The Iron Islands is one of the regions of the Seven Kingdoms, a group of islands in the west of Westeros. From the mainland of the island, they are separated by Ironman’s Bay, and on the west side, they are washed by the Sunset Sea. It is a poor land that is struggling to feed its population; the inhabitants of the Iron Islands, the ironborn, are known as freedom-loving, but cruel pirates. They worship the Drowned God and in the past often staged raids on the coast of Westeros, and during their greatest power kings of the Iron, Islands ruled vast lands on the mainland. The islands are ruled by the Greyjoy House from Pyke on the island of the same name.
Geography and nature
The Iron Islands are located on the west of the Riverlands, south-west of the North and north of the Western Lands. Actually, there are 31 islands in Ironman’s Bay. Seven of the largest and most important ones are:
- Pyke, the southern island, is the possession of the ruling Greyjoy house, home to the archipelago’s largest city, Lordsport;
- Great Wyk is the western island and the largest in terms of ore deposits;
- Old Wyk is the sacred island and the center of worship of the Drowned God, were in the Age of Heroes stood the palace of the Grey King, and later on the assembly elected the rulers of the ironborn;
- Harlaw, is the closest to the mainland and the most populous island;
- Orkmont is an impassable and mountainous island from where the Kings of Greyiron ruled the islands before the arrival of the Andals;
- Blacktyde is a little-remarkable northern island;
- Saltcliffe is also a little-remarkable south-west island.
The rest of the islands in the main archipelago are much smaller in size – some have Lord’s castles or just fishing settlements, others are used to graze sheep by peasants from neighboring islands, but most are uninhabited.
The Iron Islands also includes another group of islands in the Sunset Sea, from where the rest of the islands eight days’ way – the island of Lonely Light and thirteen other surrounding smaller islets. These are the rocks open to all winds, where seals and sea lions arrange their rookery.
Great Wyk, Orkmont, and Harlaw are rich in iron, tin, and lead ore, which is why the Iron Islands got its name. There are many mines; ore and metal are the main commodities that are taken out of the islands. Among the iron-born many skilled blacksmiths and gunsmiths, Lordsport blacksmiths are famous for the quality of swords and axes. The soil of the islands is poor and rocky, it is more suitable for grazing goats and sheep than for growing grain – if not for the gifts of the sea, the islands every winter would be starved. The waters of Ironman’s Bay abound with fish, the shores of the islands – crabs and lobsters. The ironborn also hunt whales and seals in the Sunset Sea.
The need for timber for the construction of ships and iron ore smelting led to the fact that forests on the islands were mostly cut down, although Great Wyk still has forests – across the strait from Old Wyk you can see the mountains overgrown with pines. Archmaester Haereg believed that it was the lack of wood at one time that forced the ironborn to embark on the path of raids and robberies. In more peaceful times, as under the House Hoare, wood was purchased on the mainland in exchange for iron ore.
Population and customs
The people of the Iron Islands are known in the rest of Westeros as ironmen and they call themselves ironborn. Like the northerners, the ironborn goes back to the First Men, although the Andal blood flows in their veins. The life of the ironborn is connected to the sea, and they are the best sailors in Westeros – they say that iron people spend their lives on the deck of the ship.
Cold, strong winds from the sea and dampness make living here very far from comfortable; the soil here is scarce and rocky. For a long time, the islands bred goats and sheep, cultivated fields – and because of the small number of horses farmers put in carts and ploughs of oxen, and the poorest, who have no livestock in the farm themselves drag ploughs through the fields.
However, the main source of food for the islanders was and remains fishing: Archmaester Hake, himself a native of the islands, claimed that on the islands seven out of ten families are fishermen. Even in the centuries of the greatest military power of the islands, when slaves worked in the fields and mines, it was believed that free people have two worthy occupations: fishing and war.
Since ancient times, the ideal image of a man and a warrior for the islanders was not a noble knight, but a brave raider, who goes to the “green lands” and returns with prey. Those who went on a raid in the autumn for provisions ate everything, while the one who stayed at home and tried to grow the last harvest and in the long winters often starved. The islands were also in dire need of a forest for ships, which were cut down and carried from the mainland. Priests of the Drowned God forbade the ironborn to attack their own kind and rob each other, but the inhabitants of the “green lands” were another thing: in the past centuries, the ironborn for the most times brought to the islands captured slaves to work in the fields and in the mines. They especially appreciated literate scribes, artisans, and beautiful young women. The last raiders took in “salt wives” in addition to the only free-born “stone” wife. From these times came the custom of the “iron price”: so, the warrior can wear only those jewelry, such as rings, which he obtained with “iron” as a military trophy, but did not buy from traders for gold.