Ironborn military power is underpinned by their slender, beautifully designed warships which allow them to strike at will along the Westerosi coastline, and so it’s tempting to compare them with the Vikings, the medieval Scandinavian raiders who brought terror to Europe for three centuries.When he discovers that Theon’s splendid neck chain was bought rather than stolen, Balon tears it from his son’s neck, snarling, “That bauble around your neck, did you pay the iron-price for it, or the gold?” Balon clearly is not the kind of medieval Scandinavian king who would be celebrated by his court poets (skalds) for distributing treasure; no one would praise him as a “breaker of rings” or a “thrower of gold” or even a “hater … of the flame-red dragon square,” to cite just a few of Old Norse poetry’s terms for the generous king.The military successes of the Viking-age Scandinavians — settling northern England, founding Dublin and establishing the duchy of Normandy — were possible because their ships could travel far up the great rivers of Europe.The Great Army which swept across northern England in 865 A.D. took horses from those they defeated and thus were mobile enough to achieve military success inland, away from the rivers and coastlines where they easily could regroup on their ships.The Ironborn’s faith is very different from any version of Viking religion that we know of, but their belief in life after death closely resembles a watery version of Valhalla, the god Odin’s great hall, where the valkyries bring heroes who die in battle.When Yara and Theon sailed to Meereen to put their 50 ships at the disposal of Daenerys Targaryen for her long-anticipated invasion of Westeros, Daenerys agreed to support Yara’s claim to the Salt Chair, the Ironborn throne.The Vikings may have left their homelands because population pressure made it hard for them to sustain a living by agriculture on the thin soils and limited flatlands of the Norwegian or Icelandic fjords.For most of the Viking Age, Vikings were already successful traders, dealing in foodstuffs, timber, furs, falcons and slaves all across the North Atlantic, settling into lives as merchants and craftsmen in thriving towns such as Bergen and Trondheim.
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