In game of thrones Maesters are always represented as wearing a large chain necklaces. Then in the season 6 finale we see this grand library with countless books, and it seems like all of them have a chain attached

What's with the Maesters and their chain fetish?

  • 2
    David Grinberg see my update - upon review of the tape, @BCDotWEB's answer looks more correct than mine, I recommend you select his as the answer instead of mine.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 12:49

3 Answers 3


The Maester's chain, forged of different metals, is a symbol of service and an indicator of the wide learning the particular Maester has achieved. It is a symbolic ornament with multiple layers of meaning.

Jon Snow describes his conversation with Maester Luwin:

"He told me that a maester's collar is made of chain to remind him that he is sworn to serve," John said, remembering. "I asked why each link was a different metal. A silver chain would look much finer with his grey robes, I said. Maester Luwin laughed. A maester forges his chain with study, he told me. The different metals are each a different kind of learning, gold for the study of money and accounts, silver for healing, iron for warcraft. And he said there were other meanings as well. The collar is supposed to remind a maester of the realm he serves, isn't that so? Lords are gold and knights steel, but two links can't make a chain. You also need silver and iron and lead, tin and copper and bronze and all the rest, and those are farmers and smiths and merchants and the like. A chain needs all sorts of metals, and a land needs all sorts of people."

Quote is from Chapter 41 of A Game of Thrones, where Jon Snow tries to convince Maester Aemon to take Samwell Tarly under his tutelage.

As for the books shown in the Season 6 finale, there's no equivalent in the (Song of Ice and Fire) books that I recall, and certainly no exposition on (chains on books). However, where the chain is a symbol to the Maesters, it's quite reasonable for them to extend it to their libraries - just as the Cross is a Christian symbol that shows up on a wide variety of places - rosaries, steeples, Bible covers, bookmark tassels, chalices, communion wafers, sword hilts, stoles, tattoos, and bumper stickers.

It may also be that the chains are meant to index books - books having to do with finance would feature gold in their chains; books having to do with healing would feature silver; books on warcraft would feature iron. Allowing the Maesters to... ahem... judge a book by its chain.

Update -

After a rewatching of the scene, @BCdotWEB's answer appears more correct - the chains are linked to crossbars for security:

Books chained to bars on shelves

And the crossbars are locked to the bookcase with conspicuous locks at the endcap:

Locks at end of bookcase

I recommend you accept @BCdotWEB's answer instead of mine.

  • What about the books? I don't remember of the top of my head but I think they were all the same color chains. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 13:51
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    Sorry, @DavidGrinberg, there's a really really strong tendency to interpret the phrase "from the books" differently when it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones. My bad.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 15:47
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    @DavidGrinberg Even if the chains on the books we saw were all the same color, it's possible that all the books in the one aisle he walked down just all happened to deal with the same topic. One would assume the library has some form of organization/categorization to it - the chains just are an immediate visual identifier (and possibly help protect against theft besides).
    – Doc
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 0:31
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    @TylerH, Clash of Kings, chapter 28: "This is Valyrian steel," [Luwin said]. "Only one maester in a hundred wears such a link. This signifies that I have studied what the Citadel calls the higher mysteries - magic, for want of a better word.... All those who study the higher mysteries try their own hand at spells, soon or late."
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 16:51
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    @Mast Many of the metals used in a maester's chain, such as gold, lead, and tin, would be far too soft to secure a book with. Also, gold or Valyrian steel are probably too valuable to make a chain out of!
    – user41830
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:34

Securing books to a bookcase via a chain was common in the Middle Ages. As explained on Wikipedia:

A chained library is a library where the books are attached to their bookcase by a chain, which is sufficiently long to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from the library itself. This would prevent theft of the library's materials. The practice was usual for reference libraries (that is, the vast majority of libraries) from the Middle Ages to approximately the 18th century. However, since the chaining process was also expensive, it was not used on all books. Only the more valuable books in a collection were chained. This included reference books and large books.

You can still visit some remaining chained libraries.

  • Isn't access to the library pretty strictly limited? I wouldn't expect theft to be a big issue in that situation.
    – svick
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 13:26
  • @svick It's defense in depth -- good to have a backup plan for when that sneaky thief discovers a way to get in without your permission. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:23

Maesters' Chains and the chains used in the Citadel's Library are unrelated.

A Maester's Chain is a badge of office indicating the wearer is a graduated Maester of the Citadel. The individual links of the chain are symbolic as well, as explained elsewhere.

The chained books in the library are a security feature designed to prevent people from walking off with the Library's books. Chains are used for security purposes across the Seven Kingdoms.

N.B. It's possible that the Library has implemented a "Maester Decimal System", with the metal of each security chain representing the contents of the tome. Gold chains for financial manuscripts, Silver links for medicine, etc. However, this would be unconfirmed until we see other sections of the Library as the chains we have seen have been of the same metal.

  • On top it would also not work. Gold chains as as security feature are not smart for two reasons. First, suddenly someone takes the chain as well. Second, gold is SOFT. Which means not much of a security feature.
    – TomTom
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:46
  • Also, as the books don't have a printed spine, they're placed on the shelves with the spine concealed. There doesn't seem to be a central catalog, so a Maester Decimal System based on chains seems like the only feasible way to find the book you're looking for, short of pulling out dozens at a time.
    – Jedi
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 3:25

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