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- "Singers call those times the Age of Heroes. A mask for a savage world that bred savage men."
- ―Lord Roose Bolton
The Age of Heroes is an epoch in the history of Westeros. It began approximately 10,000 years ago with the sealing of the Pact, which brought about peace between the First Men and the Children of the Forest at the end of the preceding era, known as the Dawn Age. The Age of Heroes lasted for about four millennia, from the signing of the Pact until the Andal Invasion 6,000 years ago.
This age is so-named for the great heroes who were said to live at this time and perform immense deeds. Some of these heroes include Bran the Builder and Lann the Clever, whose descendants founded House Stark and House Lannister respectively.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Age of Heroes is one of several broad eras in the history of Westeros. It was preceded by the Dawn Age, in which the First Men crossed the land bridge into Westeros, encountered the Children of the Forest, and came into conflict with them. After many centuries of warfare, the two races met on the Isle of Faces and established the Pact, which created peace between them. The Age of Heroes is commonly accepted to date from that accord, and lasted for thousands of years after it.
During this period, many petty-kingdoms rose and fell across the continent, their rulers laying the foundations for what would later become the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. A number of cultural traditions were also established during this time, many of which live on in the customs of the present-day Northmen: the laws of hospitality, guest right, and the notion that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword" all date from the Age of Heroes.
The most notable event that took place during the Age of Heroes was the Long Night, the generation-long winter that descended upon Westeros and brought the First Men and the Children of the Forest in conflict with the White Walkers. The following war claimed many lives, and the Children never truly recovered from it, but the Walkers were driven back to the far north, and the Wall was raised to bar against their potential return.
The Age of Heroes takes its name from the many legendary figures that lived during this time. Each of these figures performed great feats that are still talked about in the present-day, and many of the noble houses of Westeros claim descent from them:
- Bran the Builder: said to be the mastermind behind the Wall and to have raised the ancient keep of Winterfell. His name is also connected with other notable constructs, such as Storm's End and the Hightower. House Stark claims descent from him.
- Artys Arryn: known as the Falcon Knight, he was an Andal adventurer who led his people in the Battle of the Seven Stars, which established Andal supremacy in the Vale. House Arryn claims descent from him. 
- The Grey King: the first ruler of the ironborn, he slew the great sea dragon Nagga, took a mermaid as his wife and ruled for a thousand years. He also taught men how to weave nets and sails, and carved the very first longship from the wood of a demon tree. Nearly all the noble houses of the Iron Islands claim descent from him.
- Lann the Clever: a famous, golden-haired trickster who was able to swindle House Casterly out of their ancestral stronghold, Casterly Rock, though the stories of how he accomplished this feat vary widely. The stories also say that he lived for over 300 years and sired a hundred children. House Lannister claims descent from him.
- Garth Greenhand: stories told of Garth say that he first taught men how to farm the land, was able to influence human fertility and reproductive cycles, and that he sired children beyond count. All the noble houses of the Reach claim descent from him in some form.
- Florys the Fox: A daughter of Garth Greenhand who was so cunning that she was able to keep three husbands at once, with none knowing of the others' existence. House Florent of Brightwater Keep claims descent from one of the husbands.
- Gilbert of the Vines: According to legend, it was Gilbert who first taught the men of the Arbor to make wine from the grapes that grew on the island. House Redwyne claims descent from him.
- Harlon the Hunter and Herndon of the Horn: Twin sons of Garth Greenhand. They are said to have raised the castle of Horn Hill and shared a woods witch as a wife for a hundred years, never aging as long as they bedded her every full moon. House Tarly claims descent from them.
- Durran Godsgrief: Durran is credited with raising the mighty castle of Storm's End as a defense against the powerful winds and rains that blow up and down the coast of the Stormlands. House Durrandon, the rulers of the Stormlands before the Targaryen Conquest, claimed descent from him.
While the Age of Heroes occupies a significant place in the collective culture and history of Westeros, very little about this period can, in fact, be confirmed with any accuracy. As Samwell Tarly points out to Jon Snow, Westeros did not possess a comprehensive written language until the arrival of the Andals. The First Men did possess a system of runic script (as seen on the sigil of House Royce), and surviving examples of this script can sometimes corroborate parts of stories from the Age of Heroes. For the most part, however, these stories were passed down orally through songs and poems, which can easily change depending on circumstances, especially over a long period of time. Therefore, nearly all the information known about the Age of Heroes was written down thousands of years after the events supposedly occurred, and many of those writers were septons whose accounts were likely influenced by their religious beliefs.
In such circumstances, the existence the legendary progenitors of various noble houses, or the occurrence of cataclysmic events such as the Long Night, cannot be conclusively proven, despite the importance they hold in the collective psyche of Westeros. By the same token, this lack of first-hand evidence (or simply the many thousands of years that have passed since) is one reason why some Westerosi believe the Long Night never occurred in the first place.
- ↑ HBO Viewer's Guide, Season 2 appendices Westeros Through the Ages
- ↑ Singers later conflated Ser Artys' story with that of the Winged Knight, a legendary figure said to have lived during the Age of Heroes. Even this figure's name betrays the later influence, as knighthood is a distinctly Andal tradition and was unknown in Westeros during the Age of Heroes.