The Satar are a warlike, semi-nomadic horse-riding culture, native to the deserts and steppes north of the Sesh. They are famous for invading most of the nations south of the Lovi Sea, rebuilding Magha into a great fortress-city, and founding the religion of Ardavan. Their invasion of the civilized world caused numerous ancient empires to fall and others to fracture, and the subsequent establishment of meritocratic militaristic states called Exatai. Their legacy continues in the form of several successor states that dominate the Sesh and Had river valleys, all claiming the mantle of Exatas.
As of the 4th century RM, the Satar are a widely distributed people, having assimilated/merged with many conquered peoples in the Sesh and Had river valleys. The Satar once migrated across the now rapidly de-greening steppe of the Rath Satar, before population pressures and the iron will of Arastephas the Redeemer pushed them southwest. The largest concentration of Satar now live in and around Magha, in the former lands of Bahra that are now commonly called Satara (or the Upper Sesh). Lesser concentrations of Satar live in and around the Sesh Delta, with smaller groups in Acca and the large cities of their former empires. Another large concentration of “Satar” (with a far smaller population of those descended from Satar invaders) can be found in the Kothari Exatai, in the Had Valley to the southeast of the Sesh.
Creation and Ancient Myths
In the most ancient legends, there were a people known as the Satarai, the terror of the Bronze Age world. It is believed that they were not natives to the Sesh, but came from either the northern deserts or the steppe of the Rath Tephas, to the northwest. The Satar would later hold the Rath Tephas as a holy place, possibly due to this connection with their ancestors.
In those ancient days, the Satarai of legend had Seven High Princes, but no leader. The position of Satrap rotated between them, but they fell to squabbling. The High Princes were each defeated in turn by the great conqueror Te’esh, who is still celebrated by men of Seshweay descent in drinking songs or lullabies whose origin they’ve long forgotten. In penance for their defeat, the Satarai vanished into the northern deserts and the vast steppes beyond, falling into chaotic infighting, with each Prince acting independently of the other.
The process by which the legendary Satarai, if they truly existed, morphed into the modern Satar, is unknown. But the Satar first enter the historical record upon their legendary union by Arastephas.
Invasion of the Sesh
For hundreds of years, the Satar had warred and traded on the vast steppe which bore their name, the Rath Satar. Around the year 0 RM, a simple shepherd named Ephkar had a revelation. By some accounts, he was struck by lightning, which filled him with the power of the Satar god Taleldil. Ephkar understood that his people had fallen from glory, and he sought to unify the Seven Princedoms (which had since degenerated into seven separate tribes) under one ruler. By some accounts he forged, and by other accounts he discovered, a gold mask. Through a mixture of strength, diplomacy, and ruthlessness, Ephkar first took control of his ancestral princedom, the Star, and gradually succeeded in humbling the other Six Princes of the confederacy.
Finally, by the year 23 RM, he had gathered the entire Satar. Anointing himself Redeemer, he took the name Arastephas, and set out to conquer the world from which the Satar had fled. His son, Atraxes, became Prince of the Star in his wake. Arastephas the Redeemer, as he was now called, led thousands of steppe cavalry pouring out of the Rath Satar. His son, Atraxes, conquered the Katdhi tribes to the south, while Arastephas passed into the large desert called the Kotir.
Atraxes moved southwards, passing above the headwaters of the Sesh, and swept down upon the unprepared capital of the Bahran kingdom, Magha. Taking it as his headquarters, Atraxes had the newly enslaved Bahrai build a fleet of arks to carry the Satar horsemen down the river Sesh. Meanwhile, the full force of Arastephas' cavalry began to assault the Union of Aya'se, the Seshweay kingdom and the descendent of their ancient foes. Seshweay resistance was fierce, but the Satar troops heavily outnumbered them, and they pushed south, towards the Aya'se capital of Seis.
Once Arastephas' army had fought its' way to the northern bank of the Sesh River, Atraxes' arks had been finished, and they sailed down the river. The Seshweay fleet was engaged fighting the Trilui at the time, and failed to stop the ships from landing Atraxes' army on the delta and ferrying Arastephas' forces across. The city, already swollen with refugees, fell to the Redeemer's forces after a short siege.
The proud city, immensely wealthy and more than a millenia old, was ransacked by the Satar forces. Thousands died, and the city burned. In the wake of the atrocities, Atraxes challenged his father to a duel. While Arastephas won, he gave the task of kingship over to his son. He had fought his way to the world ocean, and defeated his people's ancient enemies. Arastephas the Redeemer had redeemed. And so, the First Redeemer passed into the north, and the Satar under Atraxes consolidated their conquests, making Magha the new capital. The Exatai of the Satar was born.
Following their conquest of the Sesh Valley, the Exatai of the Satar retrenched under its' new ruler, Second Redeemer Atraxes. After inaugurating a massive building project in Magha, Atraxes launched an invasion of Krato, in order to pay for the expansion of Magha and to appease the Satar nobility's appetite for further conquest. This invasion was largely successful, ransacking Asandar, the commercial center of Krato, and numerous other Uggor cities. So much Kratoan coinage was plundered that the Kratoan Ka became the de facto currency of the Exatai, and Kashim or "New Ka" remain the currency of the region to this day.
The successes of Atraxes' reign were not to be repeated by Third Redeemer Xetares, who would cause the breakup of the Exatai of the Satar. Though Xetares was militarily successful against the Helsian states, destroying the capitals of Faron and the Empire of the Trilui, upon his return the Satar army was defeated by Uggor forces commanded by Third-Gaci of Moti, and the Redeemer himself was killed. The remaining Princes of the Satar committed suicide at the Pyre of the Six, and the Sesh was temporarily lost to the Moti and Seshweay rebels.
Splintering and Resettlement
In the broadest terms, the Satar were originally composed of seven tribal Princedoms. Originally these tribes were Sword, Shield, Arrow, Spear, Wheel, Scroll, and Star. Star has since been replaced in the north by the Sun, a Princedom which is technically of Accan descent. Each of these seven tribes is ruled by a Prince. From among these Seven Princes, the Redeemer is acclaimed, though the exact method of selection for the Redeemer is up to some interpretation, and subject to variation through history.
Satar government is dominated by the philosophy of Exatas, which could be translated as "Right of the Conqueror," "Justice of the Victor," "mightocracy," or various other terms. While some have termed the Satar government a High Princedom, with one of the Seven Princes ruling over the others, it is more properly called an Exatai. The entire hierarchy of the Satar is based upon the assumption that strength justifies one's right to rule. Any man wishing to become a Prince of the Satar must defend his claim in battle from all possible challenges, which enhances the martial nature of the culture. Equally so, the Redeemer of the Satar is selected from the Seven Princes. Since each Prince is assumed to be the finest warrior in their tribe, the Redeemer is the finest warrior among the Princes, and therefore among the Satar as a whole. In this way, the Satar state is more meritocratic than a traditional monarchy.
While on occasion, like after the death of Atraxes, ritual combat between the Princes has occured to choose the Redeemer, it is also typical for the Princes to usually acclaim the strongest candidate without battle. Once a Redeemer has been chosen, he is acclaimed Redeemer for life. Though it is considered within the rights of a Prince of the Satar to challenge the Redeemer, challenging an aged or incapacitated Redeemer would be firmly against the code of honor of the Satar.
Satar culture was traditionally dominated by their steppe origins and militaristic mindset. This has been adapted to a sedentary lifestyle after their conquest of the Sesh Valley in various ways, and encountered further change after the conquest and cultural cross-pollination of and with Acca.
Typically, Satar architecture has an angular and blocklike character, with rectangular columns. The only concession to roundness is the domed roofs of many houses. Openness to air is particularly prided, at least outside of the Kothai – there the heavy mountain snowfalls tend to lead to more enclosed buildings. Elsewhere, large rooms often have open ceilings or skylights. Certain tribes, especially the greater Seven, like Star, Wheel, Spear, Sword, etc., display their symbols in various decorative forms throughout their architecture.
Both monastic and noble architecture almost universally features central and side courtyards, typically decorated with martial aspects, and in wealthier establishments with gardens and fountains. Many wealthier Satar are obsessed with decorative pools of fish, particularly in Magha, as large displays of water are considered a sign of great wealth in these fairly dry climates. Satar compounds outside the major cities are typically large and sprawling, as several generations of extended families live together, in addition to all the slaves that that particular family might own.
Since the reign of Arastephas, the Satar have traditionally worn masks of metal or lacquer at all times, from childhood until death. A man was to forge his own mask – the idea being that an individual created their own destiny rather than simply accepting what was given to them, and that the Satar forged themselves, even forged their own faces. It also provided an easy means of distinguishing between Satar and non-Satar, for all slaves in the Empire went without masks.
In the latter times of the various Exatais, Mask culture grew increasingly complicated as various metals or colors were reserved for particular classes. In detail:
Golden Mask – The Redeemer
Silver Mask – Prince
Sapphire Mask – High Oracle [equal in rank with a Prince]
Black Mask (inset diamond) – Censoratta
Gold Edged Mask – Argai [Aspect Warrior, personal guard of the Redeemer]
Silver Edged mask – Satrap [Provincial governor of a small territory]
Half Black, Half White Mask – Sephalite [Head of Monastery]
Red Mask – Tarkan [companion] [retinue of a Prince; garrison commander]
White or Black Mask (inset ruby or lesser stone) – Kaphet-ha and Avet-ha, Chief Warrior and Chief Scribe of a Monastery
Red Edged Bronze Mask – Artakasa [blooded warrior] [captain of a small group]
Bronze Mask – Satar
Iron Mask – Acca (only worn in ceremonial functions, equal in rank with a normal Satar)
Lacquered Wood Half-Mask – Freedmen Artisan (painted with various symbols to indicate trade)
Unmasked – Slaves.
Women typically did not forge their own masks; instead these were passed from mother to daughter, and inscribed with the names of the whole female family line down the generations.
In the Kothari Exatai, following the conquest of the southern regions (e.g. the Zyeshu), the people of these various smaller regions were granted the right to wear a half mask -- in effect, a veil covering the bottom half of the faces (as opposed to the vertically divided mask of the freedmen listed above).
While the Satar make use of a variety of instruments, their most iconic instrument is the latan, or wind flute. Traditionally, music is a solitary pursuit, encouraged alongside combat and other forms of training for a young Satar male. One of several rites of passage in Satar culture is for a young man to travel out underneath the stars, in the desert if possible, and compose his own song with the latan. This song is his only, carried to him by the wind. Sharing this song is generally considered taboo, as it represents one's innermost soul. Generally, one might share it with their wife, or their closest companion, but only rarely.
The Ardavani monks, particularly the Avetai, are known to produce polyphonic vocal chants with great degrees of complexity, based off of various poetic works by monastic writers, and verses of the Kaphaiavai. Generally these chants don't employ instruments, though the occasional drone or percussive accompaniment is not unheard of.
While the majority of the Satar follow Ardavan, a pseudo-henotheistic faith that most likely evolved from the early Satar oral shamanistic tradition, a minority have converted to Iralliam, specifically the Redeemers of the Kothari Exatai and most of their population.