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Aldarion

Strength of Iron Islands navy

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https://militaryfantasy.home.blog/2019/07/26/one-black-eye-and-ten-long-legs-a-military-analysis-of-euron-greyjoy/

Iron Islands are suggested to have a thousand ships. While it is true that, as pointed out by Blackfish, “Even the great bureaucratic machines of Rome couldn’t afford to keep more than 1% of their population mobilized”, reason for this lies in the nature of Roman military at the time. It was a fully professional standing army – men who had no job other than fighting. Much later, after Islamic invasions of 7th century, Roman military restructured itself on a semi-professional thematic model: each soldier was also a landowner, and used these lands to support himself. With this model, 11th century Roman military managed to field a total of 250 000 soldiers of ground force and at least additional 42 000 of the navy (this number is for 899). With population of 12 million, this comes to 2,4% of total populace. China during Tang dynasty managed to field army that was 1/65 of populace (or 1,5%). In 840, Roman army fielded 120 000 soldiers out of populace of 8 million as well as ~40 000 men in navy, for a total of 150 000 – 160 000 men, or 1,9 – 2% of populace. In the West, Alfred of Wessex could sustain 5 000 mounted troops out of 450 000 populace (1,1%).

However, Iron Islands are based neither on ancient Rome nor on its Medieval iteration. They are, if anything, Vikings of Westeros. Now, in AD 1000, Norway had 200 000 total populace, Sweden 500 000 and Denmark 400 000. However, only Norwegians and Danes raided British isles (600 000 total). Now, raids could be anywhere from 3 to 30 ships; largest raid – Canterburry and London in in 850s – involved 350 ships, which would mean an army of 10 000 at least (at 30 – 40 per ship, it would come out to 10 000 – 14 000 men). This means mobilization rate of 1,7% – 2,3%; but it is unlikely both Norwegian and Danish Vikings were in the raid, so number could be as high as 7%. Paris raid had 300 boars carrying 6 000 – 8 000 men (20 – 25 per boat); so 350-ship-raid would still mean at least 7 000 men, or 1,2% of populace.

Of course, short-term defensive mobilization of poorly-trained militia can and did reach 10% of total populace, but that is not what we are looking at here. So using numbers suggested in the post, that is 30 000 seamen in total, we are looking at total population of anywhere between 430 000 and 1 500 000. Fact still remains that Iron Islands almost certainly do not have that kind of population – in fact, a number fifth to tenth of that is more likely. If wall is 300 miles in length, total area of Iron Islands cannot be more than 10 000 square miles. Assuming population density of 4 people per square mile – a likely number, considering Iron Islands’ historical model and apparently not very good living conditions – total population would be 40 000 people. Even high-end population density of 32 people per square mile (~12 per square kilometer), only historically achieved in Mediterranean societies, still results in total population of 320 000 people. This means that – using high mobilization rate of 7% and low crew of 20 per boat – absolutely largest number of warships that Iron Islands can mobilize comes out to 1 120. However, actually reasonable number is 2 800 men and 140 ships.

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Posted (edited)
46 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

https://militaryfantasy.home.blog/2019/07/26/one-black-eye-and-ten-long-legs-a-military-analysis-of-euron-greyjoy/

Iron Islands are suggested to have a thousand ships. While it is true that, as pointed out by Blackfish, “Even the great bureaucratic machines of Rome couldn’t afford to keep more than 1% of their population mobilized”, reason for this lies in the nature of Roman military at the time. It was a fully professional standing army – men who had no job other than fighting. Much later, after Islamic invasions of 7th century, Roman military restructured itself on a semi-professional thematic model: each soldier was also a landowner, and used these lands to support himself. With this model, 11th century Roman military managed to field a total of 250 000 soldiers of ground force and at least additional 42 000 of the navy (this number is for 899). With population of 12 million, this comes to 2,4% of total populace. China during Tang dynasty managed to field army that was 1/65 of populace (or 1,5%). In 840, Roman army fielded 120 000 soldiers out of populace of 8 million as well as ~40 000 men in navy, for a total of 150 000 – 160 000 men, or 1,9 – 2% of populace. In the West, Alfred of Wessex could sustain 5 000 mounted troops out of 450 000 populace (1,1%).

However, Iron Islands are based neither on ancient Rome nor on its Medieval iteration. They are, if anything, Vikings of Westeros. Now, in AD 1000, Norway had 200 000 total populace, Sweden 500 000 and Denmark 400 000. However, only Norwegians and Danes raided British isles (600 000 total). Now, raids could be anywhere from 3 to 30 ships; largest raid – Canterburry and London in in 850s – involved 350 ships, which would mean an army of 10 000 at least (at 30 – 40 per ship, it would come out to 10 000 – 14 000 men). This means mobilization rate of 1,7% – 2,3%; but it is unlikely both Norwegian and Danish Vikings were in the raid, so number could be as high as 7%. Paris raid had 300 boars carrying 6 000 – 8 000 men (20 – 25 per boat); so 350-ship-raid would still mean at least 7 000 men, or 1,2% of populace.

Of course, short-term defensive mobilization of poorly-trained militia can and did reach 10% of total populace, but that is not what we are looking at here. So using numbers suggested in the post, that is 30 000 seamen in total, we are looking at total population of anywhere between 430 000 and 1 500 000. Fact still remains that Iron Islands almost certainly do not have that kind of population – in fact, a number fifth to tenth of that is more likely. If wall is 300 miles in length, total area of Iron Islands cannot be more than 10 000 square miles. Assuming population density of 4 people per square mile – a likely number, considering Iron Islands’ historical model and apparently not very good living conditions – total population would be 40 000 people. Even high-end population density of 32 people per square mile (~12 per square kilometer), only historically achieved in Mediterranean societies, still results in total population of 320 000 people. This means that – using high mobilization rate of 7% and low crew of 20 per boat – absolutely largest number of warships that Iron Islands can mobilize comes out to 1 120. However, actually reasonable number is 2 800 men and 140 ships.

Already answered in the thread that you see as my signature.

Some 400 ships. Add in the fact 7 families out of every 10 is fishing.

Quote

Archmaester Hake, born and raised on Harlaw, estimates that seven of every ten families on the Iron Islands are fisherfolk. 

 

 

Edited by Corvo the Crow

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8 hours ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Already answered in the thread that you see as my signature.

Some 400 ships. Add in the fact 7 families out of every 10 is fishing.

 

 

Well, hmmm, fisherman are not fighters, and fishing boats are not warships. But that's a good point. Surely in an island culture with a tradition of raiding and reaving, there would be a lot of men capable of being deployed.

And let's remember, this is a "historical fantasy;" a lot of story elements are taken from real life, but exaggerated . Westeros is based on England, but it's 3000 miles long. The Wall is based on Hadrian's Wall, but George made it much longer and higher. So if the Iron Islanders can field more sailors than a real-life Viking nation, that's not necessarily a mistake.

That being said, I do enjoy all these insights into actual history here on planet Earth, posted by people with much more knowledge of the subject than me ... Does anyone here besides me feel slightly guilty, because they know more about the history and geography of Westeros and Essos than they do about real-life Europe?  :D

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9 hours ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Already answered in the thread that you see as my signature.

Some 400 ships. Add in the fact 7 families out of every 10 is fishing.

Not necessarily. Martin writes from character PoVs, so these numbers may not be accurate - exaggeration, character bias, lack of knowledge... what I wanted was to see which numbers could be realistic based on actual history.

BTW, you make some mistakes in that thread. A day's ride will vary significantly based on the size of the army. Individual can cover much more ground than an army can. This is what I wrote in my notes (I'm doing research for my own world, basically a "fantasy equivalent of Western Roman Empire that survived to 15th century"):

Quote

Normal marching rate is 20 – 25 kilometers per day (including setting up fortified camp), with 40 – 50 kilometers per day during forced march, which generally can only be maintained for a day or two. Normal march speed on even terrain is 4,8 kph, and on hilly terrain it is 4 kph. Division of 5 000 infantry has 20 minute gap between front and rear elements. With 15 mile army, it takes 9 hours to complete the march; a 22 mile army would take 12 hours (1 000 cavalry is 6 miles, 5 000 infantry is 5 kilometers or 3 miles). Each soldier with him carries food for three days, but most of baggage – tents, food, equipment – is carried by mules. If baggage train is drawn by oxen as opposed to mules, march rate falls to 16 kilometers per day. On a good road and with no baggage train, march rate can be up to 40 kilometers per day, but such a rate is exhausting and causes high attrition. Up to 50 kilometers per day can be achieved with an all-mounted force, but only for two days or so. Small units can move more rapidly – infantry could march up to 50 kilometers per day in forced march, and cavalry 65 – 80 kilometers per day. Army in enemy territory often has to forage, again reducing marching speed to 20 kilometers per day or less.

You can see how variable "a day's ride" can be. And your Wikipedia link states that Mongols sometimes covered up to 100 kilometers per day.

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2 hours ago, Aebram said:

Well, hmmm, fisherman are not fighters, and fishing boats are not warships. But that's a good point. Surely in an island culture with a tradition of raiding and reaving, there would be a lot of men capable of being deployed.

Can’t quote atm but “fishing boats” are  “war ships”. Ironborn use longships for fishing as well as raiding.

 

45 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

Not necessarily. Martin writes from character PoVs, so these numbers may not be accurate - exaggeration, character bias, lack of knowledge... what I wanted was to see which numbers could be realistic based on actual history.

This is taken from Theon chapter where Balon’s war council is gathered. Not only does Theon sees the captains himself, he also knows which lord’s captains are yet to arrive and who brought how many.

49 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

BTW, you make some mistakes in that thread. A day's ride will vary significantly based on the size of the army.

Thanks for the information below but no, I’m not mistaken; A “march” is not a “ride” and I’m pretty sure when a march is mentioned it’s for an army mostly on foot and when a distance is measured in riding distance such as Castle Cerwyn being less than a day’s ride to WF, the ride there is for a small group and not 20000 such as Renly’s.

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32 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Can’t quote atm but “fishing boats” are  “war ships”. Ironborn use longships for fishing as well as raiding.

That is rather weird. Woudln't trade/cargo ships be better for fishing? Unless you are hunting whales.

33 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

This is taken from Theon chapter where Balon’s war council is gathered. Not only does Theon sees the captains himself, he also knows which lord’s captains are yet to arrive and who brought how many.

Right, thanks.

34 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Thanks for the information below but no, I’m not mistaken; A “march” is not a “ride” and I’m pretty sure when a march is mentioned it’s for an army mostly on foot and when a distance is measured in riding distance such as Castle Cerwyn being less than a day’s ride to WF, the ride there is for a small group and not 20000 such as Renly’s.

My point was that speed of march depends significantly not only on composition of the army, but also on its size. Your day's ride is taken from Mongol military page, which means that it is actually a "day's march for a cavalry army". Relevant part from my citation:

Quote

Up to 50 kilometers per day can be achieved with an all-mounted force, but only for two days or so. Small units can move more rapidly – infantry could march up to 50 kilometers per day in forced march, and cavalry 65 – 80 kilometers per day.

Mongols apparently covered up to 160 km per day. However, normal day's ride - what you are referring to here, that is, travel speed - IIRC is 30 - 40 miles (50 to 65 km) on flat ground, and 25 - 30 miles (40 - 50 km) on hilly terrain. So that is the figure which should be used. This is of course normal transit (civilian) speed, not for military forces in a hurry.

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3 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

Your day's ride is taken from Mongol military page,

Forgot to reply to that part; I put that there for what the maximum could be; mongols achieved that by changing horses, so that is how much distance a person can cover by riding, yes but with almost no stops and changing to fresh horses. The distances in rides we get are for small groups/individuals.

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29 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Forgot to reply to that part; I put that there for what the maximum could be; mongols achieved that by changing horses, so that is how much distance a person can cover by riding, yes but with almost no stops and changing to fresh horses. The distances in rides we get are for small groups/individuals.

Makes sense. IIRC, couriers - who also changed horses, albeit at stations - achieved riding distances of 100 km per day.

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Given what we are told about the geography of the Iron Islands (small & barely fertile rocks). I am baffled as to how there population is as high as it is that they could field so many fighting men and sailors.

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1 hour ago, nyser1 said:

Given what we are told about the geography of the Iron Islands (small & barely fertile rocks). I am baffled as to how there population is as high as it is that they could field so many fighting men and sailors.

“The ironborn would surely suffer famine every winter but for the endless bounty of the sea and the fisherfolk who reap it.
The waters of Ironman’s Bay are home to great schools of cod, black cod, monkfish, skate, icefish, sardines, and mackerel. Crabs and lobsters are found along the shores of all the islands, and west of Great Wyk swordfish, seals, and whales roam the Sunset Sea. Archmaester Hake, born and raised on Harlaw, estimates that seven of every ten families on the Iron Islands are fisherfolk.”

 

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100 ships of the Iron fleet, comprising maybe 10,000 of their best soldiers. Maybe 5-600 longships, with a much smaller crew of 30-40 each. So looking at maybe 30k men overall, but probably safe to assume that a lot of the guys on the regular longships that aren't on the crew of major lords or raiders are probably far less well armed/armoured/trained than most of the Ironborn that we see, who themselves are noted as not being very disciplined.

So if you consider that the guys on most of the longships aren't really proper fighters and only raid opportunistically, then their numbers don't look so inflated. (Although Martin definitely should have made the Iron Islands a bit bigger and more forested.)

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I am curious that from where IB find timber for their ships. After all building hundreds of ships should mean that they should have great supply of timber from somewhere. 

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It’s like the Isle of Man trying to invade France. I wouldn’t give it too much thought. George wanted the Ironborn and North (Siberia invading France) to be “warrior societies” so they don’t obey the normal rules.

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2 hours ago, Loose Bolt said:

I am curious that from where IB find timber for their ships. After all building hundreds of ships should mean that they should have great supply of timber from somewhere. 

“Archmaester Haereg has argued that it was a need for wood that first set the ironborn on this bloody path. In the dawn of days, there were extensive forests on Great Wyk, Harlaw, and Orkmont, but the shipwrights of the isles had such a voracious need for timber that one by one the woods vanished. So the ironborn had no choice but to turn to the vast forests of the green lands, the mainland of Westeros.”

There are still pine trees on Great Wyk as well

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22 hours ago, Universal Sword Donor said:

“The ironborn would surely suffer famine every winter but for the endless bounty of the sea and the fisherfolk who reap it.
The waters of Ironman’s Bay are home to great schools of cod, black cod, monkfish, skate, icefish, sardines, and mackerel. Crabs and lobsters are found along the shores of all the islands, and west of Great Wyk swordfish, seals, and whales roam the Sunset Sea. Archmaester Hake, born and raised on Harlaw, estimates that seven of every ten families on the Iron Islands are fisherfolk.”

 

They can find food, awesome. However, there are significant details missing:

First off, the island is inhabitable. People needed to leave the mainland or come from another continent to get there. Once they got there they needed all of the materials needed to build shelter. Next, they would need materials to build/operate/maintain ships as well as to fish (even if they had initial supplies, they would dwindle). Thirdly, they cannot survive on fish alone. Fourth, how will they cook the fish? Fifth, as the population grows, so would the demand for all of the above resources?

 

No way the Iron Islands has the population it does. One of the lesser seen "fantasies" of the story.

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8 minutes ago, nyser1 said:

They can find food, awesome. However, there are significant details missing:

First off, the island is inhabitable. People needed to leave the mainland or come from another continent to get there. Once they got there they needed all of the materials needed to build shelter. Next, they would need materials to build/operate/maintain ships as well as to fish (even if they had initial supplies, they would dwindle). Thirdly, they cannot survive on fish alone. Fourth, how will they cook the fish? Fifth, as the population grows, so would the demand for all of the above resources?

 

No way the Iron Islands has the population it does. One of the lesser seen "fantasies" of the story.

 

What bothers me is that you never get the impression from Clash or from descriptions of Roberts Rebellion that the Ironborn possess a 1000 ships and tens of thousands of soldiers. They seem like tinpot vikings who just smelt an opportunity. Now Euron has just summoned his own Great Heathen Army from the aether....

The problem is that the Reach is much bigger than the British Isles and the Iron Islands smaller than Scandinavia. I don’t even think they’re as big as Denmark.

 

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Posted (edited)

@Ser Arthur Hightower

Some 400 ships in total, INCLUDING the Iron Fleet. As I posted above. It’s hard to use quotes on phone so you can just search “four hundred” in a search of ice and fire site for theon and acok.

@Loose Bolt we are told they trade for it.

@nyser1 there’s trade, even Theon goes to the island using a trade ship.

@Tyrion1991 because in fact they do not. They have just some 400 ships, of which 300 are longships with a crew of around 30 each.

Their success lies in the fact that they attack in superior numbers to small settlements with no real defenses, or even defenders, to speak of. In the larger scheme of things, they are nothing but some small nuisiance.

In their attack North it seems they had much fewer than 200 ships attacking as well. Iron fleet goes to MC, Asha with 30 ships goes to Deepwood and Theon and Dagmer has fewer than 10 to raid stonyshore. No other attacks or attackers are mentioned, neither by Ironborn nor the Northmen.

It is Euron who takes the entire nation to war.

Edited by Corvo the Crow

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41 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

@Ser Arthur Hightower

Some 400 ships in total, INCLUDING the Iron Fleet. As I posted above. It’s hard to use quotes on phone so you can just search “four hundred” in a search of ice and fire site for theon and acok.

@Loose Bolt we are told they trade for it.

@nyser1 there’s trade, even Theon goes to the island using a trade ship.

@Tyrion1991 because in fact they do not. They have just some 400 ships, of which 300 are longships with a crew of around 30 each.

Their success lies in the fact that they attack in superior numbers to small settlements with no real defenses, or even defenders, to speak of. In the larger scheme of things, they are nothing but some small nuisiance.

In their attack North it seems they had much fewer than 200 ships attacking as well. Iron fleet goes to MC, Asha with 30 ships goes to Deepwood and Theon and Dagmer has fewer than 10 to raid stonyshore. No other attacks or attackers are mentioned, neither by Ironborn nor the Northmen.

It is Euron who takes the entire nation to war.

 

I think everyone’s mostly talking about Euron rather than Clash. His thousand ships and plan to drink wine out of Lord Hightower’s skull. How he intends to take Oldtown with 9,000 men is a little past me. I am sure wicked Jack will find a way.

Besides how come the Ironborn Fleet wasn’t destroyed after Balons Rebellion? Shouldn’t they have a massive shortfall of able bodied and experienced soldiers and sailors? Not to mention ships since the islands are meant to be short on wood.

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7 hours ago, Corvo the Crow said:

@Ser Arthur Hightower

Some 400 ships in total, INCLUDING the Iron Fleet. As I posted above. It’s hard to use quotes on phone so you can just search “four hundred” in a search of ice and fire site for theon and acok.

@Loose Bolt we are told they trade for it.

@nyser1 there’s trade, even Theon goes to the island using a trade ship.

@Tyrion1991 because in fact they do not. They have just some 400 ships, of which 300 are longships with a crew of around 30 each.

Their success lies in the fact that they attack in superior numbers to small settlements with no real defenses, or even defenders, to speak of. In the larger scheme of things, they are nothing but some small nuisiance.

In their attack North it seems they had much fewer than 200 ships attacking as well. Iron fleet goes to MC, Asha with 30 ships goes to Deepwood and Theon and Dagmer has fewer than 10 to raid stonyshore. No other attacks or attackers are mentioned, neither by Ironborn nor the Northmen.

It is Euron who takes the entire nation to war.

Yes, there is trade at present (with who knows how many parties given their poor social reputation and political relations with all of the rest of the kingdoms).

 

More importantly and fundamentally, there is not enough on the Islands for the initial settlers to survive a winter (if even that far). Let alone to support a population of hundreds of thousands to over a million. As for trade - even if there were 24/7/365 C-17 Airlift drops of the daily things they needed to survive for hundreds of years on the medieval rock (produce, furs, textiles, grains,  timber, tools, minerals, fresh drinking water, herbs, spices, metals, etc). their economy would not be able to be sustainable just on Fish. Higher supply = lower demand which = lower value.

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Posted (edited)
On 8/6/2019 at 3:04 PM, Tyrion1991 said:

 

What bothers me is that you never get the impression from Clash or from descriptions of Roberts Rebellion that the Ironborn possess a 1000 ships and tens of thousands of soldiers. They seem like tinpot vikings who just smelt an opportunity. Now Euron has just summoned his own Great Heathen Army from the aether....

The problem is that the Reach is much bigger than the British Isles and the Iron Islands smaller than Scandinavia. I don’t even think they’re as big as Denmark.

 

I've had to head canon that the iron isles on the included map is just outright wrong and that the island chain is more like the size of the  vale.  It doesn't make a lick of sense otherwise.  Even saying that most of the reivers are regularly just fishermen doesn't really work for me.  

 

I've often wondered why GRRM didn't make the Northmen the viking analog.  They're in a much better position to be reivers than the Iron islanders are, what with having, you know, forests.

Edited by argonak

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