Was Game of Thrones Based on History?

Based on George R.R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones tells the story of the struggle for power by rival families in the continent of Westeros. Game of Thrones is a curious mix of elements. On the one hand, the show explores real-life topics such as social hierarchies, war, and politics. On the other hand, it has no shortage in supernatural creatures such as fire-breathing dragons, giants, and the undead. With such elements, it is easy to categorize HBO’s massive hit series as high fantasy that has no basis on reality. But Game of Thrones is more than just pure imagination as viewers engage in online forums formulating theories about the series. A great deal of the series was inspired by actual people and events, which makes the show even more amazing than it already is. In this post, we look at some of the more prominent historical figures and events that Game of Thrones was based on.

The Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses are a series of conflicts that took place in England during the 14th and 15th centuries. The wars were precipitated by a succession crisis following the death of King Edward III in 1377. Edward’s oldest son and heir, Edward the Black Prince, had died before him but left a 10-year old son, Richard II. Richard was crowned king, but not without Edward III’s other children pressing their claims to the throne. With no clear succession plan in place, a power struggle quickly erupted between Edward III’s descendants, particularly the two noble houses of Lancaster and York, and their allies. Like the Wars of the Roses, the War of the Five Kings in Game of Thrones was precipitated by a succession crises. The death of King Robert Baratheon leads to the revelation that his heirs are not his real children. The coronation of the illegitimate heir Joffrey Lannister is therefore contested by others, particularly by Robert Baratheon’s brothers, Stannis and Renly, the exiled dynasty of the Targaryens, and the Lannisters’ rival, House Stark.

The Mongols

The Mongols were an ancient civilization that thrived during the Middle Ages. The Mongols led a largely nomadic lifestyle, roaming the steppes of eastern and central Asia. They are best known for being excellent conquerors and for amassing the Mongol Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries, which was one of the largest empires ever established. The Mongols largely parallel the Dothraki in Game of Thrones. Like their historical counterparts, the Dothraki were mostly nomadic warriors who roamed similar vast landscapes.

Italy in the Renaissance Period

Across the sea to the east of Westeros are the Free Cities, a group of nine independent city-states engaged in trade and commerce. While the Free Cities form a region, they frequently engage in armed conflicts against each other due to territorial disputes. The city-states are also often ruled by councils or nominal monarchies. The Free Cities closely resemble Italy during the Renaissance Period. Like the Free Cities, Italy at the time was composed of numerous independent city-states, some more powerful than the others. Cities like Milan, Pisa, Venice, and Florence were steeped in trade and commerce and also frequently went to war in a bid to become the most powerful of all. The Free City of Braavos, in particular, appears to be a composite of Venice and Florence due to its great wealth, superior military power, and robust banking industry.

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall is a 118-kilometer stone wall that cut through northern England. Built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, the wall marked the northern limits of the Roman Empire and was intended to defend Roman territories from northern invaders. The wall appears to have been the direct inspiration for the Wall in Game of Thrones. Like Hadrian’s Wall, the Wall was a massive structure designed to ward off attacks from northern forces. But in true high fantasy fashion, the Wall was almost 500 kilometers long, 700 feet high, and made entirely of ice.

Imperial China

It can be difficult to grasp how ancient China figures in the series, but Martin himself has confirmed that China was the inspiration for the eastern civilization known as Yi Ti. Although almost never mentioned in the series, the extended Game of Thrones universe mentions the existence of a vast, powerful, and glorious polity known as the Golden Empire of Yi Ti. This empire has existed for millennia and is older even than Valyria. Its cities are larger than Westeros’ cities, and its technology is said to be far superior. It is an almost legendary place, and very few Westerosi have reached it. Like Yi Ti, Imperial China during the ancient times was largely a mysterious place for western Europeans. It was already old even before the Roman Empire was established, and its technologies were more advanced than its contemporaries. China at the time was a mix of fact and legend, and what was known about it came from few sources such as Marco Polo.

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