According to myth, all Barsoomian life originated from the Tree of Life in the Valley Dor around 23 million years ago. The first creatures were the plant men or tahmad [tâ-mad], the sixteen-legged worm or silkis [sil-kis], the white ape or athurth [â-ŧür-iŧ] and man or mad [mad]. The black race claims that the first men were dark-skinned, hence their preferred name – the First Born or Ee-ay [Ē-é]. The other species of fauna and flora evolved from these four progenitors. The next races of men to develop were the white race or thermad [ŧür-mad], the yellow race or ilissmad [il-is-mad] and the green race or torismad [tōr-is-mad].
Millennia passed; civilizations rose and fell. Eventually, the white race dominated the planet and there was peace. Illness had been conquered and life spans increased to a thousand years. Great fleets sailed the five oceans cultivating trade and colonization. Barsoom was a place of rare and wondrous beauty; mountains, rivers, lakes; meadows and sun-kissed gardens. This was a half a million years ago. Appendix A details more information about ancient Barsoom.
And then it happened: the oceans began to recede and the atmosphere to thin. Rain ceased to fall. Lakes and rivers dried up. Half-dried seas surrounded by muddy plains no longer protected the cities from roving hordes of green barbarians. Many of the First Born retreated to the south polar regions, the yellow race to the north. The white race interbred with the stragglers to create the red race or aysismad [é-sis-mad] in order to survive the shrinking of the oceans and the onslaught of the green men. Major changes to man’s physical make-up were made: egg-laying replaced live birth, resulting in earlier maturity of infants.
A group of red men scientists was tasked to create the technology to produce breathable air, which resulted in the creation of the great atmosphere factory. To stave off disaster, engineers turned their attention to constructing a vast canal system to irrigate precious farmland. The red men were now the stewards of a dying planet. Some city-states aggressively embarked on conquest, others fortified their walls in a defensive posture while others withdrew from all outside contact. The inventions of the flier (900 years ago) and radium or irtay [ir-té] weaponry (500 years ago) changed the nature of warfare.
The new status quo was shattered with the arrival of John Carter. He made allies of the green men, ended the bitter rivalry between Helium and Zodanga, exposed the false religion of Issus and eventually united the major powers of Barsoom under the one banner, taking the title of Warlord or Jeddakar [Ĵed-ak-kâr]. However, his recent disappearance (and that of his wife, Dejah Thoris) has rekindled old grievances among the races and nations…
“All Barsoomians speak the same tongue from the ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages differ.” PM/11
All sentient Barsoomians share a collective unconscious; in some rare individuals, it manifests as significant psionic ability. This universal “telepathy” accounts for the simplicity of their language, which when spoken, is understood by all. While each nation’s written script for a “long sword” may differ, all Barsoomians use the same spoken word – tar [târ].
Appendix B details the etymological derivations of Barsoomian terms.
“We are ruled by custom on Barsoom.” PM/22
Barsoomians place a high value on convention, including gallantry and dignity. Handed down and repeated for ages, these customs cannot be set aside, even by jeddaks, without facing judgment by one’s peers. The following are the better known customs of Barsoom:
Literally “revenge forbidden”. A woman may not marry the man who slays her husband or intended husband, even in self-defense.
Literally “loyal sword”. To cast your sword at the feet of a fellow Barsoomian is the pledge your loyalty and trust to that person, even though it may cost you your life. If a man does this to a woman, it can be interpreted as a declaration of courtship. If the recipient is a man, he signals acceptance by reattaching the belt to the owner’s harness. A woman returns the sword, hilt first. To leave the sword where it lies is to refuse the offer. To return it point first is a rejection and insult. This means an immediate duel (if a woman, her closest male relative champions her.)
Literally “thousand bond”. The proposal of marriage among the red men, which symbolically is to last 1,000 years. A mate must be fought for and won. The wooer adds “my princess” to the end of a sentence. If the woman accepts, she responds by adding “my chieftain” to her next statement. To call a woman “my princess” without fighting or indicating that he wishes to marry her is demeaning and demonstrates that he merely thinks of her as a slave or plaything.
Literally “harness of the dead”. Putting on the leather of the dead is an idiom that is used when one set out on a suicide mission.
Literally “see new”. The traditional spoken Barsoomian greeting accompanied by raising both hands, palms backward above the head. A cry of “kaor” is equivalent to an earthly cheer (Barsoomians growl to “boo”). Friends place their right hands on each other’s shoulders. Using both arms indicates a stronger bond. Only rarely do Barsoomians embrace. Kissing is only permitted among intimates – lovers, family and lifelong friends.
Literally “equal battle”. In private combat, you may not fight a fellow warrior in with any other than the weapon you were attacked. You may choose a weapon of lower status though. To draw a pistol on an enemy facing you with a sword is unpardonable. This custom also governs the tradition that men don’t duel women and women don’t duel men. Cruel to their enemies are the men of Barsoom; but the word “enemies” is commonly interpreted to mean men only. Assassination runs riot in the great Barsoomian cities; yet to murder a woman is a crime so unthinkable that even the most hardened of the paid assassins would shrink in horror should someone suggest it.
Literally “truth forever”. On Barsoom, no man lies; if he does not wish to speak the truth, he remains silent.
Literally “virgin forbidden”. Barsoomian men do not ask personal questions of women, except for his mother and the woman he has fought for and won (dartos). Royal women of the courts of Mars are deemed sacred – even touching them without permission has dire consequences for the transgressor.
The general political organization of all Barsoom has changed little in countless ages, the unit still being the tribe, at the head of which is a chief or jed [ĵed], corresponding in modern times to our king. A prince is known as a lesser jed or padjed [pad-ĵed], while the chief of chiefs, or the head of consolidated tribes, is the emperor or jeddak [ĵed-ak], whose consort is a jeddara [ĵed-âr-â]. A queen is a jeda [ĵed-â]; a princess, a padjeda [pad-ĵed-â]. Exceptions include the First Born, who use the ancient title of dator instead of jed and the spider men or kaldane [kal-dén] that organize into swarms, with bisexual shwaltngind [šwĺ-ŋiń] as their leaders.
“The followers of a Martian noble are many, coming and going at the whim of their master, so that a new face is scarcely ever questioned, as the fact that a man has passed within the palace walls is considered proof positive that his loyalty to the jeddak is beyond question, so rigid is the examination of each who seeks service with the nobles of the court.” TMM/2
Warrior cultures dominate Barsoom. Over time the most privileged warriors formed the ruling class, which evolved into a permanent aristocratic class or the nobility. Under the nobility are the merchant class, the working class, the farming class and finally, the slaves. The nobility is organized into houses, typically with the eldest male at its head. The greater nobility or oom [üm] represents the top 10%, whereas lesser nobility or padoom [pad-üm] makes up the remainder. Overall, the nobility accounts for a full third of the population and half of its fighting forces. Merchants or par [pâr] deal in food, silk, curios, harnesses and other goods. Some are private and others represent state-controlled industries, such as mining for metals and gems. Workers or san [san] maintain buildings, provide customer service and man the factory machines. Farmers or am [am], who are either prisoners of war or unmarried men, live near the canals tilling the irrigated land. Slavery exists as an institution on Barsoom, however slaves are primarily household or body servants. Slaves or la [lâ] are sold at auction at sanctioned slave blocks in the public market.
Notwithstanding all the grim realities with which red Barsoomians have to contend, they are a happy, social people. They have their games, their dances and their songs, and the social life of a great red city is as gay and magnificent as any that may be found in the rich capitals of Earth.
Barsoom Rü [Bâr-süm Rü]
All dances are stately and beautiful, but the Dance of Barsoom is a wondrous epic of motion and harmony. It is meant to convey the grace and chastity of women and the dignity and loyalty of men.
The battle anthem of Helium; a national hymn sung by the women of Helium as their troops depart for war.
A strategy game akin to chess. It is played on a 10 × 10 grid.
An ancient game of chance popular among soldiers. Players roll tiny numbered spheres at a group of numbered holes.
“When night came I went to the quarters of a soldier whom I knew to be on guard and stole harness and I cut off my long hair and painted my face that I might look more like a man.” FMM/4
“The warriors were women dressed in the harness of men, their hair cut and their faces painted, after the fashion of the fighting men of Barsoom.” FMM/13
Red men tattoo their faces and bodies with unprocessed pimalia [pē-mâ-lē-â]. These artful illustrations are a visual reflection of their individuality – an intricate lattice-work showcasing social status, career, family lineage and ideologies. Black women (and some men) use an ebony black cream to conceal blemishes.
Apart from hair ornaments, jewelry, brightly-colored feathers, zitidar hide sandals and a scant leather harness or nar [nâr], Barsoomians do not wear clothing. Ornate harnesses encrusted with gems and insignias of precious metal are for court while plainer heavier-duty ones for fighting. The metal insignias or fo [fō] that adorn harnesses proclaim one’s political allegiance. Slaves wear the insignia of their owner; higher ranked slaves, such as majordomos wear a simple badge of office, but no personal adornments are typically allowed. Like Earthly fashion, certain harness makers are renowned for their creations. In formal settings, Barsoomians exchange ornaments when greeting strangers. Men only wear armbands on their left arm if they are honored for bravery by a jeddak.
“All Martian men are warriors, save those physically unable to bear arms.” TMM/2
The military forces of the red men are highly organized, the principal arm of the service being the navy, an enormous air force of battleships, cruisers and an infinite variety of lesser craft down to one-man scout fliers. Next in size and importance is the infantry branch of the service, while the cavalry is utilized principally in patrolling the avenues of the cities and the rural districts that border the irrigating systems. In addition to the standing army, red nations often employ the roving mercenary or panthan [pan-ŧan]; mercenary guilds do exist to guarantee better unit cohesion.
Officers are organized in the following manner:
• A field marshal or jedwar [ĵed-dwr] commands all of the armed forces or an udur [ü-dür]. Tradition dictates that no military unit may contain the number four since it represents the perfect number of divinity. Thus, there cannot be a 4th or 34th Umak.
• A general or odwar [â-dwr] commands a unit of 10,000 men or an umak [ü-mak].
• A colonel or teedwar [tē-dwr] commands a unit of 1,000 men or an udar [ü-dâr]. There are 10 udars in an umak, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th – 11th.
• A captain or dwar [dwr] commands a unit of 100 men or utan [ü-tan]. There are 10 utans in an udar, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th – 11th
• A lieutenant or padwar [pad-dwr] commands 2-3 squadrons of 10 men or utee [ü-tē]. There are 10 utees in an utan, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th – 11th.
In battle, officers are expected to lead troops, not direct them. For an officer to order a warrior where he feared to go is unthinkable. Loyalty to an officer is proportionate to the responsibility that he shows toward his men.
Naval fleets of large cities are typically 5 umaks strong, commanded by 5 odwars. Smaller cities have smaller navies, naturally. The black nations prefer sinister-looking smaller vessels with black hulls prized for their swiftness and sleek design. All black nations fly a solid black pennant to declare their allegiance.
• Raiding Fleet: Each umak is comprised of 2 battleships [darzar], 20 cruisers [tanzar], 60 destroyers [enteezar], 480 scout vessels
• Battle Fleet: Each umak is comprised of 5 battleships [darzar], 15 cruisers [tanzar], 20 destroyers [enteezar], 400 scout vessels
• Dreadnought Fleet: One umak: 1 dreadnought [makzar] and each of the remaining umaks: 5 battleships [darzar], 15 cruisers [tanzar], 25 destroyers [enteezar], 500 scout vessels.