- "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.
Since the defeat of the Greyjoy Rebellion, Theon Greyjoy, Balon's third son and heir, has lived as a ward of Lord Eddard Stark at Winterfell, the seat of House Stark. Despite his cordial relationship with the Starks, Theon resents his status as a hostage. Later, Theon accompanies the Stark forces to the Riverlands in the War of the Five Kings and gains the trust of Robb Stark, Ned's eldest son and the King in the North.
King Robb sends Theon Greyjoy back to the Pyke to secure an alliance with his father Balon in order to attack King's Landing. However, Lord Balon has different ideas and plans to use the War of the Five Kings to invade the North. Under pressure from his father and sister Yara Greyjoy, Theon renounces his allegiance to Robb and is baptized by a Drowned Men priest. During the invasion, Yara leads a fleet that attacks Deepwood Motte, the seat of House Glover.
Meanwhile, Theon struggles to gain the respect of the Ironborn crew of the Sea Bitch, who resent him for spending his adolescence away from the Iron Islands. Theon finds help in the form of his first mate Dagmer Cleftjaw. Together, the two Ironborn devise a plan to lure the main Stark forces away from Winterfell by launching a feint attack on Torrhen's Square. Against the wishes of Balon and Yara, Theon seizes Winterfell and captures Robb's younger brothers Bran and Rickon Stark. However, the boys escape with the help of the Wildling servant Osha and stable boy Hodor.
As a cover up, Theon kills two orphan boys and poses their corpses as those of Bran and Rickon. Theon's actions has the effect of inflaming northern resistance to the Ironborn and embarrassing Balon and Yara. Yara travels from Deepwood Mote to Winterfell and attempts to reason with Theon. However, Theon insists on keeping his prize and remaining the Prince of Winterfell.
Theon and the twenty ironborn at Winterfell are besieged by a Bolton army led by Ramsay Snow, the illegitimate son of Roose Bolton, a vassal of the Starks. Theon attempts to rally his men for a final stand but is knocked out by Dagmer, who intends to hand over his liege to the Boltons in return for the garrison being offered safe conduct. However, Ramsay reneges on the offer and has Dagmer and his men flayed alive. By capturing Theon, Ramsay has gained an important hostage since the former is the last surviving son and Balon's heir.
After capturing Theon Greyjoy, Roose Bolton falsely claims that the Ironborn had sacked Winterfell and then fled before Ramsay's army arrived. Meanwhile, Theon is tortured over a prolonged period and emasculated by Ramsay, who also forces him to adopt the persona "Reek." Acting in his father's absence, Ramsay issues an ultimatum to Lord Balon demanding that he withdraw from the North. Ramsay also threatens to mutilate Theon and to flay every Ironborn in the North if Balon rejects his terms. In response, Balon disowns Theon and refuses to abandon the strongholds he has conquered. However, Yara disagrees and assembles a band of Ironborn warriors to rescue her brother.
Ramsay's emasculation of Theon complicates Roose Bolton's plans to secure an Ironborn withdrawal from the Northern fortress of Moat Cailin, a strategic bottleneck which blocks the return of Bolton forces to the North. Since Theon cannot further the Greyjoy line, he is of no use to Balon. Later, Yara launches a raid on the Dreadfort to rescue Theon. Totally subservient to his master, Theon resists Yara's rescue attempt and chooses to remain with his master. Yara and her surviving forces are forced to retreat when Ramsay unleashes his dogs on them.
By assuming the persona of Theon, "Reek" convinces the Ironborn garrison at Moat Cailin to lay down their arms in return for safe passage. However, Ramsay reneges again on his offer and has the Ironborn there flayed alive. While Roose is uneasy with his son's brutal tactics, he still legitimizes Ramsay. Both surmise that the Ironborn forces in the North are on the retreat.
Having escaped the Boltons with Sansa Stark, Theon elects to return to the Iron Islands rather than accompany Sansa, Brienne of Tarth, and Podrick Payne to Castle Black. Theon fears that Jon Snow will seek retribution against him for the purported deaths of Bran and Rickon as well as the true deaths of the two orphans. Meanwhile, the end of the War of the Five Kings allows the Glovers to retake Deepwood Motte and slaughter the Ironborn garrison there. As a result, the Ironborn lose their last major stronghold in the North. In Pyke, Yara urges her father Balon to end the war and seek peace. However, Balon is unmoved and insists on fighting to the bitter end.
Later that night, Balon is murdered by his estranged younger brother Euron Greyjoy, who intends to succeed his brother on the Salt Throne. The following day, Balon's corpse is found by Yara and her uncle Aeron Greyjoy. After the funeral, Yara swears vengeance against her father's murderer and vows to succeed him on the Salt Throne. However, Aeron informs her that a kingsmoot will decide the next leader of the Ironborn.
Theon returns to Pyke and pledges to support his sister Yara's claim to the Salt Throne following a tense reunion. At the Kingsmoot, Yara wins the support of many of the Ironborn by vowing to build a mighty fleet to conquer the mainland. However, Yara is outmanuevered by her uncle Euron who wins the Kingsmoot by proposing an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. While Euron is being baptized by Aeron, Yara, Theon, and their supporters flee on the best ships in the Iron Fleet. After his coronation, Euron orders the Ironborn to chop down every tree and build a new fleet. He also calls for all the Ironborn women to weave sails for the ships. Finally, he also vows to kill his niece and nephew.
Yara, Theon, and their supporters taking a portion of the Iron Fleet to Essos. Yara plans to sail to Meereen and forge an alliance with Daenerys before their uncle can arrive. On the way, they stop over for rest and relaxation at the Free City of Volantis. Yara and several Ironborn crew fraternize with prostitutes.
After the Second Siege of Meereen, Yara and Theon arrive and speak with Daenerys and Tyrion in the Great Pyramid. Despite Tyrion's dislike of Theon, Yara convinces Daenerys to accept their ships as opposed to Euron's, noting that Euron's offer is one of marriage. Yara requests that the Iron Islands be independent once again, and Daenerys agrees to help them retake their homeland if they fight for her claim to the Iron Throne. The siblings are later seen on one of the Ironborn ships in Daenerys's fleet as it sails across the Narrow Sea.
At the invitation of the newly-crowned Queen Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy sails with his portion of the Iron Fleet to King's Landing. He meets with Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime Lannister. Since they share common enemies, Euron proposes forming an alliance to kill their estranged relatives, who have allied themselves with Queen Daenerys Targaryen. Cersei accepts Euron's alliance offer but is reluctant to marry him until he has proven his reliability. Jaime is reluctant to accept any alliance with the ironborn, describing them to Cersei as "bitter, angry little people" and dismissing her assumption that being good at shipbuilidng and killing qualifies them as useful allies.
Princess Yara's Iron Fleet is later dispatched by Queen Daenerys and her Hand Tyrion Lannister to transport Dornishmen and House Tyrell forces across the Narrow Sea for the planned siege of King's Landing. However, Euron's Iron Fleet ambushes them in the high seas. Many of Yara's warriors are slaughtered during the battle and her fleet is destroyed. Euron takes Yara captive but Theon manages to escape by jumping into the sea.
Theon is rescued by an Ironborn ship loyal to Yara. Meanwhile, Euron leads a victory parade in King's Landing with his niece Yara as a prisoner. Queen Cersei appoints Euron the commander of her naval forces while Yara is taken into custody. The Iron Fleet later attacks the Unsullied forces that have seize the Lannister seat of Casterly Rock.
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.
- Note: "ironborn" is consistently spelled with a lowercase "i", except when it is the first word in a sentence.
- "A Man Without Honor"
- "Winter Is Coming"
- "The North Remembers"
- "What Is Dead May Never Die"
- "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
- "The Old Gods and the New"
- "The Prince of Winterfell"
- "Valar Morghulis"
- "Dark Wings, Dark Words"
- "The Lion and the Rose"
- "The Laws of Gods and Men"
- "The Mountain and the Viper"
- "Book of the Stranger"
- "The Door"
- "The Broken Man"
- "Battle of the Bastards"
- "The Winds of Winter"
- "The Queen's Justice"
- "House Greyjoy (Histories & Lore)"
- "The Drowned God (Histories & Lore)"
Cultures and Peoples of the Known World
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