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The Argonians (Are-GOAN-ee-uns) are a fictional race of reptilian humanoids from the Elder Scrolls video game series. Argonians are described as a beast race of reptilian humanoids, consistently portrayed throughout the Elder Scrolls series of games as intelligent, quick and agile, tending towards the in-game character classes of the mage and the thief. Within the ES world, Argonians inhabit the swampy region of Black Marsh, which is known to be extremely dangerous despite only being featured in the game Elder Scrolls Arena, with only a minute role in the game. The Black Marsh is inhabited by poisonous creatures and several diseases, and as it's name suggests, is mostly covered in water and marsh, with very little dry land. Because of this, Argonians are immune to all poisons, are highly resistant to disease, and harbor the ability to breath underwater without the use of magical enhancements or potions.
The Argonians have no deities, but instead worship the revered Hist; it is unclear as to what the Hist actually are, however. Some references point towards the Hist being a different breed of Argonians that are ugly, frail, yet intelligent. Other sources imply that the Hist is a type of ancient, semi-sentient tree considered sacred by the Argonians, and that the tree secretes a type of sap-like resin that hardens and when molded can make ideal armor. Throughout The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, several of the humanoid races are depicted as being racist towards Argonians.
The appearance of the race has been progressively developed over the series as minor refinements in their design were made for each game. Argonians were a dark skinned humanoid race in Arena, only distinguishable from the Dunmer by their ragged mouths and eyes, with hair ranging from blue-green to bright red. It is speculated that the Arena Argonians weren't Argonians at all, but rather the Kothringi Tribesmen, a rumored hybrid race of Nords and Argonians, the only other sentient race to survive in Black Marsh and thus, as residents of Black Marsh, technically Argonians themselves. Argonians became in Daggerfall reptilian humanoids with serpentine tails, lizard-like faces, dull green skin and lime-colored ventral scales. During the development of Morrowind, Argonians were given an odd gait, and lost their previously humanoid legs to gain feet as long as their thighs, and were made to keep their knees constantly bent. The development team encountered difficulties in the implementation of this design feature, and an entirely separate animation system was developed to model the Argonians' digitigrade legs. In the move to Morrowind their colouring was changed as well, with tan replacing green as the dominant shade in their scales, and males given accentuated colouring along their spines, upper chests and necks. Oblivion finds the Argonians with human legs once again, due to the aforementioned difficulty with the animation system, and with a character creation tool affording greater variation in scale tone.
Argonians, like the other series races, have been given certain abilities to reflect their racial strengths throughout the games. In both Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim they were given the ability to breathe underwater, suggesting an amphibian propensity, in line with various lore descriptions of their aquatic habits. For example, they have been described in every game manual since Daggerfall as being equally at home in both water and on land. The Morrowind website also describes the Argonian race as "[having] developed natural immunities to the diseases and poisons that have doomed many would-be explorers into the region", which is again reflected in their abilities, with Argonians given a significant chance of bearing no infection from poisonous blows and diseased animals. Argonians also possess a thick scaly hide, compared by a developer to that of a snake. Physically tougher than what the Argonians call "soft-skins", Argonians are given a small bonus to their Unarmored skill.
While Argonians appear reptilian in nature at first glance, they also exhibit fish- and amphibian-like qualities, such as being able to breathe underwater, having small gills behind their ears, and, in Morrowind, swimming using the same body mechanism as that of a tadpole or eel, waving its tail side-to-side to propel itself through the water.
In-game lore portrays the Argonian reproductive cycle as somewhat complex. The author of Notes on Racial Phylogeny states that it is unclear "whether the Argonians and Khajiit are interfertile with both humans and elves," there being "many reports...of children from these unions," but "no well documented offspring." The author is hesitant to give any classification to the race at all, and leaves undecided whether Argonians are to be classified with "dreugh, men, mer, or...certain tree-dwelling lizards in Black Marsh." According to the Savant's Note on Vvardenfell most "Imperial scholars" hold a different position, and consider "Men, Elves, and Beastmen as 'men,' on the basis that individuals of all three groups can mate with one another." Following this scholarly knowledge, certain Cyrodiilic Imperials have been known to take up Argonian women as sexual partners, and been none the worse off for it. Whether or not Argonians lay eggs has been seen to be a contentious issue even amongst the series developers. Mark Nelson made a post in-character to the Elder Scrolls Forums which seemed to imply that both were possible, but Pete Hines replied back that Argonians were most certainly ovoviviparous, gestating and hatching eggs inside their bodies. Mark Nelson replied back with the cautionary "perhaps it is both, as necessity demands." In-game dialogue suggests in an offhand way that Argonians are nested in their youth, but the way in which it is said, "My parents caught me and a boy from my nest in a soft-leaf patch right before the naming ceremony" does not give any certainty as to whether the nest acts as a place to hatch eggs, and the author of the Argonian Compendium suggests that it might merely be a name for a social institution. Many cursory remarks give the impression that the relationship between the Argonians and the Hist as nearing the level of symbiosis. From the keyboard of Mark Nelson: "I will tell you that there's more to the Hist than has been told, and they and the Argonians have a much deeper relationship than previously thought...Black Marsh is, sadly, far too unexplored, leaving the enigmatic Argonians shrouded in a bit too much mystery for my liking." Gary Noonan provides a description of the Argonians as being similar to the Khajiit, and varying from a nearly human to a completely lizardlike race much like the Khajiit vary from a nearly human to an entirely catlike race, depending on how many times "they decide to lick the tree". In further posts by Mark Nelson he commented that he was not willing to speak of the relationship between the Hist. "As for the relationship, I'm not talking yet." "There has been talk about how the Hist (and Hist sap) are related to Argonian sexuality. This hasn't changed...it's still related. And, it's not a taboo topic; I just don't think it's the most interesting one out there." The issue has not since been delved into with any more depth or clarity.
Vocalizations and language
Argonians have kept a tendency to hiss and lengthen the 's' sound throughout the series. As anexample, if an argonian doesn't like you that much, he may hiss when you exit conversation. King Edward, a Daggerfall book that contained the first significant role for an Argonian in a piece of in-game writing, had its Argonian character first described as "a strange looking lizardlike man, who spoke with such a hissing accent that Edward couldn't understand him at all." A sample of his dialogue from later on in the book should be enough to demonstrate the customary Argonian method of speech. "I am not ssssure that Magicka isss usssed; perhapss there isss yet another capability involved here. Thisss capability would be unknown at thisss time, and maybe even unsssenssssed... but I feel fairly certain that sssomehow it is a godly 'force' that they are employing." The tendency continued on in the voice acting for the later games, in Morrowind and Oblivion. The race-specific voice acting in Morrowind received praise from some reviewers, though was met with disdain from others, who disliked the discord between a culturally inflected voice spoken in an alien dialect and the grammatically flawless dialogue printed in the dialogue boxes. Oblivion, by making all dialogue spoken, was generally better received, with its voice-acting variously described as "uniformly excellent and star-studded," "generally excellent," and "solid," although the race-specific quality of it escaped note.
Within the series lore, Argonians lack as developed a language as, for example, the Dwemer, the Aldmer or even the Khajiit. The only truly reliable source, according to the TES Translation Dictionary and the Argonian Compendium, provides only a single translation. This reliable source, a Morrowind side quest, provides a translation only for "Haj-Ei", which is said to mean "Hides His Eyes". The quest itself plays on the meaning of the word, and players with more intelligent characters or players that play as Argonians are able to quickly skip to the end of the quest, due to the brutal obviousness of the translation. Another potential source is an early development version of the Annotated Anuad, which contains the words "Ixtaxh-thtithil-meht" for "Exact Egg-Cracker", according to the Translation Dictionary. As with the ES series in general, older lore descriptions are tossed out in favour of new ones, and as all versions of the Annotated Anuad in published copies of the games omit this translation, and as no other lore supports it, it has been deemed an unreliable translation. The Translation Dictionary references the document Interview with Three Booksellers as a source, but, curiously enough, the article does not contain the words "Ixtaxh-thtithil-meht", nor, indeed, any reference to the Argonians at all. The Argonian Compendium also provides a reference to The Madness of Pelagius, in which a simple statement regarding the Argonian tongue can be found.
|It was said that when the Argonian ambassador from Blackrose came to court, Pelagius insisted on speaking in all grunts and squeaks, as that was the Argonian's natural language. -–Tsathenes, The Madness of Pelagius|
The Argonian Compendium notes that while it is generally difficult to accord credit to the source itself, a cautious observer may take from the work an indication that the "Argonian language might be phonetically very different from human and elven languages".
Unfortunately for the Argonians, the very traits that enabled them to survive so well in the swamps of their homelands also made them ideal slaves for hard labour in regions of the Empire that would prove uninhabitable to the other races in Morrowind. They were commonly enslaved along with the Khajiit in Morrowind; although slavery itself is illegal in the Empire, Morrowind as part of the conditions of surrender to the Empire, was able to use a different set of laws. Morrowind's "On Morrowind" describes Morrowind's self-determination as part of the rules surrounding its integration into the commonwealth. In the peace treaty between Tiber Septim and Vivec that brought Morrowind into the Empire, a key clause insisted that Morrowind retain all her natural "rights of faith and self-government." Another Morrowind-era book describes the House Dres, one of the five major powers in Morrowind, as "an agrarian agricultural society" which relies "completely on slave labor for their economic viability". House Telvanni, too, retains a specific interest in the flows of the slave trade, although on a more personal level than the grand agricultural scale of the Dres. In Morrowind, the southern farmlands of Vvardenfell are peppered with large slave plantations worked by Khajiit and Argonian slaves, run by representatives of House Dres.
The House holds much territory on the southern border of Morrowind, bordering Black Marsh, allowing easy access to their source. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that as late in the series as Morrowind, decades after the ban on the slave trade, one could find sources attesting to its prevalence. "For ages the Dunmer have raided Black Marsh for slaves; though the Empire has made this illegal, the practice persists, and Dunmer and Argonians have a long-standing and bitter hatred for one another." The Redguard-era Pocket Guide to The Empire provides a few important notes on the Dres slave trade, and is the principal source for the sections of those essays pertaining to the House which describe the nature of its business in the trade. informing the reader that the trade numbers in the "thousands"; that the majority of slaves traded consist of Argonians, with lesser numbers of Khajiit and Imperials alongside; and, finally, that the great centre of the trade is the Dres capital Tear, through which most slaves are hurried into various "infamous" slave-pens, and thence onwards into the plantations which surround the city.
Argonians within Black Marsh have been singled out as co-conspirators as well. In the Oblivion-era The Argonian Account, Ted Peterson's novella of Waughin Jarth's account of Decumus Scotti's ventures in Black Marsh, a follow up on Morrowind's Dance In Fire, the Archeins of Gideon, a southwesterly inland town along the border with the Blankenmarch region of Cyrodiil, are singled out as "assimilated, slaver kleptocrats" by one native "lemon-colored Agaceph". Also shared, and affirmed by the book's principal character, is a rumor that Argonian mothers might sell their children into slavery.
In Oblivion's Pocket Guide to the Empire (3rd Edition), it was revealed that sometime after the events of Morrowind, the Nerevarine and Vivec disappear from Morrowind, leaving King Helseth the sole power in the region. Helseth, representing his own house of Hlaalu, forms an alliance with House Dres. Subsequently, he renounces the slave trade, setting the remaining Houses of Indoril and Redoran against him in a bloody civil war. Helseth emerges from the war battered, but without the loss of his essential powers, leaving the slave trade generally destroyed, slavery without a foothold in all of Tamriel, and the Argonian race at last liberated from that scourge on her people.
Argonians were characterized by game developer Michael Kirkbride in a post on The Elder Scrolls Official Forums alongside the Khajiit as the Other. Argonians are often given descriptors telling of their alien nature. The Daggerfall manual describes Argonians as "strange", the Morrowind website describes Argonians as "expressionless," "reserved" peoples, "slow to trust and hard to know." While keeping their general character as an 'alien' race, Argonians have been given certain new personality traits during the development of the series, specifically, an added emphasis on Argonian clan loyalty and a strong personal sense of kin. Dreekius, the sole Argonian in Redguard, an Argonian so particularly acclimatized to the customs of Hammerfell that he speaks without a hiss, describes 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." Morrowind's in-game dialogue describes Argonians as "cautious and secretive" because of their history of "persecution and enslavement" by other races. Dreekius speaks 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.'"
Argonians are known to have deep connections with the Hist, calling themselves "people of the root," and licking the leaking sap of their trunks in religious rites. The Argonian Traveling-New-Woman leaves an intriguing story regarding her Naming Ceremony and its involvement with the Hist.
|My parents told me not to lick the Hist tree until my Naming Day, so I did. My parents caught me and a boy from my nest in a soft-leaf patch right before the naming ceremony. I feared I'd get more of a licking from my parents than I gave the tree... So I ran as fast as I could through the swamp and into the rest of the kids waiting for their naming ceremony. Everyone had a good laugh and the name stuck. -–Traveling-New-Woman, Morrowind Dialogue|
The Argonian Compendium states this to be one of the most famous pieces of Morrowind era Argonian lore, and begins furiously interpreting the passage, declaring in favour of the rite as a sexual initiation into adulthood, the usage of nests, and various other minor things. Marobar Sul's Ancient Tales of the Dwemer also contains a story relating the importance of the Hist, taken from the Argonian slaves of southern Morrowind.
The tale concerns a settlement of Argonians wiped out by "Dwemeri" imperialism. Dwemer come to an isolated Argonian settlement, and begin to fell the local trees without much ado. The Argonians remain unfazed. "[We] allowed them to use the plants as they needed them, provided they never touched the Hist, which are sacred to us and to the land...For many years, we lived peaceably. No one wanted for anything." The Dwemer showed signs of dissatisfaction with their arrangement, as it became clear that the sap of the Hist could be made into resilient armour called resin. The Dwemer sent out a woodsman named Juhnin to fell the Hist for profit. "Of course, we Argonians cried out against it. It was our home, and the Hist, once gone, would never return. The merchants reconsidered, but Juhnin took it on his own to break our spirit. He proved one terrible, bloody day that his prodigious skill with the axe could be used against people as well as trees. Any Argonian who stood in his way was hewn asunder, children as well. The Dwemer people of Lorikh closed their doors and their ears to the cries of murder...It is difficult to explain...But the deaths of our living ones was not nearly as horrible to us as the death of our trees. You must understand that to my people, the Hist are where we come from and where we are going. To destroy our bodies is nothing; to destroy our trees is to annihilate us utterly. When Juhnin then turned his axe on the Hist, he killed the land. The water disappeared, the animals died, and all the other life that the trees nourished crumbled and dried to dust." The story proper begins some time later as the Dwemer daughter of Juhnin speaks to an old Argonian woman working in the now destroyed region, and begins to relate the tale. The child learns that all of the Argonians are soon to die from the Hist's absence, and begins to tear up. The Argonian woman gives the child a small seed, saying 'We Argonians have an expression...That the best soil for a seed is found in your heart." The child leaves to plant it in front of her house. The following day, Juhnin comes across a giant Hist tree at his doorstep, and draws his axe to fell it. Successive blows make no change to the tree, and the tree regenerates to match the wood chopped off. Some time passes, and a local notices Juhnin's emaciated body lying on the ground, axe in hands, with no tree in sight. "Shortly thereafter, small desert flowers began pushing through the dry dirt in the town. Trees and plants newly sown began to live tolerably well, if not luxuriantly. The Hist did not return, but Kamdida and the people of Lorikh noticed that at a certain time around twilight, long, wide shadows of great, bygone trees would fill the streets and hills."
Various Argonian characters have had some small involvement in the politics of the Empire since Black Marsh was brought within its borders. The Daggerfall-era Armorers' Challenge describes one such occasion. In 3E153, following a massacre of Imperial troops in the Black Marsh village of Armanias, Dunmer Empress Katariah made the decision to hire an Argonian freedman, Hazadir, to craft more suitable armor for troops stationed in the region. As the Duke Minglumire of Vengheto challenged her decision, she decided to host a competition between an armorer of his choosing and her Hazadir. Each would equip a champion that would then face an Imperial fighter equipped with Argonian weapons. Hazadir easily won the competition, choosing to use light armor against the Minglumire's ebony, ebony easily bested by Argonian weapons. The move impressed the Elder Council, contributing to Katariah's reputation as one of the most glorious leaders of the Cyrodiilic Empire. In 3E399 an Argonian councilman, Thoricles Romus, was thought to be the person to hire the assassin who ended Empress Morihatha's life. Thoricles, said to have been angered by Moriatha's refusal to send troops to Black Marsh, was summarily tried and executed.
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