Seanchan is the name of both the great western continent, the largest continent in the world, and also the massive empire that controls almost all of its territory. Seanchan is separated from the more familiar kingdoms of the Westlands by the Aryth Ocean, a body of water so vast that it has swallowed entire fleets of exploration vessels whole, reducing contact between the two main continents to only fleeting and rumoured exchanges.
Seanchan is a single continent divided into two distinct landmasses or subcontinents, divided by a large channel. The southern landmass is, by far, the larger and more populous of the two.
Like the Westlands, the Seanchan continent was formed out of the Breaking of the World, when the previous landscape of the world was devastated through three centuries of near-continuous channelling by male wielders of the One Power, all of whom had been driven insane by the Dark One’s taint on saidin, the male half of the True Source.
As in more familiar lands, those Aes Sedai – now all female – who survived the initial chaos of the Breaking in Seanchan made it their mission to hunt down and destroy male channelers, killing or gentling them on the spot. After centuries of concerted efforts, they succeeded and the Breaking came to an end.
The people of Seanchan found themselves scattered across an enormous continent which almost girdled the planet from icecap to icecap. The sheer size of the continent defeated every attempt to bring the Aes Sedai together into a single organisation. Instead, female channellers began to amass power and armies, carving nations out of the fractious land.
The threat of the Shadow helped keep at least some of the northern kingdoms in a state of vigilance, as the Mountains of Dhoom and the Blight could be found at the northern end of the continent as in the Westlands. Scholars believe that the Mountains of Dhoom might circle the entire northern polar region of the planet, continuing even under the waves. The Blight in Seanchan was far smaller and far less virulent than in the Westlands (hence its description as “the Lesser Blight”), but was still a dangerous, lethal landscape.
A breakthrough took place when Aes Sedai, experimenting with Portal Stones from the First Age (which can be found in Seanchan as well as in more familiar lands), found their way to a mirror world where strange, exotic creatures could be found. These creatures were brought back to Seanchan and tamed, becoming beasts of burden and battle. Foremost in usefulness were the raken, fast-moving, winged creatures capable of carrying a rider or two across vast distances at speed, and the to’raken, much larger creatures that could drop entire squads of troops into battle. Other notable creatures were the corlm (fast-moving trackers), lopar (large and ferocious beats), grolm (three-eyed creatures, formidable in size and speed) and torm (three-eyed creatures which can be used as ferocious mounts). Employing these creatures with skill, the northern kingdoms of Seanchan mounted a series of raids and assaults into the Lesser Blight. These attacks were so successful that apparently every Trolloc and Myrddraal in the Lesser Blight was killed and almost every Draghkar and Darkhound.
It should be noted that animals such as s’redit are not counted among the Seanchan exotic animals, as they are native to the Seanchan home continent (and possibly parts of Shara) and were not brought to the world via Portal Stone.
The success of these pogroms against Shadowspawn meant that, for the people of Seanchan, the threat of the Shadow receded until it became superstition and fable. The nations of Seanchan fell to bickering and infighting. Shared cultural elements nevertheless spread between the different kingdoms, including the practice of slavery (complete with a complex hierarchy of slaves, freemen and nobility).
Approximately 2,340 years after the end of the Breaking, however, the life of the people of Seanchan was abruptly transformed. A vast fleet of ships, numbering some 2,000 vessels bearing over 300,000 soldiers and settlers, appeared out of the far north-east of the Aryth Ocean, making landfall on the eastern coast of the northern landmass, near the city of Imfaral. The fleet had set sail from the Hawkwing Empire, which dominated the subcontinent of the Westlands, in search of new lands to conquer. The High King himself, Artur Hawkwing, was too elderly to lead the attack, so he sent his son, Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, to lead the invasion.
The reasons why Hawkwing would have sent such a huge fleet, years in the planning, into the unknown have baffled historians for a thousand years. It appears possible, if not likely, that a scouting expedition discovered the location of Seanchan and reported back to the Hawkwing a decade or more before the invasion. However, no records have been found to confirm this. Others speak of Hawkwing’s advisor, Jalwin Moerad, who reportedly possessed knowledge beyond that of other men and may have (somehow) gained intelligence about Seanchan’s location.
Luthair’s initial landing and military advance was swift and determined, catching the local kingdoms completely off-guard. The city of Imfaral fell early in the invasion and its fortress-prison complex, known as the Towers of Midnight, became his primary headquarters for the initial staging of the war. However, Luthair was also out of his depth. His forces were badly outnumbered and the enemy were led by women who could channel the One Power. With his father prosecuting a siege of Tar Valon, Luthair had no Aes Sedai with his army to match their use of the Power. In addition, the native Seanchan employed ferocious beasts in battle. These were initially mistaken for Shadowspawn, leading Luthair to dub them the “Armies of the Night.” It is likely that Luthair’s army would have been destroyed, except that Seanchan’s chaotic fractiousness, ever-changing borders and centuries-old feuds prevented the rest of the continent from joining forces against him. Luthair was also fortunate in that his landing had taken place on the less-populous northern landmass, where peninsulas, mountains and rivers afforded him many defensive options, and also in that the Seanchan kingdoms had never become major seafaring powers.
Still, Luthair would have likely been defeated by attrition had not a powerful weapon fallen into his hands. A woman named Deain delivered to him a device she called an a’dam. Consisting of a linked bracelet and collar, the a’dam allowed non-channellers to take control of channellers and force them to do their bidding. It is unclear what Deain sought from this deal, but she presumably did not get it: having shown Luthair the secret of manufacturing more a’dam, she was promptly leashed with her own device and imprisoned in the Towers of Midnight. She became the first damane, or “Leashed One.” Sul’dam (“Leash-Holders”) were found among Luthair’s army who could use the a’dam and, through them, the damane.
With enslaved channellers at his command, Luthair’s armies resumed their offensive. As they seized more territory and gained more victories, they were joined by local kingdoms who saw which way the wind was blowing. Other kingdoms resisted, and were crushed and defeated. Luthair attempted to keep open communications with his homeland by sending ships back across the Aryth Ocean to the port of Falme, where a community known as the Watchers Over the Waves had been established to receive messages. However, the War of Conquest, as it became known, soon grew all-encompassing. Ships were no longer sent over the Aryth and no others returned. At some point, Luthair had amassed enough power to be named Emperor of Seanchan; upon his death, the Deathwatch Guard were formed, swearing to protect his son.
The initial conquest of Seanchan lasted some three centuries, by the end of which time the entire continent was – at least loosely – under the control of the Empire. However, rebellions and occasional civil wars continued to break out sporadically all through the centuries that followed. The remote Kaensada Hills were only fully conquered seven centuries after Luthair’s time, and a massive rebellion on the island of Marendalar (which killed 30,000 people and saw another 1.5 million enslaved) has taken place within living memory.
Today the Seanchan Empire is ruled by the Empress Radhanan, whose name is not spoken. She has ordered the assembly of the Corenne, the Return, a fleet and army to be sent back east across the Aryth Ocean to reclaim the lands of their forefather, Luthair. Ahead of them will go the Hailene, the Forerunners, an expeditionary force which will determine the state of affairs in the Westlands.
Seanchan is the largest continent in the world, stretching almost from the northern polar region deep into the southern oceans, a distance of approximately 8,000 miles from the Lesser Blight to the southern islands of Salaking and Maram Kashor. It is over 5,000 miles across at its widest in the south. The Westlands could fit inside its borders at least three times over, with a lot of room to spare.
The Lesser Blight and Mountains of Dhoom
When Luthair’s armies invaded Seanchan, they recognised the northern mountains of the continent as being identical to the craggy, foreboding peaks in the Westlands and so dubbed them the “Mountains of Dhoom.” Cartographers realised these mountains existed at exactly the same latitude as the Mountains of Dhoom in the Westlands, and theorised that the mountains continue beneath the waves, forming an unbroken (if partially invisible) chain completely encircling the Blight and the northern polar region. The Blight also presumably continues under the water in the same fashion.
The Lesser Blight – as the part of that region in northern Seanchan is known – is the most hostile part of the Seanchan continent and contains many of the same features as in the Great Blight to the north of the Westlands. The air is close and unpleasant and the wildlife is corrupt and aggressive. The major difference is the prevalence of Shadowspawn: Trollocs and Myrddraal simply do not exist here, having been completely wiped out by the so-called Aes Sedai of Seanchan during and after the Breaking of the World using the Seanchan exotic creatures (brought into this world via Portal Stone). Draghkar and Darkhounds may continue to exist in isolated, solitary groups, and creatures such as Worms may still exist, but otherwise the Shadowspawn are not a major threat to the Seanchan Empire. It is assumed some fortresses and watch towers keep watch on the Blightborder (as in our land), but the threat from the north is relatively non-existent in Seanchan.
Northern Seanchan looks small on maps, but it is still a formidable landmass in its own right. The subcontinent stretches for approximately 2,000 miles from east to west and around 4,000 miles along its longest axis, from the Mountains of Dhoom to the city of Qirat at the tip of the longest peninsula (just south of the equator).
The subcontinent is highly mountainous, consisting as it does of two huge peninsulas (one sub-divided into two smaller ones) rearing from the sea with islands surrounding it to the north-east (probably an extension of the Mountains of Dhoom) and the west. The Aldael Mountains are located somewhere in the north of this landmass.
The capital city of North Seanchan is Imfaral, located on the east coast on the central divided channel. Although only the sixth-largest city in the Empire and outsized by both Asinbayar and Qirat in the north, Imfaral holds a special place in Seanchan history. Luthair’s armies came ashore near Imfaral and the city was seized early in the campaign, serving as his primary redoubt and headquarters until Seandar was captured much later in the war (and it is unclear if this was during Luthair’s lifetime). The Towers of Midnight may have been Luthair’s original stronghold, a fortress consisting of thirteen heavily fortified towers. The Towers later served as a prison complex – it was where Deain, the creator of the a’dam, was imprisoned – and continued to serve as a fortress during the War of Conquest.
Since the initial Conquest, the Towers have fallen into disuse and are now preserved. According to legend, the Imperial family will one day return to the Towers of Midnight and “right that which is wrong.”
The other major cities of the north are Asinbayar, Qirat and Sohima.
Seandar is the Imperial Capital, the seat of the Empress and the location of the Court of the Nine Moons. From the Crystal Throne, the Empress rules over an empire spanning thousands of miles and many tens of millions of subjects and slaves. Seandar is the largest city on the Seanchan continent and almost certainly the largest city in the world, a vast metropolis located at the junction of two rivers and in the foothills of an immense mountain range, with good roads linking it to nearby ports on both the Aryth Ocean and the inner dividing channel.
Seandar is an ancient city, founded after the Breaking presumably by one of the surviving Aes Sedai. Although located on the larger and more populous southern landmass, the city is still fairly northerly in latitude (located at just south of the same latitude as the island of Tremalking) and remote from the other major cities of the south, with the mountains and rivers forming an impressive defensive bulwark. These favourable conditions may be what allowed Seandar to grow to significant size and – apparently – give its name to the entire continent even during the period of fractious infighting between the Aes Sedai kingdoms.
During the War of Conquest, the city was seized during the initial invasion of Southern Seanchan and became the main base of operations on the southern landmass. Later during the war, it was named the Imperial Capital.
As well as the Court of the Nine Moons, the city is the home of the Deathwatch Guard, the command structure of the Ever-Victorious Army and also the location of the Tower of Ravens, where Seanchan’s secret police, the Seekers for Truth, are trained.
The southern landmass of the Seanchan continent is colossal, almost 8,000 miles long along its longest axis and more than 5,000 miles wide at its widest. The northern part of the landmass consists of a massive peninsula (itself almost 5,000 miles long and over 800 miles wide for most of its length) extending up from the equator towards the Lesser Blight. It is here that the city of Seandar is located.
The majority of the continent and its people are located south of the equator. This is the location of massive mountain ranges longer than the Spine of the World, such as the Ijaz Mountains (home of the kaf bean), and immense inland seas, along with rivers that dwarf the Erinin in length. The Sa’las Plains, Kaensada Hills the hostile wilderness of the Sen T’jore can be found here. Off the coasts of the continent can be found three large islands: Salaking in the south-west, Maram Kashor in the south-east (home of the towering lumma trees) and the enormous island of Marendalar in the north-east.
After Seandar, the great cities of the south are (in descending order of size and population) Kirendad, Noren M’Shar, Tzura (or T’zura), Anangore, Shon Kifar and Rampore. Other named cities include Abunai, Alqam, Ancarid, Barsabba, Merinloe (on the east coast of Southern Seanchan), Pujili and Serengada Dai.
Southern Seanchan is a near-endless land of constantly surprising geography and a varied and diverse set of cultures and peoples, with their own customs, traditions and beliefs. The one thing that unifies them is their loyalty to the Crystal Throne and the Seanchan Empire.
Notes & Speculation
The map of Seanchan and the location of the major cities are provided in The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. The location of Merinloe can be inferred from The Fires of Heaven (in the southern hemisphere on the eastern coast of Seanchan). The speculative map otherwise has fairly arbitrary placements for most locations.
The location of the islands can also be discerned from the text: Maram Kashor is identified as the large south-eastern island in The Gathering Storm (as Tylee Khirgan’s homeland); Salaking is likely the island in the south-west, as Semirhage identifies it as one of the two extreme border points of the Empire (along with the Aldael Mountains, presumably in the far north-east) and it shares the -king island descriptor in the Old Tongue with Tremalking and Cindaking. That leaves Marendalar as the huge island in the north-east, which also makes sense given that the rebellion that was enormous in scope with millions of people enslaved and killed.
The Seanchan Empire is almost certainly the most populous nation in the world. The armies committed to the Corenne number over 300,000 military forces and settlers, suggesting that at least 30 million people live in the empire (according to the very rough rule-of-thumb that a pre-industrial society can field at best 1% of its population as a military force). Yet the Corenne makes up only a small part of the total Seanchan military potential, meaning that the population of Seanchan is likely many times that, enough so that the 1.5 million people made da’covale during the Marendalar Rebellion was easily swallowed by the economy of the Empire. On that basis the population of the Empire is almost certainly over 100 million people, possibly over 200 million (given the population of the Westlands may approach 100 million from very rough studies of army sizes, the later figure may be more accurate; for comparison’s sake, the population of China reached 200 million in the 18th Century).
According to Robert Jordan’s notes, Seanchan is 16,000 miles long from north to south. This isn’t actually physically possible, as the map shows Seanchan extending from the northern polar icecap to near the southern but not actually past them, so it cannot exceed the world’s diameter of 12,000 miles. Careful study of the map suggests that it’s more like 8,000 miles in length north to south (which also matches the combined north-south length of North and South America, which may have been an inspiration for Seanchan’s size and location). The notes also state that South Seanchan is 6,000 miles wide, but this is not the case on John Ford’s map (which makes it about 5,000 miles). It’s possible the map was incorrect.
Whilst writing the final volumes of The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan planned a sequel trilogy set several years after A Memory of Light which would see Mat and Tuon travel to Seanchan and re-secure the continent in the name of the Empire. From the discussion of the Towers of Midnight in the later books, with Jordan having clearly put some thought into them and the prophecy that the Imperial Family would take possession of them again to correct past mistakes, it sounds like the plan would have been for Tuon to repeat Luthair’s route by landing near Imfaral and using the Towers of Midnight as a base to reunite the Empire. Alas, this story never proceeded more than a single line of description (Mat Cauthon playing dice in a back alley in Ebou Dar).