First Men

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First Men cut down weirwood trees and burned them, leading to war. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Blu-ray content.

The First Men are one of the three major ethnic groups from which the humans of Westeros descend, the others being the Andals and the Rhoynar. The First Men were the culture of humans who first set foot on the continent. The influence of the First Men is still felt in Westeros, most strongly in the north. The Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, the king on the Iron Throne, claims to be the King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men.[1]

Culture

Language

The original language of the First Men was the Old Tongue, a harsh, clanging language[2] that is still spoken by the free folk[2] and the giants[3] north of the Wall.

The First Men had a runic writing system.[4] First Men left their runes on rocks in most of the Seven Kingdoms; only in the stormlands, where races older than the First Men were dominant, did the First Men carve their tales into the trunks of trees, which have since rotted away.[5][6][7] The meaning of the runes of the First Men are disputed at the Citadel to this day.[8]

Religion

Worship before heart trees, by Bill Corbett © Fantasy Flight Games

The First Men worshiped unspecified gods prior to their arrival in Westeros.[9] The Sistermen of the Three Sisters believed that sacred storms were the result of the Lady of the Waves mating with the Lord of the Skies.[10] Their worship ended with the coming of the Andals, who introduced the Faith of the Seven.[10] In the Kingdom of the Storm,[11] the sea god and his wife, the goddess of the wind, were worshiped.[12][7] The ironborn, who are considered by most to descend from the First Men, worshiped the Drowned God prior to the arrival of the Andals, and continue to do so.[4] In addition, they also continue to believe in the Drowned God's eternal enemy, the Storm God.[13]

Following the Pact between the First Men and the children of the forest, the majority of the First Men eventually set aside their own gods and adopted the gods of the children as their own.[14][15][16] These nameless deities[17] of stream, forest, and stone[15] are referred to as the "old gods" because the gods of the Andals, referred to as the "new gods", replaced them in all but the north of Westeros.

The worship of the old gods is not accompanied by priests, holy texts, songs of worship, and barely any rites.[17][18] Prayers are done in silence.[18] Worshipers of the old gods visit godswoods, groves contained within castles throughout the Seven Kingdoms, where a heart tree can be found. These trees, which have faces carved into them, are considered to be sacred. Worshipers believe the old gods watch through the trees.[19][20] The heart trees are usually weirwoods, and godswoods are often the only places where living weirwoods still remain[21] until one goes north of the Wall.[19] Once all noble houses had a godswood with a heart tree in its center, but the First Men, in their wars against the children of the forest, cut down many of the trees, as did the Andals later on, replacing the old gods with the Seven in the southern kingdoms.[14]

According to Maester Yorrick, blood sacrifice to the old gods was still practiced in the vicinity of White Harbor five hundred years ago.[15]

Social hierarchy

The exact laws of inheritance followed by the First Men have not been stated. Several of the groups that descended from the First Men practiced rule by consensus or election among several lords and chieftains in council. The ironborn of old chose their kings through a kingsmoot, where each man who owned and captained a ship might cast a vote for the new king.[22] In Dorne, before the coming of the Andals or the Rhoynar, the First Men were divided into numerous petty kingdoms. The High Kings of Dorne[N 1] who ruled the lands near the mouth of the Greenblood were elected in a non-hereditary fashion from among a dozen noble families. This practice eventually collapsed when a dispute concerning an election set the families to war against one another.[23]

The free folk who live beyond the Wall are led by chieftains. At several times during history, they have united behind a non-hereditary over-chief known as the King-Beyond-the-Wall.[1][24][25] The Vale mountain clans are led by chieftains as well. In council, they insist that every man or woman must be allowed to have their voice heard.[26]

According to Archmaester Eyron, the ancient Marsh Kings of the crannogmen of the Neck were considered to be a "first among equals", often thought to be touched by the old gods.[27]

Thralldom was a common practice amongst the First Men before the arrival of the Andals.[4] The first night was a custom in which warlords and heroes slept with maidens on their wedding night. Pregnancies were seen by some as a blessing, as the new husbands could then raise the children of heroes as their own.[28]

Military

The First Men wielded bronze swords[14] and great bronze axes.[29][30] They were armored in bronze as well,[31][32] carrying large, leather shields.[14] When the coming of the Andals began, the First Men still fought in bronze.[33] In time, however, Andal blacksmiths taught the First Men to arm and armor themselves in iron.[31] The First Men rode horses into battle.[14][32]

Although not a seafaring people, the First Men did use fishing boats and trading cogs, though these were no match for longships with great sails and banks of oars.[4]

Architecture and infrastructure

When the First Men first settled in Westeros, they cut down the forests, began to plow the fields, and constructed roads through the hill country.[30] The farms and villages the First Men built were protected by stout motte-and-bailey forts, which were later on replaced by stone castles.[30] The First Men also raised up ringforts,[9] ruins of which can still be found at numerous places, including the Fist of the First Men,[34] and Seal Rock at White Harbor,[35] and the stormlands.[36] On Sea Dragon Point still stand ruins of ancient strongholds of the First Men.[37] The First Men, and later on the early Andals, built square towers and keeps.[38] In the Reach, Andal stonemasons taught the First Men how to further strengthen the defenses of their castles and holdfasts.[31]

Some of the barrow fields contain monuments.[39]

Guest right

The custom of guest right is both a sacred rule and an ancient one.[40] The guest rights are taken seriously, both beyond the Wall,[41][40] and in the Seven Kingdoms, and although it looms less in the southron kingdoms, it is held most dear in the north.[42] There, breaking guest right is punished similarly to the direst of treasons.[42]

The most common way of receiving guest right is by eating "bread and salt".[43] Once guest right has been offered and accepted, the guests and hosts are protected from harm by one another for the length of the stay.[42] Guest gifts can be given on the day the guests depart,[44][45] possibly as a means of ending the protection of the guest right. Guest gifts are no longer given by all lords, however.[44]

Death

The First Men believed that the person who condemned another to die should be the one who wields the sword.[46] House Stark practices this belief still.[1]

The First Men interred their dead in barrows, which can be found everywhere in the north, e.g., the Great Barrow of Barrowton, where the First King of the First Men is said to have been buried.[47] The barrowlands contains wide plains of flatness which are relieved by long, low hummocks, the barrows of the First Men.[48] The Starks bury their deceased family members in the crypts of Winterfell,[49][14] located beneath the castle. The Boltons similarly bury their deceased beneath the Dreadfort.[47] The Blackwoods, originally from the north, bury their dead beneath the weirwood of Raventree.[50] The Tullys of Riverrun, a house of First Men origin who now follow the Faith of the Seven, place their dead in a ship on the Red Fork and have it sink into the river after being set ablaze with fire arrows.[51]

History

Arrival in Westeros

Some maesters believe that the First Men originated in the grasslands of Essos, in the lands now known as the Dothraki sea.[52] Between eight thousand and twelve thousand years[9][14] before Aegon's Landing, during the Dawn Age, the First Men came to Westeros from Essos, although no tale recalls exactly why they made the trek westwards.[9] The First Men crossed the land bridge called the Arm of Dorne under the leadership of the First King, according to legends from the north, or Garth Greenhand, the High King of the First Men, according to some legends from the Reach.[42][53]

The First Men supposedly found the Seastone Chair upon the shores of Old Wyk when they first came to the Iron Islands.[54] It was the First Men who named the indigenous inhabitants "children of the forest", though the diminutive people's own name for themselves translates as "those who sing the song of the earth".[55]

War with the children of the forest

First Men fighting children of the forest. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Blu-ray content.

The First Men came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses. As the men settled in the new land, carving out holdfasts and farms, they chopped down and burned the carved weirwoods that were sacred to the gods of the children of the forest. This provoked wars between the children and the First Men. Though the children fought with their greenseers, magic, and wood dancers, the First Men were larger, stronger, and more technologically advanced.[14] The First Men cut down weirwoods as they believed that the greenseers could see through the eyes of the trees.[56]

According to the old songs, the desperate children gathered greenseers to the Isle of Faces[32] or to Moat Cailin,[9] a castle raised roughly ten thousand years ago[57] by the First Men.[58] The greenseers used dark magic to shatter the Arm of Dorne with the hammer of the waters, creating the Stepstones and the Broken Arm and flooding the Neck into a swamp.[9][32] Although the land bridge from Essos was shattered, the greenseers failed in their effort to halt the First Men, who were already more numerous in Westeros.[32][14]

First Men also warred against giants,[30][32] who were hostile to the newcomers.[16]

The Pact

The wars against the children of the forest went in the First Men's favor until the two sides reached a peace agreement, called the Pact, on the Isle of Faces. The First Men gave dominion of the deep woods to the children and promised to stop cutting down weirwoods. In return, they received claim to the rest of the Westeros.[14] Giants did not participate in the Pact.[16]

The Pact began four thousand years of friendship and peace between the two peoples,[14] although the children were already much diminished.[16] The years that followed the forging of the Pact is known as the Age of Heroes.[14] The First Men eventually set aside their religion to worship the children's secret gods of the wood, and like the children they carved faces into the weirwoods, creating heart trees. The children of the forest taught them to use ravens to communicate over long distances, but in those days the birds would speak the words, and the greenseers of the children could change their skins and speak through the animals.[59]

The Long Night

The Wall by Rene Aigner ©

During the Long Night, the First Men suffered from a generation of winter and the legendary Others are said to have invaded from the Land of Always Winter. Archmaester Fomas suggests the Others were a tribe of First Men instead of a monstrous enemy.[60]

Northern legends claim the last hero sought out the children of the forest to gain their aid.[61] The Others were driven back in the Battle for the Dawn and the Night's Watch was created to keep them at bay.[60][62] Six thousand or eight thousand years ago[60] the First Men built the Wall,[17] allegedly with the aid of children and giants.[63]

Coming of the Andals

Thousands of years after the Long Night,[N 2] the Andals crossed the narrow sea and began their migration from Essos to Westeros.[14] For several hundred years[14] the First Men and the Andals warred, fighting for control of the continent. Eventually, the Andals conquered or married into the kingdoms in the southern half of the continent, while the First Men Kings of Winter stopped all Andal incursions through the Neck at Moat Cailin.[14] The Andals continued practice of the first night.[28]

Legacy

According to George R. R. Martin, hardly any Westerosi are pure Andal or First Man after thousands of years of interbreeding.[64]

While much of their culture was lost over the millennia, the people of the north retained the spirit of the First Men and many are proud of carrying the blood of the First Men in their veins, such as the Starks[1] and the Karstarks.[65] South of the Neck there have been people that still proudly claim the blood of the First Men, such as the Blackwoods and Brackens,[66] the Daynes,[67] the Redforts,[68] the Royces,[69] the Strongs,[70] the Westerlings,[71] and the people of Crackclaw Point.[72] Lord Yohn Royce possesses a suit of bronze, rune-covered armor dating back thousands of years.[73] The Vale mountain clans of the Mountains of the Moon are descendants of the First Men.[74]

During Aegon's Conquest, Aegon I Targaryen was proclaimed King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men by the High Septon in Oldtown,[75] and Aegon's successors on the Iron Throne have continued the usage. Since the Seven Kingdoms continued to have inconsistent laws by the time of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, including some places following ancient laws of the First Men, Septon Barth began the unifying Great Code in 55 AC.[28] Barth and Queen Alysanne Targaryen ended the practice of the first night, considering it an antiquated practice of the First Men of old.[28]

Beyond the Wall the Thenns consider themselves the last of the First Men.[25]

Quotes

The First Men were a savage race, and like the wildlings beyond the Wall, they followed only strength.[28]

The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.[1]

Some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men appeared from the east, crossing the Broken Arm of Dorne before it was broken. They came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses.[14]

See also

Notes

  1. The title of "High Kings of Dorne" was also claimed by the lords of House Yronwood, who ruled northern Dorne from the mountain domains of House Wyl to the headwaters of the Greenblood.
  2. The time when the Andal invasion occurred is disputed; some sources indicate it took place six thousand years ago (A Game of Thrones, Catelyn VII and The World of Ice & Fire, The Vale: The Eyrie); True History states it was four thousand years ago (A Dance with Dragons, Jaime I); Some maesters, like Denestan, claim it was two thousand years ago (A Dance with Dragons, Jaime I and The World of Ice & Fire, The Vale: The Eyrie).

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 1, Bran I.
  2. 2.0 2.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 15, Jon II.
  3. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 49, Jon X.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands.
  5. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 5, Samwell I.
  6. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 7, Jon II.
  7. 7.0 7.1 The World of Ice & Fire, The Stormlands: House Durrandon.
  8. The World of Ice & Fire, The Riverlands.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Coming of the First Men.
  10. 10.0 10.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 9, Davos I.
  11. The World of Ice & Fire, The Stormlands: Andals in the Stormlands.
  12. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 31, Catelyn III.
  13. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 1, The Prophet.
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 14.14 14.15 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Dawn Age.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 The World of Ice & Fire, The Stormlands: The Coming of the First Men.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 70, Jon IX.
  18. 18.0 18.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 53, Tyrion VI.
  19. 19.0 19.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 48, Jon VI.
  20. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 53, Bran VI.
  21. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 2, Catelyn I.
  22. The World of Ice & Fire, The Iron Islands: Driftwood Crowns.
  23. The World of Ice & Fire, Dorne: Kingdoms of the First Men.
  24. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 51, Jon VI.
  25. 25.0 25.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 26, Jon III.
  26. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 56, Tyrion VII.
  27. The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Crannogmen of the Neck.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 Fire & Blood, Jaehaerys and Alysanne - Their Triumphs and Tragedies.
  29. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reach: The Gardener Kings.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 The World of Ice & Fire, The Westerlands.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 The World of Ice & Fire, The Reach: Andals in the Reach.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 The World of Ice & Fire, Dorne: The Breaking.
  33. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals.
  34. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 34, Jon IV.
  35. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 15, Davos II.
  36. The World of Ice & Fire, The Stormlands: Storm's End.
  37. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 26, The Wayward Bride.
  38. The World of Ice & Fire, The North: Winterfell.
  39. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Age of Heroes.
  40. 40.0 40.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 7, Jon I.
  41. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 23, Jon III.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 The World of Ice & Fire, The North.
  43. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 49, Catelyn VI.
  44. 44.0 44.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 29, Davos IV.
  45. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 46, A Ghost in Winterfell.
  46. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 43, Eddard XI.
  47. 47.0 47.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 32, Reek III.
  48. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 12, Eddard II.
  49. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
  50. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 48, Jaime I.
  51. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 35, Catelyn IV.
  52. The World of Ice & Fire, Beyond the Free Cities: The Grasslands.
  53. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reach.
  54. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II.
  55. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 13, Bran II.
  56. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 28, Bran IV.
  57. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 66, Theon VI.
  58. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 37, Bran V.
  59. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Long Night.
  61. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran IV.
  62. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 21, Bran III.
  63. The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Wall and Beyond.
  64. So Spake Martin: Event Horizon Chat (March 18, 1999)
  65. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 20, Catelyn III.
  66. So Spake Martin: Blackwood-Bracken Feud and Coinage, August 13, 2003
  67. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21, The Queenmaker.
  68. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, Catelyn VI.
  69. The Citadel: House Royce of Runestone
  70. Fire & Blood, The Dying of the Dragons - Rhaenyra Triumphant.
  71. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 14, Catelyn II.
  72. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 20, Brienne IV.
  73. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 29, Sansa II.
  74. George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, The Vale: Mountains of the Moon.
  75. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest.