Text and map by Vincent Darlage.
"As they moved out over the glassy blue deep, Belit came to the poop. Her eyes were burning like those of a she-panther in the dark as she tore off her ornaments, her sandals and her silken girdle and cast them at his feet. Rising on tiptoe, arms stretched upward, a quivering line of naked white, she cried to the desperate horde: 'Wolves of the blue sea, behold ye now the dance -- the mating-dance of Belit, whose fathers were kings of Askalon!'" -- Robert E. Howard: "The Queen of the Black Coast"
Asgalun (or Askalon) is the capital of Pelishtia and Shem's most important seaport. Built on the mouth of a river amid the Libnum Hills, Asgalun lies on the coast of Shem on one of its few natural harbours. The reeking alleys and narrow, winding streets move travellers through older, decaying sectors of the city to newer, respectable portions. The city is a contrast of splendour and decay. Opulent palaces of the wealthy and sumptuous temples to horrible, squat Shemitish gods sit amid crumbling ruins of buildings from forgotten ages. Bêlit, the Queen of the Black Coast, was descended from Asgalanim kings.
The inner city is built behind great walls of sun-dried brick and is forbidden to commoners who are not servants to the rich and have not a pass. The king and his nobles dwell in their lavish palaces and pleasure houses within the forbidden section with their mercenary defenders. Canals bring water from the river to the inner city.
Asgalun is home to 40,450 people, although many hundreds of villages and seventeen towns pay tribute to this powerful metropolis. The city employs mercenary Kushites to support its Pelishtim asshuri. The city is currently ruled by a feeble nephew of former king Akhîrom, but the real power behind the throne is General Mazdak the Hyrkanian, a cold, unfeeling warrior. He recently had a wall built around the outer city to make the city more defensible and has been funnelling money into rebuilding the ruins and shanties.
This entry describes the city after the events of Hawks Over Shem.
Fortifications and Military Strength
Built on the mouth of a great river, Asgalun has a thick, battlemented wall. It has three main gates decorated in lion motifs. The main gates are all massive constructions, fortifications inlaid with coloured tiles. Its asshuri is commanded by General Mazdak, an Hyrkanian and the regional commander. Beneath him are the 1,618 members of the Asgalunim asshuri. The mercenary half of the Asgalunim asshuri is led by a 20th level soldier (a captain) and he routinely utilises around 809 of the available soldiers. This half of the asshuri may or may not be present at any given time. Two 10th level flight leaders answer to the captain. Eight 5th level hawk leaders command the remaining 3rd level mercenary soldiers. The home guard is commanded by a 19th level soldier captain. Beneath the home guard captain are two 9th level flight leaders. Eight 4th level hawk leaders command the rest of the 3rd and 2nd level men, answering to the flight leaders.
In addition to the Asgalunim asshuri, General Mazdak retains 405 Hyrkanian cavalry as mercenary units. The Hyrkanians usually began battles with archery, filling the air with as many arrows as possible. If the enemy charges, they light dung fires to create smoke and the archers melt away on their horses to be replaced by Hyrkanian cavalry with long lances and sharp sabres who hide within the smoke to surprise the oncoming knights. Kettledrums are also used to create a fearsome din that echoes above the horse-beats of their onrushing hordes. These mercenaries are divided up in squads of ten, troops of fifty and companies of a hundred. The 40 squads of 3rd level nomads and soldiers are commanded by 5th level 10-commanders. The eight troops are commanded by 9th level 50-commanders. The four companies are led by 18th level 100-commanders. Commanders signal with flags during the day and with lanterns in the nights. They armour themselves in urine-hardened horsehide, wearing a tightly woven silk shirt beneath robes to blunt the damage of enemy arrows, and use a small shield to protect their face. A spired steel cap with dangling earflaps protects the skull and iron squares are sewn into the fabric of their boots to protect their calves. Much of their armour and clothing is trimmed in fur. These mercenaries carry double-curved bows of wood, sinew and horn and up to three quivers of arrows. They also carry hooked lances, a scimitar or sabre hooked to his belt or saddle and a dagger strapped to their left arms.
Asgalun is part of Pelishtia and its people are of the Pelishti tribe of the Sons of Shem. Pelishtia is the westernmost kingdom in Shem. The Pelishtim are renowned for their hardy asshuri, bold adventurers and curious wise men. Shem is an ancient kingdom and the Pelishtim are steeped in sorcery. The scholars of Pelishtia live for hundreds of years and may well possess the secret of eternal youth. Certainly the Pelishtim sorcerers are afforded respect even among the Stygians and Khitans, for they are learned in arcane secrets and wander far in search of knowledge. The asshuri of Pelishtia travel as far as Zingara in the west and Turan in the east in search for employment and adventure. They worship Pteor as patron, although the other Shemitish gods are not ignored and are sometimes afforded more reverence than their own supposed patron. The Pelishtim accept the ideas of life after death, believing also in ghosts and the undead, knowing that a strong will can allow the dead to return to fulfil unfinished business.
History: King Yakin-Ya was the first recorded King of Pelishtia and the founder of Asgalun. Much of the record concerning the procession of kings is hidden at this time, but it is known that King Azumelek ruled Asgalun before the birth of Bêlit. At the time of Belit's birth, Asgalun was ruled by King Atrahasis, although his coming to power is a tale not told here. Azumelek's son, Akhîrom, was sent into exile. King Atrahasis was overthrown by a usurper. During Conan's sojourn with Bêlit, Nim-Karrak the usurper ruled Asgalun with the aid of the Stygians. For a decade he and the Stygian mercenaries ruled. Nim-Karrak, toward the end of his rule, replaced the Stygians with General Mazdak's Hyrkanian troops. The noble Uriaz was crowned king upon Nim-Karrak's death. His rule was short-lived, for Akhirom, living in exile, returned to Asgalun with an army and took the throne for himself. At least three years later, in Hawks Over Shem, Asgalun was still ruled by King Akhîrom, the son of King Azumelek, and Akhîrom ruled for at least three years. After his overthrow, a feeble grand-nephew of King Uriaz was installed, but he died of alcohol poisoning. The new king is none other than General Mazdak, the regional commander of the asshuri and the Hyrkanian mercenaries.
Administration and Power Centres
Ruler: Like other Shemitish city-states, Asgalun is ruled by a king. General Mazdak, an Hyrkanian opportunist who helped bring about the downfall of mad King Akhîrom, is the current King of Asgalun. The king, like any Shemite king, is expected to fulfil his religious, military and social duties without fail, including annual or bi-annual sexual rituals with the high priestess of Ishtar. The Crown of Pelishtia, once donned, can never be renounced. If a king abdicates, the mob will slay the king. Only death can free a king from his duty and his responsibilities.
Temple: The Temple of Pteor is the primary zikkurat in Asgalun.
Adventure Hook: The people of Asgalun are a fractious, unruly lot prone toward chaos and riots. There is almost always four power centres but two are left blank here for the Games Master to use. Perhaps it is a popular shaman from the desert stirring the people. Perhaps it is another relative of King Akhîrom who wants the throne restored to a Shemite bloodline.
Layout of Asgalun
The temples and palaces of Asgalun are built around the mouth of a large river. Canals cut through the city in two directions to water the fields outside. The whole city is surrounded by a thick square wall with three main gates and five minor gates. There are 24 main streets in Asgalun, running parallel and perpendicular from the river. The main streets are hemmed in by high windowless walls on either side. The reeking alleys between the main streets are winding, narrow and irregular. The streets are variable in width, and are anywhere from 4 to 20 feet wide.
The largest street is the Processional Street, which is paved and decorated with obscene statues and leering moulds of Pteor's gross face in the sun-glazed bricks. Processional Street, which passes from the Gate of Ishtar to the forbidden inner city, is lower than the other streets of Asgalun and is kept clean. The centre of the Processional Street is laid with massive flagstones of limestone. On either side of the flagstones are blocks of volcanic breccia slabs from the Mountains of Fire region. Veins of impact breccia stones are found on the walls of the street in patterns holy to Pteor and Ishtar. Over 150 statues of bulls and lions with white bodies and copper manes or horns line this street.
Another street is Aibur-shabu, which passes parallel with the river through several districts between high walls. Gods are often carried along this street during celebrations. The other streets are built from clay and garbage. There is no sewage system, so garbage is thrown to the streets. When the streets become unmanageable, the garbage is buried underneath a layer of clay. When the street rises high enough, people tear down their houses and build up the foundation and a new house on the higher ground.
The central section of the city, forbidden to all unless they have permission from the king, is set off from the rest of the city by a massive retaining wall. The ruins of previous incarnations of Asgalun surround this wall.
Districts of Asgalun
Asgalun is segregated into sprawling wards and districts used to separate the city into manageable social units and neighbourhoods. Great wooden, iron-bound gates separate the quarters. The gates are lowered in periods of civil war. People in these wards and districts know each other, vouch for each other, celebrate with each other and work with each other. People native to a particular ward with Knowledge (local) of at least one rank know everyone else in the ward, so Reputation bonuses always apply when a character is in his home ward and dealing with other natives of that same ward. The temples and shrines of Asgalun are scattered throughout the city and are not in any one ward. There are approximately 300 shrines to each of the gods of heaven and 500 shrines to the various gods of earth. The temples follow a standard floor plan and have a garden courtyard with a statue of the god at one end.
Slum Wards: The slum wards are suburbs throughout the city and cover 41 acres of the city, boasting a total of 3,198 small mud-brick tenements and other structures throughout the city to house the city's 8,651 poorest adult labourers and slaves. The worst sections are those built on the ruins just outside the retaining wall of the grand inner city and are part of the Old City, which has also been walled in.
New Ward: The city is rebuilding and a new section has been added in the east. 20 acres have been enclosed behind a new wall, housing 5,032 people amid 1,601 structures and monuments.
Foreign Wards: The city sets aside certain sections for foreign mercenaries. At one time, the city employed both Kushite and Hyrkanian mercenaries, along with Anaki asshuri. Regional Commander Mazdak keeps a force of Hyrkanian soldiers here, all men he can rely on. The foreign quarters comprise 20 acres of the city, house 3,228 people (including the 405 mercenaries) amid 1,520 structures.
Karum Wards: 205 caravanserais, taverns, brothels and inns can be found in the karums of Asgalun, as well as thousands of dam-gar stalls and small market-places. A karum lies inside and outside each of gates save the Gate of Ishtar, which is mostly just a military fort. The city gates are massive, double-towered constructions, fortifications inlaid with coloured tiles and decorated with colossal figures of gods and sphinxes. Another two karums are along the main canals. The karums of Asgalun take up a combined 32 acres. 6,368 people live and work here (approximately 1,672 of them are dam-gar) amid 2,368 different structures.
River Quarter: On both sides of the river are docks and facilities for storage and exchange. Seven acres are devoted to river labour, providing work for 1,232 people, mostly slaves. 504 structures can be found along these docks, including loading booms, taverns, warehouses, accounting offices and docks. There are several temples and shrines along the river. This ward also includes the sea-port sprawl, although the sea harbour is new and small. The Pelishtim have ever been somewhat disdainful of sea-trade. It is a disciplined yet unsavory ward, with more of an eye toward battlements and guardposts than gardens. It has dark, winding alleys and streets.
Craftsman Districts: There are 49 acres of craftsman wards, each stretching along the wide avenues and narrow lanes of the city where the craftsmen live in a spider-web network of minor craft bazaars. There are 3,430 structures supporting 9,580 people, most of whom are slaves working for the master craftsmen and artisans. 405 of the workers here are free journeymen.
Forbidden Inner City: In the centre of the city is the great Forbidden City. A huge wall separates this inner city from the outer city. This wall is surrounded by ruins and shanties. Nearly 20 acres are devoted to temples and to palaces and is the home of 4,759 people and 1,200 total structures. The temples are headed by a 10th level scholar-priestess and an 8th level scholar-priest. 807 other priests and priestesses, including temple prostitutes, live and work among the people here. The palaces of the rich and the king are included in this area of the city.
Military Compound: Asgalun's military have their own training and living area in a fortress around the Ishtar Gate. It covers about 10 acres and houses 1,600 people when the mercenary half of their army is gone. 640 separate structures can be found here.