“The Phoenix on the Sword” is one of the original short stories about Conan the Cimmerian was written by Howard and first published in Weird Tales Magazine in December 1932. The tale, in which Howard created the character of Conan, was a rewrite of the unpublished Kull story BY THIS AXE I RULE!, with long passages being identical. Also, the first draft was returned for revision by Weird Tales on March 10, 1932. The revised version and also ‘The Tower of the Elephant‘ was accepted in April.

It must be noted that L.Sprague de Camp edited the story and it was republished in the collections King Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan the Usurper (Lancer Books, 1967). It is set in the pseudo-historical Hyborian Age and details Conan foiling a plot to unseat him as king of Aquilonia. 

This is also the story where we get the famous opening lines:

“KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars—Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen- eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”  — The Nemedian Chronicles

From the letters:

The rejected story is probably one of the three Howard refers to in a letter (#195) to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. March 1932:

By the way, Farnsworth rejected the last three yarns I sent him, together with a bunch of verse. No rest for the weary.

A very interesting passage can be seen in a letter (#203) to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. April 1932:

I’ve been working on a new character, providing him with a new epoch — the Hyborian Age, which men have forgotten, but which remains in classical names, and distorted myths. Wright rejected most of the series, but I did sell him one — “The Phoenix on the Sword” which deals with the adventures of King Conan the Cimmerian, in the kingdom of Aquilonia.

Probably the rejected Conan stories are “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” and “The God in the Bowl“.

Circa Desember 1932, Howard wrote (letter #226) to Robert H. Barlow:

Price tells me that you are interested in the collection of first drafts of Weird stories. I am sending by express, the first writings — or rather the first typings, since I do all my work on the typewriter — of “The Phoenix on the Sword”, “The Scarlet Citadel”, “Black Colossus”, and “Iron Shadows in the Moon”. Some of the pages seem to be missing from the first named story, but the others are complete. Hoping you will find them of interest, I remain,

[Robert E. Howard.]

P.S. “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Scarlet Citadel” have appeared in Weird Tales. “Black Colossus” is scheduled for the June issue, and “Iron Shadows in the Moon” has been accepted, but not scheduled.

Plot Summary

A middle-aged Conan of Cimmeria tries to govern the turbulent kingdom of Aquilonia.

Conan has recently seized the crown from King Numedides after strangling the tyrant on his throne. Conan is more suited to swinging his broadsword than signing official documents, though. The Aquilonians who originally welcomed Conan as their liberator have turned against him due to his foreign Cimmerian blood. They have constructed a statue to Numedides’ memory in the temple of Mitra, and priests burn incense before their slain king, hailing it as the holy effigy of a saintly monarch who was killed by a red-handed barbarian.

A band known as the Rebel Four forms: Volmana, the dwarfish count of Karaban; Gromel, the giant commander of the Black Legion; Dion, the fat baron of Attalus; and Rinaldo, the hare-brained minstrel. Their goal is to put the crown in the hands of someone with royal blood. The Rebel Four recruit the services of a southern outlaw named Ascalante. However, Ascalante secretly plans to betray his employers and claim the crown.

Ascalante also enslaves Thoth-Amon, a Stygian wizard who has fallen on hard times since losing a mystical ring. A thief had stolen his ring and left Thoth-Amon defenseless, forcing him to flee from Stygia. Disguised as a camel driver, he was waylaid in Koth by Ascalante’s reavers. The rest of his caravan was slaughtered, but Thoth-Amon saved himself by revealing his identity and swearing to serve Ascalante.

The conspirators plan to assassinate King Conan when he is unprepared and defenseless. Two unforeseen events thwart their plan. Conan is warned of a coup by the arrival of a long-dead sage named Epemitreus, who marks Conan’s sword with a mystical phoenix representing Mitra, a Hyborian god. Also, Thoth-Amon murders Dion and recovers his lost ring of power. He then summons a fanged ape-like demon to slay Ascalante. Conan slays the three remaining members of the Rebel Four, breaking his sword upon the helm of Gromel and using a battle-axe against the rest of his would-be assassins. Conan hesitates to kill Rinaldo, whose songs once touched the King’s heart. This scruple costs Conan, as Rinaldo manages to stab him before being killed.

Ascalante, his goal in reach, moves to finish off the wounded king. But before Ascalante can strike, he is killed by Thoth-Amon’s demon, which is then slain by Conan with the shard of his enchanted sword.


  • Ascalante, Aquilonian count turned outlaw
  • Conan
  • Prospero 1Prospero is the righthand man to King Conan of Aquilonia and, like Count Trocero, is from the Aquilonian province of Poitain. When Count Volmana and his fellow conspirators attempted to overthrow Conan, part of the plan involved using Volmana’s noble relatives in Nemedia to persuade King Numa to request the presence of Trocero and Prospero at the Nemedian court on the pretext of a diplomatic visit. Their temporary absence made it easier for the conspirators to carry out their murderous plot, which nevertheless failed., Poitanian knight
  • Thoth-Amon, Stygian sorcerer
  • Dion, Baron of Attalus *
  • Epemitreus: deceased shade
  • Gromel: Aquilonian commander of the Black Legion *
  • Pallantides: commander of the Black Dragons
  • Rinaldo: Aquilonian minstrel *
  • Volmana: dwarfish count of Karaban *
  • Publius: Aquilonian high councilor

* – dies in this story

Published in:

The L. Sprague de Camp edited version of this story appears in the following places: