History Behind Game of Thrones is a history website that attempts to draw parallels between Game of Thrones and history. This website also publishes interviews with historians and “straight” (no Game of Thrones) history articles.
A few important points:
1. Game of Thrones is not just based on the Wars of the Roses. George RR Martin drew (and continues to draw) from many different historical periods and countries when he created the novels, including Ancient Rome, the Hundred Years War, the Anarchy, Tudor England, the Dark Ages, the Spartans, possibly Ancient Egypt, and many more. This website discusses some of those influences and intends to explore more of them as time goes on.
He has said in this interview on IO9.com, “I am drawing from history, even though it’s fantasy. I’ve read a lot of history, The War of the Roses, The Hundred Years War…I’m drawing largely on medieval England, medieval Scotland, some extent medieval France.”
How much history? In this Rolling Stone interview, it came out that George RR Martin has a book tower – a term often used in enormous libraries – and he has a house across the street from his house that is likely used for to house that book tower.
It’s also worth noting that George RR Martin did a history minor in college.
2. The historical parallels on this website are our interpretation of Game of Thrones. Except where noted, these are not facts (e.g., what George RR Martin has said); they are our best estimates.
3. With that said, whenever we can find statements George RR Martin has made about the historical influences on his work, we use those as a starting point. He often refers to his use of history, endearingly, as his “borrowings.”
4. The A Song of Ice and Fire series started out as a series of history or history-type novels, and then evolved into fantasy novels. George RR Martin discussed the novels’ genesis in this Rolling Stone interview:
“I did consider at a very early stage – going all the way back to 1991 – whether to include overt fantasy elements, and at one point thought of writing a Wars of the Roses novel. But the problem with straight historical fiction is you know what’s going to happen. If you know anything about the Wars of the Roses, you know that the princes in the tower aren’t going to escape. I wanted to make it more unexpected, bring in some more twists and turns.”
5. George RR Martin “borrows” from history extensively, but, by his own admission, he mixes and matches historical events, uses counterfactual (what-if) versions of history, and typically bases his characters on multiple historical figures (and his own imagination).
He has stated publicly on his blog (in this Feb 5th, 2012 post) that “In general, though, while I do draw inspiration from history, I try to avoid direct one-for-one transplants, whether of individuals or of entire cultures. Just as it not correct to say that Robert was Henry VIII or Edward IV, it would not be correct to say that the Dothraki are Mongols.”
By this statement, I believe Martin means that it is not correct to state that the Dothraki are simply one culture — in the same blog post he describes them as a blend of Mongols, Huns, Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and “various other Amerindian tribes.” In my opinion, this does not mean that Robert Baratheon is not based on both Henry VIII and Edward IV — if anything, this statement probably means Robert was.
5. In the early days of this website, I was unaware that he based characters on multiple historical figures. As a result, some articles discuss characters as though only one person inspired them. At some point, I hope to create some posts or pages that centralize these influences.
6. This website generally follows the Game of Thrones TV show. This is largely because it lets us illustrate articles with images from the show, which can provide concrete visual examples of a point in the article. Sometimes, however, we draw from the novels. In general, we try to avoid “book spoilers.” (Also, this website assumes you have seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones and does not provide spoiler alerts for anything that has aired in the Eastern time zone of North America.)
7. The purpose of this website is not just to decode George RR Martin’s borrowings — which of course is a lot of fun — but also to explore history in a unique way.
By mapping history onto a television show, and in some cases the ASOIAF novels, it’s possible to provide easy-to-understand concrete examples of history.
The other purpose of this website is to explore what I suspect may be George RR Martin’s perspective on history and war. This exploration isn’t necessarily meant as an homage to him per se. His perspective on the Middle Ages and war is relatively rare and compelling.
To a certain extent, his work constitutes a protest of the “Disney-fication” of the Middle Ages. This can provide a crucially important counterpoint in an age when too much of our perspective is filtered through the lens of popular history style biographies of the nobility. All too often these lead to a depiction of political events from the perspective of the One Percent. While I love these biographies, George RR Martin’s work has made me look at larger issues like chivalry, war, poverty, and famine.
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