Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrkoon

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Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrkoon

Postby uflGator1 » Sun Jan 31, 2016 4:31 pm

About a month ago I was going to participate in a podcast for Vassals of Kingsgrave covering the last part of the World of Ice and Fire, specifically, the Bones and Beyond. Long story short, I screwed up and missed the recording, so I've decided to just type out some of what I was going to say. This is the material I had for the Bones and the Patrimony of Hyrkoon.

There are a lot of similarities between the Bone Mountains and the Caucasus Mountains:
- The Caucasus Mountains sit on the border between two continents
--- The real Caucasus mountain range is much smaller than the Bones, but in the ancient world the Caucasus range was believed by some to stretch from eastern Anatolia all the way to the "Great Sea" :roll: on the far side of India.
Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander wrote:Mount Taurus divides Asia, beginning from Mycale, the mountain which lies opposite the island of Samos; then, cutting through the country of the Pamphylians and Cilicians, it extends into Armenia. From this, country it stretches into Media and through the land of the Parthians and Chorasmians. In Bactria it unites with mount Parapamisus, which the Macedonians who served in Alexander's army called Caucasus, in order, as it is said, to enhance their king's glory; asserting that he went even beyond the Caucasus with his victorious arms. Perhaps it is a fact that this mountain range is a continuation of the other Caucasus in Scythia, as the Taurus[4] is of the same. For this reason I have on a previous occasion called this range Caucasus, and by the same name I shall continue to call it in the future. This Caucasus extends as far as the Great Sea which lies in the direction of India and the East. Of the rivers in Asia worth consideration which take their rise from the Taurus and Caucasus, some have their course turned towards the north, discharging themselves either into the lake Maeotis,[5] or into the sea called Hyrcanian, which in reality is a gulf of the Great Sea.

- The Caucasus has acted as a barrier between different nomadic tribes for millenia, similar to how the Bones separate the Dothraki tribes from the Jogos Nhai.
--- South of the Caucasus were the Cimmerians, Medes, Parthians, and various Turkic tribes, including the Seljuks and Ottomans
--- North of the Caucasus is the Pontic-Caspian steppe region, where nomadic peoples have thrived for thousands of years, including the Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Huns, Avars, Pechenegs, Kipchaks, Cumans, The Golden Horde (Western Mongolians), and Cossacks, to name a few. :geek:
- The way that the Dothraki crossed the Bones is similar to the way that the Cimmerians were driven across the Caucasus by the Scythians
- The etymology of the term Caucasus is believed to come from the Scythian word kroy-khasis, literally "(the mountain) ice-shining, white with snow". The Dothraki name for the Bones is Krazaaj Zasqa, which means "The white mountains".
- The Gates of Alexander controlled the passageways across the Caucasus mountains, and they have certain similarities to the fortresses of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon:
--- The Gates were believed to have been built by the hero Alexander the Great in order to fight off the apocalyptic forces of Gog and Magog. During the middle ages, Alexander's importance was inflated to Azor-Ahai-like levels by various works of romantic literature (see: Alexander romances and Alexander in Legend).
--- In historical terms, Alexander the Great had nothing to do with those gates, and "Gog and Magog" are just scary names for the warlike nomads who inhabited the steppes to the north, but their importance was exaggerated by myths, religious prophecies, and medieval romances.
--- There is a dizzying array of slightly different versions of this story/prophecy, since it was translated into dozens of languages and each translation adds its own local color to the mix. These stories are mainly centered in the Middle East, but different versions can be found from Great Britain to India. In addition, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims all had there own eschatological versions of the Gog and Magog vs Alexander myth.
--- Like Hyrkoon the Hero, Alexander the Great was given countless different names and titles by the cultures who created these myths. Some of the different names are just transliterations (Alexandros, Alexandrus, Iskander, Sikander, etc), while other name variations actually refer to different titles (ie, in Islam he is called Dhul-Qarnayn)(Cultural Depictions of Alexander the Great)
------- It should also be pointed out that the name "Alexander" in the Greek language means "savior/protector of mankind".
--- There is also a belief that rumors of the ancient version of the Great Wall of China contributed to the mythical stature of the Gates of Alexander. (This may be relevant, because imho the five forts are probably based on the ancient version of the Great Wall of China (Qin dynasty), which was an incomplete line of fortifications and walls made mostly of rammed earth.)

Historical basis for the warrior women of the Patrimony of Hyrkoon:
- As most people probably know, the warrior women of Hyrkoon are based off the myth of the Amazons
- The Amazon myth, in turn, was based on real warrior women of the nomadic tribes. The Sarmatians are sometimes singled out as the basis for these myths, but really any of the nomadic tribes would have had a degree of gender equality that seemed strange to surrounding cultures like the the Greeks. Statistics about this are hard to come by, but one source claims that about 20% of the warrior graves found in the southern part of the Pontic-Caspian steppes contained the remains of female warriors who dressed (and thus, seem to have lived and fought) in the same way as their male contemporaries.
- That being said, there is no archaeological evidence for any sort of society of exclusively female warriors in this region, and the myths of the Amazons are probably just fanciful exaggerations of tales about these actual female warriors.
- The Jogos Nhai warrior women are quite close to the reality of nomadic female warriors, whereas the Hyrkoonian warriors are closer to the myth.
- Concerning the relationship to Hyrkoon the mythical hero: In the Alexander romances of the Middle Ages, Alexander is said to have boned an entire army of 300 Amazon women at the request of their queen, Thalestris, who wanted him to give them all strong children (must have been a hot night's work :mrgreen: ). This mythological tale of Amazon-style eugenics could possibly be the inspiration for the Hyrkoonian warrior-women's practice of castrating all but the most desirable males.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

Postby uflGator1 » Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:22 am

Since the podcast has been talking about Dawn and the fact that it is anachronistic, I thought you might be interested in this: After the battle between Alexander and king Porus, the two leaders exchanged gifts as a sign of respect. Alexander gave Porus some territories that he had conquered, and Porus offered that Alexander could choose between 40 pounds of gold and 40 pounds of steel ingots. Alexander took the steel. In later versions, this gift of steel ingots became a gift of a single sword.

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This steel is almost certainly an early version of wootz. Crucible steel has a higher purity than bloomery steel, because it does not have striations of silicate slag in it. It also has a higher carbon content than what most early smiths could achieve through the crude methods of carburization that they had at the time. This steel was probably not as advanced as later wootz damascus, but it would have been superior in certain ways to the steel made from the bloomery process, which is what everyone else was using.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

Postby Wethewax » Sun Feb 07, 2016 9:01 am

I appreciate the hard work that you've put into this, but from a purely geographical standpoint the Ural Mountains seem to be a much better match for The Bones than the Caucasus are. The Urals run North/South like the Bones, unlike the Caucasus which run East/West. They stretch from the Arctic Ocean to the Caspian Sea which makes them a better match in size, and they have always been considered the natural dividing line between Europe and Asia.

I concede that there is no Alexander the Great connection with the Urals, but then I can equate Azor Ahai to King Arthur about as easily as I can to Alexander, so I'm not sure it's significant.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

Postby uflGator1 » Mon Feb 08, 2016 12:30 pm

That's a good point. The Urals definitely look closer to the Bones geographically speaking, although that gap between the southern tip of the Urals and the Caspian sea prevents it from acting as a barrier against the invasion of the nomadic tribes. The Caucasus mountains seem to be bigger though, and people have been inflating their importance as an anti-nomad barrier for a long time.

I agree that Azor Ahai has just as much to do with Arthur as Alexander, but imho Hyrkoon is definitely closer to the Alexander myth. Even though in the books Hyrkoon is Azor Ahai, I think the WOIAF made the Planetos hero myth into something much bigger in scale than what we had previously seen. The Alexander myth of the medieval romantic period can be found everywhere that the Arthur myth is found, but it also extends much, much further east and its prevalence is more or less the same in the east as it is in the west. Geographically speaking, the Alexander myth spans several continents, from Scotland to Ethiopia to Russia and even Malaysia, as well as pretty much everywhere inbetween all of these places. There are more variations of the legends than I can count, but the parts that crop up most consistently are Alexander's dealings with the Amazons, and his supposed construction of massive fortifications against the nomadic barbarians. I should have also mentioned before that the Caucasus mountains are only one of two different places where the mythical iron and copper gates were believed to have stood. The other place is on the eastern side of the Caspian, which basically acts as a continuation of the Caucasus line of defense against the northern tribes.

As a side note, your comment made it click for me just how similar the Alexander and Arthur myths are. Both were real military leaders whose posthumous influence in myth and legend spanned far beyond their political power in life. Both were said to have been prophesied for greatness at their birth. Both were described as paragons of chivalry before "Chivalry" even existed. Both were tied to prophesies of a messianic return to power in the future, where they would somehow save the human race from an evil foreign threat by uniting a divided land... etcetera etcetera. There's probably some anthropological designation for this type of legendary figure, but I can't think of what it is off the top of my head. While I'm at it, I should add Cyrus the Great to this list too, especially the version of Cyrus that was described by Savonarola's prophecies, which GRRM has cited before as an example of medieval religious fervor.

Of course, George, Elio, and Linda did a pretty great job of not making anything too similar to any real world parallels, so I don't think any of these historical comparisons can tell us anything useful. For example, any similarities between Lightbringer and the proto-wootz sword that I mentioned in my previous post is most likely coincidental. As is the myth where Alexander travels to the Land of Darkness, which I reminds me of both the Last Hero myth and the story of Garin's curse.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

Postby Wethewax » Mon Feb 08, 2016 3:11 pm

When you say the Caucasus Mtns are bigger than the Urals I have to disagree. The Urals run for 1,600 miles, whereas the Caucasus run for only 680 miles, thus making them about 1/3 the length of the Urals. Also the gap between the southern end of the Urals and the Caspian Sea is not that great, and there are ways to bypass the Caucasus too.

When it comes to Arthur vs Alexander I have to disagree even more strongly. I'm curious as to why you're referring to Alexander as a "myth", when there is definite proof of his existence. I'm also puzzled as to why you think there was definitely a guy called Arthur, when in actual fact there is no good evidence for such a king/war-leader. Arthur is first mentioned in "histories" that even then only refer to him appearing in folk tales of earlier times, but the first of these "accounts" dates from the 11th century, whereas Arthur was supposed to have lived sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries. The one plausible Arthur-type candidate, Artorius Ambrosius, was the son of a Roman Legate, and he was recorded as dying in battle sometime in his mid 20s whilst his father was still in power, so he never became ruler himself, and the other details of his life (apart from the obvious similarity in names) don't match either. Also in nearly all the legends of Arthur he is purported to have been born in Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, which is highly problematic because it's a Norman castle that was built in the 11th century, shortly after William's invasion.

Alexander on the other hand managed to have coins stamped, his military campaigns were reasonably accurately recorded and have been confirmed by modern historians, and he left his mark in the contemporary accounts and art of his day.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

Postby uflGator1 » Tue Feb 09, 2016 2:32 pm

Wethewax wrote:When you say the Caucasus Mtns are bigger than the Urals I have to disagree. The Urals run for 1,600 miles, whereas the Caucasus run for only 680 miles, thus making them about 1/3 the length of the Urals. Also the gap between the southern end of the Urals and the Caspian Sea is not that great, and there are ways to bypass the Caucasus too.

The Caucasus mountains are taller and more forbidding to cross, unlike the Urals which have numerous gaps in the middle and a big one at the southern tip north of the Caspian. The Urals bottleneck the Eurasian steppe to a certain degree, but they don't bisect it completely.
Eurasian Steppe wrote:Ural-Caspian Narrowing:
The Ural Mountains extend south to a point about 400 miles northeast of the Caspian Sea. This is not a major barrier to movement, but the area near the Caspian is quite dry.

I already mentioned the passes across the Caucasus. In the Middle ages they were called the Gates of Alexander because they were guarded by fortresses, and they have actually managed to keep people on one side or the other for thousands of years. The Derbent pass is a 3 km gap between the Eastern tip of the Caucasus and the shores of the Caspian. The Darial pass is an 8 mile gap between two vertical rock faces. One of these passes was where the Cimmerians crossed when they were pushed out of the Pontic Caspian steppe by the invading Scythians in the 700s BC. When the Cimmerians crossed into Asia Minor it destabilized the entire region. And ever since then, people below the Caucasus did what they could to keep the barbarians to the north from crossing.

As for the other part of your post: I have no idea why you think I don't believe in Alexander the Great as a historical figure. I used the term Alexander myth to separate the real historical Alexander from the Alexander described by the medieval romances. If you skim the first paragraph of either of the wikipedia links I gave in my first post (Alexander Romance and Alexander the Great in Legend) then you will see what I mean.

The real Alexander the Great defeated the nomadic Sakai (or Eastern Scyths) at the battle of the Jaxartes. The mythical Alexander ensorceled an army of djinns and forced them to build a giant iron gate between the Breasts of the World to imprison the forces of Gog and Magog.

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The real Alexander built a land bridge to the island city of Tyre and stormed the walls of the city without the use of ships. The mythological Alexander commanded the Cilician Sea to let him pass and caused its waters to recede in a gesture of proskynesis. His sister was a psychopathic mermaid and he also travelled to the bottom of the sea in a bubble for some reason.

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The real Alexander was fathered by Philip II of Macedon. The mythical Alexander was fathered by... well there are too many to name. Gods, demons, kings, animals, and many other things are said to have been Olympias' baby daddy. Here's two versions where he was sired by a dragon.

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Here's some more just for fun.

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This is what I'm talking about when I use the term "Alexander myth". Whenever a myth gets too big, it starts absorbing the local myths of the cultures around it. The medieval mythology surrounding Alexander the Great is one of the best examples of this process and its why the stories told about him in the middle ages are so bizarre. This isn't a discussion about a real historical figure. I already pointed out that the real Alexander didn't build the Gates of Alexander. This is about how mythology grows and changes as it gets transferred from one culture to another. The geographical aspects of the Urals and Caucasus mountains aren't all that relevant when compared with the mythological importance of the Gates of Alexander and the historical importance of the Caucasus as a dividing line between different cultures and political entities.
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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

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Re: Historical and Mythological Basis for the Bones and Hyrk

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