- "The warrior maids of Hyrkoon, who wear iron rings in their nipples and rubies in their cheeks"
- ―Jorah Mormont
Hyrkoon is famous for its fierce warrior-women, who are known for their decorative body modifications. The warrior-women of Hyrkoon go about bare-breasted with iron rings through their nipples, and rubies studded into their cheeks.
In the books
The city-states of Hyrkoon and their warrior-women have been mentioned in passing since the first novel - Daenerys Targaryen noticed them in the Eastern Market of Vaes Dothrak. Very little, however, has been revealed about their culture and history. A major update came with the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014), but even then, Hyrkoon didn't get a full section to itself the way Yi Ti did.
History & Geography
The formal name of Hyrkoon is the "Patrimony of Hyrkoon", though this name is something of a misnomer. The original Patrimony actually fell many centuries ago: due to being located in the rain shadow of the Bone Mountains, increasing desertification eventually destroyed it. The years-long seasonal cycles across both Westeros and Essos have gradually trapped a large amount of ocean water as polar ice over the millennia, lowering the sea levels and leading to desertification in many areas. Hyrkoon was not totally destroyed, however, as three large fortress-cities built to guard the mountain passes along its western borders survived, and in time turned into independent city-states.
From north to south, these surviving Hyrkoon cities are Kayakayanaya, Shamyriana, and Bayasabhad. They are located high up in the mountain passes and extract heavy tolls from the trade caravans that pass through the range. The caravans from Yi Ti travel to Vaes Dothrak, Slaver's Bay, and Qarth. In Vaes Dothrak, the Yi Tish caravans exchange goods with merchant caravans from the Free Cities (particularly Qohor), some of whom are selling secondhand wares all the way from Westeros (such as fine wines).
There are only three passes through the Bone Mountains large enough for armies or trade caravans to cross through, each of which is guarded by one of these fortress-cities. In the north is the Steel Road that passes through Kayakayanaya; in the center is the Stone Road that runs through Shamyriana; and in the south is the Sand Road that runs through Bayasabhad. Both the Steel Road and the Stone Road originate in Vaes Dothrak, but while the Steel Road runs due east through the mountains, the Stone Road runs south of Vaes Dothrak, before curving east to meet the old Silk Road (which runs east out of Slaver's Bay through Lhazar) and passing over the Bones. The Sand Road skirts the eastern edge of the Red Waste to bring trade caravans to Qarth. Thus trade caravans in Kayakayanaya are likely to be heading to Vaes Dothrak, caravans in Shamyriana heading to Slaver's Bay (though some to Vaes Dothrak), and caravans in Bayasabhad heading to Qarth.
Bayasabhad, called the City of Serpents, is in the drier southern stretch of the mountains where water is scarce: it exacts heavy tribute on overland caravans between Yi Ti and Qarth, though arguably this is the safest of the three passes. The Stone Road through the mountains near Shamyriana is filled with deep gorges and treacherous narrow switchbacks: Shamyriana itself is a grey stone city carved into the rock of the mountain it defends. The Steel Road in the north is so-called for all of the battles it has seen: at least a dozen Dothraki khals have led their hordes to destruction at the city's gates, and the Jogos Nhai to the east are perpetually at war with them, constantly launching smaller raids and major campaigns beyond count. The Steel Road is in the snow-capped northern mountains so it is bitterly cold, and the guards and guides of Kayakayanaya need to wear heavy furs. Even the road itself is the most treacherous, filled with rickety rope bridges and even running through underground passageways in various points (leaving them in danger from raids by savage tribes living in the mountains and caves). Kayakayanaya itself has walls of black basalt, black iron, and yellow bone.
As used in The World of Ice and Fire, the adjective for people or things from Hyrkoon is itself "Hyrkoon" (compared to the demonym "Westerosi" for things from Westeros, or "Yi Tish" for things from Yi Ti). Its people are referred to collectively as "the Hyrkoon".
The publication history of the name "Samyriana" has undergone several errors, and attempts to fix it turned out to be typos themselves. The World map provided for the TV continuity in Season 2 gave it as "Samyrian" but this is itself an error.
Ran, the founder of Westeros.org and co-author of The Worlds of Ice and Fire book with George R.R. Martin, weighed in on the issue: while The Lands of Ice and Fire is meant to be the new canonical geography, the name "Samyriana" appearing on its maps is itself a misprint, and the proper spelling is indeed "Shamyriana". However, because the city was mentioned only once in the first novel, rather than live with a known misprint on the official maps, subsequent reprints of the first novel may just be revised to use the spelling "Samyriana". Either way, the name of the city is supposed to end in an "a", and the HBO Season 2 map is in error.
The maesters of Westeros are stated to have only sketchy reports about the history and culture of the Hyrkoon city-states (an in-universe explanation of why even the World book only gives a few scraps of information on them).
The only thing mentioned about the warrior-women of the Hyrkoon city-states in the first book was the observation that they wear iron rings in their nipples and ruby studs in their cheeks. Sort of a running joke in book fandom for the next 18 years (between the first book and the World book) is that this was essentially the only thing revealed about them. The World book gave some more details, but gives a wry explanation for why so little background information about their culture, beliefs, social organization, etc. was given before: maesters who have written about them at all are so obsessed with the fact that their women go about with their breasts bare that their "treatises" on them do little more than remind the reader of this over and over again.
The social structure of the Hyrkoon city-states is reminiscent of a eusocial species, like bees or mole-rats. Of all the males born in Hyrkoon, 99 out of 100 are castrated and turned into eunuchs when they reach adulthood. These eunuchs perform all non-martial tasks in society, from farmers and artisans to healers, scholars, and priests - essentially they serve as the worker drones of their society. Only the healthiest and most beautiful 1 in 100 young men are not castrated, and go on to become the true ruling class, the so-called "Great Fathers". Only the Great Fathers can sire children with the women of the cities, who are all warriors - and thus they are literally the fathers of most of the population. It is apparently for this reason that their empire was formally styled as the "Patrimony" of Hyrkoon.
The warrior-women of Hyrkoon are all daughters of the Great Fathers: only women can be warriors in Hyrkoon, and they form the entire military of their cities. One report the maesters have received indicates that this is due to some sort of religious belief held by the Hyrkoon, that only those who can give life (in childbirth) should be allowed to take it. In some ways the fierce, terrifying warrior-women of Hyrkoon are similar to the Amazons of Greek myth - the older original versions of the myths that describe them as ruthless and bloodthirsty. On the other hand the Hyrkoon warrior maids don't live entirely without men. They are taught to ride and climb before they learn to walk, and from earliest childhood they are taught how to use the bow, spear, knife, and sling. Lomas Longstrider himself said there are no fiercer fighters in all the world.
The Hyrkoon mountain fortress-cities have a longstanding and bitter feud with the Jogos Nhai raiders to the northeast, which stretches back for millennia. In truth, the Jogos Nhai are perpetually in a state of low-level war against all bordering peoples, though they are more raiders than conquerors like the Dothraki. The Dothraki, however, will at least make temporary truce with their neighbors if given tribute - but the Jogos Nhai will not be appeased. The Jogos Nhai have been warring with the Hyrkoon since long before the fall of their original Patrimony: burning towns, poisoning wells, and carrying off thousands into slavery. For their part, the Hyrkoon warrior-women have a savage hatred for the Jogos Nhai, and have sacrificed tens of thousands of the raiders to their "dark and hungry gods" (the only description given of the Hyrkoon religion). Other than the Jogos Nhai, the Hyrkoon seem to have a more peaceful relationship with Yi Ti to their southeast, judging from all the Yi Tish caravans that pass through them. So long as the Dothraki don't try to force the mountain passes to raid the eastern side, the Hyrkoon also seem content to leave them in peace (again, due to the caravans they depend on selling in Dothraki markets to merchants from the Free Cities) - of course, the mountain passes are much easier to defend against Dothraki coming from the west (deterring them from future attacks), while the eastern side of the Bones where the city-states are is more open to endless raids by the Jogos Nhai.
The Patrimony of Hyrkoon is named after the legendary hero who is called "Hyrkoon" in their tales, who wielded a flaming sword named Lightbringer during a war to bring back the dawn which ended the Long Night. Other regions have similar legends though they know the hero by different names: in the Lord of Light religion this legendary figure is known as Azor Ahai.
Out of universe, it appears that George R.R. Martin named the hero and region "Hyrkoon" after the Elric saga by Michael Moorcock. The main character in this fantasy novel series is Elric of Melniboné, ruler of his city, whose cousin and heir "Yrkoon" is always plotting against him. Martin's writings even say that yet another alternate name for Azor Ahai/Hyrkoon is "Eldric Shadowchaser" - probably another nod to Moorcock.
- Patrimony of Hyrkoon on A Wiki of Ice and Fire
- Patriarchs of Hyrkoon on A Wiki of Ice and Fire
- Azor Ahai on A Wiki of Ice and Fire
The Further East of Essos