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We know that Iron Islands has a huge navy. It is their main strength. We also know that Iron Islands are barren land, very small and even if they fish extensively, it should not support a population as great as the North. In fact, it was one of their motives when they waged war against the North, to obtain Lebensraum for their people.

I am not really shocked with their ship building efficiency. They might steal the wood easily from many unprotected forests in the North or in the Riverlands. The Iron Fleet should already have around 500 ships in total. Building 500 more in one or two years for a seafarer nation should not be the greatest challenge.

However, for such a small nation to man even 500 ships efficiently puzzles me. In a world where the North can muster 20000 men (if they took their time it would at most be 40000), how did Iron Islands man 1000 ships? What would be the crew per ship?

One of the best comparisons I could find is the taking of Deepwood Motte, where Asha Greyjoy commaned 30 longships and about 1000 men, making it about 30 men per ship. Battle for Deepwood Motte is another possible reference point, where it is claimed that Asha Greyjoy had 4 longships and 200 men. This makes 50 men per longship.

So, how can Iron Islands support a fighting population of 30000 while the best North can do is 40000?

Book answers are preferred but TV show answers are also welcome.

  • 1
    One thing to note: North has always been sparsely populated so they shouldn't be taken as a benchmark for manpower. Iron Islands have fallen into poverty after the conquest, that was not the case before the conquest when the Ironborn conquered rich lands like Riverlands and looted whatever resources they needed to sustain a high population – Aegon Sep 18 '17 at 11:41
  • If you want to compare manpower, compare Iron Islands to Westerlands or The Reach. Not the North which is also very sparsely populated, and outsiders tend to avoid immigrating to the North, so much so that Eddard Stark thought that even the Promise of lands wouldn't be able to attract people to settle New Gift in face of a coming cruel Northern winter – Aegon Sep 18 '17 at 11:42
  • Out-of-universe: GRRM may just have 1000 ships because it sounds cool (and has a nice resonance with the Trojan War). The Iron Islands are clearly based on the Vikings of early medieval Europe, and not any larger than Norway/Sweden/Denmark in our world. The Viking army which conquered most of England in 865 CE was considered large for its time, and is estimated at no more than a few thousand. So the Iron Islands fleet is about 10 times bigger than a "realistic" size. – Royal Canadian Bandit Sep 18 '17 at 11:45
  • @Aegon Sparsely populated does not mean "small population". The North's population could be massive, but since it's the size of the other 6 kingdoms combined it's "sparsely populated". – Edlothiad Sep 18 '17 at 11:46
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    You've got a lot of questions here. Asking 1. How many people are there? 2. How they provide for their population? 3. How did they man 1000 ships? 4. How many men was there to a ship? That's a lot of sub questions with a very broad scope for you answer, Maybe you could consider narrowing your question slightly – Edlothiad Sep 18 '17 at 11:48
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The true answer is we do not know the exact size of the Iron Islands population and so it seems appropriate to use @Aegon's image here:

We do not <s>sow<s> know

However, the awoiaf page on the Iron Islands cites that they have 20,000 men and 500 longships which in turn is cited from "A Game of Thrones: d20-based Open Gaming RPG." which is a semi-canon source.

We can also get a figure of 15,000 fighting men from this post on atlasoficeandfireblog which is cited from this video by Elio Garcia:

From there the article extrapolates that the Iron Islands has a population of 1.5 million but that is using a basis that the fighters make up 1% of the population which seems low for a nation such as the Ironborn. Using a figure more around 10% we get 150,000 which seems more reasonable. This isn't exactly unfeasible as in WWII many nations managed to get around 10% fighting population although it isn't sustainable but these are times of war for Westeros.

So using both figures for fighting men and a rough estimate of between 1-10% of the population being fighters we get a population between 150,000 and 2,000,000 though it seems likely to be on the lower side of things.

However, in my opinion (especially as they rely on raiding), the percentage of fighting men is likely around 3-5% maybe a bit higher which gives a total population of between 450,000 and 1,000,000.

  • 2
    Your article is interesting, you got a +1 for it. But I'm afraid that the numbers are totally wrong. According to canon, North has less than 1 million people. And Dorne is the least populous of the Big Houses. Moreover you can't extrapolate a percentage of fighters from modern armies with expensive weapons, and logistics. We are speaking of middle ages armies. They feed on the lands and they have to be disbanded to harvest. For the Iron men it is even more wrong. They are inspired from Vikings. Most men would be mobilised for raids/plunders. – xrorox Sep 18 '17 at 17:03
  • Moreover, Targaryens would not have been able to maintain their power with such a weak fiefdom (relative to the other described). – xrorox Sep 18 '17 at 17:11
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    Of interest is that a fisherman is a useful skilled sailor, while a farmer isn't a skilled footman: the art of gathering food on the sea is closer to warcraft than tilling the soil. And all of the crew on a ship need not be warriors; they can be sailors or even galley-slaves. Finally, you could imagine calling up non-warships (like fishing craft) to keep your warships fed while you cross the world, provide supply capacity, and the like. – Yakk Sep 18 '17 at 20:28
  • Off topic: your avatar made me double-take. Hats for the hatless. ;) – Wildcard Sep 19 '17 at 2:59
  • @xrorox It is a range extrapolated from other works using educated guesses. If I was confident on the numbers I would said an absolute one not a range. Can you point me to this figure for the northern population? – TheLethalCarrot Sep 19 '17 at 7:52
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Asha Greyjoy did some raids. While raiding you need additionnal warriors. You may have some heavy losses on land, and you need people to bring the ships back.

Euron is going to do naval warfare, so you need far less infantry. Presuming that ship boarding is not the main way to fight.

There is a main difference between the North and iron islands. It is a feeding and economic one, you need far less fishermen to feed everyone than you need farmers. And the North climate is harsh.

So the North need far far more people in order to raise an army of equivalent size.

And the iron islands are not that small. They are almost no farming lands, few forests. The islands are likely crowded.

Do not forget this is war on Westeros. You can kill and plunder for the Crown. You have few economic activities to do on the iron islands. There is war/raiding, fishing and mining.

So you may consider the iron men as a people in arms. In reality, you got nomadic people which were in such a situation. One major defeat, and they could disapear.

That's why nomads including mongols were able to conquer China or be a major threat whereas China was vastly more populated.

We do not know the Iron island population. But in such a context they may be able to raise 20 000 soldiers from a 60 000 population. War will pay for itself.

These numbers do not consider women that may be part of raids. The iron men are inspired from vikings, which had shield maiden. And we have on example of a warrior woman in Yara/Asha, and she did not seem to be ill considered because of it. Maybe they have a small percentage of able bodied women that fight with the men.

Update :

Their population may be far greater in number. They have huge fishing ground. Very few northmen actually live on the west coast. The main problems would be social unrest due to lack of space, and economic activities.

The 60 000 people seem (to me) the minimum population to raise such an army. You still keep small garrison, some fishermen, some miners.

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    How do you come to the conclusion of 60,000? And why do you come to that number if right before it you say "We do not know the Iron island population." – TheLethalCarrot Sep 18 '17 at 12:39
  • I said we do not know their minimal population because there is no official source to my knowledge. Iron men are almost a people in arms, so they may be able to raise most of the able bodied men. But you have to exclude the old, the children, keep a small garrison and some fishermen. Then double it, in order to take women into accounts. So 60 000, seems to be the bare minimum. – xrorox Sep 18 '17 at 12:55
  • I understand that but you don't seem to have any justification to those numbers, it feels like you've just plucked them out of the air because they feel right. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 18 '17 at 12:58
  • It is a wild guess. We can't came with a good numbers withouth knowing number of children per family, ect. If we consider Euron way of thinking, it is unlikely they could mobilise more men. And we may suppose that their population is quite young, because the iron islands were ransacked when Theon was a child. They do not require much logistics it is not the Iron way. So depending on the number of women and children you may have more people. But we do not have much information about them. Moreover, the North is less than a million people. So I'm inclined to take the smallest possible number. – xrorox Sep 18 '17 at 13:06
  • “Maybe they have a small percentage of able bodied women that fight with the men.” Maybe it’s not so small. – Paul D. Waite Sep 18 '17 at 13:09
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Regarding the number of people:

According to a semi-canon source the isles can raise approximately twenty thousand men.

Granted this would be fighting men. So it depends how much a total population would we to be able to raise 20,000. If we look at the United States, the total active and reserve military is roughly 1.5 million currently, but peaked during WWII at 12 million. In 1945 the population was around 139 million. So this gives roughly 10% of the population.

Using this number, which I feel is conservative, gives a population of 200,000 for the Iron Islands.


Regarding the number of ships:

So Spake Martin:

In brief, though... the Iron Islands can float a lot more than a hundred ships. Each of the major lords probably commands that any.

However, it is important to remember that the longships are smaller and simpler than the fleets that Joffrey and Stannis warred with on the Blackwater. The former are Viking longboats, more or less; for the latter, think Venetian/Byzantine dromonds of war.


Extrapolation

Theon's ship, the Sea Bitch,

was hundred feet long, had a single mast and fifty oars. It has a deck large enough to hold a hundred men and an iron ram.

50 oars = 50 men and I will give leniency to the Sea Bitch and say she was average to large sized for the Iron Fleet.

So even if the 1000 ships Euron wants to build are half the size of the Sea Bitch, he is mostly likely going to need more men.

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