Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Odd little Tekumelani Map


I have recently come into possession of a rather curious document, a map showing the world of the First Imperium. The piece measures 58.5 x 41.25 cm, and is drawn in (faded) inks and pigments on (age-darkened) silk, possibly güdru. The script is Bednálljan Salarvyáni.

Mind you, I am not so naive as to believe that this is an authentic Bednálljan document. The chart appears to be "old," but it is inconceivable that a First Imperium textile could survive in this condition for tens of millenia. On the other hand, the apparent age of the piece may tell us nothing about its authenticity. When we consider that it charts the landscape of an alien world in an alien plane 100,000 years in our "future," perhaps its "age" is simply indescribable (and the story of how it came to rest in 21st-century Earth must be fascinating indeed!). Most telling, though, is the fact that its meticulous and scaled representation of coastlines and topography is at odds with  all (known) Tekumeláni map-making traditions and capabilities.

As a result, I can only guess that this map was drawn by some alien visitor, rather than a resident, in Tékumel's bethorm. And yet, I am inclined to believe that this unknown visitor may have been a particularly well-informed observer, and that this map may be an accurate representation of the world of the First Imperium. Let's have a closer look shall we?



The map is enclosed in a simple banded border, scaled (whether deliberately or fortuitously) in increments of approximately 400 modern Tsolyáni tsányal. The ordinal points at the corners of the map are overseen by the masks of four unidentified sharétlyal ("demons").

The principal ornament is a rather interesting escutcheon. It depicts the goddess Tyalméya (who corresponds to the modern Dlamélish, but in Bednálljan times, was appparently an Aspect of Chótl "The Blinding Sun") seated on a divan, serenely countering, and ultimately overcoming, the bluff and bluster of the warring deities Jráka and Vaomáhl. This is, of course, the "Tyalméya and the Warring Deities" motif seen occasionally on coins of the early First Imperium. Although the theological reference is obscure, I am confident that the mythic content is secondary to its significance as political allegory. The viewer is expected to identify the goddess Tyalméya with the queen Nayári, founder of the First Imperium (an identification made quite explicit in the Bednálljan inscription on this document). The image of Tyalméya and the Warring Deities is thus a metaphor for Nayári's ruthless conquest of the rump states of the Dragon Warriors and the Fisherman Kings, and for her skillful manipulation of the sectarian strife between their temples: the Red Robes of Vaomáhl and the Black Robes of Jráka.


The outlines of the continents are carefully drawn, and in general, reflect the coastlines we would expect to see in the region prior to the great cataclysm that marked the fall of Gánga. For example, a shallow sea covers the area that is now the Desert of Sighs and the central plain of Yán Kór, and the northern cities of Yán Kór are shown as city-states in an east-west-oriented archipelago (Pelesár is also one of these island city-states). The southern ocean is less radically transformed,  but we can see that Gánga appears to have been a little larger than it is today, while the Flats of Tsechélnu and the Layóda Swamps were both present, but less extensive than in modern times.

All of these are more-or-less what we would expect to see. But these expected configurations also reveal truths that are a little unexpected, or were to me. For example, it becomes clear that when the Desert of Sighs was ocean, the Swamps of Ksárul around Púrdimal were originally a coastal lowland or swampy rivermouth delta. It makes perfect sense, really. Also, we can see that when the plains of Yán Kór were ocean, not only was Sunráya a seaport, but so was Grái in Saá Allaqí. In fact, Saá Allaqí, which we think of now as a land of deserts and mountains, was during the First Imperium, a broad and likely fertile river valley reaching to the sea.

There are a few other features of note. First, the forests which form the northern boundary of Salarvyá were once contiguous with the forests of Gilráya (again, not entirely unexpected), and appear to have extended south from modern Pecháno to join with the forests around Lake Mrissútl. Second, the terrain north of Salarvyá appears to have formed a more marked and extensive east-west band of desert terrain than we see today, reaching from the Sleeping Desert in the east (largely off the map), through modern Kilalámmu and into northeastern Tsolyánu , where it becomes the Desert of Eyági.

For me, this desert region is the most interesting part of this map; the landscape that it reveals resolves a number of ambiguities and inconsistencies found in our documentary sources. 

For example, we are told that Nayári belonged to a "desert tribe" from the Dry Bay of Sú'um, and yet we are also told that prior to the Cataclysm, the Dry Bay of Sú'um was a large inland sea called "Lake Aridzó." This map resolves this puzzling inconsistency, clearly delineating Lake Aridzó but showing it surrounded by what appears to be desert terrain. We may infer that Lake Aridzo in the Bednálljan and Engsvanyáli periods was a desert lake perhaps analogous to the (much smaller) Ounianga Lakes of Earth.

Similar inconsistencies are found in First Imperium descriptions of the Desert of Eyági. We are told that this region, including the city of Fasiltúm, was once a fertile land, named "The Vales of Ninár." And yet, we also read of campaigns against the desert peoples of the region, who found refuge in desert lands.

Was it fertile, or was it desert?

Again, this map appears to reconcile these conflicting descriptions. The Desert of Eyági is clearly shown, as extensive, or more so, than it is in modern Tsolyánu. But it is bisected by the narrow fertile valley of a river which flows, Nile-like, through the desert hills from Lake Aridzó down into the Tsolyáni central plain to debouch into the Mssúma near what I believe to be the city of Purdánim, downstream of Béy Sü. I speculate that this river was named the Ninár River, and its valley was the legendary "Vale of Ninár." The city of Fa'ásal (Fasiltúm) is shown at the head of navigation, most likely a gateway city, tributary to Purdánim, a caravanserai on an ancient trade route between the peoples of the Mssúma and the desert nomads of what is now northeastern Tsolyánu. In this context, the Nayári myth makes perfect sense. Nomads moving into Tsolyánu from the Lake Aridzó region would naturally follow the Ninár to Fa'ásal, and thence, the next obvious destination for Nayári would obviously be further downstream at fabled Purdánim, at the confluence with the Mssúma River. Here, at Purdánim, the young Nayári would climb to power, and ultimately, found an empire.


The map indicates the principal cities of the First Imperium and surrounding lands with small truncated-pyramid symbols. Unfortunately, the original Bednálljan names for these cities were inscribed in a fugitive sepia-toned ink which has now almost entirely faded into obscurity. Because I regard this map as a curiosity rather than an authentic Bednálljan document, I have taken the liberty of over-writing the Bednálljan glyphs with Roman toponyms, to assist the Earthly reader. Have I thereby defaced an important historical document? I hope not. History will be my judge.

Not that I have been able to identify every city. While studying this map it became apparent to me how few First Imperium toponyms we really know. In fact, the only authentic Bednálljan toponym I am aware of is Béy Síy (Béy Sü), the "Soul of the World." What we do have, particularly for the key cities of central Tsolyánu and, to a lesser extent, the city-states of Hekkhé (Yán Kór), is a series of toponyms dating to the last millenium of the First Imperium, through the end of the Tarishánde Dynasty. We do not know if these names were strictly "Bednálljan" in origin, or if they were "Proto-Engsvanyáli," but perhaps it doesn't matter. We can be confident that they were in current use in at least the latter days of the First Imperium, and probably much earlier. For the area of Mu'aghátl (modern Mu'ugalavyá) we have an additional series of "Early Engsvanyáli" toponyms that were again, likely in current use through the late First Imperium. Finally, we have another series of "Middle Engsvanyáli" toponyms that were likely similar to those of the First Imperium, but not identical. I have largely avoided using these on this map, but I have inserted a few, where no alternatives are known. These pertain principally to the land of Tsavrátl (modern Salarvyá) and include Liü Sánmu (Tsa'avtúlgu), Mmélökh (Mmillaká), and Chgáth (Jéggeth). Jekáral (Jaikalór) is the only instance in which I have used a Middle Engsvanyáli toponym for a city within modern Tsolyánu.

There are additionally some topoynms which are not known for certain to be Bednálljan or Proto-Engsvanyáli, but which may well be. Examples include Gánga (which is not shown and in any case would have been inconsequential until the final years of the First Imperium) and Hmakuyál (also not shown, but presumably important, even in that era). Another example, of course, is storied, lost Purdánim itself. Since Purdánim fell into ruin after the First Imperium, we can guess that the name we know it by is original, but it may be a more recent Tsolyáni rendering of an earlier toponym. We simply do not know. Of course, the real mystery of Purdánim that has engaged scholars for millenia is not its name but its location. As is so often the case, the evidence is vague. We are variously told that it was situated northwest of Thráya, east of Usenánu, and north of Sétnakh (one source says 100 tsányal north of Sétnakh; we may discount this, since 100 tsányal is not far enough north of Setnakh to place it northwest of Thráya and east of Usenánu). If we triangulate betwen Thráya, Usenánu and Sétnakh, we reach a point on the Mssúma downstream of Béy Sü, where a major city-symbol is shown at the confluence of the Mssúma and the river I believe to be the Ninár. I believe that this strategic former river-confluence location, now buried beneath the silt of a river that has not flowed since the Cataclysm, is the site of lost Purdánim itself.


The map does not indicate the borders of the First Imperium, a pity since if it did, we might be able to guess the specific period it purports to depict. The borders varied enormously over time, but in general terms, we know the First Imperium extended to encompass all of modern Tsolyánu, much of Hekkhé (Yán Kór) and Milumanayá, probably some or all of Ssédh Eléq (Saá Allaqí), southern Tsavrátl (Salarvyá) at least as far east as Tsatsayágga, and southeastern Mu'aghátl (Mu'ugalavyá); Llurusé (Livyanu), eastern Tsavrátl and N'lüss remained independent.


Meta-fluff aside, I hope anyone considering gaming in this era of Tekumel's history may find this map useful.

The First Imperium would certainly make for a dramatic game setting: a brutal and somewhat chaotic age, when the Concordat did not exist, and religious strife was far more prevalent and overt than in modern Tsolyánu. Even when Imperial control was strongest, cities and regions were perhaps more autonomous than today, and more parochial. Travel from one city to another, from one cult-center to another, was more likely to be a risky and even scary journey into places unknown or poorly-understood. The ancient ruins of the day would be those of the Dragon Warriors, the Three States of the Triangle, the empire of Llyán, and even the Latter Times.

(I do have a higher-resolution "untextured" editable copy of this map, so if anyone knows any toponyms I have missed, please let me know!)


  1. This is a great setting - very open and fluid, the kind of place that PCs could really create some trouble in.

    1. I know!

      .... and get into trouble, too.

      As I read it, the First Imperium should have a very different atmosphere from the Second, so not like playing in Tsolyanu at all. Much darker, more mysterious, more hostile. You could go all Clark Ashton Smith with this era.....

  2. This a wonderful map!!! May I have your permission to download it for my archives?

    yours, chirine

  3. Fabulous work sir, the map is exquisite and your disquistion upon it superb; you've definitely captured the "look and feel" of a Tekumelani artifact.

    I think the professor would approve.

  4. Thank you!

    Yes, I can only hope he would have approved. Or better yet, that he would have tut-tutted and filled in the gaps!

  5. And you are welcome to visit as often as you like, I hope you find it useful!