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Floki of the Ironborn

A question about a region's fighting strength (particularly the North)

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In the many conversations about the North's fighting strength, there is a constant group of people who reference a percentage that apparently exists in our world to explain how it works in Westeros. The idea being that a nation, region, or kingdom can only support an army that is 1% the size of it's population.

Now, on a parallel note, there has also been talk - which is somewhat backed by TWOIAF- that the North's harsh winters lead to idle men leaving their families to spare them extra mouths to feed until spring. This is why Cregan Stark was able to muster a large host of undetermined size when he rode south behind the Dustins. Considering how late Cregan was to the party, he clearly had mustered a large host, especially given that he was able to take control of King's Landing the way he did. A Northman would need lots of men at his back to be able to do that.

Regarding this, peple have said that the North's true potential will be tapped during winter now that the harvest has been collected. The 1% will be highly increased by men who can be brought together to fight against the Boltons, Others, or whatever enemy there remains.

But my question is, where are these men? I understand that able-bodied men might make up only a fourth or fifth of the population, but that's still way more than the supposed 1% that the North can muster. And yet the Umbers are apparently down to their last 900 men. And they're all too old or too young. If a region can only support troops that make up 1% of their population, why are the Umbers so utterly tapped out? And that can extend to the rest of the North too.

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The Umbers are tapped out around Last Hearth. And the villages immediately surrounding it.

But even a conservative population density of 4 people per square mile would give the entirety of the Umber lands a population of around 200,000 people. Meaning around 30,000-40,000 able bodied men.

However, logistically you cannot normally raise more than a fraction of them to arms.

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17 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

The Umbers are tapped out around Last Hearth. And the villages immediately surrounding it.

But even a conservative population density of 4 people per square mile would give the entirety of the Umber lands a population of around 200,000 people. Meaning around 30,000-40,000 able bodied men.

However, logistically you cannot normally raise more than a fraction of them to arms.

So then why not arm a thousand of those able bodied men instead of greybeards and green boys?

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There are probably a few things working against the potential for another Winter Wolves scenario (at least on the same scale):

  1. The North was pretty tapped out before winter set in.  20,000 men march south with Robb, ~4,000 come back under Roose.  Some houses (like the Umbers) seemed to have contributed significantly more than others to Robb's army, and they suffer bigger losses because of it.
  2. The North is not unified.  The ironborn invasion, the fighting over Hornwood, and the showdown between Roose and Stannis have all contributed to divided and uncertain loyalties among the northern armies.  The smallfolk, in the meantime, seem to be running for cover in any direction they can.  If you want Winter Wolves Part II, you need to be able to pull from all regions of the North, and from the peasants as well as the lords.  This is pretty hard to do when towns are being displaced and everyone's plotting against everyone else.
  3. The North is (probably) low on food, even compared to other winters.  The last few harvests before winter set in seemed pretty badly disrupted.  Men who would normally have been farming were either already conscripted, or fleeing conflict.  Multiple castles have had to withstand invasions and seiges, forcing the inhabitants to sit and eat their stockpiles instead of continuing to add to them.  In the short run, this might encourage more men to join one army or another, but what are they going to be eating in a few months?  There won't be any food left for them in the North.  At least during the Dance, the Winter Wolves got to keep moving south into new territory where the harvest lasted a little longer.  Now the battleground is in the North, and that's where the armies will stay.  They're already eating themselves into oblivion.

I'm sure there are still some able-bodied soldiers-to-be out there in the North.  Hell, maybe Skagos will send a big force to the mainland in support of Rickon's claim.  But to me it looks like the North is in a much worse position than it was during the Dance, which is our only real look at the Winter Wolves phenomenon.

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I could see the Winter Wolves return if there is a major battle fought in the north.  As a previous poster noted, the harvests have been highly disrupted so there's probably going to be a famine.  In that case, with a large number of men convinced that they are going to starve anyway, you might as well throw your life away on a worthy cause.

 

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40 minutes ago, daccu65 said:

I could see the Winter Wolves return if there is a major battle fought in the north.  As a previous poster noted, the harvests have been highly disrupted so there's probably going to be a famine.  In that case, with a large number of men convinced that they are going to starve anyway, you might as well throw your life away on a worthy cause.

 

Well it seems like now's a good time. Winter's kicked in, Stannis is rallying the North one way, the Boltons another, and meanwhile there's rumours of wildlings being welcomed to the Wall by the Night's Watch. The Umbers alone, by the rationale we're going with, have thousands of able bodied men who could have told Crowfood's green boys to stay home while they went to fight the Boltons. Where are they?

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4 minutes ago, Floki of the Ironborn said:

The Umbers alone, by the rationale we're going with, have thousands of able bodied men who could have told Crowfood's green boys to stay home while they went to fight the Boltons. Where are they?

They might not be convinced which is the worthy cause.  Think of it this way, you have a fellow northern house (Boltons) now in Winterfell claiming to be the new Wardens of the North.  Lord Bolton is claiming that his son is married to a Stark daughter...buy you've heard rumors that Arya isn't a happy bride.  You also have a Stormlands lord, claiming to be the rightful king running around...although he did return Deepwood Motte to its proper owners.  You've also heard that Wildlings are now settling in The Gift.  Is that something to be concerned about, or is it the NW's business.

You only have one life to throw away, do you know where to throw it at this time?

 

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The truth is that the Umbers don't have another few thousand able bodied men left. Those estimates just ignore everything we have been told to make the North look stronger than it is. It works for fanboys, but it lacks continuity.

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38 minutes ago, John Doe said:

The truth is that the Umbers don't have another few thousand able bodied men left. Those estimates just ignore everything we have been told to make the North look stronger than it is. It works for fanboys, but it lacks continuity.

Like Torrhen's 35,000 men out of X compared to Mern/Loren's 55,000 out of 145,000? 2,000 miles from home instead of 200?

 

The answer is simple: The North is just plain fucking huge. Gathering all the men from their little hamlets at the backend of nowhere takes literally years, simply due to the necessary travel time for the couriers. Years the North never had during any phase of the Wot5K.

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On 5/11/2016 at 10:02 AM, Floki of the Ironborn said:

And yet the Umbers are apparently down to their last 900 men. And they're all too old or too young. If a region can only support troops that make up 1% of their population, why are the Umbers so utterly tapped out? And that can extend to the rest of the North too.

I can answer this!

 

Don't forget, the Umbers split their forces.  They aren't down to their last 900 men, all of whom are greybeards and green boys; those are just the "leftovers" who are supporting Stannis with Crowfood Umber.  The full Umber strength of able-bodied men are already inside Winterfell, with Whoresbane Umber, ostensibly supporting the Boltons against Stannis.

Overall, though I'm sure the North is "down" fighting men, especially compared to Cregan Stark's forces, which were the largest in King's Landing.  The North hadn't been involved in that war, so they had suffered no wartime casualties.  Here, the North has been at war with the Lannisters, the crown, and the Ironborn; they've lost men via suicide missions, Deepwoode Motte and Torrhen's Square were taken by the Ironborn, scores of men were butchered at the Red Wedding, and Roose Bolton spent the entirety of the war sending non-Bolton forces out to be killed at every opportunity, including the intentional decimation of his forces at Duskendale.  There was an intentional weakening of the northern forces by Roose that will likely have nasty implications going forward.

For whatever its worth, though, they do have a navy; don't forget Wyman Manderly has been secretly building warships in White Harbor, Aurane Waters stole the royal fleet, and the Redwyne fleet is busy fighting the Ironborn on the other side of Westeros.

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1 hour ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

Like Torrhen's 35,000 men out of X compared to Mern/Loren's 55,000 out of 145,000? 2,000 miles from home instead of 200?

We don't know if 145k is the actual strenght of the Reach and Westerlands, and we also lack details on how much time they had and which lords joined them, or didn't join them. Moreover, that was 300 years ago, it's possible the Westerlands and Reach are more populous now after a long period of relative peace and one of the longest summers in recent memory than they were when Aegon attacked. 

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So what? Neither do we for the North! They had enough time for Aegon to fight campaigns against Harren, Argilac and Ronnel.

 

It's even more possible that the North is more populous - it didn't suffer from the Conquest, the Faith Uprising, the Dance of Dragons and the Blackfyre Rebellions. The Reach and the Westerlands did!

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Even if you managed to enlist all these Northern able-bodied men and gave them decent equiment, training them into something remotely useful in combat would take months, if not years. And without combat experience you have no idea what kind of soldiers they are, whereas veteran armies have had the luxury to detect and get rid of psychologically fragile soldiers. You know, the kind of guys who tend to flee in combat, making your whole army panic in the process, the guys who don't have in them to kill other soldiers and are thus useless, etc.

Quantity is not everything, quality matters too. A lot. Especially in the North, where supplying big armies is getting increasingly complicated. (Sooner or later someone is going to raid the Night's Watch pantry...)

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1 hour ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

So what? Neither do we for the North! They had enough time for Aegon to fight campaigns against Harren, Argilac and Ronnel.

 

It's even more possible that the North is more populous - it didn't suffer from the Conquest, the Faith Uprising, the Dance of Dragons and the Blackfyre Rebellions. The Reach and the Westerlands did!

The North suffers from winters so harsh that people walk off into the cold to die because their families don't have enough food. Even south of Winterfell there are snows during summer. The North also suffered frequent rebellions. Combined that's way more harmful then some wars then and now for the south. 

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4 hours ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

Like Torrhen's 35,000 men out of X compared to Mern/Loren's 55,000 out of 145,000? 2,000 miles from home instead of 200?

30k not 35k. Torrhen had longer than anyone else to gather his force, didnt have to worry about a Wildling attack as the Watch was much larger than it has been in the last few centuries and did not have to worry about any other Southern region attacking as they were all under attack from the Targaryens. Plus Torrhen still had the soldiers of the New Gift to call upon.

And sure, I agree that the Southern armies would have been smaller 300 years ago but 300 years of being one realm in relative peace would have seen population spikes in the South, not so much in the North. In fact it may well have seen its population decline as peasants migrated South rather than stick around and starve in the North during winter.

4 hours ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

 

The answer is simple: The North is just plain fucking huge.

That is not an answer, at least not an educated one. Land mass has little to do with population size. I'm not sure why so many are convinced that it is.

 

3 hours ago, estermonty python said:

I can answer this!

Don't forget, the Umbers split their forces.  They aren't down to their last 900 men, all of whom are greybeards and green boys; those are just the "leftovers" who are supporting Stannis with Crowfood Umber.  The full Umber strength of able-bodied men are already inside Winterfell, with Whoresbane Umber, ostensibly supporting the Boltons against Stannis.

 

Sorry dude, but you can't. The combined might of the Umbers is Greybeards and Greenboys.

 

"As you will. Tell me, Theon, how many men did Mors Umber have with him at Winterfell?"
"None. No men." He grinned at his own wit. "He had boys. I saw them." Aside from a handful of half-crippled serjeants, the warriors that Crowfood had brought down from Last Hearth were hardly old enough to shave. "Their spears and axes were older than the hands that clutched them. It was Whoresbane Umber who had the men, inside the castle. I saw them too. Old men, every one." Theon tittered. "Mors took the green boys and Hother took the greybeards. All the real men went with the Greatjon and died at the Red Wedding. Is that what you wanted to know, Your Grace?"
 
We know there are 400 with Roose and an unknown number with Stannis. None are 'real' soldiers, which is consistent with what we were told in ACOK when the Umbers in the North were complaining to Rodrik about not having enough men.

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4 hours ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

Like Torrhen's 35,000 men out of X compared to Mern/Loren's 55,000 out of 145,000? 2,000 miles from home instead of 200?

 

The answer is simple: The North is just plain fucking huge. Gathering all the men from their little hamlets at the backend of nowhere takes literally years, simply due to the necessary travel time for the couriers. Years the North never had during any phase of the Wot5K.

Is this going to be another thread where you predict a number for the North which is 10-15.000 higher compared with more realistic expectations (as well as 99% of the forum) solely because of fan bias?

Because when someone presents a number on the edge of a median, my personal experience is that such person is wrong.

Here, you count on impossible mustering times as well as unlimited amount of supply and money to hold such army afloat during those years where you search those hamlets. (Tip - an number counting a maximum, impossible to receive without godlike powers of control is nothing but a false maximum. The true maximum is the highest possible amount summoned under realistic, but positive, expectations and circumstances). 

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So, let's look at the Northern lords' strength again, based on what we know.

We know House Karstark has raised around 3000 men to date (2740 precisely stated, and another unknown number in Ser Rodrik's 2000 strong host in which at last some Karstark banners are specifically mentioned, to give us roughly 3000 to date).

We know that the Umbers rule at least as large a territory as the Karstarks, and had at least as much prominence, if not greater, than the Karstarks in Robb's army. So their strength cannot be significantly weaker than that of the Karstarks, if weaker at all. Call it 2500, conservatively.

We know the Mountain Clans have raised 3000 men to date (roughly 2500 with Stannis and the men in Robb's army on top of that), and likely have some left, spread across the two score clans'  strongholds to guard their lands against the massive wildling army that is right on their doorstep.

So here we have 3 Northern territories, all in the coldest, northernmost part of the North, all able to raise 2500 men or more.

Then we get to House Bolton, who were the most powerful rivals to House Stark for thousands of years, and who logically should have more men than either House Umber or Karstark.

This premise is only strengthened by the fact that Bolton men formed the bulk of the 3500 strong force Roose brought to the Twins, that the Boltons still had additional men to fight the Manderlys in the Hornwood lands, and that they still had 600 prime soldiers (mostly trained cavalry as well) at the Dreadfort to attack Ser Rodrik with. So quite conservatively we can give House Bolton 2500 men with Roose and another 600 highly trained soldiers with Ramsay, bringing us well above 3000 soldiers without considering any additional forces that might have been fighting the Manderlys in the Hornwood lands. And all of this without having to tap into raw recruits like the Karstarks or Umbers had to. Clearly the Boltons were therefore able to easily exceed 3000 trained soldiers, without relying on lesser trained reserves like House Karstark did to get to their 3000 number.

All signs therefore point to the Boltons having a full strength between 4000 and 5000 men. Similar to House Frey, in other words. Note that none of the above is based on wild fantasy or generous exaggerations. Just on cold logic and a fair assessment of the text.

So now we see a trend. We have looked at 4 constituent territories of the North, and in each case the armed strength ranges from 2500 to 4500 or more. And we are yet to get to the warmer, more fertile southern half of the North, where the largest settlements are located, or to House Stark themselves, for that matter.

Now, given the above, it is very fair to place House Dustin in at least House Karstark's strength category, but given that they rule the second largest settlement in the North, and a territory significantly larger than House Karstark, 500 miles to the south, one should probably argue that they are stronger than House Karstark. Be that as it may. At the very least they are the equal of House Karstark, although clearly quite a bit wealthier, and therefore likely to have better equipped troops and possibly more cavalry.

House Ryswell can surely not be significantly weaker than House Dustin. They are located at the same southerly latitude, their territory is named after its plentiful water supply, and is renowned for the horse herds they breed, to the extent that their House sigil reflects it. Roose certainly considers Lady Dustin's link to House Ryswell as highly significant, and we know that the Rills in Theon Stark's day was powerful enough to rebel against House Stark in their own right. Something which I doubt a weak House would even dream of doing.

All things considered, House Ryswell must be a signficant House in the North. 2000 men is certainly the lowest estimate that seems reasonable for them.

I will not go through every House in such detail, but will just add House Manderly to the list. We know they rule the richest, most populous territory in the North. If the Boltons can raise 4000 men or more, House Manderly must approach 6000 men in strength.

So, just by looking at the above more powerful Northern Houses, we already get to an armed strength of:

Karstark - 3000

Umber - 2500

Mountain Clans - 3000

Bolton - 4000 (minimum)

Dustin - 3000 (minimum)

Ryswell - 2000

Manderly - 6000

Total - 23500

That is from 7 of the 19 Northern territories, bringing us to 23500 men already. Surely House Stark themselves must be at least in the Karstark category, so add another 3000 for them. That gives us 26500.

That leaves 11 more Northern regions unaccounted for.

Lord Mormont says that even the weakest Northern lord can raise more than 1000 men. So even if all of the remaining 11 lords are at the absolute minimum strength of 1000, that still takes the North to 37500 men. But we know that the remaining lords will not all be at the minimum strength. Instead, they will range from weak to strong, with a few perhaps at 1000 men, but a number of them at more than that.

For example. All the Flints are not of equal strength. House Flint of Widow's Watch is considered the strongest of the Flints. So even if House Flint of Flint's Finger is at the rock bottom number of 1000 (which we don't know if they are), House Flint of Widow's Watch must be stronger. Perhaps at 1500. Perhaps at 2000. Perhaps at 2500.

Similarly, House Mormont must be at least at 1000. (They could be at 1500 for all we know, but let's leave them at 1000). Skagos is on the same latitude as Bear Island, but is at least three times as large. Possibly four times as large. And it is on the warmer side of Westeros, where the treeline extends 800 miles further North than on the Sunset Sea side. Skagos must surely be able to raise 2-3 times the number of men that Bear Island can. This is bolstered by the information we get about the Skagos rebellion 100 years ago, which took years and thousands of Stark troops to quell. It seems highly unlikely that Bear Island could have presented a similar difficulty for the Starks to conquer. Clearly Skagos must be able to raise at least 2000 men, and possibly more.

In any case, the point is we previously got to 26500 men, with 11 Northern regions still unaccounted for. These 11 are

House Mormont

Skagos

House Cerwyn

House Glover

House Tallhart

House Flint of Widow's Watch

House Hornwood

House Slate

House Locke

House Reed

House Flint of Flint's Finger

Even if you give each of them an average strenth of just 1500, this would add 16500 men to the 26500 we already had, giving a total strength of 43000 men for the North. I don't think that is unreasonable at all, based on just a little bit of logical extrapolation.

 

 

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1 hour ago, John Doe said:

The North suffers from winters so harsh that people walk off into the cold to die because their families don't have enough food. Even south of Winterfell there are snows during summer. The North also suffered frequent rebellions. Combined that's way more harmful then some wars then and now for the south. 

Recent crises in the North would include the Skagos Rebellion, the Great Spring Sickness, Dagon Greyjoy's raids, the invasion of Raymun Redbeard, the six-year-winter from 230-236 AC, Robert's Rebellion, the Greyjoy Rebellion, and the War of Five Kings (we don't know if the North participated in all that much in the Third and Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion or the War of the Ninepenny Kings).

We can reasonably assume that the North wasn't exactly in the best of shapes when this series began. The Stark family tree had been severely cut down, too, in recent years, and despite the fact that the Starks won the last two wars there would have been significant losses, especially among the men that count (i.e. the noblemen and those able-bodied young men). This is clearly shown in AGoT when the people who died during the last wars (Old Nan's descendants, the other male Cassels, etc.) are referenced.

5 hours ago, John Doe said:

We don't know if 145k is the actual strenght of the Reach and Westerlands, and we also lack details on how much time they had and which lords joined them, or didn't join them. Moreover, that was 300 years ago, it's possible the Westerlands and Reach are more populous now after a long period of relative peace and one of the longest summers in recent memory than they were when Aegon attacked. 

Indeed. The best guess is that the population in the southern kingdoms greatly increased during the peaceful decades after the Conquest (especially during the reigns of Jaehaerys I and Viserys I) whereas the North did not profit to the same degree because the winters stayed the same (and perhaps even got worse after the dragons died).

Before the Conquest the North might actually have been in a better shape compared to the other kingdoms because its isolation would have kept it out of most of the southern wars, at least in the recent years. There wouldn't have been any attacks on Moat Cailin or through the Neck for centuries, and it seems the wars with the Arryns over the Three Sisters was a thing of the distant past, too. Even the Ironborn would have been more occupied with the building of Harrenhal and the occupation of the Riverlands to raid any Northern coasts.

So Torrhen Stark most likely was in relatively strong position during the Conquest.

By comparison, regions like the Reach - which lies between the West, Dorne, the Stormlands, and the Riverlands - or the Riverlands would have finally have a chance to thrive under the Targaryen rule because those constant wars were a thing of the past and united efforts could be made to get better through winter. The North would have profited from that, too, to a degree. But a bad winter would have been especially bad in the North, suggesting that the Northmen would still have suffered the most in hard winters.

Realistically speaking the population of the North should fluctuating a lot. After a couple of mild winters the population should greatly increase - but if that happens then a hard winter should kill even more people because more people eating roughly the same amount of death should kill more people than would have killed if they had been fewer to begin with.

The amount of people looking forward to die gloriously in the Dance suggests that the reigns of Jaehaerys I and Viserys I had given the North such a surplus population, and Cregan Stark was now actually very keen to rid himself of those additional and useless mouths.

Oh, and while the Dance was apparently not fought in the North (we are not completely sure that this is the case, though) a lot Northmen either died or never returned back North after the war. But the Winter Fever seems to have killed people in the North, too. We know that Torrhen Manderly's father was carried away by the Winter Fever causing him to resign as regent.

@Free Northman Reborn

as long as we don't know how many people actually live in a given territory all bets are off, really. Judging the strengths of houses on the basis of how powerful they should be in comparison to others just doesn't work.

The Dustins might have great and old name but that doesn't tell us anything about their strength. The Florents consider themselves great and noble, too, but they are still a joke compared to other house in the Reach insofar as their military strength is concerned.

It is a reasonable guess that northern reaches of the North have fewer people than the southern regions, but that is not a given. It might be that the Umber lands have virtually no people at all while the middle regions have more (say, because the people leaving the Gifts have settled there rather than in Umber territory where they are essentially as safe as in NW territory.

We have virtually no clue at all how many people live in Rills or on the western coast. Or how House Karstark compares strength-wise to House Umber.

I'm under the impression that especially coastal regions are not exactly very populated in the North. The people living at the Stony Shore and on Sea Dragon Point seem to be effectively non-existent, and it might be similar on the entire eastern coast. There is most likely a reason why we don't hear all that much about the houses living in those regions.

And one also wonders what those summer snows do to the North's capability to plant crops. I mean, in my book you do not harvest anything when it is cold enough to snow, right?

One actually wonders whether the North is so scarcely populated because both the land and the climate simply cannot support more people than are living there right now. At least not while there are still the freak seasons. If winter was always the same length things might work a lot better up there, but as long as that's not the case it is pretty fucked up. Just think about it - one a couple of bad harvests and a decade-long-winter could easily wipe the entire Northern population out.

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50 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

It is a reasonable guess that northern reaches of the North have fewer people than the southern regions, but that is not a given. It might be that the Umber lands have virtually no people at all while the middle regions have more (say, because the people leaving the Gifts have settled there rather than in Umber territory where they are essentially as safe as in NW territory.

We have virtually no clue at all how many people live in Rills or on the western coast. Or how House Karstark compares strength-wise to House Umber.

I'm under the impression that especially coastal regions are not exactly very populated in the North. The people living at the Stony Shore and on Sea Dragon Point seem to be effectively non-existent, and it might be similar on the entire eastern coast. There is most likely a reason why we don't hear all that much about the houses living in those regions.

And one also wonders what those summer snows do to the North's capability to plant crops. I mean, in my book you do not harvest anything when it is cold enough to snow, right?

One actually wonders whether the North is so scarcely populated because both the land and the climate simply cannot support more people than are living there right now. At least not while there are still the freak seasons. If winter was always the same length things might work a lot better up there, but as long as that's not the case it is pretty fucked up. Just think about it - one a couple of bad harvests and a decade-long-winter could easily wipe the entire Northern population out.

Exactly. And it's possible the North is just not very fertile, on top of it's harsh climate. Robert travelled the kingsroad up to Winterfell and asked were all the people were, that alone shows how unpopulated that region is. North of Winterfell the situation should be even worse. I disagree about the coastal regions though, if they were even less populated the Ironborn wouldn't have anything to raid. The Stoney Shore at least seems to have some villages.

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2 hours ago, thelittledragonthatcould said:

That is not an answer, at least not an educated one. Land mass has little to do with population size. I'm not sure why so many are convinced that it is.

Of course not. But I am talking about travel times. Somewhat like half the North is 500 miles or more from the next rookery to be notified by raven. In comparison, it's difficult to find any point in the Westerlands that's even a mere 50 miles from one.

Each single rookery in the North has to have couriers on their horses scour more than one hundred times the area than their southern counterparts. That takes an incredible amount of time. Otherwise no one would even know they are supposed to show up at Winterfell or Moat Cailin or whereever.

 

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