4. Inspired by two soldiers of the late-15th century, the character of Jaime Lannister is based on the lives of Cesare Borgia, as well as the lesser-known Gottfried von Berlichingen
The eldest son of Tywin Lannister, Ser Jaime Lannister became the youngest member of the Kingsguard at the age of sixteen. Murdering Aerys II, the “Kingslayer” continued his position until he was removed as Lord Commander of the order by King Tommen, whereupon he became Lord of Casterly Rock. In the course of the War of the Five Kings, Jaime was captured and lost his right hand. Replacing it with a golden prosthetic in season four, Martin borrows from the real-life historical figure Gottfried von Berlichingen. Berlichingen, a German Imperial Knight active between 1498 and 1544, lost his hand in 1504 during the siege of Landshut, replacing his lost limb with a mechanical replica.
Equally, the character of Jaime Lannister borrows heavily from the life of Cesare Borgia, whose struggle for power was a chief inspiration behind Machiavelli’s The Prince. Born to the immensely powerful Italian family in 1475, Cesare allegedly murdered his brother to escape his duties as a Catholic cardinal, rising to the rank of commander of the papal armies. Enormously successful in battle, Cesare was rumored to have engaged in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Lucrezia, endured horrendous captivity at the hands of his enemies, and ultimately presided over the decline of his family following the death of his father.
3. A more romantic adaptation of the story of the Roman noblewoman Lucretia, whose abduction and rape by the son of an Etruscan king resulted in the nation’s transition from a kingdom to a republic, the character of Lyanna Stark is a clear reimagination of this historical figure
The daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, the supposed abduction of Lyanna Stark by her secret lover and husband Prince Rhaegar Targaryen triggered her betrothed, Robert Baratheon, to rebel against the throne. Resulting in the downfall of House Targaryen, Lyanna’s death at the war’s conclusion, unbeknownst to almost everyone, was caused by complications during childbirth. Offering into the care of her brother, Ned, the royal heir, the secret relationship remained lost until Brandon Stark learns the truth of his half-brother via a vision after becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. Initially a mere retelling of the ancient story of Lucretia, Martin offered a unique twist to grant the story an ultimately happier ending.
In the Roman tradition, Lucretia, a noblewoman of the Roman Kingdom, was abducted by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Raped and later committing suicide after her ordeal, Lucretia’s treatment by the Roman royal family triggered a rebellion which overthrew the monarchy and instituted the Roman Republic. Mirroring the ancient story, the first consuls of the Roman Republic was the widowed husband of Lucretia, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. Offering a final wink to classicists, the final words of Lyanna – “Promise me, Ned” – copy those of Lucretia according to Roman historian Livy: “Pledge me your solemn word”.
2. The Battle of Blackwater Bay, an iconic moment in the War of the Five Kings, is a thinly disguised and compressed fantasy regurgitation of the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople
The largest battle in the War of the Five Kings, the Battle of Blackwater Bay was an attempt by the forces of Stannis Baratheon to capture the capital city of King’s Landing. Combining a large naval assault, followed by an amphibious landing, the attack was rebuffed by soldiers under the command of Tyrion Lannister. Although reinforcements led by Twin Lannister earned the glory, the victory was due, in no small part, to the use of wildfire by the king’s forces to decimate the Baratheon fleet. Although compressing the events into a single night, the famed battle depicted in Game of Thrones is actually a retelling of the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople.
Lasting for more than a year, from 717 to 718, the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate sought to breach the capital city of the Byzantine Empire. Protected by the massive Theodosian Walls, the attacking forces were unable to penetrate the city and instead opted to encircle and blockade the city into submission. However, their naval blockade was breached by Byzantine ships wielding the aforementioned “Greek fire” and permitted the capital to be resupplied by sea. Attacked by Christian reinforcements from the rear, the Arabs were forced to retreat, suffering the near-total destruction of their fleet and loss of approximately 100,000 men.
1. In addition to Anne Boleyn, the character of Cersei Lannister is equally inspired by the lives and personalities of two French female leaders of the Middle Ages: Catherine de’ Medici and Margaret of Anjou
Bearing noticeable correlations with the character of Cersei Lannister, Margaret of Anjou was similarly forced to marry a king at a young age. Wedding Henry VI of England as part of an ultimately unsuccessful truce between England and France in 1445, her marriage to the feeble monarch was an unhappy one. Bearing only one child, Edward of Lancaster, her son, like the children of Cersei, became the victim of repeated, and plausibly true, rumors concerning his legitimacy. Equally, like Cersei, Margaret outlived her progeny, with Edward of Lancaster killed at the hands of his Yorkist rival Edward VI.
Offering further additions to Martin’s fictional composite character, Catherine de’ Medici was born in 1519 into the prestigious Italian family. Augmenting her wealth and power further, in 1533 the fourteen-year-old Catherine married Henry Valois, the heir apparent, being elevated to the position of Queen of France in 1547. Later serving as the mother of Kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, ruling as regent from 1560 until 1563 during the infancy of her second son, the reigns of her children should historically be regarded at least equally her own. Wielding enormous executive power, Catherine’s ruthlessness strongly mirrors the desperation of Cersei to hold onto her family’s crown.
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