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Black Marsh is a dense swampland region of southeastern Tamriel, home to the reptilian humanoid race of Argonians and a race of sentient trees known as the Hist. Mer races also use the name Argonia, a reference to an obscure ancient battlefield, to avoid the negative connotations of the term "Black Marsh". Argonians thrive in the foreboding swamps of Black Marsh, a lush and threatening land teeming with poisonous plants and violent predators. The region's tropical climate lends its plants the capacity to overturn all attempts to cultivate them. Foreign agricultural, colonial, and commercial ventures beyond the slave-trade have met with abject failure. The native Argonians organize themselves on the tribal level with success and efficiency, and were only loosely integrated into the ruling Empire.
The earliest inhabitants of the Black Marsh and its environs are believed to have been the Hist, great life-giving trees of unknown capacities. The region presently known as Black Marsh was once part of a much greater landmass within the domain of the Hist, but the greater part of the region was flooded during the wanderings of the humanoid Mer races. The Annotated Anuad states "The Hist were bystanders in the Ehlnofey war, but most of their realm was destroyed as the war passed over it. A small corner of it survived to become Black Marsh in Tamriel, but most of their realm was sunk beneath the sea." Argonians came to inhabit Tamriel in small, preliterate communities by the early Merethic Era.[oog 1] Black Marsh also became home to groups of Men, including the Kothringi and various Nedic tribes, and the Lilmothiit, who may have been an offshoot of the Khajiit.
At some point, the Argonians developed a unique civilization that inexplicably collapsed long before their first encounters with the other races of Tamriel. A number of forgotten Argonian tribes constructed countless elaborate stone structures across Black Marsh, ranging from solitary statues and Wayshrines to sprawling stepped pyramids known as "xanmeers". While the purpose of many of these structures, as well as the techniques used to carve and build them, have long been lost to history, it is believed this phase of Argonian culture had an association with Sithis worship; in particular, one set of ruins in southern Shadowfen called Sunscale Strand features a complex of xanmeers built above a subterranean shrine to Sithis. It is wholly unknown how or why this ancient Argonian civilization disappeared, and the disparity between its enduring, elegant stonework and the makeshift, bulbous mud structures that subsequent Argonian tribes adopted has perplexed scholars.
Some Argonians began to migrate throughout the rest of Tamriel in the early First Era, but these rare expatriates usually assimilated into their adopted homelands and shared little of their native ways with others. Following the expulsion of the Aedra-worshipping Barsaebic Ayleids from Cyrodiil in 1E 198, the Barsaebics took refuge in Black Marsh and established a number of colonies, including what would later become the cities of Stormhold and Gideon. Consequently, the Barsaebics survived the wrath of Alessian Slave Rebellion decades later, becoming one of the few remaining enclaves of Ayleid civilization in Tamriel before they, too, dwindled away.
Centuries later, the fringes of Black Marsh became safe havens for thieves, pirates, and other outlaws. The problem became so severe that in 1E 1033, Empress Hestra of the Alessian Empire launched a campaign to root out the notorious Argonian pirate "Red" Bramman. The Imperial Fleet delved deeper into Black Marsh than any outsider had ever explored in their pursuit of Bramman, eventually cornering and killing him at his bandit kingdom near modern-day Blackrose. The Empire attempted to civilize the pirate-infested south, gleaning the first detailed accounts of native Argonian culture in the process, but ultimately settled on eradicating the pirates before abandoning Black Marsh.
In 1E 2811, at the Battle of Argonia, the last organized army of Argonians was easily defeated by the legions of the Second Empire. Within the next few decades, Black Marsh was nominally incorporated into the Second Empire as a province. Emperor Reman II squandered thousands of troops and years of effort in his attempts to conquer Black Marsh; in 1E 2837 he declared the region officially annexed despite only extending the Empire's reach into the northern and eastern marches. Black Marsh remained a province until the Empire's collapse in the mid-Second Era. Lawlessness resumed apace, with bandits, Dunmeri slavers from Morrowind, and even Imperial officers-turned-warlords operating freely. A small measure of respite came with the onset of the Knahaten Flu in 2E 560, a deadly plague that originated in Stormhold and spread unchecked throughout the region, killing nearly all non-Argonians before seemingly receding.
During the Second Akaviri Invasion of 2E 572, remembered as the "Liberation War" among the Argonians, a phalanx of Argonian Shellbacks unexpectedly came to the aid of an allied force of beleaguered Nords and Dunmer who were struggling to contain the cornered Akaviri army. With the Argonians' help, the Akaviri were slaughtered to the last man before their ships could arrive to evacuate them. The battle engendered a newfound respect between the three races, which resulted in the formation of the Ebonheart Pact. Under the Pact, Argonian slaves in Morrowind were freed and Black Marsh gained a level of autonomy not seen in centuries. Despite all Argonians being welcomed into the Pact, only the tribes of Thornmarsh, Shadowfen, and Murkmire decided to join. The Argonians established a more formal government in the form of the vicecanons, magistrates who administered major settlements in Black Marsh and coordinated with emissaries from Skyrim and Morrowind. During the course of the Alliance War, the region of Shadowfen was invaded in 2E 582 by the Aldmeri Dominion, which sought to sever the Argonians' connection to the Hist and thereby drive the entire race to extinction; this plot was foiled, and the allied Argonian tribes later reaffirmed their commitment to the Pact. It is unknown how long this period of relative independence for Black Marsh lasted, but the Ebonheart Pact had long ceased to exist by the end of the Second Era.
Tiber Septim brought Black Marsh into the Third Empire during the Tiber Wars. Though it is not directly indicated, a passage in the book A Short History of Morrowind implies that Black Marsh was acquired by treaty or pact rather than by military dominion. "Resdayn was the last of the provinces to submit to Tiber Septim; like Black Marsh, it was never successfully invaded, and was peacefully incorporated by treaty into the Empire as the Province of Morrowind." Imperial domination changed little of the tribal organization of Black Marsh's society, but wrought disastrous changes to its economy as the small farms of Argonian peasants were replaced with massive cash-crop farms and traditional forms of transportation were usurped by foreign methods unsuited to the native terrain. These changes were eventually remedied as the land's administration chose to return to previous methods of business. There have been some small attempts to convert the residents of Black Marsh to the Cyrodilic pantheon of the Nine Divines, but most have been unsuccessful.
During the later years of the Third Era, Black Marsh came into conflict with its Dunmer neighbors to the north in the bloody Arnesian War. The armies of Black Marsh were destroyed, but an Argonian was able to capture and murder an influential Dunmer merchant named Roris,[oog 2] who was later made a saint by the Dunmeri Temple. Interestingly, documents prepared for Lord Vivec by the Tribunal Temple imply that Black Marsh retains control of some historically Dunmer provinces, despite the Dunmer victory in the Arnesian War. In detailing Dagoth Ur's plans, the Temple states that he wishes to "Recover ancient territories stolen by Skyrim and Argonia". The Dunmer and the Argonian races, perhaps unsurprisingly, have a "long standing and bitter hatred for one another".[oog 3]
After the Oblivion Crisis and the eruption of Red Mountain during the beginning of the Fourth Era, Black Marsh seceded from the Empire along with Elsweyr. Morrowind was substantially weakened when the Ministry of Truth became unstable and crashed into Vvardenfell, destroying much of the island. The Argonians of Black Marsh invaded, at first successfully pushing deep into the country, but then being driven off by the forces of House Redoran. In 4E 40, a floating, soul-fueled city known as Umbriel moved over the city of Lilmoth after being summoned through Black Marsh by the An-Xileel and a rogue Hist tree, destroying and killing all foreign entities and 'assimilated' Argonians.
Black Marsh is located in the southeastern part of Tamriel, bordering Morrowind to the north and Cyrodiil to the west. Most of the Argonians reside in the inland waterways and swamps of the southern interior. There are few roads, and the principal method of travel is by boat, according to the book Provinces of Tamriel. Novelist Waughin Jarth's description of the region in The Argonian Account confirms this characterization; the book concerns the trials and tribulations of Decumus Scotti, a moderately influential Imperial bureaucrat who finds himself in exotic locations at exciting times. Jarth attests that Decumus Scotti is a real person, though "Decumus Scotti" is just a convenient pseudonym.[oog 4] Jarth's original novella, Dance In Fire, found Scotti caught in the recurring conflict between the Khajiit of Elsweyr and the Bosmer of Valenwood, to which he responded with the characteristic quick thought of a management type and brought himself some authority within his organization. Jarth, though he has never "been anywhere in Black Marsh but Gideon", claims to have interviewed Imperial travelers to the province, and attests to having the descriptions right.[oog 4] Scotti's next adventures may find him in Black Marsh.
In The Argonian Account, the poor condition of Black Marsh's roads is said to prevent food from arriving fresh at any destination. The main character, Decumus Scotti, describes the goods, "grain, meat, and vegetation," of his caravan as being "in various stages of corruption". Lord Vanech, principal administrator at the Imperial Building Commission, says in the novella that "despite staggering investments of time and money, the trade along those routes only gets slower and slower."
Impediments to road travel are seen to abound: fast growing grasses that cover important trade routes as quickly as they are cut down, insects, affectionately known as fleshflies, that feast on the soft skins of non-natives, rivers that seasonally flood several feet, and roving bands of beastly Nagas, raiders of caravans. One of Jarth's Argonians speaks of land transportation with subdued irony. "We don't have the broken wagons and dying horses of our brothers on the outside," rolling his tiny eyes. "We don't know better."
Jarth's novella finds it a solely Imperial desire to make trade land-based, and to build large scale plantation complexes; and it is a desire that has done little good for Black Marsh itself. The novella finishes by having Scotti clear up most issues relating to Imperial interests in Black Marsh, returning travel to its historical form, by boat and Underground Express, and by ceasing Imperial efforts to change Black Marsh's economy from one oriented on subsistence agriculture into one oriented on export crops. As Jarth writes, the situation is that "Black Marsh simply was, is, and always shall be unable to sustain a large-scale, cash-crop plantation economy." "And Black Marsh," in Jarth's summation of Scotti's accomplishments, "was better off than it had been in forty years."
Little of Black Marsh's urban culture is to be found among the sources, though we are fortunate enough to have some sparse fragments. A traveler recounts in The Alik'r that Lilmoth possesses "mold encrusted villas" and that Helstrom possesses "wonderful, dangerous alleys." The cities of Black Marsh are also described in another piece of material, the semi-canonical city descriptions from the early development of Arena, while it was being planned as a fighting game.[oog 5] Each city is given a short monograph describing the player character's entry to the city and first impressions.
Lilmoth is described as "the home of the Dark Tide," "gloomy and foreboding," pervaded by an "unnatural fear," holding "much underneath its streets." Gideon is described as the "black city of the followers of Seth." Blackrose is located "near the legendary forest of Murkwood." Stormhold is apparently given over to tension, understandably, because of its "proximity to the Dark Elven lands." Thorn is described as the "Jewel of the East," and as "deadly as it is beautiful," where "vagabonds eye your purse strings and guards seem to turn lazy eyes elsewhere." Much of the other information is given in the same style, leading the reader to wonder if all cities in Tamriel are dangerous and deadly, or just the ones the player character visits. Not so much of the rest is useful, however, focusing on the warrior teams present in each city rather than the cities themselves.[oog 6]
The Argonian Compendium postulates that the description of Gideon's reference to "followers of Seth" may be a reference to the chaos god Sithis, or an Argonian corruption thereof.[oog 7] Jarth's novella provides some further information on Gideon. Though never arriving there himself, Scotti describes Gideon as "a large settlement more or less laid out like an Imperial city, with more or less Imperial style architecture, and all the Imperial comforts and traditions, more or less," "a thoroughly Imperialized city," with "gates."
Also interesting is the suggestion that the swamp underneath the city filters southward, which suggests a common drainage basin for the Black Marsh extending all the way up to the border with Morrowind. Locals seem to believe something along the same lines, according to the Argonian Shehs in Waughin Jarth's Argonian Account: "Everything in Tamriel flows down to Black Marsh."
- Alten Corimont
- A freebooter settlement in eastern Shadowfen.
- A settlement near the eastern coast of Black Marsh.
- A major city near the Murkwood.
- A sacred Argonian ruin and former temple village.
- A settlement in Murkmire, on the western border of Black Marsh.
- A settlement located in the nigh-unexplored interior of Black Marsh.
- A major port city located on Oliis Bay in the south.
- The legendary "dark forest that ever moves", located deep in the swamps of Black Marsh.
- A settlement located in the southwestern-most corner of Black Marsh.
- A city in northern Black Marsh, close to the border with Morrowind.
- A settlement in Thornmarsh, near Morrowind.
Black Marsh generally has a southerly marsh-like climate along with the florae and faunae that would be associated with such an environment. Jarth's Account suggests a climate similar to that of neighboring Blackwood, the swampy region east of Leyawiin, though with denser vegetation and less hospitable wildlife. The most prominent residents of Black Marsh are the Argonians and the Hist.
Argonians are a beast race of reptilian humanoids. They are known to be intelligent, quick, and agile, which causes them most frequently to choose magic or stealth-oriented lifestyles. Argonians, along with Khajiit, are referred to as the Other,[oog 8] and racial categorization often finds them as "beasts", or "Betmeri", in opposition to the developed humanoid races of Mer and Men. Argonians' alien nature is often commented on; they are called "strange",[oog 9] "expressionless," "reserved" peoples, "slow to trust and hard to know",[oog 10] and texts as far back as 3E 405 show signs of a similar viewpoint.[oog 7]
This is not helped by their language, Jel; while many Argonians can speak other languages, even the most skilled from other races struggle to gain even a basic grasp of Jel. With its use of hisses and other noises, it is described by some as impossible to be spoken correctly by other races. The language also lacks tenses; there is less emphasis on past and future, more emphasis on the now, recent past and the close future. Jel is often described as 'as close to pure thought as possible'.
Over time, though they are still a rather alien race, certain personality traits have become more apparent; specifically, an emphasis on clan loyalty and a strong personal sense of kin. Dreekius, an Argonian encountered by Cyrus on Stros M'Kai was so particularly acclimatized to the customs of Hammerfell that he spoke without a hiss. He described his role outside Black Marsh in terms of his clan: "'How ... does an Argonian manage to leave his tribe to wander Tamriel?' 'You refer to me? I do not wander, Redguard; this is a settled study for me, from which I'll add to the wealth of wisdoms when I return to my clan.'" Dreekius further mentions his respect for "clannish drives," "which any Argonian might admire, being used ... to honor the clan's interests above our own private affairs."[oog 11]
By the 420's, Argonians were known as "cautious and secretive" because of their history of "persecution and enslavement" by other races.[oog 12] Dreekius spoke of Black Marsh in anticipation of trials to come. "'How have the denizens of Black Marsh resisted the Empire so long?' 'A thousand miles of swamp, bog and stink aren't attractive to most humans, and terror of the Knahaten Flu still holds most at bay. But our days of testing will come.'"[oog 11]
Though the enslavement of Argonians existed at least since the beginning of the fifth century, it was not well-documented for almost three decades.[oog 7] Savant's Note On Vvardenfell states that Dunmer from neighboring Morrowind have raided the Black Marsh for slaves "for ages." Morrowind's plantations are in many places entirely dependent on the enslavement of Khajiit or Argonian labor. The Dunmer Great House Dres is particularly noted for its militant support of the institution, and hostile to the emancipatory Cyrodilic Empire.[oog 3]
Though the First Edition Pocket Guide to The Empire states that Argonians have never left their homeland "except for a relatively intelligent strain called the hist this is an error by the writers of the document. Hist are, in fact, great sentient trees worshipping[oog 13] the eternal, immutable, god of chaos, Sithis. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find much about the Hist. The Annotated Anuad provides some information, including that the Hist are one of two races to survive the "twelve worlds of Creation," along with the Ehlnofey and that the Hist had a great homeland sunk beneath the sea by the wars of the Ehlnofey (of course, it must be noted that creation myths are often, indeed, myths).",
Many works give the impression of an almost symbiotic relationship between the Argonians and the Hist. One such work suggests that, just as a Khajiit may almost entirely resemble either a human or a cat, Argonians may resemble either humans or lizards depending on how many times "they decide to lick the tree". The Hist sap is known to be related to Argonian sexuality, though nothing more is known on the topic.[oog 7]
The only Cyrodilic humans said to have ever lived in Black Marsh for any length of time were the Kothringi tribesmen, who were wiped out by Knahaten Flu. The flu persisted for 41 years, from 2E 560 to 2E 601. The native Argonians proved immune to the effects of this plague, leading others to suggest that they and the Hist had created it.[oog 14] The last recorded case of the flu was in 2E 603, after the aforementioned Kothringi tribesmen had fled the Black Marsh by boat and disappeared. Black Marsh was once inhabited by another species known as the Orma, a race predisposed to blindness, during the First Era, but they, too, succumbed to the Knahaten Flu and died out.[oog 7] The Lilmothiit, a vulpine race thought to be related to Khajiit, once lived along the southern coasts but likely died out by the time of the Akaviri Potentate.
Wamasu or Wamasus, dragon-like creatures, were also once to be found in Black Marsh, though there are no recent reports of their existence. Werelions, which Black Marsh shares with Cyrodiil and Elsweyr, werecrocodiles, which Black Marsh shares with southern Morrowind, tree-dwelling lizards, and dangerous feather serpents[oog 15] are other curious purported forms of indigenous life.
Creatures called Hackwings can be found in Black Marsh, and are "giant birds with long, saw-like beaks nearly the size of the rest of their bodies." They are described as "like everything else in this damnable place, they'll eat you if you don't keep moving. Beggars pounce down and give you a nasty chop, and then fly off and come back when you're mostly dead from blood loss." Black Marsh also has several other varieties of exotic life. Fleshflies, "blood-colored, sand-grain-sized insects," which feast on human flesh, are found inhabiting Black Marsh and southeastern Cyrodiil, where they deform the faces of those unlucky enough to be caught by their swarms.
Further into Black Marsh, Nagas can be encountered. Argonian caravan trains are frequently ravaged by these beasts, big, black, covered with scales, and possessing small black eyes and huge mouths dripping with needle-like fangs. Black Marsh is also home to rootworms, a type of 'Underground Express.' The rootworms are useful to travelers, swallowing them whole and carrying them with the current. The digestive systems of rootworms are apparently quite slow, and travelers "could live in a rootworm's belly for months."
A Voriplasm is a pool of green slime that can strip creatures down to the bone "by the second syllable". The massive body of a Swamp Leviathan was found twitching due to the hundreds of rats inside it.
The alchemical ingredients Dragon's Tongue and the Somnalius Fern are native to Black Marsh. Dragon's Tongue is a fern-like herb lethal to the touch. It gains its name from the fire-red fronds that surround its golden efflorescence. The Somnalius Fern is light green and delicate, and crumbles at the touch. It has the effect of fatiguing the creature that inhales it. Both plants are also found in Cyrodiil; the Dragon's Tongue along the Golden Road separating Skingrad from the Imperial City, and the Somnalius Fern along the Eastern vale of the Nibenay basin and as far north as the Great Forest.
- The Improved Emperor's Guide to Tamriel/Black Marsh by Flaccus Terentius
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition/The Wild Region by the Imperial Geographical Society
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition/Black Marsh by the Imperial Geographical Society
- Stormhold, City of Shadowfen by Cirantille — A description of the city of Stormhold
- Tips for Black Marsh Travel — An excerpt from a travel guide warning of the dangers in Black Marsh
- Wet Wilds of Black Marsh by Cirantille — An unflattering appraisal of the wilds of Black Marsh
- The Famous Places of Tamriel
- Fro, Corey. Morrowind Interview.
- "Arrival in Stros M'Kai - Tobias". The Story of Redguard. The Imperial Library.
- Velvin, Sinder. "The Eye of Argonia". Morrowind Easter Eggs. The Imperial Library.
- Velvin, Sinder. Interview With Ted Peterson. The Imperial Library.
- Hines, Pete. Issue 01.24.06. Bethesda Softworks Newsletter. Bethesda Softworks.
- Klett, Steve (Jul., 2002). "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind". PC Gamer US, p. 76.
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: The Wild Regions — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- The Anuad Paraphrased
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The War with the Trees: Argonia and the Black Marsh — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- The Improved Emperor's Guide to Tamriel: Black Marsh — Flaccus Terentius, 2E 581
- Events of ESO
- Sunscale Strand loading screen text in ESO
- Ayleid Survivals in Valenwood — Cuinur of Cloudrest, 4th Tier Scholar of Tamrielic Minutiae
- Stormhold, City of Shadowfen — Cirantille
- Reman II: The Limits of Ambition — High King Emeric
- Jorunn the Skald-King — Helgreir Lute-Voice, Bard of Windhelm
- The Second Akaviri Invasion — Yngmaer Raven-Quill, Historian Royal of the Bards' College, Solitude
- From Argonian to Saxhleel — Vicecanon Heita-Meen
- Unexpected Allies
- Guide to the Ebonheart Pact
- A Short History of Morrowind — Jeanette Sitte
- The Argonian Account, Book Four — Waughin Jarth
- Lives of the Saints — Tribunal Temple
- Dagoth Ur's Plans — Tribunal Temple
- Rising Threat — Lathenil of Sunhold
- The Infernal City — Gregory Keyes
- Provinces of Tamriel
- A Dance in Fire — Waughin Jarth (email from Ted Peterson appended at The Imperial Library).
- The Argonian Account, Book Two — Waughin Jarth
- The Argonian Account, Book One — Waughin Jarth
- The Alik'r — Enric Milres
- The Argonian Account, Book Three — Waughin Jarth
- Notes on Racial Phylogeny — the Council of Healers, Imperial University
- Tamrielic Lore — Yagrum Bagarn
- On Lycanthropy — Varnard Karessen
- Special Flora of Tamriel — Hardin the Herbalist
Note: the following references are not found in-game. They are included to provide a rounder background to this article, but may not reflect established lore.
- Merethic Era. History of Tamriel. The Imperial Library.
- "Third Era". History of Tamriel. The Imperial Library.
- Llaalam, Dredil; Andilo, Thelas. Savant's Note On Vvardenfell. The Imperial Library.
- Xanathar. Interview With Three Writers. The Imperial Library.
- "Arena: Behind the Scenes". The Elder Scrolls 10th Anniversary. Bethesda Softworks.
- Go Blades!. The Imperial Library.
- Brendan. Argonian Compendium.
- Xan. "Resources". The Definitive Guide to Dwemer. The Imperial Library.
- Daggerfall Manual
- "Argonian". Elder Scrolls Codex. Bethesda Softworks.
- Arrival in Stros M'Kai - Dreekius". The Story of Redguard. The Imperial Library.
- Zeph. "Argonians". The Elder Scrolls Treasury, Volume III: TES3 Encyclopaedia. The Imperial Library.
- Worshipping is taken from acknowledge in The Monomyth. S. Brian. Geo-Mythic Polarity.
- "Second Era". History of Tamriel. The Imperial Library.
- "Attrebus". Redguard Characters. The Imperial Library.