Since common Athasians are forbidden to read or write, few people know the annals of their world. They do know that Athas used to be lush and green, rich with water and thronged with cities and realms. This knowledge is no secret; any traveler can see the evidence of the former world crumbling in the deserts. Ancient bridges span empty watercourses, dilapidated castles sag on hilltops over deserted towns, shrines to vanished gods lie dusty and silent, and the ruins of great cities are filled with sand and monsters all remnants of the time known as the Green Age. Fleeting tales whisper of eras that preceded the Green Age, leaving older and even more mysterious ruins, but no definite knowledge of such fantastically ancient days remains in the world unless the sorcerer-kings know more.
The circumstances that ended the Green Age are unclear. Some say that the kingdoms of that era fell into centuries of vicious conflict, wars in which spells of nightmarish power spread destruction throughout the world. Others say that the fearsome Dragon of Tyr came to Athas in a falling star and laid waste to all domains. What is known for sure is that the Red Age followed, centuries of chaos and suffering in which the civilizations of the Green Age died. Cities such as Bodach, Celik, and Waverly fell during this time. Eventually, the wars of the Red Age guttered out, leaving a blasted and desolate world that endures today. Many people refer to the current period as the Desert Age.
The details of the calamity that befell Athas are not the only facts in dispute. Some say the Desert Age began a few centuries ago, while others claim that it is two or three thousand years old. In some stories, the current sorcerer-kings are the same immortal rulers who battled one another long ago. According to other accounts, they are the descendants of the sorcerers who put an end to the Red Age wars and founded the known city-states in the few habitable spots left in the world.