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A Game of Thrones history lesson: Valyria part II



HERE is Part I for those who need some catching up. Valyria has won the Ghiscari Wars and the Empire of Old Ghis starts falling into memory. Valyrians figure out that they like slaves. They like slaves very much. Vast roadways and great cities are built as the Valyrians improve upon their Freehold. Valyrians are friends with the civilization of people located on the river Rhoyne. That doesn’t stop them from creeping west across Essos, toward the river Rhoyne and its people. We’ll get to all that though. Keep in mind the events in this post will take place over a loooong period of time, and we’ll be jumping around in time a bit.

First, allow me to weave you a web of what Valyria looks like. What we think they looked like. The mystery and legends surrounding them. Probably a result of half truths spun so far over time they become believed. Things that have a grain of truth.. Probably more than a grain, but who can be absolutely sure?

This is Valyria

At its apex Valyria was the greatest city in the known world. I’ll prove it. Read this:

“At its apex Valyria was the greatest city in the known world, the center of civilization. Within its shining walls, twoscore rival houses vied for power and glory in court and council, rising and falling in an endless, subtle, oft-savage struggle for dominance.”

The Valyrians become powerful in magic, but their magic is said to be rooted in blood and fire, a cruel and brutal type of magic. They carved rock, not with chisel, but with fire and magic. It’s said Valyrian blood mages mated creatures with woman and created beings not quite human or animal, but somewhere between the two. They invented Valyrian steel which was stronger and sharper than regular steel. If two warriors of about equal skill fought in the field of battle, Valyrian steel would mean the difference between winning and losing. The forging of it is a lost mystery but rumors would have us believe dragons were key factors.

The Valyrians were said to have a number of magical items. Strange glass candles made of obsidian were said to be an invention of theirs, allowing their sorcerers to see across vast distances and communicate with one another while a world away. Some glass candles supposedly survived the fall of Valyria and with the return of dragons to the world they burn once again. Who can be sure though, not even a learned Maester would know of such things. There are also rumors of things called dragon horns, said to bind dragons to a persons will, but we can’t spend all day on this nonsense. Most of these things are probably just tales spun by pirates bored at sea.


Slaves from all over Essos were sent to the mines deep beneath the Fourteen Flames (the ring of volcanoes). They searched for gold among other things. Occasionally the slaves would encounter… creatures hidden in that deep dark and nothing would be found of them but their burnt corpses. The mines were hot and grew hotter as the slaves were forced to dig deeper and deeper. Every time they struck the rock they didn’t know if they would be greeted with gold, a pillar of steam, or molten rock to the face. Their lungs were literally burned as they breathed in the sulfurous air. In some places the mines became so narrow and short that the slaves would have to contort themselves just to get in. Revolts were common, but were mercilessly put down the by the powerful sorcery of the Valyrians. When I picture hell this is all I see now.

There, beneath the Fourteen Flames, legend says the first Faceless Man existed. He listened to the prayers of all the slaves in the mines. Many different prayers as all the slaves came from different places, backgrounds, and religions. This Faceless Man came to a realization that the slaves were all praying to one god. One god with a hundred faces. He claimed to be this god’s instrument and gave the most desperate slave “the first gift”. The gift of mercy. Eventually he went on to give the slave masters the gift as well.

Later on, thousands of slaves were being shipped from Valyria to a new colony. They revolted and took control of the ships from the slave masters and pulled a u-turn. They went north instead of south and landed in a place they knew they would be safe. It’s said the religion of the Many-Faced God went with them on those ships. Those slaves went on to build what would become the greatest of all the Free Cities – Braavos. They swore a vow which became their first law stating that no one would ever be a slave in Braavos. They remained a secret city until they felt safe enough to reveal themselves to the world.


Time to get… geographical.(The circles are a generalization of areas and should not be taken as exact land borders.) OK, I’m going to make this really simple. The red circle is Valyria. Look how whole and nice it is (use your imagination). It’s not fractured or broken in any way and is a perfect singular peninsula.“It’s broken into like 4 different pieces and there’s this thing called the smoking sea…” – You (probably). Shutup, it looks fine. Anyways, red arrows are where the Valyrian Freehold is going: west. The blue circle is the river Rhoyne, home to the Rhoynar, currently friends with the Valyrian Freehold. Yellow circle is Andalos, home to the Andals. The Valyrians want Andalos and the Andals as slaves. The Andals and the Valyrians are not friends. Got it? Take a moment if you need it.

So the Valyrians cross the river and start marching northward toward Andalos. And in probably the biggest nope in history, the Andals get on their ships and sail in the exact opposite direction. They don’t want anything to do with these dragon riding, magic casting, slave taking people. Instead of fighting the Valyrian Freehold, the Andals just jump on their boats and hop on over to Westeros. Like instead of dealing with Valyria the Andals just decided to invade a whole other continent. Did they make the right move? Well, history is a complicated thing filled with what if’s and maybe’s and- YES, YES THEY DID THE RIGHT THING. When in doubt dragons, turn tail and run invade Westeros. In our world you don’t invade Russia in the winter, in theirs you don’t fight people with dragons. I’m passionate about this. Anyways, the Valyrians lose out on getting some new slaves but they get Andalos.

The Rhoynish Wars

The Valyrians start making outposts and colonies all over the western side of Essos. These cities would become known as the Free Cities (exception being  Braavos, they are the specialist Free City because they are still a secret at this point.) The Rhoynar are a water based people. They live up and down the Rhoyne, and they are…different from other cultures. They were cool with homosexuality, they don’t take gender into account when passing along inheritance, meaning it went to the eldest child whether a girl or boy (sounding familiar?). They had no interest in expansion and just wanted to chill by the Rhoyne. They were fiercely independent and had princes/princesses to rule their individual city states. They were also strong in water magic and as powerful as the Empire of Old Ghis had been.  It’s an understatement to say they were threatened by the presence of the Valyrian Freehold pushing in on all sides.

Legend says it was at this point that the Valyrians killed one of the “Old Men of the River”, a species of gigantic turtles the Rhoynar held sacred. There was a very fine line and the Valyrians had crossed it. The two civilizations became enemies and went into a series of wars that lasted 250 years. This conflict would have happened with or without a turtle though, some even believe that it is just a false legend and no turtles were harmed. Either way, war was on. And these wars were a little different in that they were more local in nature. It wasn’t the VALYRIANS vs the RHOYNAR so much as it would be a Rhoynish city vs a Valyrian colony. The first of these conflicts was the First Turtle War and it ended in Rhoynar victory when their water wizards flooded the Valyrian colony they were fighting and washed half of the city away completely.

There were many wars during these 250 years, but the Valyrians would usually come out on top. This was partly because the Rhoynar fought alone, proud of their independence, while the Valyrians sought help from each other, and when really hard pressed got help from the Freehold and the Dragonlords themselves.

The Second Spice War

The last Rhoynish war was called The Second Spice War. There came a time when three Valyrian Dragonlords joined the fray and helped destroy one of the greatest Rhoynar cities: Sarhoy. This brought reality and great anger to the Rhoynar people. They decided enough was enough. They decided to finally band together and destroy every Valyrian city on the river.Only one Rhoynar Princess spoke out against this plan. Her name was Nymeria and she said this was a war they could not hope to win.

The plan went ahead anyway, despite Nymeria, and the largest army Essos had ever seen rose from the Rhoyne led by a prince named Garin the Great. Every man of fighting age took up sword and shield. They believed Mother Rhoyne and their water wizards would protect them from the dragons. And they did well for awhile. They even went up in the field against three dragons and came out victorious, killing two. Aegon the Conqueror only had three dragons when he took Westeros, so this is quite a feat. The Valyrian colonies quickly became concerned and sent for the assistance of the Freehold’s strength and the Dragonlords. And they came.

Three. Hundred. Dragons. 300 dragons were sent to their aid. This was the VALYRIANS vs the RHOYNAR. A great battle that had been brewing since even before the First Turtle War 250 years ago. And with that battle, the greatest army Essos had ever seen burned. They all burned. Some ran into the river’s embrace for protection only to drown in it. Some even say the river boiled and turned to steam with the fire of three hundred dragons. It was a slaughter the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the burning of Ghis, and it was even worse.

Garin’s Sorrow

Garin the Great was hung in a golden cage at the city Chroyane, and was forced to watch the survivors, his people, enslaved. And in his cage, Garin called a curse down upon his enemies and he called upon Mother Rhoyne to avenge her children. That night the river rose and flooded Chroyane, drowning the invaders. And today, the area around Chroyane is called the Sorrows. It’s filled with an unnatural fog. The spirits of the drowned Valyrians are said to lurk beneath the waters, their flesh and skin turned as stony and grey as their hearts. Garin’s Curse is often attributed to many things, even the end of Valyria itself, but one can only guess the truth of such things. What we do know is that the Sorrows is kind of like the Bermuda Triangle. Strange things are known to happen and many a ship have been lost in those ruins. Sane people steer clear lest stone men rise from the water to take you under. Garin’s Curse lingers in the world well past his death. *Twilight Zone music*

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Valyrians, again, destroyed their enemies in fire and blood, disregarding any value for human life. The Valyrians fought to win and they did so by ensuring their enemies would never be able to challenge them ever again. There are always two sides though. It’s a wise practice to try and see everything from both sides. And after doing this you will probably come to the conclusion that, either way you look at it, the Valyrians were kind of assholes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ten Thousand Ships

When Princess Nymeria heard of the crushing defeat, she took every ship left on the river Rhoyne and loaded up every person left, mostly woman and kids. She sailed down the river, and away from Essos entirely in search of a new home for her people. Legend says she guided 10,000 ships, filled with people, to their new home.

The Valyrians had won. There wasn’t a civilization or people in Essos, and probably the world, that could challenge them. They set their eyes on even more expansion. They set up an outpost near Westeros on a small island and named it Dragonstone. Slaves continued to die in the scores beneath the Fourteen Flames. The Ghiscari, the Andals, and the Rhoynar had all been great in their own right and had all fallen or been forced to flee in the wake of the Dragonlords. The Valyrian Freehold had become the greatest civilization to ever exist, but a dream of the future would go on to become a horrible reality for the people of Valyria.

As always thank you for reading! Part III coming tomorrow at the same time. All information comes from The World of Ice and Fire, and the ASOIAF series (as always).

This article was originally published on Game of Thrones History Blog. Part III 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 final part.

Art Citations:

#1: From a DVD extra on GoT Season One

#2: Art by Tommy Scott

#3: Art by Ted Nasmith

#4: Art by Zippo514

#5: Map of Essos with expert Paint additions by yours truly

#6: Art by Puppy-Chow

#7: Art by Chase Stone

#8: Art by Marc Simonetti

#9: Art by J.K Drummond

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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.