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Possible symbolism behind Bronze and Iron in ASOIAF


Tradecraft
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Intro:

 

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“To Winterfell we pledge the faith of Greywater. Hearth and heart and harvest we yield up to you, my lord. Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command. Grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you. I swear it by earth and water. I swear it by **bronze and iron.** We swear it by ice and fire.”

 

Jojen and Meera Reeds swear this oath to Bran in the books. They speak of these 3 different warring groups; Earth and Water, Bronze and Iron, Ice and Fire. Each group sounds distinct from each other. Furthermore, it's been speculated elsewhere that each group has been in conflict with itself before that conflict was resolved (Earth and Water fought each other once, Bronze and Iron fought, etc.).

 

This made me recall the Stark crown. It's unique in that it combines Bronze and Iron, one of the few times we see this occur in the books.

 

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and Robb's crown looked much as the other was said to have looked in the tales told of the Stark kings of old; an open circlet of hammered bronze incised with the runes of the First Men, surmounted by nine black iron spikes wrought in the shape of longswords. **Of gold and silver and gemstones, it had none; bronze and iron were the metals of winter**, dark and strong to fight against the cold. -ACOK, Catelyn I

 

and

 

>On her head a circlet of **hammered bronze** sat askew, graven with runes and ringed **with small black swords**

 

The Stark Crown of Winter is perhaps the most prominent example of Bronze and Iron coming together. And the prominence of these two metals, it got me thinking to if there could be some symbolism behind them.

 

In the books, believe bronze (and copper) represent women and their power. Whereas, iron represents men and their power. Thus, bringing these two together would represent harmony or balance or equality between men and women. Indeed, I think the conflict between men and women is a common theme in ASOIAF.

 

**Background: The Bronze Age**

 

The Bronze age was 5000-3000 years ago. Some scholars regard it as an extension of the Copper Age, as Copper is required to make Bronze (which is combined with Tin to make Bronze). Bronze was a significant improvement from copper tools as bronze is stronger than pure copper (just as copper was an improvement from bone and stone tools). These were revolutionary changes. Bone and stone tools break and must be re-made from new materials. Bronze and copper tools can be melted down and recast with minimal loss of material.

 

But this age of human prosperity was built on a fragile foundation. Tin is rare on this planet. A small mine in modern Turkey existed but it was too small. Traders went as far as the British Isles and Afghanistan for the material. That's how valuable it was.

 

All this ended around the year 1200 BC, in a fifty-year period called "The Bronze Age Collapse". It was a series of calamities which brought down every empire in the Mediterranean and Near , except Egypt and Assyria. They barely survived and would steadily decline thereafter, permanently scarred by their rendezvous with the apocalypse.

 

**Powerful Women in the Bronze Age**

 

There's significant evidence to show that women held significant positions of power and authority in the Bronze Age. While women have achieved incredible wealth and power after the Bronze Age collapse, this is not the default. In my humble estimation, women have never regained the power they once held in the Bronze Age. I will give you some examples.

 

Life and society was very different in those days. In that time, only women were able to determine children belonged to them. Men could never be certain a child was their own because women were not monogamous. Women had multiple mates. This happened for many reasons, the most likely is probably child mortality (women wanted their children to survive and thus picked strong and healthy mates).

 

In the absence of monogamous relationships, women did not leave their family to join the man and his family. The woman and her children stayed with her own family, which helped her raise any children. The woman's brother(s) would act as the child's father. The brother would know the children were his own blood/kin (unlike biological fathers at this time) and so, he would have a natural stake in helping to raise any of his sister's children. These brothers weren't raising their own biological children (if they had any) and, so they were 'free' to raise their sister's children.

 

Thus, women (mothers) controlled the family. Not men (biological fathers). Biological fathers had no role in the family structure.

 

Furthermore, the female ability to give life through birth (before our modern scientific understanding) would have been viewed as a divine supernatural ability.

 

**Women controlled the family. They could draw new life from their bodies (which would appear like magic before modern science). When their families permanently settled an area, they could pass property to their next generation (which they passed down mother to daughter). These settlements grew into civilizations where they wielded true power.**

 

We can observe the power of these women enshrined in their religions. In our modern era, we see gods very often depicted as male. The Roman Catholic Church have as their godhead, "God, the Father" and "God, the son". The Bronze Age was the age of the fertility goddess. She had many names at this time and she was revered all over the world. She was a mother-goddess, the Giver-of-life.

 

It is in these civilizations, that women held extraordinary power. The greatest example of this is the Minoan Civilization of Crete, a naval power that dominated the Mediterranean. Evidence suggests the Minoans were ruled by a class of female high-priestesses of the Mother Goddess. These priestesses jealously guarded their status\*.

 

Final note on the Bronze Age, men did occupy certain political and military offices and were not completely irrelevant during this time period for anyone wondering.

 

**Quick Recap: The Bronze Age**

 

The state of Women in the Bronze Age ;

 

-They were not monagamous and thus all children belonged exclusively to her (and her family/clan)

 

-She received help raising the children with her brothers (who were the children's father figure in the absence of the biological father)

 

-They were viewed with religious and spiritual awe due to their mystical ability to create new life through birth (before our modern scientific understanding of the phenomena)

 

-They controlled the family.

 

-They could securely pass property to their children (from Mother to daughter), unlike men who did not know who were and were not their children

 

-The societies/civilizations that emerged from these families reflected their power (as can be seen with the High-Priestess class of Minoan Crete and the widespread worship of female fertility goddesses).

 

 

**An Age of Iron:**

 

Let us examine the state of women *after* the Bronze Age collapse.

 

-Women became monogamous and thus the biological father had a good idea of who were his children (and could pass property father to son... disinheriting daughters)

 

-Women went to live with their new men and their families, leaving their family

 

-Women could no longer inherit because they would take wealth away from their families (and bring that wealth to their husbands and their family)

 

-Consequently, the main holder of property were men (as men passed property to each other and not to women).

 

-The religions of this time reflected the new power of men and the loss of power among women. Major gods were male, not female. The fertility goddesses were demoted (mother goddesses became daughters) and, either became subordinate or viewed with less esteem than male gods.

 

-Furthermore, women were no longer the priests at the center of religion. This role was taken over by men.

 

 

Let me be clear here. We do not fully know why the Bronze Age collapsed. We know there were a series of calamities that brought the age crashing down; disruption of trade, war, revolutions, plague, drought, famine, mass migration of people, etc. We know (roughly) what existed before the Bronze Age Collapse and we know what came after.

 

And let us also clarify that women have been rulers since the Bronze Age. Some have achieved incredible wealth and power. But this is not the status quo. In my opinion, women have never regained their power they once held in the Bronze Age.

 

Men have dominated the Iron Age to Present, just as women dominated the Bronze Age.

 

 

**Implications for ASOIAF**

 

ASOIAF is a story with many conflicts.

 

On the surface we see lords and ladies struggling for power. But thematically, in my opinion one of the core struggles we see is between *men and women*.

 

This conflict rages across the books. And it's not just physical conflict. It can even be as small as a son (Robb) ignoring the good advice of his mother, because he must be seen as independent from her. Or a son (Robb again) refusing to trade two daughters for Jaime Lannister (Jaime, a man is viewed as being more valuable than two Stark girls). Or it could be a mother (Cat) setting a captive free (Jaime), against her son (you guessed it! Robb!) and king's wishes in the hopes her daughters will be returned to her. It's everywhere.

 

Our author GRRM is a feminist to the bone (he even opposed getting married until he did so for financial reasons). In his book series which is filled with naked and sinister violence against women, one might be tempted to call this hatred of women or misogyny. I respectfully disagree. I would understand this claim better if GRRM masked the violence or, defended it to the reader. He does not do so.

 

-Sansa is stripped naked and punched by an anointed knight

 

-Catelyn is killed at her brother's wedding

 

These are cruel acts, not glorious ones. We hate the perpetrators in the books. Some of them we even want baked into pies!

 

The cruelty and violence against women in the books is a symptom of the unchecked power men have in this society.

 

Perhaps our author is suggesting harmony and balance between men and women... between Bronze and Iron.

 

Edit\*:

 

**Connecting Women to Bronze/Copper (AKA Bronze B\*tches)**

 

 I realized I did not give much proof to my idea. I was generally more focused on providing the background. I will try to counter that mistake now.

 

-GRRM makes his strongest women 'copper hair' (Melisandre, Catelyn, Sansa, Ygritte). 

 

-Coppers (the money) used for trade, are very often mentioned by Arya's POV (another strong young woman). Connecting copper to trade is 

 

-Danerys in the east, is surrounded by copper skinned people like Drogo and the Dothraki. They are also surrounded by copper and bronze imagery. In fact, Essos in general is full of references to bronze and copper. This makes sense, women are more powerful in Essos than in Westeros (the Dosh Khaleen serve as high priests to the Dothraki horselords and are viewed with much respect). Essosi are even more feminine in their style and dress than their Westerosi counterparts. 

 

-The Dornish also have 'copper skin' and, their women wield tremendous power (both historically and in the books). 

 

**Connecting Men to Iron/Steel**

 

This is a little easier and more straight forward. 

 

-Iron is the dominant metal in Westeros.

 

-Knights fight with and cover themselves in protective Iron armor

 

-The Iron Islands are dominated by men, 

 

-Yronwood could be a reference to Iron "Wood" (Iron Phallus), making it a male references. The Yronwoods are rivals to the Martells (who respect female inheritance and power). 

 

-Westeros itself is dominated by men.

 

-References to men comparing them to steel swords in the books

 

 

**TLDR Summary:** I think references to copper/bronze are meant to signify women and their power, just as iron represents men and their power. The most prominent example of Bronze and Iron coming together is the Stark Crown of Winter. This works nicely because women were very powerful in the Bronze Age and men had more powerful in the Iron Age (some scholars consider us to still be in the Iron Age, as Iron has never been replaced like it replaced Bronze). I think the books are trying to tell us something about conflict between men and women.

 

 

Edit: fixed the title 

*We know they once burned a temple on Crete and desecrated the statue of the boy-god.

Edited by Tradecraft
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I think where GRRM is using them symbolically the iron and bronze meanings are what the text gives us directly.

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Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, but brittle, the way iron gets. He'll break before he bends.

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And Renly, that one, he's copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.

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The matriarchical society hypothesis has been doubted by many academics, however. Also, not all bronze age civilisations had polyandrous marriages. But in terms of literary symbolism that is not really important. I am reading 'The Golden Bough' just now, so this is a very interesting post, @Tradecraft.

15 hours ago, Tradecraft said:

All this ended around the year 1200 BC, in a fifty-year period called "The Bronze Age Collapse". It was a series of calamities which brought down every empire in the Mediterranean and Near , except Egypt and Assyria. They barely survived and would steadily decline thereafter, permanently scarred by their rendezvous with the apocalypse.

It is interesting you mention the Bronze Age Collapse. Because I think it will parallel some of the forthcoming events in the story quite well. The consensus seems to be that climate change lead to crop failure etc. and this caused a whole lot of negative knock-on effects. Notably the sea people who started attacking everyone. Now the events are not necessarily in this order in the series but the elements are definitely there. But we also don't know what caused the First Men to migrate to Essos in the first place. Maybe similar calamities?

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I know the bronze age supremacy of women is controversial now, but in feminist circles in the 1960s and 1970s the idea would have been extremely popular. And I suspect GRRM came across these ideas during this time. 

 

I know the term matriarchy is controversial when referring to the bronze age and specifically did not use the term for this reason. 

 

I grossly over simplified a lot but I wanted to speculate on the subject as it relates to ASOIAF. 

 

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8 minutes ago, Tradecraft said:

I know the bronze age supremacy of women is controversial now, but in feminist circles in the 1960s and 1970s the idea would have been extremely popular. And I suspect GRRM came across these ideas during this time. 

This is a very good point.

10 minutes ago, Tradecraft said:

I grossly over simplified a lot but I wanted to speculate on the subject as it relates to ASOIAF. 

I wonder if there are any clues to be gained from looking at where tin and copper are mined in the world. There are lots of quotes about both tin and copper but I don't think all of them are symbolically significant.

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You can't hammer tin into iron, no matter how hard you beat it, but that doesn't mean tin is useless.

Jon says this when talking about Sam. If Sam is symbolically linked to tin, I wonder if there is a copper character he interacts with to make a 'bronze' duo?

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On 5/25/2023 at 3:09 AM, Tradecraft said:

In the books, believe bronze (and copper) represent women and their power. Whereas, iron represents men and their power. Thus, bringing these two together would represent harmony or balance or equality between men and women. Indeed, I think the conflict between men and women is a common theme in ASOIAF.

 

Dany is gifted a suit of ringmail in copper (and wears it I think), which fits but also she says she'd prefer steel for war.

Xaro makes an interesting quote on copper though: A pretty metal, but fickle as a woman.

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  • 1 month later...
On 5/25/2023 at 5:09 AM, Tradecraft said:

>On her head a circlet of **hammered bronze** sat askew, graven with runes and ringed **with small black swords**

 

The Stark Crown of Winter is perhaps the most prominent example of Bronze and Iron coming together. And the prominence of these two metals, it got me thinking to if there could be some symbolism behind them.

 

Val

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He is stone and she is flame. The king's eyes were blue bruises, sunk deep in a hollow face. He wore grey plate, a fur-trimmed cloak of cloth-of-gold flowing from his broad shoulders. His breastplate had a flaming heart inlaid above his own. Girding his brows was a red-gold crown with points like twisting flames. Val stood beside him, tall and fair. They had crowned her with a simple circlet of dark bronze, yet she looked more regal in bronze than Stannis did in gold. Her eyes were grey and fearless, unflinching. Beneath an ermine cloak, she wore white and gold. Her honey-blond hair had been done up in a thick braid that hung over her right shoulder to her waist. The chill in the air had put color in her cheeks.

 

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