On Monday we talked about how the Free Cities of Essos.
Bear a striking resemblance to the Italian city states of Renaissance Italy.
Today we’re going to go into a bit more detail on each of the Free Cities and which real life city state they share the most in common with. This means the format is going to be a little bit different where instead of devoting the first half of the article to the Game of Thrones topic and the second half to its historical counterpart we’re just going to give each city their own paragraph. Also, there will be lots of overlapping and this entire article is based on my opinion only so if you disagree or think differently please leave a polite and detailed explanation in the comments below. Anyway, here we go!
Volantis is the southern most of the Free Cities and also has the closest ties to the Valyrian Freehold. They attempted to rebuild the empire but were defeated by the combined efforts of the rest of the cities. Their southern location and ties to the former empire make them similar to Renaissance Rome.
Like Volantis Rome existed as a reminder of Italy’s once former glory as a united country. As the seat of the Catholic Church Rome held quite a bit of power over Italy and the rest of Europe. While Rome never reclaimed its place as the dominant Italian power it did play a major part in organizing several key alliances that kept Italy mostly free of encroaching European powers.
Probably the most well known of the Free Cities Braavos is home to some of the most powerful organizations in the Game of Thrones universe. The city was founded in secret by a collection of former Valyrian slaves and was hidden from the rest of the world until the Doom of Valyria where it established itself as a political and economic powerhouse. After sailing under the legs of the Titan of Braavos there is so much you can do from seeking loans and money from the famed Iron Bank, hiring Braavosi sell swords, or if you’re really desperate hiring one of the Faceless Men to assassinate your target.
Stylistically Braavos is all over the place. The Titan of Braavos is reminiscent of the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue that was commissioned to celebrate the defeat of the Hellenistic general Demetrius.
We’ve talked about how the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men are similar to the Medici bankers of Florence and the Assassins of the Nizari but the city’s foundation, location, and importance to the Game of Thrones universe make it similar to the real life city of Venice.
Like Braavos, Venice was founded in response to the fall of the Valyrian/Roman Empire and the chaos that ensued. The collection of refugees and fugitives that settled the marsh and swamps that would become Venice would eventually turn the city into one of the most powerful trading posts and naval powers in the world.
Qohor and Norvos:
I’m lumping these two cities together because both are known for producing weapons and a very distinct class divide. Both these cities were founded by religious dissidents who disagreed with the Valyrian practice of religious freedom and grew to become their own separate states. Norvos is most famous for its strange long axes
while Qohor is known for its fine metal work, including being one of the only places that is still capable of re working Valyrian steel and for beating back the Dothraki with a group of 3,000 Unsullied.
While the religious overtones of the foundation of each city is similar to Rome (told you there would be some overlapping) each city’s martial tradition and skill at working metal makes them both strongly similar to the city state of Milan.
Milan grew out of the fall of the Roman Empire to become one of the richest and most powerful city states in Italy (it still holds the position today as one of Italy’s economic powerhouses). Interestingly enough one of Milan’s most famous exports was its armor, which was renown for its quality and strength.
Milan also grew powerful with the influence and the patronage of the Sforza family, one of the great families of the Renaissance, who were most famous for being the patron and benefactor to the great Leonardo da Vinci.
Tyrosh, Lys, Myr, Pentos, and Lorath
I’m lumping the last five together because there isn’t that much information to go off of in the books or show. Each of the cities have their own distinct product or specialty to contribute: Myr has the Red God, Lys has poisons, prostitutes, and pirates, Tyrosh sells cloth, Pentos has its location, and Lorath doesn’t really have anything.
Of the remaining five cities only Tyrosh and Lys stand out as the historical counterparts to Renaissance Florence and Genoa. Florence began its rise as an Italian power by trading in cloth, a tactic that parallels Tyrosh and led the rise of the Medici family.
Lys, and to a lesser extent Tyrosh and Lorath, are coastal and depend on maritime trade, fishing, and piracy for survival. This parallels the rise and reign of Genoa as one of the great maritime powers of the Medieval Ages, a position that put them at odds with Venice on more than one occasion.
And there you have it, a breakdown of each of the Nine Free Cities in Game of Thrones and their historical counterparts of Renaissance Italy. I hope you find this article informative and educational. If you disagree or have a different opinion on the locations and historical counterparts to each of the Free cities please leave it in a well worded and polite comment below.
2 thoughts on “History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Free Cities continued”
I like this, but you omitted the linguistic element. At one point in ADWD Tyrion has a thought about how each free city spoke its own dialect of bastard Valyrian, each on “its way to becoming its own language”. This always made me think of the romance languages of Western Europe (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French) forming out of Latin during and after the fall of the Roman Empire- even going through a stage called “Vulgar Latin”. Because of this, I always pictured the Free Cities as representing a bit of all of this part of Europe. But like I said, I like this post and you’ve included loads of stuff I didn’t know or hadn’t considered!
You’re right, I also left out the fact that each of the Free Cities is a nominal “Republic” in that each one is controlled by a collective of the rich and powerful, just like Genoa, Venice, and Milan. But thank you for this comment, I’m glad this work has taught you something new and interesting and I really appreciate having someone who contributes in such a thoughtful and positive manner.