Vesuvius and Valyria: What Pompeii Tells Us about the Doom of Valyria

Ever since A Game of Thrones opened the Song of Ice and Fire saga, the Doom of Valyria has been mentioned in passing, but overall the details provided, while menacing are often vague enough that many readers find themselves wishing they could know more about what happened during the Doom, why it occurred, and possibly even who caused it. In order to gain as complete an understanding as possible for the Doom of Valyria, it is necessary to examine what the books tell us about the Doom of Valyria. The most detailed account of the Doom of Valyria comes from Tyrion, who recalls that “it was written that on the day of the Doom every hill for 500 miles had split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire, blazes so hot and hungry that even dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents had opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons, and to the north, the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself and an angry sea came rushing in.”

Further elaboration on what this “angry sea” might have been like is provided from Victarion, who notes in A Dance with Dragons, “On the day the Doom came to Valyria, it was said a wall of water three hundred feet high had descended on the island, drowning hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.”

Both Tyrion and Victarion describe an event that is nothing short of cataclysmic. Tyrion’s account of mountains bursting to spew fiery fountains of molten rock suggest volcanic explosion, while his mention of the ground rending indicate earthquakes likely caused by the upheaval of these eruptions. The shifting ground caused by these earthquakes creates a situation reminiscent of a tsunami, increasing the death toll and staggering destruction. However, it seems clear that the first in this series of disasters is volcanic eruptions that then produce earthquakes, which in turn result in massive flooding as the ground Valyria is built upon crumbles. The scope of this catastrophe is difficult to grasp, though a cynical reader familiar with the fact that Valyria was built over fourteen active volcanoes (referred to as the Fourteen Flames) by the Valyrians might observe that it was only a matter of time before calamity struck.

To begin to appreciate the scope of the death and destruction, it might be helpful to look at one of the most well-known disasters of the ancient world: Pompeii. Pompeii was a Roman city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. Since the ties between Rome and Valyria are numerous and widely accepted, I think that the comparison between Pompeii’s end and the Doom of Valyria has merit, though, of course there are notable differences. For instance, Pompeii was a resort town for the Romans, rather than the capital of their empire, as Valyria was for the Valyrian Freehold. Furthermore, the Doom of Valyria heralded the end of their empire, whereas the devastation at Pompeii did not lead to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Additionally, the Romans were not aware that Vesuvius was a volcano, since it was dormant until its eruption in 79 A.D. whereas the Valyrians in A World of Ice and Fire are almost depicted as being aware that their civilization is literally built upon active volcanoes as there is speculation that “Valyria had used spells to tame the Fourteen Flames for thousands of years, that their ceaseless hunger for slaves and wealth was as much to sustain these spells as to expand their power, and that when at last those spells faltered, the cataclysm became inevitable.” A variation of this theory “wedding the fanciful notion of Valyrian magic to the reality of the ambitious great houses of Valyria” argues that “it was the constant whirl of conflict and deception amongst the great houses that might have led to the assassination of too many of the reputed mages who renewed and maintain the rituals that banked the fires of the Fourteen Flames.” In other words, while the Romans were obviously ignorant of the fact that they had built their city around a volcano, the Valyrians were apparently aware that they had constructed their capital in blast radius of not one but fourteen active volcanoes, content to rely on spell work to keep the flames at bay. Pompeii was destroyed by ignorance of nature while Valyria was devastated by the arrogance of believing that it can be subdued forever.

Despite these differences, the core of these disasters are the same: a city laid low by volcanic activity, one day of fire and death that haunts history for centuries. The comparison between Pompeii and Valyria can tell us moe than just about the power that nature can exert over even the mightiest of societies. Pompeii, because it was buried under stone and ash (much as Valyria was under dragonglass and ash) as a result of the volcanic eruption, has been so well-preserved that it is often referred to by archaeologists as being frozen in time. Digs in Pompeii have uncovered whole roads, drainage systems, art, and human remains. All of these provide tremendous insights into the world the Romans inhabited.

I would speculate that at least the parts of Valyria that were not engulfed by water during the Doom would have been well-preserved by the ash and dragonglass that blanketed after the volcanic eruptions. Valyria, like Pompeii, might be able to provide valuable insights into the lives of its inhabitants. My personal prediction is that a travel to Valyria could very well reveal the secret to making Valyrian weapons if not a cache of Valyrian weapons. Other clues to defeating the White Walkers might be found there, as well, since I believe that the Valyrians, who forged the best known weapon for defeating the White Walkers, likely had contact and conflict with the White Walkers. Suffice to say that I think that, much as all roads once led to Rome, so do all roads lead to Valyria when it comes to uncovering knowledge to help vanquish the White Walkers.

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