- "We are ironborn. We're not subjects, we're not slaves. We do not plow the field or toil in the mine. We take what is ours."
- ―Balon Greyjoy
The modern ironborn are an intermingling of the blood of the original First Men settlers of the islands and the Andals who followed six thousand years later. While the Andals and the Faith of the Seven came to dominate everywhere else below the Neck, they found less purchase on the Islands. While a few converts to the Faith of the Seven may be found there even in the present day, most of the Andal invaders converted to the native deity, the Drowned God instead. The Andal invaders completely acculturated to the distinct "ironborn" culture, and their invasion had relatively little impact upon the Iron Islands.
One of the few notable changes was that the ironborn switched to speaking the Common Tongue of the Andals. On the other hand, the independent First Men of the North also eventually took up using the language of their Andal neighbors through cultural proximity, not because it was imposed upon them. Therefore, it might be wrong to say that the Andals even "forced" the ironborn to speak their language. Thus the ironborn are ethnically composed of the same First Men/Andal mix as most of the rest of Westeros: they are culturally, not ethnically distinct.
In the present day, the ironborn generally think of their distinct culture as stretching back without interruption to the Dawn Age, long before the Andals arrived. Even back then, however, their culture had developed so differently from their First Men cousins who were on the mainland that the ironborn only consider themselves to have truly "originated", culturally, on the Iron Islands themselves.
In the Seven Kingdoms
For centuries, the ironborn pillaged the western coasts of Westeros, which they refer to as the "Green lands", and conquered various coastal territories, thus building far-flung maritime empire, whose size waxed and waned depending on the constantly shifting political climate on the continent. About three generations before the War of Conquest, the ruling House Hoare led the ironborn to conquer the Riverlands, which had previously been conquered by the Stormlands three centuries before. After driving out the Storm Kings, they spent decades forcing their new thralls in the Riverlands to build the largest castle on the entire continent: Harrenhal. Almost the size of a small city, Harrenhal was meant to ensure lasting ironborn domination of the Riverlands.
The last stone of Harrenhal was laid during the rule of King Harren Hoare - unfortunately, the very same day that Aegon the Conqueror landed on the eastern coast of Westeros with his Targaryen army and his dragons. A million men might have marched against Harren at Harrenhal, but they would have failed to take its massive walls. Aegon Targaryen changed the rules, however, as dragons can fly right over the highest castle walls. Harren and all of his sons were roasted alive in their tower at Harrenhal by the fire of Aegon's dragon Balerion the Black Dread. Meanwhile the local Riverlands Houses rose up in a revolt led by House Tully to support the Targaryens in overthrowing their hated ironborn overlords. Their armies defeated and House Hoare destroyed, the surviving ironborn Houses bent the knee to Aegon. Now-King Aegon asked the remaining ironborn noble Houses to choose one of their number to rule over the Iron Islands under the overall authority of the Iron Throne, and they chose House Greyjoy of Pyke.
The ironborn consider reaving and piracy to be their birthright, and fear that three centuries of peace under the Iron Throne has destroyed their heritage and removed their edge, especially as the Seven have found more purchase on the Islands since the Targaryen invasion. Nine years before the War of the Five Kings, to reverse this trend, Lord Balon Greyjoy declared independence in the Greyjoy Rebellion but was soundly defeated. Since then the ironborn remained quiet vassals of the Iron Throne.
Like the Northmen, the ironborn are descendants of the First Men, but while their mainland cousins adopted the Old Gods of the Children of the Forest, the ironborn worship a deity known as the Drowned God. The Drowned God is said to have created the ironborn to reave and rape and carve out their names in blood and song. When the Andals invaded Westeros, they conquered the Iron Islands as well, but instead of converting the ironborn, the Andals that settled on the Islands were absorbed into the local culture, adopting their religion and way of life as their own.
Culture and Economy
- See also: Old Way
The traditional ironborn way of life, known as the Old Way, is centered on piracy and raiding. An ironborn is considered a man only when he has killed his first foe, while his personal wealth is expected to be obtained by "paying the iron price" - that is, seizing it from enemies he has personally killed. An ironborn is also expected to abstain from working the land or toiling in the mines, since such tasks are reserved for thralls - men captured in raids and forced into servitude.
The Iron Islands are ruled by House Greyjoy from the castle and island of Pyke. Lord Balon Greyjoy rules the Islands. His only surviving son and heir is Theon Greyjoy who was formerly a ward and hostage of Lord Eddard Stark at Winterfell.
In the books
George R.R. Martin has frequently compared the ironborn to Vikings from the real-life Middle Ages. Given the analogy that the entire continent of Westeros is supposed to be an oversized version of the British Isles, the ironborn also loosely correspond to celtic raiders from medieval Ireland, as well as raiders from other outer islands in the group (the Isle of Man, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, etc.). Of course, at various points in history, the Vikings established permanent raiding bases in Ireland and the outer isles, so often these raids were from Vikings who lived in Ireland.
Cultures and Peoples of the Known World
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