After all, if we are given an age for a character - say Ned at age thirty-five (A Game of Thrones 12) - we only know that at that moment Lord Eddard is thirty-five. Now, we often guess that Ned's age is thirty-five in the Year 298 after Aegon's conquest, and therefore by simple subtraction he was born in Year 263. Right? Well, if Ned has a name day after we are told he is thirty-five but still in Year 298, then he was born in 262. If at the time we are told Ned's age it is not Year 298, then everything is screwed up.
So we don't know from this type of information in what year a character was born, if his/her name day is yet to come in the year or has already passed, or even what year it is when we are told the age. Even with the children of the story, for whom GRRM does give us an age in his appendices of each book, we are only given ages relative to the start of each story (in most cases anyway.) Again we have no way of knowing what year the story starts in, or even if a name day occurs in the story in which year it falls. At least on the surface it seems we are stuck with a series of snapshots concerning character ages that tell us nothing, or next to nothing, about our story's timeline.
I'd submit this is not the case, however. In point of fact, with a little analysis, character ages can tell us a great detail about the ASoI&F timeline. So, how to nail this down with only a few basic assumptions?* Contrary to all the problems this wonderful mess presents us, I think we can be as certain as we can be with a work of fiction around these facts:
Aemon "Maester Aemon" Targaryen was born in 198
Aegon V Targaryen "Egg" was born in 200** (read spoiler warning below before "clicking" the link)
Lord Walder Frey was born in 208
Grand Maester Pycelle was born in 215
Ser Barristan Selmy was born in 237
Rhaegar Targaryen was born in 259
Brandon Stark was born in 262
Eddard Stark was born in 263
Cersei Lannister was born in 266** (read spoiler warning below before "clicking" the link)
Jaime Lannister was born in 266** (read spoiler warning below before "clicking" the link)
Tyrion Lannister was born in 273** (read spoiler warning below before "clicking" the link)
Arianne Martell was born in 276 *** (read spoiler warning below before "clicking" the link)
Ser Loras Tyrell was born in 282
Robb Stark was born in 283
Meera Reed was born in 283
Jon Snow was born in 283
Margaery Tyrell was born in 283
Daenerys Targaryen was born in 284
Joffrey Baratheon was born in 286
Sansa Stark was born in 286
Trystane Martell was born in 287
Arya Stark was born in 289
Myrcella Baratheon was born in 290
Bran Stark was born in 290
Tommen Baratheon was born in 291
Rickon Stark was born in 295
We also know something about the timing of name days during the year. Again we can be fairly certain about this order:
Rickon, Joffrey, Tommen, Bran, Robb, Jon, Margaery, and Sansa.
In addition we know Myrcella's name day comes after Rickon, Arya, Joffrey, Trystane's and Tommen's, and before Robb's. We know Arya's name day falls before Bran's and Myrcella's, but we don't know if it falls before Rickon's, Joffrey's, and/or Tommen's. We know Trystane's name day falls after Joffrey's. We also know Daenerys's name day falls before Jon's. We also know Meera's name day falls after Bran's in the year and around the time of Robb's.
We can also be certain that in a given year Ned's name day precedes Littlefinger's which precedes Brandon's, and Grand Maester Pycelle's name day falls within the last three months of the year.
How do we know all of this? Look at the following posts and see if you don't agree, and pardon me for the length of these posts - it does take some time to sort this all out.
*I'm assuming time runs in the normal real life fashion, that name days are equivalent to our birthdays, that the Westerosi year is roughly equivalent to our own year - that it is made up of 12 turns of the moon (12 months of 30 days each with 5 possible days celebrated outside of each moon's turn for a total of 365 days in a year,) etc. Also, for clarity's sake, I should say all citations from the books are from US Hardback editions, except those from A Feast for Crows which are from the UK Hardback edition.
** Egg's, the Twins, and Tyrion's name days and the years in which they were born are dependent of information in A Dance with Dragons. If you don't want to read any spoilers, no matter how obscure, and haven't yet read that book, I'd suggest waiting to follow this links to the post that describe the reasons for determining these ages.
***Arianne's name day is known only through spoilers in TWoW sample chapter released on Martin's website
Special note: with very special thanks to Lady Blackfish for the information about Ned, Brandon, and Littlefinger; and to Other-in-law for the information on Grand Maester Pycelle.***
Edited by SFDanny, 12 February 2013 - 07:55 AM.