The military province of Arhia first appeared in my short story ‘The Atarai’, part of my anthology book ‘The Stories They Told Their Children’. A part of my future novel ‘A War of Blood, Mountains and Sand’ takes place in that region and it’s also mentioned briefly in the sequel novella ‘Tiriyanin’s Riddles. So I decided to share some information about the culture, customs and traditions of this fictional nation as well as my inspirations for it.
My prime inspiration for Arhia was Sparta from ancient Greece. Like Sparta, Arhia is a military nation with its core values being: modesty, discipline and obedience. Another source of inspiration was Arabic nations such as Iran with their patriarchal society and treatment of women as inferior citizens.
Military service is obligatory for all Arhian men, but the lengths they were required to serve vary depending of the individual’s social class. For example, peasants, fishermen and anyone of a low social class were only required to serve five years. Boys from noble families have to serve ten years without any exemptions. Due to Arhia’s long history as a formally independent nation, some women are also trained in combat if their fathers decided so. This is done so that Arhian women were able to defend their homes if there is a war and their husbands are away in the front-line. Those that receive military training serve for only five years between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.
Modesty and family honor are very important in Arhian society. Similar to women in Arabic nations, Arhian women are meant to look modestly. This means that unmarried girls are required to wear plain clothing, forbidden from wearing jewelry and have their hair cropped short. Once married they are permitted to grow out their hair. Those of noble status are only permitted to leave the household grounds with a male escort, usually a male member of the family. The term “household grounds” refers to the family villa and the surrounding estate. So the girls are able to play outside and, those from very wealthy families can even go for walks in a forest nearby but they can’t go outside the villa’s gates without a male escort.
The girls are typically married off between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Though not all marriages are arranged, Arhian girls have very little say when it comes to choosing their spouse. It is up to their fathers to approve of a potential suitor. On their wedding day, the girls from noble families are given piece of jewelry as a family heirloom and a parting gift from their mothers, typically a necklace or ring with a gem with the colors of their house.
Unlike their brothers or fathers who are allowed to visit brothels or have affairs, for girls from noble families sex outside of wedlock is seen as shameful and disrespectful. It is regarded as a crime, and a violation of the family honor. The girls caught having sex outside of wedlock would often be punished brutally by their families. Punishments range from beatings to being sold to a brothel. For the brothels, these girls are prized possessions, their former high status means that they command the highest fee and only the wealthiest of men can afford to spend a night with them.
The only exception to this law was if the Ifresir (the Emperor) wanted an Arhian girl as his mistress. Emperor was above any laws, including the one stating a citizen of another province was forbidden from marrying an Arhian. Emperor Akim, the man who introduced this law, married an Arhian Princess named Aminn, the last member of the Arhian royal family. His cousin and successor Emperor Vecatian had an Arhian mistress.