Dorne – Medieval Hybridization in Game of Thrones

George R. R. Martin’s fantasy world, A Song of Ice and Fire, is renowned for its mixture of cross-cultural influences, medieval memory, and vividly imagined content. The primary stage for Martin’s book series, the continents of Westeros and Essos, are both incredible diverse lands in terms of their demographic populations and the geographical definition. Dorne A clever historian or any shrewd observer can, however, spot several of the sources for Martin’s regions and the people who inhabit them. Martin’s range of inspiration includes European, Middle Eastern, African, and even Asian references, forming a broad international scope. In many cases, the result of this creative wellspring is that the constituent Kingdoms and the city-states of A Song of Ice and Fire resemble highly nuanced portraits of hybridized culture and medievalism. Martin’s ability to weld together his vast collection of motivations has made Game of Thrones into a vehicle of not only popular imagination, but one that injects ideas into how the wider audience interprets medievalism itself. Perhaps the most fascinating example of this is the peninsula of Dorne, the southernmost kingdom in Westeros and the last to join the realm ruled from King’s Landing. Dornish_Marches_by_Rene_Aigner© In terms of its arid climate and the Rhoynar ethnic infusion, Dorne represents an anomaly when compared to the neighboring Reach and the Stormlands. Likewise, its culture as articulated by the HBO series and Martin’s own description is akin to the Iberian or North African medieval landscape. Yet, Dorne’s history, one of fierce resistance to conquest and attachment to independence draws on parallels with Wales’ constant fight to defend against English rule. In distinct but separate ways, Martin’s Dorne represents a physical manifestation of two medieval societies and thus is an elaborate hybrid. Dorne is not strictly Wales or Spain, it is a union of both in a complementary medievalist lens. This paper will argue this in three ways. First, by deconstructing Dorne for the purposes of establishing a criteria, and thus to evaluate and better understand the frame of Martin’s inspiration. Second, by evaluating the Iberian peninsula’s medieval existence and its relevance to Dorne. And thirdly, by discussing Wales’ defensive campaigns against the English in comparison to the Dornish-Targaryen wars, and the eventual Targaryen Conquest of Dorne.

The Fundamentals of Dorne

Dorne is introduced as potentially the most undesirable and inhospitable place in Westeros by Martin’s history, The World of Ice and Fire.1 Geographically isolated from the rest of the continent due to high mountains and a series of extensive deserts, Dorne’s natural alienation allowed it to survive largely untouched by large scale settlement but with no real means to prosper. Martin’s history compares Dorne to the North in the sense that both Kingdoms occupy desolate terrain that cannot support large populations, and those that do decide to continue living there are deemed insane, savage, or worse.2 Three areas in particular served as the centres of Dornish civilization: the coast and river valleys, the desert, and the Red Mountains.3 Consequently, centuries of living within these separate biomes led to the development of three different types of Dornishmen: the Salt Dornish, the Sand Dornish, and the Stony Dornish respectively.45 The disparity of population and the basic topographical fragmentation of Dorne also resulted in a politically divided one. Prior to the Rhoynar migration led by Queen Nymeria, better known as the arrival of the ‘Ten Thousand Ships’, Dorne was originally split into various competing petty Kingdoms under a coalition of First Men and Andal settlers.6


It was only due to the critical marriage alliance between Nymeria and Mors Martell that the process of political unification was begun in earnest, bringing about the new Principality of Dorne.7 While Dorne’s many states were successfully subjugated under House Martell, Dorne itself became even more ethnically and culturally nuanced due to the Rhoynar influx.89 Additionally, due to the new intensity of Rhoynar culture among the aristocratic classes, Dornish customs and particularly inheritance laws shifted to allow for female heirs.10 All of these factors were to make Dorne one of the most distinct regions in Westeros.

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken – Dorne at War


During Aegon’s conquest, Dorne famously rebuked the notion of submitting to the Targaryen dynasty in a move that began the First Dornish War, cementing a long legacy of animosity between Dorne and the Iron Throne. Despite the relentless efforts of Aegon I and his sister-wives, Dornish armies simply evacuated easily targeted castles and engaged in fierce guerrilla warfare, deploying attrition tactics against the numerically superior enemy.11 Instead of great battles that could be won with dragon fire, Aegon was confronted with a war he could simply not win, and was forced to withdraw after nearly ten years of agonizing conflict.12 Dorne would forever remain unfinished business to the Targaryen dynasty, the last crown jewel in a nearly perfect dominion. Not surprisingly, the Targaryens eventually returned a century later in an attempt to complete the original plan. The Conquest of Dorne, a campaign launched by Daeron I, or the Young Dragon, initially proved incredibly promising but turned to disaster following an almost identical series of events to the first attempt.13 Dornish rebels who were masters of the harsh terrain merely attacked and melted back into the deserts and mountains, perpetuating a cycle that the Westerosi forces were unable to predict or reliably defend against.14 When Dorne finally entered the fold, it was due to diplomacy and marriage rather than any definitive victory.

Cultural Inundation – Al-Andalus as Rhoynar Migration

In 711 the Ummayad Caliphate invaded the Visigothic Kingdom in Iberia, seizing almost all of the peninsula and beginning a historical and cultural trajectory that was to last nearly eight hundred years.15 Much like Martin’s Rhoynar migration, the Ummayad invaders were a foreign cultural and religious group that swept into Iberia and settled en masse.16 However, unlike the diplomatic marriage-alliance between the Rhoynar and the resident Dornish, they did so following the wholescale destruction of the Visigothic army.17 Instead of integration and assimilation into the native population as the Rhoynar did, the Ummayad forces established a new administrative region in Iberia that became known as Al-Andalus, distinguished by the immigration of Berber tribes and the Islamic identity of the residents.18 The cultural/ethnic cleavage was far more pronounced by religious association, contrasting sharply with the apparent nonchalant interpretation that the Dornish and Rhoynar had of faith. However, where Dorne does borrow from Al-Andalus and much of Medieval Spain is the interaction between ethnicity. Just like the Dorne’s triumvirate of ethnicities, the Salt Dornish, Sand Dornish, and Stone Dornish, Iberia was host to three separate religious groups: Muslims, Jews, and Christians that operated under models of informal and formal cooperation.19 Furthermore, a large portion of the Muslim immigrants could potentially represent Martin’s Sand or Stone Dornish, since many of the settlers were familiar with the rugged terrain of southern Spain.20 Martin does not distinguish the relationship between the three ethnic groups to a model that represents the extent that the Iberian peninsula, but there are significant correlations.

Anglo-Welsh Wars – Historical Parallels and Military Feats

The historic kingdom of Wales’ standoff in 1066 with the Norman invaders, led by William the Bastard, is hardly a coincidental parallel to Dorne’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the authority of Aegon I over Westeros. Dorne and Wales, two relatively small kingdoms with significantly smaller militaries than their opponent, were seemingly pithy resistance in the face of two indomitable characters.[21] Both Aegon and William shared a desire for a greater destiny and kingship, just as both Dorne and Wales were an obstacle to fulfilling that realized dream. And just as remarkably, both Dorne and Wales were surprisingly tough opponents that refused to submit easily. Not unlike Aegon’s foiled quest to take Dorne and unite the Seven Kingdoms in another great campaign, Norman power failed in its initial attempt to subjugate the divided Welsh kingdoms.[22] An inability to penetrate deep into Wales discouraged further conquest, and a century passed (just as it did for Dorne), until a new king and a new campaign were mounted for a complete conquest. Henry II’s attempt to take Wales in 1157 resulted in unmitigated disaster for the expedition. Daeron's_death Henry’s forces significantly superior forces, numbering some 30,000 against the Welsh force of 3,000, were ambushed in the Battle of Ewloe, an action that very nearly killed Henry himself.[23] When Henry returned in 1165, once again leading a massive force, the Welsh once again assumed guerilla tactics, taking advantage of the heavily forested terrain and their superior archers.[24] By the time Henry’s army reached its first fortress, the supply lines were cut, attrition rates were high, and morale was catastrophic.[25] Henry himself had nearly been killed a second time by a longbow, narrowly saved by a loyal retainer. Henry was forced to retreat, proving that Daeron I’s folly was shared by historical figures all too often.


So you could say Dorne is Wales mixed with Spain and Palestine with some entirely imaginary influences mixed in. Or you could just say it’s Dorne….

Ultimately, Martin has created a region that was never intended to conform perfectly to the historical and cultural ideas behind Spain and Wales. By cherry-picking desired concepts and selectively employing ideas that offered the most tangible assets to his narrative, Martin has engineered a medium that is capable of pulling from history in a way that hybridizes it remarkably. Dorne operates outside the tunnel vision of strict historical reference points that academia and even the audience can be tempted to apply to Game of Thrones, and this is a necessary understanding that must be taken into consideration for any scholarly approach to A Song of Ice and Fire. As Martin has reasonably stated before, Dorne does not have to be a projection of purely popular ideas regarding the Welsh resistance or the Islamic conquest of Iberia, it can be a mold that brings together a cornucopia of derived motivations into a single new entity. Dorne can and should be recognized as its own beast entirely, and not merely a facsimile of any number of historical constructs.

Works Cited

1George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Dorne,” in The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, 2014).

2Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Dorne”.

3George R. R. Martin, Mark MacKinnon, Michelle Lyons, A Game of Thrones: D20-Based Open Gaming RPG (Guelph: Guardians of Order, 2005), p. 56.

4Martin, Mark MacKinnon, Michelle Lyons, p. 56.

5George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords (New York: Bantam Books, 2000), p. 430.

6George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Kingdoms of First Men”.

7George R. R. Martin, A Feast for Crows (New York: Bantam Books, 2005), p. 306.

8So Spake Martin, Event Horizon Chat (March 18, 1999),, Accessed March 30, 2015.

9George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Queer Customs of the South”.

10So Spake Martin, Event Horizon Chat (March 18, 1999),, Accessed March 30, 2015.

11George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Dorne Against the Dragons”

12George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Dorne Against the Dragons”

13George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, p. 735.

14George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Daeron I Targaryen”.

15Roger Collins, Early Medieval Spain (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983), p. 151.

16Roger Collins, The Basques (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 49-50.

17Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal: A Political History of al-Andalus (New York: Longman, 1996), p. 14.

18Thomas Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages: Comparative Perspectives on Social and Cultural Formation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 165-166.

19Glick, p. 169.

20Collins, p. 49-50.

[21] R. R. Davies, Age of Conquest: Wales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 26.

[22] John Davies, A History of Wales (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 29.

[23] Davies, p. 52.

[24] J.E. Lloyd, A History of Wales, From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest (New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2004), p. 111.

[25] David Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery: Britain, 1066-1284 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 386.


Carpenter, David. The Struggle for Mastery: Britain, 1066-1284. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Spain. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983.

——————. The Basques. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990.

Davies, John. A History of Wales. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Davies, R. R. Age of Conquest: Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Glick, Thomas. Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages: Comparative Perspectives on Social and Cultural Formation. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales, From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2004.

Martin, George R. R. A Feast for Crows. New York: Bantam Books, 2005.

————————-. A Storm of Swords. New York: Bantam Books, 2000.

————————-, Mark MacKinnon, Michelle Lyons, A Game of Thrones: D20-Based Open Gaming RPG. Guelph: Guardians of Order, 2005.

————————-, Elio Garcia, and Linda Antonsson, “Dorne,” in The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, 2014.

So Spake Martin, Event Horizon Chat (March 18, 1999),, Accessed March 30, 2015.