Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hour Of The Dragon: Best argument against the "Aquiromians".

I've been re-reading the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories and I've found Hour of the Dragon contains some of the best descriptions of of the Aquilonian army.  Especially in chapter 3 of the story, here's some excerpts.

"The Aquilonian host was drawn up, long serried lines of pikemen and horsemen in gleaming steel, when a giant figure in black armor emerged from the royal pavilion, and as he swung up into the saddle of the black stallion held by four squires, a roar that shook the mountains went up from the host.  They shook their blades and thundered forth their acclaim of their warrior king - knights in gold-chased armor, pikemen in mail coats and bassinets, archers in their leather jerkins, with their longbows in their left hand."

"The Aquilonian host moved leisurely to meet them.  The measure tramp of the armored horses made the ground tremble.  Banners flung out long silken folds in the morning wind; lances swayed like a bristling forest, dipped and sank, their pennons fluttering about them."

Here is a quote about Aquilonian battle formation...

"The Aquilonian host had assumed the customary formation:  the strongest part was the center, composed entirely of heavily armed knights; the wings were made up of smaller bodies of horsemen, mounted men-at-arms, mostly, supported by pikemen and archers.  The latter were Bossonians from the western marches, strongly built men of medium stature, in leathern jackets and iron head pieces."

I think these three quotes are the most important in showing that Aquilonia is actually a High Medieval culture similar to France or England possibly late 14th or 15th century.  There's nothing here to indicate Aquilonia is based on Rome.  No mention of legions, shield walls, segmentata armor, pilum etc.     Instead we have an army that relies on heavily armored cavalry Rome was for the most part reliant on infantry with cavalry in supporting roles.  

The best resource is always the original stories. I realize the name Aquilonia has a Roman ring to it but if you throw out pastiches, comics and artist interpretation of what they want to convey about Robert E. Howard's world, there's no way you could get Rome out of Aquilonia.


  1. Indeed!
    The 'Roman' look comes from comics, which regularly betray the original text with regard to warrior types ('Black Colossus' is the most caricatural example)
    Other descriptions appear at the end of 'Hour of the Dragon' and in 'The Scarlet Citadel', confirming the general impression but suggesting that some infantrymen can be more heavily armored. For instance the Bossonian archers are described as 'better protected' than the Shemite archers in Koth service, whom I visualize similar to the oriental archers in roman service: meaning that these Bossonians would be 'extra-heavy infantry' according to the definitions in the old WRG rules, with some protection on the arms and upper legs?. Anyway it was not uncommon in ancient-medieval armies to have the front ranks men more heavily armored than the rear ranks ones.
    When Conan wears the mail shirt of a Nemedian adventurer, this is identified by an Aquilonian civilian as 'Nemedian armor', suggesting that typical Aquilonian one adds some plate. Maybe the kinights of Poitain are even in full plate?

  2. Interesting post, and very useful. To me Aquilonia is 13 century medieval France ( the name stemming from Aquitaine perhaps), Poitan (Poitiers?) perhaps early 13th century France and Zingara 13c Spain etc. I am always a bit undecided what culture Koth ,Ophir, Argos (Greek?) etc should be. This blogger has used Games Workshop figures for his Hyborian armies, and I was surprised to see how well they worked.


  3. Well, I wouldn't say Aquilonia = Rome is *entirely* baseless. "Aquila" is Latin for Eagle, and was the symbol for Roman legions (their standard). I think most of it comes from Aquilonia being the big empire of the Hyborian age, and I want to say that certain details stood out to my classicist brain as "Romanesque" in reading the stories, but it's been a couple of years and I don't have them right in front of me.

    All that being said, you're spot on in your analysis of the military formations and equipment described. Given Howard's penchant for using whatever damn time period was interesting and awesome to him at the time for Conan stories/cultures, I've always thought of Aquilonia as "Rome, but with a high medieval military".

  4. Abdul, I think you're right. I imagine the Bossonians mentioned here were mainly heavy infantry rather than archers. Possibly like the Bossonians on the Pictland borders.

    Springinsfeld, that's interesting I didn't connect Aquitaine and Poitiers but is seems reasonable. I'm not sure on Ophir or Argos yet, but I've been leaning towards East meets West for Koth, like Byzantine or my personal favorite, Sarmatians. Thanks for the link BTW, that actually works fairly well. I considered using some Chaos Knights as Black Dragons but changed my mind. I think I'm going to stick with 15mm.

    Jeff, you are correct that the names do have a Latin ring to them. Originally I got the wrong idea when I first read the books, and the names of places and people reinforced that along with the comics. I've toyed with the idea of incorporating "Romanized" looking knights and so forth and just kind of changed direction.

    In the end, who is to say if someone's imagination is wrong. It's not, I'm just trying to be as much of a stickler as I gather miniatures to represent the books as accurately as I can. It's great to bounce ideas off people.

  5. A can't find a single 'roman' feature in Aquilonia: no hippodromes, no emperor, no senate, no legions... But castles, a king, noble knights, Welsh-type longbowmen, Swiss-type pikemen.
    Geographically Aquilonia "is" France (Poitain in the South-West seems to be a contraction of Poitou and Aquitaine): Howard may well have name it from Napoleon's eagle ^.^-so much the more as the country has an 'imperial' destiny?

    The Aquilonian order of battle / warrior types are very similar to those of the reformed French army after the Hundred Years War: knights (men-at-arms), some lighter (less heavy, rather) cavalry (coustiliers), longbowmen and pikemen. But the armor corresponds to a much earlier historical period: Conan as the king, with the best armor available, wears jaseran i.e. mail reinforced with some plate over the vital areas.