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Fantasy Counterpart Culture / A Song of Ice and Fire

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Lots and lots. Much of Westeros and the outlying lands seem to have been inspired by a real-world culture, Expy, or simply a well-worn fantasy trope. The most obvious are:

  • The Dothraki, according to GRRM, are based primarily on "Huns, Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and various other Amerindian tribes... some Mongol, certainly... seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy." Contrary to fan belief, he stated that "any resemblance to the Turks or Arabs is purely coincidental." The name is also reminiscent of the Thracians, who, while a much more sedentary culture, were still a warlike culture with a cult toward horse riders.
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  • Valyria is a fallen empire modeled on The Roman Empire, with some Atlantis/Lemuria thrown in.
  • The Rhoynar culture, whose history is told in The World of Ice and Fire is somewhat modeled after the ancient Greeks: independent city-states with a common culture, eventually conquered by Rome/Valyria. Though considering that they lost their homeland and eventually found home in Dorne/Moorish Spain, they are also quite similar to the state of Judea after the fall of Jerusalem by Rome (Valyria), which birthed the Jewish diaspora. Most Jews settled in the Iberian peninsula (equivalent to Dorne) for centuries. Within the Rhoynar, the orphans of the Greenblood bear even more similarities with Jews, as they have retained their ancient culture, while modifying it to their status as exiles.
  • The Free Cities are loosely based on the medieval Italian city-states (including Italian-sounding names) and some elements of Ancient Greek culture, with Braavos being a City of Canals like Venice and Volantis having an oligarchical form of democracy like Athens and several medieval Italian city-states. Also they correspond to Northern Europe's (France, England) bias about Italian cities as petty domain ruled from lords of bourgeois origin (mostly merchants as the De Medicis), although their cities are extremely wealthy and cultured. They even speak a language descended from Old Valyrian (Latin). Volantis is also one for Constantinople, as the most powerful of those cities which sees itself as the new heart of the Vestigial Empire.
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  • Qarth is the major trade center between East and West, like Constantinople. Its intricate walls art also sounds like the Ishtar Gate of Ancient Babylon.
  • Old Ghis is a blatant counterpart of Carthage, right down to its rivalry with Valyria, the counterpart of Ancient Rome. The Slaver Cities —Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen— are reminiscent of the Barbary States,note  with their location (where the former Carthaginian Empire and later The Roman Empire reigned), geography, and dependence on slave-trading to sustain themselves, as well as slave soldiers. Likewise, Qarth seems to share a great deal with ancient Baghdad.
  • Westeros as a whole has many similarities to Britain, including the general shape of the continent, The Great Wall up in the Grim Up North to keep out the BarbarianTribes (the Wall as Hadrian's Wall- or more accurately Antonine's Wall), the large and cold Northern province with an independence movement owing to keeping some Celtic/First Men culture intact rather than full assimilating to Andal/Anglo culture (Scotland), waves of conquering cultures (e.g. Aegon as William the Conqueror), and the Viking-esque isle kingdom off of the northwestern coast. Even the collective name of the independent kingdoms, the Seven Kingdoms, is a dead ringer for the Heptarchy: the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of late Antiquity and The Low Middle Ages. Specific regions tend to show their own influences:
    • the North—Northern England and Scotland, with their retaining of First Men culture reminding of Celtic influences in Scotland. The northern mountain clans are reminiscent of the Scottish highland clans. House Stark in particular is similar to a Northern English House, the House of York, that went to war against the House of Lancaster. Its political organization, somewhat of a federation with thinly populated and isolated settlements in a vast taiga expanse swearing loyalty to a nominal overlord at the center, is somewhat similar to Kievan Rus'.
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    • The Iron Islands— Denmark-Norway and/or Ireland due to their culture of being seafaring raiders (which the Vikings were most famous for, but the Irish did their fair share of, too), with their independent streak reminding of Ireland's relationship with the rest of Britain. They bear an even stronger resemblance to the seafaring hybrid Norse-Gaelic culture of the Hebrides under the MacDonald Lords of the Isles.
    • The Riverlands— Northeastern France (e.g. Lorraine, Burgundy, Champagne) and the Low Countries. Very rich and fertile, with rivers flowing through, but flat and without natural defenses. They also tended to get invaded a fair amount. Also, north-central England for much the same reasons. Their place on the map also roughly corresponds to the core areas of England's Danelaw, mirroring how the Riverlands were conquered by the Viking expies of the setting in the backstory.
    • the Vale— the nations of the Alps such as Austria, Switzerland, and Milan, for their terrain and architecture. Also Wales, for being a heavily mountainous jutting peninsular region with green valleys, featuring an ethnic conflict between the First Men (Celts) and Andal (Anglo-Saxon) settlers.
    • the Westerlands— England, particularly western England. House Lannister is based on a Western English House called the House of Lancaster (coat of arms a golden lion on a red background) who went to war against the House of York, and Tywin Lannister is, per GRRM, based on Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots.
    • Dragonstone—Wales, in that the heir apparent to the throne is named Prince of Dragonstone. In terms of history, one could make a case for it being based on Britain, in that it’s a small island that created a massive empire.
    • the Stormlands—Medieval Germany in that it's a heavily forested, rivered, and martial land that once had a massive empire that slowly fell apart over the centuries.
    • the Reach—Medieval France due to their terrain and status as the most populous kingdom and the homeland of chivalry and stereotypical knights, at least in the eyes of the common people. Also, middle-south England. The most populated region in the kingdom, immensely fertile and rich, and the heart of the kingdom's chivalry. The historical Tyrrell family hails from Essex which lies in this region; the ruling family of the Reach, the Tyrells, are named after this house.
    • Oldtown is modeled after Alexandria, with its great lighthouse which is an architectural marvel, as well as its vast library which is known across the world. It's also the Rome to King's Landing's Constantinople, losing its significance as a primate city and a religious seat to a quickly growing capital city located to the East.
    • Dorne—according to GRRM, "Dorne is Wales mixed with (Moorish) Spain and Palestine". Like the rulers of Wales, the rulers of Dorne style themselves as Princes. Also like Wales, Dorne was initially able to resist conquest by their powerful neighbors, before finally being subdued, later liberating itself, and finally pledging conditional fealty through alliances to the monarchy of the kingdom it shares a land mass with. Like both Wales and Spain, their borders are lined with marches and many wars have been fought between them and their neighbors. Like Spain, a large mountain range separates them from the rest of the continent. And it shares the hot, dry climate of Spain and Palestine.
    • North of The Wall—the wildlings/freefolk are roughly analogous to the Pictish tribes north of the Antonine Wall.
    • The Neck—bears striking similrities to The Fens of Eastern England, at least up until they were drained from the 1600s onward. A mass of swamps and marshes inhabited by hardy, insular "crannogmen", who seem to take after the notoriously hermetic towns and settlements of East Anglia.
    • Crackclaw Point—a small peninsula in the continent's east where every valley has a king and they've been feuding with each other since time immemorial. Aegon Targaryen had great troubles conquering that place and had to convert the local rulers one by one. This sounds like the Balkans, especially in the wake of the Ottoman conquest.
  • While Westeros's cultures have European inspirations, the layout of Westeros's geography mirrors that of North America, particularly the United States. The North and Beyond-the-Wall are analogous to the northern US and Canada, with their notoriously freezing climes; the Riverlands are the Midwest, and the Trident is a fantasy counterpart of the Mississippi River; the Stormlands and the Crownlands are the Northeast and the coastal Southeast since they're seat of government and they're famous for being battered by coastal storms; The Reach is the analogous to the Southeast, since it's fertile and produced many food products, with the main difference being that the Reach is located on the southwestern side of Westeros; Dorne is similar to the Southwest and Mexico, with its deserts and mountains and the fact that the land was colonized by the Rhoynar, which are partly based on Moorish Spain (though the Americas were colonized centuries after the Moors lost control of Spain); the Westerlands are similar to California and other western states, since their economy is based on mining gold and silver from their mountains; the Vale are the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico) with their extremely mountainous terrain; and the Iron Islands can be seen as Hawaii and other island holdings, which have a markedly different culture and background from the rest of the country/continent, as well as being located farther west than any other location in the story.
    • This is mostly a consequence of England being blown up to a massive size, as otherwise Westerosi geography corresponds to that of Great Britain with Ireland attached on the bottom.
  • Yi-Ti is heavily inspired by Imperial China. The similarity is only hinted at in the main novels, but The World of Ice & Fire gives a detailed description where it becomes self-evident.
    • The Five Forts are enormous buildings that protect the Empire from intruders much like the Great Wall of China, though unlike the real deal the YiTish did not build the Forts, predating the culture for an unknown number of years.
      • The Lengii are a culture which is an offshoot of the YiTish which emigrated to the island of Leng, much like the Japanese originated from the mainland; like Japan, the Lengii closed their ports and shut themselves from foreigners for a great number of years until the Yi Ti were able to establish some trade with them after a war of conquest, on which the colonizing YiTish established themselves in another island and were later expelled completely by the Lengii, finally opening their ports.
    • Much like the Dothraki to Western Essos are the Mongols to Europe, the Jogos Nhai are the Mongols to China's perspective, which would be the in turn Golden Empire of Yi Ti. The Jogos Nhai are horselords as well, though they do not quarrel between themselves like the Dothraki; however, they are not less barbaric when it comes to war.
  • The town of Port Plunder in the Basilisk Isles is a settlement of pirates, slavers and debauchery in the style of the now sunken town of Port Royal in Jamaica; unlike Port Royal, Port Plunder is usually reconstructed elsewhere in the islands whenever the previous town falls.
  • The Free City of Norvos practices a more ancient, alternative version of the Andalic Faith of the Seven; it has customs reminiscent of both Judaism and Islam; whereas the Norvoshi religion exists, a fictional form of Satanism also exists as the prevalent religion of the Free City of Qohor, which the Norvoshi despise fervently. Its Northeastern location as well as its name are reminiscent of Novgorod, and just like that and other Russian medieval cities, it is on the frontier of barbarian invasions and pays tribute to them.
  • The Valyrians are basically the Roman Empire with dragons. From their small peninsula nation they conquered a huge chunk of their continent and their form of government, the Valryrian Freehold, was the Roman Republic with the serial numbers filed off. Now (middle ages), though their empire is no more, their provinces stand as independent kingdoms and speak dialects derived from Valyrian on their way to become separate languages (like the Romance languages).
    • Dragonstone is thus analogous to Roman Britannia, as the farthest island outpost of the Valyrian Empire.
    • Dragonstone is also an equivalent to the Channel Islands, which are personal possessions of the British crown and were held by the Dukes of Normandy over a century before the invasion of England, similarly, Dragonstone was home to the Targaryens for over a century before Aegon's conquest.
    • There are also comparisons to be made with the Minoans, including the fact that they were apparently destroyed by tectonic activity and were based off a chain of Southern islands.
    • The Targaryen custom of incestuous marriage has some similarities to another aspect of the Macedonian Greek Ptolemaic Pharaohs of Egypt, who married brother to sister as well.
      • Also some analogy to Atlantis, especially with the "Doom of Valyria" destroying it out of nowhere.
    • The Targaryen conquest of Westeros mirrors the Norman conquest of England, but the Targaryens themselves also have some Byzantine trappings (ex. "wildfire", a green-colored version of Greek Fire). They are of Valyrian (i.e. "Roman") origin, too.
  • The Hightowers, vassals of the Tyrells have close ties and have been longtime patrons to the Order of Maesters and the Faith of the Seven. This closely mirrors the real life House of Medici of the Republic of Florence, both in their pursuit of the higher arts and knowledge, and in their contributions to the church; much like the Medicis of old who became Popes, for instance, there have been Hightowers who have become High Septons as well.
  • The Tyrells may be partially based on the Carolingian dynasty. The Merovingian dynasty that ruled France were eventually eclipsed in power by their stewards (the Mayors of the Palace), who ended up overthrowing them. The Tyrells are a family related to the ruling House Gardner, who are hereditary stewards of Highgarden. When House Gardner is wiped out the Tyrells are given control of Highgarden.
  • We know almost nothing of Mossovy, but its extreme northeastern placement within the known world, terrain of cold forests, and folkloric reputation for hosting "shapechangers and demon hunters" – together with the phonological character of its name – all suggest a counterpart to Russia.
  • The destroyed Kingdom of Sarnath has a similar location and culture to Achaemenid Persia, and its name sounds like that of the Sarmatians, a culture based around horses and chariots.
  • Asshai and its native religion were probably inspired by Persia and its native religion, Zoroastrianism. The actual shape of the region it resides in, the Shadow Lands, is also obviously inspired by India, where the vast majority of surviving Parsi Zoroastrians reside today. Its characteristics as a land plunged in darkness seems to be drawn from the Land of Darkness of medieval legend, which also has a (fictional) connection to Persia.
  • The rarely-mentioned southern continent Sothoryos is roughly analogous to Africa during this time period, most specifically the Darkest Africa as seen by ancient Europeans.
  • The Summer Islands also resemble Africa and The Caribbean, in the skin color of their inhabitants and in what little we know of their culture. It could also be argued that they have a more Pacific Islander based culture, as they wear feather capes much like in Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures, and their diet (mainly fruit and fish) is similar to that of the Pacific Islands.
  • From what we know of the port city of Ibben, it sounds like a theoretical Inuit or Siberian native society if they had founded cities.
  • The Faith of the Seven is an analogue to medieval Catholicism but lacks the Messianic figure and most of the political power, having largely been hollowed out and subverted by a continent-spanning secular empire. The Seven-faced God is also analogous to the Holy Trinity, in that the religion is monotheistic but the worshipped deity is portrayed as having multiple aspects, the male portion in this case still having the Father, but replaces the Son and Holy Spirit with the Warrior and Smith. The female portion of the Seven, the Mother, Maiden, and Crone, is based on the Neopagan Triple Goddess.
    • The High Sparrow and his band of reformers are similar to populist religious movements in the Middle Ages preceding the Reformation, such as the Lollards, the Fraticelli, the Hussites, etc., who wanted to simplify Christianity and dispel the corruption that had infested the Catholic Church. It also shares a lot of similarities with the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 that took place in England.
    • The Faith Militant, the military arm of the faith, resembles The Knights Templar. One unit, the Poor Fellows, is an explicit reference to the Order's full name, the Poor Fellows of Christ and the Temple of Solomon.
  • The Old Gods are based on the Celtic gods, in that they are nature deities that inhabit the wild. The low level of dogma and organization of the Old God religion also resembles Celtic practices.
  • R’hllor resembles Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god, in that he is the good one of two gods, as well as in his association with fire. However, as noted here this is pretty much where the similarities end. He also shares the title of "lord of flame and shadow" with the Gnostic Demiurge. Interestingly, if the conlanguist for the TV show is to believed, GRRM himself may have originally based the word "R’hllor" off the Arabic Language word for God, Allah.
  • While Sacred Hospitality is observed of all Indo-European cultures (think of the Greeks, the Vikings or the Romans), the tradition of serving salt and bread is typically Slavic, increasing the Kievan Rus' connection to the North. In Russia (and also Ukraine, Belarus and Bulgaria) the tradition is greeting important guests at the door with a traditionally-baked bread with a bit of salt on the top. The tradition is so typical that in Russian the idiomatic phrase "with bread and salt" is equivalent of "with open arms".
  • Word of God says that the planet it all occurs on is an alternate Earth.

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