Winter is here, and along with it the return of our series History of Thrones, where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward on Game of Thrones. However be warned, you will be coming into contact with highly contagious theories, which you won’t be immune from if you consider them spoilers.
You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.
VOLANTIS, THE FIRST DAUGHTER OF VALYRIA
When the red priestess Melisandre told Varys she was leaving Dragonstone for Volantis, she wasn’t just picking a random place to escape to in Essos. She was announcing her plans to travel to one of the world’s greatest cities and one of its largest hubs of slavery, where the Lord of Light is revered by both freemen and their slaves.
It's a place Game of Thrones has only briefly visited, when Tyrion and Varys walked its Long Bridge before Jorah Mormont kidnapped Tyrion from a brothel; the same place Yara and Theon stopped at on their way to Meereen. But Volantis is so much more, and the brief experiences Tyrion had there with the Lord of Light's most ardent followers, as well as what happened when a Volantene red priestess came to Meereen, might tell us why Melisandre is heading there. And more importantly who might come back with her when she returns to Westeros.
Volantis, known as the First Daughter because it was the original Valyrian Freehold outpost, was founded at least 1,500 years before Aegon’s Conquest. Sitting at one of the four mouths of the Rhoyne River in the Summer Sea, it is the southernmost Free City of Essos, as well as the closest to Slaver's Bay—1,900 miles east of where Daenerys ruled at Meereen.
The large port city is a hot and humid place day and night, ans a strong odor both sweet and foul always sits in the air. Its deep, large harbor helped make it the rich trading outpost it still is, even long after the Doom of Valyria destroyed its founders. The Volantene also control the three cities directly northeast, as well as a large part of the Rhoyne.
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The city's two major sections are connected by the Long Bridge. On the eastern side, known as Old Volantis, stands the older district with its 200 foot tall seamless Black Walls, whose stone was forged in dragonflame. The oval walls are wide enough to hold six four-horse chariots every year during the annual race celebrating the city’s founding.
Only the Old Blood nobles of the city, who can trace their ancestry directly back to Old Valyria, can live within the Black Walls, and only they can invite others inside. Many of the Old Blood inside still keep the Valyrian gods.
Outside of the walls however, R’hllor, the Lord of Light, is the most common deity of the people, for slaves and freemen. Outside of the eastern district’s Black Walls stands the Temple of the Lord of Light, triple the size of the Great Sept of Baelor. The temple, served entirely by slaves chosen to worship in the temple as children, even has its own fighting force known as the Fiery Hand, which is always made up of exactly 1,000 slave soldiers.
On the other side of the Long Bridge is the newer, wilder western district of Volantis. It arose as the city grew from a military outpost into one of the world’s major trading outposts, which includes the slave trade.
The massive Long Bridge, the biggest in the known world, stands wide enough to let two carts to ride side-by-side, and it is said you can find any object for sale in its many shops that crowd the bridge. You know you’ve reached its midpoint when you come across the hanging hands and severed heads of thieves and criminals.
Rule falls to three triarchs, elected from the Old Blood each year by land-owning freeborn men and women of all Volantis. The two political parties who vie for the positions are the Elephants, whose focus is trade and money, and the Tigers, who push for war and conquest.
After the Doom of Valyria, Volantis tried to take the position previously held by the fallen Freehold capital. After a century of fighting among the Free Cities of Essos, known as the Century of Blood—which resulted in no real gains—the Volantene stopped electing two Tigers and one Elephant, and since then have always had two Elephants as triarchs and one Tiger.
While failing to become the center of a new empire, Volantis has always excelled as one of the major spots for the slave trade, and as a result it is said the city’s freemen are out numbered 5-1 by slaves.
Slaves are easily identified by the various tattoos on their faces that indicate their specific roles, like how a fly on the cheek represents a dung collector, or a single tear beneath the eye indicates a prostitute, and a flame across the cheek stands as a mark of a red priest of R’hllor.
It was one of those servants of the Lord of Light who Tyrion listened give a sermon to slaves in the streets of Volantis. He sat and listened as a red priestess preached to the Lord’s devotees about the women who had given birth to three dragons.
Lord cast your light upon us, for the night is dark and full of terrors. I was once as you are now–bought and sold, scourged and branded. The Lord of Light hears your voice. He hears the king as he hears the slave; he hears the Stone Men in their misery. He has sent you a savior! From the fire she was reborn to remake the world! The Dragon Queen!
This was similar to a speech given in the novels to a fervent crowd of thousands of freemen and slaves by the powerful and influential Volantis red priest Benerro, who spoke of bleeding stars and a promised sword of fire that will save mankind. His speech, which he ended with flames coming out of his hands, whipped the crowd into a frenzy, for Benerro told them Daenerys, the Breaker of Chains, is Azor Ahai reborn. An attractive message to slaves who fully believe in the Fire God.
Benerro also warns that if the triarchs oppose her, which they would most certainly want since she is upending the slave trade in the world, they will burn.
This devotion and belief in Daenerys as the prophesied hero was also the message of the Volantene red priestess who visited Tyrion and Varys in Meereen. Kinvara told them she would help spread the word about Daenerys, whose dragons are fire made flesh, and who will bathe the nonbelievers in flames.
On Game of Thrones, Volantis was one of the cities funding the Sons of the Harpy, and its representative was one of the emissaries killed by Grey Worm at the Battle of Meereen. Ostensibly slavery is outlawed in Volantis on the show, but that remains unclear.
And Melisandre is heading there, but what will she find in Volantis? A city where the former slaves outnumber their masters 5-1, or at the very least a city where the slaves know the Mother of Dragons, a person they are being told is the Lord of Light’s own hero sent to save them, has freed their brothers and sisters in chains?
Varys worried about trusting fanatics, which is how he views R'hllor's most loyal servants. He's long feared the Lord of Light and his servants, ever since as a child he heard something in the flames the night he was castrated, something terrible he won’t speak of.
Something Kinvara somehow knew all about.
Are there more allies for Daenerys in Volantis among people who view her not as a queen but as their Lord’s own chosen one? Not just the red priests and priestesses, not just the Fiery Hand or the slaves, but even among the freemen who pray to R’hllor? Melisandre said she will return to Westeros to die, but for what purpose and in whose service? And more importantly, will she return alone? Or will she bring Daenerys and even Jon Snow more followers, even if they are potentially dangerous, fire loving fanatics?
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What do you think? What role will Volantis play going forward? Why is Melisandre going there and who or what might she return with? Set out comments section on fire with your thoughts.
You can find all past History of Thrones entries here.