Ayleids in Brief
The Ayleids, or the Heartland High Elves, are a race of mer that settled in the province of Cyrodiil from the Summerset Isles sometime during the Merethic Era. Whenever they arrived, they began to become quite different from their cousins in Summerset, spreading to southern Skyrim, western Black Marsh and possibly portions of Valenwood. They began to worship Daedra as well as Aedra, built a Tower with quite different intent from any other Merethic Tower out there, and began enslaving men that they found on the continent, and subjecting them to what was probably very brutal treatment. This, along with a schism between the Aedra and Daedra-worshiping Ayleids eventually led to an uprising led by Alessia, the future Slave-Queen of Cyrodiil and founder of the first human Cyrodilic Empire. Alessia kept some of the Ayleid lords in place, but they were increasingly marginalised before scattering to the rest of Tamriel in small enclaves, most notably into Valenwood and High Rock, where various of them attempted to re-establish the Ayleids as a cultural force of some sort. This ultimately failed, and the last we hear of any Ayleid is the Battle of Glenumbra Moors in 1E 482. With their passing, they left behind quite a number of ruins and magical artefacts dotting Tamriel’s landscape.
I want to pick up on that idea of their ruins as a thing to keep in mind as we think about the Ayleids’ real-world origins. Quite a bit of what I’m going to talk about over the next few minutes is my speculation based on how they’ve developed throughout the series, but I hope it all makes sense.
The first we hear of the Ayleids in any way is the book The Wild Elves, originally part of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. In that text, they’re described like this:
In the wilds of most [sic] every province of Tamriel, descended philosophically if not directly from the original inhabitants of the land are the Ayleids, commonly called the Wild Elves. While three races of elven stock, Salache (or High), Boiche (or Wood), and Moriche (or Dark) have assimilated well to the new cultures of Tamriel, the Ayleids and their brethren have remained aloof of our civilization, preferring to practice the old ways far from the eyes of the world.
These Ayleids are a thing in the margins, semi-civilised elves who mostly run away into the bushes whenever anyone gets near them. In this way they perform roles to how the Falmer were originally described in the First Edition Pocket Guide to the Empire, creatures of folktale and myth, who can barely be confirmed to be anything. They were, according to the UESP, intended to be encountered in the wilds in The Elder Scrolls II and only hostile if you didn’t speak Elvish, but was apparently cut from the game along with the ability to speak Elvish.
The Ayleids were quietly developed between The Elder Scrolls II and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, with the in-universe novel 2920 giving us a single portrayal of an Ayleid, in similar terms to that of TES:II; a naked noble savage who helps a mother in distress and then disappears. Before the Ages of Man giving us most of the characteristics of the Ayleids, apart from their slavery of men:
During the Middle Merethic Era, Aldmeri explorers mapped the coasts of Vvardenfel, building the First Era High Elven wizard towers at Ald Redaynia, Bal Fell, Tel Aruhn, and Tel Mora in Morrowind. It was also during this period that Ayleid [Wild Elven] settlements flourished in the jungles surrounding White Gold Tower (present day Cyrodiil). Wild Elves, also known as the Heartland High Elves, preserved the Dawn Era magics and language of the Ehlnofey. Ostensibly a tribute-land to the High King of Alinor, the Heartland’s long lines of communication from the Summerset Isles’ sovereignty effectively isolated Cyrodill from the High Kings at Crystal Tower.
They were also envisioned to be a somewhat peaceful people, or at least to have arrived at some sort of accord with the Nedes of Cyrod at this point in their development. Frontier, Conquest & Accommodation notes that it is only in Skyrim that there was open hostility between men and mer, despite acknowledging a merish presence in Cyrodiil:
The Nedic peoples were a minority in a land of Elves, and had no choice but to live peacefully with the Elder Race. In High Rock, Hammerfell, Cyrodiil, and possibly Morrowind, they did just that, and the Nedic peoples flourished and expanded over the last centuries of the Merethic Era. Only in Skyrim did this accommodation break down, an event recorded in the Song of Return.
As with the previous texts, there are hints here at the Ayleids’ actual nature, and no mention of the slavery and overturning of the Ayleid hegemony by Alessia. That would come out of some substantial redevelopment in TES:IV, which has set much of the tenor of their development ever since.
With that, I think we should probably get to the Ayleids’ in-universe origins, as we currently understand them.
Within Mundus, the Ayleids emerged as a distinct people some time in the Merethic Era. There isn’t a precise timeline for their exodus, but it was potentially quite early. We have the Third Edition Pocket Guide and Phrastus of Elenhir’s Daedra Worship: The Ayleids both calling them “Aldmer”, rather than Altmer, although both those sources aren’t exactly unbiased in their assessment of the Ayleids. The Pocket Guide is at least consistent in its presentation, with its Summerset section saying that the Aldmer only became the Altmer after the various exoduses from Summerset that happened, not only the Ayleids but the Direnni, the Chimer and the Psijics.
I’d agree with this timeline, although the change from Aldmer to Ayleid becomes messy. The timelines for some of the others who turned away from Summerset, most obviously the Chimer, claim that they were Altmer by the time the Ayleids left. Possibly the best way to express it is that they stopped being Aldmer in their departing; the sundering of the mer into different cultures meant that no one group were the Aldmer any more. The Nu-Mantia Intercept puts it like this:
As they were the most powerful of lesser spirits in the ages after the Convention and eager to emulate what they saw, the Aldmer began construction of their own towers. That they built more than one shows you that they were not of one mind.
The Aldmer began to split along cultural lines, on how best to spread creation and their parts in it.
The Intercept does go a little deeper into the Ayleids, and where they became what they are there’s this passage towards the end of it:
it should be noted here that it is always foolish to think of whole races sharing like minds. “Ayleid” is as much a metaphysical designation as it is a cultural one. Just like the earliest Chimer who orphaned themselves from the Velothi Exodites, but remain Chimer today, large numbers of Ayleids showed more interest in the immediate earthly needs of agriculture rather than the magical needs of concept-farming. This distinction becomes important later, when “Ayleid” begins to designate other, and ofttimes foreign, agencies.
While the first point on cultures not being monolith is good general advice, it’s followed by the claim that Ayleids aren’t a strictly cultural definition. It’s part of a broader point that Kirkbride makes elsewhere that races and cultures are metaphysical and ideological constructs as much as they are anything else. There’s no reference anywhere else to any Chimer being metaphysically divorced from the rest of the race that became the Dunmer, so I’m not sure I really buy the idea of the Ayleids living on elsewhere into the current day, despite then carrying on to a degree in a diaspora after the dissolution of their hegemony. However, the Ayleids were quite into magical re-engineering of their culture, which we’ll get to later, and one notable example of them possibly carrying on physically as well. Maybe that’s a hint of what Kirkbride meant with these references to the Ayleid designation shifting, in the sense of others taking up what the Ayleids were doing.
Daedra Worship & Religious Pluralism
Despite this, the Ayleids were a distinct people, formed through the dispersion from Summerset. Although they didn’t entirely break relations with the homeland, if Before the Ages of Man is to be believed, they certainly began to exercise more freedom than they would have otherwise been able to had they remained in Summerset. Phrastus of Elenhir puts it this way in his book on the Ayleids:
The Aldmeri, who’d been first to begin organized worship of the Aedra, were also the first to venerate the Daedra Lords. This probably began on a small scale among the Ayleids, those Elves who left the Summerset Isles to create splinter cultures in central and southwest Tamriel—in some cases specifically to evade the strictures of Aldmeri regulation, which forbade (among many other things) the worship of Daedra.
I’m sceptical that it began entirely when the Ayleids left the Isle; we know from Veloth’s existence that Daedra worship was happening on Summerset, and it’s possible that Veloth’s followers weren’t alone in their inclinations. It’s just that the Ayleids could worship more openly when they reached Tamriel. However, Daedra worship was something that certainly seems to have evolved over time; Ayleid Survivals in Valenwood notes that Aedra worshippers involved in the Narfinsel Schism were “more conservative” than their Daedra-worshipping rivals. If that’s the case, then the Daedra worshippers were the leading edge of Ayleid society; they were certainly the ones defining it over time once they reached Tamriel.
As Ayleid society grew more Daedric, it looks like each city-state grew into a monolatristic society, venerating one Daedra while acknowledging the others as existing and possibly useful. The Withering of Delodiil puts it like this:
Now the people of Delodiil worshiped many gods, for they were devout and held all the Divines in reverence. But above all others they did venerate the Lady of Light, building for Merid-Nunda a chapel of colored rays and beams, which was for glory like a piece of Aetherius brought down to the mortal world. And the people of Delodiil were proud thereon.
But across the valley was another city, Abagarlas, which was to the darkness as Delodiil was to the light. Now Abagarlas had as many citizens as Delodiil, but few were dancers, artisans, and scholars, because most were warriors fierce and proud. These warriors were lended to other states and cities for the making of war in return for wealth. And thus did Abagarlas, in its own way, prosper.
Now the King of Abagarlas saw the chapel of lights that was the pride of Delodiil, and he said, “Is not Abagarlas as great a city as Delodiil? We shall have a great chapel of our own.” And he decreed that much of the wealth of Abagarlas be spent in the building of a shrine to his own patron Divine, who was the Lord Mola Gbal.
I’m a little hesitant to put too much faith in this account, as it accounts Daedra as Divines. We don’t know who wrote it, but it feels like they’re treating it from a mannish Cyrodilic perspective. However, we do also have a volume of the Song of Pelinal that notes that Meridia was also the patron deity of the White-Gold Tower’s city-state:
And then came the storming of White-Gold, where the Ayleids had made pact with the Aurorans of Meridia, and summoned them, and appointed the terrible and golden-hued “half-Elf” Umaril the Unfeathered as their champion.
That freedom and autonomy is something that defined Ayleid society in some ways. Yes, it’s a contradiction given their slavery of men, but their society was modelled around freedom, among the Ayleids at least. The Ayleid polity has been called an empire, but some places will say that the Ayleids formed city-states. I’ve been using that term so far, but I should note that “city-state” isn’t used in many places explicitly in in-game materials, but it seems to be an implicit assumption; there are lots of stories and records of Ayleids that are based around particular cities and settlements, and some texts like The Whithering of Delodiil detail wars between different Ayleid settlements. A more unified “empire”, with a central control point, unified army and so on, wouldn’t allow those kinds of conflict. Despite this, it’s not feudalism – the various states aren’t dependent on each other or owing oaths of fealty in a systematic manner. Various sources do describe Ayleid “clans” as holding the cities in various ways, so it’s possible that the ties are closer to familial or relational, although we have no real evidence that Ayleids are concerned with who is related to who, or that the ties between cities are based on anything other than shared religiosity.
There were also factions within the Ayleid polity, which formed blocs within the culture’s overall makeup. In addition to those inter-Daedric conflicts, there were splits between the Daedra-worshipping and Aedra-worshipping Ayleids. The most well-known of these is the Narfinsel Schism, which appears to have bubbled away for centuries. We have Ayleid Survivals in Valenwood, which says this:
Pluribel emphasizes, quite rightly in my belief, the Narfinsel Schism of the late Merethic Era, which pitted the more conservative Aedra-worshiping Ayleid clans against those decadent yet undeniably vigorous clans that had adopted Daedra-worship. This conflict reached its climax in 1E 198 at the Scouring of Wendelbek, when King Glinferen of Atatar led a combined force of Daedraphile warriors against the traditionalist Barsaebics of Ayleidoon. The Barsaebics were driven out of the Heartland into northwest Argonia, and thereafter organized opposition to Daedra-worship in Cyrodiil was effectively over.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ll carry on the initial line of thought first – that the Narfinsel Schism has gone on for centuries. Comments by Abnur Tharn in a Loremaster’s Archive corroborates the dates given by the Altmer author of Ayleid Survivals, saying that it was a half-century before Alessia’s rebellion. That means that, for the bulk of their history, Ayleids were not a monolithic Daedra-worshipping society. Indeed, that the Barsaebics are noted as being “of Ayleidoon”, so they were still the core of Ayleid society until the schism.
Also, this means that, for all the Ayleids are painted as monolithic Daedra worshippers, actual organised Daedra worship as a fully dominant cultural force was relatively young at the time of Alessia’s rebellion. That may mean that the characterisation that I castigated earlier of the Aeylids worshipping “Divines” may be closer to the truth than I gave it credit for.
I think the Aedric core of the Ayleids is possibly most evident in their magic, which Before the Ages of Man states is a preservation of Dawn Era magics. There aren’t many other sources that make that claim, but they certainly have magic that is a much older tradition than much of what’s practiced on Tamriel in the times of the games.
Many sources trace this back to the role the stars play in their culture, and the light of the stars in particular. Irlav Jarol puts it like this in Magic from the Sky:
The ancient Ayleids believed that Nirn was composed of four basic elements — earth, water, air, and light — and of these four elements, they believed the most sublime form of light was star light. The stars are our links to the plane of Aetherius, the source of all magical power, and therefore, light from the stars is the most potent and exalted of all magical powers.
Although Jarol doesn’t do much to back this assertion up, it’s supported by Lady Cinnabar in Aetherial Fragments, and I think it’s a reasonable one given the Ayleid veneration of Meridia. There are certainly lots of Ayleid magical items linked to the stars and the sky – Jarol charts three in their work, and others like the Star Teeth exist. Most of these are used as reservoirs of magic, and in some cases have automated spells cast into them, mostly for traps and defensive purposes as we observe them in the games, but I imagine they would also be useful for ways to focus magic beyond what simple spells and casters are capable of.
It’s not really clear why the Ayleids utilised the stars and not the sun as much, given that the common wisdom is that the sun, as the biggest rent in the sky, is the biggest source of magic. Phrastus has this to say in the Exegesis of the Merid-Nunda:
For the Ayleids, of course, Light was one of the four elements of creation, and this passage seems to confirm that Meridia was the personification of Light to the Wild Elves. Though I am certain of this passage’s translation, I confess the meaning of the final phrases eludes me.
It seems from this that the idea of starlight as the purest form of light stems from the veneration of Meridia, and may be ultimately theological in nature. The same text notes that they do recognise that Magnus is the source of light and magic, and that in her escape to Oblivion Meridia merely bends Magnus’ light.
Unless it’s to underscore a theme of manipulation in the Ayleids’ magic, which I think is there as well. The light of Magnus is manipulated by Meridia, and in turn is manipulated by the Ayleids.
Manipulation is also present in the other big element of Ayleid magic – the Towers. Although they’re only responsible for one of the Towers, the Ayleids had an understanding of them and a focus on them that no other cultures in Tamriel have. I’ve covered the Towers in detail previously, but we’re going to talk about White-Gold and some failed Ayleid Towers and what they meant for the Ayleids and their understanding of the cosmos.
The final letter of the Nu-Mantia Intercept describes the purpose of the Ayleids’ White-Gold Tower like this:
Every dawnmaker Tower takes a myth-form. Red Tower is a volcano and its surrounds. Snow Throat a mountain whose apex is only half here. Walk-Brass is appropriately ambulatory, and (most of the time) anthropomorphic. The Aldmeri polydoxes were cosminachs, and the White-Gold project was and is no different.
Though the Ayleids gave theirs a central Spire as the imago of Ada-mantia, the whole of the polydox resembled the Wheel, with eight lesser towers forming a ring around their primus. To dismiss this mythitecture as being a mockery of the Aurbis is to ignore an important point: this same “jest” gave White-Gold Tower a power over creatia unalike any on this plane(t). It was a triumph of sympathetic megafetish, and the Start of the [Threat! To! Empire!] that brings me to this Council.
If the Ayleids made their own Wheel within the Wheel, were-web aad semblio, what would happen if they plucked its strings?
Going by this text, the purpose of the White-Gold Tower is to be able to adjust the Aurbis by “tuning” the White-Gold Tower. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. The “sympathetic megafetish” part is the part where something is done to something intended to represent a thing (like stabbing a voodoo doll), and the effect translates to the thing it represents. So the theory goes, if the Ayleids adjusted something in the White-Gold Tower’s wheel, then it would do something to the wheel of the Aurbis. This gave the Ayleids control over the entire cosmos in a way few (if any) other Tamrielic cultures have had. It’s just that that control didn’t give them much political power; as Talos found out when wielding the Numidium, having metaphysical super-weapons doesn’t entirely give you the power to control political reality. Or perhaps they didn’t care about that, as we’ll see in a moment.
The Ayleids also seemed to understand what the Towers in general meant for both a culture and for Tamriel’s history. We have records of Anumaril, an Ayleid who seemed to have particular knowledge of the Towers, which bordered on the prescient. Aurbic Enigma 4: The Elden Tree says this:
As foretold by the moth-eyed, Ayleid hubris was to bear bitter fruit. With their vision on high to behold the overworlds, they failed to note the seething Nedelings at their feet, until the thralls rose up and took their Tower away from them. Chim-el-Adabal they took as well, but not before the arch-mage Anumaril fangled an eightfold Staff of Towers, each segment a semblance of a tower in its Dance.
This is curious, because although there are eight confirmed Towers as we currently understand it, there weren’t eight active at the point that Anumaril would have made the staff, because Walk-Brass, the Numidum, wasn’t activated until 1E 700, while Aurbic Enigma places the creation of the Staff of Towers before the fall of the Ayleids in 1E 242. So either Anumaril knew something about the Towers and their creation that we can’t fathom, or Beredalmo the Signifier is ascribing an incorrect provenance to the Staff. I think the latter is unlikely given that we have independent corroboration from other sources on the nature and materials of the Staff of Towers. So Anumaril, and maybe the Ayleids at large, had a less time-dependent understanding of the Towers than we do.
The Ayleids also were seemingly desperate to be attached to a Tower in some way. Part of the wider point of Aurbic Enigma is that Anumaril and his Ayleids were looking to create another Tower, and thereby rebirth their civilisation. The book puts it like this:
Now return we must to the eighth segment—or rather Segment One, for Anumaril had fangled it in similitude to Tower One, which itself reflected Tower Zero. When the Ayleids fled the Heartlands they went to all eight corners of the compass, and this was a chosen thing, though many corners spelled doom. But more Ayleids fled to Valenwood than to all other directions combined, and this, too, was chosen. Among these clans went Anumaril wearing Segment One as a femur—for how but by walking can a spoke advance its hub?
Green-Sap’s Elves welcomed the Ayleids so long as the Heartlanders agreed not to dissonate the greensong. All agreed to this save Anumaril, who coughed into his hand unnoticed. He asked the Great Camoran to show him Green-Sap, and was brought to one that by happenstance stood then in Elden Root. Once within the great graht he passed through a Door Equivocal and found his desire, the Perchance Acorn. It was one of many, but for Anumaril one was enough.
Next the fanglement: Anumaril brought forth Segment One among the roots and showed it to the golden nut, and this told an ending, so that the stone became a Definite Acorn. That Elden Tree would not walk again, but Anumaril yet had further intentions for it. Using his dentition as tonal instruments, he dismantled his bones and built of them a Mundus-machine that mirrored Nirn and its planets. And when he had used all his substance in fangling this orrery, he placed the segment-sceptre within, hiding it between the Moons.
Then he waited—but what he waited for did not eventuate, and perchance he’s waiting yet. For Anumaril had hoped to convert Green-Sap into White-Gold, and thereby make the Heartlanders’ realm anew. However, Anumaril did not know, and was not able to know, why his plan went awry. You see, Ayleid magic is about Will, and Shall, and Must—but under Green-Sap, all is Perchance.
This is basically saying that Anumaril used a fragment of the White-Gold Tower to try to turn Green-Sap into another version of White-Gold, hence the talk about mirroring the planets and so on, as White-Gold was mirroring the structure of the Aurbis. The text seems to link the notion of the Tower and the existence of the Ayleid civilisation itself.
That feels like a common belief among Ayleid mystics, because there are hints that the Doomcrag at Erokii in High Rock was an attempt at something similar, from the loading screen, in which Phrastus of Elenhir says:
“Morachellis speculated that the Ayleids who built the great spire above Erokii were attempting to create a metaphysical structure that would be a focus of Aurbic power, much as the Adamantine Tower is said to be.”
As the quote from Aurbic Enigma 4 notes that Anumaril “dismantled his bones” in trying to change Green-Sap, I think it unlikely that he traveled to High Rock to make another attempt. That means that someone else had enough know-how about Tower construction to make an attempt at building another one. I think it’s therefore quite likely that the Ayleids were much more invested in the creation of Towers than other cultures, and that they had the knowledge and capability to attempt it multiple times suggests that Towers and their construction and manipulation was a core part of how several Ayleids understood the world.
Slavery of Men
The final part of Ayleid society as such was their relationship to the men in the territories they ruled. They enslaved the Nedes of Cyrodiil, and even in parts of Hegathe, that is Hammerfell, if Nedes of the Deathlands is to be believed.
It seems that wherever they went, they enslaved the men they came across, and sent them to serve in Cyrod. We have this text from The Adabal-a, which I more or less trust in this, which says the following:
Perrif’s original tribe is unknown, but she grew up in Sard, anon Sardarvar Leed, where the Ayleids herded in men from across all the Niben: kothri, nede, al-gemha, men-of-‘kreath (though these were later known to be imported from the North), keptu, men-of-ge (who were eventually destroyed when the Flower King Nilichi made great sacrifice to an insect god named [lost]), al-hared, men-of-ket, others; but this was Cyrod, the heart of the imperatum saliache, where men knew no freedom, even to keep family, or choice of name except in secret, and so to their alien masters all of these designations were irrelevant.
Men were given over to the lifting of stones, and the draining of the fields, and the upkeep of temple and road; or to become art-tortures for strange pleasures, as in the wailing wheels of Vindasel and the gut-gardens of Sercen; and flesh-sculpture, which was everywhere among the slaves of the Ayleids in those days; or, worse, the realms of the Fire King Hadhuul, where the begetting of drugs drawn from the admixture of daedrons into living hosts let one inhale new visions of torment, and children were set aflame for nighttime tiger sport.
There’s a lot here, so just to finish off the previous point, the text says they were brought from a variety of places, including places that would be part of Skyrim in the Third Era. This also gives a variety of the tasks the slaves were assigned to, from agriculture to construction to the most infamous of being flesh-sculptures for the Ayelids, and the production of drugs in their living hosts. I’m not sure I totally believe that, but this is one of the oldest sources on the Ayleids, so it’s not the fog of history making this hyperbole, if it is indeed hyperbole.
The lack of freedom is also instructive; the men were not allowed names or families, which suggests they were essentially kept in work gangs for all things, as they were only really relevant to the Ayleids for work. I have no idea if that’s true it just makes sense to me.
We have no real indication as to why the Ayleids enslaved men, but it could be as simple as “they could”. Contrary to the Direnni of High Rock which we talked about a whilte back, there clearly wasn’t any near power parity between the elves and men. The quote from The Adabal-a shows that the men of Cyrod and its near neighbours were fractured, and therefore easy pickings for the Ayleids to enslave. Subtropical Cyrodiil: A Speculation calls the Ayleids “ease-loving”, but that may simply be a characterisation by Lady Cinnabar of them as lazy because the Ayleids themselves are easy picking in retrospect because they’re no longer around and vilified by most cultures that came into contact with them.
The Barsaebic Ayleids
There was also a subculture of Ayleids in Black Marsh, that were driven out of Cyrodiil by the Daedra worshippers. We’ve already noted that the Barsaebics were the more traditional Ayleids, and they were the losing party in the Narfinsel Schism, but I thought that was worth restating here for completeness. While they were there, they founded Gideon and Stormhold, and raided local Argonians tribes. Keystones of Loriasel says this:
Keystones are found in many of the Barsaebic Ayleid ruins, but only in ruins that touch lands where our ancestors lived. Tales abound of Ayleids gathering power from their captives through torment and fear. They describe a process in which Magicka is infused into stones: artifacts that were Ayleid in nature, but not Ayleid in origin.
I theorize these keystones hold Argonian Magicka tied to our history and essential for our protection. Nowhere else in Tamriel have any keystones been found; they are connected with Argonian history and indeed, our future.
This indicates that the Barsaebic Ayleids were actively defending against the Ayleids, using quite active magical defences. The text also suggests that these defence mechanisms were tied to the xanmeers, which also gives dates for when Argonians were building and actively using xanmeers. Which isn’t directly relevant to the Ayleids, but it is interesting.
The Narfinsel Schism also took place about 50 years or so before Alessia’s rebellion, so although the Barsaebic Ayleids didn’t participate in the rebellion, Abnur Tharn’s comments in The Slave Rebellion Loremaster’s Archive
As [the Narfinsel Schism] took place only a half-century before Alessia’s Slave Revolt, the humiliation of exile still stung for the Barsaebics; when King Glinferen of Atatar sent an envoy to Gideon call for aid against the rebellious Nedes, the Barsaebic king (I’m afraid his name is lost to history) sent him back with a blunt refusal. Why didn’t Alessia, who had other Ayleids among her allies, call on the Barsaebics to join her? We don’t know that she didn’t—all we know is that such an alliance never took place.
Decline & Fall of the Ayleid Empire (by Gibbon-son?)*
*Unfortunately, Marukh and the Imga had nothing to do with it
Although the Barsaebics didn’t join in Alessia’s 242 rebellion, she did have other Ayleids on her side, which is part of why the rebellion only took a year, quite apart from the involvement of Pelinal and Morihaus. The Last King of the Ayleids puts it like this:
Alessia appears to have taken advantage of a period of civil war to launch her uprising. Imperial historians have traditionally attributed her victory to intervention from Skyrim, but it appears that she had at least as much help from rebel Ayleid lords during the siege of White Gold Tower.
Phrastus of Elinhir’s book on the Ayleids notes that the presence of rebel Ayleid lords is why there were merish gods in the Eight Divines pantheon, although there is evidence, most notably Shezarr and the Divines, that the Nedes themselves took up worship of merish gods. That can be questioned itself, as Shezarr and the Divines makes several other claims that aren’t really backed up by other sources; the reality is probably somewhere between the two.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the role of Alessia’s covenant in all this – for all that Daedric influence was recent for the Ayleids, it was a concrete advantage of the Ayleids in any conflict, and it was only once the ability to summon Daedra was suppressed that the rebellion succeeded. That force can potentially explain why the Daedra-worshipping Ayleids exerted such a dominant role so quickly, and why the organised Ayleid polity collapsed so rapidly after Alessia’s covenant was made.
Prejudice & Diaspora
Any attempt at actual synthesis didn’t last, however, and the last Ayleid lordship was dissolved by the emerging Alessian Order in 1E 361, in an expression of increased anti-merish sentiment. Last King of the Ayleids notes that this happened fairly bloodlessly, but this was only because the social pressures were so great that there was no need for organised forced resettlement. I think this is possibly too rosy – I imagine there was a good deal of anti-Ayleid violence, as there has been against despised populations in this world, but that it was more ad hoc mob violence rather than organised pogroms and ethnic cleansing.
As we’ve already mentioned, the Ayleids went to other provinces, but only Valenwood and High Rock in any real numbers. In particular, the presence of the Ayleids in Valenwood was important enough to commission the book Ayleid Survivals in Valenwood to explore whether an emphasis on the shared bloodlines between Bosmer and Ayleid would be of use in cementing the Aldmeri Dominion together.
This book notes that the Ayleids faded away less than two thousand years after their arrival, which is quite a time to have a presence in a place. There are likely to be families in Valenwood that have more than a little Ayleid blood in them, and it’s possible that they had a stronger influence on Valenwood culture than their failed Tower-tinkering would suggest. I first want to get into a possible conspiracy theory, and then get into some shared cultural narratives.
The conspiracy theory involves Mankar Camoran. He looks like an Altmer when you meet him in Elder Scrolls IV, but he’s a Camoran, a name most typically associated with the royal dynasty of Valenwood. The Camoran Usurper was potentially his father, if you believe The Refugees. That text also notes his mother is a Bosmer, which is either another example of the principles outlined in Notes on Racial Phylogeny being thrown into doubt (always possible), or the idea of a “Bosmer” is somewhat broader than the appearance of the in-game race. While the Camoran dynasty themselves appear Bosmer in what iterations we have, it would be very in-character for the Ayleids to insinuate themselves into the royal bloodlines, which could result in someone with an Altmeri appearance, like Mankar. His being one of the last Ayleids would certainly fit the warnings given in the Nu-Mantia Intercept, but the genealogical evidence we have for it is spotty at best. I still rather like it as an idea, though.
The best example of cultural cross-polination is The Anuad. This was released prior to The Elder Scrolls: III’s release under the title “Ayleid (Bosmeri) Creation Myth”, which implies a degree of cultural exchange between the two. However, I’d be inclined to lean on it having Ayleid “elements” than being wholly Ayleid; the Anuad seems an attempt to fuse several creation narratives together, and it’s likely there were some Ayleid portions in those narratives, rather than the whole thing being a well-preserved single Ayleid story.
We have less evidence for an Ayleid presence in High Rock than we do in Valenwood, but what we do have is intriguing. We’ve already been over the Doomcrag, but we also have some notes that they joined with the Direnni in High Rock, which the book The Last King of the Ayleids suggests that the rise of the Dirennis in High Rock itself may have something to do with the Ayleid exiles they received. I’m not entirely sure I believe that, as the Dirennis were already fairly prominent in the region by that point, but I’m sure they would have made the most of any Ayleid input they got.
The most notable Ayleid point in High Rock is that the “Last King of the Ayleids” making an appearance during the fall of the Alessian Order, at the Battle of Glenumbra Moors in 1E 482. There’s certainly something poetic about the Ayleids making a jab to take the Order down, as the Order was responsible for the Ayleids’ expulsion from Cyrodiil.
How Bad Were They, Then?
The Alessians may have a fair amount to answer for in general for the perception of the Ayleids – they are repeatedly considered by much of Tamriel as one of the worst cultures ever to have graced Tamriel with their presence, but these accounts are all written from the perspective of their enemies, who had many reasons to demonise them. You’ll notice I’ve been saying a lot of “if you go along with X account” in this episode, a little more than usual, I think.
While the fact that the Ayleids engaged in slavery is undoubted, but I find it difficult to credit much else. Eliminating names because they didn’t care about them feels a bit like hyperbole, particularly if Alessia had enough freedom of movement to go around raising fellow slaves in rebellion. They consorted with Daedra – but are they bad because they engaged in Daedra worship, or is Daedra worship bad because the Ayleids engaged in it? I think Alessia again can give something of an answer here; it’s clear that the supposed overthrower of the Ayleids was not engaging in a genocide, because several Aedra-worshipping Ayleids were allowed to maintain their titles under her rule. The more explicit prejudice against the Ayleids came later, with a raft of more general anti-merish sentiment accompanying it.
I think it’s difficult to get to the heart of what the Ayleids were because we’re relying so much on their enemies for accounts of them. From what consistent patterns we can see they were very much a magically-inclined race, that were willing to push the limits of magic, the cosmos and ethical behaviour in order to achieve their goals. The Ayleids were, in my view, a culture for whom the ends always justify the means, no matter how barbaric.