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Argonians (in their native tongue of Jel they call themselves the Saxhleel, or People of the Root) are the reptilian natives of Black Marsh, a vast swampland province in southeastern Tamriel. The other races often prefer to refer to them as ‘lizards’ or the ‘Lizard Folk’ instead, especially when meaning to be derogative. They are known as the foremost experts in guerrilla warfare throughout the Starry Heart, a reputation brought upon them by defending their borders from enemies for countless centuries. Argonians have a lifespan similar to that of humans. According to the First Era Scholar Brendan the Persistent “the Argonian people have, throughout Tamrielic history, been perhaps the most misunderstood, vilified, and reviled of all the sentient races. Yet, those who have taken the time to experience Argonian culture have gained a greater appreciation for this noble and beautiful people". However, it should be noted that he himself went missing in his final expedition into the deeper swamps of their homeland.
Exactly when and how the Argonians came to be is unknown, but they were already living in established preliterate tribal communities around the time the Aldmer first began exploring Tamriel. The ancient Argonians were quickly and swiftly displaced by the more technologically and magically advanced Elder Folk, and were driven back into the swamps of their homeland. Black Marsh in those times was inhabited by a multitude of races, from the diverse Kothringi tribes to the Cantemiric Velothi (and much later, the Barsaebic Ayleids) to the vulpine Lilmothiit, and they held the Lizard Folk in an almost myth-like sense. For some they were wandering curiosities, for others they were heroes that nobly saved non-reptilian inhabitants from horrors of the marsh, and for others still they were terrifying savages.
Argonians only occasionally left their homeland during the early years of the First Era, although there are accounts of certain individuals of the race being found in other parts of Tamriel during that time. According to a Saxhleel ghost encountered in Stonefalls in 2E 582, the ancient Chimer utilized the Lizard Folk as slaves centuries before their descendants the Dunmer would do the same. Exactly when and why the Chimeri practice ended is unknown, but the Dark Elves and even the Saxhleel themselves seemed to have forgotten it ever occurred.
The races’ standard contempt for outside peoples originated in the latter years of the Alessian Empire, when pirates and other criminals often exploited Black Marshes’ treacherous landscape to evade Imperial Law. The entirety of the eastern coastline of the Topal Bay was infamous for piracy, and in 1E 1033 Empress Hestra ordered for the head of “Red Bramman” (the most notorious of these criminals) to be brought to her in order to end the bandit activity. The Imperial Navy were forced to enter Argonia through the Bay and traveled deeper into the swamps than anyone else had before, and finally beheaded the redheaded pirate-king in his bandit kingdom near the modern city of Blackrose. The pillaging and slavery Bramman introduced into the Marsh made Argonians resentful towards the races of men, and their resistance to the continued use of the old pirate routes led to decreased exploration as the First Empire’s influence waned.
Despite this bitterness, the Argonians still allied with and aided the Empire when the deadly Thrassian Plague ravaged Tamriel in 1E 2200, the first recordable date after the Marukhati Dragon Break. Argonian freebooters joined alongside Redguard corsairs, Colovian galleys, Breton warships, and even Aldmeri cutters in the All Flags Navy – the greatest allied naval force in Tamriel history – to enact revenge against the Sload, a species hated by all the races of Tamriel. The Tamrielics succeeded in their mission, sinking Thras to the bottom of the Sea of Pearls (although it would later rise again), but a great number of their ships were unfortunately pulled into Coldharbour by a magical whirlpool.
While the Saxhleel were never conquered by the Alessian Empire, the Reman Dynasty of Emperors on the other hand took great interest in incorporating it as a province during their reign. In 1E 2811 the last army of the Lizard Folk was defeated by the armies of Cyrodiil, but Black Marsh itself continued to lay largely outside of Imperial control. When Reman II ascended to the Ruby Throne, the unconquered territories of Morrowind and Black Marsh weighed heavily on his mind. He rashly decided to conquer Argonia in the 2830, and nearly loss as many men from the swamps as he did from the Argonians that resisted him. He eventually managed to gain control of the northern and eastern sections of the territory, and declared those parts the Imperial Province of Black Mash in 1E 2837. The Argonians’ homeland would go on to become a sort of prison state (specifically the city of Blackrose), a place where criminals not trusted in conventional dungeons could be relocated.
After the assassination of Reman III and his only heir Juliek, the Akaviri Potentate declared the beginning of the Second Era. The Argonians saw their chance and forcibly left the crumbling Reman Dynasty, becoming a ‘self-governed’ territory once again.
Unfortunately, after the Argonians left the Empire the Dunmer of Morrowind turned their gaze towards the south and saw a swampy land ripe with potential slaves. Entire tribes were dragged off in chains to Stonefalls, Vvardenfell, and the Deshaan. The Dunmeri Great House Dres was also founded during these times when its progenitor Thalthil Dres conducted a slave-raid on the city of Thorn, and soon became the main source for slaves in their homeland. While the Dark Elves saw the enslavement of the Argonians as a great uplifting and betterment for the race in general, the Lizard Folk themselves detested their newest masters and fought with them constantly.
The Argonians are often considered to be the creators of the deadly Knahaten Flu in 2E 560, which originated in the city of Stormhold and then spread throughout Tamriel like wildfire. This claim has never been proven, but since the Argonians proved to be immune to the contagion the other races quickly came to believe that one of their shaman’s manipulated their Hist trees into creating it in retaliation for the constant oppression of their people by the other races (specifically the Dunmer). The Flu soured Tamrielic opinion on Argonians, who were thought to be carriers of the disease, and the Dunmer soon found their most numerous vassals being constantly turned down by others.
Perhaps the greatest – and most surprising – historical event the Argonians took part in during the Second Era was the Liberation War (better remembered as the Second Akaviri Invasion). In 2E 572, a strong Akaviri force led by Ada’Soom Dir-Kamal attacked Windhelm in Eastern Skyrim, killing Queen Mabjaarn Flame-Hair and Princess Nurnhilde. Leaving the ruined city behind, the eastern army continued on their way to Riften but found it heavily fortified by the Nords, who were led by Jorunn the Skald-King and Wulfharth the Ash-King (who was called back to Nirn from Sovngarde by the Greybeards). The invaders decided to bypass the Nordic city and entered Morrowind instead, where the Dunmeri army led by Almalexia fought against them but were forced to retreat into Stonefalls (although it is rumored that Mother Morrowind and the Skald-Prince collaborated with one another to set this up despite their races’ ancient enmity). With their backs towards the Inner Sea, the Akaviri fought viciously against the combined Nord-Dunmer force, but with the rest of the Akaviri fleet on the horizon it seemed that the Tamrielics would be overrun and slaughtered.
Sometime prior to the initial invasion, an Argonian slave girl named Heita-Meen escaped from the Dres plantation she was being forced to work upon alongside several of her compatriots, but was captured by the Dunmer-aligned Archein tribe and taken back to their village. While being held there she received a vision from their Hist tree, one showing the Nords and Dunmer dying at the hands of the Akaviri. She saw an opportunity in this, and when taken back to Thorn she killed her Slavemaster and by way of duel took control of the Archein guards. She headed to Stormhold, where she was able to gain the support of the majority of the Shellbacks there, and then made haste to aid the Dunmer and Nords in Stonefalls. At first the Dark Elves were alarmed to see a force of armed slaves heading towards them; some even attacked the Argonians out of fear. However, the three races were able to get over their mutual hatred and resoundedly drove the invaders into the Sea to drown. In that moment the Ebonheart Pact was born, and would continue to exist all the way up to the Planemeld ten years later in 2E 582. Unlike the other three factions in the Alliance War, the Ebonheart Pact focused largely on wiping away the rashness of Imperial rule as well as ending mortal scheming with higher powers from beyond Nirn.
As a show of thanks for the timely intervention of the Argonians, the Dunmer formally ended the enslavement of Lizard Folk (but the practice of enslaving itself did not end).However, some Dunmer (notably House Telvanni) refused to accept these terms and therefore redrew from the Pact. Likewise, many Argonians felt that the Dunmer deserved retribution for their crimes and only the regions of Shadowfen, Thornmarsh, and Murkmire in Black Marsh joined the Ebonheart Pact. Some left their homeland entirely, and settled in other provinces. Eventually the Great Moot that ruled over Morrowind, Black Marsh, and Skyrim consolidated their provinces into a single nation.
It is unknown what became of the Ebonheart Pact, but by the time of the Tiber Wars it was no longer existent and the Argonians were once again the sole authority in Black Marsh. Saxhleel slavery was also revitalized by the Dunmer at some point, and despite fear of the Knahaten Flu House Dres continued sending slavers into the north of Black Marsh. It is said that even Tiber Septim himself thought twice before attacking Black Marsh in his conquests, and it is implied in A Short History of Morrowind that the Argonian homeland was acquired by treaty instead. Despite this, the borders of their province fell quite easily to his forces and he avoided much loss by neglecting to attack the almost impenetrable inner swamps. The Argonian homeland was assimilated into Tiber’s growing Empire sometime after the Second Treaty of Stros M’kai.
During the Third Empire the homeland of the Argonians continued to function mostly as a prison state, and the Emperors were content with holding onto the strategic regions on the coastline instead of annexing the heart of Black Marsh, which remained outside of Imperial governance.
In 3E 396, during the Imperial Simulacrum, a slave revolt escalated into the Dunmer instigating the Arnesian War with Black Marsh and taking a significant amount of territory (and undoubtedly many new slaves) when the Argonians lost. Although the enslavement of any civilized race was illegal in the rest of the Empire, the Dark Elves were allowed to continue the practice due to the favorable conditions of the Armistice under which Morrowind joined the Septim Dynasty, which allowed the Dunmer to follow their ancient traditions and maintain great autonomy in their domestic affairs. King Helseth eventually abolished slavery in Morrowind for a wide variety of reasons. With the abolishment of slavery, the Argonians’ relationship with the Dunmer vastly improved, although violent attempts to reclaim the lands stolen from them during the Arnesian War continued.
While Imperial governors ruled over the coastal cities in the province, many of them had Argonian advisors from the Archein tribe. The Archeins in turn ruled over the rural areas that made up most of Black Marsh. Beyond the reach of the Emperor there was little to no governance in the innermost swamps, and it was unknown if the inhabitants of those areas even recognized Imperial rule.
When Mehrunes Dagon attempted to invade Tamriel during the Oblivion Crisis in 3E 433, the Hist trees foresaw his coming and called the majority of Argonians back to defend their homeland. The Argonians were altered by the Hist in order to combat the Daedra, becoming faster, stronger, and able to endure harsher punishment. When the Oblivion Gates were opened in Black Marsh, the Lizard Folk charged into them so viciously that the Daedra themselves were forced to close them in order to avoid being overrun; because of this, the Argonians emerged from the Oblivion Crisis more united and stronger than ever before compared to the other Tamrielic races devastated by Dagon’s plot.
The Argonians were among the first of the races to secede from the weakening Empire, alongside the Khajiit of Elsweyr. Shortly after the eruption of Red Mountain devastated Vvardenfell, the Thalmor encouraged the Argonians to attack their Dark Elven enemies to the north in what became known as the Argonian Invasion. They had early success in conquering southern Morrowind, sacking many cities (including Mournhold) as they made it as far as Red Mountain. However, the Argonians were eventually repelled by the army of House Redoran, which successfully stopped them from invading the rest of Morrowind. Thankfully, the Thalmor’s influence over the Argonians ended with the invasion. Despite their lack of governance or colonization of the southern Dunmeri lands, the Argonians kept the Empire and Morrowind from reclaiming them.
Sometime in the early Fourth Era the Lizard Folk would come to be governed by a political party known as the An-Xileel, whose views were completely nationalistic. In 4E 43, by invoking the rogue Hist tree of Lilmoth into contacting its ‘cousins’ the Um-Hist, the An-Xileel were able to summon the floating city of Umbriel from Clavicus Vile’s realm in Oblivion in order to exterminate all foreign taint in Black Marsh. The city did this for them, but soon began its own agenda after the An-Xileel lost control over it. Umbriel started on a northwestern path towards the White-Gold Tower in the Imperial City, moving through Black Marsh and Morrowind in the process; those slain by the floating city were resurrected as an invincible undead horde to aid the city’s dark goal. It was through the efforts of the Breton girl Annaïg Hoïnart, an Argonian named Mere-Glim, Prince Attrebus Mede and the Dunmer mage Sul (along with a few others) that Umbriel was finally destroyed and its threat to Tamriel eliminated.
Saxhleel history would remain largely quiet for the rest of the current era. In 4E 150, a small force of Argonian raiders landed on Solstheim to stir up trouble but were repelled by the Redoran of Raven Rock. By 4E 201, a document discussing the government of Skyrim mentioned an Argonian King, bringing up the question of the survival of the An-Xileel after the events of the Umbriel Crisis. A Thieves Guild member also complained about Argonian patrols in southern Morrowind, implying the Lizard Folk have indeed begun some form of governance of those conquered areas.
Appearance and Physiology
Argonians believe that their souls were given to them by the Hist – according to the Lizard Folk, there was nothing before the Hist. Because of this the souls of the Saxhleel contain unique qualities that sets them apart from the souls of men and mer. Most Argonians are able to feel the presence of the Hist in their minds at all time, but the further they travel from Black Marsh the weaker the connection gets. Some Argonians can even be born without this connection, and are viewed by others of their kind as disadvantaged because they can’t understand the most simple of Argonian gestures. The Mnemic Egg is a powerful artifact that is the physical manifestation of the Argonian-Hist link, and if severed can prove fatal to both. The Egg came into the interests of the First Aldmeri Dominion, who attempted to sever the link but were thwarted by the Soulless One during the Alliance War.
Although Argonians appear reptilian in nature at first glance, they also exhibit qualities of fish, amphibians, and even birds: they are able to breathe underwater through small gills behind their ears, swim using the same method as that of a tadpole or eel by moving their tail side-to-side to propel through the water, and are capable of growing feathers. Female Argonians additionally have what appear to be mammalian breasts, but at the same time are able to lay eggs . Argonians' genders are sometimes referred to as life-phases, implying they may be able to change gender. It is said that upon exiting the juvenile stage of life, an Argonian will lick Hist sap in order to stimulate the hormonal glands, which sprout appropriate organs from which the Argonian's gender can be determined. However, this is unconfirmed, and Argonian hatchlings may apparently be of either gender. Argonian appearance ranges from reptilian to almost human; this is caused by the Hist sap they ingest as hatchlings which ceremonially takes place on their Naming Day. Ancient cave paintings depict figures which appear to be more tree-like than Argonian.
The Saxhleel are apparently cold-blooded, and despite their preference for subtropical and tropical climates they can be found wandering the cold environments of Solstheim and Skyrim. Some scholars believe this is possible because of the powerful magicks that lie within Hist sap, which the reptilian race ingests throughout their lives.
Art and Architecture
Before the Dunmer enslaved the Argonians in the Second Era, the Lizard Folk built and lived in grandiose pyramid structures they referred to as xanmeers and had wayshrines dedicated to the stars. However, these were consequently abandoned for some unknown reason and the Saxhleel themselves can’t remember life in those times . During the Second Era the Argonians of Shadowfen lived in huts made from mud, while those in Murkmire constructed settlements out of wood. Because of this alarming change, some scholars doubt that the xanmeers were even built by the Argonians, who in their opinion merely claimed ownership of them. Feathers, bright colors, and lizard hides decorate the majority of their buildings and works of art.
Argonians are said to masters at the crafting of jewelry, which is sought after in many provinces. The Argonians also seemed to be the pioneers in the arts of alchemy, as their alchemists in Black Marsh have long held that the moon phases dictate the precise positioning of Calcinators.
Jel is the language of the Argonian people, and is unique amongst the other Tamrielic races by being unrelated to ancient Ehlnofex. It came from the Hist, the creators of the Argonian people. It is even more unique due to the fact that it has no past tense or future tense verbs, only present tense. For more information, see the lore article.
Except for the more deeply assimilated, the Argonians do not formally recognize or worship any type of Tamrielic deity. Some believe that they worship their creators, the Hist, although Argonians themselves state that they only perform rituals in their honor instead of fully worshipping them. The Argonians also revere Sithis, a being that even the Hist acknowledges. Z’en, the Bosmeri God of Toil, is thought to have originated in Argonian and Akaviri mythologies before being introduced to Valenwood by Kothringi sailors.
The Shadowscales are a longstanding monastic order of Argonian assassins that worship Sithis, the Void, and consists of Saxhleel born underneath the Shadow constellation. According to some sources the downfall of the ancient Argonians was because of their ‘scales were darkened’ by the touch of Sithis. They also serve as a type of ‘law enforcement’ in Black Marsh, bringing down ‘swamp law’ on unruly foreigners and natives alike. They are sworn to become members of the Dark Brotherhood, a guild of assassins that also follow Sithis. A lone Shadowscale located in Skyrim stated that their order is no longer a fully functioning group by 4E 201. For more information, see the lore article.
Thoughts and Personality
Argonians possess the most alien personalities in all of Tamriel from a human or meric perspective and it is often assumed that the Lizard Folk possess neither personality nor emotions. Of course this is not true; Argonians simply do not facially express their emotions as much as man and mer do, though anger is easily detectable from their bared teeth and narrowed eyes. Slow to trust and hard to know, Argonians are fiercely loyal and will fight to the death for those they have named as friends. Their allies have long-since learned that there is always a reason for everything they do.
Something remarkable about the Argonian people is that their culture seems to exhibit a forgetfulness regarding the actions between tribes. For the Argonians, hating each other is to hate themselves because they are all people of the root. Therefore, it is “better to forget and move on". This enforces the fact that the Saxhleel, like the Bosmer, prefer to live in the Aurbical Now – not dwelling on the past or the future, but simply the present.
Argonians usually live in tribes, each having their own customs as well as differing appearances. In fact, the name ‘Argonian’ itself seems to be more of a catch term that refers to all the different tribes of lizard folk that dwell within Black Marsh. According to the Argonians themselves there is nearly a countless number of tribes, and their interactions with one another – whether good or bad – ensures their mutual development. There are a few known tribes:
- Agacephs: Most have needle-like faces and vary in color from bright green to orange. Found in inner Argonia near the Hist.
- Archeins: During the time when other races tried to put plantations in Black Marsh, Archeins were very powerful and made fortunes by selling other Argonians into slavery (at the expense of being branded as traitors). They also served as the advisors of Imperial governors in Black Marsh, and were in charge of the more rural districts as well. Since other races have realized that Argonia is unfit for plantations, they have gone bankrupt.
- Gee-Rusleel (Miredancers): A tribe that lives in the Murkmire region of Black Marsh. They are well known for their piety and great reverence for the Hist, and because of this the title of Sap-Speaker has been their right for many generations. They are also inveterate gamblers and have an obsession with games of all types.
- Kota-Vimleel (Black-Tongues): A tribe that lives in the Murkmire region of Black Marsh. They are known followers of Sithis, and take their duty of producing Shadowscales so seriously that they have created a potion that allows females to synchronize their egg-laying cycle with the Shadow constellation. They are esteemed alchemists, and are known for creating the most deadly poisons in all of Tamriel.
- Paatru: Described as "toad-like", they live in the inner part of Argonia.
- Sarpa: Described as being "winged", though it's unclear if this is meant literally or not. They live in the interior of Black Marsh.
- Tum-Taleel (Root-House People): A tribe that lives in the Murkmire region of Argonia. The Root-House People are seen as nothing more than brutes by other tribes, and instead of creating their own materials steal the items and even villages of other Saxhleel.
- Nagas: Described as having "huge mouths filled with dripping needle-like fangs", the Naga are one of the many ‘offshoots’ of Saxhleel in Black Marsh. Usually seven to eight feet tall, the Nagas appear to be more snake-like than other Argonians, but have also been likened to frogs and even cuttlefish. The majority of them generally act as the native brigands and highwaymen.
- Veeskhleel-Tzel (Ghost-People): A Naga tribe that lives in the Murkmire region of Argonia. Their skin is pale almost to the point of translucence, and they have a soured reputation for stealing the corpses of Argonian dead and using them as fertilizer for their Hist tree.
- Wasseek-Haleel (Bright-Throats): A tribe that lives in the Murkmire region of Black Marsh. They are cheerful artisans that craft beautiful musical instruments, kitchenware, armor, and weaponry, but are renowned for their ornate seed dolls the most.
- For game-specific information, see the Online, Skyrim, Oblivion, Shadowkey, Morrowind, Daggerfall and Arena articles.
- Lore:Argonian Names
- The Argonian Account by Waughin Jarth — Decumus Scotti's continued adventures, now in Black Marsh
- Argonians Among Us by Sil Rothril — An overview of the Argonian race from a Dunmer's perspective
- The Argonian Maid—An Oral Tradition by Telenger the Artificer — An explanation for the reoccurring amorous Argonian
- The Argonian Mating Ritual by Valrendil of the Crystal Tower, Research-Appointee to the Thalmor — Research notes on Argonian mating habits
- Fair Argonian Maiden — A lewd Argonian poem
- A Free Argonian's Manifesto — A paper denouncing slavery
- The Lusty Argonian Maid by Crassius Curio — Short excerpts from Crassius Curio's bawdy play
- The Horror of Castle Xyr by Baloth-Kul — A One Act Play
- On Argonians by Cirantille — A description of Argonians and the Hist
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: The Wild Regions — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The War with the Trees: Argonia and the Black Marsh — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Racial Motifs 9: The Argonians by Doctor Alfidia Lupus — Being notes by Doctor Alfidia Lupus for a series of pamphlets on the major cultural styles of Tamriel
- Varieties of Faith: The Argonians by Brother Mikhael Karkuxor of the Imperial College — A supplement to Varieties of Faith in the Empire regarding the Argonian belief system