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Werthead

Free Cities/Western Essos Geography Speculation

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With ADWD and its first official map of the Free Cities apparently starting to edge into the possibility of view, and the World Book with its hinted new maps of Essos and the Jade Sea Region to follow, it might be interesting to start a last hurrah of speculation about the geography of the eastern continent in the books, particularly the Free Cities region.

Overall Shape

Essos is a much larger continent than Westeros, GRRM comparing it to Eurasia as opposed to Westeros' (much bigger version of) Britain, stretching for many thousands of miles in a somewhat sloping direction from the north-west to the south-east. Unlike Westeros, it is not connected to the northern polar icecap and is separated from it by the Shivering Sea. The island of Ibben, or Ib, lies very roughly 1,000 miles or more east of roughly Skagos, off the north coast of Essos (based on GRRM saying that Ibben lies as far from Westeros as Finland does from Britain).

Essos seems to have several distinctive regions, with the Europe-like Free Cities in the west, the Mediterranean-like Slaver's Bay and Qarth in the central-southern coastal region, the remote, unknown (Asian?) lands of Yi Ti in the far east, and the ultra-mysterious lands of Asshai in the far south-east. The Dothraki sea seems to occupy most of the heartland interior of the continent, an area comparable to size and possibly geography to the central Asian, Siberian and Russian steppes.

The Narrow Sea borders the continent to the west and the Summer Sea to the south, which may form a Mediterranean-like body of water with Sothoryos (Africa) making up its southern shores. A key difference is that there is no Straits of Gibraltar analogue, and the Summer Sea also forms the south coast of Westeros as well as Essos.

The Jade Sea appears to be a Black Sea-like semi-landlocked body of water accessed via Qarth (possibly a Constantinople analogue). Asshai, which is located on the far side of the sea to Qarth, is reachable by both caravan and by the Dothraki raiders (Drogo, who refuses to travel across the oceans, muses on raiding Asshai in GoT, indicating sea travel is not required to get there), although ships are faster. It is unclear if the Jade Sea is off to one side of the Summer Sea (which continues to the south) or if the one empties into the other.

Ibben

A significant island in the Shivering Sea, east of Skagos and north of Essos. The Ibbenese are whalers and traders and have some colony-states on the north coast of Essos. GRRM mentioned at one point that Ibben is about the same size as Iceland (roughly 300 miles wide).

Braavos

Braavos sprawls across several dozen, maybe a hundred or more, islands in a lagoon (similar to Venice) located at the north-western end of Essos, roughly east of the Vale of Arryn (the Free Cities are all 'east of the lower half of Westeros', according to the GoO RPG). The lagoon is encirled by hilly arms of land, possibly islets attached to the mainland by shoulders of land, with only a single solitary channel permitting egress by large ships, guarded by the Titan of Braavos. The mainland east of Braavos consists of tidal flats and is fed by a lazy, muddy river entering the lagoon from the south. A huge aqueduct is needed to supply the city with safe water. The location of the city is difficult to stumble across by accident, as the area is enshrouded by frequent mists and was kept hidden from the Targaryen dragons for 400 years before the Doom.

Braavos is the youngest of the Free Cities but the most powerful in economic and military terms, through the Iron Bank, its vast fleet and its impregnable location.

Pentos

Pentos is located on the coast south of Braavos, sprawling along a long bay, and appears to be east or even due east of the Crownlands, as ships doing the most efficient trading circuit of the Narrow Sea seem to travel either to Pentos or Duskendale as easily and in the same timescale as one another.

Pentos, whilst independent, is heavily influenced by Braavos to the point of abolishing slavery at the Braavosi's urging 100 years ago. Pentos is famed for its cheeses. The city's ruler, the Prince, pursues a policy of neutrality and does not embroil itself in the wars over the Disputed Lands to the south.

Pentos is defended by stout and formidable Valyrian-built walls. The area immediately outside the city is called the Flatlands, where various magisters keep their estates. This area is easily accessible by the Dothraki from the east, so the magisters gift the passing khals lavishly to prevent them destroying their lands. Pentos has subservient vassal farms but no smaller towns, as these have all been levelled by the Dothraki in past years.

The Hills of Andalos

An upland area south or south-east of Pentos, inland from the coastal Valyrian road leading to the southern Free Cities. The Hills are the ancestral, ancient homeland of the Andals. Over 6,000 years earlier the Seven are supposed to have manifested in the Hills and directed the Andals to leave Essos and conquer Westeros instead. The area appears to be mostly uninhabited today.

Norvos

An inland city on the banks of a significant (but so far unnamed) river, consisting of a high town on a hill and a low town next to the river. The city is east of Pentos. Norvos is surrounded by smaller villages and towns which pay it tribute. Norvos is also easily accessible by Dothraki khals, but unlike Pentos the surrounding region seems free of devastation, suggesting the Norvosi pay more in tribute.

Qohor

Another inland city in the immense Forest of Qohor (a Black Forest of Germany analogue?) which supplies wood to the other cities. The city is also famed for its blacksmiths and employs an Unsullied garrison. The city is located close to the Dothraki Sea.

Lorath

A city on an island or cluster of islands in the Narrow Sea. The Free City that is mentioned the least, indicating it may be the most insular and least powerful. Its lack of involvement in the wars of the southern cities suggests it might be geographically removed from them.

Tyrosh

A coastal port city south of Pentos, close to the Disputed Lands, so possibly east of the Stormlands or the Sea of Dorne. Ruled by an Archon. Temporarily captured by the Band of Nine (Maelys Blackfyre's allies) during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

Myr

A coastal port city south of Tyrosh, close to or directly bordering the Disputed Lands. It is located on the mainland, and according to the RPG is also within range of Dothraki raids. Myr is noted for its crossbows, glass lenses, telescopes.

Lys

A city sprawling across several islands, either directly in or close to the Stepstones. Lys is defended from, or encourages, the pirates of the Stepstones by its significant fleet and the many 'sellsails' it can call on. Lys is dominated by a temple to the Lord of Light, although it has several other temples as well, such as one to a love goddess. Lys is noted for its perfumes and wine (and also poisons).

One of the more powerful Free Cities and one of the most populous.

The Stepstones

Islands in the Narrow Sea, consisting of several large and many smaller ones, bordering the Summer Sea, the Narrow Sea and the Sea of Dorne, the remnants of a land bridge linking Dorne and the Disputed Lands. Lyseni warships, corsairs and sellsails dominate the islands but many independent pirates also operate between the islands. Several of the Stepstones were conquered by the Band of Nine during the War of the Ninepenny Kings before Barristan Selmy killed Maelys the Monstrous. Several Westerosi attempts have been made to conquer some of the Stepstones, but to no avail. The islands are often fought over by Lys, Myr, Tyrosh and Volantis.

The Disputed Lands

A region of Essos between Lys, Myr, Tyrosh and Volantis, bordered by the great River Rhoyne to the east. Located east of Dorne. Likely part of the former Rhoynish dominions before they were displaced to Dorne a thousand years ago, and have hence been 'disputed' by the surrounding powers ever since. If, as is possible, the Disputed Lands form the eastern end of the 'Arm of Dorne', it may also be a peninsular with Lys off the coast, Myr and Tyrosh to the north and Volantis to the south-east.

The Rhoyne

A significant river of the eastern continent. It empties into the Narrow (or Summer) Sea at Volantis. There were once several city-states clinging to its shores, including Arnar. The people of these cities were called the Rhoynar, and fled to Westeros 1,000 years ago to escape the advance of the Valyrians, who destroyed the cities as they went and established (or conquered) Volantis at the mouth of the river.

The river flows from the north-west to the south-east, with the Disputed Lands lying to its west and the Dothraki Sea to the east.

Speculation: Presumably named as a nod to the Rhine, the greatest river of north-western Europe, noted in Medieval times as a major waterway with many important towns along its banks and earlier considered by the Romans as the furthest edge of civilisation.

Volantis

The south-easternmost of the Free Cities, located south of the Disputed Lands and presumably on the Summer Sea rather than the Narrow. Slavery is still endemic in the city, which trades heavily with the cities of Slaver's Bay to the east. Volantis sprawls along a vast bay, so large it could contain the entirety of Braavos within it (or so it is said). This suggests that Volantis may be the largest and most populous of all the Free Cities, as well as being the oldest. Volantis maintains many of the traditions of Valyria, and during the Bleeding Years following the Doom attempted (and failed) to convince the Targaryens to aid the Volantenes in reconquering the Freehold.

Volantis has an air of decadence and corruption to it, likely the result of its long slave-trading history. It also does not appear to be in immediate danger of Dothraki attack. If the city is west or south of the River Rhoyne, the river may form an impregnable barrier the Dothraki cannot cross to threaten the city without riding many hundreds of miles all the way round it (possibly having to go all the way north to the Pentos-Norvos-Qohor corridor), east to the coast, and then all the way south again through the other Free Cities and the Disputed Lands.

The Lands to the East

East of the Free Cities Region lies the Dothraki Sea. East of Volantis and the Rhoyne lies the coastal lands abutting the Summer Sea. The distance between Volantis and Valyria is unknown but likely to be significant in size (a common feature in speculative maps seems to be to put Volantis right next to the Valyrian Peninsula, just off the map show in A Storm of Swords, which does not seem to fit the evidence), at least several hundred if not a thousand or more miles (Daeneys' claim of thousands and thousands of leages from Meereen to Volantis seems to be hyperbole, but still suggests a significant distance). Valyrian roads link Volantis and the Free Cities Region to the Lands of the Long Summer and the Valyrian Peninsular, but one of these roads is apparently called 'the Demon Road'. It is possible this is the road that leads to Valyria itself across the Smoking Sea, and may be shunned for bad luck. The other roads are the ones that cut across the Lands of the Long Summer directly to the Slaver's Bay city-states.

It'll be interesting to see if this linking area is also depicted on the ADWD map or the ones in the maps in the world book.

RAISED QUESTIONS (probably unanswerable until we get those maps but WTH?)

Was Volantis a Rhoynar city conquered by the Valyrians? Or did the Valyrians found the city there themselves as a colony-state?

Why did the Andals flee to Westeros ahead of the Valyrian invasion given that it was another 5,000 years before the Valyrians invaded the Rhoyne area, followed by the rest of the Free Cities Region? In fact, at the time the Andals fled to Westeros, the Valyrians were still engaged in acts of copulation with animals (according to Ghiscari sources, anyway) and hadn't defeated the Ghiscari, let alone launched an invasion of a region thousands of miles away.

How far is it from Volantis to Valyria? A vast distance as per Dany's suggestion in ASoS or something much more modest as per some of the spec maps? If it's not as far, why is Slaver's Bay hinted at being so remote from Westeros in AFFC?

More info about Lorath would be nice. Why is it so low-key compared to the other cities, which are mentioned much more often and have more distinguishing features?

Given the Free Cities Region is huge - the north-south length of coast alone is half the east-west length of Europe - why does it appear to be relatively lowly-populated? The population seems compressed into the nine cities and the presumed farmlands needed to feet them, and no major countries or nations seem to have risen despite having a vast area to sprawl over. Is it the case that the Free Cities region is long but very narrow, with the Dothraki Sea only located a few hundred miles inland, not giving the Cities much room to sprawl or expand?

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GRRM has compared Westeros to South America. He never consciously based its shape on Britain, and has remarked that he himself doesn't really see it.

"Anar". I know the names of two Rhoynish cities so far, and that's definitely not one of them. I can't rule it absolutely out because it's very vaguely similar to one of them, but it strikes me as coincidence.

Or did the Valyrians found the city there themselves as a colony-state?

This.

5,000 years before the Valyrians invaded the Rhoyne area, followed by the rest of the Free Cities Region?

The Rhoynish civilization may not have stretched along the whole length of the Rhoyne. They may have dominated the upper reaches of it, say, but lesser powers were dominant in the lower waters and those may have been steamrolled.

That's one possibility that comes to mind, anyways. Another is that initially the Valyrians set up fairly peaceful colonies on the coast, and had good relations with the Rhoynar which allowed them to do this without hindrance ... and then as their star ascended, they started to get aggressive in the regions to either side of the Rhoyne, and then they eventually turned their attention to the Rhoynar themselves.

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A possible geography question from my re-read of AFFC. The son of the Captian of the Titan's Daughter tells Arya that the "Moonsingers" lead the Braavosi there because it would hide them from the Dragons of Valaryia. What is it about Braavos that would have shielded it from Valaryian Dragons? Persistent mist, climate what?

(also who or what are the "Moonsingers")

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A moonsinger (lower case) of the Jhogos Nhai taught Mirri Maz Duur some birthing spells, she claimed. But whether these are the same moonsingers as the Moonsingers of Braavos is unclear. I suspect so. In that case, they're some sort of magical-religious order.

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@ Ran:

With regards to the shape of Westeros, agreed (although the Cornish-Dornish comparison still feels pretty obvious to me), but GRRM has said the location is comparable (a 'smaller', if in this case only relatively, landmass off the west coast of a much larger one), which is what I was referring to.

@ Scott:

The Moonsingers are - I'm going to hazard a guess - a religious sect whose rites involved singing at the Moon. I get the impression they had had enough of the Valyrians and got out of dodge and headed north to found a secret refuge.

Braavos being difficult to find is a bit odd, given that it appears to be quite big and is located in a fairly prominent location. The Titan was supposed to defend Braavos from dragons (which gives rise to the image of the Titan as an anti-dragon AA missile battery, which is simultaenously awesome and rather tonally jarring ;) ), but it never appears to have gotten the chance as the Valyrians never found the place.

It is possible that Braavos is actually cut off from easy land routes to the city. In AFFC Arya notes the aqueduct but never mentions any roads, bridges or other habitations on the mainland. That makes the city only locatable by sea or from the air. From the sea, with constant mists (since Braavos was founded when magic was still around, we can use that as an explanation for a 100%-present mist) and tall mountainous walls almost sealing off the lagoon from the outside, it's possible the Valyrians never came close enough to discover the passage through the sea walls. The bigger problem is how it escaped attention from the air.

Or maybe the Valyrians never bothered enough to send dragons to look for it in the first place?

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Hrm, I see. Not Anar -- Arnar, as reported when GRRM read the second Tyrion chapter. Hrm, hrm. Well, I think I know what's being referred to there, and I think the name may have changed between then and now, but I can't say. Anyways, 'some Rhoynish city'. ;)

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Damn I want ADWD. I think GRRM should just take a nuke to Mereen then let the survivors move where they will.

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Or maybe the Valyrians never bothered enough to send dragons to look for it in the first place?

That seems possible. They may simply have not considered the slave escapees to be of any major significance.

The Jade Sea appears to be a Black Sea-like semi-landlocked body of water accessed via Qarth (possibly a Constantinople analogue). Asshai, which is located on the far side of the sea to Qarth, is reachable by both caravan and by the Dothraki

What's your speculation on "The Shadow" that Asshai is described as being nearby? I've always thought it might be some type of volcanic lowland depression permanently cloaked in an air layer of ash and smoke (hence the term "passing under the Shadow"), possibly with magic involved in keeping it that way.

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What's your speculation on "The Shadow" that Asshai is described as being nearby? I've always thought it might be some type of volcanic lowland depression permanently cloaked in an air layer of ash and smoke (hence the term "passing under the Shadow"), possibly with magic involved in keeping it that way.

Difficult to say. The volcanic thing is possible, although perhaps a little reminsicent of the volcanic situation in Valyria. Maybe an area of permanant eclipse (with these seasons and the length of days decreasing with no relation to orbital mechanics, who knows what else is possible)? Something related to the 'Long Night' that accompanied the Others' first invasion. Maybe another region in the world under the Others' control?

We have far too little data to make a good guess, basically.

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A moonsinger (lower case) of the Jhogos Nhai taught Mirri Maz Duur some birthing spells, she claimed. But whether these are the same moonsingers as the Moonsingers of Braavos is unclear. I suspect so. In that case, they're some sort of magical-religious order.

While we don't have a clear idea of where Jogos Nhai is yet (that I know of, anyway), that seems distinctly possible. Valyria's empire must have stretched far indeed, and the KOM said "Men of a hundred different nations labored in the mines, and each prayed to his god in his own tongue, yet all were praying for the same thing."

So Braavos could have been founded by a group led by Jogos Nhai Moonsingers, which might put their faith close to R'hllorianism in terms of geographic sprawl.

On another note, we know that Old Ghis struggled in vain against the might of Valyria and were crushed into the dust for their troubles. But what about Qarth? Somehow I imagine them as having been on the border of Valyrian influence, and maybe being a tributary state similar to Armenia or Pontus with the Romans. Or would they have been direct subjects of Valyria? Or semi-successful rivals? And would that part of their history have anything to do with their degeneration into a sort of senile oligarchy?

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The Rhoyne

A significant river of the eastern continent. [...]

Speculation: Presumably named as a nod to the Rhine, the greatest river of north-western Europe, noted in Medieval times as a major waterway with many important towns along its banks and earlier considered by the Romans as the furthest edge of civilisation.

I can't help but think of the Rhône river.

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I can't help but think of the Rhône river.

I agree, partly because the Rhoynar seem closer to Provencal than to Germans.

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Myr

A coastal port city south of Tyrosh, close to or directly bordering the Disputed Lands. It is located on the mainland, and according to the RPG is also within range of Dothraki raids. Myr is noted for its crossbows, glass lenses, telescopes.

Myr is also known for lace and a vivid painting style. All together the impression is quite...renaissancish.

Re- population: I assume most the free cities are of a size, if not larger than, KL. For whatever reason the region seems to be very heavily urban. Dothraki making small cities undefensible, little territory, a wealth of economic opportunities in the cities that consitute a world wide trading hub. It like if Italy had had the suez canal to trade through in the 14th century.

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More information about Lorath would be nice, indeed. I already start to think that the ruling body of Lorath is behind everything in the series ;-).

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Or maybe the Valyrians never bothered enough to send dragons to look for it in the first place?

More interesting is how Bravos avoided detection with the glass candles. Its said that valyrian sorcerers could read minds using these toys...

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If the Faceless Men brought about the Doom of Valyria - as has been hinted - then they should have been able to make sure that the valyrians did not discover them by magical means. Especially as it seems that the official tale about the founding of Braavos seems to be a mere legend - the Faceless Men established Braavos, made sure that it remained secret, and let the world believe that the Moonsingers were the heroes.

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still it seems a bit strange how it is possible to establish city right under nose of powerful empire and keep it secret for so many years. I think somebody (a merchant or a fisherman) would have spilled beans.

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I only speculated that the Faceless Men had some means to prevent the valyrians to find Braavos with their glass candles. Surely, the valyrians heard eventually of Braavos, but may have decided that they lived in a region they did not want to conquer yet. Or, even more likely, the valyrians were on the edge to deal with the Braavos problem, which may very well have let to the decision of the Faceless Men to bring 'the gift' to them.

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Okay, the moonsingers and/or the Faceless men hide Braavos from Valyeria. Why didn't Valyeria ever go beyond Dragonstone? Westeros obvoiusly had wealth to be taken why never cross the Narrow sea in force until after the Doom?

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I think a dragon, warm fur and backpack full of cheese should be enough to conquer the whole globe or at least make good maps of it (assuming that the world is a globe) ;)

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