7 Historical Parallels to Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan, Courtesy of HBO
Helen Sloan, Courtesy of HBO

When creating his highly detailed fantasy world, George R. R. Martin based much of Game of Thrones on medieval European history. In particular, Martin drew heavily from the War of the Roses; here are seven more possible historical connections.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

1. Joffrey had some things in common with Edward of Lancaster.

As evil as he was, King Joffrey's vicious personality seems to be rooted in history. Edward of Lancaster was the son of King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou—and, like Joffrey, there were rumors around his parentage. Also like Joffrey, Edward had a touch of madness, and he shared Joffrey’s affinity for lopping off the heads of his enemies. The Ambassador of Milan once wrote, "This boy, though only 13 years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne." (Though some have argued that he wasn’t really as violent as centuries of historians have proposed.)

2. Theon Greyjoy's historical equivalent was George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence.

Theon grew up in Winterfell as a ward to Lord Eddard Stark and a surrogate brother to Robb. Following the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, Theon was one of Robb’s most trusted advisors. After Robb sent Theon to meet with his father, Balon Greyjoy, Theon turned on his friend and invaded the North.

Theon's historical counterpart, George Plantagenet, was brother to Edward IV of York and, like Theon, began the War of the Roses as a staunch York defender. Much like Theon, George Plantagenet turned on his brother during the War of the Roses and defected to the Lancastrians. Although the brothers reconciled, George was drowned in a butt of wine for treason, which some might say is a kinder punishment than the many atrocities that Theon endured at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.

3. The Red Faith is Zoroastrianism.

In the show (before his death at the hands of Brienne of Tarth), Stannis followed the advice of the “Red Woman,” Melisandre, who worships the lord of light, R’hllor. The faith of the R’hllor appears to be based on the ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrianism, fire is considered a medium for spiritual awareness and wisdom, with worshipers often praying in the presence of fire or in fire temples. Like the followers of The Lord of Light, Zoroastrianism also stresses a great struggle and the duality between good and evil (in the series it is referred to as “The Lord of Light” and “The Great Other”). As of right now, there is no evidence to suggest that demon shadow babies actually existed.

4. Jaime Lannister's historical equivalent is Gottfried von Berlichingen.

In Game of Thrones's season four premiere, Jaime Lannister received a shiny new gold hand to replace the one that was hacked off. The character has a little something in common with Gottfried von Berlichingen, or, as he was also known, "Gotz of the Iron Hand." Like Jaime, Gotz was born to a noble family before serving as an Imperial Knight. During battle, Gotz's hand was blown off by a cannon. Not easily deterred, Gotz designed a prosthetic iron hand and returned to combat. He's well known for his catchphrase, "er kann mich am Arsche lecken" ("he can lick my arse"), which also makes him a precursor to Futurama's Bender.

5. Part of Lyanna Stark's story may have been inspired by Lucretia.

Lyanna Stark was the sister of Eddard Stark and the one true love of Robert Baratheon. Her alleged kidnapping by Rhaegar Targaryen and the events that followed sparked Robert's Rebellion, which landed him on the Iron Throne. Of course, we now know that that version of events was a lie: Lyanna went with Rhaegar willingly—eventually marrying him and bearing him a son, Aegon Targaryen, a.k.a. Jon Snow. But the version of events that Robert believed has a lot in common with Lucretia. She was a Roman figure who committed suicide after being raped by the Etruscan king's son, a tragedy that sparked the revolution to overthrow the monarchy and establish the Roman Republic.

6. The Battle of Blackwater Bay has similarities to The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople.

The Battle of Blackwater Bay—when Stannis Baratheon attempted to sieze the capital of King’s Landing—was the focus of the penultimate episode of season two. Stannis was defeated after Tyrion attacked his navy with wildfire, a chemical that burns even on water. Tyrion might have gotten this idea from The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople, where Greek Fire was used to repel invaders. Additionally, in the books, Tyrion employed a giant chain to cut through Stannis’s navy, which is clearly inspired by the Great Chain of Constantinople, also used in The Second Arab Siege.

7. The Red Wedding has historical parallels in the Kojiki.

Game of Thrones's "Red Wedding" was one of the most shocking moments in TV history. In one move, Tywin Lannister (in collusion with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey) kills Robb Stark and ends the northern rebellion. The Red Wedding is said to be based on two British massacres, but it also draws parallels to an ancient Japanese event that's detailed in the Kojiki, a half-historical, half-mythological text that chronicles the rise of Japan's first ruler, Emperor Jimmu. Part of the Kojiki describes how Jimmu consolidated his power: by murdering a group of his enemies at a feast. Like the Red Wedding, the start of the massacre was a song, this one sung by Jimmu himself.

This story was updated in 2019.

7 Terrifying Historical Remedies for Migraine Headaches

George Marks/Getty Images
George Marks/Getty Images

Migraines are more than just splitting headaches. Migraine symptoms, which affect about one in seven people worldwide, can include throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances called auras. Today, several classes of drugs are prescribed to either prevent migraine headaches from happening or halt them once they’ve started. But in previous centuries, migraine treatments weren’t so convenient—or effective.

1. Bloodletting

Whether by scalpel or by leeches, bloodletting was the most common remedy for migraine headaches (and many other ailments) before the advent of modern medicine. Throughout most of history, Western physicians subscribed to the humoral theory, in which human health was governed by four fluids (humors) that must be kept in balance. Sickness was explained as an imbalance of humors, and bloodletting was thought to rebalance the system. The methods varied, though. In the case of migraine headaches, the Greek physician Aretaeus suggested sticking a barbed goose feather up the unfortunate patient’s nose and prodding around until blood flowed.

Even as late as the 18th century, bloodletting was still believed to help migraines. Swiss physician Samuel Auguste Tissot, who was the first to describe migraines as a discrete medical condition in the 1770s, recommended bleeding, better hygiene and diet, and drugs including infusions of orange leaves and valerian.

2. Garlic

The 11th-century physician Abu al-Qasim suggested sticking a clove of garlic into the migraine headache sufferer’s temple. He offered a handy recipe:

“Take a garlic; peel and cut at both extremities. Make an incision with a large scalpel in the temple and keep under the skin a cavity wide enough to introduce the garlic and to conceal it completely. Apply compresses and tighten, let it remain about 15 hours, then remove the device. Extract the garlic, leave the wound for two or three days, then apply cotton soaked in butter until it suppurates.”

Once the wound started oozing—which was considered a good sign—the physician would cauterize the incision with a hot iron. Cauterization was meant to prevent infection, although modern research has shown that it actually lowers the threshold for bacterial infections.

3. Cupping

Cupping—inverting hot glass vessels on the patients’ body—was thought to perform the same function as bloodletting. Prominent Dutch physician Nicolaes Tulp, depicted in Rembrandt’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, treated a migraine sufferer by cupping. She soon recovered.

A substance called cantharidin, a potent blistering agent secreted by the Meloidae family of beetles, was also applied as part of the cupping and blistering process to draw out bad humors. Unfortunately, if the cantharidin was left on too long, it could be absorbed into the body and cause painful urination, gastrointestinal and renal dysfunction, and organ failure. (Perhaps unrelatedly, cantharidin was also used as an aphrodisiac.)

4. Trepanation

One of the oldest types of surgery, trepanation is the practice of cutting away part of the cranium and exposing brain tissue to treat injuries or chronic conditions like migraine headaches. The 16th-century Dutch physician Petrus Forestus, who meticulously recorded the ailments and treatments of his patients, performed trepanation on a person with incurable migraines. In the brain tissue he found something he called a “black worm.” According to a 2010 study by neurologist Peter J. Koehler, the mass may have been a chronic subdural hematoma—a collection of blood between the surface of the brain and its outermost covering—and a possible cause of the patient’s agony.

5. Dead Moles

Ali ibn Isa al-Kahhal, the leading ophthalmologist of the medieval Muslim world, described more than 130 eye diseases and treatments in his groundbreaking monograph Tadhkirat al-kaḥḥālīn (The Notebook of the Oculists). While his descriptions of ocular anatomy were sound, he also touched on remedies for headaches, and here his prescriptions seem more suspect. To treat migraines, he suggested tying a dead mole to one’s head.

6. Electric Fish

Long before scientists fully understood the principles of electricity, ancient doctors recommended it as a remedy for migraines. Scribonius Largus, the court physician for the Roman emperor Claudius, saw that the torpedo fish—also known as the electric ray, native to the Mediterranean Sea among other areas—had the power to shock anyone who touched it. Largus and other doctors prescribed the shocks as cures for headache, gout, and prolapsed anus.

In the mid-18th century, a Dutch journal reported that the electric eel, found in South America, emitted even stronger shocks than the Mediterranean fish and were used for head pain. One observer wrote that headache sufferers “put one of their hands on their head and the other on the fish, and thereby will be helped immediately, without exception.”

7. Mud Foot-Baths

Compared to expired rodents, warm foot-baths must have sounded positively decadent to those afflicted with extreme pain. Nineteenth-century physicians suggested that migraine sufferers take the waters at Marienbad (now Mariánské Lázně) and Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary), two spa towns in what is now the Czech Republic. While the mineral waters were useful for alleviating congestive headaches, mud foot-baths were believed to draw blood toward the feet and away from the head, calming the nervous system. “The foot-bath ought not to be taken too hot, and the feet should be rubbed one over the other while washing the mud off, and afterwards with a coarse towel. A brisk walk may be used to keep up the circulation,” suggested Prussian Army physician Apollinaris Victor Jagielski, M.D. in 1873.

Who Stole My Cheese? Archivists Are Cataloging 200 Years of Criminal Records From the Isle of Ely

Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons
Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

And you thought your parents were strict. In 16th century England, the same courts that tried murderers were also tasked with getting to the bottom of cheese thefts.

As The Guardian reports, archivists from the University of Cambridge have begun cataloging close to 270 court documents from the Isle of Ely, a historic region of England known for its magnificent, gothic-style cathedral as well as being the home of Oliver Cromwell for more than a decade (Cromwell was appointed governor of the isle in 1643).

Some of the documents, which are dated from 1557 to 1775, relate to matters that may seem macabre—or even ridiculous—in the modern world. But they offer a keen insight into the area's past. "This project enables us to hear the voices of people from all backgrounds ... long dead and forgotten, and for whom there is no other surviving record," archivist Sian Collins told The Guardian.

One such person was yeoman John Webbe, who was charged with defamation by one William Tyler after Tyler's wife, Joan, overheard Webbe tell someone that: "Tyler thy husband is a knave, a rascall & a thief for he stole my goodes thefyshely [thievishly] in the night."

Then there was poor William Sturns, whose only crime was a hunger that led him to steal three cheeses; ultimately, he was deemed not guilty. "Unfortunately we don’t know what type of cheese it was," Collins told Atlas Obscura. "But cheesemaking was fairly common in the area at the time."

Not all of Ely's court cases were about backtalk and dairy products, though. The university’s website details how in 1577, Margaret Cotte was accused of using witchcraft to kill Martha Johnson, the daughter of a local blacksmith. Margaret was eventually found not guilty, which is part of what makes this project so important.

"Martha and Margaret may not appear in any other records," Collins said. "This is all we know about them."

[h/t The Guardian]

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