Bones of Babylon
In this accursed city which Stygians built and which Hyrkanians rule — where white, brown, and black folk mingle together to produce hybrids of all unholy hues and breeds — who can tell who is a man, and who is a demon in disguise?
~ “Shadow’s in Zamboula,” Robert E. Howard
Zamboula is a major trading city in the Kharamun Desert. A string of oases amongst the hills and plateaus to the north provide water to the city via a mighty aqueduct. Built by tawny Stygians, ruled by conquering Turanians, patrolled by Pelishtim mercenaries, peopled by mongrels, Shemites, Kushites, Darfari and visited by Zuagirs and caravaneers from the east and south, Zamboula defines the term cosmopolitan—putting even the greatest trading ports of Argos to shame.
The city is best known for its red brick architecture that creates a jarring but apropos mismatch of desert-culture structural styles—pyramids, zikkurats, and slender minarets capped with onion domes all vie for attention amongst the skyline. Another of the city’s great local traditions is the unique and exotic dance style that developed organically amongst the interracial populace, with each ethnicity adding some variance or twist. Eventually, Zamboulan dancers became so sought after in the courts of the wealthy across the continent, that a number of competitive schools formed to teach their preferred variance of the Zamboulan style. Regardless of their school or method, Zamboulan dancers are the best trained dancers in the world. Save for the most refined princes, most enjoy Zamboulan dance for its nudity and eroticism and are disinclined to split hairs over its distinctions.
The city is well laid-out, with bazaars, markets, residential districts, and other divisions.
Centuries ago, Zamboula was naught but a small trading town of the Kharamun nomads. The Stygians built the small town into a city and settled it, bringing in Shemite and Kushite slaves, and a vast population of Darfari laborers who are something of a city fixture. Ceaseless caravans brought wealth, and the wealth eventually brought the Turanians, who swarmed out of the desert and conquered it, pushing back Stygia’s borders.
Jeteikhan is the current satrap appointed by Turan to govern the region. The Turanians here are a mixed bunch. Most recognize that Zamboula is the farthest flung frontier outpost they rule. Though they pay tithe to the Emperor, most know they’d be waiting a long while for reinforcements should something happen. Fortunately, Jeteikhan rules with a velvet glove, keeps taxes low, and pays his forces well—though the satrapy has had to rely on a large force of Shemitish asshuri mercenaries to supplement its Turanian knights.
Many different religions are practiced here. Set, Bel, Ishtar, Erlik and his prophet Tarim; and Yog are all well-represented. Even bestial Hanuman has a huge temple that squats alone in a large square, said to be overseen by vile druids who strangle human sacrifices dead before the beast god, so as to waste nary a drop of blood.
Outside the spires of Zamboula, most of the desert is composed of stony, irregular terrain, salt, sand and clay, and felsic lava. It ia amongst the driest areas of the known world, although the Shanki Oasis lies not too far away toward the northwest upon a plateau, and the subterranean Aphaka Oasis lies further west of that.