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Tyrion1991

Why isn’t Winterfell a city? Why not White Harbour as the Northern Capital?

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Most countries capitals tend to be either the main trading city or the presence of the central state soon creates one. London, Paris, Edinburgh, Moscow.

I can’t think of a major medieval nation that had its capital at what’s really just a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The King might hold court at a castle or palace/manor. But that’s not the same thing as the capital.

Surely either a city would have sprung up around Winterfell or the Starks would hold court at White Harbour and retain Winterfell as an ancestral seat/emergency fortress?

I get that it’s romantic to have the brooding fortress of solitude in the barren winter wasteland.  But it’s not really what would happen. I think Moscow started off as a small fort but once Muscovy got to the size of the North it had become a city. 

I think George also wanted to sharply contrast the Spartan and martial culture of the North. Noble savages. Compared to the decadence of urban Kings Landing; reflecting the South. So having Winterfell be a fortress highlights this.

Not sure why the Kings of Winter wouldn’t want to stay close to where the money and people are. 

 

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According to the World of Ice and Fire, Winterfell actually has a town around it known as the Winter Town populated by small folk.

Not a bustling haven to be sure, but it's not solely a castle either.

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1 hour ago, Tyrion1991 said:

Most countries capitals tend to be either the main trading city or the presence of the central state soon creates one. London, Paris, Edinburgh, Moscow.

I can’t think of a major medieval nation that had its capital at what’s really just a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The King might hold court at a castle or palace/manor. But that’s not the same thing as the capital.

Surely either a city would have sprung up around Winterfell or the Starks would hold court at White Harbour and retain Winterfell as an ancestral seat/emergency fortress?

I get that it’s romantic to have the brooding fortress of solitude in the barren winter wasteland.  But it’s not really what would happen. I think Moscow started off as a small fort but once Muscovy got to the size of the North it had become a city. 

I think George also wanted to sharply contrast the Spartan and martial culture of the North. Noble savages. Compared to the decadence of urban Kings Landing; reflecting the South. So having Winterfell be a fortress highlights this.

Not sure why the Kings of Winter wouldn’t want to stay close to where the money and people are. 

 

I think Winterfell is a big castle that has a big population for a castle. Also for sure there are towns really close to it 

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Winterfell predates White Harbour by many centuries, so I guess that the Starks simply wanted to keep the capital at their own stronghold.  And it is a really nice castle.  Also, the population of the North is rather spread out, and Winterfell is centrally located and easy to get to.  

As for attracting a large population, there isn't really anything there except the Starks.  And it isn't really the capital of a country; more of a provincial or regional capital.  It is subservient to Kings Landing.

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Posted (edited)
36 minutes ago, Nevets said:

Winterfell predates White Harbour by many centuries, so I guess that the Starks simply wanted to keep the capital at their own stronghold.  And it is a really nice castle.  Also, the population of the North is rather spread out, and Winterfell is centrally located and easy to get to.  

As for attracting a large population, there isn't really anything there except the Starks.  And it isn't really the capital of a country; more of a provincial or regional capital.  It is subservient to Kings Landing.

 

The population of Russia is also spread out. 

Its even easier to get to if you build your house right next to it. Paris was originally just a fortress on an island. But that’s where the King held court so people needed places to stay, they needed goods and there was opportunity to sell; these things tend to happen organically.

The North is to all intents and purposes an independent realm as it was under the Starks who are the Kings of Winter. Even a regional capital like York ended up amassing an urban population. Regional capitals don’t command armies 20,000 strong and are bigger than Europe.

2 hours ago, Tanerian said:

According to the World of Ice and Fire, Winterfell actually has a town around it known as the Winter Town populated by small folk.

Not a bustling haven to be sure, but it's not solely a castle either.

 

I’d expect that for something like Griffins Roost or Bear Island. But, the North is far too big and the Starks too politically important to not have an urban centre develop around Winterfell. It’s half the size of South America. It’s got a population probably in the low millions. It has an army of 20k plus. That’s bigger than what most Medieval nations could put into he field. These themselves aren’t just Saxon levies with sticks; but are meant to be well armoured in mail and even plate. Remember these guys are Kings in all but name.

 

Also I think the term city needs to be seriously qualified here. To us a city means half a million people plus. But in the Middle Ages what’s called a city was much smaller and closer to what we would call a town. Places like oldtown, KL and Mereen are comparable to only the very largest cities in the medieval world. So London only had 50,000 people in it during the 15th century.

Edited by Tyrion1991

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There always has to be a Stark in Winterfell.  The family made a bargain with the Others and their part require them to stay in the drafty old castle.  They got to rule the north in consideration.  There is something or someone in that crypt that holds the interests of the Others.  The Starks safeguard what it is.  

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My guess, is that Bran the Builder had build Winterfell on the place, where was the previous "heart of winter" (i.e. the Children's cave with greenseers, wedded to the weirwood trees, prior their race migrated beyond The Wall), where now are located crypts and godswood of Winterfell.

It seems that prior the Long Night, the lands above The Neck were populated by the Children. So when the Last Hero and his companions decided to join forces with the Children, they went north, to find them. And Winterfell is the place, where the Last Hero had found the Children. They made that Pact, the Children used their magic to lure the Others to the far far north, and together with the Last Hero/Bran the Builder with usage of magic had build The Wall. The Others originally were created by the Old Gods' magic, and the Children were controlling them thru the Weirwood Network. So, after the Others left, and The Wall was build, Bran had build first elements of the future Winterfell, by covering bodies of the Children's greenseers, that were still binded to the weirwood roots, in a cave below Winterfell's heart tree, that is located near a lake. And, according to the Pact they made, Starks were obliged to give blood sacrifices to that tree (which was depicted in Bran's last vision in his last chapter in ADWD). 

What is hidden underneath Winterfell, in the crypts, is the reason, why there's always has to be a Stark at Winterfell, and why Starks can't move their base somewhere else - they have to hide that secret. The secret, that it was the Children, who caused the Long Night, and that Starks made a deal with them, and for thousands years after the end of the Long Night, were giving human sacrifices to that heart tree, that is growing in the centre of their castle.

Though it's all is just my assumption, based on what is known about the Children, their magic, and about Winterfell, and also on this - "Sansa cried herself to sleep, Arya brooded silently all day long, and Eddard Stark dreamed of a frozen hell reserved for the Starks of Winterfell." That frozen hell is obviously those crypts under Winterfell, all Starks eventually end down there. Though if they were just an average normal crypts, he wouldn't have thought of them as a hell. So, the Starks can't let other people to find out, what is hidden there. Probably that evil magic is still active, and the Pact was made on blood, blood of Starks. Thus, they have to sit tight, where they are, like a hen on a nest of eggs, and relocation is out of the question.

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Aachen was not a major city. And that´s the capital of Charlemagne. By far the biggest city in Carolingian Empire was Rome. Which Charlemagne did visit but only briefly.

Quentovic was never capital of France.

Or how about Pavia? It was a city, as they existed in North Italy... but the presence of Lombard and then Italian court till 11th century did NOT make ot overshadow nearby Milan.

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WH is on the mouth of the white knife and a naval trading hub, we also know the waters around WH do no freeze in winter which is a massive plus

Winterfell has winter town, and I believe it is implied that during winter the population increases dramatically.

I think we must remember that due to the seasonal effect the northmen probably try to cultivate as much land as possible during spring\summer\autumn and then group together to try and survive winter. This really puts a block on trying to form cities in land

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1 hour ago, Jaak said:

Aachen was not a major city. And that´s the capital of Charlemagne. By far the biggest city in Carolingian Empire was Rome. Which Charlemagne did visit but only briefly.

Quentovic was never capital of France.

Or how about Pavia? It was a city, as they existed in North Italy... but the presence of Lombard and then Italian court till 11th century did NOT make ot overshadow nearby Milan.

 

Iam assuming they were a bit more than a few dozen houses?

Also Aachen is pulling from the Dark Ages which was very deurbanised whereas Westeros is strongly based on 15th century England. Which should mean cities.

Pavia was still a city though.

8 minutes ago, hnv said:

WH is on the mouth of the white knife and a naval trading hub, we also know the waters around WH do no freeze in winter which is a massive plus

Winterfell has winter town, and I believe it is implied that during winter the population increases dramatically.

I think we must remember that due to the seasonal effect the northmen probably try to cultivate as much land as possible during spring\summer\autumn and then group together to try and survive winter. This really puts a block on trying to form cities in land

 

Well a ten year winter should put a block on human habitation period. There are enough issues living in Siberia for a few months of the year in the real world. Never mind for a premodern society. The Mongols moved their capital out of their homelands for a reason.

If it’s a naval trading hub then you would expect it to have developed like the Volga river in Russia with small towns and cities. Not the fortress of solitude and the few hundred inhabitants we’re presented with.

If the population increased then you would expect large numbers of vacant houses and for the city or town to be walled. Neither I recall being the case do this is obviously just a few hamlets for a few hundred people.

If winter came then migrating south to a warmer climate or the coast makes much more sense than travelling inland where it’s going to be coldest. Plus you would have to risk travel and then built shelter on site at Winterfell. It’s much easier to have built shelters long in advance where you know there is food.

Plus, if all the winter grain stores are collected at Winterfell then you would expect people to inhabit the area.

I am not sure why White Harbour wouldn’t become more dominant among the North as a result of living in such a barren and impoverished region. If the land is poor then the starks shouldn’t be able to maintain or equip a large number of men at arms. This should make controlling their bannerman much more difficult. The seat with the money and the people has the advantage.

Again I am still going with George opting for the rule of cool with this one. He wanted the north to simultaneously be a great feudal military power and be this martial warrior society that doesn’t do things like build cities and towns. 

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Posted (edited)

It has winter town and there are probably more towns closeby that we don't know yet. The same thing happens with Highgarden, Storm's End, Riverrun and Eyrie/Gates of The Moon. Especially Highgarden should have either a big city or many smaller towns around it, it is the richiest Seat in Westeros with food, crossroads to practically every major port of Westeros and The Reach is the most populated region. So yeah...

Edited by Dreadscythe95

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12 hours ago, Tyrion1991 said:

 

Paris was originally just a fortress on an island. But that’s where the King held court so people needed places to stay, they needed goods and there was opportunity to sell; these things tend to happen organically.

Not really - Lutetia was a town already before the Roman conquest, then Rome built it as a city. The King held court there because it was already an important city by the time the Frank empire broke in two and it was a natural center of the Western half.

 

Note that when it was decided to move the capital from Paris to newly built Versailles, there was not much migration...

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I agree with this. Being the capital of the North for thousands of years, its strange that Winter town has never become a small city at the most. I mean you have the white knife to the east where all the timber and furs from the wolfswood and other nearby woodlands are exported through. The White knife connects both Winterfell and White Harbour, the two most important seats in the North. Winterfell no doubt exports furs and timber to white harbour, this would naturally make winterfell a major trading hub in the North since its in the center of the North, and its the best spot for a trade center. 

And tbh i would say the same thing for highgarden and Storms end. Both these seats are the capital of its respective kingdoms and they were once the seat of kings. Highgarden should've had a city around it, maybe bigger than Gulltown at least. Id say the same for Moons gate, since its right next to the Eyrie and its the Arryn's second seat. A kingdom the size of the Vale with a population similar to the North should've had a city under its capital. 

Riverrun is understandable that it dosent have a city or big town around it. The Tullys have been lord of the riverlands for 300 years, which is enough time for some sort of large settlement to pop up. But the Tullys influence over its vassals was never strong, the strongest ive seen it at, was during the war of the five kings, and thats only because Tywin basically declared war on the Riverlands. Plus Riverrun dosent have a strong trade presence, since the gold road dosent go through its seat and most of the trade happening in the riverlands goes through the crossroads, on the eastern side of the fork. 

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Posted (edited)

George created Westeros as a far smaller setting than it ended up as. The North was created with only a half dozen or so settlements on the map in Book 1. In fact, we know that in order to raise 30,000 soldiers as Torrhen Stark did, a medieval kingdom would need millions of inhabitants. In order to raise 3000 soldiers as the Karstarks have, the Karstark lands would need hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. The same for each of the other Stark principal bannerlords.

That means the North must have perhaps fifty thousand to a hundred thousand villages of a few dozen inhabitants each.  Moving up the scale from that, it must surely then have maybe 1000-2000 market towns - assuming one central market town for every fifty villages, where villagers gather to trade, barter and exchange goods. Such market towns may have a couple of hundred inhabitants each.

Moving up one would then expect at least a dozen towns with populations in the thousands.

And in each region the regional lord would likely be based in the largest town of that region. Meaning Karhold should be that town of thousands in the Karstark lands, Hornwood castle the one in the Hornwood lands, Deepwood Motte the one in the Glover lands etc.

With Winterfell surely larger than all the regional centres, at maybe 10,000 people, with only obvious trade centres like White Harbor and perhaps Barrowton exceeding it in size.

Now, that may well be the setup in the background, but we haven’t seen that yet.

We don’t have specific numbers, but the sense I get from the books is that Wintertown’s population is in the 5000 range, with Barrowton approaching 10,000 and White Harbor at 30-50 thousand.

The populations of the other regional seats are a mystery, but I would imagine them in the low thousands each.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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Are there another wintertownS? Or do people living in areas ruled by either house Umber, Karstark or Bolton have their own places to survive winter? I assume that people living near either Barrowtown or White Harbor move there during winters, but people living areas ruled by houses mentioned above live so far from those places and Wintertown itself that they could have build their own wintertowns.

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I think FreeNorthman is right. 

How could Theon take Winterfell with 30 men if its a city of 60,000 people? How can Theon rush out into the wilderness if the Dreadfort had a town around it? How do the Ironborn “conquer” the North in any meaningful sense? Yes George could create a separate location like with Lannisport; but that’s surplus to his needs and too much clutter. 

Again I think it’s part of the characterisation of the setting. George wanted to put the stress on the militaristic noble houses. It gets complicated if every Lord has a city council, guilds, clergy and outside of Kings Landing that’s just not practical. Plus it would dilute the emphasis on the noble houses.

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11 hours ago, Tyrion1991 said:

 

Iam assuming they were a bit more than a few dozen houses?

Also Aachen is pulling from the Dark Ages which was very deurbanised whereas Westeros is strongly based on 15th century England. Which should mean cities.

Again I am still going with George opting for the rule of cool with this one. He wanted the north to simultaneously be a great feudal military power and be this martial warrior society that doesn’t do things like build cities and towns. 

Somewhat based on 15th century England.

Few cities - and in those few, no mayors or corporations.

Very little in the way of nonhereditary, appointed officials - in capitals or in places.

No frequent parliaments. Westeros has called Great Councils after passing a century, we don´t hear of kingdoms having provincial estates either.

All of those are much unlike 15th century England. Whereas Carolingian Frankish Empire or Ottonian Germany is more comparable.

How does Winterfell compare to Goslar or Werla? Because Ottonian Germany was a military power.

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Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, Tyrion1991 said:

I think FreeNorthman is right. 

How could Theon take Winterfell with 30 men if its a city of 60,000 people? How can Theon rush out into the wilderness if the Dreadfort had a town around it? How do the Ironborn “conquer” the North in any meaningful sense? Yes George could create a separate location like with Lannisport; but that’s surplus to his needs and too much clutter. 

Again I think it’s part of the characterisation of the setting. George wanted to put the stress on the militaristic noble houses. It gets complicated if every Lord has a city council, guilds, clergy and outside of Kings Landing that’s just not practical. Plus it would dilute the emphasis on the noble houses.

Well, Winter town is described as largely empty.    George is a great writer, but nobody is perfect.  I agree with FreeNorthman, a lot of the numbers just don't work easily.

An alternative would be that despite its superficial relation to certain historical societies, the North is just very different, with a vast population of low density subsistience farmers spread out across a huge terrain but so united in culture and religion that they don't break down into intercine conflict very often, but are still effective warriors.  If the population is mostly small hold farmers of yeoman rank, its possibly a larger proportion of them could be mobilized to account for the large armies we've seen.  I've read that in times of desperate measure the ancient romans mobilized 5% and possibly 10% of their population at one time.  Much of that would be poorly trained, but a hard land breeds had people and they might be more effective than the southlanders as a result.  Of course any casualties would be horrifically crippling.

Anyway, what if these capitals primarily serve as manor houses and bunkers for survival during winters?  Winterfell would then be large because its a major food storehouse, which the Lord then uses to feed his people during the long winter.  The rest of the time there isn't any economic driver to maintain an urban population, nor is there any military drive (King Alfred built urban settlements as defenses against the vikings) to do so, since everyone's largely at peace with each other in the north.  Although I find that very hard to believe.

Edited by argonak

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On 7/23/2019 at 4:36 PM, Tyrion1991 said:

I can’t think of a major medieval nation that had its capital at what’s really just a big castle in the middle of nowhere. The King might hold court at a castle or palace/manor. But that’s not the same thing as the capital.

Think harder.  England's capital was Winchester until the Norman Conquest.  But in any case, in medieval geopolitics, the capital is wherever the king is, not a fixed location.  The court has all the functions of government traveling with it, so if the court isn't in, say, Paris, then Paris is just another town.  Indeed, under Louis XI Tours was effectively the capital of France, because his favorite residence was in/near that city.  The Kingdom of Castile didn't even have a permanent "capital"

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