Let’s talk about Game of Thrones part 1: Byzantine Constantinople

You will be hugely unsurprised to learn that medieval historians love A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones.  Like really really love it.  This is because a) medieval historians are already enormous geeks, and so are free to get their geek on harder whenever they so choose; b) ASOIAF rules, obviously; and c) There are a tonne of references to medieval history throughout the books that allow us to feel like we’re in a little clique that gets it the most.  As a result of all these overlaps there are going to be a million posts on this subject over time, but today we’re going to talk about the links between Constantinople and ASOIAF.

In the early medieval period Constantinople was the most affluent and secure city in Europe, because, among other reasons its taxation and governmental administrative systems survived in-tact whereas the Empire had largely collapsed in the West.

Constantinople, this rich and cosmopolitan city, I would argue is also the model for King’s Landing.

I argue this firstly based on maps.  For example, check out Constantinople:


(Map from Neobyzantium.com)

And now King’s Landing:

kings landing

(Map from The Lords of Winter)

Notice that Constantinople is laid out over a series of hills, four of which are inside the Constantine wall, and therefore in the urbanized part of the city.  This corresponds really well to King’s Landings three hill layout.

You’ll also notice on the Constantinople map the presence of a chain barricading the Golden Horn from the Bosporus.   Don’t tell me that you don’t think that influenced the Battle of the Blackwater, because that is crazy talk.

Also influencing the Battle of the Blackwater: Greek Fire, an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine army, especially in naval battles, which impressed the hell out of Crusaders on their way through, and which we have amazing manuscript renderings of:

greek fire

You pretty much have to admit that Greek Fire is the inspiration for Wildfire, the mention of which allows me to include this GIF:

wild fire

Clearly, Tyrion was up on his Byzantine history is all I’m saying.

Constantinople’s influences also seem to reach beyond Westeros, and make it all the way to Qarth, in that both cities sport much celebrated triple walls.  Qarth’s may be fancier in that they are sandstone, granite, and black marble, and by all accounts carved pretty spectacularly (shout out to the porn carvings on the innermost wall.)  However, Constantinople’s walls survived from the fifth century until the fifteenth, at which point gunpowder ruined everything.

I could go on, but my point is, there’s a pretty obvious influence to be found in the Song of Ice and Fire world emanating from Constantinople.  Feel free to drop these pearls of wisdom at cocktail parties and alienate everyone.

For more on Game of Thrones see:
Let’s talk about Game of Thrones part 2: on marriage and Sansa

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, Kendrick Lamar enthusiast.

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