Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: Dorne (Part II)

credit to Sir Other-in-Law

If in Part I, there was a crippling lack of information about the history of Dorne, with the arrival of Nymeria and the Rhoynar we go from drought to flood. While I would argue that the full story of Nymeria’s odyssey to Dorne is one of the best additions to WOIAF, providing a great and sweeping drama of storms, pirates, haunted lost cities, plagues, and finally a safe harbor, the sheer romantic force of the story can obscure as much as it reveals. To give one short example:

“The mightiest river in the world, the Rhoyne’s many tributaries stretched across much of western Essos. Along their banks had arisen a civilization and culture as storied and ancient as the Old Empire of Ghis. The Rhoynar had grown rich off the bounty of their river; Mother Rhoyne, they named her. Fishers, traders, teachers, scholars, workers in wood and stone and metal, they raised their elegant towns and cities from the headwaters of the Rhoyne down to her mouth, each lovelier than the last…

Art and music flourished in the cities of the Rhoyne, and it is said their people had their own magic —a water magic very different from the sorceries of Valyria, which were woven of blood and fire. Though united by blood and culture and the river that had given them birth, the Rhoynish cities were elsewise fiercely independent, each with its own prince…or princess, for amongst these river folk, women were regarded as the equals of men.

The Rhoynish warrior with his silver-scaled armor, fish-head helm, tall spear, and turtle-shell shield was esteemed and feared by all those who faced him in battle…” (WOIAF)

This is a quite rich picture of Rhoynish culture, and we can see in it the seeds of much of Dornish culture: its arts and its music, its gender egalitarianism, its technology, and even its way of war. The problem is that the more we learn, the harder it becomes to see a distinctly Dornish culture before the Rhoynar came: what gods did they worship, since the weirwood-less First Men of Dorne were unlikely to have taken up the Old Gods of the Children of the Forest? Which songs did they sing? What were their customs and traditions of gender roles? How did they go to war? And these questions are quite important when it comes to how we analyze the story of Nymeria and the Rhoynar: is this a story of immigration and cultural integration or a story of colonization?

The Thousand Ships Land

A frequent criticism of how the U.S teaches its own history is that we do a particularly poor job of teaching the history of migration: we tell a simplified story of Pilgrims and Puritans coming to the New World for their religious freedom without explaining that the freedom they sought was the freedom to establish their own theocracies, and we entirely ignore the Spanish and French empires; we gloss over slavery (at best) and silence the Native American perspective; we tell the story of 19th century immigration as one of assimilation and settlement, and not the story of European immigrants who came to make money and then go back home, and we almost never tell the story of immigrants from Asia who weren’t allowed to assimilate into white American society.

So too with the story of Nymeria’s Thousand Ships. In part due to who pays the historians, the story of the Rhoynish arrival in Dorne is told as a literal romance:

“Dry, desolate, and thinly peopled, Dorne at this time was a poor land where a score of quarrelsome lords and petty kings warred endlessly over every river, stream, well, and scrap of fertile land…Mors Martell, the Lord of the Sandship, saw in the newcomers an opportunity…and if the singers can be believed, his lordship also lost his heart to Nymeria, the fierce and beautiful warrior queen who had led her people across the world to keep them free.

When Mors Martell took Nymeria to wife, hundreds of his knights, squires, and lords bannermen also wed Rhoynish women, and many of those who were already wed took them for their paramours. Thus were the two peoples united by blood…

To celebrate these unions, and make certain her people could not again retreat to the sea, Nymeria burned the Rhoynish ships. “Our wanderings are at an end,” she declared. “We have found a new home, and here we shall live and die.”” (WOIAF)

And so the history of a daring journey ends, as history plays usually do, with a marriage, a happy ending of cross-cultural love and enrichment. Moreover, the fact that Mors and Nymeria were accompanied by a mass marriage[1] between hundreds and hundreds of Dornish and Rhoynish lords, knights, and squires helps to explain the emergence of a “salty” Dornish ethnicity in eastern Dorne and the unusually quick pace of assimilation.

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Under the surface, however, we can see a more complicated story that combines cultural mixing and cultural conflict. The union of Nymeria and Mors Martell was driven as much by practical concerns of wealth and warfare as much by love:

“It is said that, amongst the Rhoynar who came to Dorne with Nymeria, eight of every ten were women … but a quarter of those were warriors, in the Rhoynish tradition, and even those who did not fight had been hardened during their travels and travails. As well, thousands who had been boys when fleeing the Rhoyne had grown into manhood and taken up the spear during their years of wandering. By joining with the newcomers, the Martells increased the size of their host by tenfold.

These unions enriched and strengthened House Martelland its Dornish allies. The Rhoynar brought considerable wealth with them; their artisans, metalworkers, and stonemasons brought skills far in advance of those achieved by their Westerosi counterparts, and their armorers were soon producing swords and spears and suits of scale and plate no Westerosi smith could hope to match. Even more crucially, it is said the Rhoynish water witches knew secret spells that made dry streams flow again and deserts bloom.” (WOIAF)

From a perspective of statecraft alone, the Rhoynar were an un-mitigated positive: a ten-fold increase in military power that brings its own pay-chest with it is hard to turn down. And from an economic development perspective, this technological transfer helps to explain why present-day Dorne has such an impressive level of high-value exports like painted silks and other textiles, spices and olive oil, as well as wine and citrus fruits, and it also explains why the eastern Dornish who dwelt along the coasts closer to Essosi trade routes and along the Greenblood would view the Rohynar as an opportunity. Finally, as a bit of world-building, the persistence of Rhoynish water-magic is quite confusing: since Dorne at present is just as desertified and thinly-peopled as it was before the coming of Nymeria, what happened to the “water witches” who promised to terraform the kingdom?

At the same time, not everyone was eager for the union of the two people. Among the Rhoynar, there were those who were not eager to assimilate into whatever Dornish culture was: “some of the Rhoynar mourned the loss of the ships, and rather than embracing their new land, they took to plying the waters of the Greenblood, finding it a pale shadow of Mother Rhoyne, whom they continued to worship.” (WOIAF) While the WOIAF gives relatively little information about the Orphans of the Greenblood, as we will see later, they stand as proof that the process of Rhoynish integration was not a smooth one.

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credit to Drazenka Kimpel

More consequentially for Nymeria’s Wars, we learn that “most of these Dornish lords viewed the Rhoynar as unwelcome interlopers, invaders with queer foreign ways and strange gods, who should be driven back into the sea whence they’d come.” However, it may well be unfair to classify the anti-Rhoynish as isolationist or xenophobic, because the Rhoynar had not come to Westeros to become subjects, but were looking to rule:

“The flames lit the coast for fifty leagues as hundreds of leaking, listing hulks were put to the torch and turned to ash; in the light of their burning, Princess Nymeria named Mors Martell the Prince of Dorne, in the Rhoynish style, asserting his dominion over “the red sands and the white, and all the lands and rivers from the mountains to the great salt sea.”” (WOIAF)

Above, the burning of the ships is rendered as an assimilationist fable; here we see the same ceremony rewritten in colonialist terms. Nymeria had no right to give Mors Martell rulership over Dorne, and the fact that she used “the Rhoynish style” to elevate him suggests that she had as much of a belief in manifest destiny as any European colonist in the Americas ever did. Likewise, the Martells had no claim to the deserts or the mountains, which were hardly vacant but had for thousands upon thousands of years been peopled by nations with their own kings, who had every reason to view the Rhoynar as foreigners bent on conquest.

Nymeria’s Wars

“The story of how Nymeria took Mors Martell as her lord husband, burning her ships and binding her Rhoynar to his house, heart and hand and honor, has been told elsewhere. We need not tell it again here. Nor will we repeat the old familiar tales of battles won and lost, alliances made and broken.” (WOIAF)

Despite the aspect of propaganda in the line that “Dorne at this time was a poor land where a score of quarrelsome lords and petty kings warred endlessly over every river, stream, well, and scrap of fertile land,” (as contrasted against the peace and prosperity of the new regime), one major advantage that Nymeria and her forces faced in their drive to conquer and unify Dorne is that the Rhoynar had landed on a divided land.

As we discussed last time , “before Nymeria came, the Kings of Yronwood were the most powerful house in all of Dorne—far greater than the Martells of the time. They ruled half of Dorne.” But this left the other half, who already viewed the Yronwoods as their enemies and who might welcome a new ally. Thus, much of Nymeria’s wars were an extension of pre-existing conflicts over land and lordship, as we can see from the coalitions on either side:

“For nine years Mors Martell and his allies (amongst them House Fowler of Skyreach, House Toland of Ghost Hill, House Dayne of Starfall, and House Uller of the Hellholt) struggled against Yronwood and his bannermen (the Jordaynes of the Tor, the Wyls of the Stone Way, together with the Blackmonts, the Qorgyles, and many more), in battles too numerous to mention. When Mors Martell fell to Yorick Yronwood’s sword in the Third Battle of the Boneway, Princess Nymeria assumed sole command of his armies. Two more years of battle were required, but in the end it was Nymeria that Yorick Yronwood bent the knee to, and Nymeria who ruled thereafter from Sunspear.” (WOIAF)

Rather than breaking down neatly as a conflict between Stony and Salty Dornish, with the Sandy uneasily in the middle, we see diversity on both sides: Nymeria had allies in the mountains from the Fowlers and Daynes who had long contested the Yornwoods claim to be “King of the Redmarch” as well as the Ullers of the sands and the Tolands of the east; Yorick Yronwood counted not just his neighbors like the Wyls and the Blackmonts, but also Jordaynes from the east and Qorgyles from the deserts. This diversity almost certainly is due to the fact that the Yronwoods’ previous attempts to conquer Dorne gave them both friends and foes in every region of Dorne.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much of a sense of how Nymeria’s wars proceeded beyond that. We know that the conquest of Dorne took a long time and was very much a piecemeal process -“years of war followed, as the Martells and their Rhoynar partners met and subdued one petty king after another” – and we know that Yorick Yronwoods was the last king to be defeated. But in between, we get the vague impression of a back-and-forth conflict, of “battles won and lost, alliances made and broken.” On the one hand, dynastic marriage alliances were clearly important to Nymeria’s larger strategy:

“Though she married twice more (first to the aged Lord Uller of Hellholt, and later to the dashing Ser Davos Dayne of Starfall, the Sword of the Morning), Nymeria herself remained the unquestioned ruler of Dorne for almost twenty-seven years, her husbands serving only as counselors and consorts.” (WOIAF)

Not only did these marriages provide half of Nymeria’s allies in the larger conflict, but they show a divide-and-rule strategy at work. Lord Uller was almost certainly a bannerman of “LUCIFER OF HOUSE DRYLAND, Last of His Ilk, King of the Brimstone, Lord of Hellgate Hall,” one of the six kings Nymeria sent to the Wall – and it’s quite likely that Nymeria’s quid pro quo for her hand was for Uller to betray his royal liege. Likewise, marrying into the Daynes would have gained Nymeria a crucial ally in the Red Mountains, opening up a second front against the Yronwoods and preventing them from concentrating their forces against the eastern theater.

On the other hand, the “many of the laws and customs of the Rhoynar” might not have been adopted that peacefully, which helps to explain why these alliances broke down and led to “a dozen attempts on her life…[and] two rebellions.” It would certainly have been unusual in 700 BC for a queen to rule in her own right and lead her armies personally, but the Rhoynish custom of equal primogeniture was entirely unprecedented and had a direct impact on the value of the dynastic marriage alliances she made. While the aged Lord Uller might not have expected to sire an heir through Nymeria, the fact that “when at last she died, it was the eldest of her four daughters by Mors Martell who succeeded her, not her son by Davos Dayne,” meant that the Daynes were cut out of the succession despite producing a male heir. Thus, when we look at the list of kings sent to the Wall by Nymeria, we find:

“YORICK OF HOUSE YRONWOOD, the Bloodroyal, the richest and most powerful of the Dornish kings deposed by House Martell.

VORIAN OF HOUSE DAYNE, Sword of the Evening, renowned as the greatest knight in all of Dorne.

GARRISON OF HOUSE FOWLER, the Blind King, aged and sightless, yet still feared for his cunning.

LUCIFER OF HOUSE DRYLAND, Last of His Ilk, King of the Brimstone, Lord of Hellgate Hall.

BENEDICT OF HOUSE BLACKMONT, who worshipped a dark god and was said to have the power to transform himself into a vulture of enormous size.

ALBIN OF HOUSE MANWOODY, a troublesome madman who claimed dominion over the Red Mountains.” (WOIAF)

Yorick Yronwood and Benedict Blackmont we might well expect, given that both were her declared enemies the whole way through; Albin Manwoody and Lucifer Dryland could easily fall under the label of petty kings swept up in Nymeria’s conquering wake. But Vorian Dayne was Nymeria’s former ally and Ser Davos’ kinsman, which suggests that the Daynes broke with the Nymeros-Martells when they realized that Davos Dayne’s son would not inherit. (This also makes them a prime candidate for one of the houses in rebellion during the two rebellions that came after the conquest.) Likewise, Garrison Fowler’s inclusion on the list suggests that Nymeria made a consistent practice of turning against her former allies when she had no further need for them.[2]

No wonder, therefore, that Nymeria faced so much animosity during her reign, which makes it all the more surprising that she was able to throw “threw back two invasions by the Storm King Durran the Third and one by King Greydon of the Reach.” (More events which really need a fuller explanation than we got.)

The Red Princes and Inventing Communities

Speaking of divisions, one of the things we see happening after the reign of Nymeria is a continuing process of top-down cultural transformation that we might term “Dornification.” Unfortunately, this process is discussed only obliquely in the World of Ice and Fire, requiring a certain reading between the lines:

“Standing apart from the rest of the Dornish—salty or sandy or stony alike—are the orphans of the Greenblood, who wept when Nymeria burned their ships. From their ruins they made their poleboats, to ply the Greenblood and dream of the day that they could return to Mother Rhoyne. Of pure Rhoynish blood, they still speak their tongue amongst themselves, it is said—though in secret after the three successors of Nymeria’s grandson, Prince Mors II, attempted to forbid it.

These successors were also known as the Red Princes (though two were princesses), and their reigns were marked by wars both within and without Dorne. They created the Planky Town as a gathering place, lashing together the poleboats and ferries. It grew from there, and in time the princes raised a citadel nearby to guard it as more and more ships from the Free Cities found it a convenient harbor.” (WOIAF)

Thus, while parts of the chronicles describe a harmonious and spontaneous process by which “the Dornish had come to adopt many of the laws and customs of the Rhonyar” and the Rhoynar gradually forgot “the memories of Mother Rhoyne and the ten thousand ships,” here we see an active and controversial project of state-building. It is not an accident that the Red Princes banned the Rhoynish language at the same time that they were building Planktyown and fighting unknown civil and foreign wars. Nationalist state-building often involves linguistic unification through the eradication of stubborn minorities: the French state, both in the ancien regime and in the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Republics, suppressed langue d’oc and Brêton in the name of creating a unified French nation; Italian nationalists pushed to adopt the Tusscan dialect as Standard Italian because it was associated with writers like Dante and Machiavelli, although previously it was used mostly by upper-class Florentines and literary types and was foreign to most of the Italian nation they spoke on behalf of; in the United States, English-only education was foisted on Cajuns in Louisiana after 1803, on Native Americans after 1868, on Puerto Ricans and Filipinos after 1896, and WWI saw an extensive forced “Americanization” campaign. The fact that the Orphans of the Greenblood resisted linguistic assimilation for five generations after Nymeria, and maintain their ethnic and linguistic separateness to the present day, speaks to how difficult this campaign was. The fact that three successive monarchs pushed this policy despite pressing issues of civil and foreign wars suggests something of how important “Dornification” was to House Martell.

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While they were certainly the most dramatic case of resistance, the Orphans of the Greenblood were only a small, outlier population; the major focus of the Red Princes’ efforts were on the vast majority of the Rhoynar and the entirety of the non-Rhoynar Dornish.  Here, the Martells had to do a complicated double-shift, pushing the “salty Dornish, the scions of the Rhoynar” to accept that they must accept the loss of “their mother tongue over the centuries,” while simultaneously persuading the non-Rhoynar Dornish to accept that “the Rhoynar brought with them their customs and their laws, which the Martells then spread throughout Dorne.” While not explicitly stated, we can see the outline of a grand bargain, where the Rhoynar adopt the Common Tongue and the Faith of the Seven and in return the Dornish accept Rhoynish custom and law. But without any clear evidence, this leads to a complicated situation where, as I said above, it becomes difficult to see what parts of contemporary Dornish culture belong to which:

“The stony Dornish have the most in common with those north of the mountains and are the least touched by Rhoynish custom. This has not made them close allies with the Marcher lords or the Lords of the Reach, however; on the contrary, it has been said that the mountain lords have a history as savage as that of the mountain clans of the Vale, having for thousands of years warred with the Reach and the stormlands, as well as with each other. If the ballads tell of brave skirmishes with cruel Dornishmen in the marches, it is largely to do with the lords of Blackmont and Kingsgrave, of Wyl and Skyreach. And of Yronwood, as well…

The sandy Dornishmen are more Rhoynish and are used to the harsh way of life in the desert. The rivers of Dorne are paltry when compared to the Mander or the Trident, but they bring water enough to irrigate fields and sustain villages and towns. Outside of them, however, men live in different fashion: moving from desert oasis to desert oasis, crossing the sands with the aid of what wells they know of in the midst of the wastes, raising their children along with their goats and their horses. It is the sandy Dornish who are the chief breeders of the famed sand steeds, considered the most beautiful horses in the Seven Kingdoms. Though light-boned and unable to easily bear the weight of a knight in armor, they are swift and tireless, able to run through a day and a night with no more than a few drinks of water. The Dornish love their sand steeds almost as much as they love their children, and King Daeron would remark in the Conquest of Dorne that the Knight of Spottswood stabled his sand steeds in his own hall.

The salty Dornish, the scions of the Rhoynar, lost their mother tongue over the centuries, though that tongue still marks the way the Dornish speak the Common Tongue—stretching some sounds, rolling others, and lilting still others in odd places. Dornish speech has been described by some as charming, and by others (the marchers, chiefly and unfairly) as incomprehensible. But more than that, the Rhoynar brought with them their customs and their laws, which the Martells then spread throughout Dorne. So in Dorne, alone among the Seven Kingdoms, it is the eldest child—man or woman—who will inherit, and not just the eldest son. Great ladies and famous princesses abound, and are the subject of songs and tales as much as the great knights and princes.” (WOIAF)

One of the strange ambiguities of this cultural taxonomy is that there’s a strange elision between culture and ethnicity. For example, the stony Dornish are described as “the least touched by Rhoynish custom” – which suggests that the tradition of raiding in the marches is a non-Rhoynish part of Dornish culture, even if the stony Dornish adopted the spear and scale mail from their new rules. In other places, however, the stony Dornish are described as “fair of hair and skin, mostly described from the First Men and the Andals,” so that they are the least touched by Rhoynish ethnicity as well. Similarly, it’s quite ambiguous whether the sandy Dornish are considered “more Rhoynish” because of their cultural practices or because “their skin [is] burned brown beneath the blazing Dornish sun,” or because they’ve intermarried with the Rhoynar in the east more than the mountain Dornish have. This leaves it unclear whether the nomadic culture and cultivation of sand steeds is something the Rhoynish brought over from their long voyages, or whether it is a pre-Rhoynish practice.

As for the salty Dornish, with the notable exception of the Orphans of the Greenblood, they become the default and as a result, ethnicity and culture become indistinguishable. Since the salty Dornish “have the queerest customs and the most Rhoynish blood,” it becomes unclear which parts of Dornish culture are distinctly eastern and which are universal:

“There are other customs besides that mark the Dornish as different. They are not greatly concerned if a child is born in wedlock or out of it, especially if the child is born to a paramour. Many lords— and even some ladies—have paramours, chosen for love and lust rather than for breeding or alliance. And when it comes to matters of love, that a man might lie with another man, or a woman with another woman, is likewise not cause for concern; while the septons have often wished to shepherd the Dornishmen to the righteous path, they have had little effect. Even the fashions are different in Dorne, where the climate favors loose, layered robes and the food is richly spiced, ready to burn the mouth with dragon peppers mixed with drops of snake venom.

An example of the differing Dornish laws and attitudes due to the influence of the Rhoynar may be found, curiously, in the last days of the Dance of the Dragons. From Archmaester Gyldayn’s history concerning Gaemon Palehair’s brief reign: One decree after another came down from the House of Kisses, where the child king had his seat, each more outrageous than the last. Gaemon decreed that girls should henceforth be equal with boys in matter of inheritance, that the poor be given bread and beer in times of famine, and that men who had lost limbs in war must afterward be fed and housed by whichever lord they had been fighting for when the loss took place. Gaemon decreed that husbands who beat their wives should themselves be beaten, irrespective of what the wives had done to warrant such chastisement. These edicts were almost certainly the work of a Dornish whore named Sylvenna Sand, reputedly the paramour of the king’s mother Essie, if Mushroom is to be believed.” (WOIAF)

These passages would suggest that Dorne’s social “progressiveness” when it comes to marriage, sexuality, gender egalitarianism, and social communalism come from the Rhoynar, especially given the way that the Rhoynish civilization in Essos are described in “Ten Thousand Ships.” But without any clarity in the text, these are only suppositions and our ability to interrogate Dornish culture is limited: for example, is it true that Dornishmen and Dornishwomen of Andal descent share the same lax attitude to the Faith of the Seven that more recent migrants hold? How was the transition from the traditional gods of the Rhoyne to the Seven accomplished, and what role did syncretism play there?

As a result, despite a chapter that focuses more on culture and less on history than any of the others on the Seven Kingdoms, we are left with major questions as to how the Nymeros-Martells created a unified Dornish identity. My hypothesis is that it really helps to have the Targaryens as an Other against which to define their nation-state, but that’s a story for next time…

[1] One sign that Pre-Rhoynish Dorne might have been a bit close to current-day Dorne is that we already have a Dornish custom of paramours when the Rhoynar arrive. How different this custom was from the polygamy of the First Men, and where it came from, is unclear.

[2] Alternately, depending on how we sequence Nymeria’s Wars, it could be that Nymeria turned her former conquests into allies in her last war with the Yronwoods, although I find this unlikely. For one thing, Mors Martell is described as still being alive when the war with the Yronwoods began so her marriage alliances couldn’t have taken place yet; for another thing, that same sentence describes these houses as Mors’ “allies” rather than “bannermen,” so they must have still been independent at this point.

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32 thoughts on “Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: Dorne (Part II)

  1. Steven Xue says:

    Another great analysis of one of the Seven Kingdoms. Can’t wait for part III to be put up.

    I assume the reason why the water wizards weren’t able to use their magic to make Dorne more lush and tropical was because they didn’t have access to enough water to pull it off. And this could account for why this ability of theirs was eventually lost because unlike their original home, the Rhoynish were no longer surrounded by a huge body of water which so happens to be very scarce and precious in Dorne. Therefore what water wizards were left couldn’t practice their waterbending whenever they desired and this gift was not fostered, so over a few generations it was lost.

    This makes me wonder why out of all the places in Westeros Nymeria chose to settle her people in what could be one of the driest places on Planetos? Did she not know of the Riverlands or were her people simply exhausted after years of living on the sea and refugeeism so anywhere they landed would do? Its just that the Rhoynish were originally river-people who possessed water magic. Wouldn’t it have made more sense if they had landed in the Riverlands which like their original home had large kingdom spanning rivers and was more richer and fertile while also being just as contested by rival houses like Dorne was? I feel that Nymeria squandered an opportunity by not conquering the Riverlands instead of Dorne as her people could have prospered a lot better living near the Trident and their water wizards could have defended that kingdom better than any of its historical rulers (save the Targaryens).

    • Sean C. says:

      The Riverlands was a unified kingdom at this point, unlike Dorne.

      Beyond that, yeah, I assume Nymeria just called a halt whenever they arrived on land, considering how much they’d been traveling.

    • Murc says:

      I assume the reason why the water wizards weren’t able to use their magic to make Dorne more lush and tropical was because they didn’t have access to enough water to pull it off.

      Or maybe they did, and this is the best they could do.

      Magic in Planetos is a slippery thing, and doesn’t entirely obey deterministic rules, but it often seems tied to place as much as person. There’s a lot of talk about how “magic died in the west when the Doom came,” the magic of the greenseers is linked specifically to the physicality of weirwood trees in a lot of ways, the power behind the White Walkers flows from the Heart of Winter in the distant north, etc. I believe even Melisandre has trouble working some of her magics so far from Asshai, although I can’t check my books at the moment.

      It seems logical to me that the power of the Rhoynish water witches might have been specifically tied to the Rhoyne, that exact river, and once they moved away from it to a land of mountains and deserts, that power almost literally dried up, draining away from them over the generations.

      But even when it was still present… there’s a long continuum of possibilities between “do nothing” and “entirely terraform Dorne.” It’s possible the Rhoynar used their water magic to do many remarkable things in Dorne, revitalizing oases and plumbing deep, clean wells and tapping aquifers to make dry streams flow again, in a way that was very impactful to many people but which did not re-shape the entire peninsula.

      • Grant says:

        Alternatively it may not have been the river that they needed, but magic itself. With the weakening of magic, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they were just physically unable to continue the old spells. Add to that what were probably increasing Seven conversions and their knowledge and efforts would have disappeared over the years.

        • artihcus022 says:

          Maybe Prince Garin’s tragedy created a kind of thin place in the Rhoyne that swallowed all the magic. That I think is strongly implied.

        • Steven Xue says:

          Yeah I suspect the Faith could have played a role in disassembling the more occultish aspects of Rhoynish culture which would have included what magic they imported from the Essos. Its kind of like how Baelor burnt the books on dragon lore because he considered them anathema to the teachings of the Seven.

      • So as discussed below, that doesn’t fit with the context of that passage, or with the previous descriptions of Dorne. Eastern Dorne already tapped into the Greenblood with irrigation canals, etc., so that wasn’t an improvement they made.

        Now, if they had an explanation that the water witches did make Dorne bloom, and the population expanded, but then the magic was lost, and then the dragons burnt it all down, that might work.

        • Steven Xue says:

          Yeah you’re right the Targaryens probably were responsible for destroying much of the ecology created by the Rhoynish. I didn’t think of that. And this coupled with the fact that with magic dwindling and water magic growing slowly out of focus in their society, this could have caused a diminishing talent pool. Its possible that over time the Rhoynish simply forgotten how water magic works similar to how the Targaryens lost much of their dragon lore in the century and a half after the Dance.

          Still if magic was the cause then surely we should see some people showing aptitude in water magic popping up all over Dorne now that magic is replenishing in the world.

          • Grant says:

            Not necessarily. There isn’t a lot of water in Dorne to work with, unlike plentiful animals for wargs, and most of the other magic users we’ve seen have all had some kind of training that lets them make use of the powers they’ve gained access to (warlocks, priests etc.). The only non-warg I can think of who hadn’t had magical training was Thoros, and it’s up for debate how much of what he did was just random chance that he suddenly had powers and by accident found out how to use them and how much of it was the will of something.

            Anyone in Dorne would probably be completely on their own, possibly not even aware the witches ever existed for them to look into.

          • Steven Xue says:

            That’s a good point. The lack of water could be a factor as to why there’s no reports of any recent incidents of water wizardry going on down in Dorne. Still if water magic has resurfaced I’m sure GRRM would have brought it up in one of the Dornish POV chapters. Maybe have one of the Sand Snakes show off a little hydrokinesis in the Water Gardens, although this type of magic may not be relevant to the overall story.

        • Grant says:

          That would fit with your population decline theory. They didn’t have the capacity to make more, and the dragons destroyed what they did have so their agriculture was greatly reduced to around pre-Rhoynar levels along with the problem of all the dead. Plus the destruction probably destroyed any hopes of relearning what the witches did.

    • Glad you liked it!

      Here’s my thing with that argument: that’s not how water magic is described as working. “Rhoynish water witches knew secret spells that made dry streams flow again and deserts bloom.” That’s magic that creates water, not requires water. Moreover, the context of the passage is that these are things that made the Rhoynar attractice to Mors, so it had to be of use.

      But also, if that was the case…why bring it up? Why spend time to write down “and the Rhoynish had this magic…which was totally useless in Dorne”?

      • Murc says:

        “Rhoynish water witches knew secret spells that made dry streams flow again and deserts bloom.” That’s magic that creates water, not requires water.

        I’m not sure this is as cut-and-dried as you’re making it out to be, Steven. In fact, I’m relatively sure it isn’t.

        If the Rhoynish water witches had the power to tap and reshape aquifers and watersheds using their magic, that is magic that could absolutely “make dry streams flow again and deserts bloom” and which still requires water rather than makes water.

        • Ok, but if that’s the case, shouldn’t we see more transformation of the Dornish deserts? After all, there is water out there: the Brimstone, oases, etc.

          • Murc says:

            Well, I mean, as you say, TWOIAF just kind of… mentions that there was water magic as a factor for taking the Rhoynar on-board and never goes into it again. It shouldn’t do that, it’s bad world-building.

            But in trying to square that circle of bad world-building within the context of the setting, there are multiple ways you can go with that. You can take the tack that this spoken-of potential didn’t actually happen on the part of the water witches; that their water magic failed or it worked and then was cut back at some point or any number of other scenarios.

            I would submit that “the Rhoynish water witches did things like locate water where people thought there could never possibly be water, and they made many holdfasts, streams, and oases possible that would never have come into existence otherwise. However, their magic was insufficient to radically transform Dorne, and while many of their works remain it gradually faded out of practice” completely fits the facts. It doesn’t have to be the case, but it makes the line about their magic relevant, and it has it impact Dorne in a meaningful way without actually changing the fact that Dorne is a harsh country.

          • Yeah that would work. On the other hand, if they could waterbend giant spouts that could knock dragons out of the sky, it would be a bit of weak tea if all they could manage in Dorne was some modest aqua-engineering.

          • Murc says:

            True, although one would expect, much like the people who are the source of the waterbending analogy can get better results while on a giant ice floe than they can while being strung up in cages while dehydrated, that a Rhoynish water witch is likely to achieve far better results while floating on the mother of all rivers than one is Dorne. Especially since a waterspout just has to knock a dragon out of the sky once, whereas making a desert bloom has to happen every day.

            That said, it is a bit weird, isn’t it? Martin could just have dispensed with the water magic making it to Dorne altogether, especially since it dies out sufficiently that it isn’t at all involved in Aegon’s attempted conquest or that of Daeron the Young Dragon or current day in the books. It’s like he wanted the cool flavor text but didn’t want to actually support it, or didn’t think to. Which is a bit of a wasted opportunity; you could whip together something compelling about the slow death of the water magic tradition (or a fast and sudden and dragon-y death during the conquest) in under five hundred words easily in a multitude of ways.

  2. Brett says:

    The Dornish lax view on bastards seems like it would make inheritance really messy in practice.

    • Murc says:

      TWOIAF overstates things greatly in this respect, I think, because if the Arianne chapters in TWOW (and hell, the Dorne chapters in general) are to be believed, the Dornish still care very, very much about things like legitimacy and birth order and highness of station when it comes time to decide who their kids are going to marry and who is going to inherit titles and land.

      • Well, birth order would still matter, given the absolute primogeniture.

        But I wonder whether the Arianne chapters tell us about Dorne or about Arianne and her rather unique situation, since her experience with Doran has screwed with her head a bit on this subject.

        • Murc says:

          This is true, but Daemon Sand also would appear to have some issues with his bastardy; at the very least, nobody seems to have the idea that the story Doran put out (that despite being of noble blood, the son of the heir of House Allyrion, one of the most ancient and powerful houses of Dorne, Daemon’s bastardy makes him unworthy of Arianne’s hand) doesn’t make sense.

          Now, that was just a cover story to mask that Arianne was promised to Viserys, but the point of cover stories is that they have to be believable, so I would submit that bastardy does still kinda matter to the Dornish, even among the highborn.

          • Huggable says:

            The Dornish seem quite class conscious, so legitimacy probably matters to them a lot. Arys isn’t good enough to be a consort only a paramour, the Drinkwater twins aren’t good enough for quentyn to marry. There clearly does seem to be some bastardy stigma it probably just isn’t the overblown they’re born deceivers and treacherous etc from above the red mountains. But you can be raised at home, educated well and serve your house just not inherit anything.

    • There would be ways to make it work.

  3. artihcus022 says:

    With Dorne, as with Braavos to some extent, you get a sense of over-idealization : GRRM built it to contrast and provide diversity and conflict, and variety, without quite providing the same depth of world-building. So the Dornish are tolerant of bastards, and have gender-equal, and somehow Nymeria doesn’t get opprobrium for doing what Viseyrs I did: i.e. choosing a female heir from her first marriage and then marrying a second or third time. Of course the same is true of House Stark to a large extent.

    Like we never get a sense of why the Dornish warred against the Stormlanders and the Reach during what Steven calls “the Great Game”…did they have designs to expand their territory into the marches, become a geopolitical player…were there ever say, Dornish High Septons (or is Septa Tyene set to be the first of her kind in bringing a Martell voice to the High Sparrow’s ear).

    The Water Gardens of Dorne is an interesting double-edged symbol. It’s arguably the ultimate symbol of assimilation…a Targaryen Princess, a Valyrian comes to Dorne, and does the most Rhoynish thing imaginable, build a public pool where children of all classes can swim together, it typifies the benevolent egalitarianism, gives a powerful symbol for a new founding narrative to the Martells (i.e. we gave you the Water Gardens…) but it also hides the reality that the Dornish lost badly to Daeron Young Dragon, and that it’s leaders utterly failed to defend its people, and only succeeded dishonorably, and the assimilation made them co-dependent on the Targaryens.

    • Agreed about the lack of geopolitical motivation, although I don’t know if over-idealization is the reason.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Well the over-idealization in the portrayal of Dorne has a good symptom — Show!Dorne, aka Porne…which the showrunners in interview say is the one place in Westeros they’d want to go, mostly because it’s like Brazil or Caribbean islands (or words to that effect) and that it had free love…which needless to say is so redolent of Orientalism, that Edward Said’s hypothetical ghost would be muttering, “And there I thought what I was describing was very intellectual and not always apparent on the surface…” The showrunners obviously misread or read Dorne in a very surface way, but that impression they took is very much there in the books.

        As much as some fans complain about the Dothraki being Orientalist, I have a bigger problem with Dorne…because it exists primarily to contrast and contest the 7 Kingdoms and its norms, in the same way Braavos exists as the “one-place-in-Essos-that’s-not-garbage”. So that means it’s idealized in terms of how gender-equal and pro-bastard it is, without any sense of the stakes involved in making it work, or the level to which it is contested.

        And unlike other famous oases of liberality in European history — i.e. early Moorish Spain, Amsterdam, Medieval Poland — we don’t have a sense of Dorne hosting or attracting migrants or oppressed folk from other parts of the 7 Kingdoms. Like maybe the Briennes of Tarth of earlier eras would have gone to Dorne to find some work or calling fit to their merit…the remoteness and inaccessibility of Dorne from Land is a problem admittedly, but it should work. Likewise a lot of Essosi might go to Dorne…it’s anti-slavery like Braavos and is not as stuffy as Middle-Westeros, and unlike Braavos the Martell do intervene on the behalf of citizens to aid them…so that might make it more attractive…

        • Grant says:

          Dorne’s also largely a desert. If there’s going to be any foreign activity, it’s probably going to be along the ports.

  4. thatrabidpotato says:

    Really interesting essay. You really find a way to bring out a lot of interesting things I never thought of myself reading WOIAF, particularly the bit about the Daynes. I agree it would have been nice to get more info.

  5. Murc says:

    The problem is that the more we learn, the harder it becomes to see a distinctly Dornish culture before the Rhoynar came: what gods did they worship, since the weirwood-less First Men of Dorne were unlikely to have taken up the Old Gods of the Children of the Forest?

    I genuinely think that this is one of those things that Martin just didn’t consider; that there aren’t weirwoods in the desert, and that this isn’t that relevant because the Dornish just largely converted to the Faith anyway way back in the day.

    The closest band-aid I can think of for this is that the Children did kind of smash Dorne to pieces in what must have been a pretty apocalyptic event, and maybe that combined with the Pact was enough to convince the Dornish First Men to do some Old Gods worship even without weirwoods. I would very much like to see the form that took!

    From a perspective of statecraft alone, the Rhoynar were an un-mitigated positive: a ten-fold increase in military power that brings its own pay-chest with it is hard to turn down.

    I do think there’s a logistical element here that’s being overlooked; namely, such a huge influx of people into the Martell holdings would almost demand expansion.

    Because I doubt the Martell holdings were rich enough to make room for all those people on a permanent basis all at once. After they arrived and the alliance was sealed, it could very well have been the case that House Martell absolutely needed to expand or face a very dire resource crunch.

    Among the Rhoynar, there were those who were not eager to assimilate into whatever Dornish culture was: “some of the Rhoynar mourned the loss of the ships, and rather than embracing their new land, they took to plying the waters of the Greenblood, finding it a pale shadow of Mother Rhoyne, whom they continued to worship.”

    One has to wonder if Ysandry and Ysilla are one-offs, or if after the Doom, you had any sort of significant out-migration from Dorne back to the Rhoyne.

    On the other hand, the “many of the laws and customs of the Rhoynar” might not have been adopted that peacefully, which helps to explain why these alliances broke down and led to “a dozen attempts on her life…[and] two rebellions.”

    If we’re being fair, this was almost certainly going to happen anyway. Nymeria is one of the top three conquerors to ever come to Westeros to carve out a kingdom; the other two are Artys Arryn and of course, the most successful, Aegon Targaryen.

    Artys Arryn was compelled to ethnically cleanse a lot of First Men from the Vale to secure his reign, which created the clansman problem that endures to this day. House Targaryen’s hold on Westeros was tenuous throughout the reign of the first three kings; there were all manner of rebellions and uprisings and attempts to pull them down until Jaehaerys the Conciliator managed to firmly secure the throne, a process that took damn near a full century.

    The Rhoynish project in Dorne, as it were, was gonna face all kinds of setbacks no matter what. That was just likely inevitable no matter how hard or soft a hand Nymeria used.

    This leaves it unclear whether the nomadic culture and cultivation of sand steeds is something the Rhoynish brought over from their long voyages, or whether it is a pre-Rhoynish practice.

    I would submit that logically, the cultivation of sand steeds almost has to have been pre-Rhoynish. The Rhoynar wouldn’t have much need or priority for horses; they had their rivers. While I’m sure they had some, horse-breeding as art and cultural imperative would not have been a huge priority for them, and even had it been, the sort of horses you’d want to breed in the lush lands along the Rhoyne would be much different than what you’d want in Dorne. And I would be shocked if any breeding stock survived the exodus to Sothoryos, the Summer Isles, and finally Dorne.

    Conversely, the native Dornish would have been living in those deserts for thousands of years prior to the Rhoynar showing up, and exist in a context where horses are incredibly important force multipliers in warfare and where swift, safe transportation across terrain that can be harsh and unforgiving would be a big priority. As such, one imagines that the sandy Dornishmen had already been into horse-breeding in a big, big way before the Rhoynar showed up.

    How was the transition from the traditional gods of the Rhoyne to the Seven accomplished, and what role did syncretism play there?

    I really wonder about the septon that Doran Martell and Maester Caleotte were disputing with in Arianne II of TWOW, the one who was openly invoking non-Seven deities to explain phenomenons of the natural world. Was that a Rhoynar thing, maybe? Are Dornish septons more inclined towards that sort of ecumenicism? Or is it simply part of the “the Old Gods and the New” strain of political and religious accommodation within the Faith.

    Good post, Steven. Dorne is a complex subject and you clarify much of the ambiguity and the tensions within it well.

  6. KrimzonStriker says:

    Great analysis as always though the Dayne King banishment feels off to me, since it states pretty clearly that Yronwood was the last King sent to the wall, and to me the Dayne king more with a former enemy, perhaps as an ally that betrayed the Martells after Mors fell, while Nymeria’s marriage to Davos was a reconciliation move in order to unify and better secure the new principality. I feel this is further reinforced by her second husband, who however aged I find it difficult to believe think died less than two years after Mor’s fell before she defeated the Yronwoods in order to make room for Davos.

    Also, good to see our discussions on the Targaryen influence of Dornish nationalism will be coming into play soon, can’t wait to read it 🙂

  7. Andrew says:

    1. Ironically, Nymeria came to Dorne to escape the Valyrians and their dragons, That proved not to be far enough.

    2. Regarding the general story of American history, James Loewen goes over it in Lies My Teacher Told Me. He notes how Columbus’s brutal rule was glossed over, Massasoit’s reasons for allying with the Pilgrims being that the diseases Europeans brought having greatly diminished his nation’s military strength, and he needed the alliance, and in King Philip’s War, the casualties among Americans (both settlers and American Indians) in proportion to population were greater than in any other American war. One exemplary detail he gives that really struck me is that when textbooks show a map of North America during the period of colonization, nothing is used to demark the independent Indian nations, who were not subject to colonial rule, such as the Iroquois. It really shows how invisible they are in textbook American history.

    .3. I think Vorian Dayne was sent to the Wall before Dorian Dayne married Nymeria. Dorian was described as the Sword of the Morning. However, his kinsman, Vorian was described as the greatest knight in Dorne, meaning naturally, he would have been the Sword of the Morning given Dayne is passed to the best warrior in the family. Therefore, either Vorian was the original Sword of the Morning, or he simply refused Dawn an let it pass to Dorian.

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