howard’s map, an impression that is simply not true.
So once again the question seems to be “How accurate is it?”
The answer would seem to be “Fairly close, but there seem to be some serious problems with it”.
Stygia and the tier of Black Kingdoms
 A portion of the 1938 LANY map drawn by P. Schuyler-Miller and Dr. John Clark

The biggest problem with the LANY map seems to be along the southern border of Stygia. Miller and Clark show a tier of nations comprised of (west to east) Kush, Darfar, Keshan, Punt, and Zembabwei. A careful reading of the Conan tales will pretty much dispel the notion that the relationships between these nations are laid out this manner. Curiously, they seem to have even ignored Howard's own letter to them in which he stated that Kush was the northern-most of the black nations.
I would speculate that the reason Miller and Clark created the tier was twofold. First, they were running out of space at the bottom of the map to show those nations’s proper relationship. Second, they felt the need to display on their map all of the black nations that Howard had showcased in his Conan saga. In my opinion, the tier of black nations was the obvious solution to these two problems; killing two birds with one stone.
When Howard told P. Schuyler-Miller that their fan-map was surprisingly accurate, he was really referring to the Hyborian lands, since he noted that their version of Kush had problems. At the time of the fan-map “Red Nails” hadn’t seen publication, so it wasn’t a source of information. “The Vale of Lost Women”, the “Drums of Tombalku” fragment, and the “Snout in the Dark” fragment weren’t available for study. The bulk of their information would have had to come from “Queen of the Black Coast”, Black Colossus”, “The Slithering Shadow”, “The Jewels of Gwahlur”, and “Shadows in Zamboula”. The other Conan tales contain bits and pieces of info about the Black lands, but no real geographical data. We know that the black lands on the Miller/Clark fan-map were wrong because of the problems that Howard had with the way they presented Kush. That means that the re-worked tier of Black nations appearing on the LANY map is based on incomplete information, and was never actually approved by Howard in any meaningful sense.
Robert E. Howard left behind quite a bit of unpublished information about the relationship between Stygia and the black Kingdoms. Since Miller and Clark lacked access to this material and didn’t incorporate it into their map, I am going to examine this material with an eye geared toward resolving their cartographic problems. With any luck, I can get this part of his Hyborian world closer to what Howard envisioned.
The key to understanding the cartographic relationships between Stygia and the Black Kingdoms to the south can only arise from an understanding of how Robert E. Howard viewed the area in his mind. The modern continent known as Africa looked far different during Howard’s Hyborian Age. Yet in other aspects, it isn’t all that different.
From the perspective of plate tectonics, during the Hyborian Age the western edge of the African plate was depressed, submerging almost the entirety of West Africa. Since the continental plate is fairly rigid, any depressed edge should result in a corresponding uplift along the opposite edge. And in fact, we see evidence of eastern uplift in Howard’s map; the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Persian Gulf do not exist as the area appears to be above sea level. In addition, the northern edge of the African plate is shown experiencing extreme uplift; the Mediterranean and Black Seas are completely above sea level. It stands to reason that the southern edge of the African plate is depressed to a corresponding degree. While Howard never actually visits this area, he does mention island groups that lie far to the south of Kush in this region.
From the prospective of climate, the sub-continent to the south of the Hyborian lands isn’t really all that different from modern-day Africa. Roughly, Africa has a belt of rainforest that lies 10°on either side of the equator, two bands of grassland/savannas about 10° wide lying to the north and south of the rainforests, with deserts lying to the north (and to a lesser degree) and south of the grasslands. There is a bit of variation, but overall, Howard’s Stygia and the kingdoms of Kush reflect this reality.
It is pretty obvious from reading Howard’s Conan tales that the majority of the black nations of Kush are located at various places along the great grasslands that lie to the south of Stygia. It is the relationship between those nations that defines the cartography of Kush and is the next step on our journey.
The Stygian portion of the 1932 rough-draft map, as drawn by Robert E. Howard
The best place to begin is with the 1932-rough map. A comparison of this map with the LANY map, shows that Howard’s version of Stygia is wider, extending from the modern-day cities of Tunis, Tunisia in the west, to the Gaza Strip in the east, a distance of around 1350 miles. The LANY map has the northern and eastern borders of Stygia ending within the floodplain of the River Styx, while Howard’s map has Stygia’s eastern border extending eastward about 200 miles past the southern bend in the river. The LANY map shows that Stygia is pretty much a rectangular nation, averaging around 400 miles north to south. The 1932-rough map doesn’t show the southern border of Stygia at all, and what it does show is a nation that extends southward at least 600 miles, well into the area occupied by the tier of Black nations on the LANY map.
This fits pretty well into the way Howard described Stygia in the Conan stories. “The Hour of the Dragon”, “Black Colossus” and “The Hyborian Age” essay all describe Stygia’s northern border (in Conan’s lifetime) as beginning at the River Styx. The only real discrepancy that I’ve found between the map and Howard’s stories is in “The Hour of the Dragon”; Howard describes the Styx as flowing westward past the great bend for “some hundreds of miles”. On the map the river flows westward for about a thousand miles. Whether this is a discrepancy or not depends on how you interpret the term “some hundreds”.
Stygia’s eastern border is a little murkier. “Shadows in Zamboula” describes the desert trading-city of Zamboula, which lies to the east of Stygia. The city was built by the Stygians and at one time was the easternmost outpost of their empire carved from the Kharamun Desert, until the city was overrun and annexed by the riders of Turan. The Stygian boundaries were thrust back when they lost Zamboula, but Howard never claims that the Stygians withdrew beyond the River Styx. The eastern extension of Stygia past the southward bend of the Styx probably still existed at the time of Conan’s life. It makes sense that the Stygians would want to keep both banks of Styx in this region under their control, since it would be a trading highway into the Black Kingdoms. The 1932-rough map shows the eastern extension runs roughly parallel to the Styx gradually narrowing the further south it goes. While we will never know with absolute certainty, it seems logical to think that the extension runs as far as Stygia’s southern border, although perhaps only fifty miles or so eastward past the River Styx.
My next step would be to try and discern the overall shape and extent of Stygia’s southern border. The Conan stories only make mention of two lands lying on the grasslands of the southern Stygian border; the kingdom of Kush and the region known as Darfar. Kush lies along the western part of Stygia’s southern border, sharing a frontier of at least 400 miles. The part of Stygia’s border that lies adjacent to Darfar is a bit of a puzzle, but a careful reading of “Red Nails” provides a few clues.
Valeria spent several weeks (presumably less than a fortnight) in flight after leaving the border garrison of Suhkmet, crossing a range of blue (blue implies forested) hills to arrive at the primitive forest near Xuchotl. Compare this with an earlier flight to Xuchotl.
In southern Stygia lies Lake Zuad, near (not on) the border of Kush. Residents of the lake, a mongrel Stygian race called the Tlazitlans, rebelled against the Stygian king and were forced to flee southward for many weeks, wandering over first grasslands, then desert hills, coming at last to a great forest; the same forest of Darfar that lies just to the south of the Stygian city of Sukhmet. Now it seems pretty apparent to me that a journey of many weeks could at the very least, cover several hundred miles. Also, the southern part of Stygia along Darfar's frontier lies within the grassland region, since Howard states that Sukhmet lies amid the level grasslands. All of this serves to make the Stygian border with Darfar lie quite a bit farther south than the border it shares with Kush. The LANY map that shows Kush and Darfar sharing a border is wrong!
The southern Stygian frontier seems to follow the border with Kush, turns southward and skirts a great desert that lies upon the western grasslands, and then resumes its eastward bearing until it ends in the deserts beyond the River Styx. Darfar lies to the south of this eastern section of the border.
Stygia doesn’t exist in historical Africa, although it is modeled extensively on ancient Egypt. It appears to incorporate the modern lands of Libya, Egypt and northern Sudan. If you can imagine the Stygian border city of Sukhmet as an ancient version of Khartoum you wouldn’t be far off…
Howard describes Kush as being the northernmost, as well as the westernmost of the grassland kingdoms. Its capital is Shumballa, which lies amid the nation’s great grassland plains. Kush is second nation listed of the four “vast black kingdoms” lying to the south of Stygia, so it is probably the second largest of the black kingdoms. The Kush of Conan’s day is but a remnant of a far larger Kushite nation that was formed when competing Stygian tribes invaded and occupied the western grasslands and desert. Eventually, the Stygians were unable to exert the constant control that the region needed to keep it from falling into anarchy, and the nation dissolved. Kush is now considered a black kingdom, although its aristocracy is Chaga, of Stygian descent. From the stories set in Conan’s time, it appears that its Kush’s northern border extends in a narrow strip parallel to the Stygian border from a forested coast on the Western Sea eastward at least 400 miles or so. To the south of the eastern segment of this strip lies a huge desert. The nation extends southward along the coast until it reaches the rain forests of the region.  Its eastern border isn’t really defined, although its southeastern border lies in the grasslands within raiding distance of the jungle town of Bakalah. I believe that Kush’s eastern border most likely ends at the edge of the great desert that lies to its east.
In historical Africa, Cush was another name for the ancient kingdom of Nubia that existed in what is now northern Sudan.
Kordafan is an independent black kingdom, mentioned in the synopsis for “The Snout in the Dark”. When L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter finished the story for the Lancer books, they renamed the nation Kordafa, even though Howard had spelled it Kordafan. The nation’s cartographic placement isn’t given, although its people are described as having a dusky skin tone. This implies that the country has, at the least, a Stygian component. Kordafan is probably a remnant of the original Stygian occupation of the western grasslands, perhaps a part of Stygian Kush.
In historical Africa, Kordofan (Kordufan) is a former province of central Sudan.
This vast, desolate desert lies to the east of Kush and covers a great expanse of the western grassland region. Howard used the desert as the setting of “Xuthal of the Dusk”, placing the lost city of Xuthal deep within its western region. The desert took stage again in the unfinished fragment that would eventually become known as the “Drums of Tombalku”. Kothic exiles built the city of Gazal on an oasis in the eastern part of the desert, while far to the southwest lay the politically divided city of Tombalku. It is also the home of tribes of desert nomads; the Ghanata in the east and the mask-wearing Tibu far to the south. The total extent of this desert is a bit nebulous. Howard, in his “Drums of Tombalku” fragment, has the Aquilonian warrior Amalric (who has been roaming the desert for months, but is currently encamped at a palm-bordered spring) expressing disbelief that there is a city nearby, stating that he thought there was only desert for a thousand miles. This is a pretty incredulous statement, since it seems to imply the possibility that the desert is somewhere between one thousand to two thousand miles across (depending where he is camped upon it). This seems to be patently impossible since it would make the desert be twice as wide as the nation of Stygia. Honestly, a two thousand mile wide desert would stretch from Kush eastward to the ocean off Iranistan, not to mention completely displace the region of Darfar. While I believe that Howard intended for this desert to seem huge, my opinion is that Amalric is engaging in a fair bit of hyperbole. The desert seems to be encompassed by Kush to the west and north, Stygia to the northeast, Darfar and Amazon to the east and a segment of grassland to the south inhabited by various black tribes, members of the empire of Tombalku.
The empire of Tombalku was formed when riders from the semi-mythical city of Tombalku subjugated the tribes of the southwestern part of the Southern Desert and the black races of the steppes to the south. Subject tribes comprising the Empire include the Tibu, Bagirmi, Mandingo, Dongala, Bornu, as well as other tribes to the south of the desert. It doesn’t appear that Tombalku really borders on any other major kingdoms, with the exception of possibly Kush.
In historical Africa, Timbuktu, located in Mali, is a major commercial center in the western Sudan.
On the grasslands south of eastern Stygia, lies the region of Darfar. The actual cartographic location of Darfar seems to be quite a ways removed from the nation of Kush. Like Kush, it is described as being part of the grassland region; however the southern part of eastern Stygia also lies on the northern part of those grasslands (the frontier-town of Sukhmet lies amid the level grasslands). Northwestern Darfar seems to be part of the grasslands, followed by a hill-range and then forest as one heads southward. The forest at the point where Valeria crossed it doesn’t seem to be terribly deep, north to south. It began upon leaving the hills; she could still see them when she looked to the north. That means the forest is at most thirty to thirty-five miles deep where she crossed it, since it ended a bit south of her vantage point. Amid the southern part of the forest lies the lost city of Xuchotl. West of the forest lies open savannas where black tribes graze their cattle. “Shadows in Zamboula” also describes the inhabitants of Darfar as being “swamp-bred black men”, so I imagine that a huge part of eastern Darfar is swampland and marshes. I also find it interesting that neither Conan nor Valeria believe that the Darfari could have built the city of Xuchotl (although I gather that they did under duress), but instead expected to see beehive huts or cliff dwellings; i.e. villages. Southern Darfar is also referred to in the tale as an unexplored region. This adds to the feeling that Darfar may not be a civilized nation, but instead is a wilderness region inhabited by a dominant cultural group like Cimmeria or the Pictish Wilderness. I also feel that the River Styx either flows through or marks the eastern border of Darfar. The large numbers of slaves from Darfar ending up in Zamboula would also make sense, since it would be a relatively short trip down the river.
In historical Africa, Darfur is a region and former sultanate in western Sudan. Howard’s Darfar also shares another feature with a part of southern Sudan; the Sudd, considered by many to be the “most formidable swamp in the world”. It is vast and impenetrable, and at its greatest extent covers 130,000 square kilometers in area.
Amazon is only referenced in Howard’s “The Hyborian Age” essay. It is the first nation listed of the four “vast black kingdoms” lying to the south of Stygia; it could very well be that Amazon is the largest country of the black lands. The essay also states that, at the end of the Hyborian Age, the armies of Hyrkania defeated a Stygian army on the Nilus (Styx) and “overran the country (Stygia) as far south as the black kingdom of Amazon, of whose people they brought back thousands as captives”. This implies that the nation of Amazon lies, if not adjacent to the southern border of Stygia, than relatively close! Amazon as described by L. Sprague DeCamp in his pastiche, CONAN THE BUCCANEER lies too far south to be faithful to Howard, since the Hyrkanians would have had to cross the entire width of the equatorial rainforest in order to invade the country. I feel that to be true to Howard, the best placement for Amazon is would be directly to the south of Darfar. Its western edge would be the southeastern part of the Southern Desert extending down into the rainforest. From north to south, its eastern edge would be the River Styx. Its southern edge is probably buried deep within the equatorial rainforest.
Historical legends usually place the Amazon homeland near the Black Sea. Interestingly enough, a Greek scholar, Diodorus Siculus, who compiled a history of the Bronze Age world, detailed an account of an Amazon army helping Egypt successfully deter a Libyan invasion. The Amazon army then went on to conquer and settle in the North African nation of Hesperia (thought to be located in Morocco). Today, Moroccan Berbers still tell legends of the people of Azoun, great women warriors who conquered North Africa thousands of years earlier. The Tuareg people also believe that a race of white women warriors lived in the Ahagghar Mountains of Algeria. So Howard placing an Amazon nation in his fictional version of Africa seems to have some basis, albeit legendary.
Keshan is a barbaric kingdom lying in the eastern hinterlands of the continent, where the vast grasslands merge with the rainforest. Its royal city is called Keshia. Although it has conquered a couple of tributary nations, Keshan is a fairly minor kingdom and is considered mythical to the northern and western civilizations. A careful reading of the Conan tale “The Jewels of Gwahlur” belies the notion advanced on the LANY map that Keshan lies in the northern grasslands and shares a border with Stygia. The nation is described as primarily lying in the southern grasslands, its southern part contained within the equatorial jungles that roll up from the south. The only border that it has defined within Howard’s writings is its eastern frontier with Punt, although we are told that Zembabwei lies both to the east and south of Keshan. It seems to me that Keshan’s western frontier may well end at the River Styx, since a location in the “eastern hinterlands” implies that it is located in the grasslands east of that important watercourse. Another point to consider would be the sacred subterranean river that courses beneath Alkmeenon in southern Keshan would have to flow “under” the River Styx if the country was located like it is on the LANY map, since its source is in Punt. A Keshani placement east of the River Styx alleviates this problem, as the underground river merely becomes another tributary of the Styx.
Howard’s Keshan was most likely derived from the Egyptian word Kesh, which was their name for the ancient kingdom of Nubia that existed in what is now northern Sudan.
Iranistan, while shown on the map, is really part of Howard’s “Blue East”, and as such will be dealt with when I examine that area in a future article.
Punt really isn’t all that well described in the Conan saga. It is a mountainous kingdom that lies in the eastern part of the blacklands. The inhabitants of Punt worship an ivory goddess and wash gold out of their rivers in wicker baskets. There is a lake where the people of the Puntish highlands throw their dead; it empties into a subterranean river that flows beneath southern Keshan. Punt appears to be an insular nation, warring frequently with Keshan and provoking Zembabwei by disrupting their trade routes. Punt shares its western border with Keshan and its eastern and southeastern borders with Zembabwei. It also probably shares it northeastern frontier with the eastern nation of Iranistan.
In historical Africa, Punt was an ancient land located to the south of Egypt, presumably along the Somali coast. Howard’s Punt seems to have features in common with the modern nation of Ethiopia; it is mountainous and sacred Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile.
Zembabwei is described in the stories as the great trading nation of the Black kingdoms. It is a “hybrid” kingdom, which I take to mean that its ethnic population is racially mixed; a black kingdom with strong Iranistani and Shemite components. The last nation listed of the four “vast black kingdoms” lying to the south of Stygia; Zembabwei is most likely the fourth largest country of the black lands. Commerce is of the utmost importance, and the nation builds trading fortresses along the caravan routes of foreign nations like Punt. Zembabwei is well situated to maritime trade with foreign nations like Kosala and Vendhya and possibly as far east as Khitai. Zembabwei shares its northern border with Iranistan, its northwestern border with Punt and possibly part of its southern frontier with Atlaia.
In historical Africa, Zimbabwe was a ruined walled city, believed to be the biblical Ophir. It is located in the modern nation of Zimbabwe.
Atlaia is only referenced in Howard’s “The Hyborian Age” essay. Since it is the third nation listed of the four “vast black kingdoms” lying to the south of Stygia, the possibility exists that Atlaia is the third largest country of the black lands. The fact that the nation isn’t mentioned in the Conan saga leads me to believe that it wasn’t accessible by the Hyborian maritime nations. This would also be an arguement against a northern grassland placement (presumably between Darfar and Iranistan), since it should be well known by Stygians and others. Therefore, I’m placing it in the veldts and lake region to the southeast of Kush’s equatorial rainforest, adjacent to southern Zembabwei. This area isn’t defined at all by Howard and it is ancient, showing the first traces of man’s development at Olduvai in Africa. So it seems reasonable to place Atlaia in what is the region’s most ancient and continuously populated area.
As far as I can tell, Atlaia isn’t a part of historical Africa, and the name is apparently Portuguese. L. Sprague DeCamp believes that its name derives from the name Atlas. Since Howard used the name in an African setting, the most logical choice would be the Atlas Mountains of northwestern Africa. In a bit of serendipity, the region that I placed Atlaia on my map was under Portuguese control during the 16th century; not that it matters.
The Black Coast is a term used by Hyborian sailors to describe the coastline of the Western Sea lying to the south of Stygia, similar to their practice of calling the entire southern sub-continent Kush. It consists of two regions, the northern being the nation of Kush proper and the southern, forested coastline being the actual “Black Coast”. If there were any developed nations or empires along the southern stretch, Howard failed to write of them. He did mention a couple of city-states lying upon the Black Coast; Abombi, a city sacked by Conan and Bêlit, and Suba, a city friendly to the black corsairs. These city-states most likely served as the commercial interface between the primitive towns and villages of the equatorial rainforest and sea-traders from Stygia, Shem, and the Hyborian nations. But taken as a whole, the Black Coast and its interior rainforest is really just a huge wilderness area.
Howard’s Black Coast seems to reflect the reality of historical Africa, as the western coasts were relatively undeveloped compared to the Muslim (later Portuguese) commercial colonies of Africa’s eastern coast.
The Southern Islands are home to a number of island kingdoms, and provide the impetus and manpower behind the infamous Black Corsairs. The inhabitants of the isles developed in isolation and are not of common Negroid stock; they are described as having straighter features and hair, as well as being rangier and cleaner limbed than the average Kushite. The Black Corsairs are described in “The Jewels of Gwahlur” as being the wolves of the southern coasts, which imply that they raid the southern and southeastern coasts as well as the infamous Black Coast in the west. The islands are located in both “Queen of the Black Coast” and “Hour of the Dragon” as lying far to the south of Stygia. I believe that Bêlit’s mention the “fires of the ultimate south” refers to the volcanic nature of the islands. While most maps place the islands in the Western Sea off the southern Black Coast, I believe that they are actually located to the south of continental Kush due to the southern part of the African tectonic plate being submerged.
Although there isn’t any historical truth to the islands, they appear on my map as the tops of the submerged Drakensberg Mountain range.
The one country that you will not find on the map of Hyborian Age Kush is the kingdom of Negari. Negari is detailed in Howard’s Solomon Kane epic, “The Moon of Skulls”. The nation was once a colony of the empire of Atlantis, existing into the modern era, so on the face of it Negari should have existed during the Hyborian Age. This view is somewhat problematic, since it contradicts much of what is assumed about that era. First of all, Thurian Age Atlantis was a rude, barbaric kingdom that never reached the heights of civilization related in the Solomon Kane story. Also, Negari is described as lying inland from the western Slave Coast of Africa; an area that was submerged beneath the sea during the Hyborian Age. The only way to resolve this inconsistency is by understanding that there are actually two versions of Atlantis proposed by Howard; one being a continent that was destroyed at the end of the Thurian Age, and the other was a civilized island nation that existed during the upheaval that accompanied the Ice Age subsequent to the end of the Hyborian Age. Negari was not a part of Kush until well after Conan’s lifetime.
The final step in this article is to produce a map of the southern regions that accurately reproduces Stygia as it appears on Howard’s 1932-rough map and place the nations of Kush in their proper position as deduced from the stories. The end result is the map that accompanies this article.
I realize that some people may be disappointed that this isn’t an all-inclusive map showing every single point of interest that Howard described in the Conan saga. The truth is it was never intended to be. My map is a direct reflection of Howard’s own maps of the Hyborian lands; only set in the lands to the south of it. While I may produce a more detailed map in the future for my website, I really wanted this first map to be presented in much the same style that Howard used for his hand-drawn maps; the logical extension of how Howard envisioned his world. While one can never be 100% positive that this is exactly how Howard viewed the lands south of Stygia, I am absolutely sure that this map more accurate than the Miller/Clark LANY map and its many children. And in the end, that’s the whole point.

To the Styx and Beyond essay, and map Copyright 2005-2010 Dale E. Rippke
All rights reserved

Ciudad de Ladrones, a.k.a. City of Thieves

Cartographic Curiosities of the Hyborian Age, part 1
By Dale Rippke
This article originally appeared in REHUPA #191
Zamora, featuring my proposed placement of Howard's "City of Thieves"

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a fan of my HYBORIAN HERESIES book with an interesting challenge. He didn’t believe that the location shown for the Zamorian City of Thieves on any of the Hyborian world maps corresponded to the clues that author Robert E. Howard had provided in his tale “The Tower of the Elephant”. The challenge was that I was to attempt to provide a definitive location for the city.
The City of Thieves first appears under the name of Arenjun in the extreme southeastern corner of Zamora on the Lancer Book’s Hyborian map. Its name and placement came, not from Howard, but as a result of the pastiche writings of L. Sprague DeCamp, specifically, a story titled “The Bloodstained God”. This yarn was adapted by DeCamp from an unsold Howard story called “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God”, which was laid in modern-era Afghanistan. DeCamp decided, for whatever reasons, to place Arenjun along Zamora’s eastern frontier. Other pastiche authors have since added further baggage to the proceedings.
Now in practice, I am a Howard purist, so I won’t use the information provided in the pastiche stories to address to problem of the city’s location. I can only rely on the clues Howard provides us in “The Tower of the Elephant”.  So how well does the pastiche information fit together with the clues found in Howard’s story? Actually, not too well…
There are two concrete facts that Howard provides us with in “The Tower of the Elephant” as to the location of its city. The first supports the DeCamp placement; the second does not.
The first is that the City of Thieves lies on the Zamorian frontier. Howard regales the reader with the exploits of a Kothian rogue who plans to deliver his kidnap victim across the border by dawn. It is fairly late at night when he states his plan, and it really isn’t possible to move that fast and far in the dark, especially if you plan for the night to conceal your activities. It is obvious to conclude that the city is laid very close to a border.
Zamora is shaped like a triangle; it has a southern border it shares with Koth and an eastern and western border that meet at a point in the far north of the nation. The eastern frontier faces Turan, while the western border is shared between Brythunia in the north and Corinthia in the south. The city could appear anywhere along one of those borders.
The second clue comes when Howard states that the kidnapper “came up from distant Koth”, which he then reiterates by pointing out that Koth “lay far to the south, on the borders of Shem”. This eliminates the southern border as a possible location and deals a real blow to the DeCamp placement, since all the maps I’ve seen places it in the southeast corner of the kingdom. It simply can’t be located near the border with Koth and remain true to Howard. I would go so far as to eliminate the southern third of the eastern and western borders of Zamora as well just to keep distant Koth far to the south of the City of Thieves.
One problem with placing the City of Thieves along Zamora’s border in the east has to do with Howard’s description of Koth laying to the south of the city. Khauran and the Eastern Desert of Shem lies directly to the south of Zamora’s eastern border. Koth as a whole would lie southwest of an eastern-located City of Thieves; it lies to the west-southwest of where DeCamp placed Arenjun on the map. Very little of Koth would actually lie to the south of a city located anywhere along that frontier. A western location wouldn’t encounter this problem.
Now we need to narrow down the possible locations available to the city and since Howard didn’t provide us with any other concrete evidence of its placement, we must attempt to use common sense in an effort to ascertain a location. Common sense can take us a long way toward resolving this dilemma.
The kidnapping of the daughter of a “better class” Brythunian and her planned removal to a caravan across the border can help in this regard. It appears that the kidnapper had wandered the Zamorian border cities for several weeks before he settled on his victim. Why would he do this? The most likely reason is because it would be easier to steal a foreign woman from Zamora than it would be to steal her from her home in Brythunia. The Zamorians certainly wouldn’t investigate her disappearance with the same diligence that the law in Brythunia would. Common sense would also imply that the best chance for finding a Brythunian woman in Zamora would be to wander the cities of the western Brythunian/ Corinthian border area, since such women should be more common in that area than in other parts of Zamora.
A kidnapper intent on eliminating his risk would try to arrange things so that it is limited on both ends of the deal. So it seems reasonable to assume that the caravan awaiting the kidnapped woman wouldn’t be waiting within the nation of Brythunia, since it would raise its risk dramatically if they were discovered with her. This alone would seem to reduce the chance of the Brythunian stretch of Zamora’s western border as a practical candidate for the location of the City of Thieves. The risk to a caravan waiting in Turan or Corinthia would be practically nonexistent by comparison.
Since the story implies that the caravan does not enter Zamora, the route that it would take to get to Ophir from an eastern border location would be problematic. It would literally have to travel around Zamora to get to its destination. This would be a huge waste of money unless the caravan has a number of places that it goes to before ending up in Ophir. The trip from a location along Zamora’s western border could be pretty much a straight shot through to Ophir. That makes it much more believable from a financial point of view.
And then there is the mystery of all the foreigners in “The Tower of the Elephant”. Have you ever noticed that with the exception of Yara that there really aren’t any Zamorians in the story? Practically all of the “atmosphere” people described in the yarn are outsiders to the City of Thieves. We are told about a Hyperborean renegade, a Shemitish counterfeiter, a Gunderman deserter, his Brythunian girlfriend, a Kothic kidnapper, a female Brythunian kidnap victim, a count of Ophir, and, of course, Taurus of Nemedia  and his partner in crime, Conan of Cimmeria. The Zamorians are relegated to the outer edges of the story; as non-descript barflies, philosophers, and guardsmen. Compare this with “The God in the Bowl” where all the characters except Conan (and two off-stage Stygians) are Nemedians from Numalia. In “Rogues in the House” all of the characters are Corinthian with the exception of Conan (and his late Gunderman partner-in-crime). While this may ultimately mean nothing, it tends to make the City of Thieves feel like a very cosmopolitan burg. It also has the effect of placing the location of the city along Zamora’s western (Hyborian) border, since common sense would indicate that the foreigners of an eastern border city should be comprised mostly of Turanians and Hyrkanians. It should also be noted that there aren’t any of these eastern outsiders mentioned in the story.
Though the Zamorians take inordinate pride in their thieving abilities, I really feel that the unnamed city’s nickname is probably of Hyborian origin. The city does contain a heavier population of thieves than is usually normal, but Howard makes it clear that it is the entire race that is renowned for their thieving abilities, not just the city’s inhabitants. So “The City of Thieves” shouldn’t really be all that special a place to them. Combine that with the sheer number of unsavory Hyborian rogues listed above though, and one begins to see why the city bears its nickname. There is probably a prosaic reason why so many Hyborian outlaws and renegades end up there. The city’s nickname most likely draws them to it, plus Zamora is probably a safe-haven from Hyborian justice.
A big question then arises; if the City of Thieves contains such a huge criminal component, then why would anyone want to live in a place like that? Common sense would dictate that the answer would have to be liquidity; a great deal of wealth flows through the city.
One thing to consider is that Howard made a point in various Conan stories to paint the Zamorians as a wicked, decadent people with “exotic habits”. Easy access to that decadence could be a big draw to the people of Hyboria; tourism would make for one component of that wealth.
At this point, I also want to remind you that Howard had a caravan parked across the border from the city. Now a caravan waiting out in the middle of nowhere could possibly bring unwanted attention upon itself. But if The City of Thieves was a caravan city, then no one would think that there was anything unusual about it; it wouldn’t draw attention to itself. Thus it becomes fairly obvious that the city must lie on a caravan route. Since there are more thieves in this city than in normal Zamorian cities, it stands to reason that the City of Thieves has a huge amount of wealth pouring through it, attracting the thieves, as well as making it the preeminent Zamorian “Port of Entry” to the nations of the West.
In my opinion, the evidence shows that Zamora’s City of Thieves lies somewhere along the northern section of the border that it shares with Corinthia. It lies along the Road of Kings (Hyboria’s principle caravan route) and is the western point of entry into the nation of Zamora. Its location provides easy access to rogues and outlaws fleeing justice and to decadent Hyborians wishing to sample Zamora’s exotic habits. Its nickname could refer to its trading practices as well as its population of Hyborian and Zamorian thieves. You would do well to consider it the Hyborian Age version of Tijuana.
This isn’t really a weird claim to make…
In February of 1932, Howard took a vacation in southern Texas, wandering around the little border towns along the Rio Grande. He claims that he spent most of his time consuming tortillas, enchiladas, and Spanish wine. It was during this same trip that the conception of Conan grew up full-blown in his mind. It is interesting to speculate on how much influence the setting he found himself in at the time had on his fertile imagination.
Howard’s trip to the Mexican border didn’t really reflect itself in the first three Conan stories that he worked on. It does make a recognizable appearance in the fourth Conan tale, “The Tower of the Elephant”. That story’s bar scene between the Kothic kidnapper and Conan seems to draw on Howard’s border visit and as a result it resonates like a real place.
And the Mexican/Zamorian refection really isn’t just a bar scene. Howard’s Zamorian society, history, and motifs find a mirror across the Mexican border.
Howard describes the Zamorian race as “dark-skinned and dark-eyed”; a description that fits the average Mexican well.
Howard claims that there are more bold thieves in Zamora than anywhere else in the world. Racial prejudice during Howard’s time stereotyped the Mexican people in much the same light.
Howard claims in his essay “The Hyborian Age” that the Zamorian race is the result of the co-mingling of two separate peoples; one group descended from an ancient civilized empire, the other were an unclassified tribe of invaders. Modern-day Mexicans are also the result of two separate cultural groups combining; native people descended from several ancient Meso-American civilizations (Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans) mixing with colonizing Spanish invaders.
Howard’s Zamora is “spider-haunted”. Mexico’s deserts are similarly haunted by spiders; a saucer-sized hairy arachnid called the tarantula.
Over the years, several theories have arisen among Howard scholars concerning the origin of the name “Zamora”. L. Sprague DeCamp believes that Howard got the name from the Spanish province of Zamora, and Patrice Louinet believes that Howard derived the name from Bullfinch’s Mythology, changing Zumara into Zamora.  Both theories have merit, although neither has a Mexican connection.
I’m going to throw my hat into the ring and relate what I feel to be the most likely origin of the name “Zamora”. I mentioned earlier the spider connection between Zamora and Mexico. Well, the most well-known region of Mexico containing the tarantula spider is the desert of Sonora. I believe that Zamora is really just a homonymous derivation of the name Sonora. Speak both names aloud. They sound practically the same.
These are most of the reasons that I would place Howard’s City of Thieves were I did. If, however, I were hard pressed to come up with a name for the city, then I guess it would have to be Ciudad de Ladrones.
Ciudad de Ladrones essay Copyright 2005-2010 Dale E. Rippke
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