Ancient History


The Romans, the Walls and the Wildlings

Game of Thrones has become one of the most popular books in the genre of fantasy, and the most watched show in HBO history.1 George RR Martin has gained a celebrity status that very few authors experience. According to Joseph Abercrombie, a major figure in British fantasy, Martin has revolutionized the genre of fantasy, making it appealing to a wider audience. As readers of this website are well aware, Martin is very familiar with history from the ancient world to…

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Khal Moro: Eat Your Heart Out — Part 1

[Author’s note: A few episodes ago Daenerys was back in Vaes Dothrak, where Khal Moro and his cronies threatened her with effective imprisonment, rape, or slavery. They should have known better than to bully Daenerys where she once had one of her most glorious moments (after she ate the wild stallion’s heart). This two-part article takes a look back at the gruesome history behind Season 1’s heart-eating ritual. Warning: No shocker, but this article gets a little gross. And, the second half is much…

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Dothraki and the Proto-Indo-Europeans: Martin’s Horse People are the Real Deal

On George RR Martin’s blog, he writes that the Dothraki are a blend of a “number of steppe and plains cultures” including Mongols and Huns, certainly, but also Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and various other Amerindian tribes… seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy.” Martin doesn’t say how far back he draws on history for “horse people,” but it doesn’t seem inconceivable that he has a nodding acquaintance with Proto-Indo-European societies given what he writes next: “So any resemblance to Arabs or…

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"Two hoplites". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Dorne’s Debt to the Dorians

Many thanks to Ross Wittenham for this article. Ross is the mastermind behind History Mine, a delightful website that sees the modern in the historical. Definitely check it out and please give Ross a warm welcome! With a lot more of the new season focusing on Dorne, it’s worth having a deeper look at the principality’s background. In particular, I want to investigate the parallels between the Dornishmen and the Dorians. If you haven’t heard of them before, the Dorians…

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Nothing like a little human sacrifice for the holidays…

It’s widely known that Christmas has its roots in the blood-soaked pagan traditions for the winter solstice. What may be less well known is the origin of the delightful gingerbread people. At a symbolic level, these sugary snacks may be no more than a proxy for human sacrifice. The tradition of backing cookies in human form dates back to the grandfather of modern-day Christmas, the Roman winter celebration of Saturnalia. At this time, Romans honored the god Saturn. His name stems from…

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Ygritte & Boudicca: The Red Haired Warriors Beyond the Wall

This guest article is by the Brittany Garcia, who specializes in classical studies. Please give Brittany a warm welcome and check out her blog at A Classics and Ancient History Blog. While many characters within George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones resemble historical figures, fans often argue and dissect the parallels, differences, and even  the ambiguities between the two. In a previous article I wrote, I argued that Boudicca, the Celtic warrior queen, highly resembled the Targaryen warrior queen, Daenerys. However, the similarities between…

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All that Glitters is Not Gold: The Lannisters, Gold, and their Empty Mines

The Lannisters are broke, and the Iron Bank of Braavos will get its due one way or another. The Lannister wealth originally came from its gold mines, but the vein ran dry over three years ago. This article looks at some of the Lannister’s golden goods and their relationship to history. The Lannister Gold Mines Casterly Rock© HBO, via Wikia Map of Roman Britain showing the Dolaucothi mine in what is modern-day Wales. Image: Via Wikimedia Commons.   On the Westeros…

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The Wall – by Historian John Henry Clay

This week we are delighted and honored to have an article by historian and novelist John Henry Clay. Dr. Clay is a lecturer in medieval history at Durham University and the author of The Lion and the Lamb, an epic novel of Roman Britain. When it comes to real-world inspirations behind Game of Thrones, they don’t come much more obvious than Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans called it uallum Aelii, ‘the frontier of Aelius’, using Emperor Hadrian’s family name. In interviews…

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Sam Tarley, Bull Sacrifice: Rituals too hot for Rome (Pagan Part 2)

This article continues from here and discusses the history behind Sam Tarley’s ritual bath in a bull aurochs’ blood, which is likely based on the Roman taurobolium ritual. In the real world, bull sacrifices occurred first in modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor), Greece, and eventually Rome. From the first century until Pagan worship sputtered out, the Romans sacrificed bulls – in a highly ritualized way  – and dedicated those sacrifices to the Great Mother (also known as Cybele). It’s easy to…

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The 1500 Year Old Murder Mystery: An Interview with Historian Michael Babcock

Recently History Behind Game of Thrones ran a series of articles speculating about the real historical basis behind Game of Thrones‘ Purple Wedding (in which Joffrey dies). Although George RR Martin has stated the wedding is based on the Anarchy-era death of Prince Eustace, thanks to this theory by Emily Yoshida, we suspect there are other historical influences he is not mentioning. There are far too many parallels between Joffrey’s death and Attila the Hun’s murder for it to be a coincidence. Is the…

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