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Argonian Part 1: Culture and Society

  • July 1, 2014

    Disclaimer: I did not create this work. It is the work of one of our ex-members, Vix. I felt that his work should still remain here for all to see, so I will be reposting it here. 


     In the latest of our races series we will take a look at the Argonians. They are often said to be an insular and cut off people, primitive, backwards in the extreme. Unlike some other cultures, the Bosmer and Khajiit most notably, it seems far harder to dispute this with the Argonians. Nevertheless there is a great amount we can learn from the Argonians even if it is somewhat more stunted than normal. We do have a problem, a great deal of information comes from the two novels rather than in game books. They will be noted as this is still canonical but not widely accepted which is problematic given a lot of the detailed in the minutia that is not found elsewhere. Like the Khajiit article this will take place in four separate parts.

    • Part one will focus on the basic nature of the Argonians as well as their social structure.
    • Part two will be the reiteration of the earlier article featuring the identity and importance of the Hist.
    • Part three will investigate the various areas of Black Marsh as well as aspects important to those regions.
    • Part four will conclude our Argonian article with a look at their history.


    The Nature of Argonians:

          Unlike many other races who named themselves, the Argonians' title actually comes from the Aldmer after the time of Torpal the Pilot. Before this they were simply referred to as 'man-lizards'(Father of the Niben) or lizardfolk in general. It wasn't until the Aldmer waged a war with these indigenous people that the name 'Argonian' and even the name of the land 'Argonia' was formulated. We have no idea who won the battle, whether it was part of a greater war, or anything except it was a costly expedition for the elves (Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st edition).

          The Argonians real name amongst themselves is Saxhleel in their native language called Jel (The Infernal City). This apparently means 'people of the root' (Morrowind) and given their close ties to the Hist of the region this is perhaps quite correct. Their language, Jel, is said to be a very difficult one for relating to the dialects and tongues of others. It is not only imprecise but it lacks components that emphasize tense, time, and relative distance (The Infernal City, Argonian Account). It is a language of thought that is far more indicative of emotion rather than physical dimensions. It is also something very difficult for humans in particular to replicate phonetically and sounds merely like chirps and clicks(Argonian Account). Other signs of emotion and mood are based on far more bestial actions such as rattling quills and spikes to display irritation or exuding an odor (The Infernal City). Perhaps as a saving grace, while the Argonian muzzles are said to be difficult to 'change' to express emotion, if one can understand some of the signs it's somewhat easier to interprit. Argonians can 'smile' as it were but it takes the appearance of a snarl to an outsider (Death of a Wanderer). These small differences and critical gaps in linguistic similarities make external communication exceptionally difficult and further insulated the Argonians from the rest of Tamriel. This also makes accounts very different as there is said to be more pictographic representations of history rather than written word (The Infernal City). It may be partially alleviated internally given the specifics of the religion that emphasize reincarnation with a modicum of past thought and experience, this likely means knowledge is far more intrinsic rather than explicit.

          The Argonians themselves are very diverse, evolving by their own co-dependent relationship with the Hist to best suit their environment. Argonians are not born naturally intelligent, rather they are instinctive. Their transformation comes through the drinking of Hist sap which grants them not only far more advanced cognitive function but their own physical forms. This comes in an incredible variety from the typical 'Argonians' outside Black Marsh to the Agacephs who have very needle like muzzles with vertically closing eyes. But these are only a few of the many possibilities of this disorderly species. The Nagas are said to be large, they can adjust their height up to eight feet, are notorious cannibals and bandits coming from the interior swamp to prey on those in the exterior territories. Other groups are said to be shaped much like the Hist, others have wings and feathers calling themselves Sarpa, some are bloated and Sload like called Paatru (Argonian Account). They have ostensibly more racial variation than even the Khajiit but are limited by tribe and tradition of 'how many licks' each young hatchling gets on their name-day. In this nature they are far more chaotic than the Khajiit who rely upon lunar cycles to obtain their form. There is one exception, those Argonians born under the sign of the shadoware naturally made Shadowscales. Shadowscales themselves, despite being used as assassins are not allowed to target other shadowscales (Oblivion dialogue).  In this way Argonians can still change by drinking hist sap but it is less telling than it is when they are young, it is also against most traditions(Lord of Souls).

          Argonians on the whole are said to extensively have some innate affinity for Illusionist magicks and are quite adept at using it (Argonian Account). However, this is partially repudiated in that females are said to be magically gifted while males are physically gifted. There is a strong measure of sexual dimorphism present in the Argonians. Males are stronger, larger, brighter in coloration, and far mentally duller than their female counterparts. Females are weaker, quicker, and very adept at using magic. This may not seem all that different compared to a number of other races, the real oddity comes from their polymorphic hermaphrodites. That is, they can change gender. A male may turn female or a female turn male, each 'cycle' is called a life-phase (Some conjecture seems to point to this being a mistranslation and different reincarnations possessing separate genders, but in our own natural world the same phenomenon is seen both in the clownfish and the common reed frog both possess this sexual polymorphic hermaphroditus.) The Argonians themselves defy most external classification as they possess traits of both reptiles, amphibians, and fish which makes their legitimate ancestry questionable to Tamrielic scholars (Notes on Racial Phylogeny).

          Hatchlings, this in itself implies that they are born from eggs which are not seen by outsiders. Furthermore individual siblings are said to be Egg-mates and hatchday are used in the same context as the Khajiit Khajiit Litter-mates and birthdays, implying some measure of their life cycle. There is one disturbing revelation, the Baliwog and Grummites from the Shivering Isles might very well be derived from Argonians (From Frog to Man).


    Culture and Society:

          The Argonian social structure is primitive and somewhat confused on the macro level of governance. Individuals belong to clutches, clutches belong to tribes, tribes seem to be interdependent for internal affairs with their own executive authority. There is an enormous variety of authorities ranging from warlords, to tribal chiefs, chieftains, kings, and priest kings (The Wolf Queen). There is still a singular king in some accounts, there needs to be in order to sign treaties with external groups as they have in the past. The Shadowscales traditionally are handed over to local kings and to the 'King of Black Marsh' who they serve. in secret for the betterment of Argonians. Those who survive the rigorous training until maturity become Shadowscales employed by the Dark Brotherhood (Skyrim's Rule). The training itself seems to be conducted under the Dark Brothood themselves (Circro's Journal).  Similarly, there seems to be external influences in adopting outsider customs such as the introduction of Royal Battlemages as advisers to said king (Withershins). This in itself seems to suggest there is a singular king in the past though the current circumstances of Argonian politics are more muddied. However, the traditional degree of separation is quite evident. When the Cyrodiilic Empire dissolved in the second era during the Interregnum period, Argonian fell apart into its previous group of loose confederations (Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st edition).

         Currently the most powerful political bloc resides in the form of the An Xileel political party. Much like the Thalmor the An Xileel are a ethnocentric organization entirely devoted to Argonian self interest and impermissive to foreigners. The only foreigners are said to be allowed in via licenses. These may or may not have replaced the Argonian King, or they may have a bicameral organizational structure. Though it is clear, given the premonition and influence by the Hist to speak through them the An Xileel maintain popular support (The Infernal City). They are traditionalists and anti-Imperialists as they try to purge Argonia of Imperial influence in the 4th era. Likewise they are staunchly racist towards Dunmer . They seem to be a poor external government, taking territory in Morrowind and even theatening to do so in Cyrodiil for the sole purpose of ownership while not taking any care to develop or maintain the conquered territory (Lord of Souls).

          Ceremonies make up important parts of Argonian tradition. Name-days, hatch-days, and other rites all call for group participation. Almost everything seems to be done as a collective (Morrowind). The peculiar naming custom of Argonians, for instance, comes from a group collaborative effort. These names are relative to traits or morphology that take place on their predetermined namedays in which they are first allowed to drink the Hist sap. Young hatchlings are not allowed to drink hist sap before this time. As such the qualities that they inherit from their lapping at Hist sap will determine their names rather than any parental or individual choice.

          Much of the Argonian internal social order seems to come from the same hegemony that comes from tribal leaders. In essence, there are two kinds of Argonians, those from Argonia and 'outsider' Argonians who have left Black Marsh. These outsiders are called 'Lukiul' and lose their natural affinity for hearing the Hist's call (The Infernal City, Argonian Account). Before anyone does ask, it is quite possible to transport Hist sap outside of Argonia, but it is also considered a narcotic to outsiders. This means that it is possible to have Argonians born outside of Argonia. Individually the Argonians are said to be reserved, though if one takes them time to befriend them then they are often quite loyal individuals (Morrowind). One of the oddities about the Lukiul is despite the initial adaption phase in understanding concepts from Tamrielic, the expatriated Argonians offer little insight into the workings of Argonian culture. They prefer to assimilate with the locals of other areas when given the choice, thus trappings of Argonian culture is often not as complete in those outside their homeland as might be the case with other cultures (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition).

          It is likely not a surprise, given the attachment to Hist sap, that the Argonians themselves are known to be exceptional alchemists. They regularly extract Dragons Tongue sap and distill it to a natural potion which far increases their endurance. This seems to be very widespread amongst Argonians (Special Flora of Tamriel). The proper use of the Calcinator is taught by Argonians that rely on Lunar cycles, increasing the potency depending on the orientation of the device. This is said to produce constantly improved results (Treaties of Proper Calcinator Use).

          Perhaps one of the darker aspects of Argonian society is the slave trade. While many people solely point to the Altmer and the Dunmer of practicing the slave trade the Argonians have always been proponents of both internal and external slave trades . Individuals can be purchased from their own slavers for use on plantations, thus an Argonian may own an Argonian as can an outsider in Argonian culture. Slaves may be made of both full grown and infantile Argonians, sometimes separated at birth and raised to become members of separate tribes (Argonian Account). That's not to say the practice is well liked. There are many societies that have been established all over Tamriel to combat this plague, mainly supported by metropolitan Cyrodiils it has nevertheless become far more martial in many aspects. While groups like the Twin-Lamps conducted an underground railroad from Morrowind to then Black Marsh there are also many groups of ex-slaves that wait in Northern Argonia and slaughter slavers as they enter the area (2920: The Last Year of the First Era). It's, therefore, unsurprising that the Argonians have a bitter hatred of the Dunmer since the slaver presence increased in the second era (Pocket Guide to the Empire 3rd edition).



          Battlechiefs seem to be the principle block of military governance with Argonians and they seem to be analogous to kings (2920). In their very nature the Argonians are often said to be excellent light infantry fighters, equipped with perhaps underwhelming and often outmatched equipment they are specialized for their own style and types of warfare. Netch and scale armor, wooden shields, and light spears tend to be the general equipment presented by Argonain warriors. These are used to circle and wear down opponents before closing in for the death blow. They are difficult to fatigue and are long lasting fighters able to secure flanks and act in heavily wooded areas where the heavy infantry of other nations like the Cyrodiils would be at a severe disadvantage (The Armorers Challenge). What short blades they possess are notable barbed (Lymdrenn Tenvanni's Journal). However, they have not presented themselves well on battlefields in the past, losing many significant battles as we shall see while winning in minor skirmishes and ambushes. This is not to say that they are poor warriors, they are often merely undisciplined and easy to goad. This almost frenzy like action has severed to be detrimental to them, chasing after 'baiting' units and pulled from position (2920) though on occasion this wild frenzy has defeated significant opponents (The Infernal City).


          This should provide a basic understanding of the principle physical and societal factors at work with the Argonians themselves. The last essential part is understanding the critical role that the Hist have in their development and as a permeating presence in Argonian culture.


    Part 2: The Hist →