"Where the North has its honor and the south its chivalry, the Iron Islands has its strength."
The Iron Islands form part of the Kingdom of the Iron Islands. It had previously formed one of the nine constituent regions of Westeros. They are a group of seven small rocky islands clustered far off the western coast of the mainland of the continent, in Ironman's Bay. The Iron Islands are ruled from Pyke by House Greyjoy.
They are the smallest and among the least-populous of the regions of Westeros, but the naval skills of their population are unmatched and they enjoy great mobility due to their ships. The people of the Iron Islands, the ironborn, have a unique culture centered on maritime raiding and pillaging other peoples. However, they were forced to stop these practices when they were conquered by the Targaryens, or at least, to stop raiding shipping around Westeros itself.
Before the Targaryen Conquest the Iron Islands were a sovereign kingdom, along with the other "Seven Kingdoms ". For the three generations immediately preceding the Conquest, the ironborn also controlled the Riverlands (which also included pieces of the future Crownlands at the time), which they had conquered in turn from the Stormlands.
Bastards born in the Iron Islands are given the surname Pyke.
The Iron Islands are located off the west coast of Westeros, in Ironman's Bay, an inlet of the Sunset Sea. They are north of the Westerlands, west of the Blue Fork of the Trident in the Riverlands, and southwest of the Neck and the North. However, essentially the entire west coast of Westeros, from the Wall in the North to the Arbor in the extreme south of the Reach, are considered to be within range of far-reaching ironborn coastal raids. Centuries before the Targaryen Conquest, the Iron Islands did indeed rule much of the coast from the Arbor to Bear Island in the North, and at the time of the Targaryen Conquest, the Iron Islands ruled the Riverlands.
The Iron Islands are small and rocky, swept by fierce storm winds, with poor soil and hardly any natural resources. The few poor crop fields that are present have their rocky soil plowed by thralls, men captured in raids and forced into servitude, as they usually cannot afford draft animals. While located at roughly the same latitude as the Eyrie in the Vale or the Twins in the Riverlands, the harsh storm winds that howl through the islands make them fairly cold. It is no wonder that in this precarious position, the inhabitants came to rely on the bounty of the sea, and ultimately raiding the mainland.
House Greyjoy of Pyke traces its bloodline back to the legendary king of the First Men, the Grey King of the Age of Heroes. He fought Nagga the sea dragon, built his hall and throne from her bones, married a mermaid, and ruled for a thousand years. Due to the poor soils and limited natural resources of the Iron Islands, the Ironborn frequently raided the mainland. Over the centuries, they developed a reputation as reavers who raided and pillaged the mainland. Following the Burning of Harrenhal and the deaths of King Harren Hoare and his sons, the Ironborn were driven back to the Iron Islands. House Greyjoy then became the dominant house and rulers of the Iron Islands.
The Ironborn rebelled against the Iron Throne during the Greyjoy Rebellion. In response, mainland forces led by King Robert Baratheon and Lord Eddard Stark invaded the Iron Islands and lay siege to the Greyjoy seat of Pyke. King Balon Greyjoy's two eldest sons Rodrik and Maron Greyjoy were killed during the battle. After bending the knee to the Iron Throne, Balon was forced to give up his remaining son and heir Theon Greyjoy as a hostage to Ned Stark.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Iron Islands are seven small, barely-fertile rocks located in the Sunset Sea and Ironman's Bay to the west of the Riverlands, north-west of the Westerlands and south of the North. The religion of the Faith of the Seven holds little sway over the isles, which are instead dominated by the worship of the Drowned God , a savage and merciless figure.
The seven major islands are named Blacktyde, Great Wyk, Harlaw, Old Wyk, Orkmont, Pyke, and Saltcliffe. There are also several smaller islets surrounding them, usually considered to be administrative subdivisions of the main seven. Lonely Light is the smallest and most distant of these, a small atoll of land located eight days' travel northwest of Great Wyk (for comparison, Pyke and Harlaw are only one day's travel apart). Old Wyk was the first of the islands to be settled (despite being located on the far side of the archipelago from the mainland), and the ironborn still hold it to be sacred. Great Wyk is the largest island, and thus the only one on which certain noble Houses derive more of their wealth from the land than the sea (such as House Goodbrother , which gains its wealth from iron mines in the island's central hills). Harlaw is the second largest island, and is the wealthiest and most densely populated of all the islands. Pyke is currently the strongest due to the Greyjoys' status as overlords of the Iron Islands, but this was not always the case. Before the Targaryen Conquet, House Hoare from Orkmont island ruled over the ironborn, and before that, House Greyiron.
The economic production in the region is mostly centered on fishing in the abundant seas surrounding them - it is estimated that about seven of every ten ironborn families are fishermen (the rest are mostly raiders). The ironborn consider farming and mining to be beneath them, leaving such work to thralls. The windswept islands have poor rocky soil, really better suited to grazing than farming, whose fields only produce modest crop yields after backbreaking labor. Few landholders can even afford draft animals such as horses, so their stony fields need to be plowed by human labor. The local farms don't produce nearly enough food to feed the islands on their own: it is said that if the waters surrounding the islands weren't so abundant for fishing, the ironborn would have surely starved in winters long ago.
The four largest islands (Great Wyk, Harlaw, Orkmont, and Pyke) do have mines with abundant supplies of iron, lead, and tin. Their large iron supplies are arguably what gave the islands their name (though the ironborn insist that they gained this name due to the iron strength of their inhabitants). The smaller three islands don't have such resources: Old Wyk is still held in high esteem for its holy status as the first settled of the islands, but Blacktyde and Saltcliffe aren't considered to be very powerful or notable. Pyke isn't as wealthy as Harlaw and Great Wyk, or even Orkmont: instead the Greyjoys were selected to rule all of the islands after the Targaryen Conquest due to their distinguished lineage stretching back to the Dawn Age, and the great respect they already commanded from the other ironborn. Over time their rule did enrich Pyke island (probably through various shipping benefits, etc.) so that the largest town in the Iron Islands is Lordsport, also on Pyke island (ruled by House Botley). Even Lordsport, however, is modestly sized compared to larger trading towns on the mainland.
The ironborn have several large fleets of ships, mostly smaller longships. The mighty Iron Fleet commanded by Victarion Greyjoy consists of galleys which can stand against the largest warships produced elsewhere in Westeros. However, the ability of the ironborn to build larger ships is compromised by a lack of natural resources.
The Iron Islands were settled by the First Men many thousands of years ago. Somewhat isolated from the rest of Westeros, they did not take up the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest, instead creating their own religion based around the Drowned God and the Seastone Chair, which they allegedly found already standing on the shores of Old Wyk when they arrived. When the Andals overran Westeros and conquered the Iron Islands, they intermingled with the natives. While a few locals converted to the Faith of the Seven, it did not fully take hold and worship of the Drowned God continued.
Under the rule of House Hoare, the ironborn reached the zenith of their power approximately four centuries ago. They invaded and conquered the Riverlands, building an immense castle on the shores of Gods Eye called Harrenhal. The castle was completed by King Harren the Black on the very day that Aegon the Conqueror landed on the coast of Westeros. Harren refused to surrender and was roasted alive in Kingspyre Tower by Aegon's dragons. The Riverlands rose in a bloody rebellion led by House Tully, and the ironborn were thrown back to their islands. With Harren and all his line extinguished, the ironborn elected House Greyjoy of Pyke to rule over them.
Several years after Robert's Rebellion was completed, Lord Balon Greyjoy rebelled against the Iron Throne, reasoning that most of the lords of Westeros would not support a usurper. He was wrong, and in the Greyjoy Rebellion he was soundly defeated. The ironborn fleets were destroyed and the castle at Pyke stormed. Balon's two eldest sons were both slain and his surviving son, Theon, was taken as ward and hostage by Lord Eddard Stark in return for his good behavior.
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