Areo Hotah is originally from Norvos, one of the northern Free Cities. He joined the Martell household at Sunspear along with Prince Doran's wife, a Norvoshi noblewoman. He has been a trusted servant of the Martells for many years, and is skilled with an axe.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Areo Hotah is described as a large, broad-shouldered man with white hair. He wields a large axe with a shaft six feet long. He is apparently Caucasian in the books - or at least, the line about his "white hair" inspired official artwork to depict him as Caucasian - while the TV series cast black actor DeObia Oparei in the role. This is not out of keeping for the Free Cities, whose populations are often diverse mixtures descended from Valyrian slaves brought in from far away lands. Westeros.org's review of the casting announcement pointed out that in some ways this could be seen as making up for the omission of Strong Belwas from the TV continuity, who is also a large, black, staunchly loyal guardsman, who entered into the service of Daenerys Targaryen (not that TV-Areo has been "combined" with Strong Belwas: Belwas is huge and strong but also very stout and fat, and is a eunuch).
As the youngest of six children, Areo was sold to priests of the local religion to be trained as a servant, which is a common practice in the Free Cities - similar to how Thoros, as an eighth son, was given over to the temple of the Lord of Light in Myr. The Bearded Priests of Norvos are a militant order, famed for training young boys into highly dependable guardsmen proficient in combat with an axe. Areo finished his training when he was sixteen years old, and as is customary, his chest was branded with his axe to signify the event.
Areo has been in Doran's service since he married Mellario of Norvos, a noblewoman from the Free Cities. Doran and Mellario wed for love, not to secure a political alliance, but as the years passed they became estranged and Mellario moved back to Norvos. Areo remained in Dorne to guard her and Doran's children: he has seen each of them grow up, and has an avuncular attachment to them. Still, his loyalty to Doran supersedes his loyalty to Doran's children.
Areo found Dorne and its culture to be quite alien when he first arrived: Norvos is one of the northern Free Cities and has a relatively colder climate, very different from the hot deserts of Dorne with its spicy foods and exotic culture. Over time, however, he became quite attached to the Martells.
Areo Hotah is the only significant character from Norvos to appear within the first five novels: only two other named characters from Norvos are even mentioned. Lady Mellario herself is important to Areo and Doran's backstory, but because she moved back to Norvos she is mentioned but does not appear within the narrative. The only other named Norvoshi was Byan Votris, captain of the trade caravan to Vaes Dothrak which contained the Wineseller who tried to poison Daenerys.
It is not yet clear if the TV-version of Areo will still be from Norvos, or if the TV series will give the explanation that he is from the Summer Islands but grew up in Norvos, or if he was simply living in the Summer Islands immediately before he came to Dorne (and never lived in Norvos). When other characters such as Xaro Xhoan Daxos or Salladhor Saan were changed to be black in the TV series, the writers introduced the explanation that they were originally "from" the Summer Islands before moving to their current home (i.e. Xaro directly states that he was originally from the Summer Islands). The Summer Islands are very close to Dorne, being located directly south from Dorne across the Summer Sea, so it actually isn't implausible to find Summer Islanders living in Dorne.
|Lord:||Prince Doran Martell||Heir:|
|Title(s):||Prince of Dorne · Lord of Sunspear|
|Ancestors:||Prince Maron Martell · Princess Daenerys Martell · Queen Myriah Martell|
|Current members:||Prince Trystane Martell · Ellaria Sand · Obara Sand · Nymeria Sand · Tyene Sand · Sarella Sand · Elia Sand · Obella Sand · Dorea Sand · Loreza Sand|
|Deceased members:||Princess Elia Martell · Prince Oberyn Martell|
|Household:||Princess Myrcella Baratheon · Septa Eglantine · Ser Arys Oakheart · Areo Hotah|
|Overlord:||House Baratheon of King's Landing|