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Most populated city in the known world

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Well I've been rereading the books and trying to determine this question.

I feel that most of the Free Cities are the size of Old Town proper (city itself regardless of the surroundings) bar for Braavos and Volantis. but from their description they don't seem to be much larger than KL. Meereen sounds large in landmass but thinly populated. Qarth sounds massive, and the biggest trading hub in Essos so I can assume it is the most populated but some of Yi-Ti's cities might be more populated.

 

do we have any official source to give us a crude measurement of population? 

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Volantis is the most populated Free City. I put it at a million inhabitants.

Don’t know how that compares to Qarth, and I assume like in our world the Far East has cities even larger.

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Just now, Free Northman Reborn said:

Volantis is the most populated Free City. I put it at a million inhabitants.

Don’t know how that compares to Qarth, and I assume like in our world the Far East has cities even larger.

Volantis sounds like it could hold a million but that it is not as populated as it was in the past

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1 minute ago, hnv said:

Volantis sounds like it could hold a million but that it is not as populated as it was in the past

My reasoning is that it is not the only Free City larger than Kings Landing, which has around 400k people.

So if some other Free Cities are larger than Kings Landing but smaller than Volantis, a million people seem about right for Volantis.

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In AWOIAF Yandel says there are some ‘towns’ in Essos that are actually bigger than Westerosi cities. Dont know if this helps.

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On 6/13/2019 at 2:49 PM, McGuv19 said:

In AWOIAF Yandel says there are some ‘towns’ in Essos that are actually bigger than Westerosi cities. Dont know if this helps.

Yep, I'd be thinking of towns like Selhorys.

 

That being said I don't think there is a huge difference between "towns" and "cities" in Essos.  The Free Cities are called that because of their heritage of being nominally independent of Valyria, not because they're significantly bigger than any other place.  I'd bet that Braavos and Volantis have a million plus inhabitants, whereas most of the remaining Free Cities are bigger than KL but smaller than the two big boys

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The most populated city is Vaes Dothrak. Or rather it will be, when the prophecy will come true, and all Dothraki will gather there. The city was build big enough, to be able to accomodate all Dothraki of the world.

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12 hours ago, Megorova said:

The most populated city is Vaes Dothrak. Or rather it will be, when the prophecy will come true, and all Dothraki will gather there. The city was build big enough, to be able to accomodate all Dothraki of the world. 

Hmm good point.

I agree...

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I always assumed Volantis was the largest on Essos, but that the largest city in the known world was somewhere in Yi Ti. 

Lomas Longstrider said they had more and larger cities than in the West. And with Yi Ti's heavy Asian influence, it would make sense that their population overall is much higher. My only hesitation is that Yi Ti doesn't seem to have one dominant city after centuries of shifting dynasties and capitols. If they had a primary city, it would surely be the most populous in the known world. 

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Volantis must be much larger than KL considering KL has about half a million people, already. And Volantis' harbor is large enough that all of Braavos would disappear in it. And we don't get the impression that the harbor of Volantis is dwarfing the city of Volantis...

But Qarth and the various cities of Yi Ti and Asshai might be larger than that, too.

I mean, the Red Temple of Volantis is three times larger than the Great Sept, is it not. And there are palaces in the cities of Yi Ti larger than all of KL.

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3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Volantis must be much larger than KL considering KL has about half a million people, already. And Volantis' harbor is large enough that all of Braavos would disappear in it. And we don't get the impression that the harbor of Volantis is dwarfing the city of Volantis...

But Qarth and the various cities of Yi Ti and Asshai might be larger than that, too.

I mean, the Red Temple of Volantis is three times larger than the Great Sept, is it not. And there are palaces in the cities of Yi Ti larger than all of KL.

Qarth always seemed to me to be a rich transshipment sort of city; wealthy from sitting on the only real route from east to west and getting rich off levying tolls and tariffs on traders.  Doesn't seem like there is enough of a hinterland to support a huge population with the Red Waste basically on it's doorstep.  Very difficult to import enough food from far away to support a city the size of, say, Volantis.

But agreed that Yi Ti seems like a decent bet given the real world parallels and the (limited) in-world info

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3 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Qarth always seemed to me to be a rich transshipment sort of city; wealthy from sitting on the only real route from east to west and getting rich off levying tolls and tariffs on traders.  Doesn't seem like there is enough of a hinterland to support a huge population with the Red Waste basically on it's doorstep.  Very difficult to import enough food from far away to support a city the size of, say, Volantis.

Well, with the more recent hints that George might really have plot-relevant for Qarth I think we can something expect from there. TWoIaF was somewhat of a downer in the Qarth department, making the city look rather insignificant.

But with its three walls, vast wealth, and giant fleets Qarth must actually be very large and very powerful. Unlike Volantis and the cities of Slaver's Bay it is definitely not in decline.

And the Qartheen wouldn't control the Jade Gates if they had not also their post on Great Moraq and actually the military capacity to close the Jade Gates. If they actually didn't have the means to collect tolls and tarrifs they want the Yi Tish would have long ago made the city part of their empire.

One expect they important whatever food they need from Great Moraq and east of the Bones.

3 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

But agreed that Yi Ti seems like a decent bet given the real world parallels and the (limited) in-world info

With the caveat that the stuff Yandel put to parchment is not exaggerated nonsense. We also do learn that Asshai'i believe the Lannisters live in a castle made of gold... If they have as accurate a picture of Westeros, then the Westerosi might very well have as accurate pictures of Yi Ti and Asshai.

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20 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Well, with the more recent hints that George might really have plot-relevant for Qarth I think we can something expect from there. TWoIaF was somewhat of a downer in the Qarth department, making the city look rather insignificant.

But with its three walls, vast wealth, and giant fleets Qarth must actually be very large and very powerful. Unlike Volantis and the cities of Slaver's Bay it is definitely not in decline.

And the Qartheen wouldn't control the Jade Gates if they had not also their post on Great Moraq and actually the military capacity to close the Jade Gates. If they actually didn't have the means to collect tolls and tarrifs they want the Yi Tish would have long ago made the city part of their empire.

One expect they important whatever food they need from Great Moraq and east of the Bones.

I agree that Qarth is extraordinarily wealthy, and likely has a substantial navy, but that doesn't mean it has a huge population.  It's not feasible to support giant cities entirely on imports.  Rome was a gigantic city in the first century, importing substantial quantities of grain, but it still also had a huge, fertile agricultural base in Campania and the rest of the Italian peninsula to draw off.

I'm sure there are a several hundred thousand people living in Qarth, but to think that it's the size of Volantis or even some of the other larger Free Cities is crazy.  There just isn't enough food available and it is far too expensive to ship it all in.

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4 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

I agree that Qarth is extraordinarily wealthy, and likely has a substantial navy, but that doesn't mean it has a huge population.  It's not feasible to support giant cities entirely on imports.  Rome was a gigantic city in the first century, importing substantial quantities of grain, but it still also had a huge, fertile agricultural base in Campania and the rest of the Italian peninsula to draw off.

And Qarth could have the same. There is the island of Qal on the map in addition to Great Moraq and the Red Waste is only the west and north of Qarth, not in the east. There could be sufficiently fertile land in the foothills of the Bones.

Also, we have no idea how fertile the lands are along the coast lines.

4 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

I'm sure there are a several hundred thousand people living in Qarth, but to think that it's the size of Volantis or even some of the other larger Free Cities is crazy.  There just isn't enough food available and it is far too expensive to ship it all in.

How do you know what's too expensive for the Qartheen? They essentially control half of the trade in the developed world. And the harbor of Qarth is one of the largest harbors in the entire world - even the harbor of Volantis may be pretty small compared to the one of Asshai or the Yi Tish cities.

I mean, do you recall how insanely huge Xaro Xhoan Daxos' palace is? Larger than many a market town. He alone owns 84 ships in ACoK, and he is just one of the Thirteen who, in turn, are only one of three merchant guilds in Qarth, who, in turn, are only one of numerous power blocs and not exactly the most powerful (those would be the Pureborn, the actual rulers of Qarth, who command the City Watch and the military fleet of Qarth).

Those people would not have this insane wealth if they didn't know how to feed themselves. Qarth would also never have grown into the place it is today if it had had troubles to feed the population in the past.

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15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

And Qarth could have the same. There is the island of Qal on the map in addition to Great Moraq and the Red Waste is only the west and north of Qarth, not in the east. There could be sufficiently fertile land in the foothills of the Bones.

Also, we have no idea how fertile the lands are along the coast lines.

Our maps show that the Red Waste has come effectively to the limits of the city.  Obviously that isn't accurate down to the mile or anything, but it's reasonably to assume that there is little to no fertile hinterland.  Consider that the Crowlands are insufficient to feed both Kings Landing and Tywin's army (so a little over half a million people in total); considerable help is needed from supplies coming up the Rose Road.  Anything in the foothills of mountains as inhospitable as the Bones are unlikely to be particularly fertile.

The point being that shipping in that quantity of food, at that time period, isn't likely.  Produce and uncured meat spoil on long journeys; sailors ate mostly hardtack and salted beef.  It's just not logistically feasible to be shipping in large quantities of fresh food, because of the time it would take to be shipped but also because those are low value goods and any merchant prince worth the name is going to be employing those valuable, hugely capital-intensive assets to engage in more lucrative long distance trade.

15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

How do you know what's too expensive for the Qartheen? They essentially control half of the trade in the developed world. And the harbor of Qarth is one of the largest harbors in the entire world - even the harbor of Volantis may be pretty small compared to the one of Asshai or the Yi Tish cities.

They don't control it.  They can tax it, but that isn't the same thing.

15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I mean, do you recall how insanely huge Xaro Xhoan Daxos' palace is? Larger than many a market town. He alone owns 84 ships in ACoK, and he is just one of the Thirteen who, in turn, are only one of three merchant guilds in Qarth, who, in turn, are only one of numerous power blocs and not exactly the most powerful (those would be the Pureborn, the actual rulers of Qarth, who command the City Watch and the military fleet of Qarth).

Yes, the wealth of the Qartheen is bound up in ships and not land.  I get it.  I'm not saying your average lord in Westeros is as wealthy as a Qartheen merchant prince, but they are wealthy, it's just that that wealth is bound up in the land, in their castles, in the expensive acts of noblesse oblige they must perform.  For example, the Cinque Ports provided ~60 ships in lieu of knights/squires/levies, and that isn't a particularly large area of England.  Obviously I'm assuming a lot here, but that area makes up only a portion of the Earldom of Kent, which was neither particularly small nor particularly large/important in medieval England.  In other words, it's not crazy that a middlingly powerful Westerosi lord might be perfectly capable of raising as many ships as Xaro Xoan Daxos, if only Westeros' wealth was bound up in movable transport and not land and manors.

I am not saying that the Qartheen are poor.  I'm saying that when your wealth is reliant on trade and (mostly) movable property, and your military is built on ships crewed by slaves, and geographically you are so isolated as to be impervious to attack from land, you don't need a huge population to project force.

Also, there are three blocs of mercantile powers, as you say, presumably all of which are approximately equal in wealth.  So XXD represents something more like 2.5% of that wealth, a substantial amount.  The Pureborn are military/political leaders; their legitimacy is based on tradition and bloodline, not wealth.  I'm sure they are wealthy, but not to the level of the merchants.  And the warlocks are the last faction.  So really there are three power blocs, and one of those has three parts.

15 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Those people would not have this insane wealth if they didn't know how to feed themselves. Qarth would also never have grown into the place it is today if it had had troubles to feed the population in the past.

I agree that they can feed themselves.  We're not arguing that.  We're debating how many people live in the city.  I do not think it is possible, for the reasons described above, for Qarth to be of a size with Volantis or even some of the larger (other) Free Cities.  The opportunity cost for these hyper wealthy merchants to be bringing in low-value perishable food is enormous, and they're not as rich as they are because they're stupid.  And that ignores the logistical issues with bringing material amounts of foodstuffs into the city via the sea.  It's also a security issue.  Sure, our maps could be wrong by exponential factors, and maybe the Red Waste doesn't extend that far south, but to the human eye, the Crownlands seem bigger than the potentially fertile lands around Qarth, and we know the Crownlands aren't up to the task of feeding even the relatively-modest sized city of Kings Landing.

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1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

Our maps show that the Red Waste has come effectively to the limits of the city.  Obviously that isn't accurate down to the mile or anything, but it's reasonably to assume that there is little to no fertile hinterland. 

It wouldn't be that fertile, but there is also the Qartheen city of Qarkash in the Red Waste neighborhood which also can feed itself, presumably.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

Consider that the Crowlands are insufficient to feed both Kings Landing and Tywin's army (so a little over half a million people in total); considerable help is needed from supplies coming up the Rose Road.  Anything in the foothills of mountains as inhospitable as the Bones are unlikely to be particularly fertile.

They get imports from the Reach, but it is never stated that they could not feed themselves without those imports. It is war, people hoard food and thus the prices go up.

But even if they were totally dependent on such imports in KL then the Qartheen certainly could pull something like that off, too. Qal and Qarkash and Great Moraq are much closer to Qarth than the Reach is to KL.

We have no reason to believe that the foothills of the Bones and the lands along the coasts cannot be fertile. In fact, there are plenty of mountain valleys and the like that are fertile in this world - the lands of the Yronwoods are in the mountains, many of the fertile places in the West are in mountain valleys, etc.

Like the Free Cities, Qarth is not just a city, it is a city state which should control pretty large portions of land - we just have no idea how large those lands are.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

The point being that shipping in that quantity of food, at that time period, isn't likely.  Produce and uncured meat spoil on long journeys; sailors ate mostly hardtack and salted beef.  It's just not logistically feasible to be shipping in large quantities of fresh food, because of the time it would take to be shipped but also because those are low value goods and any merchant prince worth the name is going to be employing those valuable, hugely capital-intensive assets to engage in more lucrative long distance trade.

We are talking about bringing food in from Qal and Great Moraq. That should be done in a day, possibly even half a day.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

They don't control it.  They can tax it, but that isn't the same thing.

Oh, but they do. Qarth is not just the place you have to pass if you want to travel to the west or the east, it is also a market place itself. As the example of Corlys Velaryon shows (he traveled to Qarth to buy ships there to continue the journey), very few people in the west sail further east than Qarth - which that, like Vaes Dothrak, people buy the treasures of the east in Qarth.

They are not just taxing the people who move through their waters.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

I am not saying that the Qartheen are poor.  I'm saying that when your wealth is reliant on trade and (mostly) movable property, and your military is built on ships crewed by slaves, and geographically you are so isolated as to be impervious to attack from land, you don't need a huge population to project force.

The question is not whether you need a large population but whether the population is large. And Qarth is a place where palaces of mid-tier nobles are as large as Westerosi towns.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

Also, there are three blocs of mercantile powers, as you say, presumably all of which are approximately equal in wealth.  So XXD represents something more like 2.5% of that wealth, a substantial amount.  The Pureborn are military/political leaders; their legitimacy is based on tradition and bloodline, not wealth.  I'm sure they are wealthy, but not to the level of the merchants.  And the warlocks are the last faction.  So really there are three power blocs, and one of those has three parts.

We have no reason to believe Dany was told everything about the power blocs in Qarth. And if the merchant guilds could out buy the Pureborn they would have long ago done away with the Pureborn to turn Qarth into the kind of merchant aristocracy most of the Free Cities are. There the people running trade call the shots, not some aloof aristocrats not involving themselves in trade. And we do know that the military in Qarth is run by the Pureborn and that the Pureborn decided to declare war on Daenerys.

1 hour ago, cpg2016 said:

I agree that they can feed themselves.  We're not arguing that.  We're debating how many people live in the city.  I do not think it is possible, for the reasons described above, for Qarth to be of a size with Volantis or even some of the larger (other) Free Cities.  The opportunity cost for these hyper wealthy merchants to be bringing in low-value perishable food is enormous, and they're not as rich as they are because they're stupid.  And that ignores the logistical issues with bringing material amounts of foodstuffs into the city via the sea.  It's also a security issue.  Sure, our maps could be wrong by exponential factors, and maybe the Red Waste doesn't extend that far south, but to the human eye, the Crownlands seem bigger than the potentially fertile lands around Qarth, and we know the Crownlands aren't up to the task of feeding even the relatively-modest sized city of Kings Landing.

The Crownlands certainly could feed KL. There is no question about that. KL is the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and the way the economy is set up and developed established strong ties with the Reach and the Riverlands.

It is faulty to assume that just because people import things they have to do that - could be that it is profitable to do so, it could help cut the costs, etc. The Reach produces a huge surplus of food, so the Crownlanders don't have to send all their surplus food to KL. But this doesn't mean the Kingslanders couldn't feed themselves on the Crowlands if they had to.

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as to Qarth feeding it self, we should remind ourselves that the diet of common people was very different back then, with much less meat and poultry. I assume Qarth's local diet is also based mainly on fish and seafood, of which they have an abundance

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6 hours ago, hnv said:

as to Qarth feeding it self, we should remind ourselves that the diet of common people was very different back then, with much less meat and poultry. I assume Qarth's local diet is also based mainly on fish and seafood, of which they have an abundance

Considering that Dragonstone apparently had the resources to feed dragons the size of Vhagar, Meraxes, and Balerion before and after the Conquest - Queen Rhaena is not said to import great quantities of cattle, after all - we can safely say that the author does not want to send the message that those places are not self-sufficient.

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On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

It wouldn't be that fertile, but there is also the Qartheen city of Qarkash in the Red Waste neighborhood which also can feed itself, presumably.

Qarkash is not that close to Qarth.  Again, eyeballing it, but it seems to be about the same distance as White Harbor is from Barrowton - that's hardly a suburb, and presumably is much smaller than Qarth despite having a surrounding arable area of roughly the same size (if we assume the Red Waste is about equally close to the coast in both cases).

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

They get imports from the Reach, but it is never stated that they could not feed themselves without those imports. It is war, people hoard food and thus the prices go up.

It isn't stated one way or another.  All we know is that when the Tyrells close the Roseroad, the city starves.  Not "has to begin rationing" but is actively starving.  It's said the the food supplies coming in from Stokeworth and Rosby are the only thing that has allowed the city to have any food at all, really.  Since the city could be importing food from the Crownlands to alleviate the problem, it means the Crownlands cannot deal with the magnitude of the issue on their own.  While merchants and other commoners might hoard food, we know that the nobility don't like to.  Lord Belmore is explicit that when prices are fair, the nobility feels obligated to sell.  They aren't (Littlefinger excepted) interested in price gouging.  If Houses other than Stokeworth and Rosby had food to sell, they've already done so, and KL is still facing famine conditions.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

But even if they were totally dependent on such imports in KL then the Qartheen certainly could pull something like that off, too. Qal and Qarkash and Great Moraq are much closer to Qarth than the Reach is to KL.

We have no reason to believe that the foothills of the Bones and the lands along the coasts cannot be fertile. In fact, there are plenty of mountain valleys and the like that are fertile in this world - the lands of the Yronwoods are in the mountains, many of the fertile places in the West are in mountain valleys, etc.

Actually the lands of the Yronwoods are south of the Red Mountains, as I recall, but point taken.  That being said, you have some small mountain valleys that are fertile (Vale of Arryn is a good example), but really that is the only one.  And the Vale of Arryn is BIG.  Uniquely large, in fact.  We have no indication that the other Houses that in mountains, like the Fowlers or Wyls, are particularly wealthy.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

Like the Free Cities, Qarth is not just a city, it is a city state which should control pretty large portions of land - we just have no idea how large those lands are.

Except that the lands surrounding the Free Cities are either stated or assumed to be arable, whereas in the case of Qarth it's exactly the opposite.  The only certain information we have is that there is a huge arid desert nearby.  It is implied that Qarth controls lands on Great Moraq, which I think we can safely assume to be owned in the kind of manner that Ghiscari land is owned, and thus produces even more of a surplus than Westerosi peasants do.  By which I mean, barely fed slaves on industrial latifundia type estates.  But again, transport is the issue here, not fertility.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

We are talking about bringing food in from Qal and Great Moraq. That should be done in a day, possibly even half a day.

What makes you say that?  You have to load and unload wares.  You have to bring those foodstuffs to the dock.  Even if we assume all this food is coming from Great Moraq, you still need an approximately equal sized hinterland of agricultural estates on the island as would feed Kings Landing.  So it's not "a day or less".  It's an additional day plus all the other time it takes.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

Oh, but they do. Qarth is not just the place you have to pass if you want to travel to the west or the east, it is also a market place itself. As the example of Corlys Velaryon shows (he traveled to Qarth to buy ships there to continue the journey), very few people in the west sail further east than Qarth - which that, like Vaes Dothrak, people buy the treasures of the east in Qarth.

They are not just taxing the people who move through their waters.

Rght... but Qarth doesn't own any of those goods?  You have independent merchants doing all this.  Many of them are Qartheen, presumably, but not all... so at the end of the day Qarth is merely taxing the existing trade, not "controlling it".  As in, we have no indication that one needs Qartheen permission to trade in the East, or needs to apply for a pilot or a license to navigate the Saffron Straits.  Corlys Velaryon's journey indicates that Qarth profits off being the entrepot of the East, but hasn't established a monopoly on it.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

We have no reason to believe Dany was told everything about the power blocs in Qarth. And if the merchant guilds could out buy the Pureborn they would have long ago done away with the Pureborn to turn Qarth into the kind of merchant aristocracy most of the Free Cities are. There the people running trade call the shots, not some aloof aristocrats not involving themselves in trade. And we do know that the military in Qarth is run by the Pureborn and that the Pureborn decided to declare war on Daenerys.

I mean... this isn't how it works?  Look at ancient Rome.  The Senate was overwhelmingly patrician for most of its history, most especially under the Republic.  Even when patricians were poorer and less accomplished than their equestrian counterparts, they still managed to do as well or better in elections and in controlling the ship of state.  Even hyper wealthy or talented equestrians had an extraordinarily difficult time breaking in to the social elite.  Being in the Senate meant it was illegal to engage in trade.  Just because the merchant princes of Qarth are wealthier than their noble counterparts, doesn't mean that that power is for sale.  Or even that those merchants want that power.

I think, all other things being equal, we have to assume we know the outlines of the power structure in Qarth.  In any case it makes sense.  You have a quasi-noble political elite that runs the city and commands the armed forces.  You have a hyper-wealthy and more socially mobile mercantile power bloc, and finally a quasi-religious and formerly magical faction of Warlocks who have prestige but no power.  Every one of those factions has what it wants and has no cause to upset the applecart - there isn't room for another power bloc.  Any additional mercantile interest will be co-opted or bankrupted by the existing commercial elite.  A nobility based on blood is by it's definition impossible to break into, and the merchants won't allow it because it might allow the Pureborn the financial resources to edge them out.  The warlocks are living on former glory and won't bother anyone, because to do so would remind everyone of how little influence they have compared to when their magic was stronger.  And the Pureborn get the glory and prestige of running and protecting the city without having to dirty their hands in trade.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

The Crownlands certainly could feed KL. There is no question about that. KL is the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and the way the economy is set up and developed established strong ties with the Reach and the Riverlands.

There is literally no evidence that the Crownlands can feed Kings Landing.  Quite the opposite.  As I said, privation begins and ends with the opening of the Roseroad.  The obvious inference is that food supplies from the Reach are critical to feeding the city.

On 6/28/2019 at 6:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

It is faulty to assume that just because people import things they have to do that - could be that it is profitable to do so, it could help cut the costs, etc. The Reach produces a huge surplus of food, so the Crownlanders don't have to send all their surplus food to KL. But this doesn't mean the Kingslanders couldn't feed themselves on the Crowlands if they had to.

Sure... but we cannot prove a negative.  All we know is that when the Reach cuts off exports, Kings Landing starves.

And in Qarth it'll be even more pronounced.  Westeros is fundamentally an agricultural society, so there isn't much else for local merchants to transport even if they wanted to.  It's perishable foodstuffs or nothing, for the most part.  So there isn't an opportunity cost the way there is in Qarth.  Where if you have an expensive ship that is expensive to maintain, you don't want to use it to transport bulky, low cost, low margin produce.  You want to load it up with cinnamon or cloves or pepper or whatever, things worth more than their weight in gold.  High margin, low volume luxury goods.  To have a ship sitting around making a measly 2-3% return on making the run to Great Moraq for vegetables and meats, and going in ballast in one direction, when it could be making 200-300% returns shipping spices or silks to the Free Cities, is economic suicide.  My point being, yes, Qarth may have the shipping tonnage necessary to feed a city of a million people, but only if those ships are doing nothing else.  As you say, these are hyper wealthy merchants.  They didn't get that way by being financially illiterate.  They can't be that wealthy if they're shipping food while their competitors are shipping high value goods.

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5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Qarkash is not that close to Qarth.  Again, eyeballing it, but it seems to be about the same distance as White Harbor is from Barrowton - that's hardly a suburb, and presumably is much smaller than Qarth despite having a surrounding arable area of roughly the same size (if we assume the Red Waste is about equally close to the coast in both cases).

The point here was that Qarkash is a colony of/subject to Qarth and they apparently don't starve, either, although Qarkash might actually be in the Red Waste, unlike Qarth which is clearly at the edges of the waste.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

It isn't stated one way or another.  All we know is that when the Tyrells close the Roseroad, the city starves.  Not "has to begin rationing" but is actively starving.  It's said the the food supplies coming in from Stokeworth and Rosby are the only thing that has allowed the city to have any food at all, really.  Since the city could be importing food from the Crownlands to alleviate the problem, it means the Crownlands cannot deal with the magnitude of the issue on their own.  While merchants and other commoners might hoard food, we know that the nobility don't like to.  Lord Belmore is explicit that when prices are fair, the nobility feels obligated to sell.  They aren't (Littlefinger excepted) interested in price gouging.  If Houses other than Stokeworth and Rosby had food to sell, they've already done so, and KL is still facing famine conditions.

The city starts to have issues with food because the prices go up. The Red Keep gets fresh and good quality food brought in directly from Rosby and Stokeworth. The city folk don't. But they don't starve, either. They just have issues.

And my point was that both the people who produce the food - the peasants - are starting to hoard it. We see how warily the Riverlanders and Crownlanders Arya and Yoren meet early in ACoK guard their fields and orchards. When war threatens, you don't take send your food to the city, you start to hoard it in case trade gets disrupted, you have to give up food to a foraging army, etc.

It is quite clear that KL is as prosperous and popular as a city as it is because as the royal residence and capital they get food there from all over the Seven Kingdoms, but that doesn't mean they need such imports to survive or subsist. But it is quite clear that a disruption of the usual trade network (Roseroad, Kingsroad, and Gullet are closed to KL in ACoK) must cause disruption and problems.

The idea that the Iron Throne could just magically command that the Crownlanders feed the city or establish the links that would have to exist for something like that to work when the status quo is that food comes in from the Narrow Sea, the Reach, and the Riverlands is just not very convincing.

It is in a sense comparable to us in our modern day and age complaining that we should be able to produce and import goods in/from place A when a sudden disruption of trade cuts our ties with places B and C. We can do that, but it is not going to happen overnight.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Actually the lands of the Yronwoods are south of the Red Mountains, as I recall, but point taken. 

Well, the memories of Quentyn confirm that Yronwood lies in the mountains, weather and climate are milder there, they can grow food there the Dornish obviously cannot grow in the Sands, etc. And it is not just them, the Fowlers, Wyls, Qorgyles, etc. also thrive in the Red Mountains. Granted, there is no large city up there, but people are actually living and thriving in those mountains, indicating that there must be many a fertile valley up there.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

That being said, you have some small mountain valleys that are fertile (Vale of Arryn is a good example), but really that is the only one.  And the Vale of Arryn is BIG.  Uniquely large, in fact.  We have no indication that the other Houses that in mountains, like the Fowlers or Wyls, are particularly wealthy.

No, but they thrive and are numerous enough to pose a very dire threat to any force that tries to invade Dorne.

The idea is that the Qartheen control as large a portion of the Bones, Great Moraq, and whatever fertile hinterlands there may be in their region to actually grow into as large a city as I think they are. And Qarth most definitely is the largest city any of our characters have yet visited. Nobody ever said that there are palaces as large as market towns in Volantis.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Except that the lands surrounding the Free Cities are either stated or assumed to be arable, whereas in the case of Qarth it's exactly the opposite.  The only certain information we have is that there is a huge arid desert nearby.  It is implied that Qarth controls lands on Great Moraq, which I think we can safely assume to be owned in the kind of manner that Ghiscari land is owned, and thus produces even more of a surplus than Westerosi peasants do.  By which I mean, barely fed slaves on industrial latifundia type estates.  But again, transport is the issue here, not fertility.

If you want to enter realism on the transport or store level then the setting in this world breaks down immediately. No political system and no society would survive the unpredictable freak winters of Martinworld. Food cannot be preserved for years, and the very idea of cyclical seasons is that you can more or less predict when exactly winter will be over and you can plant new crops. But the freak winters can last half a year or half a decade. That is insanely unrealistic and could not possibly be mastered by primitive people living in a feudal world.

We have to simply accept that kind of nonsense, and the same way we have to accept that there are gigantic cities in the middle of nowhere in this world.

I mean, you could just as well complain that Tyrosh or Lys are as large as they are. Those cities seem to be pretty much as large as their respective islands, and while both of them seem to control or presume to control lands in the so-called Disputed Lands, they, too, would have issues transporting food to the islands.

If they could not feed themselves with the food they produce on their islands, their mainland rivals should have been able to subdue them centuries ago simply by starving them out.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

What makes you say that?  You have to load and unload wares.  You have to bring those foodstuffs to the dock.  Even if we assume all this food is coming from Great Moraq, you still need an approximately equal sized hinterland of agricultural estates on the island as would feed Kings Landing.  So it's not "a day or less".  It's an additional day plus all the other time it takes.

And how would that be a problem? Vegetables and meat survive this kind of journey without any problem. As do many other food stuffs that have been properly preserved.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Rght... but Qarth doesn't own any of those goods?  You have independent merchants doing all this.  Many of them are Qartheen, presumably, but not all... so at the end of the day Qarth is merely taxing the existing trade, not "controlling it".  As in, we have no indication that one needs Qartheen permission to trade in the East, or needs to apply for a pilot or a license to navigate the Saffron Straits.  Corlys Velaryon's journey indicates that Qarth profits off being the entrepot of the East, but hasn't established a monopoly on it.

Well, I wasn't using 'controlling' in a legal sense here. Just that, one assumes, 90% of the east-west trade going through the Jade Gates is directly or indirectly controlled by the Qartheen - either by it being done by the Qartheen directly, by people working for them, by people using their ships, liaisons, infrastructure, etc.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

I mean... this isn't how it works?  Look at ancient Rome.  The Senate was overwhelmingly patrician for most of its history, most especially under the Republic.  Even when patricians were poorer and less accomplished than their equestrian counterparts, they still managed to do as well or better in elections and in controlling the ship of state.  Even hyper wealthy or talented equestrians had an extraordinarily difficult time breaking in to the social elite.  Being in the Senate meant it was illegal to engage in trade.  Just because the merchant princes of Qarth are wealthier than their noble counterparts, doesn't mean that that power is for sale.  Or even that those merchants want that power.

Oh, well, we don't know whether it is beneath the Pureborn to conduct trade, do we? This is not something George cares much about to establish, in fact, since it seems the Hightowers, Lannisters of Lannisport, and especially the Redwynes actually are doing trade themselves - as might the Darklyns, Graftons, Manderlys, Mootons, etc. The cousins of the royal family - House Velaryon of Driftmark - are (and always were) merchants.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

There is literally no evidence that the Crownlands can feed Kings Landing.  Quite the opposite.  As I said, privation begins and ends with the opening of the Roseroad.  The obvious inference is that food supplies from the Reach are critical to feeding the city.

Sure... but we cannot prove a negative.  All we know is that when the Reach cuts off exports, Kings Landing starves.

Try to watch it context. Robert gives us a clue in AGoT. He raves on about how plentiful life is down in KL. It is this abundance that comes with all those food imports. In summer in KL life shouldn't be that difficult from modern life in rich societies insofar as the quantity of food is concerned. It would be very cheap, meaning life in KL is as pleasant as it is.

That changes after the various blockades. But only the poor people start to starve. If they had a real starvation problem then Joff and the Lannisters would have been overthrown in a heart beat.

5 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

And in Qarth it'll be even more pronounced.  Westeros is fundamentally an agricultural society, so there isn't much else for local merchants to transport even if they wanted to.  It's perishable foodstuffs or nothing, for the most part.  So there isn't an opportunity cost the way there is in Qarth.  Where if you have an expensive ship that is expensive to maintain, you don't want to use it to transport bulky, low cost, low margin produce.  You want to load it up with cinnamon or cloves or pepper or whatever, things worth more than their weight in gold.  High margin, low volume luxury goods.  To have a ship sitting around making a measly 2-3% return on making the run to Great Moraq for vegetables and meats, and going in ballast in one direction, when it could be making 200-300% returns shipping spices or silks to the Free Cities, is economic suicide.  My point being, yes, Qarth may have the shipping tonnage necessary to feed a city of a million people, but only if those ships are doing nothing else.  As you say, these are hyper wealthy merchants.  They didn't get that way by being financially illiterate.  They can't be that wealthy if they're shipping food while their competitors are shipping high value goods.

Those things are not mutually exclusive.

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