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.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: An Introduction to Essos

So now we’re at a point in the history of Game of Thrones where we can take a break from Westeros and explore some of the other parts of George R.R Martin’s universe.  Before we go on there is a quick correction.  I stated in previous posts that Aegon the Conqueror was born in Essos, the continent across the sea from Westeros.  It turns out that several very kind and helpful people have pointed out he was actually born on Dragonstone, a small island technically part of Westeros.  I was wrong and the internet was right.

Aegon’s lineage is interesting because while he was born in Westeros his family legacy places him firmly in the neighboring continent of Essos.

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Now if you thought Westeros was big, Essos is even more massive.  Essos plays an important part in several key subplots of the books and show serving as the base of operations for Daenerys “I am a goddess among men because I have the last three dragons and I am drop dead gorgeous” Targaryen and as a nice and busy stopover for any character that needs to either run away from Westerosi political intrigue or hire someone to make their problems go away.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of diverse and interesting ethnic groups and cultures to look at and observe and most excitingly (and welcoming considering I need at least six more weeks of material for this blog) it has a long and detailed history of mighty empires and great works of art, culture, and magic created while the First Men and Andals were still fighting in Westeros.  Starting with the slave masters of the Ghiscari Empire and ending with the Doom of Valyria and the beginnings of Aegon’s Conquest, we are going to spend the next couple of weeks talking about the pre history of Essos.

This blog post may seem strange and short since we’re simply laying the ground work for future posts but it just wouldn’t be complete without a historical comparison.  It’s been widely alluded to before, and you probably won’t be too shocked to hear this, but Essos is basically Continental Europe and Russia.

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You can see the resemblance in shape and if we look at the history of Europe, especially everything east of Germany and around the Mediterranean Sea, there are quite a few similarities.  While the Celts still ruled Britain and the Saxons hadn’t arrived, the rest of Europe had already seen some of the greatest empires and civilizations known to world history rise and fall.  Starting with the Golden Age of Greece and ending with the Saxon invasion of Britain, we are going to compare the pre history of Essos to the long and detailed history of pre Medieval Continental Europe.