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"The Shemite soul finds a bright drunkenness in riches and material splendor, and the sight of this treasure might have shaken the soul of a sated emperor of Shushan."
Queen of the Black Coast

Shem is a country of the Hyborian Age, which sits between the nations of Koth and Stygia.

In the west, the rolling pastoral meadowlands of Shem offer rich bounty for settlers, but these green fields dry up and turn to open desert as one progresses eastward. There, the arid land is dotted by the odd bit of green, as if one has entered a world of only sand and the ceaseless blue sky. Still, the beauty of Shem’s deserts rivals those of her meadows, though the former is, of course, far more unforgiving.

Between the ancient empire of Stygia to the south and the mighty Koth to the north, Shem culture is largely unique, and comprises some of the best artisans and craftsman in all the world. The Shemitish religions of Anu and Ishtar resist the dark influence of Father Set whose serpentine eyes rest enviously on all that he wishes were his by conquest. Should Stygia march across the world as once it did, Shem would be the first land lying in its way. There are many whose prayers importune the gods to ensure that Shem’s legendary archers and the fearsome asshuri be bulwark enough against the spread of that reptilian corruption.

Shemites are of dark complexion from the suns of their lands and almost always dark-haired. Men wear blue-black beards, while women often braid their hair or interlace it with beads. Shorter than the average Hyborian, Shemites tend to be compactly built, though this is not always the case. In the meadow lands, Shemite complexion turns fair, even pale, and frames are lither and less generally powerful.

Geography[]

Shem is primarily a land of deserts, though there are more fertile lands in the north and west. Shem is also home to some great mountain ranges, and even volcanoes.

Shem shares its borders with Stygia in the south, Argos to the west, and Koth in the north. The nation of Khoraja also occupies a stretch of mountain ranges in the northern part of Shem. To the east of Shem, it borders are not clearly defined, for beyond the Mountains of Fire is a vast desert. This desert extends all the way to Turan, and is not really claimed by any power.

The southern regions contain overgrown grass plains known as the Sea of Buryet, after the nearby town. The grass can grow taller than seven feet in height.

The Gleaming City-States of Shem[]

Shemite city-states rule over verdant fields and over desert, but they do not comprise a proper kingdom. The shadows have long fallen on the Empire of Shem. In her place, the city-states glow in the dark like the jeweled mantles of night above. Only, there are far fewer cities than there once were, as if they were snuffed out, each in their time, like the burning stars themselves.

Still, these walled domains carry the torch of Shemitish civilization, and will continue to do so until Shem herself drowns in the sea like her forbears, washed from the land and history in but a moment.

History and politics[]

A Storied History[]

Over the course of the centuries following the cataclysm, Shem has been both empire and subject. Once, mighty Stygia called her a vassal state, but Shem broke free of Set’s coils and founded its own kingdom in the deserts whose sand drifted from the outskirts of Luxor to the north. There, Ishtar and Derketo, Anu and Bel, became the new gods of those who had gladly abandoned the worship of Set. Yet, as a desert people, with no firm territory, it took time for the Shemites to come into their own. As they moved west into the fertile lands, they settled and built a magnificent culture which survives today.

In antiquity, the Shemitish nomads came out of the desert like a sandstorm and swept all before them; emerging from the stark landscape of the east, they fought their way to the coast of the Western Ocean where they built Askalon over Acheronian ruins. Hyborians, Stygians, far flung Hyrkanians, and even Zingarans were pressed into an empire dominated by Shemite culture, belief, and craftsmanship. At their height, they were unrivaled in their achievements in the fields of steel making, pottery, mathematics, and mobile infantry. Time erodes us all, however, and Shem’s glory days are now some half-score centuries behind them.

Yet in the blood of Shemites, asshuri, and Pelishtim burns the memory of that faded empire and culture. Perhaps, a leader will one day emerge to lead them back to that golden apex.

Shem was once under the control of the Stygian Empire, while eastern Shemitish tribes paid tribute to Aquilonia and lent aid in its wars. However, after the decline of Stygia's control, they were under the influence of Koth, whose yoke was less galling. Beginning from the east, they started to throw off this yoke as well. However, they were subsequently annexed by Aquilonia.[1]

The nation was able to exert control over the region. Each city-state or tribe of Shemites is independent, often with their own laws and customs. Many of the kings and rulers of the city-states are related in some way.

Some notable cities are mentioned below:

  • The city-state of Pelishti was ruled briefly by Uriaz, who was assassinated by the mad king Akhirom. Akhirom ruled until a revolt by his generals placed Mazdak on the throne. Some of Akhirom's decrees were to ban the consumption of wine, forbid women from walking the streets, kill any stray dogs, cut down the vines of his vineyard, and pour all the honey down a local river. He often roamed the streets of the capital, Asgalun, in disguise to see if his laws were being followed.
  • The city-state of Akkharia is ruled by King Sumuabi.

Shemitish mercenaries contributed to the western armies against the Hyrkanian invasion. Invasions from Turan burst upon the Lands of Shem, but they were hurled back by the Aquilonians.

The city-states of Shem attempted to invade Stygia for conquest, but were driven out. During the fall of Aquilonia, they found the opportunity to conquer their old master, Koth, contributing to the fall of this Hyborian civilization. However, they were overrun by the Hyrkanians, who proved sterner masters than Koth ever was. The westernmost parts of Shem were conquered by the Pictish empire.

Nordic-Nemedians, who flew from the Nordic drift, passing from Koth, aided the people of Shem in throwing off the Hyrkanian yoke.

Shem remained one of the few places of the continent where civilized cities still stood.

In later times, western Koth, along with the western boundaries of Shem, were deluged and formed the Mediterranean, while its people formed two ethnic groups: the Arabs and the Israelites.[2]

Population and culture[]

United More by Culture Than Law[]

While Shem is not amongst the dominant empires, nor does she possess the might and ambition of Stygia, her great deserts to the south and mountains to her north provide ample natural defenses. Coupled with the ferocity of her soldiers and the skill of Shemitish archers, it is no surprise that Shem is oft left alone by the ambitious eyes of upstart kings and would-be emperors.

Shem is a collection of city-states spread east to west across the varying topography of a mostly-barren land. The kings of these cities nominally pay fealty to the ruler of Askalon, though the further one strays from the coast, the more a state falls under sway of the desert cities or even foreign powers. Still, for all its lack of consistent laws and edicts, Shem comes together for mutual advantage. There is not any city-state who will not send troops in defense of Shem herself.

Further, Shem is a nation of merchants and traders. There are no travelers who, as a people, have gone as far as the Shemitish. Their caravans wind their way through Turan to Vendhya and beyond. The only reliable source of goods from the Far East is the Shemitish traders who carry in their minds a secret “road” dotted with oases and cities unpronounceable to western tongues. While others have pulled this secret route forcibly from such traders, almost none have taken the path as Far East as it goes. There is simply too much desert, and too long a delay in profit, for most folk who do not carry Shemitish blood.

Shemite Cravans in the West[]

To the east, Shem faces relatively little competition in the way of trade, but in the west, this is not the case. Along the great Road of Kings, as well as a hundred less storied routes whose names few bother to commit to paper, Shemitish merchants push through the gleaming kingdoms like rivers who have dug their way over eons. Where other nations depend on trade, none have it in their blood like Shem. They have an extensive network of trade throughout the Hyborian Nations and beyond. In nearly every city, Shemite merchants have established bases of operation and assist one another before they do those of other kingdoms.

When Shem the Empire began to fall from the gods’ favor, an economic empire was born instead. Shemitish trade comprises a significant contribution to the economy of the western Thurian continent. This alone is reason why, for now, expanding empires leave Shem alone. To disrupt trade would invite ire from fellow kings.

While they are not the only traders, Shemites have a reputation for quality goods, the swift acquisition of hard-to-find items, and, somewhat miraculously, cutting fair deals. They are shrewd but honest. Any man whose isn’t addled would gladly do business with a Shemite over a Zamorian!

The Nomad Clans of Shem[]

While her cities draw people from the far corners of the world, the sons of Shem are likewise nomads. In the great deserts, clans wander from oasis to oasis, practicing old forms of Anu and Derketo worship, as well as those of much older religions. Some even continue the practice of demon worshiping which found favor in younger days.

The Desert Clans[]

The clans are each ruled by a chieftain whose word is law. None would go against him unless they were braver than all the hosts of Aquilonia, or more foolish than a man who would kill a snake in the temple of Set. Camels are favored over horses by most clans, but a Shemitish breed of desert horse is renowned for both speed and stamina. Indeed, the clans have a tradition of long-distance races on such steeds, though they do not share the details with outsiders.

This intense privacy continues in most of their affairs. Few men not born to the clans could begin to speak to their ways. Yet the clans answer the call of the defense of Shem the same as the armies of the cities. More than that, the hospitality of the clans is legendary. No man or woman can approach them in peace and be denied shelter, food, and water. The nomad clans do not take that knowledge and heritage which allows them to survive in these barren wastes lightly. Outsiders are not expected to do as well and are thus given aid.

Yet to be among them is never to be of them. The outsider welcomed with smiles is well-treated and honored, but they are just as quickly ushered back to the safety of their towns and roads and cities.

Where the nomad clans are welcoming to those who come in peace, they are equally punitive to those who might bring war. Many an army has tried to push through the eastern desert into Shem, only for the desert night to stretch long shadows under the moon from which the clans seem to appear in an instant. Few survivors have made it out to recount the full measure of these attacks, but each who has claims he was spared precisely to carry a single message — the deserts belong to the clans.

Life, Death, and Ritual in Shem[]

Though once part of Stygia, Shemites are a culture and people all their own. Whilst they toiled under Stygians whips, or served Stygian lords, they never accepted Set as their god. Still, they are not without Stygian influence, but not even the most barbarous fool would mistake one for the other.

Shemitish Art[]

Artisans of Shem are among the best in the world. They perfected pottery, chest making, dyes, and forging while in Stygia. These skills they carried into the desert when they left that evil empire behind. With the likes of Anu and Ishtar to guide them, the Shemite people turned their art toward objects of religious significance. There are few objects which do not in some way invoke or evoke some aspect of their gods.

However, few outsiders can read these coded symbols and merely think them decorative. The fine knots of gold filigree around the lip of that cup purchased in Askalon represent the bonds which once tethered Anu and kept him from the world.

The art of steel is another matter. Akbatana makes the finest steel in the Hyborian Age. This is well known. The specifics are not. Some blades are plain, some armor dull in the morning light. Other works are wrought with the finest of designs, prayers, and the names of their owners. Even the most unassuming Shemitish blade swims with the alloys mixed, pounded, folded, and made rigid in the forges of Akbatana.

Shemitish Culture[]

Friendly but private, Shemitish culture is based on deep tradition, much of it going back to the people’s time as subjects — and sometimes slaves — of Stygia. Marriages are arranged by parents and only considered legitimate once a child is produced. One is not truly married under Shemitish law until then. This causes blood feuds for those who, once paired, fall in love but do not have children. The families of both spouses blame the other for the lack of fertility.

While Shemites welcome outsiders, they tend to look down upon most of them. They obviously have no love for the Stygians and consider Hyborian culture backwards, rude, and entirely lacking in subtlety. Nearly every northern oaf manages to insult Shemites in some way, but they are too polite to point this out. Besides, what does one expect from such childish races?

Scented locks, ringleted beards, and silken robes all likely have their origin in Shemitish culture. Other people claim they invented such things, but the Shemites know better.

Shemitish Religion[]

Shem is a deeply religious nation. In fact, it is sometimes said their religion is as great a bond as their blood. There is likely no village within her borders which lacks a temple, however modest. The sometime uneasy alliance between the nomad clans and the western Shemites is likewise forged in common origins and religion.

While other kingdoms may adopt an official religion, Shem is notable for its belief that their gods are, in fact, the most powerful. Mitra is nothing compared to Ishtar, though Shemite priests rarely attempt to convert those so misled.

Omens come from the stars, some of which burn so brightly that two among them are known as Anu’s eyes. This is, in fact, a dual star system, though there are no words for such in this age. The Shemites have a book, whose name is not known to outsiders, which charted the skies for millennia. Their astronomers are nearly unrivaled. Astrologers are highly respected and believed to be able to read the destiny of all in the mantle of night.

Stories set in Shem[]

Characters from Shem[]

  • Belit- Captain of the piratical vessel the Tigress. She was dubbed the Queen of the Black Coast. Her crew recognized her as a goddess.
  • Akhirom- Mad king of Pelishti. Died when he tried to prove his divinity by leaping off a roof top in an attempt to fly, supplanted as ruler by Mazdak the Hyrkanian.
  • Mattenbaal- Shemite priest
  • Abdashtarth- Shemite priest of Pteor* (supplanted by the above)
  • Khannon- Pelishtan tavern owner
  • Othbaal- Shemite noble* (slain by Conan and Mazdak)

Cities found in Shem[]

  • Akbitana
  • Asgalun
  • Eruk
  • Kuthchemes, lost city and tomb of Thugra Khotan
  • Pelishti
  • Shushan

References[]

  1. Template:THA
  2. Template:THA
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