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.
THE LANY MAP
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 SOUTHERN SUB-CONTINENT
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.
THE SOUTHERN DESERT
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
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
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
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