Located along the southern peninsula of Essos, Valyria was once a modest kingdom comprised of mostly shepherds. Unbeknownst to the Valyrians and the surrounding kingdoms, the secret to their future power lay hidden deep within the fourteen flames; a group of fourteen volcanoes.1 The Valyrian people would go on to discover the dragons. With their discovery, the Valyrian peoples would go on to create “the greatest empire their world has ever seen”2 and conquer most of the known world in George R. R. Martins, A World of Ice and Fire. The empire that the Valyrian people would create, shares many similarities with the ancient Roman Empire of Europe, as George R. R Martin stated in his interview with Josh Roberts on SmarterTravel. From its landscape to the political and economic construct of the cities, George R. R Martin modeled his strongest empire in Essos after one of the strongest empires in history.
“At its height, the Valyrian Freehold ruled over half the Known World, not bad for former shepherds . . .“―Jorah Mormont
It is important to look at the skeleton and foundations of the Valyrian empire when looking to understand its historical parallels. The discovery of the dragons was the defining moment in early Valyrian history that was pinnacle in transforming their society and giving them the tools to go forth to conquer parts of Essos. The Valyrians were able to tame the dragons and control them for their own gain which lead to their presence being such an important factor in all of Valyria’s influence. The Valyrian empire was established as a freehold; this meaning that the Valyrian political structure gave equal rights to all free born land holding citizens as well as an equal voice in their political sphere.3 Instead of being ruled only by an autonomous figure head, the Valyrian empire produced a political system closely resembling a republic. With that being said, the equality terms only extended themselves to the freeborn members of the Valyrian society. Valyria was known, in George R. R. Martin’s world, as a empire that utilized the institution of slavery.4 This added in creating a caste society that could force dominated cities to fall into slavery and adhere to the supremacy of the Valyrian race. The Valyrians were also proficient in rooting their culture in Essos. The language used by Valyria was known as High Valyrian, and it was used within all the cities in its empire. Furthermore, as Valyria expanded its borders and conquered neighbouring cities, they established an important collection of roads that connected its empire together.5 The Valyrians were efficient in creating distinct infrastructure that reflected the power it wielded over its subjects.
Curious about the languages of Game of Thrones? Visit the Languages of Ice and Fire page!
In this video, HBO gives a short history of the Valyrian history and its rise into become an empire in Essos.
The history of the rise of Valyria’s conquest begins with the Ghiscari; a neighboring empire that ruled before the Valyrian uprising. In existence for thousands of years prior to their demise at the hands of the Valyrians, it is not exactly known how old the Ghiscari empire is.6 The empire is the oldest known in Essos which Martin created in A World of Ice and Fire.7 Over what is to be believed thousands of years, the Ghiscari cities were rich with culture and were home to vast architectures. In order to become the leading kingdom in Essos, the Valyrians needed to remove the Ghiscari empire, who possessed an army capable of being their strongest rival in their attempt to conquer and control Essos. The Ghiscari knew that the basis of the Valyrian power laid within their control over their dragons.8 Without their dragons, the Valyrians were unable to match their military strength. They sought to ultimately take the dragons away from the Valyrians, utilize their power for themselves and subjugate the Valyrians to their own empire. This rivalry plays closely to the relationship that can be seen between the city of Rome and the city of Carthage, which was a city built along the shores of North Africa.
The three Punic wars in the 3rd century BCE followed the struggles between two powerful cities, Rome and Carthage.9 The conflict between these two cities ranged over many years and ultimately resulted in the Roman dominance over Carthage. With the Roman victory, “Roman power soon spread through much of the Mediterranean world”.10 Much like the Romans, Valyrian armies defeated the Ghiscari empire in five decisive battles.11 Little is known of the many details to these battles, but with the strength of the dragon army, “the colossal pyramids and temples and homes were given over to dragonflame”12, and the Ghiscari were annihilated from Essos. George R. R. Martin created a new strong empire worthy of ruling over Essos in the absence of the Ghiscari.
The uniqueness of the Valyrian dragon as a military force can be reflected in the strength of the Roman military and its revolutionary legions that were at the core of its power. The Valyrian relied on the strength and fire of their dragons in order to cripple the Ghiscari army. The Roman military relied on formation and superior weaponry to defeat their enemies. Furthermore, the Valyrians mastered Valyrian Steel, the best forged blades in the World of Ice and Fire. Created from dragon fire and the essence of magic, no other kingdom was able to create such magnificent weapons.13 Similar to this, many historians argue that the Roman standard weapons are amongst the most efficient and effective in the ancient world. 14
The superior strength of the Valyrians gave them the opportunity and capability to push their borders and begin expanding their monopoly on the regions surrounding them. The Roman’s took their victory over the Carthaginians with pride and focused their resources on expanding their empire and conquering the surrounding lands around them. The influence that these empires had on their surrounding neighbours was very considerable. Similar to the Romans, the Valyrians chose to impose their own language, customs, religion and ultimately their whole culture onto those they conquered.15 The High Valyrian language is an example of this, much like the Latin language for the Romans. The Valyrians pushed the limits to their kingdom and expanded their empire to conquer the many small cities that boarded their territory and effectively imposed their will accordingly.
With the expanding empire, the Valyrians were able to establish themselves throughout Essos by conquering cities, creating new ones and linking their empire together by a series of roads. The Valyiran empire connects the main cities of Valyria, Oros and Tyria to the cities on their borders. Further roads were constructed through the Lands of the Long summer, as well as follow the narrow sea and the Rhoyne river and extend as far as the city of Meereen.16 Evidently, the Valyrian roads were connecting the major cities in its empire; these were Lorath, Lys, Myr, Norvos, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh and Volantis, which are scattered throughout Essos.17 The Roman roads connect the furthest regions of its empire together; this includes an intricate set of roads reaching between England to the Silk Road through the Middle Eastern territories.18 From here, the Valyrian cities and the Roman cities share another similarity. The formation of city states and independent dominion over their territories was apparent in both empires. Each city, while under the control of the ruling empire, founded their own speciality to contribute back to their empires. Many of these cities were trading ports, housed wealthy merchants or produced valuable natural resources.19 These small powers were able to elect their own officials as representative bodies that reflected their needs and desires to the government in Valyria.20 In addition to this, by paying homage to the capital of Valyria, these cities were granted the right to maintain their native rule.21
George R. R. Martin’s creation of Valyria parallels a significant component of the Roman empire. The construction of the Valyrian Freehold as modeled from the Roman republic is a distinct similarity between both civilizations. Both the freehold and the republic sought to provide its citizens with an equal voice within governmental proceedings. The freeborn, land holding citizens of their empire would have the opportunity to invest themselves within their political body. Furthermore, both civilizations were ran by a political body in place of a ruling emperor or king. This gave powerful families the eligibility to rise into substantial power in their respective cities.
The end of the Valyrian stronghold within Essos was swift and unexpected. The Doom of Valyria was a catastrophic event consisting of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and storms.22 In a single night, the entirety of the Valyrian peninsula was destroyed; thousands of years of history was decimated. It is unknown as to what caused this event, but it was powerful enough to extinguish the fire of the Valyrian empire. What ended the Valyrians in a single night, took many years for the Romans. The Roman empire was laid to rest by a series of political, economic and social factors, uncommon with the Valyrian empire. Although the empire itself fell for both the Romans and the Valyrians, the essence of their conquests and cultures are still alive in their worlds. For the Valyrians, three surviving families created a home on a neighbouring island that was hidden from the doom that destroyed Valyria. The Targaryens, the Velaryons and the Celtigars were three Valyrian families that escaped their doom and colonized Dragonstone.23 In the popular Game of Thrones television series on HBO, it is evident to see that Daenerys Targaryen withholds a strong and powerful character which is fed by the strength of her three dragons.
Interested in learning more about the similarities between Valyria and Rome? This video shows a Historian discussing all the details!
It is evident to see that George R. R Martin builds his World of Ice and Fire from real world evidence. The Valyrian empire was not created to be exactly Rome per say, but the similarities are difficult to over look. Both of these empires are among the most powerful that their world has ever seen. With the strength of their military they conquered cities and their surrounding territories. By creating a freehold, in the Valyrian empire, or a republic, in the Roman empire, they offered the opportunity to its subjects to be apart of the government rather then being forcefully ruled by a foreign power. In the end, these empires were successful in establishing and holding their power for extended periods of time until their eventual demises. But it is clear to see that neither of these empires are forgotten. From the ruins to the lasting memory each has created in history, it is without a doubt that these empires are still alive in memory; or will Geroge R. R. Martin relight the Valyrian flame with the character of Daenerys Targareyan? Fans must wait to see.
1 George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. Bantam (2014) 13
2 Steven Attewell. “A Laboratory of Politics: Part II” Tower of the Hand. 6 June 2014. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
6 “Game of Thrones History Lesson Part 3: The Ghiscari Empire and the Valyrian Freehold” Accessed 3 Apr 2015. http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2014/02/21/a-game-of-thrones-history-lesson-part-3-the-ghiscari-empire-and-valyrian-freehold/
7 George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. 13
8 “Game of Thrones History Lesson Part 3: The Ghiscari Empire and the Valyrian Freehold” Accessed 3 Apr 2015. http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2014/02/21/a-game-of-thrones-history-lesson-part-3-the-ghiscari-empire-and-valyrian-freehold/
9 Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J Gargola & Richard J.A Tablert, Richard “Wars with Carthage.” in A Brief History of the Romans. New York: Oxford UP. (2006) 59
10 Ibid, 67
11 George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones.(2014) 13
12 Ibid, 14
13 “Valyrian Steel” Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. Accessed 3 Apr 2015. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_steel
14 Stephen Dando-Collins. “The Legionarys Weapons.” in Legions of Rome. New York: Random House. (2010) 8
15 “Valyrian Freehold.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_Freehold. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
16 “Valyrian Roads.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_roads Accessed 3 Apr 2015
17 “Essos”Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed 3 Apr 2015. http:/ww.gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Essos?action=history
18 John Helsetine, “The Roads” in Roads to Rome. California: Getty Publications. (2005) 12
19 George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. (2014) 15
20 Ibid, 15
21 Ibid, 15
22 “Doom of Valyria” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Doom_of_Valyria. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
Boatwright, Mary T, Gargola, Daniel J & Tablert, Richard J. A. “Wars with Carthage.” in A Brief History of the Romans. New York: Oxford UP. 2006.
Dando-Collins, Stephen. “The Legionarys Weapons.” in Legions of Rome. New York: Random House. 2010.
Martin, George R. R., Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. Bantam, 2014.
Helsetine, John. “The Roads” in Roads to Rome. California: Getty Publications. 2005.
Attewell, Steven. “A Laboratory of Politics: Part II” Tower of the Hand. 6 June 2014. http://towerofthehand.com/blog/2014/06/06-laboratory-of-politics-part-ii/noscript.html Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Doom of Valyria.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros.Org. Last modified 19 December 2014. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Doom_of_Valyria. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Essos.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Wikia. Last modified 18 March 2015. http:/ww.gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Essos?action=history. Accessed 3 Apr 2015
“Ghiscari Empire.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. Last modified December 2 2014.http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Ghiscari. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Old Valyria.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Wika. Last modified 16 November 2014. http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Old_Valyria. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“A Game of Thrones History Lesson Part 3: The Ghiscari Empire and The Valyrian Freehold.” Adventures in Poor Taste. 21 Feb 2014. http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2014/02/21/a-game-of-thrones-history-lesson-part-3-the-ghiscari-empire-and-valyrian-freehold/. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
Roberts, Josh. “Game of Thrones’ Exclusive! George R. R Martin Talks Season Two, ‘The Winds of Winter’ and Real-World Influences for ‘A Song of Ice and Fire” Smarter Travel. 1 Apr 2012. http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/game-of-thrones-exclusive-george-martin-talks-season-the-winds-of-winter-and-real-world-influences-for-song-of-ice-and-fire.html?id=10593041. Accessed 3 Apr 2015
“Valyria.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros.Org. Last modified December 19 2014. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyria. Accessed 3 Apr. 2015.
“Valyrian Freehold.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. Last modified 30 March 2015. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_Freehold. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Valyrian Roads.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. Last modified December 24 2014.http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_roads Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Valyrian Languages.” Wikipedia. Last modified 6 March 2015 http://en.wikipediea.org/wiki/Valyrian_languages. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Valyrian Steel.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Westeros. Org. Last modified 12 March 2015. http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Valyrian_steel. Accessed 3 Apr 2015
Game of Thrones. “Game of Thrones” History & Lore: Valyria and the Dragon (HBO)”. Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube. Published 16 March 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz7koWc2d-0. Accessed 3 Apr 2015
Game of Thrones Academy. “Old Valyria and Ancient Rome: Impacting Westeros.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube. Published 2 Fed 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnEP6XjAf0A Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Timgad Rue”. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Published 15 April 2007. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.
“Valyria of Old”. Photograph. A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Published 27 April 2012. Accessed. 3 Apr 2015.
“Valyrians Find Dragons.” Photograph. A Wiki of Ice and Fire. Published 2 May 2012. Accessed 3 Apr 2015.