The ironborn are the natives of the Iron Islands in the Sunset Sea off the western coast of Westeros. They are also known as ironmen, especially by those they raid. The men from the green lands of Westeros also call them squids as the isles are ruled by House Greyjoy, whose sigil is a kraken.
The ironborn are a fierce, hard, unbending people. The ironborn of old prided themselves on their fierceness in battle and their sacred freedoms. The ironborn are a people of the sea and are loath to go too far from the waters. They were once called the "wolves of the sea," by the men of the westerlands and riverlands, as they descended upon villages and towns in large groups of longships to raid, plunder, and rape. The captains among the ironborn are proud and willfull, and are considered to be a king aboard their own ships. It is said that the ironmen of old had oft been blood-drunk in battle, so berserk that they felt no pain and feared no foe. It is forbidden for ironborn to spill the blood of other ironborn, but drowning is acceptable by some.
Literacy remains rare in the Iron Islands to this day; Those who are literate are often mocked as weaklings or feared as sorcerers.
Culture and customs
Similar to the northern mountain clans, some heads of noble houses in the Iron Islands do not use the title "lord", but are referred to only by their house name, such as "the Sparr" and "the Stonehouse". Amongst his many titles, Balon Greyjoy includes "the Greyjoy". Aeron Greyjoy refers to Meldred Merlyn as "the Merlyn", while Meldred styles himself "Lord" in the manner of the green lands of mainland Westeros.
The Old Way
- Main article: Old Way
The Old Way is the term used by the ironborn to refer to their ancient tradition of reaving and plundering. It is still highly regarded on the Iron Islands, and many ironborn still yearn for its return. In the Old Way, the ironborn took whatever they wanted, be it wealth, women, or glory, and were feared all over. The Old Way came to an end when King Aegon I Targaryen burned King Harren Hoare to death at the burning of Harrenhal during Aegon's Conquest. Although sporadic attempts have been made by the ironborn to restore the Old Way to the islands (e.g., by Dagon Greyjoy and Balon Greyjoy), all have failed.
- Main article: Drowned God
The ironborn worship a deity called the Drowned God. The religion dates back to before the Andal invasion, and although the Andal invaders made multiple attempts to supplant it with the Seven, all have failed.
The ironborn believe they come from the watery halls of the Drowned God. and that their god created them in his own likeness, to reave, rape, carve out kingdoms, make their names known in fire and blood and song and to hold dominion over all the waters of the earth.
The Drowned God has no temples, holy books, or idols. The priests of the Drowned God constantly wander the Iron Islands, being without a permanent home, although they never go far from the sea. The lords and peasants on the islands are obliged to give them food and shelter. The priests can wield considerable power over the ironborn. Important aspects of the religion of the Drowned God include drowning a man and then bring him back to life,[N 1] blood sacrifice using thralls, or sacrificing a person by drowning him, preferably in salt water.
- See also: Drowned God#Death
When an ironman dies, his body is committed to the sea. The ironborn believe that “no true son of the sea would want to rot beneath the ground” as it would make him unable to find the Drowned God's watery halls. It is believed that in these watery halls the deceased can drink and feast for all eternity, with mermaids attending his every want.
Captives taken during raids are called thralls. These men and women are bound to their captors in service. They are set to work on the fields or in the mines. Unlike the slaves in the Free Cities, these thralls are no man's property. They are allowed to marry and have children, who, if born on the Iron Islands, are considered to be ironborn.
Most of the male thralls are set to work in the fields or the mines, tasks the ironborn consider to be done by “lesser men”, for their entire lives – although the situation in the mines usually results in a shorter life-span. The thralls who are able to read, write, and do sums are instead set to work as stewards, tutors, and scribes. Skilled craftsmen, like stonemasons, are considered to be of even more value. Older women are made into scullions, cooks, seamstresses, weavers, or midwives, although they are not often taken on raids. Fair maidens and girls near their first flowering are most often taken captive on raids, becoming serving girls, whores, or household drudges upon the isles.
The fairest of the young girls taken as thralls are made into salt wives by their captors. In a ceremony performed by a priest of the Drowned God, the girl and her captor were “wed”. A man can join himself to multiple salt wives, the number of which speaks to his power, wealth, and virility. The children born from such a marriage are not considered to be bastards, but instead can inherit should their father have no surviving sons by his true, freeborn rock wife from the Iron Islands.
- Main article: Iron Fleet
The ironborn pride themselves on their fierceness in battle and their sacred freedoms. They are a seafaring people, and esteem those who sail the seas, especially their reavers. In the past, raiders from the Iron Islands were considered to be the “terrors of the sea”. They were called the "wolves of the sea" by the men of the westerlands and riverlands, as they sailed the seas in “packs” with their longships. The sailing ironborn are not afraid of drowning and thus dress in armor while in battle at sea. Most ironborn prefer to fight on foot or from the deck of their ship. They are more comfortable on the deck of a longship than in the saddle of a horse and are known to lack the discipline of standing against the charge of armored horse.
The main strength of the Iron Islands is at sea. Each of the ironborn lords can float about a hundred ships. However, these ships are smaller and simpler than the other ships of the Seven Kingdoms. George R. R. Martin has compared their size to Viking longboats. 
Besides the ships each noble lord can field, the ironborn have their own fleet, called the Iron Fleet, commanded by the Lord Captain of the Iron Fleet. The Iron Fleet belongs to the Seastone Chair and is one of the three most powerful fleets of Westeros, the other two being the royal fleet of the crownlands and the Redwyne fleet of the Arbor. The Iron Fleet numbers a hundred ships. The ships of the Iron Fleet have been made for battle, equal to lesser war galleys in speed and strength, but smaller than the war dromonds of the mainland. Compared to the standard longships of the Isles, the ships of the Iron Fleet are three times larger.
According to the priests of the Drowned God, the ironborn came from beneath the oceans and are more kin to fish and merlings than the rest of mankind. Archmaester Haereg once theorized that the ancestors of the ironborn came from a land west of the Sunset Sea. Most generally accepted, however, is the ancestry of the ironborn from the First Men who settled upon the Iron Islands many thousands of years ago. Somewhat isolated from the rest of Westeros, the ironborn created their own religion based around the Drowned God. Their Seastone Chair, carved from oily black stone, is said to have been found on the shores of Old Wyk when they first 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.
According to legend, the ironborn old were ruled by the Grey King during the Age of Heroes. After his death, his hundred sons killed each other in order to determine who should succeed him. The sixteen who eventually remained divided up the islands between them.
However, according to the oldest surviving records at the Citadel of Oldtown, each of the Iron Islands was ruled by two kings: a rock king, who ruled the island, and a salt king, who held the command at sea. These kings were chosen in a kingsmoot, called for by a priest of the Drowned God whenever a king died. One of such priests, Galon Whitestaff, summoned the captains and the kings to Old Wyk for a kingsmoot to choose the High King of the Isles, who would reign over all the salt and rock kings. The salt king of Orkmont, Urras Greyiron, was chosen and became the first man to rule over all of the Iron Islands since the Grey King. Numerous High Kings were chosen by the kingsmoot during the many years that followed. The throne of the ironborn eventually became hereditary when the great-nephew of King Urragon IV Greyiron, Urron, murdered all salt kings and rock kings who had assemble for a chosing following Urragon's death. Urron's line ruled a thousand years, until King Rognar II Greyiron was slain by an alliance between the newly arrived Andals, House Hoare, House Orkwood, House Drumm, and House Greyjoy. According to legend, the ironborn played the finger dance to choose their next king, resulting in Harras Hoare ruling as King Harras Stump-hand. Archmaester Haereg instead attributes Harras becoming king to his marrying into the Andals and thereby gaining their support.
House Hoare ruled until Aegon's Conquest. Notable were King Harwyn Hoare, who captured the Trident from the Storm King Arrec Durrandon several generations before Aegon's Conquest, greatly expanding the ironborn's territory. Harwyn's grandson, Harren Hoare, better known as Harren the Black, was the Kings of the Isles and the Rivers when King Aegon I Targaryen arrived in Westeros for his Conquest. The ironborn were thrown back to their islands when Harren and his line were extinguished in the burning of Harrenhal.
Following Aegon's conquest of the Iron Islands, Lord Vickon Greyjoy was chosen by the surviving ironborn lords to have primacy over them. The ironborn have been guided by House Greyjoy since then and have been mostly-peaceful subjects of the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and the Iron Throne for almost three hundred years, aside from reavings by Lords Dalton and Dagon Greyjoy, although none of them could ever be called a leal and faithful servant to the Iron Throne. In 289 AC the ironborn revolted in Greyjoy's Rebellion, led by Lord Balon Greyjoy, in an attempt to restore the Old Way. However, the rebellion was crushed by King Robert I Baratheon.
Archmaester Haereg recorded the history of the ironmen in his exhaustive History of the Ironborn, while Archmaester Hake also wrote of their history. Some maesters believe the blood of Cape Kraken's people is closer to that of the ironmen than the northmen.
- writings of Haereg
... my lord father once told me that hard places breed hard men, and hard men rule the world.
- thoughts of Theon Greyjoy
It was said that the ironmen of old had oft been blood-drunk in battle, so berserk that they felt no pain and feared no foe.
- thoughts of Theon Greyjoy
The ironborn are a race of pirates and thieves.
The ironborn shall be waves. Not the great and lordly, but the simple folk, tillers of the soil and fishers of the sea.
I had forgotten what a small and noisy folk they are, my ironborn.
The ironmen live their whole lives at sea.
- Using cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
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