Golden Comics Showcase #4: Ghost Rider

Today we’re going to talk about Ghost Rider.

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No not that one, this one.

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As I have stated time and time again the Golden Age of comics was a bit…weird and it may seem difficult to believe now but there once was a time when superheroes were not the reason kids bought comic books.

After the Allies punched Hitler’s dream of a thousand year empire for real the superhero comics fell by the wayside.  Post WW2 was filled with all sorts of different genres like romance,

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Supernatural and horror stories,

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and Westerns.

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There was a time when Westerns, with all their stories about lone gunmen bringing justice to the wild frontier and some questionable stereotypes of American natives and Chinese, ruled the comic book world.  In fact, Timely Comics, the company that would later become Marvel Comics, survived the post war years by producing Westerns, some of which were worked on by Stan Lee himself.  Into this post war Western boom rode the Ghost Rider.

Origin and Career

The Ghost Rider was originally conceived as a Western vigilante lawman named Rex Fury aka “The Calico Kid”.  He had a standard pulp and superhero origin where he decided to adopt a colorful costume to fulfill the kind of justice he believed the system couldn’t deliver.  He would ride a black horse called Ebony and travel the West disguised as a bumbling salesman in order to fool criminals.

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He was assisted by a Chinese migrant worker named Sing Song (yeah, stereotypes and lack of cultural sensitivity was another hallmark of the Golden Age) who helped Rex after the Calico Kid saved him from being framed for murder.

However, Rex Fury was being published just as the comic industry was changing from vigilantes and outlaws to more mature books so Rex was given a new origin and costume.  After Rex is attacked by a white bandit named Bart Lasher who disguises his crew as a group of blood thirsty Indians (like I said…not very culturally sensitive) and throws the hero and his sidekick into a swirling abyss known as the Devil’s Sink.  Rex and Sing Song survive and Rex decides to adopt a more supernatural guise to terrify criminals and the superstitious.  By covering his clothing and cape in phosphorous he is able to appear as a glowing white spectre known as “The Ghost Rider”

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You can read his origin story here, although I should warn you it is not for those who are easily offended at traditional stereotypes of Asians and Native Americans.

After adopting this new persona the Ghost Rider began his new career as a vigilante that terrified would be criminals as a ghost like creature.  Due to the growing popularity of horror comics in the early 1950’s the Ghost Rider’s enemies became more supernatural as well, from criminals impersonating monsters including such as the Harpy and Frankenstein’s monster.

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But by 1952 he was fighting actual supernatural threats such as a dragon.

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So what happened?

1954 happened.  That was the year a child psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book that is infamous to the comic book industry, Seduction of the Innocent.

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Wertham was concerned that comics filled with violent images and supernatural stories were corrupting the youth of America and would lead to misbehavior and juvenile delinquency (a popular form of media coming under fire because of fears that it might turn children into savage little psychopaths?  THAT’S new!).  There was a Congressional hearing were Wertham testified.

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And rather have Congress and a mob of angry parents put them out of business the comic book companies got together and created the Comics Code Authority, an organization that would monitor every comic ever published and censor images or themes that were deemed too risque.  One of its most enduring legacies was the CCA stamp which you can find on a lot of older comics.

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Despite their best intentions the Comics Code was devastating to the industry.  Crime comics were heavily censored (you couldn’t show a crime being committed and the criminal had to  always lose in the end) and horror and sexually themed comics were outright banned.  This led to a lot of companies going out of business with only the big titles like Superman and Batman holding the kind of numbers that allowed them to survive.

Sadly the Ghost Rider was one of the many characters to fall victim to the new era of comics and his title was ended in 1954.  The good news is that he is currently in the public domain so if anyone wants to resurrect the character they are more than welcome to.

Crowdfunded comics that deserve your attention #1: Amiculus

Welcome to the inaugural post of a new blogs series “Crowdfunded comics that deserve your attention”.  It’s a weekly blog post about…crowdfunded comics that deserve a lot more attention then they are getting.  Every week I will select one comic series or graphic novel currently on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, or any other crowdfunding site and write about what it is, what I like about it, and why I think it deserves to be funded.

A couple of things to clear up before we start:

1. I am not being paid for this and these posts reflect my opinion and my opinion alone.  If, for whatever reason, I receive any form of compensation for any article I write I will make it expressly clear who is paying and why.

2. This series is for comics and graphic novels only.  This blog and website is dedicated to comics and this rule is simply in place to keep it all consistent.

3.  If you are reading things and are currently running a crowdfunding campaign for a comic book or graphic novel of your own creation please let me know!  Leave a polite request and a link to your campaign on my Twitter account @CambrianComics and I will take a look.  Please only leave one request, anyone caught spamming tweets or acting in a rude or disrespectful manner will be ignored.

With that said let’s move on to our first candidate: Amiculus Volume II: Flagellum Dei

Author’s note: if you want to check out the campaign first feel free to click here to go directly to the Kickstarter page.  If you would like a little more convincing, read on.  The same link will be a the bottom of the page below.

What is it?

Amiculus Vol. II is the second Kickstarter campaign by creator Travis Horseman and artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo.  Fresh off the success of their successfully funded Volume 1: Roma Aeterna, which is now available on Amazon,

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this writer and artist take us to a war torn ancient Rome at the twilight of the Western Roman Empire and ask the question: did Rome fall…or was it pushed?

Why I like it:

Amiculus is ancient historical fiction at its finest.  I know this because I donated the Kickstarter campaign for Volume I and I was not disappointed.  Travis Horseman crafts a tale of blood, betrayal, and unimaginable violence at the twilight of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.  The comic follows the quest of the ancient historian Procopius of Caesarea as he seeks the last words of the boy emperor Romulus Augustulus, the last truly Roman ruler of the Western Roman Empire.

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He finds a manuscript that takes him into the final days of the Roman Empire as the city that was once the jewel of the world is laid to siege by the barbarian general (and former Roman mercenary) Odoacer.

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Sadly, Rome is not prepared for this kind of fight.  The Emperor is a young boy, a weak leader who is controlled by his commanding and ambitious father Flavius Orestes,

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And Odoacer seems to have help from a mysterious clocked figure that appears to know everything about the Roman defenses, a shrouded figure known only as…Amiculus.

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The reason I’m talking about this is because this is the kind of story I love to read.  I am a rabid fan of ancient history and I can personally attest that every name, every date, and every location within Rome is accurate.  With the exception of Amiculus (if we don’t take SOME liberty with the events that happened we wouldn’t have a work of historical fiction) all the major players are there.

Also, the art work is top notch.  Caracuzzo is a veteran artist who has been drawing for over thirty years, and his dedication and skill show in this comic.  Here the artist gets to showcase an impressive eye for action and some of the most effective emotional displays I have ever seen.

Why you should donate:

Amiculus is a work of historical fiction, a field that comic books don’t really explore too often.  Granted there are plenty of western and fantasy comics that take their inspiration from history but this is different.  This is a story filled with real people, in real locations, making real history and you don’t need that much embellishment to make it exciting.

Still, if that isn’t enough to make you want to donate there is the practical side to consider.  I’ll be the first to admit that one of the big problems with crowdfunded comics is that the creators of successful funding campaigns sometimes have a bit of trouble delivering promised rewards on promised shipping dates.  That is not a problem here, the creative team has already created a successful campaign that has delivered on its promises (like I said before, I donated to their first campaign) and will do so again.

This comic is a work of art and storytelling that allows an excellent storyteller and an excellent artist to tell an epic, complex, and incredibly violent story about an epic, complex, and incredibly violent period of human history.

If you liked what you read and want to either learn more or donate, please feel free to check out the Kickstarter page here.  Thank you.

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: 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.