In the back pages of The World of Ice and Fire – and I mean the very back pages – there’s a curious tale of an ancient kingdom of the Far East called “The Great Empire of the Dawn.” It reads very like A Song of Ice and Fire’s “Atlantis” legend – it was a fabled society of immense wealth, knowledge, power, and of course, hubris, and it met a sudden end in a world-shaping cataclysm. While it seems like some extra world-building with a few Lovecraft references thrown in, the Great Empire of the Dawn is actually nothing less than the story of the long lost people who built Asshai – and who likely tamed dragons before the Valyrians did.
That’s pretty interesting on its own – the origins of dragons and dragonlord magic is the sort of delightful mystery all fantasy fans are drawn to. But the Great Empire of the Dawn theory is more than that, because there is virtually irrefutable proof that these ancient, pre-Valyrian dragonlords actually came to Westeros in ancient days! This is the most important part of the theory, because I believe that it helps solve some of the deepest mysteries of the story, such as why House Dayne has a mysterious, highly anachronistic 10,000 year-old unbreakable magic sword and a tendency to manifest Valyrian looks from time to time; why the legend of Azor Ahai, an ancient myth from the far east, is important to a story primarily about Westeros; why the last hero’s final sword was said to be made from “dragonsteel”; and why Targaryens are needed at the Wall to face the Others. The Great Empire of the Dawn theory also sheds light on a few more obscure mysteries such as the non-Westerosi origins of the first Hightowers, Ironborn, and perhaps even Lannisters; why there are legends of dragons and dragonslayers in ancient Westeros; and who may have built some of the mysteriously-advanced structures around Westeros like Storms End, Moat Cailin, and even the Wall. But first, we have to figure out just what is going on over in the east with the fabled empire of the Dawn Age.
Hey there friends and fellow myth heads, its Lucifer means Lightbringer and I am here with newly polished version of one of my very oldest theories. That’s right, although there have been many good videos and essays on the Great Empire of the Dawn, including the collaboration History of Westeros and I did a couple years back which most of you are probably familiar with, my essay outlining this theory on the Westeros.org forums from April 2nd, 2015, is to the best of my knowledge the first appearance of the theory. I know, I know, no one cares, but thank you for allowing me a brief moment of nostalgia and flag-planting. With the crucial help of my friend Durran Durrandon, I came up with this right after my main Long Night / moon meteors theory, and it’s always been a favorite topic of mine… it’s like finding a secret Numenor in the history of ASOIAF, and it’s actually ancient Asshai, so it’s pretty damn fun. Anyway, this video is brought to you by my Patreon community and all the myth heads who like, share, and comment on my videos, so a big thanks to all of you. Check out lucifermeanslightbringer.com for the Patreon link as well as the text version of all of my video essays.
In late 2014, George R. R. Martin, along with co-writers Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, who run Westeros.org, released a vast and delightful treasure box masquerading as a coffee-table style worldbook companion, being also known by the name The World of Ice and Fire. It dropped into the Westeros.org forums like bloody chum into shark-infested waters; old friends like Ravenous Reader and Durran Durrandon remember the feeding frenzy of theorizing that went down at the time. All the stuff from the far east stood out right away, especially this strange story of a fabled lost empire whose ending involved both the Long Night and Azor Ahai. We find it in the history of Yi Ti, though it is actually a predecessor:
In ancient days, the god-emperors of Yi Ti were as powerful as any ruler on earth, with wealth that exceeded even that of Valyria at its height and armies of almost unimaginable size.
In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth, the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made of Light, who traveled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives. For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God on earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forbearers.
Dominion over mankind then passed to his eldest son, who was known as the pearl Emperor and ruled for 1000 years. The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries… Yet every rain was shorter and more troubled than the one preceding it, for wild man and baleful beasts pressed at the borders of the Great Empire, lesser kings grew prideful and rebellious, and the common people gave themselves over to avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth.
Breaking in here for a moment, we can see so far that this is a very standard tale of a high civilization which eventually grows corrupt and prideful before its great downfall – again, think of Atlantis or Numenor form Lord of the Rings. The God-Emperors of the Great Empire of the Dawn apparently started with some sort of divine mandate, but then lost their way… Let’s see what happens next!
When the daughter of the Opal Emperor succeeded him as the Amethyst Empress, her envious younger brother cast her down and slew her, proclaiming himself the Bloodstone Emperor and beginning a reign of terror. He practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy, enslaved his people, took a tiger-woman for his bride, feasted on human flesh, and cast down the true gods to worship a black stone that had fallen from the sky. (Many scholars count the Bloodstone Emperor as the first High Priest of the sinister Church of Starry Wisdom, which persists to this day in many port cities throughout the known world).
In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men.
How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree that it was only when a great warrior—known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser—arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world.
Alright, well, that was pretty bad – torture, necromancy, meteor worship, an age of darkness so full of evil the gods themselves despair… this is the eastern version of the Long Night story, and I can definitely picture Old Nan telling this story to Bran one dark and stormy night: “…darks arts, torture and necromancy. Is this the sort of story you like, boy?”
The place to start with this myth is the presence of the Long Night, despite the fact that Tiger Woman sounds pretty damn cool (that’s probably a reference to the God-Empresses of Leng, actually, as it is known as the land of 10,000 tigers). As you can see from this very legend, the Long Night was a global cataclysm felt from Westeros to Yi Ti, and thus it acts as a universal line of demarcation in history. If the Great Empire of the Dawn ended with the Long Night, then it existed before – during the Dawn Age, appropriately enough. The Azor Ahai myth is always attached to the Long Night, and he pops up in this story too, so all of that agrees chronologically – as much as it can for history this ancient. Yi Ti itself is regarded as one of the first civilizations to arise in the wake of the Long Night, and although they consider themselves descendants of the Great Empire, we can be sure that there was a break between the two civilizations because of the next paragraph in that TWIOAF passage we were quoting from:
Yet the Great Empire of the Dawn was not reborn, for the restored world was a broken place where every tribe of men went its own way, fearful of all the others, and war and lust and murder endured, even to our present day. Or so the men and women of the Further East believe.
So Yi Ti arose some time after the chaos and strife of the Great Empire’s collapse, controlling a large part – but not all – of their former territory. The Yi Tish scribes preserve the memory of this older empire in their most ancient histories (the Yi Tish, along with the Asshai’i, are said to have been the world’s first record keepers), but considers their nation to have ended with the Long Night.
The plot thickens quite a bit, like molten magma hardening into stone, when we read about one of the great achievements of the Great Empire of the Dawn, known as the Five Forts. One note: the “Golden Empire” referred to here is Yi Ti, whose full name is the Golden Empire of Yi Ti.
No discussion of Yi Ti would be complete without a mention of the Five Forts, a line of hulking ancient citadels that stand along the far northeastern frontiers of the Golden Empire, between the Bleeding Sea (named for the characteristic hue of its deep waters, supposedly a result of a plant that grows only there) and the Mountains of the Morn. The Five Forts are very old, older than the Golden Empire itself; some claim they were raised by the Pearl Emperor during the morning of the Great Empire to keep the Lion of Night and his demons from the realms of men…and indeed, there is something godlike, or demonic, about the monstrous size of the forts, for each of the five is large enough to house ten thousand men, and their massive walls stand almost a thousand feet high.
I’m not sure if the Five Forts were built by “the Pearl Emperor,” or if there was one specific person called “The Pearl Emperor,” but it is certain that the Forts must predate Yi Ti, for reasons of simple logic: Yi Ti has kept unbroken records since the beginning of their empire, and they would definitely know if they had undertaken the massive, massive civic works project of building those “hulking citadels” with walls hundreds of feet high. They’d be eager to take credit for them, so the fact that they do not tells us that they must not have built them.
Here’s why it’s so important to date the Five Forts: they seem to have been built by dragonlords.
Certain scholars from the west have suggested Valyrian involvement in the construction of the Five Forts, for the great walls are single slabs of fused black stone that resemble certain Valyrian citadels in the west…but this seems unlikely, for the Forts predate the Freehold’s rise, and there is no record of any dragonlords ever coming so far east.
Thus the Five Forts must remain a mystery. They still stand today, unmarked by time, guarding the marches of the Golden Empire against raiders out of the Grey Waste.
Fused stone, as far as we know, can only be created with dragonfire (to melt the stone) and sorcery (both to control the dragons and shape and harden the stone in place). That’s why the maesters say that the Five Forts seems like Valyrian work; however they also rightly point out that Valyria arose after the Long Night and was never known to have come this far east, and so they can only shrug their shoulders. What they don’t come right out and say is that we essentially have a case of a missing, pre-Long Night dragonlord civilization in the far east!
Could that civilization be the Great Empire of the Dawn? Certainly I wondered if that might be the case when I read this passage about the Five Forts. But we’ve been getting clues for a long time about dragons having first originated somewhere else in the far east before Valyria existed for a long time now – ever since book one. That would be Asshai, of course – for example, in Bran’s coma dream in AGOT, he looks east to the lands of Asshai, “where dragons stirred beneath the sunrise,” while Daenerys “had heard that the first dragons had come from the east, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai and the islands of the Jade Sea” and thinks that “perhaps some were still living there, in realms strange and wild.” Dany’s dragon eggs are said to come from Asshai, and even if Illyrio was lying about this, it shows that Asshai is a place where people expect dragon’s eggs to come from.
Septon Barth refers to the same stories of an Asshai’i origin for dragons that Dany has heard in his seminal work entitled Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History:
In such fragments of Barth’s Unnatural History as remain, the septon appears to have considered various legends examining the origins of dragons and how they came to be controlled by the Valyrians. ( . . . ) In Asshai, the tales are many and confused, but certain texts—all impossibly ancient—claim that dragons first came from the Shadow, a place where all of our learning fails us. These Asshai’i histories say that a people so ancient they had no name first tamed dragons in the Shadow and brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians their arts before departing from the annals. Yet if men in the Shadow had tamed dragons first, why did they not conquer as the Valyrians did?
Perhaps these “men in the Shadow” of Asshai did use dragons to conquer as the Valyrians did – their empire was called “The Great Empire of the Dawn” and it was indeed quite large. Think about it – the Five Forts are said to have built by the Great Empire of the Dawn, but the fused stone building technique used there requires the presence of dragonlords. Asshai is thought by some to be the place where dragons came from… so if the ancient Ashai’i and the nation known as the Great Empire are one and the same, this all fits together very nicely. It’s just that it’s ten-thousand year old history which has passed through the cultural bottleneck of the Long Night, and so the information we have is very fragmented.
This is where Durran Durrandon’s key find comes in.
So… dragons may have first come from Asshai, and if the Great Empire of the Dawn did in fact build the Five Forts, then they must have counted dragonlords among their people. There’s a good logistical case for Asshai having been built by the Great Empire, and I’ll make that in a second. But there’s actually a huge, flaming-sword-in-the-darkness level clue about the Great Empire people having been dragonlords that comes all the way back in AGOT, and this is the thing that the estimable Durran Durrandon found. This passage comes at the end of Dany’s “wake the dragon” dream that she has while lying unconscious in Mirri Maz Duur’s tent of dancing shadows:
“… want to wake the dragon …”
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade. “Faster,” they cried, “faster, faster.” She raced, her feet melting the stone wherever they touched. “Faster!” the ghosts cried as one, and she screamed and threw herself forward. A great knife of pain ripped down her back, and she felt her skin tear open and smelled the stench of burning blood and saw the shadow of wings. And Daenerys Targaryen flew.
“… wake the dragon …”
Hair of silver and gold and platinum white mark these people as Valyrians, or at least as blood of the dragon people, and most readers have always assumed these kingly ghosts to be Dany’s Valyrian ancestors. I do think they are Dany’s ancestors, and the one with amethyst eyes does indeed looks like a model Valyrian – but the rest do not. However, opal, amethyst, tourmaline and jade are no random grouping of four gemstones – those are four of the eight gemstones attributed to the rulers of the Great Empire of the Dawn (which were pearl, jade, tourmaline, onyx, topaz, opal, amethyst, and bloodstone). Now I don’t necessarily think that George had the details of the “Great Empire of the Dawn” planned out when he wrote AGOT, but we can tell from the clues about dragons and Asshai that he left in AGOT that he definitely did have a general idea about their being some lost pre-Valyrian dragonlord people from Asshai. All this stuff about the great Empire of the Dawn in TWOIAF is basically just George filling out those details, or said in the parlance of gardener-style writers like George, ‘watering the seeds of world-building’ that he had planted in book one. And when he did, he chose those same four gemstones that he used in the eyes of Dany’s ghostly ancestors as four of the eight gemstones that represent the rulers of the Great Empire.
Therefore, we can be relatively sure that George is now thinking of these gemstone-eyed kingly ghosts with dragonlord hair as Great Empire of the Dawn people. They look like dragonlords, they tell Dany to wake the dragon, and in their hands are swords of pale fire. That’s certainly interesting, since the one flaming sword we hear of, Lightbringer, was supposedly used to defeat the armies of darkness during the Long Night right after the collapse of the Great Empire. If the Great Empire people were dragonlords, it’s possible that flaming sword technology was something they had as well, but the main point is more of a literary one – in ASOIAF, we associate flaming swords with Lightbringer, which is a part of the end of the Great Empire of the Dawn story, and with Azor Ahai, whose myth comes from Asshai. Lightbringer and Azor Ahai are in turn strongly linked to dragons, and here in Dany’s dream, she sees the gemstone people as dragonlords holding Lightbringer swords who cheer her on to wake the dragon.
So again, you can see how all these details fit together nicely if the Great Empire of the Dawn was a civilization of dragonlords who created a vast empire before the Long Night, one that included Asshai, the place where dragons seem to originate from. Their empire ended in disaster – and certainly Asshai looks like it was the epicenter of a huge magical disaster of some kind, on the scale of the Doom of Valyria or worse (one thinks of the black meteor that the Bloodstone Emperor worshipped when the Long Night fell). Flaming swords seem to have been a part of their magical arsenal, hence the many tales of a hero fighting the darkness with Lightbringer at the sunset of their kingdom.
The apparent fact that Dany is seeing the ghosts of the kings and emperors who ruled the Great Empire empire as dragonlords with flaming swords, right at the climax of her wake the dragon dream, speaks to their importance. If these folks don’t know something about what it means for Dany to be Azor Ahai reborn, I don’t know who does. It seems obvious that if these are the gemstone emperor ghosts, the one with amethyst eyes indicates that the Valyrians directly descend from the people of the Great Empire, as opposed to the scenario Septon Barth imagines where men from Asshai simply taught the first Valyrians their arts before disappearing from the pages of history. These kingly ghosts are Dany’s ancestors, her most ancient blood, and these are the people who first bonded with dragons, who in all likelihood first created “the blood of the dragon.” When Dany gets her hands on the glass candle that Marwyn the Mage is almost certainly bringing to Slaver’s Bay, I suspect these gemstone-eyed folks may put in another appearance. One also wonders about the truth that Quaithe keeps saying waits for Dany in Asshai – we’ve always imagined it had to do with Azor Ahai and dragonlord stuff, and now we can connect that idea to these kingly ghosts with dragonlord hair and flaming swords who were contacting Dany in her all-important wake the dragon dream. They may well have ruled their Great Empire from Asshai, as we are about to see.
Alright, now I want to make the more practically-minded folks in the audience happy. You know I love the symbolism and the literary clues like the gemstone thing, but figuring out that Asshai was part of the Great Empire of the Dawn can be achieved through logic as well. First, let’s talk about the territory said to be included in the Great Empire of the Dawn, which is somewhat loosely described as “all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng). As you can see on the map, that description could arguably include Asshai. If the Great Empire conquered Leng, that means they were a maritime power, and Asshai would have been well within their reach. Asshai can also be reached over land by caravan even to this day, as we hear from Mirri Maz Duur in AGOT, so it’s actually kind of difficult to imagine a huge, powerful kingdom like the Great Empire existing right next to Asshai but not including it.
Another clue about this comes from following the path of the Azor Ahai legend. We are told that this hero appears in at least five forms – Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser, and three of those names are easily traceable to lands within the Great Empire. Hyrkoon the Hero comes from Hyrkoon, a now-vanished empire which existed within the lands fo the great Empire. Yin Tar is obviously from Yi Ti, whose lands were a part of the Great Empire, and the same is true of the city of Nefer, chief city of the people called the N’ghai, presumably the place where “Neferion” comes from. This all makes sense, because these kingdoms would all have sprung up in the wake of the Great Empire’s downfall, preserving their own memory of the flaming sword hero who ended the Long Night, but changing the name and probably other details of the story over time to match their specific culture, as happens in the real world with the evolution of mythology. The name Azor Ahai fits this pattern – it comes from the Asshai’i version of the story, and the word Azor Ahai is similar to the word Asshai as Yin Tar is to Yi Ti – so perhaps Asshai was part of the Great Empire as the ancestors of the people of Hyrkoon, Yi Ti, and Nefer. In fact, the -ai suffix of Azor Ahai and Asshai can be found all through the lands that were once a part of the Great Empire: the N’ghai people of Nefer, the Jogos Nhai, the city of Stygai upriver from Asshai, and the nearby volcanic island of Marhai.
The ‘Eldric Shadowchaser’ name is a total wildcard, matching nothing in Essos, although we find Eldric name variants in House Stark and House Dayne… and you better believe that is a clue we will follow up on when we talk about the Westerosi side of things. But for now, it’s sufficient to observe that peoples formerly part of the Great Empire all seem to retain a version of the flaming sword hero myth, and Asshai has that myth as well.
The better evidence comes from looking at Asshai itself, freaky place that it is. Today, Asshai is heavily depopulated and and inhabited mostly by various types of mages and sorcerers who come to study the dark arts:
Easternmost and southern most of the great cities of the known world, the ancient port of Asshai stands at the end of a long wedge of land, on the point where the Jade Sea meets the Saffron Straights. It’s origin are lost in the mists of time. Even the Asshai’i do not claim to know who built their city; they will say only that a city has stood here since the world began and will stand here until it ends.
Asshai is a large city, sprawling out for leagues on both banks of the black river Ash. Behind its enormous land walls is ground enough for Volantis, Quarth, and King’s Landing to stand side by side and still have enough room for Oldtown.
Yet the population of Asshai is no greater than that of a good sized market town. By night the streets are deserted, and only one building in ten shows a light.
Asshai is not just a large city; it’s the largest city in the known world, and it’s not close. Volantis, Qarth, Oldtown, and Kings Landing are among the larger cities that we know of, and Asshai is bigger than all of them put together. That’s huge. Enormous. Gargantuan. Nothing less than a Dawn Age metropolis. The exact details of the glory and height of the Great Empire may be shrouded in myth, but the raw size of Asshai is undeniable.
And huge cities and built by… huge empires. Large urban populations have to be supported by farmlands outside the city, and the wealth and manpower needed to build a large city always comes from a large, thriving population. It is obvious that Asshai did not need to be so big if its original purpose was as super-evil Hogwarts for shadowbinders and dark mages; that’s just the way it used now. And what about those enormous land walls that surround the city? They’re totally unnecessary now, but would have made sense in a time when Asshai was fully populated.
The question that arises at this point concerns the state of Asshai. The Shadowlands peninsula on which it sits, and the very city itself, seems magically blighted in significant way. It’s not the type of place a large civilization would thrive – but was it always like this?
Few places in the known world are as remote as Asshai, and fewer are as forbidding. Travelers tell us that the city is built entirely of black stone: halls, hovels, temples, palaces, streets, walls, bazaars, all. Some say as well that the stone of Asshai has a greasy, unpleasant feel to it, that it seems to drink the light, dimming tapers and torches and hearth fires alike. The nights are very black in Asshai, all agree, and even the brightest days of summer are somehow grey and gloomy.
It seems clear to me that something happened here; it really feels a lot like the Doom of Valyria, which left the lands of the Long Summer blighted and cursed and toxic some 4000 years later. Whatever happened in Asshai would have happened 8,000 years ago or whenever the Long Night occurred, so it’s had longer to cool off, but the point is when we see this sort of magical darkness lingering in one place and making the stone sick and evil… this isn’t a natural occurrence, you know? Something is causing this.
It’s not just the stone and the dark skies, but the land around the city:
Despite its forbidding aspects, Asshai-by-the-Shadow has for many centuries been a thriving port, where ships from all over the known world come to trade, crossing vast and stormy seas. Most arrive laden with foodstuffs and wine, for beyond the walls of Asshai little grows save ghost grass, whose glassy, glowing stalks are inedible. If not for the food brought in from across the sea, the Asshai’i would have starved.
The ships bring casks of freshwater too. The waters of the Ash glisten black beneath the noonday sun and glimmer with a pale green phosphorescence by night, and such fish as swim in the river are blind and twisted, so deformed and hideous to look upon that only fools and shadowbinders will eat of their flesh.
Every land beneath the sun has need of fruits and grains and vegetables, so one might ask why any mariner would sail to the ends of the earth when he might more easily sell his cargo to markets closer to home. The answer is gold. Beyond the walls of Asshai, food is scarce, but gold and gems are common…though some will say that the gold of the Shadow Lands is as unhealthy in its own way as the fruits that grow there.
The ships come nonetheless. For gold, for gems, and for other treasures, for certain things spoken of only in whispers, things that cannot be found anywhere upon the earth save in the black bazaars of Asshai.
So, almost nothing grows near Asshai save for the Ghost Grass, which is why the city requires food to be brought in by ship. This works well enough for the very small population of wizards that live there now, but if this city were full, it could not subsist solely on trade. You don’t build an ancient metropolis in a blighted land with no food, you know? Additionally, there’s a passage which tells us that there are no children or animals in Asshai, presumably because they do not last long in such a toxic environment.
All of this points to an ancient Asshai and Shadowlands peninsula which were not blighted and shadowed, once upon a time. Without the magical shadow and the toxic magic that infects the land there, Asshai might have been a prosperous city on the tip of a verdant peninsula guarding a valuable trade route – the Saffron Straights – with lots of gold and gems to be found in the hills. That sounds more like the recipe for a Dawn Age metropolis, but again, it would require Asshai to also control massive amounts of land beyond their city… which runs them right up against the Great Empire of the Dawn.
So let’s think… Asshai must have been a large, prosperous city at one point before the Long Night, one that controlled great territory… and the Great Empire of the Dawn was a large, prosperous empire that existed in roughly the same place and time. The easiest explanation is that Asshai was not only part of the Great Empire, but its capital. The largest and greatest empire that existed before the Long Night… built the largest and greatest city that existed before the Long Night. Makes sense, right? What other explanation is there for a city so ridiculously damn large?
The Great Empire and Asshai being one and the same also explains the fused stone found at the Five Forts, and Dany’s dream of Valyrian looking kingly ghosts with gemstone eyes that match the rules of the Great Empire. The Great Empire built in fused stone and appear to Dany as Lightbringer-wielding dragonlords… because they were Lightbringer-wielding dragonlords.
Speaking of Strange Stone (that’s actually the title of a Maester’s Book about the fused stone and greasy black stone), let’s talk about that greasy black stone Asshai is built from in more detail. This is different from fused stone, which is also black; fused stone is made by dragolords with dragonfire and sorcery, does not seem to be cursed, and is found in places like Valyria, Dragonstone, Volantis, and on the Valyrian roads spanning Essos. Black stone which is “greasy” or “oily” and which “drinks the light” is a specific substance which George has scattered around the world in a few places in addition to Asshai – we find it at the ancient jungle city of Yeen in Sothoryos, on Toad Isle in the Basilisk Isles, and in the form of the Seastone Chair on the Iron Islands for sure, and the black basalt blocks of Moat Cailin may also be the same substance based on an unclear quote in ADWD. Check out the quote from TWOIAF about Yeen:
Maesters and other scholars alike have puzzled over the greatest of the engimas of Sothoryos, the ancient city of Yeen. A ruin older than time, built of oily black stone, in massive blocks so heavy that it would require a dozen elephants to move them, Yeen has remained a desolation for many thousands of years, yet the jungle that surrounds it on every side has scarce touched it. (“A city so evil that even the jungle will not enter,” Nymeria is supposed to have said when she laid eyes on it, if the tales are true). Every attempt to rebuild or resettle Yeen has ended in horror.
This sounds a lot like the oily black stone at Asshai; plants won’t grow near it, it reeks of evil and sorcery, and it’s so old no one knows its origins. My point isn’t to solve the mystery of Yeen, but to demonstrate that the oily black stone substance is associated with curses and evil magic at Yeen and Asshai – Toad Isle may well be cursed as well, and the same goes for the Seastone Chair in my opinion. Now when we consider that Asshai, a city bigger than anything the world has produced since, is made entirely of this oily black stone, we are left with two possibilities: either it was built out of cursed stone to begin with, or it was built out of regular stone (or perhaps fused stone) and then later cursed and blighted. The second option makes far more sense to me; a large thriving population wouldn’t build its wealthy capital out of evil cursed stone. And as we said, a large population couldn’t have even existed there with the land being so cursed, so the logical answer is that the land and the stone of the city were cursed and blighted in the same incident, likely during the calamity known as the Long Night.
Think back to the Bloodstone Emperor, the ruler of the Great Empire who is remembered as having brought on their downfall and the Long Night itself through dark magic and murder. Doesn’t that all fit with the state of Asshai now? Asshai and the surrounding lands may have been blighted with dark magic during the Long Night, and the guy who is thought to be responsible for the Long Night is famous for practicing dark magic. Can’t you picture this guy at Stygai working his spells? I sure can. And the best part is that the Bloodstone Emperor worshipped a black meteorite that fell from the sky – as we all know for an absolute fact, the Long Night was caused by the smoke, ash, and debris thrown up from an ancient meteor strike. Well, that’s my theory anyway, and it would certainly explain things – and one notes that comets and meteors are referred to as bleeding stars in ASOIAF, so a meteorite could be thought of as a blood-stone. The Bloodstone Emperor, who brought on the Long Night and worshipped the evil black rock that caused it – sounds plausible, right?
Whether or not you like my meteor theory as an explanation for the desolation around the Shadowlands and Asshai, I still think it is an inescapable conclusion that it’s far more likely that Asshai was built out of regular stone or fused stone and then later cursed rather than having been built from cursed stone to begin with. Otherwise we have to picture a huge city populated entirely by squishers who eat nothing but ghost grass and stolen human babies for food, and I just don’t think that’s the explanation Martin is insinuating here. But please do comment below with your squisher empire of the dawn fanfic, I’m here for that.
Instead, I think we can simply picture Asshai as the once-glorious capital of the long lost dragonlord empire also known as the Great Empire of the Dawn. Azor Ahai, Lightbringer, the origins of the Long Night, the magical art of dragonriding – all of it started here.
“To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”
Asshai, Dany thought. She would have me go to Asshai. “Will the Asshai’i give me an army?” she demanded. “Will there be gold for me in Asshai? Will there be ships? What is there in Asshai that I will not find in Qarth?”
“Truth,” said the woman in the mask. And bowing, she faded back into the crowd.
Alright! Now that we’ve glimpsed a bit of the hidden truth of Asshai, we are ready to go to Westeros in part 2, because we have an equally mysterious, pre-Long Night fused stone construction over there as we found in the Five Forts. And if you think about it, that’s no surprise – of course all this Azor Ahai stuff has to connect to Westeros, right? Why would there be so much about Jon and Daenerys fulfilling the prophesied rebirth of a hero from Asshai if the original hadn’t come to Westeros? Everyone’s always wondered if Azor Ahai is connected to the Westerosi myth of the last hero ending the Long Night with a sword of dragonsteel, or to House Dayne and Dawn, but for that to work we need some sort of plausible connection between pre-Long Night Westeros and pre-Long Night Asshai… and in part 2 I will show you where it is and what it means.
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