Has Daenerys been reading Machiavelli?

The last series of Game of Thrones was dark and full of terrors, but nevertheless ended with a pleasant glimmer: the freedmen of Yunkai receiving Daenarys Targaryen as their “mhysa” – mother.

Studying the ancients, Niccolò Machiavelli concluded that the most effective guarantor of civic glory is the love of liberty. He denounces mercenaries in The Prince:

The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

Later, he writes:

I conclude, therefore, that no principality is secure without having its own forces; on the contrary, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valour which in adversity would defend it. And it has always been the opinion and judgment of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And one’s own forces are those which are composed either of subjects, citizens, or dependants; all others are mercenaries or auxiliaries. And the way to take ready one’s own forces will be easily found if the rules suggested by me shall be reflected upon, and if one will consider how Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and many republics and princes have armed and organized themselves, to which rules I entirely commit myself.

Only those with the steadfast love of their country will fight for it with true conviction. Consider, several centuries later (or before) how the best pretender in Game of Thrones has travelled from lonely sell-out wife to Daenarys the benevolent ruler of Yunkai. By freeing slaves. Turning her soldiers into citizens.

Machiavelli might be excused for having neglected the power of dragons and a pretty face but the point does, I think, stand.


6 Comments on “Has Daenerys been reading Machiavelli?”

  1. Oh fooey! You’re describing the REAL Machiavelli, at least his book alter ego version. The one portrayed in The Borgias would definitely be backing the Lannisters. Confusing the issue further is what people believe he represents. Machiavellianism is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”.

    • Mark says:

      Aye, well, the argument by some (like Isaiah Berlin) was that Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is unduly infamous: perhaps to some extent like Lenin, he saw total political re-organisation as the prerequisite to civic liberty. I am very tempted to write a broader article comparing the families of Game of Thrones with Machiavelli now haha! Perhaps the Lannisters indeed. The North has totally failed in diplomacy…

  2. I’ve been thinking about Machiavelli and Game of Thrones. I’ve heard people talking about the wars of the roses as an historical analogue, but I wonder if Italy wouldn’t be a better one.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks! That’s an interesting comparison. The wars of the Roses certainly mirrors the intense dynastic mess, but less so the ideologies: the Italian city states had also developed various moral and cultural dimensions out of the Renaissance. Still no dragons, of course, haha!

  3. Glenn King says:

    Mark, I have been following your posts about three months now. I am glad to see that your break from your blog has ended. I have read all five volumes of the Game of Thrones and it is clear that Daenerys has not learned her Machiavelli yet. However since the series is hardly completed perhaps she will. I agree she is the best of the contenders that I see at this stage of the game.

    Note. Machiavelli is demonized even at this stage of history. However I think his realism is refreshing and ultimately based on a solidly realistic morality.


    • Mark says:

      Thank you for coming back and commenting! I was sadly restrained by exams recently in which, unsurprisingly, Machiavelli featured. Hence the post!

      I would like to read the GoT books some day, but a combination of the quality of the TV series and my general lethargy seem to prevent that from happening. I’m looking forward to dragons moving to Westeros, though.

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