Hyrkania was a vast land of prairies, forest, and tundra. Hyrkania was best known for its broad, barren steppes where horse-warriors, masters of the powerful double-curved Hyrkanian bow, galloped the great treeless tracts of land. Living in tribal clans and led by chieftains called Khans, these warriors rode on raids of plunder. They were “lean horsemen in sheepskins and high fur caps lashing their horses and loosing their barbed arrows.” In Conan’s day, Hyrkania was less a unified state than a region in which isolated city-states held sway, separated from their neighbors by steppe, forest, desert and even tundra in the far north. Although many of these city states like Rhamdam, Onagrul and Khoraf on the eastern shore of the Vilayet Sea were dominated by the Empire of Turan, others retained their autonomy, at least for a time—perhaps by trading with and paying tribute to the acquisitive kings in the Turanian capital of Aghrapur across the water. Autonomous regions were situated along the northeastern shore of the Vilayet Sea and deep into the interior, with Turanian vassals along the southeastern coast and the eastern caravan routes. Some nomadic Hyrkanian tribes dwelt far from the Inland Sea and thus from Turan’s powerful navy. These tribes often refused to even acknowledge Turan’s existence, which they viewed as a betrayal of the Hyrkanians’ traditionally nomadic ways.
The Hyrkanians were tall and slender, with hooked noses and brown or black hair. Their skin was naturally light, but was darkened by the sun and wind of the steppe to a deep brown, almost like a Zingaran’s. The men wore mustaches, and beards were not uncommon. The Hyrkanians were fearsome warriors. Their horsemanship, combined with their carefully made saddles and skill at their chosen weapons, makes them a terrible raiding force. They did not fight the “set piece” battles favored by Hyborian armsmen; rather, they fought when and where they chose.
A troop of Hyrkanian cavalry could travel nearly 100 miles in a day, bringing four to five horses per rider, and fight at the end of that day without resting. When traveling, Hyrkanians did not stop to change horses; rather, the warrior vaulted from horse to horse, taking his bow case and arrows with him. Hyrkanian archery was legendary. Their recurve composite bows were made from wood, horn and sinew glued together, and took over a year to make and season. The Hyrkanians got the bows from artisans who lived in villages on the western slopes of the Mountains of Night in Khitai. The strength of one of these bows was rated by the number of men required to string it. Youths used a “one-man” bow, most warriors used a “two-man” bow, which could also be strung by one man with the aid of a special harness, and the strongest archers used a “three-man” bow. Since these bows cannot be left strung for more than two hours without cracking or losing resiliency, Hyrkanian warriors generally carried two bows.
The Hyrkanians did not take slaves or, at least not adult male slaves. Sometimes they took young children or non-Hyrkanian concubines, but otherwise they killed those who stood in their way. “We do not want to rule over conquered peoples,” said the Hyrkanians, “but over great pastures.” The Hyrkanians had little fixed territory to defend. Their nomadic way of life made them immune to the territorial imperatives of more “civilized” lands.
There was one outstanding exception to this impermanence: each Hyrkanian tribe maintained a burial ground, called a kakaba, or City of Mounds, for its Khans and Ushi-Khans (Over-Khans). The kakaba was a secret field of barrows, often concealed in the most inhospitable regions of the steppe. As a sign of reverence to the dead, horse-riding was not permitted in the kakaba. Similarly, it was forbidden to fire arrows into the kakaba, for fear of striking the spirit of one of the tribal ancestors. This made it difficult to drive invaders from the kakaba. Although these kakaba constituted a weakness in the Hyrkanian defense, they were not exploited: the Hyrkanians ensured that no enemy who entered the kakaba was permitted to leave alive.
The Hyrkanians were ancestor worshipers, who respected the accomplishments of men and the Everlasting Sky. They had no true gods, as Hyborians knew the term, and whatever cultural influence the Khitani had upon their religion had long since been rejected. Some of the westernmost Hyrkanians followed the deities of the Turanians.
Name ideas for Hyrkanian characters: The Hyrkanians evolve into the tribes known as Tatars, Huns, Mongols and Turks and their names reflect this. One man’s horse is called ‘Irem.’ Rulers often have titles such as Agha, Shah and Khan incorporated into their names. Examples: (male) Alafdhal, Amurath, Angharzeb, Aram Baksh, Atalis, Ghaznavi, Isparana, Jehungir, Jelal Khan, Jehungir Agha, Jungir Khan, Kerim Shah, Khosrun Khan, Than, Yar Afzal, Yezdigerd, Yildiz. Suggestions: (female) Conchaka, Khultulun, Mandughai, Orqina.