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- For Robert E. Howard's essay, see The Hyborian Age
The Conan stories take place on Earth, but in the mythical (created by Howard) Hyborian Age, between the time of the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of the known ancient civilizations. According to Howard himself (in "The Phoenix on the Sword"): "...between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas..."
Howard devised the Hyborian Age to fit in with his previous and less-well-known tales of Kull, which were set at the time of Atlantis. The name "Hyborian" is a contraction of the Greek concept of the land of "Hyperborea", literally "Super-North-Land". This was a mythical place far to the north that was not cold and where things did not age.
Howard's Hyborian age, described in detail in his essay "The Hyborian Age", is a mythical time before any civilization known to anthropologists. Its setting is Europe and North Africa – with some curious geological changes that were thought up prior to the ascendancy of the geologic theory of plate tectonics, though 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.
On a map Howard drew detailing it, 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, but his stories are not about naval tactics.
In this general setting, Howard placed imaginary kingdoms to which he gave names from a varied series of sources. Khitai is his China, far to the East, deriving from an ancient name; Corinthia is his name for a Greek-like civilization, a name slapped together from the name of the city of Corinth and a reminiscence of the Middle Ages province of Carinthia. He imagines the Picts to occupy a large area to the northwest. The probable intended correspondences are listed below; notice that the correspondences are sometimes very loose, and are portrayed by ahistorical stereotypes.
|Kingdom, Region, or Ethnic Group||Correspondence(s)|
|Acheron||A fallen kingdom corresponding to the Roman Empire. Its territory covered Aquilonia, Nemedia, and Argos. The name comes from Acheron, a river of the underworld in Greek mythology.|
|Afghulistan||Afghanistan. Afghulistan is the common name of the habitat of different tribes in the Himelian mountains|
|Amazon||Brazil, or South America generally. In the Hyborian Age, Amazon is a kingdom ruled by women, located near the Black Kingdoms.|
|Aquilonia||The Carolingian Empire, medieval France, with occasional hints of England. The name derived from the town of Aquilonia, Avellino, Campania, Southern Italy, Italy, although it also resembles Aquitaine, a French region ruled by England for a long portion of the Middle Ages.|
|Argos||Various seafaring traders of the Mediterranean. The name comes from the Argo, ship of the Argonauts; or perhaps from the city of Argos, Argolis, Peloponnesos, Greece. Also hints of Italy in regards to the indigenous population's names and culture. Argos takes on the shape of a "shoe" in it's border boundaries as compared to Italy appearing as a "boot".|
|Asgard||Norway and Sweden. Ásgard is the home of the Æsir in Norse mythology.|
|Border Kingdom||German Baltic Sea coast|
|Bossonian Marches||Wales, with an overlay of colonial-era North America|
|Brythunia||The continental homelands of the Angles and Saxons who invaded Britain, which is the origin of the name, though the civilization is similar to that of medieval Poland, Lithuania, Latvia.|
|Cimmeria||Celtic Ireland/ Britain/Scotland of ancient times. The name is based on "Cymru", the Welsh word for Wales. Conan, a Cimmerian, has an Irish name, as do his parents.|
|Corinthia||Ancient Greece (Corinth is a Greek city)|
|Darfar||The name may derive from Darfur, Sudan.|
|Gunderland||The Netherlands ? Gunderland, count of Hesbaye (?-778). Perhaps Germany|
|Hyrkania||Mongolia, Ukraine (Hyrkanians = Scythians)|
|Hyperborea||Finland, Russia and the Baltic countries (Hyperborea was a land in "outermost north" according to Greek historian Herodotus. Howard's Hyperborea is a northern "evil empire", ruled by wicked wizards, perhaps akin to the perception of the 1930s Soviet Union)|
|Keshan||The name comes from the "Kesh", the Egyptian name for Nubia.|
|Khauran||The Crusader kingdom|
|Khitai||China, Marco Polo's Cathay. The Kira-Khitai were a prominent tribe amongst Mongol steppe tribes.|
|Koth||The Kothian capital of Khorshemish corresponds to the Hittite capital of Carchemish. However Koth is situated in southern Europe including the ancient lands of Illyria, Thrace, the Adriatic sea, and the central Italic peoples. It reflects the cultures of the Roman Age.|
|Kush||From the kingdom of Kush, Nubia, North Africa.|
|Meru||Tibet (This isn't an original Hyborian Age country, it's created by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter for The City of Skulls.)|
|Nemedia||The Germanic Holy Roman Empire. Nemedia was the rival of Aquilonia (which corresponds to the Carolingian Empire/France), and depended on Aesir mercenaries for their defence (as the Byzantines 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 myth.|
|Ophir||Ancient Ophir, though clearly Howard saw it as situated in northern Italy. Together with Koth they make for an early Roman Empire.|
|Pictish Wilderness||Pictish Scotland, with an overlay of colonial-era North America, possibly even colonial-era New York. Howard bestows Algonquian names on his Picts. Note that the name "Pict" comes from the Latin term for "painted one", which could be applicable to Amerindians.|
|Poitain||Aquitaine (?) (likely, although the name reminds of Poitou, a province Northeast of Aquitaine, but not mediterranean, and not properly part of the South). Its location in the south of Aquilonia could point to Provence, which is in the south of France.|
|Punt||The Land of Punt on the Horn of Africa.|
|Shem||Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia (cf. Semites, purportedly the sons of Shem). It's territory also includes Greece, southern Italy and most of the Mediterranean, which in the Hyborian Age is above sea level. Along with Stygia it represents the ancient cultures.|
|Stygia||Egypt. The name comes from Styx, a river of the underworld in Greek mythology. In earlier times the territory of Stygia included Shem, Ophir, Corinthia, and part of Koth.|
|Turan||The Ottoman Empire (?) or Persian Empire (?) or Byzantine Empire (?). The name derives from Turan, the areas of Eurasia occupied by speakers of Ural-Altaic languages.|
|Vanaheim||It's under water west of Scandinavia, when current Europe's map is superimposed. Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir in Norse mythology (Njörd - god of the sea; Freyja - goddess of fertility, love, beauty, and war).|
|Vendhya||India,Pakistan & Bangladesh (The Vindhya Range is a range of hills in central India)referring to the Vedic era lands.|
|Zamora||The name comes from the city of Zamora, Zamora province, Castile-Leon, Spain.|
|Zembabwei||The Munhumutapa Empire (Its capital city was the Great Zimbabwe)|
|Zingara||Iberian Peninsula. Zingara is Italian for "Gipsy woman". Iberia/Spain is possibly the oldest "international" region of Eurasia. Iberians from Biblical Tartessos, Celts, Romans, Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Greeks, the ancient Basques, even Nordic Visi-Goths have all settled within Spain prior to the Reconquista.|
|Other Geographic Features|
|River Styx||The Nile|
|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 th|