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Aquilonia is a fictional country created by Robert E. Howard for the fictional character Conan the Barbarian, who eventually becomes its king. The mythical country existed during the Hyborian Age. Howard was precise concerning the geographic relationships between his fictional world and the real world, placing it in modern France and southern Britain, but left the origins of Aquilonia vague.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Age of Conan
- 3 Later history
- 4 Legacy
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Howard first described Aquilonia in an essay about the nine Hyborian kingdoms that existed when the borders finally stabilized. It is a western kingdom bordered by Zingara to the southwest, the Pictish Wilderness to the west, Cimmeria to the north, Border Kingdom to the northeast, Nemedia to the east, and Ophir and Argos to the south. The Border Kingdoms started as Hyborian colonies and maintained their independence because its more powerful neighbors preferred this relatively harmless entity at their borders than having to engage each other in a territorial war.
The people of Aquilonia are related to the Zingarans, but the mixed racial heritage of these coastal peoples 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 out that this description also fits the people of Zamora, the two kingdoms and their populations are not related.
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 out that this mixed heritage had not weakened them in any way. Slavery was widespread in the Hyborian world, creating the unintended side-effect of slaves mating with their masters. This produced bloodlines of mixed heritage in most kingdoms of the time, Hyborian or not.
Aquilonia itself contains at least three provinces with distinct cultural and hereditary differences from other Aquilonians. The province of Gunderland to the north of the country did not contain slaves, though Howard did not give any reasons for their absence here. The people of this province have undergone less interbreeding with other races than any other Hyborians of the time. They resembled the ancient Hyborians more closely than any of the others, remaining tawny-haired and gray-eyed.
The extended Bossonian Marches extended from the northern border of Zingara, throughout the Pictish border, to the south of Cimmeria and the east of the Border Kingdoms. The Bossonians descended from a formerly independent race which was among the first to fall to the Hyborians. By this time, they had some Hyborian blood, but were distinctly different in appearance. They were people of average height and skin pigmentation, with either gray or brown eyes, and with mesocephalic skulls.
Their position at the borders of civilization with the barbarians never allows them to advance to the cultural height of other Hyborians. They are mostly farmers settled in fortified villages and their main concern is the defense of their land from barbarian raids. In effect, this also protects Aquilonia and the Hyborians 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 allows for people and goods to constantly flow through the borders. Interbreeding with the Zingarans led the people of Poitain to be predominantly dark-haired and brown-eyed.
The Pictish Wilderness and Zingara borders Aquilonia to the west. At the time of Conan, the Picts are more or less stagnant culturally and have not significantly advanced in millennia. Aquilonians and the Picts often engaged in border wars, where Pictish tribes attempt raids and Aquilonian armies and colonists attempt to expand their kingdom towards the west, but met with fierce resistance in either case, the profits of these campaigns were meager and costly in terms of casualties.
The Zingarans are an emerging naval power with a focus on having competitive 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 are at a very small distance from the northern borders of Argos with both states. Howard does not specify the situation of this territory where the forces of four powerful Hyborian kingdoms are at a small distance from each other.
The southern borders of Aquilonia are with both Zingara and Ophir. Ophir is a gold-mining region. Howard named it after Ophir, an ancient port mentioned in the Books of Kings which was famous for its wealth. Howard envisioned his version of Ophir as a kingdom focused on trade, though it has more of 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 likely a bit more advanced culturally. The two main competitors for dominance of the Hyborian world would often engage in wars, though neither manages to gain dominance over the other. Nemedia is frequently mentioned in the works of Howard as the main source of Hyborian philosophy and Nemedian priests of Mithra are 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 names his fictional sources for Hyborian Age information as the "Nemedian Chronicles", implying that Nemedians are the most renowned historians of the time.
The northeastern borders of Aquilonia with the Border Kingdoms 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 are with Cimmeria. The Cimmerians are 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. Howard's essay on the nine kingdoms states 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 these contacts they become increasingly familiar with the advances of other people and undergo a gradual cultural development themselves.
The Cimmerians are consistent of various warlike tribes. They engage in war with each other when not actively and stubbornly defending their territory from the raids and military invasions of their neighbors. They are fiercely independent and resist all attempts at conquest. They perform raids to the realms of others but are either unable or uninterested in expanding their territories. Aquilonia manages to successfully defend itself from the raids and their efforts to expand in Cimmerian grounds meet with fierce opposition. These borders remain surprisingly stable after centuries of warfare.
Age of Conan
By the time of Conan, the Hyborian kingdoms have centuries of history behind them and are arguably beginning to stagnate. None of them are seemingly able to completely overcome their traditional enemies or get significant territorial gains throughout the long career of this wandering and ambitious Cimmerian.
Battle of Venarium
The earliest known encounter of Conan with Aquilonians is also his first battle. In another attempt at expansion the Aquilonians establish a frontier settlement named Venarium within southern Cimmeria. An alliance of Cimmerian tribes eventually targets this advanced fortress and manages to sack it. A fifteen-year-old Conan is among the victorious combatants. This event is first mentioned in the story Beyond the Black River.
Later, Conan converses with Balthus, a young Aquilonian, who mentions 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 writers would later expand on the details of this very early combat at the life of the Cimmerian in both in novels and comic books. In 2004, a novel called Conan of Venarium would describe this battle. It should be noted, however, that this late novel has been criticized for its version of the Cimmerians and their incompatibility with the Howardian canon. For example, Dale Rippke, a veteran scholar of Conan, has mentioned in his review of the novel that "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 medieval 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."
Surprisingly, Aquilonia 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 he had 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 never expanded on her background.
Service in the Aquilonian army
In Conan the Rogue (1991) by John Maddox Roberts, Conan is first depicted entering Aquilonia in his early forties. He is 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, and had for some time, assigned at the Pictish border. By the time of this novel, the Aquilonians had advanced past Thunder River, serving as the traditional border, in another effort to expand towards the west. They had expanded all the way to the Black River and named their new area Conajohara. The military fortress of Fort Tuscelan served to contain the army forces 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. The Picts, however, aiming to reclaim their territory, posed a constant threat.
Conan served loyally but considered the whole effort of colonization 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 partly vindicate his views. Pictish tribes united under the wizard Zogar Sag manage to destroy Fort Tuscelan and successfully reclaim 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 is directly followed by 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 began to see the overly popular general as a possible claimant to his throne. Because of this, the suspicious monarch betrayed his general and had him arrested and locked in the Iron Tower, awaiting execution.
"The Black Stranger" continues, 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 believes that Numedides would not pursue him into the Pictish Wilderness, so he decides 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 characterizes Numedides as mad, exceedingly cruel, and 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, featuring 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 (him) as all the fighting (he has) done never did." ... "It seems ages since (he) had a horse between (his) knees - but Publius says that affairs in the city require (his) presence. Curse him!" ... "When (he) overthrew the old dynasty, it was easy enough, though it seemed bitter hard at the time. Looking back now over the wild path (he) followed, all those days of toil, intrigue, slaughter and tribulation seem like a dream. (he) did not dream far enough, Prospero"..."When King Numedides lay dead at (his) feet and (he) tore the crown from his gory head and set it on (his) own, (he) had reached the ultimate border of (his) dreams. (He) had prepared (himself) to take the crown, not to hold it. In the old free days all (he) wanted was a sharp sword and a straight path to (his) enemies. Now no paths are straight and my sword is useless. When I overthrew Numedides, then (he) was the Liberator - now they spit at (his) 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 (he) led her armies to victory as a mercenary, Aquilonia overlooked the fact that (he) was a foreigner, but now she can not forgive (him). Now in Mitra's temple they 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.
At this point in time, four men are already plotting his assassination. The first is Ascalante, "once count of Thune", whose realm has been forfeited. He has been reduced to dwelling in the deserts of the east and raiding caravans for a living. He is summoned back to organize the assassination plot and has plans to claim the throne for himself. The second is 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 is Gromel, a stubborn Bossonian commander of the Black Legion who desired a promotion to the command of the whole issue. The fourth is an unusual character for the Conan tales: Rinaldo, an idealistic poet with no known personal ambition. He is the main source of propaganda for the memory of Numedides and criticism of Conan. Ascalante describes 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 uses the Stygian to organize his plot and before the assassination sends him to keep an eye on Dion. Dion would not take part in the deed but awaits its results. Thoth-Amon discovers the baron had in his possession the Serpent Ring, which was sold to him as a good luck char. Toth-Amon slays Dion in his rage and reclaims his ring and his power, unleashing a magical entity to find and assassinate Ascalante. The use of this magic awakens Epemitreus the Sage, a Mithraic priest who was dead for 1500 years, 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 blesses 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 an assassination plot by Amalrus of Ophir, who was his former ally, 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 is "The Hour of the Dragon", which shows Conan being deposed in favor of Valerius, a senior living descendant of the old royal family, with Aquilonia falling under the occupation of Nemedia. This is 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. After this is done, Conan the elder heads for one last adventure in the Western Sea.
"Conan of the Isles" assumes that Conan was the founder of a new Aquilonian dynasty with both Cimmerian and Nemedian ancestry. No stories have yet 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 the essay, the Aquilonian kings eventually manage to create an empire through their wars of expansion. Zingara, Argos, Ophir and the western city-states of Shem are annexed to the Aquilonian kingdom. Koth, Corinthia, and the eastern city-states of Shem are forced to pay tribute and offer military aid at times of war.
Hyberborea then marches against their age-old enemy, using the Border Kingdoms as their battlefield. The Aquilonians are eventually victorious and the remnants of the Hyperborean army are allowed to return to their country, while Hyperborea returns to its isolation. Though Nemedia had resisted Aquilonian expansion for centuries, they are more threatened at this point than ever. The Nemedians form an alliance with Brythunia, Zamora, and secretly with Koth in order to stop the further rise of this new Aquilonian Empire. For some time, Turan recruits new Hyrkanian tribes migrating towards the west. Thus reinforced, the Turanians invaded Zamora, Corinthia, and, at last, Brythunia. The armies of Aquilonia and Turan face each other on Brythunian land. The Turanians are forced to retreat and Aquilonian forces manage to capture Zamora. By this time, the Aquilonian army is accompanied by significant mercenary forces, notably Zingarans, Picts, and Shemites. After this, Nemedia abandons the plans to directly oppose Aquilonia. The alliances with Brythunia and Koth are retained while Hyperborea joins this set of allies for the sole purpose of defending their independence from the Aquilonian threat.
Regardless, 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 continue facing the Bossonians at the northern borders of Aquilonia, even managing to lead raids to the mainland of Aquilonia in search of loot.
Changes in the Pictish border
The Picts were undergoing changes themselves at the time. Their population and military might began increasing. Through contacts with the Hyborians, they finally leave the stone age and learn some crude metalworking. In particular, they use copper and zinc, though they must either raid Zingara or trade with them to gather the metals. They are no longer living in caves, but abandon them in favor of leather tents and crude huts in Bossonian style. They are still mostly hunters at this time, but practice limited farming when unable to raid their neighbors to get agricultural products. They are finally beginning to make their own crude weapons out of copper and bronze when two individuals change the course of their history. The first is Arus, an idealistic Nemedian priest determined to civilize the Picts and convert them to the worship of Mitra. The second is Gorm, a young Pictish chieftain who takes the opportunity to get instructions in civilization for his own purposes.
Arus recognizes areas rich in metals and Gorm leads his tribe in building the first Pictish mines. Gorm visits Aquilonia to further his knowledge of Hyborian culture while the forges of his tribe build increasingly advanced metal weapons. Gorm uses his new weaponry to expand his influence over ever increasing parts of the Pictish Wilderness either by war or by diplomacy, struggling to unite the Picts under his rule.
The Picts now travel freely across the Aquilonian Empire and start joining the Aquilonian army as mercenaries in ever increasing numbers. The kings of Aquilonia seek good relations with Gorm and his Picts partly to keep the flow of mercenaries steady and partly to be able to turn their new "allies" against the Cimmerians. Their true goal is the mutual annihilation of the two neighboring barbarian peoples. However, continued hostilities at their eastern and southern borders keep 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. Their familiarity with civilization only increased their contempt for it. Their forges were building steel weapons and preparing 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.
While Gorm united the Picts, the Aquilonians undergo changes of their own. Aquilonia was always a prosperous kingdom, but the new conquests bring it fabulous wealth. Luxury takes the place of simplicity in every aspect of their lives. The Aquilonians dress themselves in silks, but do not allow themselves to become soft. According to Howard, the Aquilonians remain a lively and virile nation. But they become exceedingly arrogant and convinced of their own superiority. They treat the other people of their empire and their vassal states with increasing contempt while harsher taxation awaits the conquered nations.
Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Zamora, and provinces of Shem are temporarily officially annexed into Aquilonia for some time, but not fully incorporated into the Aquilonian identity. The provinces are run as occupied territories and their people are treated as if enslaved. The proud Zingarans continue 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, but is actually a vassal state continuing to pay tribute.
Despite these things, the empire of Aquilonia is not invincible. Nemedia resists all attempts at annexation and Hyperborea offers military help in defense of its main ally. An entire Aquilonian army was decimated in a new attempt at invading Cimmeria and another army was annihilated in an attempt to invade Asgard. While attempts to expand towards the north seem futile, the southern border with Stygia offer new prospects. An Aquilonian army does manage to decimate its Stygian opponents in battle by the river Styx. As a result, Stygia offers to pay tribute to the rising Empire in exchange for calling off a full-scale invasion.
A series of lightning campaigns then exhaust Brythunia and the Aquilonians prepare for what they intend 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 marches towards Nemedia, but the strife between forces from the mainland of Aquilonia and those from the Bossonian Marches plague this campaign.
The Bossonians are harsh and less civilized than proper Aquilonians. The increasingly arrogant Aquilonians had also extended their contempt for subject people to the Bossonians. After centuries of defending the empire, they were still treated as inferiors. They now face harsh taxation and are recruited to fight in battlefields far removed from their homeland. The expansion wars had brought little benefit to the Bossonian territories. These Bossonians hate their new treatment and are unsurprisingly less than enthusiastic in following the new campaign.
At this point, the Picts of Gorm invade Bossonia, which is guarded by few remaining forces. As soon as the news reaches the Nemedian front, the Bossonian military forces abandons the campaign. They headed back towards the Marches and this new western war front. Their timely arrival allows them to defeat the Picts in a great battle. The Aquilonian campaign is weakened by this massive desertion and the desperate Nemedian defense forces them to retreat in defeat. The Aquilonian imperialists are enraged and vengeful. Howard points out that imperialists tend to be uncompromising and short-sighted. Aquilonian troops march towards the Marches in secrecy. Shemite mercenaries are assigned to the border and settle among the villagers. Then the Aquilonians announced that a new war against the Picts is to begin. The Bossonian leaders are invited to a war council.
The leaders arrived at the council without their weapons and are slaughtered. The Shemite mercenaries turn on their hosts and the Aquilonian imperial forces join the battle. The entire territory of the Bossonian Marches is pillaged and left in ruins. Then the victors withdraw back to the mainland of Aquilonia with their loot according to their orders. The Aquilonians themselves 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.
At this time, Gorm is now an old man, but his fiery ambition keeps him in action. He takes advantage of the unguarded borders to unleash his greatest campaign. The Aquilonians are used to facing the attack of a single tribe or a small alliance of tribes, but they weren't ready for the organized Pictish army, raised from their new union of all tribes, that marched towards Aquilonia. Gorm himself laid the plans and had the general command the campaign. The other campaign leaders had serviced in the Aquilonian armies and are veterans of several Hyborian Wars. As the army marches on Aquilonia, this experience is put to practice in a way the Aquilonians had not foreseen.
Scattered remnants of the Bossonians had escaped annihilation by the Aquilonians only to fall against the Picts. The Picts enter the mainland of Aquilonia, pillaging and burning in every step of their way. The main force of the Aquilonians is still assigned to the Nemedian border and is not quick enough to head west. Meanwhile, Zingara, Corinthia, and Shem find the opportunity to declare independence, reducing the Aquilonian army further. Mercenaries of Pict, Zingaran, Corinthian, and Shemite origin all abandon camp and leave to join their people. Other mercenary and vassal forces follow their example during the initial confusion of the Aquilonians. The defecting troops start pillaging and burning the lands of their former masters.
One after the other, the Aquilonian units fall to the Picts. The Bossonians had long provided most of the archers to the army and now the Aquilonians are left without archer support and unable to defend from the arrows of their enemies. Both armies call for reinforcements, but the recalled Aquilonian forces 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 find the opportunity to also invade amidst this chaotic state of affairs. They pillage cities and countryside alike before bringing their loot back to Cimmeria. The Picts end up settling in the areas of their conquest. The Aquilonian Empire collapses in blood and fire. Several successor states would rise to take its place, but none under Aquilonian control.
The primary successor of Aquilonia is the Pictish Empire, which comes to include the former Pictish Wilderness, Zingara, Aquilonia, Argos, Ophir, western Koth, and western Seth. This empire remains harsh and barbaric. The former Aquilonian province of Gunderland becomes an independent kingdom with Hyborian population. The Picts inherit the traditional Aquilonian enmity with the Hyrkanians. The latter are building their own new empire which included Zamora, Brythunia, the Border Kingdom, Corinthia, eastern Koth, and eastern Shem. Cimmeria is locked between the two rival empires, but retains independence through defensive wars. A weakened Nemedia is now controlled by a tribe of mercenaries from Asgard who assume the name of the Nemedians.
Gorm is killed while trying to conquer Nemedia, the dream of his Aquilonian predecessors. He had almost completed a century of life and had changed the world through his ambition. At his old age, the conqueror sits on golden thrones and eats from golden plates, served by naked slave women who had once been daughters to various kings within the old Aquilonian Empire.
Aquilonian bloodlines survives among the Picts through their interbreeding with their slaves, much like the late Hyborians themselves are the results of such interbreedings. However, their culture does not survive. The Picts remain barbarians and are only interested in the more practical aspects of civilization, such as warfare. They are not interested in the art or cultural advancement integration with the Hyborians could bring.
Not long after, an ice age hits. Vanaheim and Asgard are freezing and the Vanir and Aesir tribes start their migrations to the south. Gunderland falls to marching Aesir on their way to the former lands of Aquilonia. The Picts are slaughtered while wave after wave of the northern invaders march towards the south and into the Pictish Empire. The Hyrkanians do 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 retain 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 contain cities. In all other areas, the cities fail to survive the constant wars and the people had returned to nomadic life.
The Hyborians no longer survive as a people. They have few descendants among their conquerors, but they became a half-forgotten legend among them.
The Picts survive, but the cataclysm brings them back to the Stone Age. They remain virile and started to regain what remain of their lands. By the time the Cimmerians and distant descendants of the Aesir and Vanir head west and scattered them, only vague legends remain of the old Pictish Empire and its predecessors. Their descendants, the Picts, would only enter history again when they encounter the Roman Empire. Howard addresses their further history in his Bran Mak Morn series. No further reference is mentioned to Aquilonians or their possible descendants.
- Rippke, Dale (2004-05-16). his review of the novel "R. E. Howard of Venarium a.k.a. BRAVEHEART meets PSYCHO: A critique of Conan of Venarium"]. Moonblossom Creations.