History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Red God

WARNING: SPOILERS!

It’s Game of Thrones time!

Forgive my excitement but I’m something of a fan.

Last season I kicked off this entire website with a massive blog series on the history behind the show.  It was an in depth look at everything from the dragons to the Free Cities and how many parts of the show and books borrow so much influence from actual history.

For season 6 we’re going to take a more measured approach and release one article a week until the end of the season.  This will be more of a reactionary series talking about the historical parallels between things that show up in each episode.

So, without much ado, let’s talk about the Red God R’hllor.

In the show and books there is a god of fire named R’hllor.  He goes by several names such as “The Lord of Light”, “The Heart of Fire”, and “The God of Flame and Shadow”.

He’s a fairly popular god in the eastern continent of Essos and while he isn’t that popular in Westeros his servants have played a pretty big role in politics in that region.

The faith itself is monotheistic, worshiping only one singular divine being, and has a fascination with fire, which can be a good thing when dealing with something like the extreme cold but over the course of the show it’s been shown that the Red God is somewhat…demanding when it comes to sacrifice.

They also have a dualistic view of the world, believing in a single “good” god being opposed by a singe “evil” god, and believe that the world will be saved when a messianic figure named “Azor Ahai” will return to beat back the darkness and bring light to the world.

As for the servants of the Red God, they are known as Red Priests.  These servants of the Red God are often pledged to his service by They can be male or female and have been seen throughout the show preaching,

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and attempting to convert kings.

They also appear to wield some pretty potent magic

and are a faith that is slowly spreading its influence across the world.

With the blog last year we talked about the similarities between the religion of Westeros and religious history in early Europe.  The Old Gods of Westeros are similar to old Celtic pagan beliefs while the Faith of the Seven bears a striking resemblance to Christianity.

The religion of the Red God is a bit trickier than the other two.  On one hand their fascination with fire and belief in a single divine being bears a striking resemblance to Zoroastrianism, which is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions.

 

The Zoroastrians believe in the existence of a single god named Ahura Mazda, who is the sole creator of the world and the representation of all that is good.  It’s also worth mentioning that fire plays in important role in worship.

The thing is that while the faith of the Red God in Game of Thrones borrows things like monotheism and the fascination with fire from the Zoroastrians it’s place in the history of Game of Thrones and its rapid spread throughout Essos shares similarities with a more modern religion: Islam.

The first and biggest similarity between the two is doctrinal.  When Islam rose to prominence around 600 A.D it firmly believed that there was one God and one God only.  This was expressed in a Muslim belief known as Tawheed which confirmed that God ruled alone and was absolute.

This put Islam at odds with Christianity’s view of the Trinity, which stipulated that there was “One God in three parts”.  This bears a striking resemblance within the Game of Thrones universe to the Red God’s singular rule vs. the Faith of the Seven “one being divided into seven aspects”.

But doctrine isn’t the only thing that makes the faith of the Red God similar to Islam, it the religion’s place in history as well.

The Red God is something of a late comer to the religious scene and Islam was as well.  By the time the Prophet Mohammad received his visions from God, Christianity had been around in the ancient world for over 600 years.  Just like the Red Priests the prophet Mohammad and his followers spread the word of their visions throughout the Eastern Mediterranean through preaching,

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and engaging in political intrigue by converting kings and nobles.

Just like the Red Priests Islam followed a similar pattern by becoming very popular in the East, while experiencing resistance and outright hostility in the West.

It should be noted that in the show the Red Priests haven’t reached the point of controlling an empire of believers like the early Muslims did.

But I’m sure that if the faith of R’hllor is given enough time they will eventually reach a point where they become one of the most powerful religions in Westeros.

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History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Why I like the show so much

WARNING: SPOILERS.

So the fifth season of Game of Thrones has come to an end (yes I know it happened this Saturday bear with me) and this means we have reached the end of the blog series.  Oh, the series will still go on, there is still so much to talk about, it’s just that I want to save it for the next season and in the mean time I’d like to talk about something else.

I would like to close off this season of blog posts by talking about why I love the show so much.  I am a lover of history, I love reading about it, talking about it, and I was a History major in college.  One of my favorite books of all time is a epic work of historical nonfiction called “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by historian Barbara Tuchman.

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The book is Tuchman’s account of the 14th century where she talks about everything from the 100 Years War, to the spread of the Black Plague, to peasant uprisings, and political intrigue.  Besides having a badass cover, that’s the white horseman of war leading an army of dead against the living, Tuchman’s book helps her portray the 14th Century as a dark parallel to early 20th century Europe suffering from the aftermath of the First World War (I should note that Tuchman’s most well known work is August 1914 where she talks about the prelude to WW1).  This book is really good and I highly recommend it.

The reason I bring this up is because history and fantasy, especially really good and well written history and fantasy, can help us understand the world we live in by drawing parallels to our society and filtering them through the fantastic and the epic.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks showing the events, groups, and people that George R.R Martin has used as inspiration for his masterpiece but if we apply the same treatment to Game of Thrones that Tuchman applied to 14th century Europe a lot of interesting things start to appear.  For example:

One of the most powerful organizations in the Game of Thrones universe is the Iron Bank, able to change the fortunes of everyone from peasants to kings.  Does that seem so strange when our modern banks like Goldman Sachs and J.P Morgan have such a huge stake in our world today?  How many of us are tied to a bank because we wanted to buy a house or car or go to college?

Some of the most brutal and evil lords and rulers in Game of Thrones are currently, and formerly, some of the most effective and powerful rulers.

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It’s no secret that quite a few parts of our world are run by terrible people.

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But when you consider the situations that led to their rise to power and the ability of these monsters to keep and hold on to their power their continued existence, while not very justifiable, can certainly be explained.

Speaking of leadership let’s talk about some of the “good” leaders.  While there are plenty of horrible people in power both in the show and in real life there are people in charge that are trying their best to do the right thing.

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Sometimes it all works out and the good guys win but what a lot of leaders who start out with good intentions eventually learn is that it’s always a bit more complicated than it originally seemed and things can go wrong very quickly.

This is just a small sample of some of the parallels between the Game of Thrones universe and our own world.  We could go on for hours on subjects like money, torture, ethics, proper leadership, terrorism, environmentalism, and slavery but to do that would require a book’s worth of time and research.

Thank you for reading this blog and sticking with me for the fifth season of Game of Thrones.  We produce a comic strip about a family of supervillains (something completely different from this) for your enjoyment and I hope you’ll stick around in the future where we have plenty of fun and interesting topics lined up for you.

Valar Morghulis…see you next season.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The White Walkers

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FROM THE MOST RECENT SEASON FINALE IN THIS ARTICLE.

So since we talked about the dragons and how they’re representations of man’s ability to find more efficient ways of killing his fellow man I thought today we would dedicate our second to last post of the season to the other extreme: the White Walkers.

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The White Walkers are a primal force of nature and right now they represent the greatest threat to ever confront the human race, a threat that humanity is woefully under equipped to handle at the moment, especially with the death of Jon Snow.

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Deadly, extremely capable, and above all…patient the White Walkers are not only extremely capable warriors but able to raise an army of the dead which gives them a huge advantage.  While the humans grow weaker the Walkers can only grow stronger.

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Winter is coming, and if nothing is done to halt the Walker’s advance winter will stay for a very long time.

In today’s day and age we are somewhat obsessed with the weather.  Whether you believe it or not there aren’t that many people out there who aren’t aware of global warming.  But despite the endless debates and inaction going on today we do know that climate change is a thing that has happened.  We know this because the Little Ice Age was a thing and it had a huge impact on world history…mostly for the worse.

The Little Ice Age was a period in history of intense global cooling, which is a thing.  Starting just before 1300 the Earth experienced a dramatic drop in temperatures (I should note here that a “dramatic drop” in environmental science is only a couple of degrees) resulting in longer winters and shorter growing seasons.

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The human race had been experiencing a period of remarkable growth during the time period Europeans call the High Middle Ages and while there was still quite a bit of violence and death in Europe, things were starting to calm down which led to increased economic and cultural growth under the rule of the Catholic Church.

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All of that would change with the Little Ice Age and the beginning of the 14th century.  Cooler temperatures led to shorter growing seasons and more frequent rain storms.  Shorter growing seasons meant less food to feed a large population and the results were devastating.  The world changed practically over night as humans devolved into violence and desperation, fighting over land and resources that could not support everyone.

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But all that pales in comparison to what came after the famine and warfare: a horrifying pestilence known as the Black Death.

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The Black Death was one of the most singular and deadly events to ever take place in human history.  We’ve all heard the stories about how the plague was brought to Europe from the East on trading ships and the combination of filthy streets and towns coupled with a lack of understanding of how disease worked allowed the plague to wipe out almost a third of Europe’s population.

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To a population that feared dropping dead in a heartbeat and watching as friends and family died all around them it must have seemed like the end of the world.  This led to some very fatalistic world views and gave birth to an artistic genre known as the Danse Macabre, the idea that death walks with everyone from the lowliest peasant to the most powerful lord.  You can see examples of the artwork everywhere, normal people going about their lives always accompanied by an emaciated waling skeleton that looks for all the world like some of the White Walkers and zombies from Game of Thrones.

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It was the cold that brought plague and death to Medieval Europe, a long winter that lasted for decades and destroyed most of Europe…just like what the White Walkers threaten to do to Westeros if nobody stops them.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Dragons

WARNING: SPOILERS!

So the season finale just happened and that means this is going to be the last week of Game of Thrones blog posts for the site.  I know there has been a lot of creepy, upsetting, and disturbing stuff on the show lately but there are plenty of people who can talk and discuss that kind of thing better than I can so instead we’re going to start our final week by talking about the dragons.

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In keeping with the traditions of the show and the direction it seems to be heading (I was both impressed and terrified by Arya’s sadistic streak) the dragons are the very personifications of violence and power.  As the ancient weapon of the Targaryens the dragons are the Game of Thrones super weapon, an advantage that allowed Denarys and her ancestors to conquer half the known world with a comparatively smaller army.

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The dragons don’t represent any particular person or place in history.  Instead they represent an idea and theme that rears its head from time to time throughout history.  In my opinion the dragons represent technology and how each technological leap brings about newer and more terrifying methods of destruction and violence.  Now this may sound like a very modern theme and it is, an all powerful beast capable of melting steel and killing thousands of people at a time sounds suspiciously like a modern nuclear weapon but the notion that new inventions can change the face of warfare for the worse goes back hundreds of years.

Many people have a notion that Medieval warfare was a noble endeavor filled with knights in shining armor, noble kings, and honorable combat.  It seems so noble because we the Middle Ages gave us the notion of chivalry: the knights code of conduct while engaging in battle and how to live and act in everyday life.

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Sadly, the idea of chivalry couldn’t be farther from the reality of Medieval warfare.  Actual fighting was brutal, violent, and awful in ways that would make even Ramsey Bolton shutter (although out of all the characters in the show he probably had the right mindset for it) and nowhere was it more apparent with the start and evolution of the Hundred Years War.

The Hundred Years war was a series of long and complicated wars between the kingdoms of England and France over who ruled what and who owed allegiance to whom.  There have been countless books, plays, and movies about the conflict but one of the most interesting things was the role technology played in the war.

The war started out with the traditional concepts of chivalry and honorable combat intact, it was a dynastic dispute and thus would be fought honorably between two noble houses.  However, as the war went on things changed and technology began to play an important role in the fighting.

Much like their Norman ancestors utilizing the mounted knight the English were the first to unveil and utilize their super weapon: the longbow.

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It may not look like much but this six foot piece of yew wood would revolutionize warfare.  Now an army made up of peasants and lowborn could go toe to toe with armored knights and win, and win they did.  Granted, utilizing the longbow took strength and skill which required extensive training from an early age (ever wonder why Robin Hood was so good with a bow and English?) but the English were able to utilize the bow to great extent.

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However, that would pale in comparison to what came next.  With England winning battle after battle and the French nation on the brink of defeat they were saved by a young and possibly schizophrenic prophet girl named Joan of Arc.

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After Joan helped light a fire under their buts the French were able to get their act together and begin to take back what they had lost.  Under the leadership of King Charles VII and Philip Duke of Burgundy the French restructured and remodeled their armies to defeat the English.  This saw the rise of a weapon more terrifying than the longbow and one that would change the face of warfare forever: gunpowder.

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Now while gunpowder had been in use for a long time, the Hundred Years War was the first time gunpowder weapons were used on a European battle field to great effect.  Like Denarys’ dragons they spat fire and death at their enemies and were able to completely destroy them, one of first (and definitely not the last) times a leap forward in technology helped man kill his fellow man more efficiently.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Sellswords.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

It’s fair to say that most of the Game of Thrones universe is in some form of conflict on a pretty much constant basis, probably because warfare and fighting makes for a much more exciting read than learning about “Ivan the Peasant” and how much grain he produced during the harvest or “Bob the Accountant” and how he managed to wipe away his lord’s debts (although who knows, in the right hands that could make for an interesting story…).  Anyway, most of the Game of Thrones universe is embroiled in conflict and much of that fighting is either done by private armies of paid men at arms

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or professional knights.

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However, relying on any one of these types of soldiers for your army requires a couple of things: either a large prison population, a large treasury capable of paying and equipping a standing army, or enough land to give to a large number of knights that allow each of them to afford the training, armor, and horses according to their station.  These are three things that locations such of the Free Cities don’t have (they could rely on slave armies but history and the show has proven that it is usually a bad idea) so what do they do instead?  They rent armies in the form of mercenaries.

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With all the petty little wars the Free Cities fight anyone who is capable of using a sword and has a band of like minded compatriots can make a fortune fighting for whatever side they choose.  Groups like the Second Sons (named so because traditionally the first son in any family usually inherits everything leaving the second son to make his fortune any way he can) have been around since the Doom of Valyria, finding enough work and pay to stay together for over 400 years.  Instead of being loyal to a specific lord or land these mercenary companies are simply loyal to whoever can pay them the most and once their services have been bought professional courtesy dictates that they remain loyal to the side writing their paychecks.  However, while some sellswords and mercenary companies have proven to be loyal soldiers and even good friends to many of the main characters.

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if they think your cause is hopeless and you don’t have a chance of victory they will leave you rather than be butchered.

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Despite the notion that most of the fighting in the Medieval Ages was performed by noble knights in shining armor and a lord or king’s personal army of men at arms, Medieval and Renaissance warfare had a long and not so proud tradition of mercenaries willing to fight for the highest bidder.

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This painting with the rather garishly dressed group of men carrying large poleaxes is a painting of a Condottieri company, Medieval mercenaries for hire.  Like the Free Cities, the city states of Italy were not especially suited towards raising and maintaining a large standing army or large numbers of knights.  As a result, wealthy cities like Milan and Venice often resorted to paying “contractors” to fight their wars for them.  And like the many frequent wars between the Free Cities in the Game of Thrones books, there was plenty of business to go around.

Like the Second Sons the Condottieri held themselves to particular standards.  They would maintain their loyalty to their patron, as long as their patron kept paying them.  Also, quite a few mercenary captains were the distant relatives or bastards of wealthy families, people who were cut out of inheriting their family’s wealth and became soldiers of fortune to pay the bills.

Despite all the talk of honor in combat and loyalty that many of the character in Game of Thrones like to prattle on about at the end of the day the most important objective was victory over your opponent and mercenary companies provided a quick and easy way to bolster armies with experienced and skilled soldiers.  The importance of mercenary Condottieri in Renaissance warfare would also lead to the decline of the feudal lord and his knights and the rise of the professional army in European history.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Free Cities continued

On Monday we talked about how the Free Cities of Essos.

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Bear a striking resemblance to the Italian city states of Renaissance Italy.

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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:

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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.

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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.

Braavos:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: an Introduction to the Free Cities

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most violent and politically sensitive areas in the Game of Thrones universe, a place where history and modern culture collide and anything can be yours for a price: The Free Cities.

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The Free Cities are the various former colonies, cast offs, and trading posts of the Valyrian Empire and each of them either owe their existence to the Valyrians or in the case of cities like Braavos, sprang into existence because of Valyrian culture and policy.  After the Doom of Valyria the cities became dogs without a master and began to fight among themselves to see who would take the place of the former empire.  Of all the cities Volantis had one of the stronger claims since it was one of the first and oldest Valyrian colonies but the city’s efforts to rebuild the empire were foiled when they were unable to convince the Targaryens to join them.  After the initial fighting died down a bit, and after the invasion of Khal Temmo was beaten back by a band of Unsullied each of the cities realized that the Empire wasn’t coming back and settled into a pattern of trade, commerce, bickering over smaller plots of land, utilizing small armies of paid mercenaries to settle disputes, and paying off the Dothraki every now and then to prevent each city from being sacked.  While the Free Cities are no longer the dominant political power in the Game of Thrones universe their trade and occasional disputes make them an important part of the cultural and political landscape.

We’ve talked about the Doom of Valyria before in this series of articles and how it was remarkably similar to the series of migrations, invasions, and looting that causes the end of the Roman Empire.

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This is important because after the fall of Rome the Italian Peninsula would wind up being divided in a fashion similar to the Free Cities of Game of Thrones.

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We’ll get into the details and specific politics of the Italian city states later (heck, we could have run an entire season’s worth of articles on the Free Cities and their historical counter parts if we wanted to) but for now all we need to understand is this: the fall of Rome as a central power destabilized the entire region and turned what was once a single empire into a squabbling collection of city states.

That’s not to say each of the states were completely powerless.  The Papal States became the center of Christian Europe while cities like Venice and Florence became economic powerhouses but the fact remained that Italy, like its fictional counterpart in the Free Cities, was divided into weakened tiny city states that still have an impact on politics to this day.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Slavery, revolt, and the Zanj

WARNING SPOILERS!

Today we are going to talk about the slave rebellion that Daenerys has set off in Essos.

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During her short time as a ruler Daenerys has proven to be a strong and capable leader.  Whether or not you think she is a good ruler is up for debate (see her refusal to work with the former slave masters of Mereen and the current mess with the Sons of the Harpy) but it is quite clear that every action she takes she takes for the benefit of the common people and the now liberated slave population.

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Her blend of populist rhetoric and brutal crackdowns on any proven threat to her rule have ensured that while she may be disliked by an increasingly growing number of people she will remain a powerful force in Essos for quite some time and it is all thanks to the abilities and attitude of the former slave population that has allowed her to rise to power so quickly and with comparatively little bloodshed.

The popular slave uprising Daenerys helped inspire has its historical roots in several ancient slave rebellions throughout history and one of the most famous and bloodiest revolts was the Zanj Rebellion in 863 A.D

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As we’ve mentioned before the practice of slavery was nothing new to the Middle East and by 800 A.D black Africans had become one of the largest ethnic groups for slaves.  The Middle East had been undergoing a transition to a plantation based economy during this time and large numbers of slaves were needed for backbreaking field work.  As a result thousands of Bantu speaking black Africans, called “Zanj” in Arabic, were sent to the Middle East to work.

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However, as Game of Thrones and most of human history has shown, the combination of large numbers of enslaved people combined with a dwindling ruling class is not a very peaceful mix and in 863 A.D they revolted.

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Due to a combination of large numbers, discontent among a large number of Arab peasants, and the surprising leadership of a man named Ali Razi the rebellion was a success and the Zanj were able to carve out an independent slave run state capable of defending itself from encroaching Islamic armies.

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Through a combination of populist sentiment and brilliant guerrilla warfare tactics the Zanj state lasted for fifteen years until it was eventually crushed by a larger and better organized Muslim army.

Whether the ultimate failure of the Zanj rebellion makes you nervous for Daenerys’ chances as a ruler in Essos or the idea that a populist slave rebellion can help lift someone to power gives her a shot, it is clear that the slave rebellion in Game of Thrones has worked for now and its ultimate success rests on how capable Daenerys proves herself and how willing the rest of Essos is to listen to her.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Unsullied

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Today we are talking about another incredibly capable and deadly organization in the Game of Thrones universe, one that has had a definite impact on the events in the world and commands the fear and respect of men and women across the world: the Unsullied.

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The Unsullied are warrior slaves from the now ruined city of Astapoor and are trained in the traditions of the Ghiscari Empire.  At the age of five, and sometimes younger, a slave boy is chosen to become an Unsullied warrior and is castrated (according to sources everything goes, it’s not a pleasant picture).  At that point they are constantly trained from dusk to dawn to use three types of spear, a shield, and a short sword until they have mastered all of them.  The training is incredibly brutal and only about a quarter of all recruits survive and it culminates in a final test where they must kill their own mothers in order to become full Unsullied warriors.

While the training regimen is brutal it is incredibly effective.  The combination of no testicles and harsh training means that each soldier will not act on the violent and often uncontrollable impulses that many commanders have to worry about when dealing with their soldiers.  An Unsullied soldier will not rape, plunder, break formation, or lose himself to a battle frenzy and will always follow the orders of his commander, a habit that everyone’s favorite Khaleesi has taken advantage of.

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We’ve briefly touch upon how the Unsullied were also used to halt the advance of the Dothraki hundreds of years before the books started and the stories of their exploits have only furthered their reputation as one of the deadliest and most competent fighting forces in the entire Game of Thrones universe.

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The idea of taking young boy slaves and turning them into a disciplined fighting force is an old one and an idea that came into its own during the 9th century during the reign of the Abbasid Caliphate which controlled most of what we know of today as the Middle East.

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In order to help guard, patrol, and expand their empire the Abbasid rulers created entire armies of slaves that they would recruit from various regions, usually ethnic Turks from Central Asia, and move them around and sell them to regional governors in different parts of the empire.  These were the feared Mamluk soldiers and they were just as effective and as brutal as the Unsullied.

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A Mamluk was taken from his home around the age of 13 and trained to be a soldier loyal only to his master.  As a rule they were kept separate from the general population, were not allowed to have children, and could not inherit or pass on any property or land they might come to possess.  The idea worked for a while, soldiers who are not fighting for plunder, glory, or homeland tend to be more loyal to their commanders and more loyal to each other, and the Mamluk slave armies played a vital role in fighting off the European Crusaders and Mongol invaders.  However, it turns out that depending on an entire class of slave soldiers who aren’t being paid is a bad idea and eventually the slaves realized they could call the shots.  The ensuing rebellions and dynasties that were established are a topic for another day but it is important to recognize that the need for a unified disciplined fighting force resulted in large numbers of slave boys to be captured and raised as soldiers in a similar manner to the famed and deadly Unsullied of Game of Thrones.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Sothoryos

WARNING: SPOILERS!

This week we are going to bring up the slightly touchy subject of slavery in Game of Thrones and to do that we have to first talk about the continent to the south of Essos, Sothoryos.

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Despite its small size on the world map Sothoryos is actually very large.  The Valyrians attempted to discover just how big their southern neighbor was but not even a dragon rider after several months of hard flying could reach the end.  The little part of Sothoryos that is known to the Game of Thrones Universe is hot, humid, covered in jungles, and not very accessible to the outside world and while there is evidence of once great civilizations they are nothing but forgotten ruins now.  As a result of the tropical temperature and climate the Sothoryosi (god I hope I’m writing that correctly) can be recognized by their dark skin color.  While many of the show’s darker skinned characters are from the Summer Isles (we’ll include them in this article)

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there is one very notable cast member who is from a city called Naath, a city just off the coast of Sothoryos.

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Missandi, Denaerys’ translator and one of her most trusted advisers.  This brings us to the subject of slavery.  Sadly, Sothoryos has been a favorite target of slavers and traders with no sense of morality since the days of the Ghiscari Empire leading to a large number of slaves with darker skin.  While Denaerys is waging a campaign to eradicate slavery from the known world the trade is still thriving and as long as that happens Sothoryos will continue to be a target.

Sothoryos is Africa.  It’s been alluded to plenty of times by George R.R Martin himself plus the idea of a “Dark Continent” to the south of Europe and Asia filled with jungles and largely unknown or unexplored fits with what many people thought of the continent for some time.

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Africa is big, really big and the giant Sahara desert was extremely good at keeping most Europeans from venturing too far south.  However, Africa was not completely isolated from the Medieval world.  North Africa, parts of what we now know as Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt, played an important role in European history since the beginning from Egyptian civilization, which ties into the ancient ruins found in Sothorys, to supplying the Roman Empire with soldiers and grain.  West Africa was home to empires like the Mali empire.

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The Mali empire was one of the largest and richest empires of the time.  They built a sub Saharan trade network where Middle Eastern and European salt would be traded for West African gold and one of their greatest rulers was a man named Mansa Musa who was so wealthy that when he traveled on pilgrimage he spent so much money he actually caused an economic collapse.

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And finally there’s the East African trade network and early Medieval slavery.  While Europe had limited exposure to Africa on account of the Sahara desert the Middle East was different.  Since they controlled the trade routes to the Indian Ocean they were able to avoid the desert and establish trading ports and connections all across the east coast of Africa.

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Unfortunately this meant access to a large market of African slaves, which many Middle Eastern traders were more than willing to exploit.  Granted, slavery had been around for thousands of years before the Middle Ages but the Muslim trade routes and slave trade helped cement the idea that Africa was the perfect place to find the best slaves.  Although certain events and people we will definitely be talking about later took steps to destroy this notion, rather violently I might add, the idea that slavery was “an African thing” was set and continued to grow into modern times.