Hyborian Age

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An illustration of The Hyborian Age primarily based upon a map hand-drawn by Robert E. Howard in March 1932.

The Hyborian Age is a phrase used by author Robert E. Howard to refer to a specific epoch in a fictional timeline used for many of the low fantasy tales of his artificial legendry; in particular, the stories of Conan the Barbarian.

The word "Hyborian" is a transliterated contraction by Howard of the Ancient Greek "hyperborean," referring to a "barbaric dweller beyond the boreas (north wind)."[1] Howard stated that the geographical setting of the Hyborian Age is that of our earth, but in a fictional version of a period in the past, circa 14,000 BC to 10,000 BC.[2]

The reasons behind the invention of the Hyborian Age were perhaps commercial: Howard had an intense love for history and historical dramas; however, at the same time, he recognized the difficulties and the time-consuming research needed in maintaining historical accuracy. By conceiving a timeless setting — a vanished age — and by carefully choosing names that resembled our past history, Howard avoided the problem of historical anachronisms and the need for lengthy exposition.[3]

Although he is not represented in Howard's library, nor alluded to in his papers and correspondence, there is a strong likelihood that Howard's conception of the Hyborian Age originated in Thomas Bulfinch's The Outline of Mythology (1913), acting as a catalyst that enabled Howard to "coalesce into a coherent whole his literary aspirations and the strong physical, autobiographical elements underlying the creation of Conan."[4] .

In Howard's artificial legendry, the Hyborian Age is chronologically situated between several eras: The Pre-Cataclysmic Age of Kull (circa 20,000 BC) and the onslaught of the Picts (circa 9,500 BC).[2]


[edit] The world

The Hyborian Age was devised by author Robert E. Howard as the post-Atlantean setting of his Conan the Cimmerian stories, designed to fit in with Howard's previous and lesser known tales of Kull, which were set in the Thurian Age at the time of Atlantis. The name "Hyborian" is a contraction of the Greek concept of the land of "Hyperborea," literally "Beyond the North Wind." This was a mythical place far to the north that was not cold and where things did not age.

Howard's Hyborian epoch, described in his essay The Hyborian Age (most recently republished by Del Rey in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian in 2003), is a mythical time before any civilization known to anthropologists. Its setting is Europe and North Africa (with occasional references to Asia and other continents; e.g. Mayapan, representing the American continent) – with some curious geological changes somewhat similar to what geologists theorize. They consider that during the Ice Age, Europe was quite different. The Mediterranean Sea formerly dried out intermittently, alternating with floods over the Straits of Gibraltar. Once there was a land-bridge across the English Channel between England and the Low Countries (but not across the Irish Sea) such that the Thames once flowed into a northern extension of the Rhine. And both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea were once fresh-water lakes, the former (renamed the Ancylus Sea, after a fresh-water clam) covering much of the eastern half of what is now Sweden.

A larger map of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age.

On a map Howard drew conceptualizing the Hyborian Age, his vision of the Mediterranean Sea is also dry. The Nile, which he re-named the River Styx, takes a westward turn at right angles just beyond the Nile Delta, plowing through the mountains so as to be able to reach the Straits of Gibraltar. Although his Black Sea is also dry, his Caspian Sea, which he renames the Vilayet Sea, extends northward to reach the Arctic Ocean, so as to provide a barrier to encapsulate the settings of his stories. Not only are his Baltic Sea and English Channel dry, but most of the North Sea and a vast region to the west, easily including Ireland, are too. Meanwhile, the west coast of Africa on his map lies beneath the sea. There are also a few islands, reminiscent of the Azores.

[edit] Etymology

In his fantasy setting of the Hyborian Age, Howard created imaginary kingdoms to which he gave names from a variety of mythological and historical sources. Khitai is his version of China, lying far to the East, Corinthia is his name for a Hellenistic civilization, a name derived from the city of Corinth and reminiscent of the imperial fiefdom of Carinthia in the Middle Ages. Howard imagines the Hyborian Picts to occupy a large area to the northwest. The probable intended correspondences are listed below; notice that the correspondences are sometimes very generalized, and are portrayed by ahistorical stereotypes.

Table of Correspondences
Kingdom, Region, or Ethnic Group Correspondence(s)
Acheron A fallen kingdom corresponding to the Roman Empire. Its territory covered Aquilonia, Nemedia, and Argos. In Greek mythology, Acheron was one of the four rivers of Hades (cf. "Stygia").
Afghulistan Afghanistan. Afghulistan (sometimes Ghulistan) is the common name of the habitat of different tribes in the Himelian mountains. The name itself is a mixture of the historical names of Gulistan and Afghanistan.
Amazon Mentioned in Robert E. Howard's "Hyborian Age" essay, the kingdom of the Amazons refers to various legends of African Amazons, or more specifically to the Dahomey Amazons. In classical legend, Amazonia was a nation of warrior women in Asia Minor and North Africa. The legend may be based upon the Sarmatians, a nomadic Iranian tribe of the Kuban, whose women were required to slay an enemy before they might marry.
Aquilonia , France in the Middle Ages and to a certain extent embodying many aspects of the Roman Empire with occasional hints of England. The name derived from the ancient city of Aquilonia in Southern Italy, between modern Venosa and Benevento, although the name Aquilonia also resembles Aquitaine, a French region ruled by England for a long portion of the Middle Ages. The name in Latin means aquilo, -onis, "north wind."
Argos Various seafaring traders of the Mediterranean Sea. The name comes from the Argo, ship of the Argonauts; or perhaps from the city of Argos, Peloponnesos, reputedly the oldest city in Greece, situated at the head of the Gulf of Argolis near modern Nafplion. Also hints of Italy in regards to the indigenous population's appearance, names and culture. Howard labels the populace of his Argos as "Argosseans," whereas the folk of the historical Argos are known as "Argives." In Hyborian Age cartography, Argos takes on the shape of a "shoe" in its border boundaries as compared to Italy appearing as a "boot."
Asgard Dark Age Scandinavia. (Ásgard is the home of the Æsir in Norse mythology).
Baracha Islands The Caribbean Islands. The pirate town of Tortage takes its name from Tortuga.
Border Kingdoms German Baltic Sea coast. A lawless place full of savages, Conan once traveled through the Border Kingdom on his way to Nemedia. He befriended Mar the Piper and the King of the Border Kingdoms. He helped save the kingdom before returning to his quest to reach Nemedia.
Bossonian Marches (Aquilonia) Wales, with an overlay of colonial-era North America. Possibly from Bossiney, a former parliamentary borough in Cornwall, South West England, which included Tintagel Castle, connected with the Matter of Britain.
Brythunia The continental homelands of the Angles and Saxons who invaded Great Britain, which is the origin of the name, though the civilization depicted is similar to that of medieval Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. Semantically, the name Brythunia is from the Welsh Brython, "Briton," derived from the same root as the Latin Brito, Britannia.
Cimmeria While Howard wrote that there was a continental shift after Conan's time, some scholars believed that the Gaelic regions that are supposed to encompass the British Isles was the geographical place of Cimmeria even though ostensibly it can also be argued from Howard's map of the Hyborian Age that its a part of North America that are shared with the Picts. Howard states in The Hyborian Age that "the Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and Highland Scotch, descended from pure-blooded Cimmerian clans." The name is based on that of Cimmeria, which was once hypothesized to be the homeland of the Celtic Cymric tribe, due to the word's similarity to the names of Celtic areas such as Cymru (the Welsh word for Wales), Cumbria, etc. Conan, a Cimmerian, has an Irish name, as do the Cimmerian gods Crom, Lir and Manannán mac Lir (the latter two mentioned in Xuthal of the Dusk)
Corinthia Ancient Greece. From Corinth (Korinthos), a rich city in Classical Greece. Possibly suggested to Howard by the Epistles to the Corinthians, or by the region of Carinthia.
Darfar Howard derived this name from the region of Darfur, Sudan, in north-central Africa. Darfur is an Arabic language name meaning "abode (dar) of the Fur," the dominant people of the area. In changing the name to Darfar, Howard unwittingly changed the Arabic meaning to "the abode of mice." The original Darfur is now the westernmost part of the Sudanese Republic.
Gunderland (Aquilonia) The Netherlands; perhaps Germany or ancient Burgundy. Probably from Gunther (Gundicar) , King of Burgundy or Gunderic, King of the Vandals.
Hyperborea Finland, Russia and the Baltic countries (Hyperborea was a land in "outermost north" according to Greek historian Herodotus. Howard's Hyperborea is described as the first Hyborian kingdom, "which had its beginning in a crude fortress of boulders heaped to repel tribal attack".
Hyrkania Mongolia, Hyrcania. In classical geography, a region southeast of the Caspian Sea or Hyrcanian Sea corresponding to the Iranian provinces of Golestan, Mazandaran and Gilan. The name is Greek for the Old Persian Varkana, one of the Achaemenid Empire satrapies, and survives in the name of the river Gorgan. The original meaning may have been "wolf land." In Iranian legend, Hyrcania was remarkable for its wizards, demons, wolves, spirits, witches and vampires.
Iranistan An eastern land corresponding to modern Iran. Historically, the name of the country is derived from the Iran + the Persian istan, estan, "country."
Kambuja/Kambulja The original name of Cambodia, now Kampuchea.
Keshan The name comes from the "Kesh," the Egyptian name for Nubia.
Khauran The name perhaps derives from the Hauran region of Syria. The name also refers to the religious text of Islam, the Qur'an.
Khitai China. The name is derived from the English word "Cathay" and Marco Polo's Cathay (kăthā'), derived from the word Khitan and/or Khitai, a Mongolian people who conquered northern China and founded the Liao dynasty (937–1125), and/or "Khitan," a medieval Tartar word for China. Also, the Kara-Khitai were a prominent tribe amongst Mongol steppe tribes. In Russian and other eastern European languages China is called Khitai.
Khoraja The Kingdom of Jerusalem and possibly the associated Principality of Antioch, County of Edessa and County of Tripoli, collectively known as Outremer. The name itself was inspired by the references of Sax Rohmer to the fictional city of Khorassa in The Mask of Fu Manchu novel.
Kosala From the ancient Indian Aryan kingdom of Kosala, corresponding roughly in area with the region of Oudh.
Koth From the ancient Hittites; The Kothian capital of Khorshemish corresponds to the Hittite capital of Carchemish. Perhaps from The Sign of Koth in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft. There is a town of Koth in Gujarat, India, but the connection is doubtful. Howard also used the same name in his interplanetary novel Almuric.
Kusan Probably from the Kushan Empire.
Kush From the kingdom of Kush, Nubia, North Africa.
Meru Tibet. In Hindu mythology, Meru is the sacred mountain upon which the gods dwell. NOTE: Meru is not an original Hyborian Age country and was created by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
Nemedia The Germanic Holy Roman Empire. Nemedia was the rival of Aquilonia (which corresponds to France), and depended on Aesir mercenaries for their defence (as the Byzantine Empire hired Vikings as the Varangian Guard). The name comes from Nemed, leader of colonists from Scythia to Ireland in Irish mythology; perhaps the name is also meant to allude to Nemea, home to the Nemean Lion of Greek mythology.
Ophir Ancient Ophir, a gold-mining region in the Old Testament, possibly on the shores of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea (e.g. western Arabia), though clearly Howard saw it as situated somewhere in Italy.
Pelishtim (tribe) Philistines (P'lishtim in Hebrew).
Pictish Wilderness Pictish Scotland, with an overlay of North America during the European colonization of the Americas, possibly even colonial-era New York. Howard bestows names from Algonquian languages on many, though not all, of his Picts (see also: Bran Mak Morn). Note that the name "Pict" comes from the Latin language term for "painted one," which could be applicable to a number of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. The historical termed Picts were a confederation of tribes in central and northern Scotland which bordered Roman Britain.
Poitain (Aquilonia) A combination of Poitou and Aquitaine, two regions in southwestern France. From the 10th to the mid-12th century, the counts of Poitou were also the dukes of Aquitaine.
Punt The Land of Punt on the Horn of Africa. A place with which the ancient Egyptians traded, probably Somaliland.
Shem Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. In the Bible, Shem is Noah's eldest son, the ancestor of the Hebrews, Arabs and Assyrians; hence, the modern "Semite" and Semitic languages (via Greek Sem), used properly to designate the family of languages spoken by these peoples.
Stygia Egypt. The name comes from Styx, a river of the Greek underworld in Greek mythology. In earlier times the territory of Stygia included Shem, Ophir, Corinthia, and part of Koth.
Turan The Old Persian name for Turkestan. A Turkish/Persian land, possibly referring to the Timurid Empire, the Sassanid Empire, or the Mughal Empire. The name derives from Turan, the areas of Eurasia occupied by speakers of Ural-Altaic languages. The names of the various Turanian cities (e.g. Aghrapur, Sultanapur, Shahpur) are often in Persian language. King Yezdigerd is named after Yazdegerd III, ruler of the Sassanid Empire. The name of King Yildiz means star in the Turkish language. The city of Khawarizm takes its name from Khwarezm, and Khorusun from Khorasan.
Uttara Kuru From the medieval Uttara Kuru Kingdom at the north of India.
Vanaheim Dark Age Scandinavia. (Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir in Norse mythology)
Vendhya India (The Vindhya Range is a range of hills in central India). The name means "rent" or "ragged," i.e. having many passes.
Wadai (tribe) The Ouaddai Empire.
Wazuli (tribe) The Waziri tribe.
Zamora The Romani people. The name comes from the city of Zamora, Zamora province, Castile-Leon, Spain, alluding to the Gitanos of Spain (see Zingara for discussion); or possibly it is based on the word "Roma." There may also be some reference to southern Italy, as Zamorans dance the tarantella[5]. Also hints of ancient Israel and Palestine.
Zembabwei The Munhumutapa Empire. The name comes from Great Zimbabwe, a ruined fortified town in Rhodesia, first built around the 11th century and used as the capital of the Munhumutapa Empire. Oddly, this is the same route as the modern name for the Republic of Zimbabwe.
Zingara Spain/Portugal. Iberian Peninsula as a whole. Zingara is also Italian for "Gipsy woman"; this may mean that Howard mixed up the source names of Zingara and Zamora, with Zingara originally meant to apply to the Roma kingdom, and Zamora to the Spanish kingdom.
Zuagir (tribe) The name is perhaps derived from a combination of Tuareg and Uyghur.
Other Geographic Features
Amir Jehun Pass Takes its name from a combination of the Amu Darya river and the Gihon river (Jayhoun in Arabic), which has been identified by some with the Amu Darya. Perhaps corresponds to the Broghol Pass, which is near the headwaters of the Amu Darya in Wakhan.
The Himelian Mountains Take their name the Himalayas but correspond more closely to the Hindu Kush or Karakoram ranges.
The Karpash Mountains The Carpathian Mountains.
The Poitanian Mountains The Pyrenees.
The River Styx The Nile.
Vilayet Sea The Caspian Sea. The name comes from vilayet, the term for administrative regions in the Ottoman Empire.
Zhaibar Pass The Khyber Pass.
Zaporoska River The Don and/or the Volga. The river's name was probably influenced by Zaporizhian Sich, a settlement of the Cossacks in Zaporizhzhia (region). It was situated on the Dnieper river, below the Dnieper rapids (porohy, poroz.a), hence the name, translated as "territory beyond the rapids."

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Harold Lamb, The March of the Barbarians; 1940, Country Life Press, ASIN: B000GQ81MM.
  2. ^ a b Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age essay adapted by Roy Thomas and Walt Simonson.
  3. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, page 434, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.
  4. ^ Patrice Louinet. Hyborian Genesis: Part 1, page 434, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian; 2003, Del Rey.
  5. ^ Shadows in Zamboula

[edit] Notes

[edit] External links

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