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Aquilonia (Conan)

Aquilonia is a fictional country created by Robert E. Howard as part of his Hyborian world, created for his character Conan the Barbarian. Conan eventually becomes king of this country.

Howard was quite precise concerning the geographic relationships between his fictional world and modern Europe, and Aquilonia can be placed in modern France and southern Britain.

The fictional country of Aquilonia should not be confused with the town of Aquilonia in Italy; however, there are distinct similarities between the geographies of Howard's Hyborian world and modern day Europe

Origins

Cataclysmic ancestors

Howard explained the origins and history of Aquilonia and its people in his essay The Hyborian Age. The civilizations of Thuria, Lemuria and Atlantis, mentioned in his series about Kull, all fell to a cataclysm only a few centuries after the reign of the Valusian King.

According to the essay, at the time of this cataclysm a group of primitive humans were at a technological level hardly above the Neanderthal. They fled to the Northern areas of what was left of the Thurian continent to escape the destruction. They discovered the areas to be safe but covered with snow and already inhabited by a race of carnivorous apes. The apes were large with white fur and apparently native to their land. The stone age invaders engaged in a territorial war with them and eventually managed to drive them off, past the Arctic Circle. Believing their enemies fated to perish and no longer interested in them, the recently arrived group adapted to their new, harsh environment and its population started to increase.

Hyborian ancestors

One thousand and five hundred years later, the descendants of this initial group were now called Hyborians. They were named after their highest ranking god deity, Bori. (Howard apparently based this god on Búri, first god in Norse mythology, father of Borr and through him grandfather of Odin, Vili and Ve). The essay mentions that Bori had actually been a great tribal chief of their past who had undergone deification. Their oral tradition remembered him as their leader during their initial migration to the north though the antiquity of this man had been exaggerated.

By this point the various related but independent Hyborian tribes had spread throughout the northern regions of their area of the world. Some of them were already migrating south at a "leisurely" pace in search of new areas in which to settle. The Hyborians had yet to encounter other cultural groups but engaged in wars against each other. Howard describes them as a powerful and warlike race with the average individual being tall, auburn-haired and gray-eyed. Culturally they were already accomplished artists and poets. Most of the tribes still relied on hunting for their nourishment. Their southern offshoots however had been practicing animal husbandry on cattle for a number of centuries.

The only exception to their long isolation from other cultural groups came due to the actions of a lone adventurer, unnamed in the essay. He had traveled past the Arctic Circle and returned with news that their old adversaries, the apes were not in fact annihilated. They had instead evolved into apemen and according to his description were by then numerous. He believed they were quickly evolving to human status and would pose a threat to the Hyborians in the future. He attempted to recruit a significant military force to campaign against them. But most Hyborians were not convinced by his tales and at last only a small group of foolhardy youths followed his campaign. None of them returned.

Beginnings of the Hyborian Age

With the population of the Hyborian tribes continuing to increase, the need for new lands also increased. The Hyborians started expanding outside their familiar territories and then started for them a new age of wanderings and conquests. For five hundred years the Hyborians were spreading towards the South and the West of their nameless continent.

They now encountered other tribal groups for the first time in millennia. They conquered many smaller clans of various origins. The survivors of the defeated clans merged with their conquerors, passing on their racial traits to new generations of Hyborians. The mixed-blooded Hyborian tribes were in turn forced to defend their new territories from pure blooded Hyborian tribes which followed the same trails of migration. Often the new invaders would swipe away the defenders before absorbing them, resulting in a tangled web of Hyborian tribes and nations with varying ancestral elements within their bloodlines.

The first organized Hyborian kingdom to emerge was Hyperborea. The tribe which established it entered their Neolithic age by mastering architecture. In particular they learned the secret of erecting buildings out of stone. The start was made for reasons of fortification. They built a crude stone fortress for the defense of their territory from prospective invaders. They were still nomads and lived in tents made out of the hides of horses. But soon abandoned them in favor of their first stone houses which were still crude but durable. They permanently settled themselves in fortified settlements and developed cyclopean masonry to further fortify their defensive walls.

The Hyperboreans were by then the most advanced of the Hyborian tribes and set out to expand their Kingdom by attacking their backwards neighbors. Many tribes lost their territories to them in wars and had to migrate away. Others fled the path of their expansion and started their own migrations before ever engaging them in war. Both migrating groups preferred this solution to becoming mere vassals to their powerful Hyperborean kin. Meanwhile the "apemen" of the Arctic Circle emerged as a new race of light-haired and tall humans. They started their own migration to the south, displacing the northernmost of the Hyborian tribes.

Rulers of the West

For the next thousand years the warlike Hyborian nations advanced to become the rulers of the Western areas of the nameless continent. They encountered the Picts and forced them to limit themselves to the western wastelands which would come to be known as the "Pictish Wilderness". Following the example of their Hyperborean cousins, other Hyborians started to settle down and create their own kingdoms.

The southernmost of the early ones was Koth which was established north of the lands of Shem and soon started extending its cultural influence over the southern shepherds. Just south of the Pictish Wilderness was the fertile valley known as "Zing". The wandering Hyborian tribe which conquered them found other people already settled there. They included a nameless farming nation related to the people of the Shem and a warlike Pictish tribe who had previously conquered them. They established the kingdom of Zingara and absorbed the defeated elements into their tribe. Hyborians, Picts and the unnamed kin of the Shemites would merge into a nation calling themselves Zingarans.

On the other hand at the north of the continent, the fair haired invaders from the Arctic Circle had grown in numbers and power. They continued their expansion south while in turn displacing defeated Hyborians to the south. Even Hyperborea was conquered by one of these barbarian tribes. But the conquerors here decided to maintain the kingdom with its old name, merged with the defeated Hyperboreans and adopted elements of Hyborian culture. The continuing wars and migrations would keep the state of the other areas of the continent for other five hundred years.

Early History

Related people

Howard left the particular origins of Aquilonia vague. The first mention of it in his essay was as one of nine Hyborian Kingdoms left when borders were more or less stabilized. Its sibling Kingdoms were in order of mention: Nemedia, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Koth, Ophir, Argos, Corinthia and the so-called Border Kingdoms. While the others were indeed unified Kingdoms, the latter were a settled area surrounded by Aquilonia, Cimmeria, Hyberborea, Brythunia and Nemedia, containing various city-states. The border Kingdoms seemed to have started as Hyborian colonies and maintained their independence mostly because its more powerful neighbors preferred this relatively harmless entity at their borders rather than having to engage each other in a territorial war of uncertain outcome.

The people of Aquilonia were also related to the Zingarans but the mixed racial heritage of this coastal people led Howard to discount them as Hyborians. He described the Zingarans as darker skinned than their Hyborian cousins and exotic in their habits. Though he points this description also fit the people of Zamora, the two Kingdoms and their populations were not related.

Culture

Aquilonia would emerge as the most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms. The Hyborian culture of the time was described by Howard as dynamic and its civilizing influence was felt by most of their barbarian neighbors. The Hyborians of the time had a mixed heritage and no longer closely resembled their ancestors. Though Howard points than this mixed heritage had not weakened them in any way. Slavery was widespread in the Hyborian world and Howard points it had the unintended side-effect of slaves mating with their masters and producing bloodlines of mixed heritage in most Kingdoms of the time, Hyborian or not.

Aquilonia itself contained at least three provinces with somewhat distinct culture and heritage from other Aquilonians. The province of Gunderland to the north of the country did not contain slaves, though Howard did not point the reasons for their absence here. The people of this province had underwent less interbreeding with other races than any other Hyborians of the time. They resembled the ancient Hyborians closer than any of the others and were still auburn-haired and gray-eyed.

From the northern border of Zingara, throughout the Pictish border and to the south of Cimmeria and the east of the Border Kingdoms were the extended Bossonian Marches. The Bossonians descended from a formerly independent race which has been among the first to fall to the Hyborians. They had some Hyborian blood by then but were distinct in appearance. They were people of "average" height and skin pigmentation, having either gray or brown eyes and their skulls were mesocephalic.

Their position at the borders of civilization with the barbarians never allowed them to advance at the cultural height of other Hyborians. They were mostly farmers, settled in fortified villages and their main concern was the defense of their land from barbarian raids. In effect also protecting Aquilonia and the Hyborians in general from facing invasions by Picts or Cimmerians. Centuries of barbarian wars led to the Bossonians being particularly stubborn combatants and their defense techniques were impenetrable by the direct charges favored by barbarian military commanders.

To the south the province of Poitain had borders with Zingara. The relatively peaceful relations between the two civilized Kingdoms allowed for people and goods to constantly flow through the borders. Interbreeding with the Zingarans led to the people of Poitain being predominantly dark-haired and brown-eyed.

Borders

The western borders of Aquilonia were with the Pictish Wilderness and Zingara. The Picts were more or less stagnant culturally and had not significantly advanced in millennia. The two people often engaged in border wars, with Pictish tribes attempting raids and Aquilonian armies and colonists attempting to expand their Kingdom towards the west. Met with fierce resistance in either case, the profits of these campaigns were meager and costly in terms of casualties.

The Zingarans were an emerging naval power with their focus being in the competition of their military and merchant fleets with Argos and Stygia for dominance of the Western Sea. Howard does not mention any significant conflicts with Aquilonia at this point.

The maps of the Hyborian world depict a small territory where the southern borders of Aquilonia with Zingara and Ophir were at a very small distance from the northern borders of Argos with both states. Howard did not specify the situation of this territory where the forces of four powerful Hyborian kingdoms were at a small distance from each other.

The southern borders of Aquilonia were with both Zingara and Ophir. Ophir was a gold-mining region as pointed by its name. Howard named it after Ophir, an ancient port or region mentioned in the Books of Kings as famous for its wealth. During the United Monarchy, Ophir supposedly provided Solomon with cargoes of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks. Howard probably also envisioned his version of Ophir as a kingdom focusing on trade but it mostly has a peripheral role in the Conan stories. By the time of Conan, Aquilonia and Ophir were allies.

The eastern borders of Aquilonia were with Nemedia, the second most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms and possibly a bit more advanced culturally. The two main competitors for dominance of the Hyborian world would often engage in wars without managing to gain dominance over each other. Nemedia was frequently mentioned in the works of Howard as the main source of Hyborian philosophy and Nemedian priests of Mithra seem to be spread across the Hyborian world in their efforts to convert others to their religion. While Howard never dwells in theology, his version of prehistoric Mithraism is the religion closest resembling monotheism in his works. Howard even names his fictional sources for Hyborian Age information as the "Nemedian Chronicles", pointing to the Nemedians being the most renowned chroniclers of their time.

The northeastern borders of Aquilonia with the Border Kindgoms would serve to prevent Aquilonia from having direct borders with Hyperborea and an even more extensive border with Cimmeria. The extent of Aquilonian influence over this area is uncertain though pastiche writers have depicted Aquilonian colonial efforts.

The northern borders of Aquilonia were with Cimmeria. The Cimmerians were descendants of the people of Atlantis who managed to survive the cataclysm. They are still barbarians but have avoided the cultural stagnation of the Picts. The essay points that they maintained contact with their northern neighbors in Vanaheim and Asgard, their eastern neighbors in Hyperborea, their southeast neighbors in the Border Kingdoms, their southern neighbors in Aquilonia and their western neighbors in the Pictish Wilderness. Through those contacts they were increasingly familiar with the advances of other people and were undergoing gradual cultural developments themselves.

The Cimmerians were consistent of various warlike tribes. They engaged in war with each other when not actively and stubbornly defending their territory from the raids and military invasions of their neighbors. They were fiercely independent and resisted all attempts at conquest. They performed raids to the realms of others but were either unable or uninterested in expanding their territories . Aquilonia managed to successfully defend itself from the raids and their efforts to expand in Cimmerian grounds met with fierce opposition. These borders remained surprisingly stable after centuries of warfare.

Age of Conan

By the time of Conan, the Hyborian kingdoms had centuries of history behind them and were arguably beginning to stagnate. None of them were seemingly able to completely overcome their traditional enemies and/or have significant territorial gains throughout the long career of this wandering and ambitious Cimmerian.

Battle of Venarium

The earliest known encounter of Conan with Aquilonians was also his first battle. In another attempt at expansion the Aquilonians established the frontier settlement named Venarium within southern Cimmeria. An alliance of Cimmerian tribes eventually targeted this advanced fortress and managed to sack it. A fifteen-year-old Conan was among the victorious combatants. This event was first mentioned in the story Beyond the Black River by Howard himself.

Conan was conversing with Balthus, a young Aquilonian, who mentioned that the Picts would be unable to resist the Aquilonian expansion because they would never unite and the Aquilonians could whip any single clan. Conan has a lot to mention: "Or any three or four clans. But some day a man will rise and unite thirty or forty clans, just as was done among the Cimmerians, when the Gundermen tried to push the border northward, years ago. They tried to colonize the southern marches of Cimmeria: destroyed a few small clans, built a fort-town, Venarium — you've heard the tale."

Balthus had to admit: "My uncle was at Venarium when the Cimmerians swarmed over the walls. He was one of the few who escaped that slaughter. I've heard him tell the tale, many a time. The barbarians swept out of the hills in a ravening horde, without warning, and stormed Venarium with such fury none could stand before them. Men, women, and children were butchered. Venarium was reduced to a mass of charred ruins, as it is to this day. The Aquilonians were driven back across the marches, and have never since tried to colonize the Cimmerian country. But you speak of Venarium familiarly. Perhaps you were there?"

Conan answers freely: "I was one of the horde that swarmed over the walls. I hadn't yet seen fifteen snows, but already my name was repeated about the council fires."

Various later writers both in novels and comic books would expand on the details of this very early combat at the life of the Cimmerian. However the battle would only become the subject of an entire novel with the publication of Conan of Venarium by Harry Turtledove in 2004. But it should be noted that this late novel has been criticized for its version of the Cimmerians being incompatible with the Howardian canon. For example Dale Rippke, a veteran scholar when it comes to Conan, has mentioned in his review of the novel: "Howard’s Cimmerians are barely past the stone-age. They are more evolved than his Picts, in that they are able to work metal, but seem to only scratch out a hand-to-mouth existence in the wilds of Cimmeria. Turtledove has Conan living in Duthil, a Middle-Age town complete with multi-level buildings and a blacksmith shop with a bellows forge. There doesn’t seem to be much hardship at all in Turtledove’s Cimmeria."

Valeria

Aquilonia somewhat surprisingly plays a peripheral role in most of the stories featuring adventures of Conan in his youth as they often take place far to the east and south of the Hyborian world. Conan and other characters do at times mention it in conversation.

In Red Nails Conan was active with Valeria in the "Black Countries" of the South but mentions to her in passing information learned from Aquilonians. "There's strength in union. That's what the Aquilonian renegades used to tell us Cimmerians when they came into the hills to raise an army to invade their own country. But we always fight by clans and tribes." Valeria herself was Aquilonian but Howard does not expand on her background.

Service in the Aquilonian army

In Conan the Rogue (1991) by John Maddox Roberts, Conan was in his early forties and first depicted entering Aquilonia. He was heading to the capital Tarantia to offer his services as a mercenary to the Aquilonian army. This was meant to lead directly to the Howard story Beyond the Black River where Conan was already serving the Aquilonian military for some time and assigned at the Pictish border.

By the time of this novel, the Aquilonians had advanced past the Thunder River, serving as the traditional border, in another effort to expand towards the west. They had expanded all the way to the so-called Black River named their new area Conajohara. The military fortress of Fort Tuscelan served to contain the armyforces assigned to this area. Several civilian settlers had already established households spread through Conajohara. Their closest possible reinforcements would come from Fort Velitrium, set by the Thunder River. However the Picts aimed to reclaim their territory and posed a constant threat.

Conan served loyaly but considered the whole effort of colonisation to be both futile and unnecessary: "The Picts steal over to burn and murder." ... "They don't always come singly. Some day they'll try to sweep the settlers out of Conajohara. And they may succeed — probably will succeed. This colonization business is mad, anyway. There's plenty of good land east of the Bossonian marches. If the Aquilonians would cut up some of the big estates of their barons, and plant wheat where now only deer are hunted, they wouldn't have to cross the border and take the land of the Picts away from them." ... "I'm a mercenary. I sell my sword to the highest bidder. I never planted wheat and never will, so long as there are other harvests to be reaped with the sword. But you Hyborians have expanded as far as you'll be allowed to expand. You've crossed the marches, burned a few villages, exterminated a few clans and pushed back the frontier to Black River; but I doubt if you'll even be able to hold what you've conquered, and you'll never push the frontier any further westward. Your idiotic king doesn't understand conditions here. He won't send you enough reinforcements, and there are not enough settlers to withstand the shock of a concerted attack from across the river."

The events of the story would partly vindicate his views. Pictish tribes united under the wizard Zogar Sag managed to destroy Fort Tuscelan and successfully reclaimed Conajohara. Conan managed to lead the defense of Velitrium and the Picts suffered sufficient casualties to not attempt expanding east. But neither could the Aquilonians expand west again after this spectacular failure. The story concluded with the following assessment: "Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."

The 1978 collection Conan the Swordsman contains the short story the Moon of Blood by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The story continues directly from Beyond the Black River and has Conan promoted to a Captain as a result of his actions in the previous story. His continued involvement in the Pictish War earns him a promotion to general and a royal invitation to Tarantia by the end of the story.

The story led directly to The Black Stranger (1967), a story started by Howard but partially rewritten and completed by de Camp. According to it, Conan visited Tarantia in a triumph organized by King Numedides for his successes in the border. With the Aquilonian masses hailing Conan as a hero, Numedides started seeing the overly popular general as a possible claimant to his throne. The suspicious monarch betrayed his general and had him arrested and locked in the Iron Tower, awaiting execution.

Aquilonian rebellion

The Black Stranger continues in having Conan aided in escaping imprisonment by a number of Aquilonian allies. Conan flees Tarantia alone, proceeds to the Bossonioan Marches and swims across the Thunder River. Conan considered that Numedides would not pursue him into the Pictish Wilderness. He decided to risk making a passage to the Western Sea and got involved in the efforts of Zingaran and Barachan sea reavers to locate the famed treasure of Tranicos, a successful pirate slain by supernatural means. The end of the story finds Conan in possession of the treasure, having renewed contact with his Aquilonian allies and ready to start a rebellion against Numedides.

The tale of this rebellion was told in Conan the Liberator (1979) by de Camp and Carter. The novel characterises Numedides as mad, exceedingly cruel but somewhat ineffectual. The power behind the throne being his sorcerer Thulandra Thuu who has his own agendas. The novel features several battles but Conan and Thulandra Thuu also advance their causes by several more subtle plots and espionage. By the end of the novel Numedides is killed and Conan claims the crown of Aquilonia for himself.

King of Aquilonia

The Phoenix on the Sword (1932) was the very first Conan story by Howard and features him as a recently crowned King. His reign dates but months though already various dissenting nobles and their agents had "honeycombed the empire with sedition and unrest."

Key persons in his administration by this point included Trocero , Count of Poitain and Seneschal of Aquilonia, Prospero, Poitainian general and "King Conan's right­hand man", Pallantides, "commander of the Black Dragons" which served as the elite imperial troops, and Publius, "the high councillor".

Conan has discovered to his dismay that "these matters of statecraft weary me as all the fighting I have done never did." ... "It seems ages since I had a horse between my knees - but Publius says that affairs in the city require my presence. Curse him!" ... "When I overthrew the old dynasty it was easy enough, though it seemed bitter hard at the time. Looking back now over the wild path I followed, all those days of toil, intrigue, slaughter and tribulation seem like a dream. I did not dream far enough, Prospero".

"When King Numedides lay dead at my feet and I tore the crown from his gory head and set it on my own, I had reached the ultimate border of my dreams. I had prepared myself to take the crown, not to hold it. In the old free days all I wanted was a sharp sword and a straight path to my enemies. Now no paths are straight and my sword is useless. When I overthrew Numedides, then I was the Liberator - now they spit at my shadow. They have put a statue of that swine in the temple of Mitra, and people go and wail before it, hailing it as the holy effigy of a saintly monarch who was done to death by a red-handed barbarian. When I led her armies to victory as a mercenary, Aquilonia overlooked the fact that I was a foreigner, but now she can not forgive me. Now in Mitra's temple there come to burn incense to Numedides' memory, men whom his hangmen maimed and blinded, men whose sons died in his dungeons, whose wives and daughters were dragged into his seraglio. The fickle fools!"

Howard accompanied the tale by verses of a Hyborian poem "The Road of Kings" which seem to summarize the sentiments of Conan:

When I was a fighting-man, the kettle-drums they beat,
The people scattered gold-dust before my horses feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.

Four men were already plotting his assassination. The first was Ascalante, "once count of Thune" whose realm had been forfeited. He had been reduced to dwelling in the deserts of the east and raiding caravans for a living. He had been summoned back to organize the assassination plot and had plans to claim the throne for himself. The second was Dion, the "fat" baron of Attalus whose great wealth financed their plots and had the main claim to the throne by "a trace of royal blood". The third was Gromel, a stubborn Bossonian commander of the Black Legion who desired a promotion to the command of the whole issue.

The fourth was an unusual character for the Conan tales. Rinaldo, an idealistic poet with no known personal ambition. He was the main source of propaganda for the memory of Numedides and criticism of Conan. Ascalante described his ally as following: "Rinaldo has no personal ambition. He sees in Conan a red-handed, rough-footed barbarian who came out of the north to plunder a civilized land. He idealizes the king whom Conan killed to get the crown, remembering only that he occasionally patronized the arts, and forgetting the evils of his reign, and he is making the people forget. Already they openly sing The Lament for the King in which Rinaldo lauds the sainted villain and denounces Conan as 'that black-hearted savage from the abyss.' Conan laughs, but the people snarl." Actually Conan was well aware of his poetry but unwilling to persecute the man: "He's beyond my reach. A great poet is greater than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo's songs will live for ever."

The assassins had managed to remove most of the officials and troops loyal to Conan from the capital, some in diplomatic assignments and some as reinforcement to the still restless Pictish border. They planned to ambush Conan and slay him in his sleep. The plot was thrown off by the involvement of magical forces. Ascalante had enslaved Thoth-Amon, a Stygian sorcerer whose main source of power was the Serpent Ring of Set.

By the description of Thoth: "I was a great sorcerer in the south. Men spoke of Thoth-­Amon as they spoke of Rammon. King Ctesphon of Stygia gave me great honor, casting down the magicians from the high places to exalt me above them. They hated me, but they feared me, for I controlled beings from outside which came at my call and did my bidding. By Set, mine enemy knew not the hour when he might awake at midnight to feel the taloned fingers of a nameless horror at his throat! I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea. But a thief stole the Ring and my power was broken. The magicians rose up to slay me, and I fled. Disguised as a camel-driver, I was travelling in a caravan in the land of Koth, when Ascalante's reavers fell upon us. All in the caravan were slain except myself; I saved my life by revealing my identity to Ascalante and swearing to serve him. Bitter has been that bondage!"

Ascalante used the Stygian to organize his plot and before the assassination sent him to keep an eye on Dion. Dion would not take part in the deed but await its results. Thoth-Amon discovered the baron had in his possession the Serpent Ring who was sold to him as a good luck char. Toth-Amon slew Dion in his rage and reclaimed his ring and his power. Unleashing a magical entity to find and assassinate Ascalante. On the other hand the use of this magic awakened Epemitreus the Sage, a Mithraic priest who was dead for 1500 years and whose tomb in Mount Golamira was considered lost. He called on the spirit of Conan and explained to him: "Your destiny is one with Aquilonia. Gigantic happenings are forming in the web and the womb of Fate, and a blood-mad sorcerer shall not stand in the path of imperial destiny. Ages ago Set coiled about the world like a python about its prey. All my life, which was as the lives of three common men, I fought him. I drove him into the shadows of the mysterious south, but in dark Stygia men still worship him who to us is the arch-demon. As I fought Set, I fight his worshippers and his votaries and his acolytes. Hold out your sword." He blessed the sword of Conan with the symbol of the Phoenix which proved sufficient to slay the entity.

The story is followed by The Scarlet Citadel where Conan faces a plot to depose him by his former ally Amalrus of Ophir, Strabonus of Koth, Thosta-Lanti who served as the power behind the throne of Coth and Prince Arpello of Pellia, a surviving member of the old Aquilonian dynasty. All four consider him a mere usurper because of his lack of royal blood.

Conan however proclaims their own unworthiness for their respective thrones: "How did you come to your crown, you and that black-faced pig beside you? Your fathers did the fighting and the suffering, and handed their crowns to you on golden platters. What you inherited without lifting a finger - except to poison a few brothers - I fought for. You sit on satin and guzzle wine the people sweat for, and talk of divine rights of sovereignty - bah! I climbed out of the abyss of naked barbarism to the throne and in that climb I spilt my blood as freely as I spilt that of others. If either of us has the right to rule men, by Crom, it is I! How have you proved yourselves my superiors? I found Aquilonia in the grip of a pig like you - one who traced his genealogy for a thousand years. The land was torn with the wars of the barons, and the people cried out under oppression and taxation. Today no Aquilonian noble dares maltreat the humblest of my subjects, and the taxes of the people are lighter than anywhere else in the world. What of you? Your brother, Amalrus, holds the eastern half of your kingdom, and defies you. And you, Strabonus, your soldiers are even now besieging castles of a dozen or more rebellious barons. The people of both your kingdoms are crushed into the earth by tyrannous taxes and levies."

By the end of the novel the three royal conspirators are dead, Thotha-Lanti undead but decapitated and the armies of Koth and Ophir firmly defeated. The last story of Howard to feature Conan as a King was The Hour of the Dragon which features Conan being deposed in favor of Valerius, senior living descendant of the old royal family, and Aquilonia falling under the occupation of Nemedia. Actually as part of a plot by Xaltotun to resurrect the ancient empire of Acheron which met its demise three thousand years before. Conan is restored to the throne by the end and the Nemedians firmly defeated.

In the Hour of the Dragon Conan promises to marry Zenobia of Nemedia who had saved his life and make her his queen. His subsequent reign and their marital life were explored in the novels The Return of Conan (1957) by Björn Nyberg and de Camp, Conan the Great (1989) by Leonard Carpenter, Conan of Aquilonia (1977) by de Camp and Carter and Conan of the Isles (1968) by de Camp and Carter. By the last novel Conan completes a reign of more than two decades and abdicates in favor of his son Conan II of Aquilonia, nicknamed Conn. Conan the elder heads for one last adventure in the Western Sea.

Later history

Empire builders

Conan of the Isles assumes that Conan was the founder of a new Aquilonian dynasty. A new dynasty with both Cimmerian and Nemedian ancestry. No stories as of yet have recorded their activities and the length of their presence on the throne. Howard however recorded the latter history of Aquilonia in his Hyborian Age essay.

According to it the Aquilonian kings eventually managed to create an empire through their wars of expansion. Zingara, Argos, Ophir and the western city-states of Shem were annexed to the Aquilonian kingdom. Koth, Corinthia and the eastern city-states of Shem were forced to pay tribute and offer military aid at times of war.

Hyberborea then marched against their age-old enemy and the two Hyborian forces used the Border Kingdoms as their battlefield. The Aquilonians were victorious and the remnants of the Hyperborean army were allowed to return to their country. Hyperborea returned to its isolation. Nemedia had resisted Aquilonian expansion for centuries but at this point was more threatened than ever. The Nemedians formed an alliance with Brythunia, Zamora and secretly with Koth in order to stop the further rise of this new Aquilonian Empire.

But for some time Turan was recruiting new Hyrkanian tribes which were migrating towards the west. Thus reinforced the Turanians invaded Zamora, Corinthia and at last Brythunia. The armies of Aquilonia and Turan faced each other on Brythunian land. The Turanians were forced to retreat and Aquilonian forces managed to capture Zamora. By that time the Aquilonian army was accompanied by significant mercenary forces, notably Zingarans, Picts and Shemites.

Nemedia abandoned the plans to directly oppose Aquilonia. The alliances with Brythunia and Koth were retained while Hyperborea joined this set of allies. But their purpose was merely to defend their independence from the Aquilonian threat.

But the flow of Hyrkanian tribes to the armies of Turan continued. Three more Turanian campaigns in Zamora and Shem had to be stopped by the Aquilonians. Meanwhile the Cimmerians continued facing the Bossonians at the northern borders of Aquilonia. They even managed to lead raids to the mainland of Aquilonia in search of loot.

Changes in the Pictish border

The Picts were undergoing changes of themselves at the time. Their population and military might were increasing. Through contacts with the Hyborians, they had finally left the stone age and learned some crude metalworking. In particular they were using copper and zinc though they had to either raid Zingara or trade for them to gather the metals. They were no longer living in caves but abandoned them in favor of leather tents and crude huts in Bossonian style. They were still mostly hunters but practiced limited farming when unable to raid their neighbors to get agricultural products.

They were finally beginning to make their own crude weapons out of copper and bronze when two individuals would change the course of their history. The first was Arus, an idealistic Nemedian priest determined to civilize the Picts and convert them to the worship of Mitra. The second was Gorm, a young Pictish chieftain who took the opportunity to get instructions in civilization for his own purposes.

Arus recognized areas rich in metals and Gorm led his tribe in building the first Pictish mines. Gorm visited Aquilonia to further his knowledge of Hyborian culture while the forges of his tribe built increasingly advanced metal weapons. Gorm used his new weaponry to expand his influence over ever increasing parts of the Pictish Wilderness. Sometimes by war, sometimes by diplomace and all times by cunning Gorm was struggling to unite the Picts under his rule.

Picts now traveled freely across the Aquilonian Empire and started joining the Aquilonian army as mercenaries in ever increasing numbers. The Kings of Aquilonia sought good relations with Gorm and his Picts partly to keep the flow of mercenaries steady and partly entertaining thoughts of turning their new "allies" against the Cimmerians. Their true goal being the mutual annihilation of the two barbarian neighbor people. But continued hostilities at their eastern and southern borders kept them preoccupied and this plan was never brought into fruition.

The Aquilonians did not care of the eventual fates of their Pictish mercenaries following their service. But the veterans returned to their people with new ideas on the advanced art of war and the prospect to teach them. Their familiarity with civilization only increased their contempt for it. Their forges were building steel weapons and preventing for eventual conflict with their former masters.

At last Gorm managed to unite all Picts under his rule. Howard compares him to Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and Osman I, a barbarian with all the instincts of an empire builder. He was middle-aged but his war against Aquilonia was about to begin.

Imperial height

While Gorm was uniting the Picts, the Aquilonians were undergoing changes of their own. Aquilonia was always a prosperous kingdom but the new conquests brought it fabulous wealth. Luxury took the place of simplicity in every aspect of their lives. The Aquilonians dressed themselves in silks but did not allow themselves to become soft.

Howard points that Aquilonians remained a lively and virile nation. But they became exceedingly arrogant and convinced of their own superiority. They now treated the other people of their empire and their vassal states with increasing contempt while harsher taxation awaited the conquered nations.

Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Zamora and provinces of Shem were officially annexed into Aquilonia for some time but not fully incorporated into the Aquilonian identity. The provinces were run as occupied territories and their people were treated as if enslaved. The proud Zingarans continued to rise in revolt even in the face of violent retaliation.

Koth was officially under the "protection" of Aquilonia against the Hyrkanian threat from the east. Actually it was a vassal state continuing to pay tribute.

Aquilonia was not invincible. Nemedia resisted all attempts at annexation and Hyperborea offered military help in defense of its main ally. An entire Aquilonian army was decimated in a new attempt at invading Cimmeria. Another army was almost completely annihilated in an attempt to invade Asgard.

While attempts to expand towards the north seemed futile, the southern border with Stygia offered new prospects. An Aquilonian army managed to decimate its Stygian opponents in battle by the river Styx. Stygia offered to pay tribute to the rising Empire in exchange for the calling off a full-scale invasion.

A series of lightning campaigns then exhausted Brythunia. The Aquilonians prepared for what they intended to be their final campaign against Nemedia.

End of the Bossonians

The campaign against Nemedia would prove to be the beginning of the end for the Aquilonian Empire. An extensive Aquilonian force with the addition of mercenaries marched towards Nemedia. But the strife between forces from the mainland of Aquilonia and those from the Bossonian Marches plagued this campaign.

The Bossonians were harsh and less civilized that proper Aquilonians. The increasingly arrogant Aquilonians had extended their contempt for subject people to them also. After centuries of defending the Empire they were then treated as inferiors. They now faced harsh taxation and were recruited to fight in battlefields far removed from their homeland. The expansion wars had brought little benefit to the Bossonian territories. The Bossonians hated their new treatment and were unsurprisingly less than enthusiastic in following the new campaign.

At this point the Picts of Gorm invaded Bossonia which was guarded by few remaining forces. As soon as the news reached the Nemedian front, the Bossonian military forces abandoned the campaign. They headed back towards the Marches and this new western war front. Their timely arrival allowed them to defeat the Picts in a great battle.

But the Aquilonian campaign was weakened by this massive desertion and the desperate Nemedian defense forced them to retreat in defeat. The Aquilonian imperialists were enraged and vengeful. Howard points that imperialists tend to be uncompromising and short-sighted. Aquilonian troops marched towards the Marches in secrecy. Shemite mercenaries were assigned to the border and settled among the villagers. Then the Aquilonians announced that a new war against the Picts was to begin. The Bossonian leaders were invited to a war council.

The leaders arrived at the council without their weapons and were slaughtered. The Shemite mercenaries turned on their hosts and the Aquilonian imperial forces joined the battle. The entire territory of the Bossonian Marches was pillaged and left in ruins. Then the victors withdrew back to the mainland of Aquilonia with their loot according to their orders. The Aquilonians had managed what any combination of Picts and Cimmerians had not in the course of centuries. They had wiped out the Bossonians and left the Aquilonian borders defenseless against all attacks.

Imperial fall

Gorm was now an old man but his fiery ambition kept him in action. He took advantage of the unguarded borders to unleash his greatest campaign. The Aquilonians were used to facing the attack of a single tribe or a small alliance of tribes. Now an organised Pictish army raised from their new union of all tribes marched towards Aquilonia. Gorm himself laid the plans and had the general command of the campaign. The other campaign leaders had seen service in the Aquilonian armies and were veterans of several Hyborian Wars. This experience was now put to practice in a way the Aquilonians had not seen.

Scattered remnants of the Bossonians had escaped annihilation by the Aquilonians only to fall against the Picts. The Picts entered the mainland of Aquilonia, pillaging and burning in every step of their way. The main force of the Aquilonians was still assigned to the Nemedian border and were not quick enough to head west. Meanwhile Zingara, Corinthia and Shem found the opportunity to declare independence.

The Aquilonian army was further reduced in numbers. Mercenaries of Pict, Zingaran, Corinthian and Shemite origin all abandoned camp and left to join their people. Other mercenary and vassal forces followed their example rather during the initial confusion of the Aquilonians. The defecting troops started pillaging and burning the lands of their former masters.

One after the other , the Aquilonian units fell to the Picts. The Bossonians had long provived most of the archers to the army. Now the Aquilonians were left without archer support and unable to defend from the arrows of their enemies.

Both armies called for reinforcements. But the recalled Aquilonian forces were assigned to distant borders and had to make way through rebellious provinces while the Picts were able to join their main force in great numbers and at their leisure.

The Cimmerians found the opportunity to also invade amidst this chaotic state of affairs. They pillaged cities and countryside alike before bringing their loot back to Cimmeria. The Picts however were settling in the areas of their conquest.

The Aquilonian Empire collapsed in blood and fire. Several successor states would rise to take its place but none under Aquilonian control.

Legacy

Successor states

The main successor of Aquilonia was the Pictish Empire which had come to include the former Pictish Wilderness, Zingara, Aquilonia, Argos, Ophir, western Koth and western Seth. This empire remained harsh and barbaric. The former Aquilonian province of Gunderland became an independent Kingdom with Hyborian population.

The Picts inherited the traditional Aquilonian enmity with the Hyrkanians. The latter were building their own new empire which included Zamora, Brythunia, the Border Kingdom, Corinthia, eastern Koth and eastern Shem.

Cimmeria was locked between the two rival Empires but retained independence through defensive wars. A weakened Nemedia was now controlled by a tribe of mercenaries from Asgard who assumed the name of the Nemedians.

Gorm was killed while trying to materialize the dream of his Aquilonian predecessors, the conquest of Nemedia. He had almost completed a century of life and had changed the world through his ambition. At his old age the conqueror took seat on golden thrones and ate from golden plates. He was served by naked slave women who had once been daughters to various Kings within the old Aquilonian Empire.

Aquilonian bloodlines may be assumed to have survived among the Picts through their interbreeding with their slaves. As the late Hyborians themselves were the results of such interbreedings. However their culture did not survive. The Picts remained barbarians and were only interested in the more practical aspects of civilization like warfare. They were not interested in the art or cultural advancement integration with the Hyborians could bring.

Ice age

Then came a new ice age according to Howard. Vanaheim and Asgard were freezing and the Vanir and Aesir tribes started their migrations to the south. Gunderland fell to marching Aesir on their way to the former lands of Aquilonia. The Picts were slaughtered while wave after wave of the Northern invaders marched towards the south and into the Pictish Empire. The Hyrkanians did not fare much better.

When the migration waves ceased, the Vanir, Aesir and the Cimmerians were spread from the former areas of Hyperborea to Stygia and from the Western Sea to the areas of old Turan. The Picts retained remnants of their old Empire which included Aquilonia, part of Zingara and most of the western coast of the nameless continent. But only Stygia and Shem still contained cities. In all other areas the cities failed to survive the constant wars and the people had returned to nomadic life.

The Hyborians no longer survived as a people. They had few descendants among their conquerors but they became a half-forgotten legend among them.

Minor cataclysm

New cataclysmic events changed the main nameless continent of the Hyborian world to Eurasia and Africa. The Pictish Wilderness and the Bossonian Marches were lost in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The Picts survived but the cataclysm brought them back to the Stone Age. They remained virile and started to regain what remained of their lands. By the time the Cimmerians and distant descendants of the Aesir and Vanir headed west and scattered them, only vague legends remained of the old Pictish Empire and its predecessors. Their descendants the Picts would only enter history again when they encountered the Roman Empire. Howard would address their further history in his Bran Mak Morn series. No further reference is mentioned to Aquilonians or their possible descendants.

See also: Races and Nations of the Hyborian Age.

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