Many of my friends, both men and women, read or watch the fantasy series Game of Thrones, and they all seem to really enjoy it. What makes me laugh is that many of these same people claim that they hate history. “History was my worst subject in school,” they always tell me. Yet this show they watch religiously is, in some ways, directly based on human history. Below is one example among a plethora of examples.
In Game of Thrones, the Targaryen Kings once ruled over Westeros. The Mad King Aerys Targaryen was a poor ruler. Aerys’ son, Rhaegar, raped Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister/Robert Baratheon’s future wife—after which Stark and Baratheon initiated a revolt, crushed Aerys, exiled the Targaryens, and placed Robert as King. This is the backdrop to which Game of Thrones begins.
Human history is filled with similar episodes, but one period in Roman history is strikingly familiar. In Roman lore, there were seven kings of Rome before the Republic. Romulus, after whom Rome was named, was the first king of Rome. The last three were known as the Tarquin dynasty (which sounds similar to Targaryen). The last Tarquin King was Lucius Tarquinius, who had assassinated his adopted brother, Servilius Tullius, who had been the sixth king of Rome. Servilius Tullius had been a good king. He won victories against other Latin tribes, expanding Rome’s borders. He instituted the first census of Rome, and created new social classes based on the data collected. He expanded the vote to include plebeians who owned small plots of land.
Lucius Tarquinius was a poor king, and everyone hated being ruled by him. He was ruthless, held power by fear, and created huge monuments to himself. His son, Sextus Tarquinius, was even worse. Sextus attended a dinner party held by the nobleman Lucius Junius Brutus. At the party, Sextus fell in love with a noblewoman named Lucretia and decided he must have her. Sextus raped Lucretia, who then confessed it to Lucius Junius Brutus and her husband Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, before committing suicide in shame. Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus vowed revenge, and marched to Rome to lead a revolt.
They found the plebeians of Rome ripe for a revolution, for they had been toiling on huge public-works projects simply to celebrate Lucius Tarquinius. The combined forces of Brutus and Collatinus defeated Lucius Tarquinius, and the Tarquin Kings were exiled from Rome. Rome vowed to never again be ruled by kings. A Republic was formed, ruled by the Senate and two consuls who would share power; Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus were named those first two consuls of Rome.
So, Game of Thrones fan, you are a fan of history—you just didn’t know it.