Game of Thrones, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, has a world so dense with detail that it feels real. The world of Westeros even has its own coinage, and those coins can speak volumes about that world. (For the purposes of this post, all references to specific coins are to replica coins based on the TV show.)
There are 8 denominations of Westerosi currency. The halfpenny, penny, halfgroat, groat, and star are all made of copper, while the stag and moon are silver coins. The only Westerosi gold coin (at the time the story is set) is the dragon. There are 2 halfpennies to the penny, 2 pennies to a halfgroat, 2 halfgroats to a groat, and 2 groats to a star.
The lower denominations are very basic, but the silver and gold coins get more complicated. There are 7 bronze stars to 1 silver stag, and 7 stags to a moon. 30 moons make a gold dragon. (7 is the most significant number in the state religion of Westeros.)
While most of Westeros uses this system, the “ironborn” under the rule of House Greyjoy, generally do not use currency (though women are sometimes allowed to use coins), preferring instead to “pay the iron price” and take what they need in battle. Their house motto, unsurprisingly, is “We Do Not Sow.” This is somewhat similar to the non-Westerosi Dothraki, who do not use coins or currency of any kind, but instead have an economy based on raiding and gift-giving. (There is a replica Dothraki coin with the imprint of Khal Drogo, but this seems inaccurate with regards to the description of the Dothraki culture in the books.) Also, while the denominations remain consistent, some houses do strike their own versions of these coins, though the vast majority from the ruling House Baratheon in King’s Landing.
House Stark in the North produces their own currency, including a halfpenny and silver stag, with the imprint of Eddard Stark. It is not surprising that the line of the old King in the North would have a mint, though no information is given as to where the Stark mint might be. It is never mentioned in any of the scenes at Winterfell, and it seems that a mint would be a good place for any of House Stark’s enemies to attack first. An army cannot march far without money for food and supplies. (More interestingly, there are some replica coins with the imprint of Robb Stark, though it is unclear when he would have had time to have new coins minted while building and leading his army.) These coins look more crude in design than other Westerosi coins, though they are contemporaneous with the bronze star of Robert Baratheon; however, House Stark is known for valuing its long history, and it might be expected that they would not keep up with the minting technology in use in King’s Landing.
Many Westerosi coins are beautifully crafted, but the silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Mad King, is simple and somewhat crude, especially compared with the coins of King Robert Baratheon, produced some 20 years later. Aerys II let Westeros fall into chaos, consumed with his own paranoia and greed.
It’s certainly possible that minting technology declined during his reign; given that the Targaryen dynasty had been considered to be in decline for several generations, it could be reflective of a gradual loss of technical skill, which is reinvigorated with the Targaryen’s defeat and the rise of House Baratheon.
Perhaps most unusual of all are the replica coins for Daenerys Targaryen. Exiled beyond Westeros when the rest of her family was killed during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, Daenerys hatches dragon eggs and takes control of armies and entire cities as she prepares to retake the Iron Throne of Westeros. Her coins have some real-world counterparts, in that several of them appear to have been struck to commemorate a specific conquest or victory (see this coin of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.) However, the coins do seem a little unusual in that they each celebrate a different title, such as “Queen of Meereen” and “Breaker of Chains.”
The most used image on her coins is, unsurprisingly, a dragon. The dragons have always been the symbol of House Targaryen, and Daenerys uses it both to establish herself as a ruler in the Targaryen line, and to remind all who see the coin that she controls the power of literal dragons. Coins have always been one of the most effective ways to make a political statement, especially in the days before reliable mail systems and phone lines. Coins can travel great distances in trade; a coin that commemorates a victory can spread the word of a triumphant ruler very quickly indeed.
Though the world of Game of Thrones is fictional, much of it was based on real world history, especially the Wars of the Roses and other long-standing feuds. It’s no surprise that the fictional currency of this world tells us so much about its history.
[All photos credit of Shire Post Mint, used under Fair Use.]