The Romans are coming to History Behind Game of Thrones, but they’ve been marching very slowly. (We have a couple of articles prepared but we’re waiting on something very special before we publish them.)
Many people have written in noting the parallels between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires (aka the Byzantine Empire) and Game of Thrones. This is very helpful – thank you! (I definitely will be noting you explicitly as the series continues.)
Superficially, people often compare Game of Thrones with the Wars of the Roses. Sure, there are similarities; however, there are layers upon layers of “historical symbolism” and allusions. I’m beginning to think that the Wars of the Roses storyline is only at the surface layer.
While researching the Purple Wedding and Attila the Hun, I started wondering about symbolism of the color purple in the “Purple Wedding.” For example, the purple wine, the purple color of Joffrey’s face as he dies, and most importantly the use of a specific shade of purple for the costumes.
Purple was used all throughout the Middle Ages for royalty. However, the specific shade of purple used for the Lannister costumes is closest to Tyrian purple, which is strongly associated with Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire).
Is there greater symbolism involved – and does the symbolism point to the heart of the Lannister story?
Perhaps, at the heart of the Lannister court – that is, the deepest layer of historical symbolism – is the scheming, complex, and sometimes lethal court politics of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Eastern Roman nobility went nuts for Tyrian purple. A child born to a reigning emperor was born “in the purple.” In Byzantium, sumptuary laws tightly controlled access to Tyrian purple silks.
The intensity of Tyrian purple may have improved with age. It did not fade. Given the not-so-nice behavior of Tywin and Cersei Lannister, you may find it amusing to hear that Tyrian purple is made from predatory snails, or, to put it bluntly, a slug with armor.
“Tyrian” and “Tyrion” are nearly indistinguishable when you say them aloud in a (North) American accent. Is the only person possessing true nobility in the Lannister clan Tyrion? (Maybe this “true nobility” is a symbol of his true parentage — Tywin has certainly dropped enough hints on the show that Tyrion is not his son.)
The Lannisters wear Tyrian Purple quite a bit. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Is this a way of symbolically pointing to an underlying basis in the Byzantine empire? It seems like an odd coincidence the showrunners would happen to clothe the Lannisters in a shade of purple that echoes imperial Rome.
As corny as this sounds, to show support for one of my favorite characters — Tyrion — in his “time of trial,” I’m changing the color of the top and bottom bars on this website to Tyrian purple.