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by Edward A. Waterman

This version of "A Probable Outline of Conan's Career" is the original, un-altered, and un-edited version as it first appeared in the Robert E. Howard fanzine, The Hyborian Age, published in 1938. Much effort has been made to ensure that the text is exactly as it appeared in the magazine, even typos were retained. Only the basic page layout (margins and word spacing) is different from the original.

A rough draft of the following essay was sent to Robert E. Howard shortly before his death by P.S. Miller. Howard, flattered that someone would be "so interested in Conan as to work out an outline of his career," then reviewed it, made some small corrections, and praised "A Probable Outline of Conan's Career," stating that Miller's timeline followed his visualization of Conan's career "pretty closely." Miller and Clark made the corrections indicated by Howard, added an additional Conan tale, and published the timeline in The Hyborian Age two years later. This essay and Howard's letter to P.S. Miller dated March 10, 1936 are the best starting points to begin to see Conan's history as Robert E. Howard may have seen it, un-edited and un-altered...

A Probable Outline

P. Schuyler Miller &
John D. Clark, Ph.D.

       The career of Conan, the Cimmerian adventurer, as described in the published chronicles dealing with his adventures, is divisible into a number of fairly well-defined periods or stages.   The chronological order of his adventures, as deduced from the chronicles, is based largely on circumstantial evidence, save for a few definite and sometimes contradictory statements as to things which have gone before.   Information on his earlier days, his age at various states in his career, and on some intermediate periods has been taken from a letter from the recorder of his history, the late Robert E. Howard.

       A.   Conan, the barbarian, was born into a clan claiming an area in the northwest of Cimmeria.   His grandfather was a member of a southern tribe who fled from his own people because of a blood-feud, and after long wanderings took refuge with the people of the north.   Conan himself was born on the battlefield, during a fight between his tribe and a horde of raiding Vanir.   There is no record to show when he got his first sight of civilized people; however, at the age of 15, he received his baptism of blood at the siege of the border city of Venarium, between Gunderland and Cimmeria.   At that time, though he was far from having attained his full growth, Conan stood six feet tall and weighed 180 pounds.   After the siege of Venarium, he returned to his tribe and spent some months with a band of the AEsir, fighting with the Vanir and the Hyperboreans.   Captured by the Hyperboreans, he escaped and made his way south into the thief-city of Zamora. At this time he was about 17.   Green to civilization, and entirely lawless by nature, he found the most congenial life that of a professional thief in Zamora and later in the small city-states to the west of that exotic kingdom.   Taking service in one of these nameless states with the harried Prince Murilo, he has a taste of fighting as a profession, and being tired of the decadent life of a thief he sets out to look over the rest of the civilized world, with an eye to making it his oyster.

       1.   The Tower of the Elephant   (Weird Tales, March 1933):    The earliest of the published chronicles, and one of Conan’s first adventures in the thief-city of Zamora.   He is still a youth, more daring than adroit at thievery, and has yet to earn a reputation among other followers of his profession.

       2.   Rogues in the House    (WT, Jan. 34):    Conan may by this time be 19 or even 20.    He is temperamentally older and more experienced, as well as very definitely a harder customer.   Getting his first taste of professional fighting and Hyborian intrigue, he rather likes the idea, and with a horse of his own he sets out to crack the western world.

       B.   Riding westward into Corinthia, Conan becomes a mercenary soldier under one of the many roving generals of that time.   He fares well and learns much of the art of civilized war among the Hyborian kingdoms.   During a lull in the wars, he returns for a short time to his native Cimmeria, but the love of adventure again draws him south.   He continues to prosper as a soldier, finally arriving in the seacoast kingdom of Argos, where a brush with the law forces him to ship with a coastwise trader, southward bound.   Off the coasts of Kush the ship is boarded by black corsairs under the Shemitish she-devil, Belit.   Conan joins her crew, becomes her consort, and for a long time they harry the Hyborian and Stygian ports.   During this stage of his career, Conan gains the name of Amra, the Lion, which is to follow him throughout his later life, especially among the blacks.   He becomes quite familiar with some of the more southerly Kushite kingdoms through raids for slaves and on traders.   When, at length, Belit is killed by the survivors of an ancient race of winged men, Conan is left afoot somewhere on the southern coasts of Kush.   Belit has been the first great love of his life, and he will probably not follow the sea again for some time to come.

       3.   Queen of the Black Coast    (WT, May 34):    Covering Conan’s career as chief of the black corsairs and lover of Belit.   He may be about 23 at the time he arrives in Argos, and 26 or 27 when Belit is killed.

       C.   Penniless after his long trek north through the black kingdoms, where his reputation as Amra has stood him is good stead, Conan reenters mercenary service in the western nations, working up to the position of captain under Amalric, the Nemedian.   Amalric has hired out to fight the battles of Yasmela, the queen-regent of the little border kingdom of Khoraja.    Her brother, King Khossus, is the captive of the penurious King Amalrus of Ophir; and Strabonus of Koth, with other enemies, is eager to reabsorb Khoraja into his empire.   Conan is chosen by chance to lead Yasmela's defense against an attack from the south, and has what may be the first brush with high-power sorcery, as dealt out by the resurrected Thugra Khotan of Kuthchemes.    He wins the war and the queen, but his pride refuses to let him be "Mister Queen" to any woman, and he drops out of sight again, to return for a short time to Cimmeria and possible skirmishes with the northern tribes, including his old enemies the Hyperboreans.

       4.   Black Colossus    (WT, June 33):   The Khoraja episode.    At this time, Conan may be about 27.   He stays in Cimmeria only for a short time before wandering again.

       D.   Conan's life as a corsair and a mercenary have stirred the spirit of fighting and rich plunder in his blood, and when he hears of war in the south he returns to the Hyborian kingdoms.    A rebel prince of Koth is fighting to overthrow Strabonus, and Conan enlists with many of his ilk in the rebel army. Unfortunately the prince makes peace with Strabonus, and Conan, with his fellow mercenaries, is thrown out of work and reduced more or less to the level of an outlaw.   Banded together as the Free Companions, they harry the borders of Koth, Zamora, and Turan, and finally gravitate to the steppes west of the Sea of Vilayet, where a ruffian band known as the kozaks has been building itself up over a period of many years.    Becoming their leader, he ravages the outposts of the Turanian empire until King Yildiz sends out a small force under Shah Amurath, who routs them for the time being.    Escaping, Conan joins the Vilayet pirates for a time, but finding his kozaks scattered, leaves them and works west again into the border states.    Meanwhile, King Yildiz of Turan has died or been deposed, and his successor, Yezdigerd, embarks on a program of imperialism which is to make him master of the greatest empire on Earth.

       5.    Shadows in the Moonlight    (WT, Apr 34):    The short episode between the defeat and scattering of the kozak hordes by Shah Amurath and Conan's taking over of Sergius' pirates.   He is about 28.

       E.   After minor adventures, Conan becomes captain of the royal guard in the frontier kingdom of Khauran, on the eastern edge of Koth.    Taramis, the queen of Khauran, is overthrown by her sorceress sister, and Conan's life is saved by a former kozak companion, Olgerd Vladislov, who has become chief of the Zuagir tribesmen of the desert after the breakup of the kozaks.    Conan promptly deposes him, rallies Taramis' adherents to revolt, and retakes the kingdom, but chooses to remain with the Zuagirs as their chief.    A year or more later, tiring of the desert life, he leaves them, far to the south in the city of Zamboula, the western-most outpost of Yezdigerd's growing empire.    Here, after rescuing the Turanian satrap, Jungir Khan, from the magic of a priest of Hanuman, he steals the satrap's ring and heads north and west for Ophir, where the queen will redeem it for a sizable reward if no better market offers.

       6.   A Witch Shall be Born    (WT, Dec 34):    The adventure in Khauran.   Yezdigerd's empire-builders are already being felt along the border, but the western states seem too busy with internal bickering and intrigues to notice the danger. v Conan is 30 when he joins the Zuagirs; 31 when he leaves them.

       7.   Shadows in Zamboula    (WT, Nov 35):    Conan has just left the Zuagirs, far to the south along the north-eastern border of Stygia, where black slaves are common and dangerous.    After his brush with a mixture of cannibals and sorcery, he sets out for Ophir with a gem and a horse.

       F.   Whether Conan reached Ophir and redeemed his gem, or lost it to some thief along the road, there is no record.    In any case, the proceeds cannot have lasted him long.    Perhaps he pays another short visit to Cimmeria, then, moving east after his welcome has worn off, he hears that the kozaks have regained their old vim and vigor, and are making Yezdigerd's life as miserable as possible.    Arriving among them with nothing but his sword, and finding a few old friends who remember his former leadership, he cuts his way through whatever opposition materializes and becomes their leader again.   His old friends the pirates are hand in glove with the kozaks, and between them they succeed in making King Yezdigerd's position very uncomfortable.   Efforts to trap him fail, and he manages to build up the kozaks into a pretty formidable gang before deciding to adventure southeastward to the borders of Vendhya.    Here, as war-chief of the Afghuli tribesmen in the foothills of the Himelias, he seriously annoys both the Vendhyans and Yezdigerd's frontier-breakers, who are busily carrying out the Turanian king's policy of expansion on the southeastern frontier.    He thwarts one plot to defeat the Devi of Vendhya, on the part of a group of sorcerers linked with the Turanians, and himself makes her eat dirt before he leaves his Afghulis to return to the kozaks.

       8.   The Devil in Iron    (WT, Aug 34):    The height of the second kozak episode.   Somewhere about 32 or 33, he makes the kozaks a real threat to King Yezdigerd, before feeling the urge to be off and riding south to Vendhya.

       9.    The People of the Black Circle    (WT, Sep 34):   The Vendhyan episode.    Conan rises quickly to chieftainship of the Afghulis, who understand the language of the sword, and may be nearly 34 when he goes back to his kozaks.

       G.   There are big wars in the west.    Almuric, prince of Koth, has again rebelled against the unpopular King Strabonus, and this time has enough backing to garner an army from far and wide.    Conan finds that most of his kozaks, ex-mercenaries like himself, have scented loot and joined in on one side or the other.    Conan follows suit, signing up with his old employer Amalrus.   The rebel cause fails, and Amalrus and his army are driven south, cutting their way through Shem and Stygia into the grasslands of Kush, where they are wiped out by the combined black and Stygian forces at the edge of the southern desert.    Escaping with Natala, a Brythunian camp-follower, Conan heads into the desert, and after a short session with magic at the forgotten city of Xuthal, reaches the southern grasslands of the black kingdoms, where he is known of old.   Making his way to the coast, he is picked up by Barachan pirates and goes back to the sea for his living.

       10.    The Slithering Shadow    (WT, Sep 33):   The episode in Xuthal, with mention of the campaign with Amalrus.    Conan should now be about 35, and being completely broke will not waste time in the relatively poor country of the black tribes, south of the desert.

       H.    For a considerable length of time, Conan remains one of the Barachan pirates, but the organization of the various bands is rather loose, and Conan finds little opportunity for one even with his background to gain a high position.   He slips out of a tight spot and is valiantly swimming the ocean when he is picked up by the Zingaran buccaneer, Zaporavo, whom he promptly deposes, taking over the Zingaran's mistress, Sancha, with his ship and his crew for a long voyage to the south and west.    Returning after an unpleasant brush with black magic on an unknown isle, Conan is for a while highly successful as a buccaneer, until other Zingaran ships bring him down off the coasts of Shem, and he is forced to escape inland.

       11.   The Pool of the Black One   (WT, Oct 33):   The end of Conan's stay with the Barachans, and the beginning of his career as a Zingaran buccaneer.    He is about 37 at the end of this episode.

       I.    Hearing that wars are in the offing along the borders of Stygia, Conan joins the Free Companions, a seemingly generic name for mercenary companies, under Zarallo.    Dispatched to the post at Sukhmet, on the frontier between Stygia and Darfar, he grows weary of black men and women, and when Valeria, a woman pirate who has joined the Brotherhood, leaves the camp and heads south, Conan follows her into the black kingdoms far to the south of Stygia and Kush.   Here another brush with a lost race in the jungle city of Xuchotl leaves them stranded in the wilderness on their way west to the more familiar kingdoms where Conan is known.

       12.   Red Nails    (WT, July 36):    The end of Conan's buccaneer days, and the story of his trek to the south with Valeria, to Xuchotl and its dragons, and other parts unknown.

       J.    Somewhere Conan loses Valeria.    Hearing of the fabulous Teeth of Gwahlur, legendary jewels hidden somewhere in the black kingdom of Keshan, he signs up as a trainer for Keshan's armies.   Losing the jewels, he goes over to the neighboring kingdom of Punt to see how much he can make at simple swindling, from there to the trade-centers of Zembabwe, and via various caravans northward into Turan and the Hyborian realms.

       13.    Jewels of Gwahlur   (WT, Mar 35):   The adventure in Keshan.    Conan may be a little over 38 at the this stage in his career.

       K.    After another trip home to Cimmeria, Conan enlists as a scout in Conajohara, on the Aquilonian border, where a fierce war with the Picts is in progress.   Numedides of Aquilonia is a feeble sort of king, and when the border barons revolt against his injustices and his handling of the Pictish wars, Conan seizes his chance, kills Numedides on his throne, and becomes the king of Aquilonia.

       14.   Beyond the Black River   (WT, May 35):    Conan as a scout in Conajohara, fighting against the Pictish wizard, Zogar Sag.   This is very shortly before he seized the throne; he may be 39.

       L.    As King of Aquilonia, Conan's life is no bed of houris.    His first major conflict is a civil war in which an attempt is made to put an Aquilonian king on the throne.    This is followed by a plot between Amalrus of Ophir and Strabonus of Koth, in which both enemy kings lose their lives.    Throughout this battling to hold his throne, Count Trocero of Poitain and his general, Prospero, remain faithful to him.   The greatest threat to his kingdom comes when Nemedia actually succeeds in deposing him for a time, but Conan overcomes hostile sorcery to return and regain his kingdom and the loyalty of his people.   His career from this point, with the more important of the barons, led by Trocero, solidly behind him, is relatively smoother.   There are more wars, both of defense and aggression - probably a brush with Turan as the two empires become more and more rivals - and during his life as king, Conan frequently travels into far corners of the world - in Khitai and Hyrkania, and the regions beyond, and even to a nameless continent in the western hemisphere.    At the time of the Nemedian war, he had no heirs, and no queen, though it seems probable that he gave that honor to the girl, Zenobia.   How far he spread the bounds of Aquilonia, or where his career finally ended, not even legend tells.

       15.    The Phoenix on the Sword    (WT, Dec 32):    The first revolt against Conan's rule.    He was about 40 when he seized the throne of Aquilonia, and is nearly 41 at this time.

       16.    The Scarlet Citadel    (WT, Jan 33):   The war with Koth and Ophir.    This is Conan's first war with other kingdoms.    It follows very shortly after the civil war, when Aquilonia is still weakened by revolt.

       17.   The Hour of the Dragon   (WT, Dec 35):   The last of the published chronicles, describing the war with Nemedia in which Conan came within a hair's breadth of losing life and kingdom completely.   The episode itself takes well over a year, and Conan is about 45 when he finally regains his throne.    He has still a long and adventurous career before him, as king of Aquilonia and as a wanderer over the face of the Earth.   Zenobia, the girl who helped him in his escape from Nemedia, has become his queen, so that he will have heirs to carry on after his death, unless the kingdom is split apart by quarreling barons.

- ** -

Addenda:    Several of these stories were serials, namely "People of the Black
                 Circle" - 3 parts, "Red Nails" - 3, "Beyond the Black River" - 2, and
                 "The Hour of the Dragon" - 5.

Many thanks to Rusty Burke and Joshua Williams for their assistance.

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