Whoosh! Issue 29 - February 1999

IAXS project #640
By cr@clear.net.nz
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
This edition copyright © 1999 held by WHOOSH
3060 words

Why did Xena head East? (02-04)
What was the Kingdom of Chin? (05-06)
How did Xena get to Chin? (07-10)
The Silk Route (11-12)
Where was Ming T'ien's Fortress? (13-20)
How did Xena get to Chin (the second time)? (21-28)
How Long did it Take? (29-31)
Other Questions (32-35)
Notes (36)
Acknowledgments (37)

Xena's Travels in THE DEBT

Wow, you guys take your privacy seriously, don't ya?

The Great Wall of China
[01] The events shown in THE DEBT (52-53/306-307) make a fascinating chapter in the history of Xena, besides being visually stunning. However, there are a number of interesting questions raised by these (and related) episodes.

Why did Xena head East?

[02] After Caesar tried to execute her in DESTINY (36/212), why did Xena head east? Why did she not hang around the known world, taking revenge on Caesar, or at least killing Romans (as she did ten years later in THE DELIVERER [50/304] and WHEN IN ROME... [62/316])? Why did she head off into a strange and remote country? What made her think she could survive there?

[03] The answer is in Steve Richey's excellent article "The Horse Nomads of Asia, the Real Amazons, and THE DEBT", (Whoosh! #23), where he points out that women in nomadic tribes enjoyed a status not found in the 'settled' world, due to the fact that a woman could ride and fight on horseback as well as a man. For Xena, who at this time was unable to walk properly, but formidable in many ways on horseback, this was the obvious and only choice.

And a large pizza with extra pepperoni!

"You ain't seen nothing yet!"
[04] Another possible explanation is that Xena was a fugitive with no troops left, hated all over Greece, and would not have lasted a week in a Roman-dominated land. Although probably true, this is a less poetic explanation. Perhaps Xena was just very lucky that the only option left open to her suited her circumstances so well.

What was the Kingdom of Chin?

[05] The Kingdom of Chin was most likely the Ch'in (or Qin) Empire, which originated in 328 BCE in the area centered on Qin, in the base of the loop of the Yellow (Huang) River, and extending westward as far as Lanchow (see lower map). Later on, by 220 BCE, it had grown south and east to reach the coast and include most of modern China. It collapsed then due to rebellion against the ruthless and inhuman policies of the first Ch'in emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, and was succeeded by the Han dynasty.

[06] The Han Empire was even larger and controlled a long westward extension as far as the Jiayuguan Pass, from where trade routes ran westwards to Persia and Mediterranean. The Han Empire lasted until 160 CE and was in existence during the days of Caesar. However, bearing in mind the Xenaverse's ability to warp time and history, the Ch'in dynasty seems more likely.

How did Xena get to Chin (the first time?)

[07] We know the first part of Xena's journey. It was shown on the (quite accurate) map in THE DEBT (52-53/306-307). Unfortunately, far beyond the Caspian Sea, the map on screen dissolves into a spectacular view of the Rangipo Desert.

[08] Xena's route up to that point, however, is well-defined: through Macedonia, skirting the shores of the Aegean Sea; across the Dardanelles into Asia; and across the Anatolian plateau of Turkey, through the mountainous area east of Erzerum, to Baku on the Caspian Sea. This was the northern fringe of what had been Alexander's empire (c. 300 BCE).

[09] Presumably, the disintegrating remnants of an empire suited a fugitive like Xena. She must have taken a ship across the Caspian (unless she parted the waters like Moses). Somewhere in the wastes to the east she would have met Borias.

Round, round, get around, I get around

Xena's Route to Asia.
[10] The above map shows Xena's and Borias' route south of the Aral Sea past Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent (perhaps they may have sacked those towns on the way), and as far as a point north of the Issyk Kul lake, which is north of the Tien Shan mountains. Beyond this point we can only conjecture what their route might have been.

The Silk Route

[11] Shortly after 128 BCE (yes, I know this does not square with the Ch'in Dynasty, but XWP has this time-travel ability which our theories have to take into account) the Silk Route came into existence. This ran from Lanchow, on the fringes of Chinese civilization, westwards, splitting to run south or north of the Takla Makan desert, through Samarkand to Mary (south of the Aral Sea), from where Persian trade routes continued through Turkey to the west.

[12] Another parallel trade route ran to the north of this, on the other side of the Tien Shan Mountains, through Urumqi, and passing the Issyk Kul lake, joining the Silk Route near Tashkent. My guess is that Borias' band of marauding nomads followed, more or less, the line of the northerly trade route, skirting the northern side of the Tien Shan, then following the narrow corridor between the Qilian Shan and the Gobi Desert, as far as the Chinese border near Lanchow.

Follow the red line to annoyed warrior princesses

Xena and Borias' Route to China.

Where was Ming T'ien's Fortress?

[13] We know that Ming T'ien's fortress was built on one of the Walls of China, as we see a brief moonlit view of it as Xena prepares to break in and assassinate Ming T'ien. It is the same location as the point where Xena built her 'wall of heads' ten years earlier.

[14] The building, and the adjacent wall, are substantial stone structures. Such a building would be a fort guarding a gate in the wall, rather than the ruler's palace, which would be located in his capital in the interior of his kingdom. However, it is likely that a ruler would stay for a while in such a fortress as he traveled about his dominion.

[15] There were, in fact, a great number of walls in China, built by warring kingdoms from 450 BCE to 220 BCE, frequently pulled down by conquerors or incorporated in their own defensive walls. The earliest walls were built either for protection from neighbors, or to keep out the raiding nomads from the north. Some of the earlier walls are shown in black on the above map.

[16] After the Ch'in Empire came into being, the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had the "Great Wall" built along the northern perimeter of his empire, incorporating parts of earlier walls, as a protection against the barbarians (though Qin himself was probably more barbaric than any nomad). The work was carried out around 220 BCE under the command of General Meng Tian (sound familiar?), and it stretched from Lanchow to the sea, enclosing the great loop of the Yellow (Huang) River. This was probably over-ambitious, as the huge area inside the loop of the river, the Ordos, was semi-arid and more suited to nomads than to Chinese farmers. It is significant that when, in the 17th century C.E., the Mings built the Great Wall we know today, for protection against the Mongol hordes (still doing the barbarian nomad thing!), they used the old 300 BCE alignment south of the Ordos.

[17] The Han empire which succeeded Ch'in extended the Wall as far as the Jiayuguan Pass to protect their trade 'corridor' to the west past the Tien Shan mountains and the Takla Makan desert (this is the area north of Tibet which is 'off the edge' of the maps in almost every atlas).

[18] Most of the Ming Great Wall was built of brick or stone. The early walls were built of whatever materials were locally available. This included stone in the mountains; rammed earth in loess areas; timber; and (in the Gobi) layers of sand, pebbles, tamarisk twigs, and reeds. Important forts and gates may have justified more substantial construction than the rest of the wall.

I *said* we should have brought a ladder!

Ming T'ien's fortress is just a couple of miles down the road from this quaint fixer-upper.
[19] The area near Lanchow seems to have been about the north-west limit of the fertile area of China, and also the nearest section of Great Wall from Xena's direction of approach (in Ch'in times, before the Han built the western extension). It was also an area of great strategic importance, which would probably justify the imposing stone wall and fort seen in THE DEBT (52-53/306-307). This is my guess for the location of Ming T'ien's fortress.

[20] The very first views of the Great Wall seen in THE DEBT (52-53/306-307) are of part of the Ming wall at Juyongguan near Nankou, north of Peking (compare for example the illustrations on p. 8-13 of 'The Great Wall' [see refs]). This is the best-known area of the Ming wall and 800 miles from Lanchow. However, since Renaissance Pictures' budget presumably did not extend to building a mile of wall in the Kaimanawa Ranges, I regard these views as 'establishing shots' of a generic Wall and not intended to be clues to the actual location. The wall and fort seen beyond Xena's "wall of heads" a few moments later - Ming Tien's fortress - are probably CGI (computer generated).

I think we just blew the effects budget for the whole season!

The Ming Great Wall (as seen in The Debt)

How did Xena get to Chin (the second time?)

[21] We know how Gabrielle got there from FORGET ME NOT (63/317). She had help from Ares.

[22] All we know of Xena's trip is that she took passage on a boat which "would carry her close to the Kingdom of Chin". ('Close' is a relative term in the Xenaverse!) However, this probably rules out the overland Silk Route.

[23] There is some doubt about her starting point. GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) takes place entirely in Britannia. At the beginning of that episode Xena was negotiating with a Phoenician trader for passage to Greece, however events overtook this. At the end of the episode, Gabrielle was standing alone in the moonlight near their camp.

[24] THE DEBT (52-53/306-307)starts with an almost identical moonlit scene, which tempts us to think it follows immediately on from GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). However, I think it more likely this is some time later, in Greece, after an un-shown sea voyage, probably courtesy of another Phoenician trader. It is hardly likely that Lao Ma's messenger would have tracked Xena all the way to Britannia, nor would this fit easily with subsequent events.

[25] Xena and Gabrielle make a land journey before Xena catches the ship for Chin. Xena's final port of debarkation would have to be a Red Sea or Persian Gulf port. To reach there by land, they would have to travel through Macedonia, Anatolia and much of the Middle East. Far quicker and more practical would be a sea voyage across the Mediterranean to Alexandria or Gaza, from where a short overland journey would reach the Red Sea. Thus, Xena and Gabrielle's journey takes place in Greece, and Xena parts from Gabrielle at a Greek port. Xena's statement that the ship would 'carry her close to Chin' must be taken metaphorically as including en-route transfers.

Just one more take' be d***ed - I'm going for lunch!

If it's Tuesday then this must be Attica
[26] Shortly after the discovery of the steady monsoon winds in 100 BCE, up to 120 Greek vessels a year made the journey to Indian ports such as Muziris (near Trivandrum in southern India), from where 'possible' (as my atlas says) Chinese routes ran to Panyu (not far from Hong Kong). Panyu is on the southern coast of China, 1200 miles from Lanchow (or anywhere else on the Great Wall). Did Xena travel 1200 miles overland? And how did Xena and Gabrielle get back to Greece afterwards? THE DEBT (52-53/306-307) does not say.

[27] Of course, Ming T'ien's castle could have been near the eastern end of the Great Wall, near the coast, but that would have made 600 miles further for Xena and Borias to travel on their raid, right along the wall. While THE DEBT (52-53/306-307) gives no clues as to where they assailed the wall, it appears from the context that it was their first sight of it. There is no suggestion that they skirted it for 600 miles before attacking.

[28] There is a puzzle here which the extant records leave unanswered. Maybe further information will come to light in future scrolls.

How long did it take?

[29] How long did it take? One year, two months and 12 days according to Xena in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311). She does not specifically say, but this presumably includes their Britannia trip. They have just covered most of the known world (and returned). Our ladies certainly do get around!

[30] Greece to Lanchow is about 8,000 miles by sea (to Panyu), plus 1,200 land miles, each way. Greece to Britannia (southern England) is a mere 3,200 miles by sea. This gives a total distance traveled of 24,800 miles. Allowing a month out for variously being captured, imprisoned, threatened with execution, and less fortunate occurrences, this is 400 days traveling, an average of 62 miles a day. Our ladies not only get around, they do so at high speed!

Do we get paid overtime for this?

Oh my sore feet!
[31] By ship, given reasonable winds, one could travel from Alexandria to Puteoli (Naples), about 1,200 miles, in 15 to 20 days, averaging 60 to 80 miles a day. The record was 9 days, which averaged 133 miles a day, or 4.8 knots (this was moving!). I am no sailor, and it is remarkably hard to find any information on how long a voyage to Britannia or China would have taken in those days, but assuming the same sort of speed could be maintained in the deep oceans beyond the Mediterranean, the timing starts to look almost feasible. I am surprised but pleased that it is within the realms of possibility.

Other Questions

[32] There is a minor problem with the Phoenician trader that Xena was negotiating with for passage from Britannia to Greece (other than his wanting too much money). The Phoenicians started their trading empire around 1000 BCE, but it was not until around 450 BCE that Carthaginian ('Phoenician' to the Romans) traders started making direct voyages to Britain, presumably for the Cornish tin trade. The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage began in 264 BCE, and Carthage's power and influence were eroded by a series of defeats until the city was razed to the ground by the Romans in 146 BCE. Maybe the Phoenician trader was operating out of some surviving outpost of the Carthaginian empire? Or perhaps he was like the Japanese soldiers in the post-World War II Pacific who refused to believe the war was over.

[33] While many people asked "How did Gabrielle get to Chin?", almost nobody seems to have asked "How did Hope get to Greece?" Baby Hope was last seen floating down a river in Britannia. At least, we presume it was Britannia. As I remember, southern England is a bit less mountainous than that. Still, maybe two thousand years of English farming has flattened it out a bit. When Hope reappears in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), in Greece, she tells Gabrielle she was found floating down a river in a basket. S he neglects to mention any long sea journey.

So, which is the sharp end?

If seasickness is hereditary, this kid's in for a rough time
[34] Of course, Hope is under no obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth, or even anything remotely like the truth. Maybe Dahak gave her a hand, as Ares did for Gabrielle.

[35] However, in view of the propensity of characters in the Xenaverse to pop up in unlikely places, I like to speculate that Doctor Who, that absent-minded time-traveler, mislaid a spare Tardis [Note 01] somewhere in ancient Greece around Xena's time, and some of the murkier denizens of the Xenaverse have got into the habit of using it for their own ends. I have not, amongst all the whooshes of the XWP soundtrack, heard the distinctive whooaah-whooaah-whooaah of a Tardis in action, but I live in hope.


Note 01:
[36] Tardis: Time And Relative Displacement In Space. The tardis is an improbable vehicle about the size of the USS Enterprise or Starbug inside, and the size and shape of a phone box outside - a 1960's vintage English police phone box, to be exact, due to the fact that its Chameleon circuit (supposed to make it blend into the background) is jammed irremediably on that setting.
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[37] The pages of thumbnail views on KNerys' Xena Website were extremely useful in quickly checking the scenery shown in GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) and THE DEBT (52-53/306-307), saving me from endless rewinding and fast-forwarding through videotapes. The illustrations are from KNerys' website as well.


The Times Concise Atlas Of World History, 1982. pp. 22, 24, 28, 51.

The Cassell Atlas Of World History, 1997. pp. 1.23, 1.25, 2.09, 2.11, 2.12, 2.13, 2.24, 4.21.

The Great Wall, Luo Zewen et al, McGraw-Hill, 1981.


I made it myself from a kit set CR
CR is an engineer living in Auckland, New Zealand, who prefers to remain pseudonymous. His interests include cars, trains (especially steam), and maps (which is why the map in THE DEBT had an irresistible attraction for him). He likes playing 'spot-the-scenery' in HTLJ and XWP, with limited success. He was a casual viewer of HTLJ and XWP until GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN and the Callisto episodes got him hooked. And, before you ask, he has never met any of the cast or crew of XWP, though he thinks one of the extras looks vaguely familiar.
Favorite episode: MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311)
Favorite villain: Callisto Favorite line: Callisto: "Here comes trouble!" A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214); Xena: "I've learned to clean up after myself". THE DEBT II (53/307)
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
Least favorite episode: THE PRODIGAL (18/118)

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