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A Game of Thrones History Lesson Part 4: The Free Cities and Essosi Civilizations


A Game of Thrones History Lesson Part 4: The Free Cities and Essosi Civilizations

In the last A Game of Thrones history lesson I talked about the ancient Essosi empires of Ghis and Valyria. This week, I will talk about the remnants of Valyria that became the nine Free Cities, as well as the other civilizations we’re exposed to in the series.

A Note on Spoilers: I won’t spoil things past Season 3 of the HBO series in terms of plot. Of course, the whole point of this series of posts will be to give some extra information to non-readers about the history of this wonderfully-constructed world, so most of what will be here is taken from the books, even if it contains no spoilers.

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 ]

[ Map for those who want to keep track of locations ]

I also found this map, which doesn’t have as much detail as the above one, but it is based off GRRM’s The Lands of Ice and Fire. It’s more accurate when it comes to the areas of the world east of Slaver’s Bay, including Qarth.



Pentos is the first Free City we are introduced to. In S1E1, it is where Daenerys and Viserys are. It’s a major port city, run by a prince and his magisters. The most notable of the magisters is Illyrio, a cheese-monger, who first arranged Dany’s marriage to Drogo.

In Pentos, slavery is illegal, though there are a number of servants to the nobles. Illyrio in particular is mentioned to have a few Unsullied to guard his palace. This picture illustrates the original design for Unsullied in S1 before they became relevant.

The prince of Pentos is a purely ceremonial position, and the real rule lies with the magisters. In Pentos, power comes solely from wealth, not from family names or titles. The figurehead position of the prince is chosen amongst a number of noble families by the magisters.

One man, later known as the Tattered Prince, was chosen to be prince after the magisters killed the previous one. Fearing for his life, the Tattered Prince refused and fled to the Disputed Lands in the south. He later established the sellsword company “the Windblown.”



Braavos is the only Free City to not be a Valyrian colony. It sits on a lagoon in the northwestern end of Essos, at the junction of the Narrow Sea (between Westeros and Essos) and the Shivering Sea (above Essos). Braavos also claims the coastline to the southwest. The ruler of Braavos is known as the Sealord. Braavos has one of the largest ports in the world.

Braavos was established 500 years before Aegon’s Landing (which means 800 years before the series). For future reference, Aegon’s Landing is considered the center point around which time is registered. The year 0 (like between B.C. and A.D. in real life) is Aegon’s Landing. In S3, we are about 300 years AL (After Landing).

Braavos was founded by slaves fleeing Valyrian expansion. They were led by the Moonsingers, who wished to hide in the lagoon to keep away from the dragons. For centuries, it was a secret city and remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world. After the Doom of Valyria, it was publicly revealed, roughly 400 years after its founding. The city is sometimes known as the Bastard Son of Valyria.

The city itself is hard to really describe. Here is the city of Braavos, though you can’t see specifics. For those interested, Braavos is one of the maps contained in the map book I mentioned.

The culture of Braavos is centered around sea trade. Braavosi ships paint their hulls purple, and their ships trade with all corners of the world

The culture of Braavos is centered around sea trade. Braavosi ships paint their hulls purple, and their ships trade with all corners of the world. The Iron Bank of Braavos is one of the major moneylenders of Braavos, and has even lent money to the Iron Throne. In a recent episode this season, Tyrion spoke with Bronn about the kingdom’s debt to the Iron Bank.

The city is also known worldwide for its courtesans. Each courtesan has their own barge and servants. Their beauties inspire songs, and they are showered by gifts. Nobility and rich merchants pay for courtesans to be their dates at events.

Braavos culture created a unique form of sword fighting, called Water Dancing, in which the fighter stands sideways and wields a slender blade. Bravos fill the city, dueling to display skill.

The symbol of Braavos is the Titan, which is both a fortress and an immense statue which sits over the entrance to the Braavos port. The only notable Braavosi in the show so far is Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos for a time.

Braavos is also the location of the Faceless Men, a group of assassins who change their faces. We’ve met Jaqen H’ghar (if that is his real name), though we don’t know his place of origin.



Volantis is the southeasternmost Free City, sitting at the mouth of the Rhoyne, east of the Disputed Lands. It is said that the Volantis port could hold the entire city of Braavos. Volantis is the closest Free City to Slaver’s Bay, and has a close friendship with the Yunkai. They deal extensively in slaves. In Volantis, every slave is branded with a tattoo. It is said there are five slaves for each free man in Volantis.

Volantis was the first colony established by Valyria, and believe they are the inheritors of the world.

After the Doom, a Volantene fleet took Lys and a Volantene army took Myr, and for two generations, all three cities were ruled from the Black Wall in Volantis. When the Volantene tried to take Tyrosh, Pentos aided Tyrosh. Volantis asked Aegon Targaryen (before the Conquest) for help, but he entered on the Pentos/Tyrosh side, as did the Storm King of Storm’s End. During the war, Myr and Lys both rose up in rebellion. The resulting war left the Disputed Lands a waste, and freed Lys and Myr from Volantene rule. To this day, Volantis holds the town of Sellhorys.

Volantis was the first colony established by Valyria, and believe they are the inheritors of the world

Volantis is ruled from within the Black Wall. Only those of Old Valyrian blood can pass the Black Wall. Volantis is ruled by a triarch, a group of three, elected once a year. Two “political parties” vie for control. The elections are ten days of madness, a free-for-all to curry favor of the candidates and for the candidates to curry favor with the voters.

Only those of old blood that can trace ancestry to Valyria can be a triarch. The two parties that vie for control are the Elephants and Tigers. The Elephants are the merchants and moneylenders, while the Tigers are the old aristocracy and warriors. Elephants advocate trade and tigers advocate war.

Volantis is home to the largest temple to R’hllor, the Lord of Light, in the world. It is three times the size of the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.

The only Volantene in the series is Talisa, Robb’s wife.



Lys is another Free City, one of four located on islands off the mainland. It sits more south of Essos than the others. It is southeast of Tyrosh and west of Volantis. Like Braavos, Lys is spread over a number of islands. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin are common among Lyseni, remnants of the Valyrians of old.

Varys claims to have been born a slave in Lys. As a girl, Daenerys and her brother spent some time in Lys as beggars. One of Aery’s Hands, Jon Connington, supposedly drank himself to death in Lys after being exiled from Westeros.

The women of Lys are renowned. The pleasure houses of Lys are famed around the world, as they train girls from young ages to be concubines and whores. Of course, all are bedslaves, (slavery is legal). Lys frequently fights for the Disputed Lands.

Lys also contains one of the largest temples to R’hllor, the Lord of Light.

Some other Lyseni: Sallador Saan, the pirate who fought for Stannis and then rescued Davos in S3E1. Doreah, one of Dany’s handmaids, was bought by Viserys to please him. She ended up sleeping with Xaro Xohan Daxos and being tapped in his vault.



Myr is one of the Free Cities on the Essos continent mainland, and sits east of Tyrosh. The inhabitants are renowned for being great craftsmen. Its main exports are finished goods, such as carpets, glass, and lace. The city is ruled by magisters, much like Pentos. Unlike Lys, the Myrmen tend to be dark-haired and dark-eyed.

Slavery is legal in Myr, as in many of the Free Cities. The Myrmen often fight with the Lyseni over the Disputed Lands. During the series, at around this point in the books, Tyrosh and Lys are on the verge of war, and both seek to bring Myr into the conflict.

The Faith of R’hllor is strong in Myr. Thoros of Myr, a red priest, is currently in the Brotherhood Without Banners.


Michiel Huisman as Daario Naharis in Season 4 of Game of Thrones

Tyrosh is a coastal city, sitting on an island of the Stepstones. It is famous for its greedy citizens. Slavery is dealt in extensively. They have many brothels, though none as celebrated as those in Lys. Tyrosh is home to many sellswords, and is often drawn into conflicts over the Disputed Lands and Stepstones. Tyrosh often have forked beards and pointed mustaches, dyed in bright colors. It is ruled by the Archon.

Tyrosh had been taken over by a band of pirates, and sellswords known as the Band of Nine. At the end of a Westerosi conflict known as the War of the Ninepenny Kings (which I will get into in a few weeks), they ended up losing control of Tyrosh. Timewise, the WoNPK took place a decade or two before Robert’s Rebellion, I would say (rough estimate).

The only notable Tyroshi is Daario Naharis, Dany’s new friend from the Second Sons. In the books, he was flamboyant, even by Tyroshi standards. Much of that was omitted from the show. Dany and Viserys spent some time in Tyrosh as children, and the brother of the Archon of Tyrosh attended her wedding to Drogo in Pentos.

As always, if you have any questions/comments/corrections/whathaveyou, please feel free to comment.

Thirsting for more Game of Thrones History Lessons?

Westerosi History Lesson Hub:

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 ]

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