The armies of Westeros are gathering their strength, and we're primed to see some massive battles to come when the show returns for its seventh season. To prepare for these epic conflicts, let's take a look at some of the armies we've seen so far on Game of Thrones, and the real-life warfare that inspired their looks and tactics.
Now that an alliance has been struck between Dorne, Highgarden, and Daenerys Targaryen, there's really only one major force standing in the way of a new Targaryen dynasty: House Lannister.
At their full strength, the Lannister army was able to raise a force of nearly 60,000 men in the novels, although it is currently unknown what their current military strength is in the aftermath of the War of the Five Kings.
We haven't really gotten a good look yet at the Lannister military in an open battlefield (the Battle of the Blackwater is the closest so far), but overall they seem pretty in line with the other major kingdoms of Westeros: plate armor, longswords, etc.
However, the visual design of their equipment is based on a very distinctive historical period and region. The armor worn by House Lannister and its soldiers was actually inspired in large part by Japanese samurai armor.
This is especially evident in the curved, open-faced design of the helmet:
And the ridged pattern of the breastplate and thigh armor:
That being said, these are purely aesthetic similarities. Traditional samurai armor was crafted from a combination of leather, wood, and metal, whereas the Lannisters appear to wear more traditional European plate armor (such as this suit worn by Brienne, inspired by a painting of Joan of Arc).
Daenerys Targaryen's fearsome army of Unsullied number nearly 8,000 strong, and are unmatched on the battlefields of Essos (how they fare against a Westerosi cavalry charge has yet to be seen).
The Unsullied's penchant for shield and spear fighting, often in tight, rigid formations, draws heavily on the battle tactics of the ancient Greeks, and in particular, the Spartans.
Similar to the Unsullied, the Spartans were trained to fight from birth, and taught not to fear death or pain. Their infantry was skilled with an 8-foot-long spear called a Dory, and carried a round shield called an Aspis.
Additionally, like other Greek armies of that era, the Spartans fought in a phalanx formation. The phalanx was an infantry formation wherein soldiers (usually wielding long spears) would form a compact battle line. They would lock their shields together, point their spears towards the enemy, and advance, forming a human wall of points.
While the Spartans were not unique in their adoption of the phalanx, they were particularly effective at this style of fighting. Due their incredible discipline and intense training, the Spartan phalanx was extremely coordinated, organized, and could outlast most enemies through sheer endurance.
This is also what makes the Unsullied so deadly on the battlefield. Their unparalleled training and fearlessness make their phalanx formations nearly impossible to break.
Even their most famous battle, the Battle of Qohor, was inspired by actual history. In the Battle of Qohor, 3,000 Unsullied defeated a Dothraki horde of over 50,000. When the dust settled, only 600 Unsullied had perished, while the Dothraki lost over 12,000.
This battle was directly inspired by the iconic real-world Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans and their Greek allies held off an army of over 100,000 Persian soldiers for three days.
The roving hordes of the Dothraki Sea drew significant inspiration from the Mongolian military forces of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Like the Dothraki, the Mongols dominated the battlefields of much of Asia during this era using cavalry. Fast, mobile, and lightly armoured, the Mongols were able to outmaneuver and overwhelm their foes. They were experts in horseback combat, and their brutal wartime tactics struck fear into their enemies long before a battle began.
At the peak of their empire, the Mongols had conquered a region spanning nearly 12 million square miles. They even advanced as far as Central Europe to the west, cutting a bloody swathe through kingdoms such as Poland and Hungary, and perhaps foreshadowing what we might see in Westeros next season.
The leader of the Mongol empire was known as a Khan, which is likely where George R.R. Martin got the Dothraki title of "Khal."
However, the Khans of the Mongolian Empire and the Khals of the Dothraki differ in a very significant way. At their height, the Mongols were far disorganized tribes of raiders. Instead, the Mongols were an incredibly advanced civilization, both in terms of military technology, culture, and civil infrastructures.
In this regard, the Dothraki are much more similar to the Huns of the 4th century. Like the Mongols, the Huns were deadly on horseback, often defeating much larger and better organized armies in the field, and putting many cities to the torch.
Unlike the Mongols however (and very much like the Dothraki), the Huns did not establish an organized empire. Instead, they lived a nomadic life, fighting and looting their way through Europe for over a century.
The Night's Watch
The Night's Watch bears some uncanny similarities to many warrior brotherhoods throughout history.
For example, the Knights Templar were a fraternal order who swore a lifelong vow of chastity and duty, similar to the oath Night's Watch brothers take. They were also led by a Grand Master, who like the Lord Commander, served for life. They even manned castles in defense of the Holy Land, just as the Night's Watch maintains the Wall.
Finally, just as joining the Night's Watch was once considered a very honorable undertaking that even noblemen readily volunteered for, the Templar began as a very prestigious post, before they eventually turned to recruiting less desirable candidates in an effort to maintain their ranks.
Towards the end of the Crusades, many of the Knights Templar were known as "grey knights," those who had committed crimes before joining. They were offered a place in the Templar order, where they would find forgiveness and a chance to save their soul through duty.
We've seen very little of the Dornish military in action so far on Game of Thrones, but we have gotten a great look at their costuming. Dornish soldiers are often seen wearing a sort of padded armor, made from overlapping layers of leather and cloth. This design likely drew inspiration from the medieval "gambeson," a type of cloth armor that was very common throughout the Middle Ages.
A gambeson was created by layering cotton, linen, wool, canvas, or leather into a thick, heavy jacket. Despite their appearance, these cloth suits were capable of stopping arrows and blades, and formed the basis for modern day body armor.
The Sand Snakes meanwhile seem fond of hardened leather armor, similar to the form fitting leather armor worn by ancient Greek and Roman soldiers.
The reavers of the Iron Islands are lifted almost whole cloth from the culture and military of the Vikings of the Middle Ages (albeit a slightly more pop culture-inspired recollection of this civilization).
The Vikings were a seafaring people who used longships (not unlike the longships of the Iron Fleet) for warfare and trade. The Viking homeland was also sparse and difficult to farm, which led to a reliance on raiding to survive.
Over time, pillaging and reaving became an ingrained aspect of Viking culture, much like the iron price and the "Old Way" that defines so much of the ironborn culture.