The Argonians, also known as the Saxhleel or the “People of the Root” in their native language, and often called the lizard-folk, are one of the most fascinating races in the Elder Scrolls Universe. Possessing a reptilian appearance, an enigmatic alien culture, and a host of natural abilities such as resistance to disease and poison and the ability to breathe underwater, the Argonians are nothing if not unique. Similar to their fellow beast race the Khajiit, the Argonians have a substantial fan following behind them and are equally admired and reviled by the different peoples of Tamriel. The scaly folk of Black Marsh are one of the few races unrelated to Men (humans) or Mer (elves), being descended instead from the ancient, sentient trees known as the Hist.
Argonians have a strong cult following among fans of the Elder Scrolls series, with some people preferring to play as an Argonian no matter which entry they’re playing. It’s easy to see why: Black Marsh’s intelligent and mysterious reptilians are perhaps the most misunderstood race in Tamriel. They have been featured in every one of the main games thus far. Their appearance is similar to a bipedal dinosaur, they don’t drown and can explore wherever they want, and have exceptional talents with sneaking and lockpicking that make them excellent thieves, assassins, and stealth characters.
Here are 17 crazy facts about Elder Scrolls‘ Argonians, the honorable, beloved and much-maligned lizard folk of Black Marsh.
17. They Live In The Most Inhospitable Part Of Tamriel
The Argonians are reptilian natives of a swampland province known as Black Marsh by the Empire and “Argonia” by the Argonians themselves. Black Marsh is well-known as the most inhospitable province of Tamriel, filled with impenetrable swamps and teeming with poisonous plants and terrifying predators. The region’s tropical climate has defied attempts to cultivate the local plants, as well as foreign agricultural, colonial, and commercial ventures. Only the Dunmer slave trade has succeeded. Even when the mighty Tiber Septim conquered Black Marsh and annexed it to the Empire, his forces merely controlled the edges of the country, never daring to breach its interior. The Argonians themselves remained organized along tribal lines and only loosely integrated into the Empire by treaty.
While outsiders rarely go into Black Marsh, since those who are not Argonian always end up dead, Argonians thrive in these foreboding conditions, navigating the elaborate rivers underwater and camouflaging themselves to the swampy climate.
16. Immune To Disease, Poison, And Breathe Underwater
When you play as an Argonian, you receive a lot of advantageous racial traits and skills you’ll be able to cultivate through battle. You’ll have the ability to breathe underwater thanks to the gills on your neck, your blood is 50% more resistant to diseases and poison than the other races due to being raised in your swampy homeland, and once a day you’ll have the ability to invoke the power of the Hist, which lets you heal ten times faster for 60 seconds. Argonians also make proficient thieves due to their superb skills at sneaking, lockpicking, and pickpocketing, though due to their talents in guerrilla warfare they also make excellent warriors and archers.
In addition to their all-terrain versatility, Argonians are also special for their thick, scaly skin, which is perfectly suited for the climate of Black Marsh or places like Morrowind and can withstand blows better than the skin of a Nord, Imperial, or Dunmer.
15. They Worship The Hist
Instead of the Aedra and Daedra worshiped by the other races of Nirn, Argonians worship the Hist. The Hist appear to be giant spore-trees growing in the inner swamps of Black Marsh, but they are sentient beings described as “more ancient” than any other race. Argonians believe there was nothing before the Hist.
The Saxhleel believe they can feel the presence of the Hist in their mind at all times, though this grows weaker the farther they get from Black Marsh. The Argonian-Hist link starts from birth, when their eggs are placed at the foot of the Hist as they develop. There, they are given a soul from the Hist before they hatch. Upon entering the juvenile stage of life, a young Argonian will lick the sap from the Hist to stimulate the hormonal glands, determining everything from gender to their destiny. When Argonians marry, they do so under the blessing of the Hist and when they die they believe their souls return to the Hist to nurture new life.
14. They Have An Ancient History And Culture
Exactly how the Argonians came to exist is unknown, but they were already living all over Tamriel in tribal communities when the Aldmer first began exploring the continent. Ancient Argonians were displaced by the more technologically advanced First Folk and driven back to the swamps of Black Marsh. During the First Era, Argonians were considered mythical and very rarely left their homeland, being considered curiousities or terrifying savages by outsiders. According to Second Era sources, the ancient Chimer used Argonians as slaves centuries before their transformed descendants, the Dunmer (or Dark Elves), would. The Argonians’ distrust of outsiders began during this time, especially when pirates exploited Black Marsh’s inhospitable landscape to evade Imperial authorities.
Curiously, the Merethic Era is considered the time when Argonian society was at its peak; they had an advanced civilization that built the massive, ziggurat-like Xanmeer pyramids of Black Marsh. However, sometime near the First Era, the entire Xanmeer society was wiped out by unknown causes, leaving behind the pyramids as the ruins of their once-great civilization.
13. Dunmer Used Them As Slaves For Centuries
The Dunmer of Morrowind have long permitted the enslavement of Imperials, Nords, Orcs, and Khajiit, but, most importantly, Argonians. The Dunmer made a habit of raiding their southern neighbor for slaves, particularly House Telvanni and House Dres. During the Second Era, entire tribes were enslaved and dragged off in chains to be sold in Stonefalls, Vvardenfell, and the Deshaan. Argonians under the system of Dark Elf slavery were treated as property. Mistreatment of slaves was not considered a serious crime in Morrowind (only a crime against property). This caused long-standing hatred between the Argonians and Dunmer.
In the Third Era, slavery was illegal in Tamriel, but by the terms of the Armistace between the Septim Empire and Morrowind the province was able to determine its own laws, and the home of the Dunmer remained the only place where slavery was legal. This persisted for hundreds of generations until the Fourth Era, when slavery was made illegal in Morrowind. Yet, the relations of Black Marsh and Morrowind are still tainted by this sordid history.
12. Distrustful Of Outsiders, Especially Dunmer And Khajiit
The Argonians are an insular people; this is because of the nature of Black Marsh and because other races view them as little more than beasts. Their long history of being invaded has left them distrustful of strangers, though they have proven to be fanatically loyal to what friends they do have. Argonians lack any true allies in Tamriel, as most of their relations are neutral since they rarely care about the affairs of others. The only clear relations they have are negative: the Dunmer of Morrowind and the Khajiit of Elseweyr.
With the long history of being forced to work in harsh conditions on Dunmer plantations, the animosity between the Dark Elves and the Argonians is obvious. But given their status as beast folk, one might expect the Argonians and the Khajiit would be natural allies. But the Argonians loathe the cat-folk of Elseweyr, and the Khajiit equally despise the Argonians. This comes from the Khajiit belief that an Argonian shaman was responsible for creating the Knahaten Flu, which devastated the Khajiit and the infrastructure of Elseweyr.
11. Allegedly Caused A Plague
Argonians are accused of causing the Knahaten Flu in 2E 560, which started in the city of Stormhold and spread throughout Tamriel like wildfire. The theory goes that despite waging a war for freedom, the Argonians were still vastly outnumbered by their Dunmer oppressors and devised a scheme to use biological warfare to obtain their liberation, with Argonian shamans manipulating the Hist into creating the flu. Though the claim is unproven, the fact that Argonians were immune to the disease encouraged it.
The plague was one of the deadliest in history, ravaging the populace of Tamriel for 43 years, killing all affected non-Argonians and causing crisis in Elseweyr, southern Morrowind, Valenwood, and High Rock. The flu turned opinion against the Argonians, who were thought to be carriers after the pathogen killed every non-Argonian in Black Marsh (even wiping out the entire culture of the Kothringi, a race of silver-skinned tribal men native to Black Marsh), instilling humans and elves with a fear of the province for centuries and causing Cyrodiil to lose control over it.
10. Masters Of Guerrilla Warfare
Argonians are not traditionally trained in the art of warfare. For this reason, they have had to teach themselves how to fight and survive for generations against warring tribes and Dunmer slavers, becoming more brutal soldiers than most academy-trained troops. Argonians are experts in guerrilla warfare, using their greatest advantage in battle – their water-breathing – to drown their enemies by pulling them underwater and holding them there. Invading forces traveling on ships or barges into Argonia or walking along rivers have also been ambushed from the water, where Argonians lie in wait. They then attack and quickly retreat into the water and flee back to the depth of the oceans and rivers, where they can’t be followed by their warm-blooded opponents.
Although Argonians never entered into a war with the Dark Elves until the Fourth Era, the Saxhleel have expertise in guerrilla warfare, ambushes, and hit-and-run tactics that is unparalleled by the other races of Tamriel, and these have proven useful to achieve their political aims.
9. Shadowscales Are Highly Elite Killers
The Hist acknowledge the existence of Sithis as the “original creator,” and Argonians born under the sign of The Shadow are offered to the Dark Brotherhood at birth. These Argonians are known as Shadowscales, who train their entire lives as spies and assassins. The Shadowscales are a long-lasting order of Saxhleel that worship Sithis, and according to some the downfall of the ancient Argonians came when their “scales were darkened” by the Dread Father. Any Shadowscale that comes of age is accepted into the Brotherhood as a full member of the family, though they are not bound to the order and may return to Black Marsh to serve as law enforcement, enforcing “swamp law.”
Shadowscales are not allowed to kill each other; the Argonian Royal Court takes this dedication so seriously that if a Shadowscale breaks a tenet, they will hire an unaffiliated assassin to put them to death. A lone Shadowscale in Skyrim remarked that by 4E 201 their order was wiped out. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible the Shadowscales no longer exist.
8. They’re Ruled By The An-Xileel Political Faction
While Argonians are a frequently victimized race in Elder Scrolls, they, like their human and elven counterparts, are just as capable of being nationalistic and aggressive. While the real structure of Argonian society remains a mystery, it is known there are many factions; the most prominent are the An-Xileel.
The An-Xileel consist of several powerful clans, including the Scale-Song, who rallied the Argonians in the wake of the Battle of Kvatch during the Oblivion Crisis. While the An-Xileel stay neutral on outside affairs, they fiercely defend the Argonian territory, history, and culture. They are known for repelling the Daedric invasion of Black Marsh, invading the south of Morrowind, seceding from the Empire and renaming Black Marsh to Argonia, and wanting to drive all foreigners and colonialist influences from their homeland. Though it’s unclear if the An-Xileel are still in power, chances are they are still around and quite powerful. Their base of operations is the southernmost city in all of Tamriel, Lilmoth, and some believe they are plotting their next big move.
7. They Repelled The Daedric Invasion Of Black Marsh
When Oblivion Gates opened across Tamriel, it was believed that the Hist were able to prophesy the coming of the crisis and call the Argonians back to Black Marsh for its defense against the forces of Mehrunes Dagon. The Argonian resistance started at some point in 3E 433, since they were mostly left to fend for themselves when the Daedra attacked. The An-Xileel and the natives pushed back the Daedra with a ferocity unheard of anywhere else. In fact, the Argonians invaded Oblivion itself, fighting and winning against the Daedra. The Argonian counter-attack was so severe that the Dremora lieutenants closed their Gates themselves to keep from being overrun.
The An-Xileel managed to hold Black Marsh until the defeat of the Daedric forces in Imperial City. Following the Oblivion Crisis, they became the dominant power in Argonia, making it the first province to secede from the Empire. The Argonians remained a powerful force on the continent, soon invading Morrowind. By the Fourth Era, Argonia was still independent of the new Empire under Emperor Titus Mede.
6. They Invaded Morrowind
Shortly after the Red Mountain erupted and devastated Morrowind in what was known as the Red Year (4E 6), the Argonians invaded in massive numbers, seeking revenge for centuries of Dunmer enslavement of their people. The An-Xileel led the invasion of the greatly weakened Morrowind, which became known as the Accession War, and nearly destroyed the Dark Elves. The death toll for the Dunmer was in the thousands or even millions, and many Dunmer were forced to scatter across many of the other provinces of Tamriel.
The Argonians were able to seize control of a large portion of the southern half of the province, taking back territories conquered by Morrowind during the Arnesian War. They famously sacked the capital of Mournhold. Only the Great Houses under the leadership of House Redoran were able to halt the Argonian advance. Having taught the Dunmer a lesson, the An-Xileel withdrew, and seem to be biding their time in their native Argonia ever since. Argonia remains neutral in the conflict between the Empire and the Third Aldmeri Dominion.
5. They Barely Express Their Emotions
Most other races depend on telling their emotions by their facial expressions. Physical signs like these typically can’t be used to read an Argonian’s feelings. The only known sign that they’re angry is if they bare their teeth and narrow their eyes. This makes it difficult for other peoples to bond with Argonians, and probably contributes to the distaste for them in Tamriel- many find it difficult to trust a race that doesn’t express their emotions in a way that’s understandable, and this has led to the assumption that the lizard-folk don’t have emotions. Of course this isn’t true; they simply don’t express them like men and elves do.
Argonians are slow to trust and difficult to know. However, if one is able to bond with them and form a friendship, it’s not uncommon for Argonians to put their lives on the line to save their companions; this makes them an enigmatic but fiercely loyal people.
4. They Have Odd Rituals
As if Argonians didn’t already look and act so differently from the other races in Elder Scrolls, they also have customs that may seem bizarre. For starters, their decoration is primarily made out of shells, bone, feathers, snakeskin, tortoise shell, teeth, and stones like turquoise and jade, all of which are considered exotic materials by outsiders but are common in Black Marsh. Argonians who live outside of Black Marsh have been known to fill their pillows with live insects and centipedes because they enjoy the feeling of them wriggling against their scales. Argonians are also known to let birds pick food out of their teeth after a meal, and wear socks with pockets containing hot stones on their tails to keep them warm.
Argonians are masters of crafting jewelry, and their products are highly sought. Argonians have a very strict courtship ritual in which one must present another with a traditional wedding band with three flawless amethysts. The two on the outside represent the lovers themselves, and the third one represents the Hist.
3. Their Native Jel Language Is Unique
The Saxhleel have their own native language known as Jel, which is almost impossible for other races to learn. It is unique among all the other languages of Tamriel in being unrelated to ancient Ehlnofex. Jel originates with the ancient Hist. Argonians claim it is the closest speech to thought. Other races have great difficulty pronouncing it well enough to engage in a conversation, though it is known that Annaig Hoinart, a young Breton girl, was able to learn enough words of the Jel language to create a pidgin language to converse with Mere-Glim, an Argonian native to Black Marsh.
Jel is also unique in that it has no time-specific variations of verbs, such as past tense or future tense verbs. There is only the present tense in Jel, because Argonians traditionally view all of life from birth to death as part of one continuous moment, rather than as a series of moments. To the Argonians, time is an illusion created to establish a linear version of history, and considered a narrow view of reality.
2. They Believe In Reincarnation And May Be A ‘Hive Mind’
Argonians believe that their souls come from the Hist at birth, and after death their souls returns to the Hist. The souls are then determined by the Hist to be worthy or not of being bestowed another life. If worthy, the soul of the deceased Argonian will be imbued to a hatched Argonian egg, and the life cycle will begin again. This amounts to a belief in reincarnation shared by the Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh religions. The promise of a new life may account for why Argonians fight so fiercely, even at the risk of their own lives.
The Hist are said to be the host of the total history and knowledge of the entire Argonian race. Though never explicitly stated in Elder Scrolls, this would seem to imply the Argonians have a “hive mind” or universal consciousness. It’s possible that all Argonians can access a network all the thoughts and knowledge accumulated through the ages. The implications are amazing, and this may be why the Hist are so holy to the Argonians.
1. They’re Probably The Most Reviled Race
The Argonians’ appearance makes them outcasts, shunned by most other races and labeled with hateful slurs like “lizard,” “scale-skin,” “pond scum” and “scale-back.” Everywhere you go in Tamriel, Argonians are the frequently the victims of hate crimes, discrimination, and widespread prejudice. Though their fellow beast race the Khajiit also face such discrimination, Argonians are without a doubt the most hated race on the continent.
When many players of the Elder Scrolls series think of the strongest race in the game, they frequently think of the Argonians. There’s simply no denying that the Argonians are a strong people – with all the adversity that’s been thrown at them, they’ve persevered and fought on, becoming stronger than ever. They were strong enough to defeat the Daedra by themselves, they come from a land completely toxic to anyone but them, and have been through more than perhaps any other race. No matter what you think of fierce, cunning, and enduring Argonians, be sure not to underestimate them.