- "Nobody remembers if the waters around Ghis had names before the empire. But ever since we know them only as Slaver's Bay... and the Gulf of Grief."
- ―Ser Jorah Mormont
The Bay of Dragons, formerly known as Slaver's Bay, is the name given to an area on the southern coast of Essos, located to the southeast of Westeros and the Free Cities and to the west of Qarth. The name can refer to the bay itself or the entire region. As the former name implies, the cities of Slaver's Bay were once the hub of the international slave trade until they were liberated by Queen Daenerys Targaryen.
The Bay of Dragons is an inlet of the larger Gulf of Grief, which is itself a gulf of the vast Summer Sea. On the opposite southern side of the Summer Sea is the separate continent of Sothoryos, which is therefore a frequent target for slaving raids.
In Essos itself, the Bay of Dragons is located south of the Dothraki Sea, and west of the Red Waste (separated from that harsh desert by coastal mountains). Lhazar, a land of peaceful shepherds, is located to the northeast, between the Dothraki and the Red Waste. The Skahazadhan River that runs through Lhazar passes through the mountains and finds its way to the sea in the Bay of Dragons itself. The largest former slaver-city, Meereen, is located at the mouth of the Skahazadhan. The Dothraki enjoy pillaging areas close to the Bay of Dragons and driving captives to the slave cities in return for riches. They particularly enjoy pillaging Lhazar, since it is located conveniently close to Meereen.
The Bay of Dragons is dominated by three large independent city-states, all located on the eastern side of the bay: from south to north they are Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen - of which Meereen is by far the largest. These three former slaver-cities were famous as the heart of the slave trade in Essos, selling slaves to the Free Cities, Dothraki, and Qarth, before Daenerys Targaryen liberated the region and ended the slave trade.
The term "the Bay of Dragons" often specifically refers to these three populous cities on the eastern side. Two surviving Valyrian colony-cities at the northern base of the peninsula did survive: Tolos and Elyria. Without central control from Valyria after the Doom, however, the two cities fell into the economic and cultural orbit of the three large Ghiscari cities to the east. In the present they are thought of as more of an outlying backwater of the wider "Bay of Dragons" region. The northern side of the bay, between Tolos and Meereen, is sparsely inhabited in the present day, vulnerable to Dothraki raids from the north.
Overall, the Bay of Dragons has a hot, semi-arid climate. Agriculture is maintained through extensive irrigation systems.
The region later known as Slaver's Bay was once the heartland of the great Ghiscari Empire, which flourished well over five thousand years ago, and was one of the earliest civilizations in the known world. About five thousand years ago, the new power of the Valyrian Freehold began to rise to the west, across the Gulf of Grief. Valyrian expansion was driven by their discovery of Dragons in the volcanic mountains of the Valyrian peninsula, which they mastered and rode as weapons of war. The two great empires developed an intense rivalry, and clashed in a series of five massive wars, but the vast slave-legions of the ancient Ghiscari could not withstand Valyrian dragonfire. Five thousand years ago, the Valyrians finally succeeded in destroying the Ghiscari Empire, burning its capital city Old Ghis to the ground, conquering its surrounding lands and colonies, and enslaving the survivors. Five thousand years of Valyrian mastery obliterated much of the original Ghiscari culture.
Four hundred years before the War of the Five Kings, the Doom of Valyria destroyed the great civilization within a single cataclysmic day - after which Valyria's outlying colonies and conquests reasserted their independence. While their colonies to the west of Valyria developed into the Free Cities, in a parallel development, their colonies to the east overthrew their Valyrian overlords and became the independent city-states of Slaver's Bay. The three most powerful of these cities became Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen.
The ruling elites of Slaver's Bay practiced large-scale slavery; indeed, their entire economy centered around it. In times of peace they bred them, and in times of war they captured them. Many slaves were taken from distant lands, even places far across the sea such as the continent of Sothoryos. Due to this ethnic melting pot, combined with thousands of years of Valyrian domination, little of the original culture of the old Ghiscari Empire has survived. Even the language spoken in the present-day Bay of Dragons is a derivative of High Valyrian, not the Old Ghiscari language - which is functionally dead. The Low Valyrian language spoken in the Bay of Dragons is, however, very distinct from the other Low Valyrian languages spoken in the Free Cities, as it was geographically separated and subjected to unique local influences. A few constructions and loanwords from Old Ghiscari such as "mhysa" ("mother") survive into Bay of Dragons Low Valyrian, but it fundamentally remains a derivative of their old Valyrian conquerors.
Despite the vast chronological and cultural gap between them, the local ruling slavemasters of Slaver's Bay prided themselves on surviving scraps of Ghiscari culture, and liked to think of themselves as a continuation of the Ghiscari Empire's old glories - extending to the point that each of the former slaver-cities uses a Harpy as its sigil, as the old Ghiscari Empire did.
The status quo of Slaver's Bay was altered dramatically when Daenerys Targaryen tricked the Good Masters of Astapor into giving her all of their available Unsullied. Daenerys immediately turned her new army on the Good Masters, slaughtering most of them in the Sack of Astapor. The Mother of Dragons then initiated a march on Yunkai, beginning the Liberation of Slaver's Bay. Daenerys triumphed over Yunkai with the assistance of the Second Sons, and marched on Meereen. The Great Masters issued a threat to Daenerys in the form of 163 crucified slave children, one at each mile-marker on the road to Meereen. This only served to infuriate the Dragon Queen, and she promptly brought her forces to bear in the Siege of Meereen. After inciting a slave revolt and seizing the city for herself, Daenerys crucified 163 of the Great Masters in retribution for their stunt with the slave children. Upon learning that Cleon had set himself up in Astapor and the Wise Masters had restored their control over Yunkai, Daenerys resolved to remain in Meereen to enforce her abolition of slavery, and also to practice the art of governance in preparation for her eventual conquest of Westeros.
Unsurprisingly, Daenerys's rule was plagued with problems, many of them stemming from her refusal to compromise with the Masters and the rising tensions between the former Masters and the freedmen. A local resistance, the Sons of the Harpy, grew up in Meereen, gaining ground not only from disenfranchised Masters, but from less powerful families who were angered at Daenerys's flouting of Meereenese traditions. In an attempt to halt the violence, Daenerys agreed to reopen the city's famous Fighting pits and to marry the former Great Master Hizdahr zo Loraq. Unfortunately, the Sons of the Harpy assaulted Daenerys and her retinue on the opening day of the games. The Sons of the Harpy are scared off by the sudden appearance of Drogon, who promptly leaves Slaver's Bay with Daenerys on his back.
Over the next several weeks, Tyrion Lannister attempts to keep the peace, and, over Missandei and Grey Worm's objections, brokers an agreement with the reconstituted Masters of Yunkai and Astapor, as well as their backers in Volantis that slavery will be phased out over the course of the next seven years, with economic reparations to slave-owners. The Slavers' Alliance agrees, but only to stall for time until they can move their fleets into position and initiate the Second Siege of Meereen. Fortunately, Daenerys and Drogon return to Meereen as the Siege commences, and the Breaker of Chains coordinates all three of her dragons to destroy the invading fleet, while the Sons of the Harpy are massacred by the arrival of Daenerys's dothraki horde, arriving overland during the siege.
Following the total defeat of the Slavers' Alliance, the free future of Slaver's Bay seems assured at last. Forging a pact with the Greyjoy siblings, Daenerys makes preparations to leave for Westeros at last. She leaves her lover Daario Naharis in charge of Meereen, confident that Yezzan zo Qaggaz's warnings will be enough to keep Astapor and Yunkai under control. Daario is to maintain the peace until the Meereenese appoint a new government for themselves. Daenerys also renames Slaver's Bay to reflect its new reality: the Bay of Dragons.
Cities and locations
The three primary cities in the Bay of Dragons are located along the eastern side. From south to north they are:
- Astapor - infamous for training the Unsullied warrior-eunuchs
- Yunkai - noted for its bed slaves
- Meereen - greatest and most populous of the slaver-cities, noted for its large pyramids.
Other settlements include:
- Tolos and Elyria - city-states on the north-western coast of the Bay of Dragons, former Valyrian colonies.
- Bhorash - a ruined city on the north coast of the Bay of Dragons, east of Tolos.
- Ghiscar - a region which once formed the core territory of the now fallen Ghiscari Empire and its ruined capital of Old Ghis. Located south of Astapor.
- New Ghis: an expansionist city-state located on an island south of the Ghiscari Strait, off the south coast from Ghiscar in the Gulf of Grief.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Slaver's Bay is a region in south-central Essos where slaves are bought, trained, and sold in massive numbers.
The city of Meereen is located 550 leagues (1,650 miles) east of Volantis. The land-route from the Free Cities to Slaver's Bay, employing Valyrian roads crossing the northern end of the Valyrian Peninsula via the city of Mantarys, is known as the "demon road" and is considered exceptionally dangerous. The majority of trade and travel between the Free Cities and Slaver's Bay takes place by sea, with ships giving the ill-omened ruins of Valyria a wide berth.
During the Dawn Age, the old Ghiscari Empire that once ruled the region was bountiful: forests provided abundant wood, fields were plentiful, and the hills were filled with copper for weapons. Copper stopped being as important as it used to be, however, after the forging of iron was discovered and spread across Essos (this iron age began over 6,000 years ago, and the Ghiscari themselves did switch to iron weapons). When the Valyrians conquered the region in the Ghiscari Wars five thousand years ago, the flames from the dragons burned out all of the forests, so they no longer had lumber. Without the trees to hold the soil in place, it baked and blew away in the wind, and crop yields became meager. No longer possessing valuable surpluses of timber, crops, or useful metals, it is easy to see how the entire economy of the region became so heavily reliant upon slavery. This is ultimately one of the reasons that Daenerys Targaryen's intervention encounters such difficulty - such as the invented scene with the slave Fennesz (a condensation/representation of several slaves in the novels), who points out to her that their economy has been so heavily based on slavery for so long that simply removing it left many former slaves without livelihoods.
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