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If not, why doesn't some other army overthrow the current rulers of the Iron Bank, and keep the gold for themselves?

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Because the Iron Bank is...a bank? –  Doc May 22 at 19:31
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Why don't the world's armies march over the banks in general? They're in the business of favors, and to betray the trust of such banks is economical suicide. I would guess that much like today's banks, the Iron Bank's wealth is mostly debts and favors, and not actual currency. –  Neil May 23 at 8:27
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Chances are good that the iron bank has half, or more, of its total "wealth" loaned out. If it were to be taken over, anyone in debt to it would claim the debt is invalid, and it would instantly lose half of its value. This helps your enemies because you've essentially erased their debt. So the few people with enough power to even think about doing it probably are better off if they don't. They also benefit from a strong economy, which wouldn't happen without the iron bank. –  Adam Davis May 23 at 18:58

2 Answers 2

The headquarters of the Iron Bank is located in Braavos, a city-state built on a group of small islands in a shallow sea. As such it is very difficult to attack:

Braavos sprawls across a hundred islands in a vast lagoon. The nearby mainland is mostly marshland, whilst the seaward sides of the city are protected by tall, mountainous islands which form a semi-circle around the city. ... There is only one channel large and deep enough to accommodate ocean-going ships. This channel is defended by a massive statue called the Titan of Braavos, which serves as landmark, lighthouse and defensive fortification. Just beyond the Titan lies the citadel and the vast shipyard called the Arsenal. The city proper lies beyond, a great sprawl of domes and towers and bridges in hues of grey, gold, and red.

The geography and history of Braavos are clearly modelled on Venice, which was an independent republic for more than 1000 years until it was taken by Napoleon in 1797. For most of that time, Venice was a wealthy trading city with much larger and highly aggressive neighbours, but its shrewd diplomacy, natural defences and powerful navy meant that it was never conquered. We can assume much the same is true for Braavos.

Finally, it is likely that most of the wealth of the Iron Bank is not kept as gold in a vault. Like other banks throughout history, it would have invested its money in land, trading fleets, workshops and other enterprises, which are not nearly so simple to steal.

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In our history the closest equivalent of "Iron Bank" will be the famous Casa di San Giorgio (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_of_Saint_George). It was based in Genoa, however. –  oakad May 23 at 3:08

The Iron Bank itself does not have a large standing army, though their currency repository is pretty well guarded. What's a much bigger deterrent is the fact that the Bank is considered such a stable and universal form of currency that they can essentially "buy" whatever military support they need from anywhere in the world.

The Iron Bank was formed in Braavos before the Doom, when Braavos was a "secret" city, so it was important that everything about the bank had to be kept hidden. They get their name, in fact, from the abandoned iron mine where they lock up the bulk of their currency stores. Since it's buried underground with only a single entrance, it's very easy for them to fortify and guard this repository. As they've grown bigger, they've also been able to use the money from their investments to purchase larger and more secure facilities. That means, anyone trying to overthrow them would have a pretty big hill to climb even if they could do so unimpeded.

More importantly, though, the Iron Bank is the source of financial stability across the entire planet. Again, this largely derives from it's original status as an independent country, not officially part of the Valaryian Freehold and, later, as one of the Free Cities. The Braavosi in general have a strong mercenary streak in their culture, so there is a general feeling that the Iron Bank "stays out of" political conflicts. This makes the bank very important to the various governments across Essos and Westeros. There are other banks in Essos (Pentos and Myr both have one) but those are largely considered "lesser" banks; The Iron Bank is the one that is universally respected and feared by everyone.

That means, among other things, that the Iron Bank is owed of money by nearly every major government on the planet. In a pinch, if the Iron Bank felt threatened, they would simply pay one of the major mercenary forces, or offer to cancel some debt from a country with a standing army, until they had a sufficient force to repel any invaders and/or re-conquer their homeland. An offer of payment from the Iron Bank is about as solid an investment as there is in that world, so they would have had no problem (for example) buying the entire army of Unsullied on credit, or paying the entire Golden Company.

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Plus you'd immediately make enemies with every entity that just got their deposit stolen. –  coburne May 22 at 19:56
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Having lots of money will not necessarily be enough to keep you safe. The Knights Templar were effectively a rich and powerful bank, which is exactly what motivated the Kings of England and France to destroy the Templars and seize their wealth. I think the Iron Bank's location in a powerful and well-protected city-state is the key factor. –  Royal Canadian Bandit May 22 at 20:17
    
@MichaelEdenfield Like the Templars. The depts disappearing with the templars where a bigger incentive than the values looted. The problem with relying on your fiscal hold over other sovreign entities to be able to receive protection is that if it is likely that you will not survive the lack of said protection then it's in the entities interest to withold that protection. The dept is effectivly cancelled in either case but in the latter you have not comitted any resources. –  Taemyr May 23 at 7:57
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@MichaelEdenfield: Actually the Templars are a pretty good comparison. They ran by far the most advanced banking network in Europe at the time, and many European rulers owed them money. They could have bribed the King of France into making war on England or vice versa, but they did not succeed in doing this. Instead England and France decided it was a better deal to accuse the Templars of heresy, kill the lot of them, seize as many of their assets as possible, and cancel all debts owed. A bank needs protection from brute force in order to survive in the long term. –  Royal Canadian Bandit May 23 at 11:45

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