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A Game of Thrones history lesson: Valyria part I



Today, Valyria is a smoking ruin. Just a memory of a long dead civilization. Valyria is reminiscent of the Roman Empire in that their contributions to modern day society are huge. The world of Game of Thrones would look much different if the Valyrian Freehold had never risen to power. A couple things Valyria gave us are Valyrian steel swords and even the faceless men. But probably the most notable to come from Valyria: the Targaryens. And where their culture impact is comparable to Ancient Rome, they are closer to Pompeii in the cruel fate category.

Valyria’s contributions to the world, past and present, are innumerable, and the atrocities they committed are immeasurable. Their history, like all things, is complex and can be looked at from two sides. Their end is possibly the result of their beginning. Judge them for yourself.

This is a goat herder

All of Valyrian history dates back to a group of peaceful shepherds on a small peninsula attached to Essos. Yes, tell all of your friends that Daenerys Stormborn, breaker of chains, mother of dragons, blah blah blah, can trace her roots directly back to goat herders. About 5,000ish years of roots, but roots nonetheless. The peninsula’s name? You guessed it! Valyria. The capitol of this peninsula? Oh you guessed it again! Also…Valyria. The Valyrians lived in Valyria, on Valyria. Not much at all is known about the Valyrians at this time. They probably just weren’t up to much.

This is the Old Empire of Ghis

While Valyrians were still held up on the shepherd lifestyle, Ghis was already having an empirical Golden Age and were spread across most of Essos. Their symbol was the harpy and they raised statues in every city that they crunched beneath their boots. Random trivia: You show watchers have seen the harpy before (many times), but I’m not saying where. You’ll remember.

The Empire of Ghis excelled at two things. Slavery and soldiers. Their Lockstep Legions were said to be unbeatable and they set the example for future armies to come. Complete obedience and discipline were displayed in the field by the Lockstep Legions.

The Empire of Ghis had the armies. They had the slaves. And they had the land. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Not without a fight anyway.

Then everything changed

(When the fire nation attacked.)

In probably one of the most significant single events in all of history, the Valyrians find dragons. This is a civilization of sheep herders finding the nuclear weapons of Planetos. (This is what we fans call the universe that is Game of Thrones. Planetos is easier to type than “the world of a song of ice and fire”.) They find these dragons in the Fourteen Flames, a ring of volcanoes on the Valyrian peninsula.

Through trial, error, and magic the Valyrians started to tame the dragons. Eventually they master the technique and turn the dragons into weapons of war. The nukes have been armed. It’s now that we can start calling this the Valyrian Freehold.

The Dragonlords

The goat herders transform into something else it seems. Magic flowers in them and Valyrians are now cited as having purple eyes and silver or white hair. These characteristics aren’t found anywhere else and are sometimes said to be the result of the Valyrians close relationship with dragons. They are also strikingly, inhumanly beautiful. Purity is of the upmost importance to them, so they inbreed. They become a society filled with incest, usually marrying brother to sister. Polygamy wasn’t unheard of either. If these people were in our world today they would ruffle some serious feathers, but it was normal to them and their culture, just like it’s expected in our culture not to take a co-workers food out of the fridge (I know it was you Emily).

On the Valyrian peninsula there is really only one way to go and that’s ^ up. Into Ghis territory. Sheep herders turned dragon riders, Valyrians have become hungry for expansion. They call their new expanding territory the Valyrian Freehold.

The Ghiscari Wars

The Empire of Ghis didn’t like the Valyrians steppin’ up on their shit obviously. There was only room enough for one major power on this continent, so the two went to war. Five times actually. The wars saw the Lockstep Legions face up against the Valyrians and their dragons.

As the picture above so boldly demonstrates, history tells us time and time again that when someone with dragons fights someone else without dragons, it doesn’t go well for one of them. It was a massacre. The Ghiscari won a couple battles here and there, but the Valyrians won the first four wars, and during the fifth, the Ghiscari looked out of their capitol, Ghis, and saw the Valyrians outside their gates. The Valyrians at this point were apparently quite annoyed with Ghis. Remember this is the fifth WAR. Not fifth battle, but the fifth war. These two powers had been fighting a long time.

The city of Ghis was razed to the ground like nothing had ever been before it. The Valyrians drowned the city in dragonfire and, by the end, there was nothing left of it but ash and skulls. The Valyrians even sowed the fields with salt so that nothing else would grow there. I mean the Valyrians literally poured salt on the wound. And with the fall of Ghis, the empire they commanded fell too. With the end of the Old Empire of Ghis, the Valyrians thought they had nothing stopping them from sweeping across Essos.

Fire and Blood

The Empire of Ghis was so utterly destroyed that their very culture began to be forgotten. The Valyrians had wiped out an entire people, but not quite everything was lost from the ways of the Ghiscari. During the five wars the Valyrians adopted the practice of slavery from the Ghiscari, who had turned it into an art. The Valyrians started building and expanding, creating the finest territory that had ever existed. I keep saying territory because the Valyrian Freehold, although very very close to one, was not actually an empire. The Freehold was ruled by more than 40 powerful noble families. One of these 40 families, and far from the greatest of them, were the Targaryens.

The beginning of the Valyrian Freehold is steeped in fire and blood. It takes a lot of death and destruction to topple an entire empire and the Valyrians didn’t hesitate to destroy the Ghiscari completely. And they weren’t done yet. Valyria was still hungry. They wanted more, so they began to expand on what they already had. But with a beginning inevitably comes an end, and the Valyrians would go on to reap what they had sown. Fire and blood.

This article was originally published on Game of Thrones History Blog. Part II of Valyrian history will be published on this site at the same time tomorrow but if you don’t want to wait, head over to the Game of Thrones History blog and read the remaining two parts.

Art citations:

#1: Art by Scherma (can’t find any more information than this)

#2: Art by Vincent Van Gogh

#3: From a DVD extra on Season One of GoT

#4: From a DVD extra on Season One of GoT

#5: Art by Magali Villeneuve

#6: Green Ronin Publishing

#7: Art by Marc Simonetti (seriously check him out, he is amazing)

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Founder at Wiki of Thrones and a full-time Game of Thrones fan who does other work when he has finished reading and writing about Game of Thrones and also dreams about playing a role in the show.