Virtual Verduria

Ancient Skouras: A history

The Skourenes are the ancient inhabitants of Skouras— but not the aboriginal nor the modern ones. They were the creators of the one of the major civilizations in Ereláe, and perhaps its most distinctive before the rise of Xurno.

This document can be read on its own, but is written to accompany the Historical Atlas of Skouras. Numbers in this format— 240 —refer to the map with that label.

As an overview, ancient Skourene history can be divided into five periods:

to 200 The formative era
200 to 700 The classical era
700 to 975 The imperial era
975 to 1400 Dark age
1400 to 1684 The reawakening
1684 to 1810 The Tžuro conquest

Since the base map includes the Mnau peninsula, I will cover the formation and early history of Čeiy, as well.

Philological note: This historical sketch covers nearly two milennia and a large area which was always divided into several warring states. I’ve normalized all Skourene names and terms to one variety— that of the Šinour delta of about Z.E. 900— which I call Old Skourene; however, it had at least as much regional variation as (say) modern Arabic, and a good deal less standardization.

In general you won’t go wrong with continental pronunciations for the vowels— e.g. the first part of ‘Skouras’ rhymes with ‘slow’. The consonants with a dot or cedilla (e.g. ) are retroflexed.

In the Axunaic area, including Čeiy, names of Wede:i-controlled cities and nations are in Wede:i; all other names are classical Axunašin.

Early history

-600 Setting the stage

The Wede:i
Agriculture was developed by the Wede:i from about -4000 Z.E., in the Xengi valley. Their staple crop was oats (ba:n); the Almean plant requires a good deal of water, and was restricted to the Xengi flood plains till the Wede:i extended its range with irrigation. They later developed varieties which could tolerate dryer regions, though these were always much lower-yielding.

This crop was supplemented with beans, peas, and root vegetables; the first domesticated animals were the sheep and the donkey. The chief textile crops were hemp and linen.

The river valleys— the Xengi, the Puro, and the Ideis, which we may collectively call Xengiman, the Greater Xengi— supported a huge population, and this was always densest in the delta, which was thus a focus of nation-building. The delta was unified by the city of Yenine around -1550, forming the first complex state on Almea. Writing was developed at about the same time.

Leadership later passed to the city of Bi:dau, though the state continued to refer to itself as Yenine. Between -650 and -625 the paźiwan of Yenine, Begoŋitera and Nanuŋitera, succeeded in uniting the Xengi valley under their firm hand.

The Lenani-Littoral
Around -2000 agriculture spread to the Lenani-Littoral peoples, whose urheimat was the fertile shores of Lake Lenan as well as the upper reaches of the Puro and Xengi rivers.

Lake Lenan and Pronel are off the base map to the north; they can be seen in the Historical Atlas of Almea. Edinel, east of Lake Van, is the region colored gray on this map.

Much of this area is now nomadic, but as our story begins this lifestyle had not yet developed: before they adopted agriculture the Lenani-Littoral were hunter-gatherers.

This isn’t to say that the area was fully cultivated once agriculture began; there were still large areas of forest, meadow, and mountain. But these areas were largely unsettled.

The Lenani-Littoral seem to have been the first to domesticate rye, which is native to Pronel, and is hardy enough to grow even in the coldest reaches of the Littoral.

Rye spread to the Wede:i regions as well (under the name tuka), but it was considered bitter; it was chiefly grown to make beer. Perhaps because of this, Wede:i agriculture never spread much further south into the Mnau peninsula than the Jaukaye. The people to the south, the De:iju, were relatives of the Wede:i, but remained culturally distinct, few in number, and technologically backward.

The Mei and the Qaraus
The Mei— also related to the Wede:i, but much more distantly— introduced agriculture to Skouras and the Littoral— first in the Namal, adjoining the Wede:i agricultural area, around -1150, then in the Šinour valley. By the time of the map it had spread to all of the Mei peoples, while the hilly fringes of the country were given to pastoralism.

The Qaraus to the east never adopted agriculture. As if in compensation, they were one of the peoples most favored by the ilii. Like the Cuzeians, they adopted iliu worship, though their God was diune rather than triune. They acquired a reputation for wisdom and for the healing arts.

-150 Pressure on the steppe

The nomadic lifestyle, based on the domestication of the horse, arose among the Kagöt peoples of the Nalernukh steppes. Nomadism supports a higher population than hunting and gathering, though the increase is not as dramatic as with agriculture.

Militarily, however, nomads are a formidable force. An army is a luxury for an agricultural people: only a small portion of the population can dedicate themselves to it full-time. A nomad population, by contrast, is an army. And even before effective cavalry tactics are developed, horses are a formidable tool of intimidation, and give a speed advantage no infantry can match.

The Kagöt never came close enough to any settled states to be a threat, nor did they have bronze weapons. The Easterners, who learned nomadism from the Kagöt, met both conditions.

The explosive expansion of the Easterners is best appreciated on a continental scale, in the Historical Atlas of Almea. It most spectacularly affected the Xengi valley, where the Wede:i civilization was almost entirely conquered by the Ezičimi (by Z.E. -325), and Eretald, where the Cuzeians and Cađinorians did the same to the Monkhayu (by -350).

It also had secondary effects, notably the overcrowding of the Lenani plateau as the Easterners occupied Pronel and pushed on toward Lake Lenan. The Lenani-Littoral peoples began to crowd southwards into upper Skouras.

-80 Invasion of the Drinkwater

Around -150 the southern Lenani peoples burst into the valley of the Šinour— the Šeginur or Drinkwater as the Mei called it. The invaders borrowed this as Skinor; from this they derived the name of the country, Skouras, as well as their autonym, Skouranda— the Skourenes.

The Skourenes had uncharacteristically little to say about their occupation of the country. They knew that they had displaced the kartimi (their word for the Mei— literally the ‘preceders’), but this event sparked no legends or epics. The subject came up mostly in reminders of the ephemerality of earthly glory.

The conquest was apparently much more of a displacement than a takeover (perhaps as a result of the Skourenes’ demographic edge). Huge numbers of Mei fled from the Skourenes: west into Edinel, south into the Littoral, and eastward into Feináe.

The latter group was now out of contact with the rest of the Mei. They resumed the low-density agriculture they had practiced in Skouras, and passed more or less unnoticed out of history for centuries. When we meet them again they are known as the Fei.

Nonetheless, a significant number must have remained, and assimilated into Skourene culture: the Skourenes were significantly lighter-skinned and -haired than their Lenani and Tžuro relatives.

The broad outlines of Skourene society were shared with the Tžuro and Lenani:

Among the Tžuro, centuries later, we can see a coherent basis for this system: wealth was entrusted to the women because they stayed put— the men were off trading and fighting. A man lived with his wife (in her bsepa) only a fraction of the year; he had little guarantee that her children were his. A surer genetic bet was to pass his wealth to his sister’s children, who were definitely part of his own bsepa.

If this system was primeval, the Skourenes and the Lenani drifted away from it. The Lenani were patrilineal by the time they converted to Jippirasti, but there are cultural relics that point to an earlier matrilinearity. The Skourenes moved toward what we might call pecunilocality— the new couple lived with the richer family. And wealth belonged to the bsepa rather than to individuals.

However, our sources on the Tžuro are very late, not long before their conversion to Jippirasti, when they were largely nomadic. It may be that the Skourenes are closer to the original Lenani-Littoral way of life.

It’s also been suggested (largely on the basis of shared religious concepts) that the female-centered aspects of the Lenani-Littoral peoples go back to their hunter-gatherer past, not much more than two thousand years before.

20 The rise of cities

From about -50, Jei traders reached the Šinour delta and began trading with the Skourenes. Soon the Skourenes were providing gold, wool, hides, grapefruit, and dried mushrooms, and importing baskets, pottery, metal knives, linen and hemp cloth, and other Jei manufactures.

The Jei were Wede:i whose rulers had fled the Xengi valley when the Ezičimi invaded, and settled first the Jei river, then the seacoast to the west (which became known as Jeiwor, i.e. Jei West). They were aggressive traders, and the less advanced peoples in their vicinity found that trading with the Jei passed by stages into being ruled by them.

Depots were established in the delta for storing goods against the twice-yearly Jei visits, guarded by men from the inland settlements. These quickly grew into permanent towns, which soon found that the mysteries of pot-making and leather tanning were not beyond them.

The Skourenes may have had a head start, in that they tended to live in larger settlements than the Mei. (A typical Mei village might have less than a hundred inhabitants; the Skourene ones were two or three times as large. This was not true of the Lenani or Tžuro, so this habit may have arisen out of the conquest itself, for greater security.)

They were now able to export pots and leather goods to Skourenes in the interior. They expanded their imports to include minerals, weaponry, and boats; and they started to export dried meat and fish, salt, and ambergris.

The settlements grew into cities: the first were the delta trio, Iṭili, Engidori, and Imuṭeli.

A (later) OS proverb attempted to capture the differences between the cities: “The Iṭilik dreams; the Imuṭelik considers; the Engidorid acts.” Another advised, “Find a courtesan in Iṭili; have an affair in Imuṭeli; marry a woman from Engidori.”

Skourene religion

Both the Skourenes and the Lenani recognized a variety of gods (lenimi), but each clan concentrated its worship on a pair of gods, one male and one female.

Some of the oldest gods are shown below, with their etymologies.

Name Gender Etymology
Ageşoram m great governor
Meḍoŋiḷt f beautiful star
Kolatim m great sleeper
Regn f Lake Lenan
Teralam m great hand
Mlenniribu f nurturer with grains
Ḍulnusaḷg m he becomes a god of night
Aşebort f the sun, Ënomai (lit., glower)
Teḷbeandum m (his) hand is amazing
Umnuḷguṭ f she hides her face
Mandaşelop m fattener of the people
Geiŋdaiŋut f she goes into the forest
Sapamali m invoked in the mountains
Mlugnurrani f she owns the deer

The meanings point to the shared heritage in the region of Lake Lenan and its surrounding mountains and forests (and most of these gods have cognates among the Lenani and Tžuro). However, as the Skourenes adjusted to the littoral ecosphere, the personalities of the gods changed as well. They became associated with the Šinour or the sea, and developed a healthy interest in cities, trade, and the interrelationships of a complex urban society.

The gods were not creators or even masters; they were helpers, supernatural beings whose task was to look over their favored clans and provide spiritual assistance (visions, predictions, blessings) and material goods, particularly food. All fish, meat, and crops were provided through their help.

Where other people sacrificed the inedible portions of an animal, the Skourenes put the whole animal in the fire: the appearance of edible meat was the god’s gift back. The quintessential sacrifice was beef; indeed, the word for ‘beef’ (plesa) was a derivative of the verb for ‘sacrifice’ (pils-).

A peculiarity of Skourene religion was that the gods were each accorded, and even named for, a great weakness. E.g. Ageşoram was called the Adulterous, Meḍoŋiḷṭ the Greedy, Kolatim the Lazy, Regn the Fat, and so on. These characteristics would be used both in mockery and in affection, and sometimes seemed a solider part of the the gods’ character than their virtues. (Not surprisingly, perhaps, the same attitude was carried over to Skourene rulers.)

The Skourenes believed in reincarnation, which involved a progression through the intelligent species of Almea. A great and good person might return as an iliu; an evil person, as a demon. (The Skourenes had no contact with the ktuvoks, and so had to invent this role.) Less dramatically, one might return as an icëlan, an elcar, or as one of various supernatural beings. It was best to meet none of these creatures; indeed, it was important to bury the dead as soon as possible so as to hasten them on their new life. The Skourene equivalent of ghost stories featured demons, icëlani, and other monsters nosing around to find why their human body had not been properly disposed of.

The cycle of reincarnation continued; indeed, some of the gods were former humans, and some gods themselves died, reincarnating in some unknowably advanced form.

The world had been created by two creator spirits: Ksaragetor, who formed all good things, and Gamagetor, whose clumsiness was responsible for all misshapen, difficult, or evil things. Their work was done, so they were not worshipped, though it was common (say) to compliment Ksaragetor for a beautiful woman, or to curse Gamagetor for ugly things, or for diseases and disorders.

124 Expansion into the Littoral

By 100 the delta towns were joined by others, all upstream on the Šinour— Miligenḍi, Gasibor, Ṭisuram, Sokandeli— settlements which had gone through the same evolution from depot to manufacturing center, spurred not by Jei trading but by contact with the delta.

Boats were acquired from the Jei, then copied, then expanded greatly in scale, into longboats large enough to explore and colonize the Littoral, though they could not navigate the open ocean. Cities began to rim the northern half of the Skourene Sea: Guṭḷeli (founded in 124), Meŋeland, Nibureli, Ageşoram.

For reference, the eastern shore of the Skourene Sea is the Gelihur peninsula, OS Gelim; the northern portion is Gelimḍan, the southern portion Gelimṭar. Guṭḷeli and Meŋeland are both located in Gelimḍan.

The western shore is divided between the swampy Namal in the north (where both Nibureli and Ageşoram are located), and Barmund in the south. (Regions are labelled on the last map in the atlas, the Terrain map.)

The Skourene cities developed with unusual speed, perhaps because they had very few of the barriers that held other peoples back:

The word for ‘clan’, bsepa, was also the word for a trading firm. The easiest and safest way to run an enterprise, especially a trading network, was as a family. There was no need to hire strangers to pioneer a new trade route or other venture; you could send a family member instead. New ventures could be financed out of the clan’s existing wealth.

Since a bsepa provided financing and networking which were unavailable to an individual acting alone, few resented the fact that new wealth belonged to the family. Some did, and these might break off to form a new bsepa.

The clan’s patriarch was also its representative on the city council.


By about 100, enterprising traders from Iṭili, perhaps guided by Mei mountain guides, had discovered a land route across the Akšunsava range, westward to Gotanneli. This was suitable only for items of high value and low bulk (e.g. gold from the delta, dyes from Gotanneli), and was eventually superseded by the sea route around Mnau. But it was sufficient to bring the Skourenes into contact with the Ezičimi.

The greatest treasure found was immaterial: the idea of writing. Unlike the Jei, who kept their secrets closely guarded, the Ezičimi happily showed their syllabary to the Iṭiliki and explained how it worked.

Old Skourene had several ways of forming ethnonyms; the most common was -ik, so that an Iṭilik is someone from Iṭili. We will also encounter -and (as in Skouranda, Ṭisuramanda) and -r (Gurdagor, Peligir).

It was all very well for the Ezičimi to suggest ‘one glyph per word’, but it wasn’t easy to see how to apply this to the Skourene language, which depended heavily on infixing and internal vowel change— e.g. different forms of kirk -‘fight’ include kiruk ‘I fought’, kurouki ‘we want to attack them’, koarkag ‘you are always under attack’, akerok ‘fighter’, and ukarkas ‘the art of war’.

The idea of a syllabary was not that helpful either; Old Skourene had both a wide range of diphthongs and some alarming consonant clusters (as in şmrapu, pkmeḍ, nsul-mnḍu).

What the Skourenes came up with was to divide each word into a logographic and a phonetic component. The logograph (peşşep) related to the root of the word— e.g. kirk- was a picture of two men fighting. The phonetic portion (triutta) merged all the consonants— in effect, it represented the vowels (and syllable divisions) only. So kiruk was represented by symbols ti-tu-ut, koarkag as to-at-ta-at, akerok as a-te-to-ot. (T represents the merged consonant, because it was in fact used to say a triutta out loud, e.g. while learning to write.) Thus for instance kirik was written as the peşşep <FIGHT> and, under it, the triutta <ti-ti-it>.

The representations of the triuttar above are written left to right for ease of exposition, but the actual triuttar (as well as the sequence of words) are written right to left.

The original system of glyphs worked out in Iṭili was quickly copied by the other cities. They kept the structure of the system but changed many of the glyphs (partly as a security measure; best not to let rivals from another city see what you’re writing). Colonies, however, would keep the system inherited from their parent cities. The result was that, over the next two centuries, the Skourenes elaborated half a dozen versions of the script.

The first uses of the script were for accounting and administration; then for law and diplomacy; then for advocacy, religious instruction, and history. It took centuries before poetry, drama, philosophy, and stories were recorded.

Literacy was very high in the cities, for both men and women, and well down the social scale. It was low in rural areas, however.

The classical city-states

From 200 to about 700 is the classical period of Skouras, an era dominated by a squabbling set of city-states. The Skourenes would suffer many changes, but they always looked back to this time as the definition of normality, as the time when things were as they ought to be.

Cities and city-states

The prototypical city-state (ṭreta, plural ṭrota) consisted of a city () and its rural hinterland (guşouri) extending inland from the river or sea. The geography of the Šinour valley was such that cities were often closer to one another than to parts of their own guşouri. In the delta, Iṭili, Engidori, and Imuṭeli were no more than about 30 km apart; upriver, the trio of Sokandeli, Ṭisuram, and Miligenḍi were not much further apart.

The city was ruled by a senate (smapali) of influential men, which elected one of its members as president (asemop). The senators were not elected; they were the chiefs or representatives of the city’s most important families. This continued to be true even as economic entities diverged from families.

The urbanization ratio was impressively high for an ancient empire— as much as 15%, compared with no more than 4% for Cuzei and half that for the Ezičimi. The majority of the people still lived off the land, farming, fishing, or herding. Nonetheless they were incorporated into the urban economy: urban firms bought their produce, sold them city goods, sold them animals and plows, and lured their misfits into city work. Cities built roads and temples in their hinterlands— though they did not bother to link these up with the territories of adjoining states. They also built bucolic retreats on undeveloped stretches of the rivers or in the foothills of the mountains.

As so often with Skouras, this picture has to be immediately modified to reflect immense historical and regional variation. There were actually more types of government in Skouras than in almost any other part of Almea. Besides the senatorial government (usampas):

Above the city level
Any of these systems could become an empire (tebbeḍ). The territories (tpoḍa) under the control of an imperial city were almost invariably ruled by appointed governors, no matter how the imperial city was run— Kolatimand, for instance, was perfectly content to have democracy at home and empire abroad.

More equitably, two or more cities might form an dreşa, an alliance or league. These were always in theory confederacies of equals, though normally there was a principal city. Sometimes its rule over the remaining cities approached the dictatorial, but there was always at least a fictive local government.

In later history Kuliŋibor pioneered the confederacy (mḍera) in order to meet the threat of empires such as Jeor and Axunai. It was stronger than an alliance, with a unified military, federal taxation, and no internal tariffs; but unlike an empire, it aspired to collective leadership.

240 The first empires

In the first centuries, the Skourene cities were happy to trade with each other— indeed, they were too small to have much of an internal market; they needed exports to grow.

Moreover, they rarely fought— why waste time on warfare when there was money to be made? This was even elevated into a principle: pkmeḍ, roughly translated ‘Skourenes don’t fight Skourenes.’

New colonies retained close ties to their home cities, and this produced something like a small mercantilist empire for the major cities:

home city location of empire chief cities
Imuṭeli the Namal Nemiṭali, Ageşoram
Miligenḍi Barmund Tisutra, Peligi
Iṭili western Gelimṭar Teralam, Kolatimand
Engidori eastern Gelimṭar Ḍeleli
Guṭḷeli Gelimḍan Meŋeland
Gasibur upper Skouras Papliopagimi, Pitrat

By the mid third century, these empires could be said to be too successful: each offered a diverse market, rich resources, and plenty of capital. Trade outside the ṭreta no longer seemed as important, and indeed rival ṭrota began to seem less like opportunities and more like rivals.

The first significant war was between Gasibur and Imuṭeli. In 243, Gasibur’s only colony on the Skourene Sea was the small colony of Pitrat, on the north side of Barmund. The asemop of Imuṭeli, Sundu, saw an opportunity to squeeze: surely Gasibur, the farthest upriver of the great cities, would pay tolls for the right to access its only maritime colony.

Gasibur was outraged, and refused to pay. Sundu was not willing to lose face by backing down, so he declared war. Engidori and Miligenḍi made it clear that there was no question of crossing their territory to attack Gasibur directly; but by the same token Gasibur had no ability to reinforce Pitrat. The colony attempted to defend itself, but was captured in 245.

The attack generated much outrage— which in a sense never died down: in all the histories of Skouras except those of Imuṭeli, Sundu is depicted as a malicious old wizard. Nonetheless, he was no more ruthless than most of the Skourene leaders who came after him, and the immediate commotion died down when— in the face of a multi-city alliance against him— Sundu agreed to pay a large reparation fee to Gasibur. Nonetheless, it kept Pitrat, and now that the principle had been breached, cities began to wonder what prospects might now be open to them.

The next scuffle was between Guṭḷeli and Iṭili. Both cities were trying to colonize Ḍarroḍ, a rocky island of few resources but strategically placed. Guṭḷeli put a large army ashore and simply killed or drove off its rivals’ settlers (269). A fierce war ensued, in which Iṭili devoted its efforts to an attack on Meŋeland, north of Guṭḷeli; while Guṭḷeli tried to conquer Teralam to its south. Neither attack came to anything, though the Iṭiliki, by catapulting burning brands into Meŋeland, managed to burn down most of the city. The two sides, exhausted, signed a treaty in 274, and most Skourenes figured that the unprofitable nature of war had been demonstrated.

280 Epuneka’s war

Imuṭeli drew another lesson: Guṭḷeli was weak, and its closest rival, Iṭili, was in no position to protest. It bought off another, Engidori, by promising it Ḍarroḍ; it then besieged Guṭḷeli (276). Almost the entire Guṭḷelik army was bottled up inside the city. There were some fierce battles outside the city, and some delays as Guṭḷelik ships managed to supply the city; but finally starvation loomed, and the city surrendered. Both Guṭleḷi and Meŋeland were incorporated into Imuṭeli’s empire, though as a conciliatory move Guṭḷeli was allowed to keep its senate.

This made Imuṭeli the largest Skourene state by far, with perhaps a third of all Skourene territory. The other cities could see where this was going; but they could also see that the principle of pkmeḍ had left their cities (like Guṭḷeli) too vulnerable. They thickened their city walls, built granaries and flotillas of longboats, and trained their citizens into armies.

The prototypical Skourene army, for the next milennium, was an infantry force drawn from the urban population, organized by bsepa. (It was considered desirable for the rural population to keep working the fields— and stay out of politics. An urban army was more easily trained and mobilized, and relatively cheap.) For offense the army relied on spears and catapults; for defense, on fortifications and archers; soldiers also carried swords for close combat. At this time the best weapons were still made of bronze, though sometimes iron weapons could be acquired (at an excruciating price) from the elcari.

The main elcarin settlement in the south of Ereláe was Khak Diqm, in the Diqun Bormai west of Axunai, and most elcari who came to Skouras to trade came from there. However, they maintained some permanent mining camps in the Fansava.

An army would have a small cavalry for scouting and messaging; the mountainous terrain was not suitable for cavalry action.

Ships were always important in Skourene warfare— mostly as a way to quickly ferry armies about, though archers in longboats could shoot at each other.

In 295 Epuneka, the asemop of Imuṭeli, figuring that additional time was in his enemies’ favor, precipitated the war, with a two-pronged attack on Ṭisutra (Miligenḍi’s Barmund colony) and Teralam (Iṭili’s Gelihur colony). Its strategy seemed at first to be vindicated, as both colonies were captured, while its enemies achieved nothing. Along with Engidori, they had sent an army against Imuṭeli itself. Finding its approaches too well fortified, the allied army rampaged around Imuṭeli’s hinterland, causing a good deal of damage, but doing nothing to win the war.

The next year, however, the allied army turned south and captured Meŋeland. Epuneka now faced fighting on three fronts. He had a choice: continue the attempt to capture his rivals’ colonies (thus eliminating two of the fronts), or concentrate on the allied army. He took the first course, besieging Peligi and the small Iṭilik settlement of Gelimali. This, however, allowed the allies to liberate Guṭḷeli. Almost the entire gains of the last war had now been lost.

The Imuṭelik Senate sent secret envoys to the allies, asking if they would consider peace in return for Epuneka’s head. The allies decided that this signalled weakness, and returned north to attack Imuṭeli again. This took another campaigning season, during which Epuneka drove north and retook Meŋeland. (When he returned to Imuṭeli he learned of the Senate’s secret mission, and executed five senators for treason.)

Finally, in 299, the allies drove Epuneka once more out of Meŋeland, and peace negotiations began. Imuṭeli was forced to return the cities it had conquered; in addition, Pitrat was liberated. The allies could not decide who it should belong to, and made it an open port, under their protection. (Epuneka was thrown out of office, but not handed over to the allies.)

Minṭu was settled from various cities; since none of these wanted the others to take it over, it remained independent. Because of Imuṭeli’s prestige at this time, Minṭu adopted the Imuṭelik writing system.

340 Ṭisuram airs its grievances

Ṭisuram was one of the oldest cities, and an important religious center; and yet early on it had fallen under the control of Miligenḍi. Many Ṭisuramanda had achieved distinction in the war against Imuṭeli, and they floated the idea that Pitrat should be given to them, as their own Littoral colony. This would not at all have been acceptable to Miligenḍi’s allies, but this point was not appreciated in Ṭisuram. And once their eyes were opened, the Ṭisuramanda found more and more slights to their dignity in continued Miligenḍik rule.

In 337 the senate deposed the Miligenḍik governor and appointed its own asemop, Umini. The Miligenḍiki were caught somewhat by surprise— they had never really understood, nor cared to understand, the disaffection in the city— and for a few weeks did nothing. Finally they moved to crush the rebellion.

This should have been easy— Miligenḍi had twice the population of Ṭisuram, and the resources of a littoral empire— but the rebel city had been fortified back when war with Imuṭeli threatened, and Umini had arranged with Iṭili for a supply of grain. It weathered a six-month siege and then, as the besiegers were in disorder, with many units off supplying themselves from the hinterland, they counterattacked. They won the battle, and spent two days rounding up the stragglers as prisoners and holding them for ransom.

This did not quite end the war— the Miligenḍiki raised another army and attempted another siege— but this went nowhere, and the next year they recognized Ṭisuram’s independence.

Şiḍḍi was largely colonized from Gelimṭar, where animals and crops had been bred to resist the wind and cold. Iṭili maintained sovereignty for some time, but as the island produced little besides fish and a type of unpalatable penguin called the maragmu, this soon became nominal, and then forgotten.

370 Ṭisuram’s gambit

In 349 Umini died, and as a mark of respect his wife Nossururrikum was named to replace him.

A bsepa was occasionally run by a matriarch; it was rare but not unheard-of for one to be elected to lead the Senate.

Ṭisuram now faced just one problem: it was deep in debt to Iṭili, and with no colonies nor much of a hinterland, it was likely to remain so. Nossururrikum came up with an unexpected solution: in 352 she sent the Ṭisuramand army down the Dussil river valley, attacking Iṭili’s colony of Nibureli.

The Iṭiliki decided to address the problem at the root and attack Ṭisuram. This was a mistake, as Nossururrikum was already negotiating with Nibureli; she could now insinuate that Iṭili was unwilling to come to its colony’s defense. Nibureli duly switched sides, and the two cities sent their armies to meet Iṭili’s.

Fighting went back and forth for nearly two years, but in the end it was Iṭili that sued for peace. Ṭisuram took over most of Iṭili’s guşouri, as well as its claim to Pitrat; it had no interest in Iṭili’s colonies in Gelihur.

Imuṭeli took advantage of the war to extend its empire in the Namal a bit northward; the Ṭisuramanda were angered, but for now had no recourse: despite its loss in Epuneka’s war, Imuṭeli was still the richest Skourene state.

During this period Gasibur was developing trade ties with the Tžuro, who had adopted the nomadic lifestyle pioneered by the Kagöt and the Easterers, and were raising sheep, goats, and horses in Upper Skouras. They were happy to trade wool, milk, cheese, and horses for manufactured goods. The settlement of Papliopagimi, a little north of Gasibur, became the focal point for this trade.

418 The Quadrilateral War

In the last years of the fourth century there was something of a cold war in Skouras. Miligenḍi and its offshoot Ṭisuram (and Gasibur) had strong governor systems (ugaşrara). These seemed backwards and repressive to the people of Iṭili, Engidori, Imuṭeli, and Guṭḷeli, who had senatorial states (usampara). For its part, Ṭisuram tactlessly exploited its shrines and oracles as an indication of superior virtue, or even a divine mandate to dominate all of Skouras. Political conflicts, as for instance the squabbles over Pitrat, were intensified by these ideological divisions.

In 380, the war heated up, when the Pitrat senate declared that it could have no usampara protectors. This meant Engidori (since its other two protectors, Ṭisuram and Miligenḍi, were ugaşrara) ; and in practical terms meant that the city would be an autonomous region in the empire of Ṭisuram.

Engidori objected; but it was Guṭḷeli that took the occasion to lay down an ultimatum: if Ṭisuram sent troops to the city, it would declare war. Two years later a new ageşor in Ṭisuram decided to do just that, and Guṭḷeli duly invaded. It sent almost its entire army across the water to Pitrat, overwhelming the Ṭisuramand force.

Now all Guṭḷeli had to do was prevent Ṭisuram from sending a new army to Pitrat (or counter-invading Guṭḷeli). The remainder of the conflict was therefore naval, and here Guṭḷeli had a strong advantage; it had twice as many longboats as Ṭisuram— an advantage which allowed it to destroy Ṭisuram’s fleet in its harbor at Nibureli in 384, ending the war.

The usampara were disadvantaged by the bad blood between Guṭḷeli and its former occupier Imuṭeli; but this was overcome by Teralepṭ, the amesop of Imuṭeli, who proposed an alliance (403). The Guṭḷeliki accepted (beginning a long Skourene tradition of sudden rearrangements of alliances). The allies hoped to destroy the power of Ṭisuram, and they were hardly discomfited by the counter-alliance of Ṭisuram with its former master Miligenḍi. The Quadrilateral War began the next year.

It lasted fifteen years, and it was a disaster for the usampara. Guṭḷeli’s naval edge had been misleading— Miligenḍi was a strong naval power— and it was largely reversed when the Ṭisuramand army captured Ageşoram and with it half of Imuṭeli’s longboats. By the end of the war the ugaşrara had also captured Pitrat, Nemiṭali, and Meŋeland. (Miligenḍi also captured a toehold in Gelimṭar north of Teralam; this was recaptured by the Imuṭeliki, and the Guṭḷeliki let them keep it as recompense for their territory lost elsewhere.)

Toward the end of the war Engidori occupied some of the hinterland of Imuṭeli— mostly to ensure that Miligenḍi or Ṭisuram wouldn’t get it.

Around 380, the Jei invented the trireme, which allowed safe ocean travel, and allowed trade in bulky commodities such as rye beer, wine, timber, and oil. The Jei were masters of the sea from Luduyn to Feináe, and even took over much of the intra-littoral trade. They were beginning to colonize strategic points, from the mouth of the Lux in Luduyn to the Ezičimi city of Tannevi in Gotanneli to the islands of Dougabori off Mnau— and Jei territory was off limits to foreign traders.

The dawn of Skourene literature

Some of the greatest names in Skourene literature lived during this period; among them were:

These and most other figures lived in the delta cities: though genius is unaccountable, it correlates pretty strongly with wealth. These were the first places on Almea which can be said to have a publishing industry: all had bsopa engaged in copying and selling manuscripts of interest. Cities, temples, and families also produced copies of works they considered important. The best sellers were practical manuals and religious tracts, but there was an increasing market for works of history and philosophy.

484 The usampara: Not dead yet

Miligenḍi had emerged from the Quadrilateral War with a naval empire— and a serious strategic weakness: its route from the city to the sea passed the three hostile delta cities. But to exploit this, its enemies needed to keep Ṭisuram from coming to its aid.

The Engidorid asemop Minnukitum found the solution: rank bribery. He offered Ṭisuram the island of Ḍarroḍ (as well as three dozen barrels of gold and 144 Tžuro horses) to stay out of the coming war. Ṭisuram accepted. He also signed alliances with Gasibur, Guṭḷeli, and Iṭili.

The war began in 465. Gasibur invaded from the north; Iṭili and Engidori undertook to block the river; Guṭḷeli attacked Nemiṭali, and all the allies except Gasibur sent armies against Meŋeland.

All the attacks succeeded. The allies then wasted a season on a fruitless attack on Miligenḍi, then fell to blaming each other for their failure. Iṭili ended up leaving the alliance; when this allowed a squadron of Miligenḍik longboats to escape into the Skourene Sea and land an army near Meŋeland, Minnukitum was so angry that he declared war and occupied the Iṭilik colony of Teralam. When a treaty was finally signed, in 469, Guṭḷeli made him give it back.

Minnukitum was the hero of the usampara. But in accord with senatorial principle a new asemop was elected in 471. Minnukitum found this hard to accept, and relocated to his new conquest, Meŋeland, which was happy to elect him governor (474).

Banking and the high seas

By the time of this map the Skourenes had developed a banking system. The original family firms (bsopa) acted as their own bankers, financing new workshops or excursions into new territory. Finally some families ended up specializing in finance, and this allowed an explosion of enterprise. Startups could count on finding capital; it was also possible to form and fund enormous consortia to take on truly large projects. The first major project, in light of the threat of the Jei, was shipbuilding.

By 530 the Skourenes were producing their own triremes; by 600 their ships were larger and faster than those of the Jei— and stronger in wartime, thanks to the by-now frequent inter-Skourene wars. With them, the Skourenes were able to bully their way into Jei ports, take over the bulk of long-distance trading, and intensify their colonization efforts.

The Skourenes knew that if they didn’t grab Barmund the Jei would; thus the new colonies of Arṭali (472) and Ŋinṭali (484). Significantly, neither was colonized from Skouras proper: Arṭali was colonized by Guṭḷeli, and Ŋinṭali by Kolatimand (itself an Iṭilik colony).

558 Colonies no more

Minnukitum found a lot to like about Meŋeland. It was wealthy, it was less crowded by other cities, and it was in his pocket. Back home he was merely one clan leader among many; here, merely because his presence, his bsepa was dominant. He was the liberator of the city, and it elected him asemop year after year.

The next move was plain, but he took years to prepare for it: in 495 he declared Meŋeland independent. Engidori was caught flatfooted. It managed to enlist Imuṭeli as an ally; Minnukitum thrashed them both.

If this was not a sufficient hint that the balance of power had moved southward, the rebellions of Peligi (vs. Miligenḍi, 545) and Ṭisuraku (vs. Ṭisuram, 555) were a clincher. Guṭḷeli seized Ḍarroḍ from Ṭisuram in 558. And Kolatimand, on the tip of the Gelihur peninsula, demanded and received the right to have a senate of its own (534); from this point it can be considered to be de facto independent from Iṭili.

These developments were facilitated by a plague (the ḍaukiurli), which struck the delta starting in 530 and spread north along the Šinour, killing up to a quarter of the population. It had much less effect in the colder and less populated Littoral.

All this came as an unpleasant shock to the older cities— especially Engidori, which had come to think of itself as the chief Skourene city. But the ‘colonial’ cities had matured; their trade and manufactures were explosive; and they were, after all, more convenient for trade with the Jei and the Axunemi. The new ship technology disadvantaged the cities upriver (i.e., Ṭisuram and Miligenḍi), as triremes couldn’t navigate the river past Engidori.

And truth to tell, the cities of the Šinour had grown stuffy, and increasingly, instead of innovating new routes or manufactures, they concentrated on protecting the existing bsopa from foreign and domestic competition. The old cities still had plenty of money, but this too, following bsepa ties, was tending to end up in the littoral.

Colonization was proceeding in Barmund and Komand. Miligenḍi was extending its control across the Akšunsava, creating a little empire over the Mei. Their hope was to reach Gotanneli, either for trade or for conquest. They had difficulty finding colonists, however, and even to maintain order they relied on Tžuro mercenaries.

The Skourene epics

The Skourene art of performance started in the brothels, perhaps because these were the only relaxed public spaces. There were no inns or restaurants: travelers stayed with someone from their bsepa, or rented a room, or stayed at a temple. In addition to their primary function, brothels offered a place to relax and to drink, and began to offer dancing and music as well, which developed into burlesque shows (utsagara).

By the early 500s, these had moved into separate establishments, tsagalir or nightclubs. This was a step up in respectability, though a small one, as the tsagalir were intended for entertainment rather than sex. A man could even bring his wife to one, or at least his mistress.

One couldn’t simply pay to sleep with the atesogto (dancing girls)— though morality was slow to recognize this. Even in the 600s it was far from respectable to be any kind of performer.

To keep customers’ interest, the repertoire was continually broadened: dance, song, poetry, magic tricks, animal acts, clowns, satires. Themed entertainments were introduced, and then stories: the theater (umnenalnas) had been invented.

The first plays were what we’d call musical comedies, which still featured a chorus of topless girls (or, if you knew where to go, naked boys). By the 600s, there were epics— serious spectacles featuring national heroes, or admonitory tragedies. The best of these were performed all over Skouras. Plays rather than novels became the distinctive Skourene imaginative art, perhaps because they travelled better: performances were easier to export than manuscripts, especially given the multiplicity of writing systems.

The greatest of the epic playwrights was Ṭailaneru, who was born in Ageşoram, but made his name in Imuṭeli. He was highly prolific, writing over two hundred plays, most of them on historical or mythological subjects, though he wrote his share of satirical comedies. He had a way with words— many a Skourene proverb was really a quotation from Ṭailaneru— and an excellent sense of character; he had a somewhat melancholic worldview, however, which approaches cynicism in his later work.

635 Powers on the rise

For the most part the Skourenes did no herding, except some goat-tending in the hills, for milk, and that was mostly done by Mei. There was no need, when cheese, milk, hides, wool, and horses could be purchased from the Tžuro. For their part, the Tžuro made it a regular part of their wanderings to come trade with the Skourenes; and this was normally done at Papliopagimi.

The only significant exception was Miligenḍi, which had some contact of its own with nomadic regions. But this was in difficult mountain terrain, and supplied only local needs.

By the time of this map, in fact, Papliopagimi so dominated this lucrative trade that it had eclipsed Gasibur as the seat of its ṭreta. It was the ageşor of Papliopagimi, Sinatşugla, who decided to capitalize on the power of his city by invading Engidori, in 575.

Sinatşugla was modest, by the standards of Skourene conquerors; he conquered Sokandeli, besieged Engidori for a year to make it clear that the Engidorids shouldn’t think of retaking it, and left it at that. However, the siege allowed Engidori’s littoral empire, centered on Ḍeleli, to establish its independence. Since then a sokandeli has been a term for a a reversal of fortune which hides a greater one (e.g. losing your coat, which turns out to be where you left your house key).

In the far south, Kolatimand had at first modelled its senate on traditional models, with one representative for each major bsepa. However, it lacked a traditional certainty about what the major bsopa were, and this led to strife and finally revolution (577). The revolutionary idea was for the senate to be elected by all property-owning households: the first democracy (utampas) in Skouras or indeed in Ereláe.

Kolatimand was obviously a power to watch— its new colonies in Barmund and Jecuor gave it a respectable empire, and it stole away Orkund, the chief city in Şiḍḍi’s little maritime dominion. The Kolatimandiki naturally ascribed their good fortune to their new form of government, and contemporaries were inclined to take the idea seriously; Minṭu, Ṭisuraku, and Soridrand all adopted the new system over the next decades.

More cynically, we can attribute some of the success of the southern cities to their advantage in iron. Ironworking had begun in Skouras in the 500s, and the best deposits of iron ore in southern Ereláe were all in Skourene hands. Engidori, Guṭḷeli, Kuliŋibor, and Kolatimand all had access to good amounts; but the motherlode was in the Peligir peninsula— one reason for the historical rise of Peligi (and indeed for that of the Čisre Empire two milennia later).

In 620, Guṭḷeli cooked up a war with Imuṭeli in order to take over its colonial empire for itself. In 635 it felt strong enough to challenge Kolatimand in Barmund; but it had miscalculated: it lost control of Arṭali, though it retained the smaller colony of Korileŋ upstream.

The Ṭalbuştu bsepa had for more than a century treated Dimuribor and nearby islands, off the coast of Komand, as its personal fief. A petty quarrel led the Ṭalbuştu in 590 to declare independence; since this statelet was run by the bsepa it happens to be one of the first stable Skourene attempts at a monarchy.

The would-be empires

738 Guṭḷeli’s century

The delta cities still saw themselves as the guiding lights of Skouras; it was a great shock, then, when Meŋeland declared war on Imuṭeli and, in two years, actually conquered it (683-4, under Minnukitum III). It was the first sign that the era of the city-state (the ṭreta) was ending.

Elsewhere in southern Ereláe, kingdoms were becoming empires. The Axunemi conquered Jeinizun in 702. Jei power moved to Jeor, in the west, and exploded in a massive counterattack that nearly swamped the Ezičimi states. The only direct impact on the Skourenes was that the Jeori conquered Kolatimand’s colony of Eŋ Luṭali in Jecuor. But everybody felt that the players needed to be bigger to stay in the game.

It was clear that the foreign empires, Jeor and soon Axunai, had started small and grown quickly and boldly. The natural application, for the Skourene mind, was to take the existing Skourene state— ṭreta and colonial empire— and grow it in the same way. In the course of the next century and a half two attempts were made to do this; both had to fail before something radically different could be put on the table.

The most powerful Skourene state was Guṭleli. Its major preoccupation was long-distance trade, especially in Luduyn. Its initial focus was to acquire island bases to safeguard its routes; it swiped some islands from Şiḍḍi, traded Korileŋ to Kolatimand for the Aḍagli islands south of Jecuor, and occupied the island of Rudeŋ off the coast of Luduyn (another source of iron). In 702 it founded the colony of Guṭḍaku ‘New Guṭḷeli’ on Luduyn, better known by its modern name of Gurdago.

At home, it saw little reason not to throw its weight around. It took Teralam from Iṭili in 694, and fought a short war with Miligenḍi in 712 in Barmund, leaving Miligenḍi with little more than Pitrat.

In 724 it made a play for power in Skouras proper, attacking Ṭisuram and Ṭisuraku. This turned into a long, bitter slog, largely for logistic reasons. The swampy Namal made the land approaches difficult, and it was a struggle to turn Guṭḷeli’s advantage at sea to good use. It was not till Papliopagimi was enlisted as an ally (734) that progress was made. By 738 Ṭisuraku had been entirely defeated, and Ṭisuram was suing for peace.

Papliopagimi took Ṭisuraku and Nibureli, leaving Ṭisuram free but greatly reduced. Guṭḷeli got Ageşoram, which was not much of a reward for fourteen years of war. No one said empire building was going to be easy.

Other things to note are the expansion of Miligenḍi’s empire among the Mei, and Dimuribor grabbing a small slice of the mainland.

785 Guṭleli’s comeuppance

Guṭḷeli clearly wanted to be an empire, yet not to be perceived as one. When a depression hit Miligenḍi, forcing it to default on loans to Guṭḷeliki banks, it offered to forgive the debts in exchange for Pitrat. This would have been more convincing if Guṭḷeliki troops hadn’t already been sent to occupy the city (765).

Miligenḍi fought a short naval war, failed to interest any other states in its fate, and ended up accepting the terms originally proposed. Even so, with the loss of revenues from Pitrat it had to face the fact that its Mei empire was a money-loser, and it withdrew from some of its conquests.

Guṭḷeli’s next target was also well-calculated— Iṭili. It took a year-long land and sea blockade, but the city surrendered in 773. The successful general, Ṭailsiugga, was the new imperial hero, and was soon elected asemop. Best of all, the entire campaign had apparently failed to alarm the other Skourene cities.

However, Iṭili’s fall awakened them, though the campaign had not: Guṭḷeli’s goals were now obvious to all. Papliopagimi, Engidori, and Meŋeland all allied to meet the threat, and declared war.

The war dragged on for more than twelve years. Ṭailsiugga first concentrated on winning territory, then on direct assaults on the allies’ capitals, and then just tried to hold on. For three years Guṭḷeli itself was under siege, but the Guṭḷeliki were able to supply the city by sea. Finally Kolatimand was induced to enter the war, and the allies defeated the Guṭḷelik fleet, leaving Meŋeland’s brilliant general Eŋŋuḷoşum to direct a triumphant assault on the city (786).

The allies divided up Guṭḷeli’s empire: Kuliŋibor and Pitrat went to Kolatimand; the Namal to Meŋeland; Papliopagimi got its old territories back, plus Ḍarroḍ; Engidori took Iṭili and Ageşoram.

Ḍeleli had fought a war with Kolatimand in the 740s, winning some of the Gelihur peninsula.

The Jeori reached their apogee during this period, and then fell precipitously into civil war. Sayiši and the territories in Mnau and Jecuor fell under the control of local generals.

The Divine Three

During its period of empire, Guṭḷeli became a center of culture. The city was beautified by the Dedlenul, the Divine Three: Teralsok the painter, Kuḷiŋŋusdu the architect, and Ḍuikraseg the sculptor. (The latter two were still alive when Guṭḷeli was captured, and were induced to come to Meŋeland.) The city was also known for practical studies— enginneering, medicine, shipbuilding, accounting, metallurgy, fortification, jewelry making— and produced manuals cataloguing the known techniques in each.

More notoriously, an anonymous Guṭḷelik writer produced the best-known erotic narrative of ancient times, the Greḍa norşiḷtiu (House of Beautiful Women). It was soon banned, not least because it depicted the leading families neglecting their duties for love of the courtesans of the title. Naturally, the ban only cemented the work’s popularity.

827 Meŋeland takes its turn

Eŋŋuḷoşum, now dictator of Meŋeland— the city had established the dictatorship during the war, and neglected to end it afterward— believed that he had found Ṭailsiugga’s mistake: he had proceded without allies.

He saw his opportunity in Iṭili, which according to his sources was preparing to rebel against Engidori. He secretly sent the rebels arms, and promised to come to their aid if they could hold out on their own for a month, long enough to tie up the Engidorid army. In the meantime he signed an alliance with Guṭḷeli.

Iṭili rebelled according to plan in 795, and after the agreed month Eŋŋuḷoşum sent an army to support it, while Guṭḷeli attacked Ageşoram. Engidori sent an army southward into Meŋeland. Eŋŋuḷoşum had anticipated this, and prepared ambushes all along the south road, the Gerredtar. He sprang his trap and destroyed the Engidorid army. Engidori had no choice but to sue for peace.

Just five years later he was ready for his next target: Papliopagimi. He let Guṭḷeli besiege Ṭisuraku, while he (with the help of Iṭili) attacked Nibureli. Engidori declared war as well, but Eŋŋuḷoşum beat the Engidorids again in a battle near Imuṭeli that was almost as decisive as Gerredtar. Almost as an afterthought, he sent his navy to take Ḍarroḍ. Papliopagimi and Engidori conceded defeat. Engidori was forced to cede a good deal of its hinterland to Meŋeland.

Eŋŋuḷoşum now had a good swath of central Skouras, a protectorate over Iṭili, a reputation for invincibility, and a plan to take out Engidori for good. And then he was assassinated, in 807. (Later histories run to conspiracy theories: he was murdered by the Engidorids, or by a clique of wizards, or by senatorial rivals. Contemporary sources point to a disgruntled member of his own bsepa.)

Rebellions immediately broke out in Nibureli and Imuṭeli; the Engidorids invaded; and it took four years for things to be brought under control. (Engidori had to be given back its hinterland.)

Meŋeland’s empire was not dismantled, but the imperial idea was dead— or at least this path to it. If it couldn’t be accomplished by Eŋŋuḷoşum, perhaps Skouras’s greatest military genius, it probably couldn’t be done at all. The other Skourene states would mobilize before the job was half done. As well, the high cost of militarization— the cost of maintaining armies and defense works, the loss of liberties, the interruption of trade— did not go unnoticed.

In Barmund, Kuliŋibor and Pitrat were tired of Kolatimandik rule. Combining their forces, they successfully rebelled in 812, and followed this up by taking Korileŋ and Arṭali in 818-9, and Minṭu in 822.

Under their new nive Tazipivu, the Axunemi had taken a new role for themselves— helping the Jeori fight each other. In 827 Tazipivu helped Jeinizun recover the whole of Niormen, and was rewarded with a slice of territory west of the Xengi delta.

The script problem

(Check Scripts to see the areas where the seven different Skourene writing systems were used.)

Guṭḷeli was the first Skourene state to rule a good deal of territory not part of one of the original colonial empires; as a result it was the first to decry the multiplicity of Skourene writing systems, which made administration and diplomacy difficult and inhibited the sharing of knowledge and literature.

It promoted its own script throughout its empire, with some success, though only the minor city of Nemiṭali switched over.

Guṭḷeli’s rival Meŋeland was its own former colony, so Meŋeland used a minor variant of the Guṭḷelik script. The heavy outline on the map shows the areas which already used the Guṭḷelik script, or were ruled by either Guṭḷeli or Meŋeland, both of which promoted it for inter-city communications— a very substantial area.

The delta cities (even Imuṭeli, currently ruled by Meŋeland) resisted; if they really wanted to produce something for wide diffusion they tended to use Iṭilik script, which also had the advantage of wide use in the Littoral.

As for what literature was being written, it may be a sign of the times that the most popular genres were epigrammatic comedies, paradoxical philosophies, and accounts of foreign or imaginary Skourene empires. A leading Meŋelandik thinker of the day called himself Umiṭṭḷek (‘empty head’) and prided himself on never asking a philosophical question which could be answered— or at least, as he said, “none that cannot be answered in a dozen ways; is this not the same thing?” Whether this was progress or not is a question worthy of Umiṭṭḷek.

Eŋŋuḷoşum’s wars inspired the two greatest Skourene military classics. Nkiuttador of Meŋeland, who had served on Eŋŋuḷoşum’s general staff, attempted to distill the master’s knowledge in the Nladalil kreika (The School of War). Nkiuttador likened war to education, and applied the lessons of teaching: know more than your opponent; ensure that lessons are clear; respect but dominate the pupil. Meanwhile Nreşasok of Guṭḷeli, the daughter of a diplomat, accompanied her father to postings all across Skouras, and took the opportunity to research the conduct of the war, producing a very informed and objective history of the conflict.

885 The uses of an external enemy

The nive Tazipivu united the Xengi valley under Axuna; his son Tima (who succeeded him in 855) began the conquest of the entire plain, creating the empire of Axunai (proclaimed in 890).

The Skourenes were at first pleased, because Tima’s primary target was the Jeori, and Axunemi ports were open to Skourene trade. But this policy waned as Tima grew stronger and hindered trade with fees and restrictions. And the speed of the Jeori collapse was alarming; what if he brought his unstoppable legions to Skouras?

The northern Skourenes shook their heads and deplored the situation; Kuliŋibor insisted early and often that action was needed. It even took the unusual step of sending a delegation four times in a row to the Greparam, the triennial Trucial Council of the delta states, to plea for a united front.

As the only international institution in Skouras, the Greparam was the venue for such demonstrations; it was also customary for peace treaties to be negotiated there, and the Skourenes reckoned the calendar according to the groparam.

Axuna was not a great naval power, but once Jeinizun and Niormen were conquered it had a fleet and shipyards, and Axunemi warships began to be seen, and sometimes— according to the southern states— attacked Skourene shipping. This was enough to convince Kolatimand to sign up for the Kuliŋiborik plan, which turned out to be a confederacy (mḍera). Kuliŋibor insisted that it wasn’t an empire; members would govern themselves, but put their armed forces under a unified command, and eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade.

In Old Skourene names are usually entire verb phrases, and the Kuliŋiboriki named their scheme Muḍureg ‘we will be whole’. I anglicize this as the Mudric Confederacy.

The confederacy built some fortresses in Jecuor and Barmund, but did little else; it’s often alleged, and it may be true, that Kuliŋibor didn’t prepare more because it considered that the quickest path to unity was to allow an Axunemi invasion.

Tima obliged, in 885, sending an army to take the cities of Arṭali and Korileŋ in Barmund. This was enough to convince Meŋeland to join the confederacy and send an army to fight the Axunemi. The northern Skourene states made encouraging noises but held off; Guṭḷeli scoffed. (Kuliŋibor was founded by Guṭḷeli, which gave Kuliŋibor a special interest in Guṭḷelik opinion, and Guṭḷeli a special resistance to being “ruled by colonials”.)

In the 860s the Iṭiliki mooted the idea that there was really no need for a Meŋelandik protectorate any more. Meŋeland responded by sending a garrison to the city and taking over the harbor. They retained their Senate, but they were effectively now a province of Meŋeland.

950 The height of the Confederacy

The Skourenes exulted in their defeat of Tima— bundling the conqueror of the Axunaic world out of Barmund within two years— but the truth is that Tima never committed many resources to the war. He had heard that the Skourenes were rich and disunited; he had no interest— for now— in taking on a large country far from home.

After 890 we call him Timai and his empire Axunai, as he added the Axunašin augmentative to both names.

His son Uliromez helped maintain the sense of menace by conquering the northern part of Boriju, on the Mnau peninsula (901).

When a generation passed with no further activity, Kuliŋibor found it increasingly difficult to maintain commitment to the confederacy, and to the taxation and military readiness that it entailed. There was a solution, however: refocus the confederacy’s external paranoia on the recalcitrant Skourene states, starting with Guṭḷeli.

By stages which no one really resisted, this passed into full-scale war (930-38). Guṭḷeli was the largest and richest Skourene city at this time, and it brought Miligenḍi into the war. The allies put up a good fight— their highest moment was sacking and burning Meŋeland— but the Confederacy was too much for them.

After the war Kuliŋibor, worried about the centrifugal tendencies of the older Skourene states, created a new political structure to counter them: the Skourene League (Dreşa Skourand). This was built on an extension to the Groparam, the Trucial Council of the delta cities: Miligenḍi, Meŋeland, Guṭḷeli, and Ageşoram were added to the council, and a third of their Confederacy taxes were routed to the new League.

Engidori was excluded from the League, and while it was active there were no more Groparam of just the delta cities. The Muḍureg counted the councils of the League as groparam and the Engidorids did not, which messed up everyone’s year-reckoning.

The Confederacy didn’t bother to conquer Guṭḷeli’s island possessions nor Gurdago, which were left to develop on their own.

Muḍureg pro and con

Skourene historians have been dismissive of the Muḍureg and the League, considering them a cheap ploy to create an empire for Kuliŋibor and a leading cause of the end of the golden age. Like most political cynicism, this is partly true and yet unfair. (Did Americans enter World War II simply to gain world hegemony? No. Did they enjoy their predominance and attempt to prolong it past its sell-by date? Certainly.)

Kuliŋibor was not simply self-serving to see a threat in Axunemi power and Skourene divisiveness. And its imperial predecessors, Guṭḷeli and Meŋeland, made far fewer concessions to collegiality. On the other hand, promising that the Muḍureg would be run for the benefit of everyone did invite the member states to judge it by higher standards. On that basis they had many complaints, and the Kuliŋiboriki tended to treat these as either inconsequential or treasonous.

Kuliŋibor used a variant of Guṭḷeli’s version of the Skourene writing system. Having been used by the predominant Skourene powers for centuries, this script was finally becoming the standard throughout the Littoral for diplomacy, business, and culture. The Skourene League however used Iṭilik, while Peligi stuck to its own system (by now diverging from Imuṭelik).

Kuliŋibor’s literary output ran to reams of soon forgotten political propaganda, as well as fantasy, notably the Nilgḍela (Vision) of Maḍaŋtoş, in which a man sails to the moons and under the earth, and Paligag’s stories of gods and monsters, which borrowed heavily from Axunemi mythology.

In the delta, it was a time for philosophies which left common sense far behind. Ḍamnumtat of Imuṭeli, for instance, tried to convince her readers that the world they knew did not exist, though she conceded that emotions and colors were real; Baudirda of Iṭili went further, claiming that people could create their own new consensual reality— this was in fact the secret of Axunemi success, though he emphasized that it would do them no good in the end: their hallucinated empire would disappear like treasures found in dreams.

The dark age

As for a dark age, things were certainly going wrong somehow in Skouras. The freewheeling, socially mobile, innovative ṭrota of old had become tired oligarchies, dominated by bsopa which took a dim view of almost any change, all too often burdened with high taxes and tariffs, a burgeoning rich/poor gap, a heavy military, and despotic governments. City life was declining— many Skourene cities had been larger several centuries ago. Kuliŋibor preached the benefits of removing tariff barriers, but to the other cities, it just sounded like a way to lose revenue.

The rise of Axunai also depressed Skourene trade: rather than facilitating the trade of the entire south of the continent, the Skourenes found themselves, in essence, competing for the trade of a single entity, Axunai. The Axunemi didn’t really believe in trade, only logistics: if a city had a surplus of some commodity, they sent bureaucrats there to commandeer it and send it to where it was needed. They only barely tolerated the Skourene traders— if they didn’t accept the low prices offered (which would be enforced in all imperial cities), they could just go home.

In the last few centuries Skouras had enjoyed a technological edge over both Jeori and Axunemi; but this was at a low ebb. Skourene ships were still the best in Ereláe, but the Axunemi preferred to build their own. The Axunemi had forged ahead in the technology of land war— indeed, one of Kuliŋibor’s advantages in the war with Guṭḷeli was Axunemi trebuchets. Skourenes were experimenting with mills, making use of the heavy winds in parts of the littoral; but this had not really produced any new exports. All this meant that trade largely concentrated on raw materials, which were less profitable than manufactures.

1005 The Mudric war

A century is a long time to cry wolf. Kuliŋibor continued to harp on the threat posed by Axunai; to the rest of the Skourenes this sounded like nonsense, and Kuliŋibor itself was looking more and more like the reason things didn’t seem to be going so well lately.

In 958 the bulk of the Confederacy forced the move of the official capital of the Muḍureg to Teralam, on the Gelihur peninsula. This included the headquarters of the confederate army— though the commander was still Kuliŋiborik— and the treasury— though this only affected current taxes, not the surplus from previous years.

The Kuliŋiboriki went along with this, in hopes that this would defuse cavilling about their great project. However, this proved to be only the first step. The remaining members next voted to halve the taxes for the support of the confederacy, and agreed that member armies could not be forced to serve outside their own territory for longer than three months except in wartime.

Ironically, the decisive break came when Kolatimand proposed to expand the confederacy by force, by taking over Ḍeleli. The Kuliŋiboriki felt (not without reason) that this was merely pursuing a local quarrel, and refused to participate. With great fanfare, the remaining members voted Kuliŋibor out of the Muḍureg (975).

The cities of Gelimṭar started their war against Ḍeleli, while Kuliŋibor garrisoned the cities of Barmund and the Namal— effectively taking these areas out of the Muḍureg. The Skourene League declared itself neutral.

Ḍeleli was quickly conquered, and the rump Muḍureg turned its armies against Kuliŋibor. Fighting continued for seven years, and finally petered out without a treaty, and with no significant change in boundaries: Kuliŋibor retained the western coast of the Skourene Sea, Muḍureg the eastern coast.

In the south, both Kuliŋibor and Muḍureg attempted to gain control of Minṭu; it was able to beat off these attempts, and enroll a number of islands in an Island League. (Only Orkund, the westernmost island in the Şiḍḍi archipelago, had more than a hundred inhabitants.)

The north was left to the Skourene League, which effectively became independent. Ṭisuram, Ageşoram, and Guṭḷeli had no interest in staying in the league, but the remaining states tried to keep it going as a confederacy, and even strengthened it by inviting Engidori to join (980).

This was either foolish or brilliant, depending on your point of view. Engidori was the largest of the delta cities, while Meŋeland— the only other city still a member of the groparam— was still recovering from its destruction fifty years before. Cementing its advantages, Engidori managed to gain control over the treasury, and declared that its entire army would be under the league’s command. (The other cities held back some of their forces for local defense.) This sounded generous while, of course, giving effective control of the league’s army to Engidori.

The official name of the League was not changed; but historians call this period the Engidorid League to emphasize its new character.

In 990 Axunai, under the emperor Čeba, began the systematic conquest of the Mnau peninsula. The fighting was, from the Axunemi perspective, tedious: the De:iju were few on the ground, but fought fiercely. There were no large settlements to take over; rather, tribes had to be outrun and defeated— and unless Axunemi were brought in to found fortresses and cities, the tribes would simply return and have to be defeated again. By 1005 the Axunemi had control of the coast and the major river valleys. The new territory was named Roz Čebevi or Čeba’s Land; this would be worn down to Xurnáš Čeiy and Ṭeôši Ṭeô.

Though it isn’t visible on our map, this is the lowest ebb of the Tžuro. Over the last two centuries the Lenani took over the Burilenan steppe. Some of the Tžuro lived under Lenani masters; others crowded south into Upper Skouras.

1070 Engidori flexes its new muscles

Kuliŋibor’s alarm was vindicated in 1010, when the Axunemi invaded in force; bad luck that it was its own territory, on the southwest coast of Mnau, that was conquered.

The Axunemi, a little behind the times on Skourene politics, named their new province Mura, after Muḍureg.

The remaining Skourenes seem to have felt that Kuliŋibor got what it deserved.

For more than two centuries it had been a thorn in the side of Kuliŋibor that Peligi, less than 100 km away, refused to join its anti-Axunemi programs. Now that Axunai was not only at the doorstep but had moved into the living room, this defiance was intolerable. It conquered Ṭisutra in 1022, and besieged Peligi but was unable to capture it.

The Axunemi also finished off Jecuor and the Guṭḷelik islands south of it.

In 1035 Ḍeleli rebelled against Muḍureg, and Kolatimand declared itself unwilling to help conquer it again. This left the Mudric Confederacy as not much more than Teralam and a few minor towns; they proved unable to prevent either rebellion.

In the north Engidori was eager to try out the resources of its League. First, as something of an experiment, it occupied some of the Mudric Confederacy’s territory near Guṭḷeli. Then, in 1069, under Nkiuttaram, it attacked Ageşoram in a combined land and sea assault; the city held out only a week, and Ṭisuraku surrendered merely at the sight of the League’s armies. Kuliŋibor sent an army north the next year to attempt to punish Engidori; the only result was that it lost a portion of the Namal.

About fifteen years later Engidori remembered that it was now a League rather than an empire, and invited Ageşoram to the Groparam.

In literature, Engidori’s greatest works from this period are tales and poems of love. The poet Sinateli wrote an enormous allegorical poem, whose subject was the battle for the lover’s affections within his beloved’s heart, while Adenoŋgoş (his pseudonym means simply ‘your lover’) wrote a series of romantic, passionate sonnets to an unnamed young woman; savvy young men were said never to be without it.

North of Skouras, the eastern Tžuro princes managed to push the Lenani out of the Burilenan steppe. This required close cooperation, and during the war the princes elected one of their own as aŋgot (commander). This was allowed to lapse afterward, but the alliance was still in effect, in case another enemy was found.

1150 The humbling of Engidori

Ḍolbunodu was the son of Nkiuttaram, the conqueror of Ageşoram. When he became in turn asemop of Engidori and aderoş (commander) of its League, he considered how he might exceed his father’s glory. His glance fell on Nemiṭali, a sleepy Kuliŋiborik city in the Namal. In 1106 he conquered it, and he spent the next two years fruitlessly attacking Pitrat.

Tiring of this, he turned to Papliopagimi, rich from its monopoly on trade with the Tžuro. He left an army (mostly manned from Ageşoram and Iṭili) besieging Pitrat, and drove the bulk of his forces north, bypassing Sokandeli and Gasibur— only the capital would do.

Before Papliopagimi he had a nasty shock, in the form of a massive cavalry charge. Horses had traditionally been of no military use in Skouras, a land of narrow valleys; armies normally consisted of arrays of pikemen and archers, transported quickly by ship. But horses were well suited to the plains of upper Skouras, and the Papliopagimir not only had their own, but had hired entire bands of Tžuro, experts at horse warfare. Ḍolbunodu’s army was routed; he barely escaped back to Engidori.

When news of this reached Ageşoram, it was emboldened to revolt, and this led Iṭili to join in. There were Engidorid garrisons in both cities, which made short work of the ragtag militias the rebels could cobble together. In Iṭili, the Engidorid commander Innleş punished the rebellious Senate with a campaign of terror, executing every fourth senator, including the asemop, Gidagdor. Gidagdor’s daughter Şugoulut, infuriated, rallied the city, raised and trained a new militia in secret, and finally led it against the garrison in a successful surprise attack. She personally killed Innleş, with her father’s sword held in her father’s gloves. She then helped Ageşoram defeat its own occupiers.

This was only half the battle; she returned to Iṭili just in time to face Ḍolbunodu, who had arrived with the main Engidorid army. He besieged both cities, and was beaten back only with the aid of Papliopagimi, and the army from Pitrat, which had marched through the entire Namal to rescue their compatriots.

Ḍolbunodu saw no reason to admit defeat. Year after year he engaged his enemies. If it came down to an endless slog, the city with the greater resources must win, and that was Engidori. His best year was 1114, when he captured both Sokandeli and Gasibur, and convinced Ṭisuram to enter the war on his side. But just the next year Meŋeland and Imuṭeli revolted.

The senate kicked Ḍolbunodu out, but the war dragged on till 1121. Engidori still controlled Imuṭeli, but it lost most of its hinterland to Papliopagimi.

Confederacies were still fashionable, though they were barely larger than the old ṭrota. Iṭili retained the legal mechanisms of the Skourene League, though Şugoulut promised never to abuse them as Engidori had. Meŋeland called itself the Dreşa Anamti or Rising League, though like Muḍureg it was a league with just one significant member.

The height of Axunai

Axunai continued its attacks on Kuliŋibor, conquering Arṭali in 1095, and grabbing Minṭu in 1115.

The continuing conquest of Čeiy led to a new approach. The Jaukaye river, now dotted with Axunemi forts and settlements, was not far at all from Skouras; and the Axunemi preferred fighting by land anyway. Why not simply drive through to the Skourene Sea, where the rich, squabbling city-states could be picked off one by one?

In 1134 the emperor Jouvuneir gave the order to march. Again Nemiṭali found itself the first mouthful for a hungry empire. Ageşoram and Pitrat were besieged by immense armies.

But further progress was difficult. The besieged cities were easily supplied by sea; when Jouveneir belatedly sent a fleet into the Skourene Sea, it was destroyed before it got past Peligi.

The map was misleading. Čeiy was still lightly settled, so that men and supplies had to be marched hundreds of miles from the Xengi valley. And from the swampy Namal, the rich Skourene cities seemed hardly closer than they’d been from Weinex. Jouvuneir tried a northern route, passing through Ṭisuram, and as soon as his men left the mountains they were battered by Papliopagimi’s mercenary allies. In 1140, he gave up in disgust.

Our focus on Skouras should not tempt us to disdain the Axunemi, who were now at the height of their power. The conquest of the Namal is only a minor stage in Jouveneir’s career; his greatest feat was the conquest of the remains of Jeor in 1150.

1260 Hour of darkness

Since the last map, the malaise of Skouras has only deepened. Trade is less than a third what it was three centuries ago; cities and even ships are smaller.

Axunai has expanded, not through any new strength, but through Skourene weakness— some of it quite literal; Skouras was hard hit by a recurring epidemic in the late 1100s, Barmund worst of all. There are stories of straw-filled uniforms being propped up on battlements to give the impression that there were enough men to meet an attack. During one outbreak, in 1190, Axunai attacked and conquered Pitrat, and Kuliŋibor seemed to melt away like a ghost. Peligi reconquered Ṭisutra, and Arṭali and Korileŋ became independent.

Much of the littoral was suffering an ecological collapse which peaked at this time. Wherever they settled, the Skourenes farmed the valleys, used the hills to pasture their cows and horses and some sheep, and above all cut wood. They built with wood, used it for fuel, exported it to Xengiman, and reduced it to charcoal, necessary for working iron. Deforested hills lost their topsoil, faster rivers flooded away even valley soils, and pastured animals and the cold climate combined to prevent regrowth. By this time, after a milennium of development, the Šinour valley itself and most of the eastern littoral were nearly bare of trees.

Without trees, there would be no ships and no iron as well. Naturally, the Skourenes ventured far and wide to fetch wood; it was still possible to find plenty in Čeiy, in Mei territory, and of course in Luduyn. But access to these regions was dominated by their neighbors, or by the richest states. It's no coincidence that so many states failed in the southern littoral— the most ecologically fragile zone.

Reflecting on Peligi’s deliverance from Kuliŋibor and Axunai alike, an unregarded monk of the cult of Kolatim had a revelation: Peligi was the divine city, the new center of Skourene faith and culture. He renamed himself Uruṭiḍag ‘you will begin to be free’, and not content with this, renamed the god Kolatim ‘the great sleeper’ Ŋokkoltim, indicating that the god was now roused. The Peligir mostly scoffed; but some thought that Uruṭiḍag was on to something.

Elsewhere, states and confederacies fought many a war, but proved unable to retain their conquests. Ageşoram split off from Iṭili (1242); Imuṭeli established its independence from Engidori (1260).

The only state with any vitality is Papliopagimi, which fought a small war with Ṭisuram (1242-4) and relieved it of some of its mountain hinterland. Not long after, a Tžuro lord believed that he had been cheated, and convinced the other princes to go to war against Papliopagimi. They had no real idea how to capture cities, but they did take over some of the pastoral lands on Papliopagimi’s northern border. Somewhat to its relief, Paplipagimi found that they could still be bought off with gold, titles, and marriage alliances.

Komand took over Dimuribor in 1250.

1370 Vital signs return

Wars did not abate during the dark age, but their effects tended to be temporary: the only stable equilibrium seemed to be for each major city to be independent. Iṭili’s conquest of Ageşoram in 1315 under the aderoş Niḷḍunsa seemed at first to be one of these meaningless fluxes.

Niḷḍunsa died the next year, and his son Romindor was named to replace him. He had every right to sit back and enjoy his good fortune quietly, but he was determined to use the momentum of the victory to reconquer the Namal from Axunai.

Romindor personally led the League’s armies into battle, and was able to conquer Nemiṭali in 1317, and (with the aid of a rebellion) Pitrat the next year. More importantly, with the aid of Peligi, he was able to beat back the inevitable Axunemi counterattack (1319-21).

Unknown to the Skourenes, the loss of the Namal was one of the shameful failures which drove the Axunemi general Čejiras to proclaim the emperor Šuidibur unworthy of the throne, and himself the obvious replacement. The two tore Axunai apart in a civil war (1327-42).

The province of Mura drifted into independence during the war, as did Jeor.

The population of Mura was almost entirely Skourene; only its ruling elite was Axunemi.

Papliopagimi picked on Ṭisuram again (in the 1330s) and conquered Miligenḍi. Guṭḷeli reduced some of Muḍureg’s hinterland in the 1360s.

Komand convinced Soridrand to form an Eastern League in 1370. Komand promoted it as a customs union rather than a defense pact; from this point of view it found Ḍeleli’s refusal to participate perverse.

Some of these changes are not really signs of health within the Skourene sphere as a whole, but only indications that, with the ecological collapse of the southern zone, northern states found themselves relatively stronger. But trade was picking up as well, partly because the Axunemi were no longer able to limit intercity trade, but more importantly because the growing cities of Čeiy were hungry for materials and manufactures, and the Skourenes were soon supplying more of these than the Axunemi.

Čeiy was, in fact, turning out to be a very different land than Axunai. Axunemi civilization had been built by taking over Wede:i and Jeori cities; Čeiy was built from near nothing by colonists. Where the metropole was imperial and bureaucratic, it was egalitarian and pragmatic. Axunai was a command economy; Čeiy developed markets. The Skourenes got along very well there. Indeed, not a few Skourenes helped settle Čeiy, especially in the southern region, Tandau.

The reawakening

1440 Explorations

Recriminations over the Eastern League turned ever more vicious; finally Ḍeleli imposed high tariffs against the League. To teach it a lesson, Komand and Soridrand sent a small army to intimidate Ḍeleli; somewhat to their own surprise, it succeeded in occupying the city (1382), whose defenses were minimal.

When Muḍureg announced that it intended to liberate Ḍeleli, the Eastern League sent its army to menace Teralam. The Confederacy had been bluffing— its army was not ready for offense, and was chased from the field. The Easterners besieged Teralam for a few months, but accepted a peace offer. As a result of this display of impotence, some of the southern part of the peninsula drifted out of the Confederacy.

Axunai’s troubles had only intensified since the rebellion of Čejiras; it was occupied in an ongoing war with the Bucair barbarians to its west. It had little attention to spare to Čeiy, and the southern province, Tandau— consisting at first of not much more than the city of Worčal— was independent de facto from about 1380. Its de jure independence dates from 1406, when its governor died, and his son Juručenke named himself nive (king). He and the local nobility set up a Senate on the Skourene model.

When the governor of Jecuor looked to be considering a similar move, Juručenke occupied the island, deposed the governor, and politely invited the cities of Inči Lučali and Banbori to join his kingdom (1410). His son Ulinoxu conquered Mura (1425-7), then pushed east to challenge Arṭali. He was readily defeated, and Tandau wisely decided to be content with its borders.

Minṭu was ruled by its local Axunemi nobles for a few years, before they were kicked out by the local Skourenes.

The final military event of note is Iṭili’s conquest of Ṭisuram (1437-9).

The boldest mariners among the Skourenes were those of Kolatimand— perhaps because it eschewed military conquest. They now had hardy sailing ships, and had rediscovered routes to Luduyn, Jeor, and the territory of the Qaraus (which allowed them to break the Papliopagimir monopoly on trade with nomads). They sailed as far north as the jungle of the icëlani; finding nothing of interest there, they began to explore to the east

Around 1400, they achieved their greatest triumph, crossing 3000 km of open sea to reach Arcél. They first encountered Dnetic hunter-gatherers, who were not much more interesting than the icëlani; and then the kingdom of Nlatak. Here they sold their trade goods and manufactures, bringing back samples of the strange Arcélian foods, a few curious Nlatakans, and a small amount of gold.

1510 The god next door

In 1475 Engidori made an attempt— its third— to recapture Imuṭeli. It besieged and blockaded the city for months, and finally resorted to catapulting oil-filled bottles over the walls. This tactic was not usually very effective: the public buildings and richer houses of a Skourene city were of stone, and during a siege defenders stood by in poorer regions with barrels of water to combat the fires. But this time, an entire poor neighborhood went up in flames— as well as scaffolding being used to repair the city wall, which collapsed. The Engidorids poured in and captured the city.

They left a garrison in Imuṭeli, and the bulk of the army headed home. On the way they were ambushed by an army which Iṭili had ferried across the river. Exhausted and outnumbered, the Engidorid army was cut to pieces.

It took a few months to starve out the remaining home garrison; Imuṭeli, by contrast, surrendered as soon as the Iṭilik army showed up at the gates. (Somewhat unfairly, this gave Imuṭeli a reputation for cowardice that persisted for centuries.) For the first time one of the delta cities had conquered the other two.

Around 1490 Ḍeleli rebelled against the weakening Eastern League, which was unable to recapture it. A few years later Iṭili took Ḍarroḍ from Teralam and part of the hinterland of Guṭḷeli with it. This was enough to cause the remnant of the Mudric Confederacy to collapse; Teralam still used the name, but its authority extended not far beyond its city walls.

The Aḍagli islands south of Jecuor were occupied by Gurdago in 1465, as a convenient stop for long distance trade. Gurdago was an unlikely success story: perched on the cold southern tip of Luduyn, it had developed into a powerful trading city. It boasted seemingly inexhaustible reserves of wood, iron, and furs, and not coincidentally made the finest Skourene ships and swords.

Gurdago, Peligi, and Kolatimand were now trading regularly with Arcél; it was Gurdago, in fact, which reached the rich realm of Uytai, farther east from Nlatak. The Skourenes brought spices, iron weapons, and manufactures; what they chiefly wanted in return was gold, and they brought back enough to cause a serious bout of inflation.

There was some attempt to exploit the strange foodstuffs of Arcél. The only one which really caught on in Skouras was millet (krek), not because it was particularly tasty, but because it is extremely hardy and highly resistant to rot— a perfect crop for the damp, windswept southern edge of the Littoral. (It is harvested by cutting, and the plant regrows the next year from its roots; it thus helps resist erosion of marginal lands.)

Peligi captured Minṭu in 1505. With the Peligir conquest came the priests of Ŋokkoltim. The new worship was strong in its homeland (though never dominant; Skourene cults never dreamed of universality), and was now spreading throughout the Littoral. The gospel of a renewed Skouras was heartening; the doctrine of the holiness of Peligi was less convincing, but was dutifully repeated.

Tandau captured the Werborei islands in 1482.

In the north, the Tžuro were mourning the death of the prophet Babur (1510), who had preached the worship of a single god, Jippir. Jippir demanded much of his adherents: zealous love, strict sexual morality, and conversion of the unbelievers— by persuasion if possible, otherwise by force. Jippir had explicitly given the rule of the whole world into the hands of the Tžuro; fortunately for the world, his first command was to finish the conversion of the Tžuro.

Nonetheless, the princes were already testing their boundaries, and occupying lands well suited to their herds; beyond their theological zeal, their recent invention of the stirrup has given them a military edge. So far the Mei and the Lenani had borne the brunt of this, but Papliopagimi lost some of its border territories as well. This was not viewed as very serious even in Papliopagimi— let the nomads have a few bits of mountainous hinterland; their new religion didn’t keep them from coming to the city to trade, did it?

1593 The rise of Peligi

The rising power of the moment was clearly Peligi. In 1554 it conquered Pitrat from Iṭili, and followed this up in the 1560s with a protracted struggle for the Namal. For its final push, it made an alliance with rebels in Ṭisuram; with the distraction this provided, it was able to capture Ageşoram and Ṭisuraku (1574). It was even able to take over Iṭili’s conquests south of Guṭḷeli as the price for peace.

A consequence of the long war was that Iṭili and Ṭisuram exerted control over the unclaimed territory to the west. There was unorganized territory to the east as well, but Iṭili left it alone— the region’s natural trade was with Engidori and Imuṭeli, and it didn’t want to see these cities grow bigger.

During the war the Peligir had implied that Ṭisuram might be given Ṭisuraku, its ancient colony, but afterward nothing came of this. The Peligir always insisted that nothing definite was ever promised; but in the heartland, the lesson taken was that Peligi was not to be trusted.

This was of more import than the usual imperalistic resentments, because the threat from the north was solidifying. Tžuro traders came as usual to Papliopagimi, but they spoke cheerfully of Babur’s command to conquer the world for Jippir, just as soon as the Tžuro were all converted. Peligi presented itself as the champion to meet this threat, and warned that real unity and cohesion, beyond even that achieved by Kuliŋibor centuries ago, would be required. Its only convert was Teralam, which voluntarily joined Peligi.

Some historians have blamed Ŋokkoltimand rhetoric for Peligi’s growing unpopularity, but Peligir actions explain this just as well. As well, we should realize that Peligir self-confidence was, for many, an attractive quality in an epoch of crisis.

The threat moved a little closer in 1593, when the Jippirasti prince Kurund was named atej over all the Tžuro. There were still substantial numbers of pagan Tžuro, but the establishment of the tej meant that conversion would proceed by agreement, not by war between the tribes; and that the energy of the Tžuro would now be directed outward. Kurund’s first campaign was a minor war with Mei Ros, the kingdom the Mei had put together as their neighbors grew more belligerent. Papliopagimi found some of its territories eaten away as well.

And there things remained, from the viewpoint of Skouras. In fact Kurund had turned his attention northward, to Lenan and ultimately to Munkhâsh— viewed as the realm of Kulig the enemy of Jippir. Peligi’s opponents pointed to this as evidence that the Tžuro would be no more of a threat than Axunai ever turned out to be.

In the south, Gurdago occupied a few more islands, including Orkund. These served as bases for trade and for provisioning. If anyone asked why the shipyards of Orkund were busily building warships, the Gurdagor explained that the times were becoming dangerous and it had to put thought to defense.

1632 Jippir’s first blow

But Guṭḷeli was just sitting there
Guṭḷeli was now well past its prime, content to be a medium-rank trading city; but it was rich enough to tempt Peligi, and unlikely to be able to defend itself unless it found allies. Its best hopes were Iṭili, its chief trading partner, and Gurdago, its onetime colony. The latter seemed too remote to be important, while the former was overcome by a charm offensive: Peligi offered Guṭḷeli Ḍarroḍ, as well as an alliance against Meŋeland. The Guṭḷelik senate listened attentively enough to disgust Iṭili, which rescinded some of the privileges of Guṭḷelik traders. Guṭḷeli responded in kind.

This left it isolated, and in 1595 Peligi conquered the city, after a short campaign headed by its young general Adesdanti. It was given local autonomy (and indeed control over Ḍarroḍ), but nothing more; Peligi didn’t believe in the polite fictions of the confederacy era. It was a brutal time, and called for brute strength.

In 1609 Adesdanti was named despot (poşmim) of Peligi. He sent delegations to all the Skourene states, defending the annexation of Guṭḷeli and promising that he would do nothing like it again; the important thing was to unite against the Tžuro. But few found him trustworthy; only Kolatimand and Kuliŋibor agreed to an alliance, and only in the event of an actual invasion.

Peligi had always refused to use the Guṭḷelik script that was the standard elsewhere in the Littoral; as it extended its rule it promoted its own script. The Iṭilik and Komandik scripts survived as well.

The tej makes its move
Kurund died in 1623, succeeded by his son Burudusi. Burudusi was Jippirasti, but had no interest in the defeat of Kulig; he was more tempted by the rich southern states. He began with a campaign against Mei Ros, but then he turned his riders against Papliopagimi. His overwhelming cavalry quickly occupied the hinterland, and he was able to starve Gasibur into submission; but Papliopagimi itself was safe behind its walls, and could be supplied by ship.

This was a puzzle, and after four fruitless years some of the princes grew rebellious. In effect the Tžuro had to teach themselves how to assault cities. In this they undoubtedly learned much from the inhabitants of cities they had already conquered, such as Gasibur and the towns bordering Lake Lenan. Burudusi was soon building siege towers and catapults, as well as tunneling under the walls.

Papliopagimi fell in 1630; for the trouble it had given him, Burudusi executed each of its senators, razed its walls and all its temples, and massacred its remaining soldiers. He promised the remaining cities clemency if they surrendered. All but Miligenḍi did, and when Miligenḍi was taken the next year it received the same terroristic treatment. Next he turned to Ṭisuram, and his reputation was such that when the Ṭisuramand army was defeated in the field, its senate surrendered the city.

Adesdanti had helped supply the besieged cities— and sent troops to make sure Kuliŋibor and Kolatimand remembered their promises— but none of his armies had resisted the invaders. He explained that Papliopagimi and Ṭisuram had refused his offers of alliance. All this meant, said the Iṭiliki, that they had refused Peligir rule. Iṭili instead sent ambassadors to beg help from Gurdago.

As further disaster loomed, a sense of apocalypse prevailed. Omens and signs of doom were reported; cults appeared demanding self-mortifying repentance or promising messiahs; people buried their fortunes, or tried to move to the southern cities (which, still reeling from their ecological problems, often turned them away), or suddently settled old grudges with murderous violence.

In the Axunaic world
Axunai had for centuries had its own nomad troubles, with the Bucair. They finally got a break, or so they thought, with the outbreak of a civil war among the Bucair, in 1620. The Axunemi invaded, retaking most of Niormen; the Bucair put aside their differences and counter-invaded. By this time they had retaken Jeinizun— the first Karazi peoples to appear on our base map.

There were worse troubles in Čeiy, which was tired of paying high taxes to support the ongoing war against the far-off Bucair. In the 1620s the Čeiyu provinces rebelled, along with the district of Bizawak. The Axunemi quickly occupied the two largest cities, Četazi and Šelaju; this induced the rebellious governors to come together, forming Amurineli (‘united land’, 1628). They formed a Noble Council (Geivari Jurumirtax) to govern the country— originally consisting only of themselves, but soon extended to other local notables; it was an effective way of keeping them from contemplating their own rebellions.

1665 A misspent reprieve

Help from afar
Gurdago finally responded to many appeals— by declaring war on Peligi. This seems foolish in retrospect, but it only seemed half-foolish at the time. The fall of Papliopagimi was a shock, but everyone believed that a united effort would easily reverse it. Jockeying over control of this united effort— and the future trade of the Littoral— was just realpolitik, especially when Peligi was so widely despised.

Most Skourenes cheered when Gurdago took over Minṭu (1639), and again two years later when it landed a large expeditionary force under the general Nuppoma and liberated Guṭḷeli.

Adesdanti did not react strongly to these losses, but concentrated on establishing Peligir authority over Meŋeland, the area north of the Namal, and the unorganized portions of Gelimṭar. His obsession was to bring all Skourenes together; but of these conquests only Meŋeland extended his military reach.

Burudusi died in 1644; he was succeeded by his brother Adubum. His first action— at first derided, later pointed to as a mark of divine and well-justified self-confidence— was to rename himself Attafei, ‘Almighty’. A passionate Jippirasti, he reversed Burudusi’s strategy and poured his riders into Munkhâsh. He conquered the pagans’ restlessness with a wager: if they defeated Munkhâsh, they must admit Jippir’s might and convert to Jippirasti; if not, he would abdicate.

In Skouras, the effect was a loosening of the Tžuro noose. Ṭisuram shook off its Tžuro garrison in 1645.

Hearing this, Nuppoma proposed to march north to fight the Tžuro. This was an ambiguous move: Adesdanti was still in Meŋeland, and Peligi and Gurdago were still technically at war. After an increasingly belligerent exchange of messages, Nuppoma began his march. He said that he would bypass Meŋeland, but Adesdanti declared the incursion intolerable, and marched with his own army to meet him.

For most of 1646 the two chased each other round the hinterland of Meŋeland; meeting in battle many times, but never decisively. Then, in the winter of 1647, Adesdanti died, and Peligi offered a truce.

Nuppoma accepted; but when Teralam defected to Gurdago the situation deteriorated again into war. Without Adesdanti the Peligir seemed rudderless, and Nuppoma defeated them decisively outside of Meŋeland. Peligi decided to withdraw, in effect ceding the Gelihur peninsula to Gurdago.

Nuppoma wasted no more time: he made alliances with Iṭili and Ṭisuram, and rode north into Tžuro territory. The Tžuro garrisons fought boldly, but the Skourenes learned to counter their terrifying cavalry charges with lines of spearmen, and brought their numbers to bear. By 1649 the alliance had recaptured all the Skourene cities. (In the case of Papliopagimi and Miligenḍi, they were helped by the fact that the Tžuro had not allowed the rebuilding of the city walls. This was not a mistake that would be repeated.)

The Skourenes usually said, or snorted, that the war against the Tžuro was carried out with no help from Peligi. This isn’t quite true: Peligi helped Ṭisuram reconquer Miligenḍi.

In Čeiy
In 1650 Amurineli captured Četazi from the Axunemi. This was an enormous local triumph: Četazi was the largest city in Čeiy, and it became the new capital of Amurineli. The five greatest families of the city were invited onto the Noble Council— unwittingly tipping the balance of power from the rural landowners to the cities.

From the Axunemi point of view this was only the latest in a string of disasters. The province of Moun had rebelled in 1635, with the aid of a Munkhâshi army, and conquered most of the empire. Hard pressed by the Tžuro and the Cađinorians, Munkhâsh had to withdraw its army, whereupon the rebellion collapsed into civil war. The remnant of Axunai was unable to exert control over this process; the empire was devolving into half a dozen regional kingdoms.

The Tžuro conquest

1705 Time runs out

Gurdago and its allies had liberated Skouras; but would they be ready when Tžuro attention turned again to the south? From denial the Skourenes had moved to anxiety. Iṭili proposed a revived and expanded Skourene League. Gurdago and Peligi preached a firm, forced unity, but refused to work together. Many Skourenes were disgusted with both of them; it was said that where once the principle was pkmeḍ ‘Skourenes don’t fight Skourenes’, now it was şiu-puigmeḍ ‘We only fight each other.’

In the end little was done, except to rebuild the walls of Papliopagimi and to establish a tentative alliance with the Mei. For a time, the Tžuro even resumed their trading trips to Papliopagimi. Some optimists convinced themselves that Attafei would forget his promises to conquer the world for Jippir.

In 1670 Kolatimand, feeling that Gurdago was muscling too much into its trade, invited the Peligir into the city. Peligi obliged, Gurdago declared war, and the two empires fought a nasty, prolonged war up and down the littoral. It ended after nearly ten years; the only significant territorial change was that Gurdago ended up with Kolatimand. This war only further soured relations with Iṭili and Ṭisuram.

The main event
Attafei and the Cađinorian emperor Ervëa had already destroyed Munkhâsh (1667); Attafei collected on his wager, converting the remaining pagan Tžuro to Jippirasti. He spent some time plundering and re-ordering the Munkhâshi, then returned to the conquest of the south. Mei Ros was conquered in 1675.

Attefei died in 1684, at over eighty years of age, just as he was leading his armies into a new siege of Papliopagimi. His son Kutaj took over the campaign; when he died in 1694 his son Busiŋgal soldiered on.

Tžuro served as the cavalry, while using Eynleyni as infantry. The Eynleyni painted their faces and limbs in lurid designs to strike fear in their enemies; the Tžuro outlawed this practice for converts— a minority— but allowed it for the rest. The Skourenes were duly impressed; many wrote that the Tžuro had nonhuman allies, or assumed that these were the ktuvoks.

To an extent the surprising thing is that the lords of the steppe, the conquerors of Munkhâsh, who had splashed fearlessly into the swamps to fight the ktuvoks and destroy their milennial power, took so long to conquer the divided Skourene states. At this point, twenty years into the war, the Tžuro had mainly occupied the rural hinterlands and a few minor cities; their most significant conquest was of Engidori (1704), which was renamed Jippirim and made the center of administration for the conquered lands.

This was only the second time Engidori had ever been conquered. (The first time was by the Iṭilik in 1475.)

The Skourenes, however, were more advanced than the Munkhâshi, who depended largely on huge peasant levies, stiffened by the ktuvoks. Munkhâshi cities were fortified only lightly, against the occasional inter-ktuvok wars. Skouras by contrast was toughened by fifteen centuries of internecine war. Its cities boasted immense fortifications and were built to be supplied by water. On the other hand, they had to be supplied from somewhere; the Tžuro were the first enemies the Skourenes had faced who could occupy all the supply regions of Skouras.

1726 The final conquest

Busiŋgal was no strategist; he simply applied his enormous forces to the weakest point he saw. And it seemed to him that the Skourenes were weakest in Ṭisuram and Sokandeli, both held by Gurdago— small cities where supply was most difficult. He expended nearly five years on their capture. If things kept on this way, Jippir would certainly have ultimate victory, but not, perhaps, Busiŋgal.

The superior strategy, then, was to attack at the strongest point— that is, Gurdago or Peligi. The first was out of reach, but Peligi was, by now, not far away. Busiŋgal accordingly concentrated all his forces on it: Tžuro cavalry, Mei archers, Eynleyni and Skourene infantry (1711).

The army approached by land— the Tžuro still had no navy— and bypassed Nemiṭali and Pitrat as distractions. They burned crops and appropriated herds as they went. The dictator of Peligi, Krolakurilim, was cautiously confident. The Tžuro were operating far from home; the hilly terrain ill-suited their cavalry; their conscript armies were inferior to hardened Skourene patriots. He therefore risked a set battle, outside Ṭisutra.

Each side tried to choose its own spot for the battle: the Tžuro wanted to fight on the flat ground near the city, the Skourenes in the hills two miles back. There was a sort of comic interlude of a month while the two armies camped in place and attempted to lure each other nearer. As much to occupy their time as anything else, the Tžuro began an assault on Ṭisutra itself.

This proceeded quickly as these things went, and the Ṭisutranda panicked. Fate could surely not choose to destroy them, with a great Skourene army camped two miles away. They executed a sortie— Skourene history calls it the Fatal Rush— to attack the Tžuro miners and siege engines.

Ṭisutranda among the Skourene army learned of this, and no one could prevent them from running to the aid of their city. Krolakurilim cursed, but was unwilling to simply let the Ṭisutranda and their city be lost. He gave the orders to march.

This was the key battle of the war, and the grandest— a historian estimates that there were 50,000 troups on the Skourene side, and double that number among their enemies. And by coming to the aid of the Ṭisutranda, Krolakurilim threw it away. Not only did he cede the choice of ground to the enemy, but he allowed his troops to attack in disarray, as they arrived at the battlefield. By sunset half his army had been destroyed, and Ṭisutra was lost.

The rest of the war was anticlimax. Peligi itself was besieged the next year, and fell in 1714. As Busiŋgal had foreseen, this reduced the resources and the resistance of the Skourenes considerably. Iṭili was captured in 1717, Meŋeland in 1720. By Busiŋgal’s death in 1725, the Tžuro had taken all the Peligir posessions except Kuliŋibor.

Komand was captured in 1722; since Ḍareşam had fallen years before it was already the seat of administration for the Tžuro, who called it Jaešim.

Gurdago hung on through its command of the sea. When one city was threatened, it was supplied by sea, and the opportunity taken to reoccupy the hinterlands of other cities. In 1726 it occupied Jecuor; Tandau had done it no harm, but this gave it an agricultural base out of reach of the Tžuro.

The Tžuro conquest ended the struggle of the scripts, as well, by taking the Peligir, Iṭilik, and Komandik scripts out of play. Gurdago’s own script was based on that of Guṭḷeli, and the standard script was simplified and revised to bring it closer to the Gurdagor; this revision is the ancestor of the modern Ečendi and Gelihuri scripts.

The dynastic union of Bizawak and Tanneli formed the new state of Mumeša. It was buffeted by its neighbors, Weinexi and the Tžuro, but it found itself stronger than its southern neighbors in Amurineli. It conquered Zelmaši in 1705.

1810 Aftermath

The remaining Skourenes readied themselves for the killing blow; but it never came. Busiŋgal’s successors had to deal with unrest in Lenan, and Axunemi attacks on the upper Xengi. And then Imuṭeli rebelled; it was razed in retaliation, and its population relocated to Jippirim.

However, terror was proving to be an insufficient basis for rule. Skourene wealth could be appropriated; but cowed merchants produced nothing more. The Tžuro gradually adopted a policy of accommodation. The atej took the merchants under his protection; henceforth they would be taxed, but not plundered. Those who converted to Jippirasti would enjoy reduced taxes and were even invited onto a reconstituted Senate (mafali in Tžuro).

To the Skourenes, the Tžuro had seemed an unstoppable force. Ironically, the war had taken more out of them than their enemies knew. To pursue the war, they had had to withdraw from their portion of Munkhâsh, leaving it to the Carhinnoi— Qaraus that had converted to Jippirasti.

For the remainder of the century Gurdago made periodic attempts to reclaim Skourene territory. These were occasionally successful— the most heady success was the capture of Ageşoram in 1740—but the gains were temporary. When Guṭḷeli was lost, in 1784, the Gurdagor admitted their defeat. They shifted their attention to their island bases, and even welcomed the independence of Kolatimand (1792) as reducing their commitments in the area.

In Barmund, Kuliŋibor was lost to the Tžuro, and retaken by Arṭali (1810). In the east, the Kurundasti built a small fleet, sufficient to capture the remaining Komandi islands.

The Mei of the east— by now the word had become Fei— were poor enough that they were hardly worth ruling. During the Skourene war, the northern Fei drifted and kicked their way into independence.

And that, for an appreciable number of centuries, was that. The Skourenes dreamed of reconquering their homeland; the Gurdagor turned their attention elsewhere; the Jippirasti union under the heirs of Kurund began to unravel. These stories need a larger canvas, and are told in the Historical Atlas of Almea.

If you’re comparing, note that with the 1750 map in that atlas, the names shift to modern languages: Tžuro and Ečendi. This atlas uses Old Skourene throughout, except for Tžuro persons (e.g. Kurund) and concepts (e.g. Jippirasti).

The classical Skourene civilization, however, was gone for good. Its descendents survive to the modern day, but as minor powers; today’s Skouras would develop within the Jippirasti world, and speak a dialect of Tžuro.

Yet the conquered would make their mark on the conquerors. The Tžuro could not rule both the steppes and Skouras; ultimately they ceded the former to the Lenani, and became agricultural, urban, republican, trade-oriented— in short, something like the Skourenes.

The rise of Čeiy
As if in recompense, a new power has appeared on the Mnau peninsula, as Amurineli and Tandau united in 1741 to form the new nation of Čeiy, with its capital at Četazi. In many ways it combined the best of the Axunemi and Skourene civilizations. Its Senate and market economy were clearly based on Skourene models; but it had none of the Skourene difficulty scaling up from the city-state level.

Because settlers had to be enticed to Čeiy rather than conquered, it was freer than any other Axunemi realm— nobles were powerful because they were wealthy, but they had few feudal privileges. And because settlers came from all across Axunai (and from Skouras), regional differences were levelled, and state and temple were never closely linked. Čeiy was also remote enough that it never needed to be highly militarized.

The union marks the start of Čeiy’s classical golden age, which would persist through the medieval disunion of Axunai and the subsequent barbarian invasions.


© 2005, 2006 by Mark Rosenfelder
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