Medieval Warfare in Game Of Thrones

The TV show Game of Thrones and the book series A Song of Ice and Fire written by George R. R. Martin, that it is based on has a large connection to medieval history. Many of the aspects that help shape the series and draw people in have parallels to medieval Europe. This paper will look at warfare in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire and the historical parallels and inspirations it draws from. This paper will look at two different aspect of warfare and their parallels. The two aspects will cover things like dragons and wildfire and personal leadership. Each of the topics will be divided into two sections. The first part will look at the topic as it is presented in Game of Thrones and then the historical parallels will be looked at.

In Game of Thrones there many different kinds’ weapons and most of them are very basic normal weapons. But there are two weapons that could be classified as super weapons. These are of course the Dragons and Wildfire. Both of these make up some of the few fantasy elements found within the series so far. Although they are both present in the series to really understand and see how the Dragons

[1] were used the main books and TV show are not the best source of information. The best source is “The World of Ice and Fire” written by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia and Linda Antonsson as it has details about the initial conquest of Westeros. The Dragons completely change the way warfare is conducted in Westeros after Aegon the Conqueror invades. Before his arrival the Seven kingdoms were generally evenly matched and had fortresses that none could breach or capture. But with the arrival of Dragons this was completely changed. One of the best examples of how devastating Dragons could be is the destruction of Harrenhal. [2]. Harrenhal was a castle made of thick stone and located on the Iron Islands. During Aegon’s conquest it was bathed in Dragon fire so hot that it melted the stone. This completely destroyed the idea that a castle or a keep could protect people from their enemies, especially if they fought against a Dragon. No longer could any castle truly be called impenetrable or invincible. In this same attack the dragon’s fire killed all who remained inside the walls of the castle and created the iron throne[3]. Dragons were unlike any other weapon known; they could destroy wall and castles with ease and were able to slaughter more men than anything else. And all of this could be done from a distance. Although it may be hard to believe that there is possibly anything from the medieval period that can compare to the sheer destructive power and intimidation of Dragons there is. Dragons can be seen as medieval artillery especially some of the early artillery. One of the best comparisons can be seen at the siege of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire. Constantinople boasted walls that had stood for over one thousand years. It was a fortified city that had never been captured and was able to repel all attackers. However the siege in 1453 would end these claims as well as the Byzantine Empire. The ottomans had with them a large number of cannons including one that was over twenty-six feet long

The relevent scene is between 1:16:00 and 1:17:00.

[4] and fired a 12 hundredweight cannon ball[5]. This cannon more than any other was to the medieval world what the dragons were to Westeros. It was able to destroy the walls of Constantinople and would easily kill any man who ended up in its path. And much like the dragons it was able to do this from a safe distance. The sheer size, power and sound of this cannon would be an incredible psychological tool against the defenders. It would be able to crush their spirits and their will to fight, much like seeing and hearing a dragon could do. Furthermore due to the nature of cannons and gun powder it is very much like it is spitting out fire.

There is one other super weapon within the Game of Thrones world. It is the incredibly dangerous man-made substance known as Wildfire. Wildfire is an alchemically created bright green fire[6]. It is an incredibly dangerous weapon because water will not put it out, the only way to get rid of it is for it burn itself out. Wildfire is even able to burn on top of water which makes it an incredibly useful and dangerous weapon for naval combat

[7]. This is proven during the battle of Blackwater Bay. Tyrion uses wildfire to help destroy Stannis Baratheon’s fleet and severely weaken the attacking force. The scene at the battle of Blackwater Bay demonstrates just how deadly and effective a weapon it can be. The fires easily destroy a number of ships and a large number of men succumb to the flames and not even jumping into the water is able to help them. However Wildfire is also a double-edged sword. The fire spreads quickly and burns anything and everything in its path. This causes many on both sides to become fearful. This is especially true of the Hound who already has an aversion to fire[8].Despite the unpredictable nature of Wildfire it is an incredibly effect weapon that when used is able to decimate an enemy, dictate the battlefield and give a psychological advantage to the side that has used it. The side using the Wildfire would gain the advantages because they would hopefully be able to stay a safe distance away and watch as their enemies or as the case at Blackwater their enemies’ ships burn without ever having reached them[9]. To find the medieval parallel from the medieval world once again we look to Constantinople. However this time it is the Byzantine side that holds the super weapon. The medieval parallel is Greek Fire. Greek Fire has a very long history, some of the first records of its creation date back to the first Punic war. It is claimed that Arcamdeds of Syracuse created Greek Fire shortly after the war to try and repel the Romans from capturing Syracuse[10].In this form it was much like the one seen in Game of Thrones as it was a mix of chemicals placed in a bag or jar and then thrown by a catapult. However this would change during the medieval ages. Byzantium needed something to scare off their enemies and allow their weak navy to dominate the waters

A Byzantine Ship using Greek Fire

A Byzantine Ship using Greek Fire

[11]. And so the scientist created a new form of Greek Fire by using petroleum and making it into the much more well-known liquid Greek Fire. This substance world allow the Byzantines to dominate in naval warfare and protect Constantinople. This Greek Fire was incredibly dangerous as it spread quickly and could not be put out with water in fact it could even burn under water[12]. Having looked at what Greek fire can do it is very obvious that Game of Thrones Wildfire was taken almost as a direct copy of the ancient weapon and used in a very similar manner. One interesting connection that they share is their creation. In Game of Thrones it is alchemist who create the Wildfire, this works well as alchemists regularly appear in fantasy and are somewhat magical. But in the real world alchemists where a kind of scientist, just like the people who originally created and then modified Greek Fire.

The next aspect of medieval warfare that will be looked at is the importance of personal leadership. To examine this once again the battle of Blackwater Bay and the Lannister’s

[13] will be looked at as they provide a very good example. The characters who demonstrate the power of persona leadership are Joffrey and Tyrion. The power and impact of personal leadership can be really be seen, especially in the show just after Joffrey leaves. As soon as he leaves the entire moral of the solider and defenders drops they no longer have the strength or courage to defend against Stannis and his men. The simple act of having the king alongside them fighting to defend the city was a giant morale booster that caused the men to really believe that they had a chance to win. But with him leaving all hope is lost. And then Tyrion steeps in as commander

[14], he announces that he will lead the defense. At first this changes nothing, despite Tyrion being a Lannister, a Noble, and his connection to the Iron Throne the people do not see in him the qualities needed to command the respect and confidence to lead men into battle. A large part of this is most likely due to him being a dwarf, he is seen as less of a man. The knights, soldiers, and mercenaries do not recognize him. At this point he has no personal power nor the ability to lead but that quickly changes. As seen in the clip Tyrion uses his size and the mocking, shame and weakness that many associate with it and him as a tool. He turns it around on the men who have given up hope and challenges them “If I am half a man what does that make you?”. With his words and actions he has completely changed the dynamics, no longer is he something to be mocked, no longer do the men fell hopeless. Now Tyrion had inspired the men to follow him into a battle that seemed hopeless just moment before, a battle that their king had abandoned. Tyrion even hints at how important personal leadership is in his speech by saying not to fight for the king because he will not fight for them. That line helps to show that many men in the world of Game of Thrones do not fight just because of a cause or because they are forced or required to but because the man leading them holds power of them, the person leading the battle is able to command them, their respect and provide them with courage, strength and belief in victory when their has run out. This idea of personal leadership and what it can inspire men to do can easily be paralleled with the medieval world and the medieval rulers. The importance and role of personal power can be seen in many different places in the medieval world. A lord created a following and gained men’s service by renting out land, this is the basics of feudal life. But it did not end there and if the lord could not command the respect of his followers or was weak he could easily lose all he had. Much of this personal power can stem from the rewarding of followers after a battle or raid. After a battle or a raid a lord was expected to provide his followers with a reward of some kind, be it land, jewels, animals or something else. This reward was meant to act as payment for past services[15] and not future actions. Because of this if a lord did not properly reward people he could lose all of his followers. He would lose all of his power, authority and leadership. On the other hand if the lord or king was a strong and powerful leader he could conquer lesser men easily. One just has to look at Harald Matted-Hair or as he is more well-known Harald Fairhair

Harald FairHair

Harald FairHair

. In his attempt to become sole king of Norway he marched against the other lords and because of his presence, his power and personal leadership he was able to make enemies surrender to him and entomb themselves[16]. Furthermore to show how powerful and important personal leadership is there is evidence that one of King Audbjorn’s followers, Kveld-Ulf replied that he would not join his king in fighting Harald for Harald had lots of luck and his own king had none[17]. The story of Harald Matted-hair demonstrates the power of personal leadership very well. His mere presence and reputation was able to cause a Kings followers to abandon their king and not even attempt to fight, it drove people to kill themselves rather than fight. This kind of power, fear and strength is an amazing tool and when one looks at history it is easy to spot others that embody this power and those who lack it.

The book series A Song of Ice and Fire and the TV Game of Thrones is an amazing fantasy world full politics, magic, war and sex. And it is not very hard to find connections and parallels between many of the characters and events in the series with people and events from history. This is also true for warfare. Although this paper has only looked at two different aspects of warfare in Game of Thrones there are many more connections that can be looked at and explored to an even greater depth.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] 26Blazor “Epic Dragon Scene Game of Thrones Season 3 Daenerys Targaryen Rise to Power (Part 1) (HD)” YouTube video, 3:16, April 21 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4PPWYCqPKo

[2] Antonsson, Linda, Gracia, Elio M. and Martin, George R.R, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game Of Thrones Bantam books New York, 2014 p. 38

[3] Antonsson, Linda, Gracia, Elio M. and Martin, George R.R, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game Of Thrones Bantam Books: New York, 2014 p.38-40

[4] MA Darul Hikmah “Fetih 1453 2012 FULL Movie” Youtube Video, 2:35:57 June 21 2014

[5] Runciman, Steven, The Fall of Constantinople: 1453 Cambridge university Press: New York 1965 p. 75

[6] Martin, George R.R, A Clash of Kings Bantam Books: New York 2000, Google Chrome Extension Readium Library. Chapter 20 Tyrion

[7] tinyraptor, “Game of Thrones Blackwater Wildfire Scene [Widescreen High Quality]” YouTube Video 4:06 May 28 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuNyWMAWptE

[8] Martin, George R.R, A Clash of Kings Bantam Books: New York 2000, Google Chrome Extension Readium Library. Chapter 52 tyrion

[9] tinyraptor, “Game of Thrones Blackwater Wildfire Scene [Widescreen High Quality]” YouTube Video 4:06 May 28 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuNyWMAWptE

[10] Volkman Ernest, Science Goes To War: the Search for the Ultimate Weapon from Greek Fire to Star Wars, John Wiley & Sons Inc: New York 2002 p. 33

[11] Volkman Ernest, Science Goes To War: the Search for the Ultimate Weapon from Greek Fire to Star Wars, John Wiley & Sons Inc: New York 2002 p. 53

[12] Lepage, Jean-Denis G.G., Medieval Armies and Weapons in Western Europe; An Illustrated History, McFarland &Company Publishers: Jefferson, 2002 p. 248

[13] EricThePooh, “The Rains of Castamere (extended cut)” YouTube Video 7:03 June 2 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU8eL2CjzHw

[14] OFJehutyV2 “GoT 2×09: Tyrion’s Rally Speech” YouTube Video 2:50 May 27 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEVkm60TPKk

[15] Maddox, Donald and Sturm-Maddox, Sara. Medieval French Alexander, The. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.p. 136  https://muse.jhu.edu/

[16] Somerville, Angus A and McDonald, R. Andrew (eds.), Politics in Harlad Finehair’s Norway,  The Viking Age, A Reader , University of Toronto Press: Toronto (2010) p. 30

[17] Somerville, Angus A and McDonald, R. Andrew (eds.), Politics in Harlad Finehair’s Norway,  The Viking Age, A Reader , University of Toronto Press: Toronto (2010) p. 30-31

 

Works Cited

26Blazor “Epic Dragon Scene Game of Thrones Season 3 Daenerys Targaryen Rise to Power (Part 1) (HD)” YouTube video, 3:16, April 21 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4PPWYCqPKo

Antonsson, Linda, Gracia, Elio M. and Martin, George R.R, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game Of Thrones Bantam books New York, 2014 p. 38

EricThePooh, “The Rains of Castamere (extended cut)” YouTube Video 7:03 June 2 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU8eL2CjzHw

Lepage, Jean-Denis G.G., Medieval Armies and Weapons in Western Europe; An Illustrated History, McFarland &Company Publishers: Jefferson, 2002 p. 248

MA Darul Hikmah “Fetih 1453 2012 FULL Movie” Youtube Video, 2:35:57 June 21 2014

Maddox, Donald and Sturm-Maddox, Sara. Medieval French Alexander, The. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed April 5, 2015).

Martin, George R.R, A Clash of Kings Bantam Books: New York 2000, Google Chrome Extension Readium Library. Chapter 20 Tyrion

OFJehutyV2 “GoT 2×09: Tyrion’s Rally Speech” YouTube Video 2:50 May 27 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEVkm60TPKk

Runciman, Steven, The Fall of Constantinople: 1453 Cambridge university Press: New York 1965 p. 75

Somerville, Angus A and McDonald, R. Andrew (eds.), Politics in Harlad Finehair’s Norway,  The Viking Age, A Reader , University of Toronto Press: Toronto (2010) p. 30

tinyraptor, “Game of Thrones Blackwater Wildfire Scene [Widescreen High Quality]” YouTube Video 4:06 May 28 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuNyWMAWptE

Unknown, Image Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, f 34 v. b. (taken from Pászthory, p. 31) showing Greek Fire, 12th century C.E.  Added on September 14 2011 From Wikimedia Commons Accesses on April 6 2015

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire#/media/File:Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg

Unknown, Image from a manuscript depicting Harald Fairhair about to decapitate an enemy. Added on November 26 2007, From Wikimedia Commons Accesses on April 6 2015 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harald_Fairhair#/media/File:Harald_Haarfager1c.jpg

Volkman Ernest, Science Goes To War: the Search for the Ultimate Weapon from Greek Fire to Star Wars, John Wiley & Sons Inc: New York 2002 p. 33

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