The final season of Game of Thrones broadcasts in 2019. As you all know, it’s based on the works of novelist George R R Martin. His epic tale has drawn on a combination of medieval history, fairy tale fantasy and 20th century superheroes.
In one interview he talked of his love of old fashioned history telling (focussing on the blood and guts as opposed to the socio-economic analysis) as well as the works of J R R Tokein, who of course gave us The Lord of the Rings. The world inhabited by Game of Thrones is fictional but it operates according to rules that might not have seemed so alien to the Knights Templar.
Which begs the question – can we draw any comparisons between the Knights Templar and the world of Game of Thrones? I’d like to think we can – here’s a few observations…
Night’s Watch – a version of the Knights Templar?
The most obvious comparison with the Knights Templar is the Night’s Watch. Celibate, dedicated, battle hardened and guarding the most dangerous frontier for Westeros. They ceaselessly patrol the vast ice wall against the most terrifying of enemies. Regular soldiers would shun this commitment. The never ending duty in a miserable climate would have no appeal but the Night’s Watch lap it up!
For me, the best analogy with the Night’s Watch is those Templars who fought in Portugal and Spain when the Iberian peninsula was divided between a Muslim caliphate ruling the south and several smaller Christian crusader kingdoms in the north (the kingdoms of Westeros?).
The Christian king of Portugal, which only extended as far south as the river Mondego in the early 12th century, sent the Templars to run the borderlands between Christianity and Islam. There was no authority there – no king, no lords, no bishops.
In one battle at Tomar, in central Portugal, the Templars had to take on a vast Moroccan army that had stormed across Muslim southern Portugal to smash their position. It appeared like a blur on the horizon, thousands of scimitar wielding Saracens! After a spectacularly bloody battle, the Templars managed to see off the invading emir.
The Muslim emirates that once ruled Spain, Portugal and Sicily were very opulent and sat, literally, at the doorstep of Christian Europe. Their learning and luxury was envied by their rougher, more uncouth Christian neighbours. So, would it be a stretch to compare Dorne to these emirates?
Think I’m right in saying that the palace in Dorne is actually the Alcazar in Seville – a one time Muslim palace in Spain with heavy Moorish influences (elaborate tiles, horseshoe arches, fountain courtyards, etc).
Others, I should note, have compared the Night’s Watch to the Teutonic Knights, a Templar-like military order that fought in the Baltics, in north eastern Europe, against pagans and the Russians.
King’s Landing – an echo of Constantinople?
What medieval city could compare to the magnificence of King’s Landing?
Well, there’s an obvious candidate whose walls withstood every invasion force for 800 years. Behind those walls lay a city of golden domes, fine palaces and highly profitable trading. Its rulers were cynical, calculating and thoroughly devious manipulators with a taste for ornate court ritual and brilliant ostentation. Yes, step forward Constantinople – capital of the Byzantine empire!
But on reflection, King’s Landing doesn’t fit the bill for me. That description of Constantinople is far better suited to the rich, vain and duplicitous Qarth – known as the “Queen of Cities”. That was the sort of epithet attached to great Constantinople. The two cities were situated on trade routes and populated by merchants who use mercenaries to fight their battles. Their power was in some ways illusory and once the illusion was shattered, their end came quickly.
Faith of the Seven and the High Sparrow
Religious fanatics arose quite frequently in the Templar period. One very holy and severe man, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, exercised a massive influence over the Templars in their early years. He dressed in sack cloth and destroyed his own health with a regime of fasting and prayer. He was also utterly ruthless towards opponents. Potential High Sparrow?
While Bernard was a friend of the church and adviser to popes, some fanatics sought to overthrow the Catholic church. There was one group of Christians in France – the Cathars – who advocated poverty, abstinence, a strict diet, no priests and an abhorrence towards the official church’s greed. They sound pretty close to the Faith of the Seven!
Some Templars had family links to the Cathars and there’s been a degree of speculation over whether the knights had any sympathy with these heretics. The Cathars came to a particularly nasty end with the pope launching a crusade to wipe them out. Many were burnt at places like Carcassone in France.
Another analogy to these puritanical religious types could be the iconoclasts in Constantinople. In the 8th and 9th centuries after Christ, Christians in Constantinople were told to reject icons, statues and any colourful depictions of saints and the holy family. It was said that worship of these false images had brought doom and destruction to the city of Constantinople.
In the same way that the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones browbeats the elite into supporting him, the emperor in Constantinople was converted to this fanatical version of Christianity. With his approval, gangs went round smashing up churches and sacred images. Hmmmm…now that does sound like the grim zealots in Game of Thrones.
Find your own Templar analogies!
There are certain characters in Game of Thrones – the brooding, military types – who could easily have been Templar knights in real life. Not just Jon Snow! If you have identified any Templar or other historical influences, then feel free to comment.