- "We are ironborn. We're not subjects, we're not slaves. We do not plow the field or toil in the mine. We take what is ours."
- ―Balon Greyjoy
The ironborn (or rarely, ironmen or iron islanders) are the natives of the Iron Islands off the west coast of Westeros. They are a fiercely independent seafaring people who chafe at the rule of the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.
The modern ironborn are an intermingling of the blood of the original First Men settlers of the islands and the Andals who followed six thousand years later. While the Andals and the Faith of the Seven came to dominate everywhere else below the Neck, they found less purchase on the Islands. While a few converts to the Faith of the Seven may be found there even in the present day, most of the Andal invaders converted to the native deity, the Drowned God, instead. The Andal invaders completely acculturated to the distinct "ironborn" culture, and their invasion had relatively little impact upon the Iron Islands. Thus the ironborn are ethnically composed of the same First Men/Andal mix as most of the rest of Westeros: they are culturally, not ethnically distinct.
One of the few notable changes was that the ironborn switched to speaking the Common Tongue of the Andals, something also copied by the independent First Men of the North. In both cases, this came about through cultural proximity, not because it was imposed upon the status quo; therefore would be wrong to say that the Andals "forced" the ironborn to speak their language.
In the present day, the ironborn generally think of their distinct culture as stretching back without interruption to the Dawn Age, long before the Andals arrived. Even back then, however, their culture had developed so differently from their First Men cousins on the mainland that the ironborn only consider themselves to have truly "originated", culturally, on the Iron Islands themselves.
In the Seven Kingdoms
For centuries, the ironborn pillaged the western coasts of Westeros, which they refer to as the "Green lands", and conquered various coastal territories, building a far-flung maritime empire, whose size fluctuated depending on the constantly shifting political climate on the continent. About three generations before the War of Conquest, the ruling House Hoare led the ironborn to conquer the Riverlands, which had previously been conquered by the Stormlands three centuries before. After driving out the Storm Kings, they spent decades forcing their new thralls in the Riverlands to build the largest castle on the entire continent: Harrenhal. Almost the size of a small city, Harrenhal was meant to ensure lasting ironborn domination of the Riverlands.
The last stone of Harrenhal was laid during the rule of King Harren Hoare - unfortunately, on the very same day that Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys Targaryen set out with their army and dragons to conquer Westeros. Tywin Lannister told Arya Stark that a million men could have marched against Harren at Harrenhal, and they would have failed to take the castle. Against Aegon's dragons, however, Harrenhal's high walls were useless, and Harren and all of his sons were roasted alive in their tower by the fire of Aegon's dragon Balerion the Black Dread. Meanwhile the local Riverlands Houses rose up in a revolt led by House Tully to support the Targaryens in overthrowing their hated ironborn overlords. Their armies defeated and House Hoare destroyed, the surviving ironborn Houses bent the knee to Aegon. Now-King Aegon asked the remaining ironborn noble Houses to choose one of their number to rule over the Iron Islands under the overall authority of the Iron Throne, and they chose House Greyjoy of Pyke.
The ironborn consider reaving and piracy to be their birthright, and fear that three centuries of peace under the Iron Throne has destroyed their heritage and removed their edge, especially as the Seven have found more purchase on the Islands since the Targaryen invasion. Nine years before the War of the Five Kings, to reverse this trend, Lord Balon Greyjoy declared independence in the Greyjoy Rebellion but was soundly defeated. Since then the Ironborn remained quiet vassals of the Iron Throne.
Like the Northmen, the ironborn are descendants of the First Men, but while their mainland cousins adopted the Old Gods of the Children of the Forest, the ironborn worship a deity known as the Drowned God. The Drowned God is said to have created the ironborn to reave and raid and carve out their names in blood and song. When the Andals invaded Westeros, they conquered the Iron Islands as well, but instead of converting the ironborn, the Andals that settled on the Islands were absorbed into the local culture, adopting their religion and way of life as their own.
Culture and economy
- See also: Old Way
The traditional ironborn way of life, known as the Old Way, is centered on piracy and raiding. An ironborn is considered a man only when he has killed his first foe, while his personal wealth is expected to be obtained by "paying the iron price" - that is, seizing it from enemies he has personally killed. An ironborn is also expected to abstain from working the land or toiling in the mines, since such tasks are reserved for thralls - men captured in raids and forced into servitude.
The Iron Islands are ruled by House Greyjoy from the castle and island of Pyke. Lord Balon Greyjoy rules the Islands. His only surviving son and heir is Theon Greyjoy who was formerly a ward and hostage of Lord Eddard Stark at Winterfell.
While the Faith of the Seven on the mainland prohibits same-sex relationships (for men or women), it is unclear what the attitude of the Drowned God religion is regarding male and/or female homosexuality among the ironborn. Yara Greyjoy is a prominent ship captain, and she openly engages in sex with either men or women - none of her followers seem to find this unusual, but it is unclear how typical this is (see main article "Gender and sexuality").
- "They [the ironborn] take pride in their ignorance of every trapping of civilization.
- ―Brynden Tully
- "I know the ironborn. They're bitter, angry, little people. All they know how to do is steal things they can't build or grow themselves."
- ―Jaime Lannister
In the books
George R.R. Martin has frequently compared the ironborn to Vikings from the real-life Middle Ages. Given the analogy that the entire continent of Westeros is supposed to be an oversized version of the British Isles, the ironborn also loosely correspond to Celtic raiders from medieval Ireland, as well as raiders from other outer islands in the group (the Isle of Man, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, etc.). Of course, at various points in history, the Vikings established permanent raiding bases in Ireland and the outer isles, so often these raids were from Vikings who lived in Ireland.
In the books, the ironborn are also called "ironmen" interchangeably, but never "iron islanders".
It is forbidden for ironborn to kill other ironborn in such manner than spills blood; killing without spilling blood, like by drowning, is tolerable. Kinslaying, with or without spilling blood is forbidden: Euron, who murdered Balon and two more of his brothers, never admitted any of those killings in public (in the show he does admit openly killing Balon).
As a part of the Old Way, there are no slaves in the Iron Islands, only thralls. It is not semantics: a thrall is bound to service, but he is not a chattel. His children are born free, so long as they are given to the Drowned God. Thralls are never bought nor sold for gold. A man pays the iron price for thralls, or else has none. Soon after Euron is crowned, he issues a royal decree which allows to sell captives as slaves, thus violating the Old Way.
As a part of the Old Way, ironborn prefer hand-to-hand combat, using swords or axes; only on rare occasions (harrying of the Stony Shore) they shoot arrows at their opponents. They do not besiege castles in order to starve their enemies out, nor do they use any siege machines, because in their eyes there is no glory in such fighting methods.
Illiteracy is common among the ironborn, perhaps because they believe physical force is enough to obtain what they want, and do not bother to produce anything of their own, as the motto of House Greyjoy implies. When Theon arrives at Moat Cailin, he urges the ironborn to read the message from Ramsay, although he is almost certain that none of them can read. Rodrik Harlaw (Balon's brother-in-law) is known as "the Reader" for his passion for books, which is regarded by most ironborn as somewhat strange, as they consider reading to be an unmanly habit (though Rodrik is actually a strong warrior, he just thinks history books are interesting).
The Iron Islands are too sparse and rocky for breeding good horses. Most of the ironborn are indifferent riders at best, more comfortable on the deck of a longship than in the saddle. Even the lords ride garrons or shaggy Harlaw ponies, and ox carts are more common than drays. The smallfolk who are too poor to own either one, pull their own plows through the thin, stony soil.
The ironborn prefer to fight from decks of ships. At battles which take place on the mainland, the ironborn mostly fight as an infantry; since they lack the discipline to stand a charge of an armored horse, they may find themselves at a disadvantage if their opponents are cavalrymen.
Cultures and peoples of the known world
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