Not too long ago, I realized just how immersed I was in the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a funny experience, getting into a series, realizing you’ve finally got some understanding of the universe contained within, and you find that you really like it! As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t experienced this since reading Lord of the Rings or possibly Dune.
And in the course of my latest bit of research into the ASOIAF universe, I came across a helpful timeline. This, much like the geography of J R.R. Martin’s world, was something I had been pondering by the time I got to the fifth book. As anyone’s who read the series knows, there’s plenty of references to historical events which can be a bit confusing, at least if you’re the kind of person who likes to know how everything fits together.
And much like Tolkien, Martin’s timeline is very inspired, dense, detailed, and draws on a great deal of real history. And knowing it is quite helpful in establishing the deep background of the series and understanding the interplay of characters and events. So here is what I found, condensed and abridged for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!
The Dawn Age:
This is the prehistoric age of A Song of Ice and Fire, where the important factions know as the “Children of the Forest” and the “First Men” are introduced. The former are a race of magical creatures who feature quite prominently in the later volumes of the story, where Greenseers and prescient dreams start to come up more and more. They inhabited Westeros in the prehistoric period along with giants and other magical creatures that only live in the North anymore. The Children of the Forest are also credited with forging the religion of the “Old Gods” which the Northmen still worship in the story.
ca. 12,000: The First Men invade Westeros across a land-bridge from the east, using bronze weapons to conquer and colonize Westeros. The Children of the Forest fight back and cast a spell to break the land-bridge, giving rise to the island formation known as the Stepstones (Echoes of the Bering Land Bridge here!) However, the First Men rely on ships and complete their conquest after generations.
ca. 10,000: The First Men and Children sign the pact of Isle of Faces, agreeing to coexistence after generations of warfare. This pact gives the First Men dominion over the open lands and lets the Children keep control over the forested areas. In time, the First Men adopt the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest.
The Age of Heroes
Much like the age of same name in Greek mythology, this age is so named because it encompasses a number of great figures who accomplished noteworthy deeds. These include the founding of many of the Great Houses, who trace their lineage in the story to this period. The include Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark; Lann the Clever who formed House Lannister; and Garth Greenhand who founded House Gardener of the Reach. Also, this was the time of the Storm Kings who arise in the Stormlands, and the Grey King of the Iron Islands.
ca. 10,000-8,000: The peace between the Children of the Forest and the First Men endures for thousands of years. The houses of Stark, Lannister, Gardener and the Storm Kings are established in the North, Casterly Rock, the Reach and the Stormlands respectively.
ca. 8,000-6,000: Period known as the Long Night in Westeros, a time of the coldest, darkest winter where a single night seems to last a generation. Ice spreads from the North, leading to the advance of the Others. It comes to an end following the Battle of the Dawn, where the First Men united under Azor Ahai (referenced in the text by Melissandre and the Red Priests) to repel the Others back to the north dragonglass weapons. Ahai also wields of a sword of fire known as Lightbringer.
After the defeat of the Others, Bran the Builder leads the raising of the Wall, a massive fortification of ice and ancient magic to shelter realms of Men. The Night’s Watch is formed to man and guard it against Others, Wights and Wildlings who live to the north. Bran then goes on to build Winterfell and becomes first King In The North. Not long after, a Black Brother betrays his oath and tries to install himself as king. The Starks of Winterfell and King Beyond the Wall Joramun join forces to destroy him. Joramun uses the Horn of Winter to summon giants from the earth to help him fight (the horn is buried, not to be found again until Mance Rayder uncovers it in A Storm of Swords)
The Andal Invasion:
The second of three major invasions of Westeros happens in this time period, leading to the Faith of the Seven and the tradition of chivalry being adopted. The divide between North and South is also rooted thanks to the failure of the Andals to conquer north of Moat Cailin.The Children of the Forest also begin their slow withdraw further from the lands of men in this period, retreating deeper into their forests and North of the Wall.
ca.6,000-5,000: In the Hills of Andalos on the eastern continent of Essos, a new religion called the Faith of the Seven emerges. Supposedly, the supreme deity of the Andals appears to them and instructs them to cross the Narrow Sea and invade Westeros. They come under the banner of the Faith of the Seven, with seven-pointed stars carved into their chests, wielding weapons of steel.
The war endures for centuries and leads to the fall of the six southron kingdoms fall and the destruction of their weirwoods. The kingdoms of the North remain under First Men rule, thanks to the strategically placed fortification of Moat Cailin which resists multiple attacks, thereafter serving as the door between North and South.
Age of Valyria:
This period is characterized by the rise of the Valyrians as the dominant power in Essos and the many wars of expansion in Essos. These wars lead to the fall of the Ghiscari Empire, the Rhoynish cities, and the conquest of the Free Cities and the cities of Slaver’s Bay. Other Noble Houses are created during this time, most notably, House Martell of Dorne. It ends with the third and final invasion of Westeros, this time by House Targaryan, and the establishment of the Iron Throne.
ca. 5,000 – 700: On the eastern continent, the sheep-herding folk of the Valyrian peninsula find dragons lairing in the volcanoes that extend across the neck of the peninsula. The Valyrians tame the dragons with magic and gain influence over the area. The Valyrian Freehold is established and Valyrian steel, a magical metal renowned for its sharpness, light-weight and flaming properties, is forged. The Freehold goes to war with the Ghiscari Empire, the greatest power on the eastern peninsula. Valyria wins with the help of its dragons, destroys Old Ghis, and exerts influence over the cities of Slaver’s Bay.
ca. 3000: The Wildlings Invasion takes place as the northern men unite under the brother Kings-beyond-the-Wall Gendel and Gorne, manage to evade the Night’s Watch and bypass the Wall in great numbers using a network of tunnels that extend under the Wall. However, they are met by the Stark King on the other side and are eventually thrown back.
ca. 700: In the North, House Stark finally subdues House Bolton, their primary antagonists for dominance in the North. Karlon Stark defeats sea raiders from the east and founds the cadet branch of House Karstark. In the West, the Ironborn of the Iron Islands rise to power. At their peak, they control most of the western coast from Oldtown and the Arbor in the south to Bear Island in the North.
ca. 700-500: Valyria’s expansion beyond Old Ghis brings it into conflict with the great cities along the Rhoyne and manages to subdue them, again because of their dragons. Nymeria, a Rhoynish queen, evacuates the survivors and takes them to Dorne where she forms an alliance with Lord Mars Martell and form the ruling house of Dorne.
ca. 500-200: Valyria expands once again and conquers much of the southern Free Cities. A religous sect known as the Moonsingers leads refugees to a remote lagoon concealed by mountains and mist to found the secret city of Braavos. They build the Titan of Braavos to serve as a defensive fortification. The Valyrian Freehold, under the Targaryens, annex a small island at the mouth of Blackwater Bay, and build a castle whose tower is shaped to look like Dragons, giving its name: Dragonstone.
ca. 350: The Storm Kings expand their control of the Westerlands north to include the territory of the Riverlands up to the Neck. Over time the Ironborn lose many of their possessions but, some three generations before Aegon’s Landing, conquer the territory of the Riverlands from the Stormlands. The Ironborn king, Harren Hoare builds Harrenhal.
ca. 100: The Doom of Valryria begins. The volcanoes known as the Fourteen Fires erupt and shatter the Valyrian Peninsula and laying waste to the city of Valyria. The dragons of Valyria are virtually wiped out and the Valyrian Freehold crumbled apart, its various cities becoming independent city states. Braavos reveals itself to the other Free Cities and eventually becomes the most powerful due to its vast fleet and economic power.
The cities of Slaver’s Bay become independent again and Ghiscari power begins building again in the south. The warrior-nomads of the vast eastern plains arise thanks to the fall of Valyria and their dominant tribe, the Dothraki, begins raiding the surrounding lands. The Targaryens remain safe on Dragonstone, the guardians of possibly the last three dragons in the western world.
Targaryen Dynasty and Roberts Rebellion:
Events of this period direclty precede events in A Song of Ice and Fire. These include the Targaryan conquest of the Seven Kindgoms by Aeon the Conqueror and his three dragons, the death of the last of the worlds dragons, the unification of the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne, and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty during Robert’s Rebellion.
ca. 1 AL*: Aegon the Conqueror invades Westeros, conquers and unites six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros under his banner and constructs a new capital city at King’s Landing. He is unable to conquer Dorne and allows it to remain sovereign. Control of Highgarden passes to House Tyrell, House Tully of Riverrun takes control of the Riverlands and House Greyjoy become the rulers of the Iron Islands. Later Targaryans add Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms are united under the Iron Throne.
282-283 AL: Rhaegar Targaryen abducts Lyanna Stark. Lyanna’s brother and father (Ned Starks uncle and father) demand that Aerys discipline his son, but instead the Mad King kills them both. Aerys demands the heads of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark from their ward, Jon Arryn. Instead, Houses Arryn, Stark, and Baratheon raise the standard of rebellion. Robert’s Rebellion, also called the War of the Usurper, begins.
The Hand of the King, Jon Connington, is defeated in the Battle of the Bells and is sent into exile in the Free Cities. The rebel army defeats the royalists at the Battle of the Trident where Prince Rhaegar is killed. The Lannisters apparently march to the aid of King Aerys, but instead turn against him and sack the city. King Aerys is killed by Jaime Lannister.
Princess Elia Martell and her children, Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, are brutally murdered by Lannister bannermen, causing a rift between Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon. Robert becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms and marries Cersei Lannister. Ned returns home to Winterfell with his bastard son, Jon Snow. Loyal Targaryen retainers carry Aerys’ two youngest children, Prince Viserys and Princess Daenerys, to safety in the Free Cities.
*After Landing: The year that follows after Aegon lands in Westeros, establishing the “common era” of the Iron Throne.
Yes, its long, detailed and dense, and that’s just the stuff I chose to include. But you gotta admit, it does fill in the blanks and answer a whole lot of nagging questions! And of course, there are all those allegories I mentioned earlier. First there’s the invasion of the First Men across the land bridge calling to mind the migration of human beings across the Bering Land Bridge, giving rise to the First Nations and the establishment of American civilizations.
You also have the successive invasions of Westeros calling to mind the invasion of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans. The Children of the Forest also call to mind the systematic destruction of native populations the world over, and the division between the Old Gods and New is very similar to the conquest of Roman pantheism over the “pagan” religions of the Old World.
And of course, the Red Priests and their dualistic vision of a world divided between the forces of Light and Darkness is not at all dissimilar to Judea-Christian theology, or more likely Zoroastrianism. The fact that the faith comes from the East and is so focused on a war between good and evil that is expected to achieve culmination soon is more in keeping with the Zoroastrian tradition, though the monotheistic aspects of it, forced conversions and burning of “idols” do call to mind Christianity’s conquest of European and the New World.
And on top of that, there’s a very rich history taking place in the East, where Valyria resembles ancient Rome, who’s power base (in this case Dragons) allows them to conquer the Free Cities (similar to the Greek city-states), the Empire of Old Ghis (Persia and other Empires of the East), and whose fall creates a power vacuum that leads to the rise of “Barbarian Hordes” – aka. the Dothraki.
I tell ya, the historical metaphors are thick. THICK!