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.

maxresdefault (1)

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.

350px-Drogon_in_Daznak's_Pit

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.

FCWAM

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.

14th_century__english_longbow_man__by_stazjohnson-d6ayc2o

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.

Schlacht_von_Azincourt

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.

joanofarc

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.

SiegeOfOrleans1429

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.

Advertisements

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

gameofthroneslannistersword

conscripts

nights-watch-game-of-thrones21

or professional knights.

2237471-snapshot20120615011420

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.

episode-28-04-1920

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.

ASOS_MW_14_03_26_ARTICLE_GAME_OF_THRONES_02

DaarioComparison

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

capture8

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.

Malpaga10

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.

Free_Cities

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

Renaissance-City-States-Map

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:

download (7)

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.

rome-on-the-tiber

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:

titan_of_braavos

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.

colossus

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.

images (10)

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

download (8)

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.

350px-Battle_of_Qohor

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-half-day-sightseeing-tour-with-da-vinci-s-the-last-supper-in-milan-115133

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.

met005

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.

download (9)

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.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_58v_1

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.

Free_Cities

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.

EU19_126

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.

Renaissance-City-States-Map

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.

6 slave writing

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.

Daenerys-Targaryen-2

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

f375dc34f392d29aaf36a789768906ed

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.

11-115A5A5J100

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.

index

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.

maxresdefault

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.

Sothoryos_location

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)

images (6)

images (7)

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

images (5)

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.

Africa_satellite_orthographic

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.

MALI_empire_map

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.

mansa-musa-mali-empire-richest-man-history

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.

mcd_awh2005_0618376798_p430_f1

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.

History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Iron Bank

WARNING SPOILERS!

Today we are going to talk about an organization more powerful than any lord, king, or army.  This organization has the power to make or break kingdoms and can mean the difference between prosperity or utter ruin.  I am of course talking about the Iron Bank of Braavos.

images (3)

The Iron Bank was an organization that was founded when the Valyrian Freehold still ruled Essos.  They were founded by a collection of tradesmen and merchants who decided it would be much more profitable to pool all their resources together and loan out money for others to risk on shops and ships rather than do it themselves.  The name of the Iron Bank comes from the disused iron mine that was used to store their combined wealth and even though they all agreed to work with each other they made sure that each member had at least two guards loyal to each of them guarding the vault at all times.

Out of all the organizations and locations we’ve talked about on this blog series the Iron Bank is probably the most influential.  They show this by forcing anyone who seeks money, whether it’s a king or a commoner, to sit on simple stools while they sit on massive gilded chairs lording over the fates of kingdoms.

Iron_Bank_leaders

When the Lannisters assume power and the War of the Five Kings begins it is the Iron Bank that loans the money for the Lannisters to wage war.  When Tywin and Jeoffry kick the bucket, Cersei declared the Lannister’s debt null and void which pisses off the Bank to no avail (it turns out that while the Lannister’s unofficial motto is “a Lannister always pays his debts” the Bank’s motto is “The Iron Bank always gets its due”).  In response the Bank agrees to back the claim of Stannis Baratheon to the Iron Throne and grant him a considerable loan.

download (3)

The idea of powerful banks controlling the fate of nations is nothing new.  One of the most powerful banking families of the Renaissance and the historical equivalent of the Iron Bank was the rich and powerful Medici Family

Cosimo_ii_de'_medici_adn_two

Like the Iron Bank the Medici had their paws in everything.  They were responsible for founding the Medici Bank in 1397 and made a fortune investing and trading in cloth. This made them fabulously rich and they used their new found wealth to gain political power.  The Medici’s produced several popes and two queens of France, all of them loyal members of the family and all of them bringing the gifts and gratitude of a grateful and powerful bank.  Their wealth was further displayed by the great works of art and architecture they commissioned such as Michelangelo’s David.

MICHELANGELO_1501-04_David_source_sandstead_d2h_97

and the Florence Cathedral.

download (4)

Although the Medici would eventually fall from grace they helped bring about an explosion of art and culture and for a while, controlled the fate of Europe through the money it lent and borrowed.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: the Faceless Men

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most mysterious and deadly groups of cutthroats and killers in the entire world of Game of Thrones: The Faceless Men.

605416916_652

Almost nothing is known about the Faceless Men due to their extreme secrecy.  What we do know through the show is that they are headquartered in Braavos at the House of Black and White

download (2)

They were founded during the height of the Valyrian Empire by slaves who worked in Valyrian mines.

400px-Lin_BoFaceless_Man

And they are very good at two things: killing people and disguising themselves to look like others.  It is made very clear in the books that their reputation is fearsome and with a big reputation comes a high price.  Also, they prefer to work from the shadows, coupling their ability to disguise themselves with a talent for making deaths look like “accidents”.  Nobody knows where this power comes from exactly but in might have something to do with the CAVERN OF FACES THEY HAVE HIDDEN IN THEIR HEADQUARTERS!

main-qimg-62f4bd9d10d47a2e6d94ad484db322d8

One thing’s for sure.  Whether they get their power from some unknown magic or the presumed centuries of experience they have had killing people the Faceless Men are the deadliest weapons in the world and you do not one after you.

The Faceless Men are tricky to pin down as an actual historical group since it would make sense that any organization that depended on this level of secrecy would very much like to have their name removed from the history books.  That being said there is an actual group of deadly warriors that does share some similarities with the Faceless Men: the Hashashin or more commonly known as “The order of Assassins”.

hashashin_by_jmccoy

Unlike the Faceless Men the Hashashen were not mercenaries for hire.  Instead they were an Islamic religious sect known as the Nizari Isma’ili, a splinter group of predominately Shia muslims who preached a belief in reason, cooperation, and social justice.  The politics and logistics of Muslim religious orders and countless breakaways are far too complicated for this article but for now all that you need to know is that the Nizari were in a position that required a small number of followers to fight off a much larger enemy force, which resulted in the foundation of the Order of Assassins.  While not much is known about their exact foundation (see the need for secrecy above) it is widely believed that a man named Hassan i Sabbah founded the order in the 11th century.

hassan-bin-sabbah-and-rashid-al-din-sinan

Sabbah was an extremely charismatic leader who ran his new order of warriors out of the captured mountain fortress of Alamut in northern Iran.

Alamut2

Here Sabbah trained his followers to become some of the deadliest and secretive fighters in the known world.   His fighters were known to throw themselves into a battle with little to no regard for their own lives, appear from nowhere, and utilize tactics that had more in common with modern terrorist organizations such as Hamas or al-Qaeda.  Despite these brutal tactics they worked and the Nizari were left alone until they were finally beaten after the Mongols came in and laid the Middle East to waste.

A quick note on the word “assassin”.  The exact origin of the word is debated but it is believed that the Nizari’s enemies claimed that each soldier would consume a drug called hashish in order to get into a killing frenzy.  Members of the order were therefore called “hashashin” which would eventually become the modern westernized “assassin”.

No matter what their exact origin the Order of Assassins left a trail of bodies and blood that inspired tremendous fear, so much fear that they are still remembered in stories and books to this day.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The High Sparrow and the Bonfire of the Vanities

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE MOST RECENT EPISODES OF GAME OF THRONES AND INFORMATION ABOUT A VERY SPECIFIC CHARACTER!

Today we are going to take a break from the big ideas and grand scale events of the show and talk about one particular person: The High Sparrow.

High_Sparrow

We’ve already discussed the High Sparrow’s position on things the Faith deems immoral and we’ve seen his minions of the Faith Militant perform an act so awful and so soul shattering I’m surprised it hasn’t caused an uproar yet.  I am, of course, talking about this.

284A3FB600000578-3066877-Outcome_The_Faith_Militant_smashed_barrels_of_wine_as_they_kille-m-152_1430717392011

Yes, it seems the Faith Militant has left the people of King’s Landing with fate worse then death, a world without booze.  I’ve mentioned before that the Faith is dead set against all form of vice including gambling, sodomy, and most tragically drinking but at the same time it’s hard to completely hate the man since he has also preached that all men are equal in the eyes of the gods and that people should make it their duty to help those in need.  The High Sparrow has led the Faith Militant on a crusade against sin and while that isn’t all that special in itself what’s really interesting is that it has a direct historical parallel.

Just like the Faith Militant several of the real world Medieval Catholic holy orders would occasionally stage large coups in populated cities and wage a war on vice and sin.  One of the most famous of these coups was staged by this man.

Girolamo_Savonarola

This is Girolamo Savonarola, a Catholic friar who dressed plainly and had several strong opinions on what was right and wrong.  Like the High Sparrow Savonarola preached for reform in the Church and against excess and immoral behavior.  Savonarola’s sermons were also quite apocalyptic and were very critical of what he deemed to be the immoral practices of the Church and of the people of Renaissance Florence.  While this did not make him many friends in high places (he was excommunicated from the Church in 1497 by Pope Alexander VI) he did prove to be incredibly popular with the common people.  This culminated in him leading bands of people through the streets of Florence and carrying out the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497.

6a00d8341c525c53ef01a73d717dfd970d

The Bonfire of the Vanities was Savonarola’s attempt to return the city of Florence to a more pious state.  He and his bands of children would wander around the city, knocking on the doors of the rich and powerful, and demanding any luxury items or secular works of literature and art.  As you can see above they were all gathered into a big pile and burned (no account on whether or not they destroyed barrels of wine but I’m sure they did).  Unfortunately Savonarola’s power and reputation would not last.  His views and ideals became too unpopular (nobody liked to live in Medieval Europe sober for too long) and all the powerful enemies he made were more than happy to see him burned as a heretic and traitor.

SavonarolaDeath

Author’s Note: If I’ve wound up spoiling the future fate of the High Sparrow in this post I am truly sorry.

So there you have it, a direct historical counterpart to a specific event and person in the Game of Thrones world to a real life counterpart.  Thank goodness this is just a fantasy novel set in a time long ago.  It’s not like leaders and pundits today are going on about the corruption of society or anything.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Doom of Valyria

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS AND SHOW.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Today we are going to to talk about the decline and fall of empires.  As we mentioned before, Valyria was once the most powerful empire in the known world and would have continued to have existed if it wasn’t for the Doom.  We all know the source of Valyrian power came from its dragons, who the Valyrian shepherds discovered in a volcano range called the Fourteen Fires. Unfortunately the Valyrians failed to realize that it is usually not a good idea to build massive cities filled with highly flammable people near a large collection of molten death traps and inevitably every volcano in Valyria decided to throw a tantrum and erupt.

tumblr_m5h98yzY9J1rx636vo1_1280

Like all good legends the details are a bit hazy and nobody knows exactly what caused this to happen.  Some say it was the righteous fury of the Seven Headed God punishing the Valyrians for their wicked ways and worship of false idols.  Some say former slaves of Valyria who would go on to become the Faceless Men…

download (19)

…somehow sabotaged the volcanoes and caused them to erupt.  And some say that it was just rotten luck and Mother Nature was having a particularly bad day and decided to take it out on poor old Valyria.  No matter what the cause was the results were clear.  The age of the Valyrian Freehold was over and the empire was no more.  While some colonies and cities would attempt to re establish the empire their efforts were thwarted in what would become known as the Century of Blood.

Unlike its fantasy counterpart Rome did not end with one massive bang, more like a long string of implosions and invasions.  It is interesting to note that the Roman Empire (which is different from the Roman Republic and became an Empire after a long string of awful civil wars that are very well known and very well documented) also suffered from a cataclysmic volcanic disaster that is very well known: the eruption at Pompeii.

tumblr_ma9hmelav81r1io1co1_1280

Like the Valyrians the Romans thought it would be a good idea to build a city right next to an active volcano and in 79 A.D it erupted burying the town of Pompeii in a cloud of ash and the neighboring town of Herculaneum in a molten lava.  While it must have been truly terrifying to behold, it was not the end of the Roman Empire and today is more famous for it’s archaeological and cultural value since it provides an in depth look into the daily lives of everyday Romans.

Another thing the fall of the Roman Empire shares with their Valyrian counterparts are the many theories as to why it was destined to fall.  Some earlier books on the subject like Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire claim that Rome fell because they had become fat and lazy with the spoils of conquest (author’s note: this is a HUGE paraphrase and the link will take you to a copy of the book that can be found online.  It’s a fun read but it’s also incredibly long.)  More modern and practical explanations would point to economic, social, and political woes that slowly picked away at Rome until very little remained.  In this way the Roman Empire shares quite a bit with the Valyrain Century of Blood which will talk about next time.