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Was Daenerys Targaryen based on Cleopatra Philopator, queen of ancient Egypt?

They have many commonalities.

Royal Birth

Both women were born into royal families.

  • Cleopatra the VII was born into the royal family of Philopator, which ruled Egypt.
  • Daenerys was born into the royal family of Targaryen, which ruled Westeros.

Foreign Origin of Family

Both women's families were not from the nations they ruled.

  • Cleopatra's family was foreign to Egypt that came to rule the country after a conquest over 200 years earlier. Her ancestors founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. They were Greeks of Macedonian origin and ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.
  • Daenerys's family was foreign to Westeros that came to rule the country after a conquest over 200 years earlier. Her ancestors founded the Targaryen dynasty. They were of Valyrian origin.

Sibling Marriage in Family

Both women were from families that practiced sibling marriages.

  • Brother-sister marriages were common in the Ptolemaic dynasty. Seven of the 16 Ptolemaic kings married a sister. Another two kings each married two sisters. Cleopatra herself was married to not one, but two, of her brothers when she was a teenager. She later had armies fight against both of her co-ruling brother-husbands and conspired against each of them.
  • Brother-sister marriages were common in the Targaryen dynasty. Several Targaryen kings married their sisters, and the founder married two.

Death of Brother

Both women were involved in the deaths of their brothers.

  • It is believed that Cleopatra had one of her brother-husbands killed by poison for the benefit of her son, Caesarion.
  • Daenerys's brother, Viserys, was killed by her lover, Khal Drogo.

Cruel Fathers

Both women's fathers were known for cruelty towards their subjects.

  • Ancient Egyptians hated Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, for the cruelty he inflicted on them.
  • Daenerys's father, Aerys II, had people burnt alive.

Polyglot

Both women spoke several languages.

  • Cleopatra spoke nine languages fluently and rarely used an interpreter.
  • Daenerys speaks multiple languages (not sure how many).

Exile

Both women lived in exile.

  • Cleopatra was forced into exile as a teenager after military losses during the war against one of her brother-husbands.
  • Daenerys grew up in exile.

Conquest

Both women returned from exile to conquer the kingdoms they were born to rule.

  • At age 21, Cleopatra raised an army in exile and worked with foreign leaders to reconquer Egypt.
  • In her late teens or early 20's, Daenerys raised an army in exile and worked with foreign leaders to reconquer Westeros. (As I write this, she is attempting to reconquer Westeros, so the outcome is not known yet.)

In Battle

Both women were present at important battles.

  • Cleopatra was present at the Battle of Actium, a decisive event that gave Rome supremacy over Egypt.
  • Daenerys participated in several battles using her dragons.

Sexual Appeal

Both women used their bodies to allure men to do their bidding.

  • Cleopatra had herself smuggled into Julius Caesar's palace and then seduced him. She also seduced Marc Antony and several other powerful men.
  • Daenerys seduced several powerful men to further her political ambitions.

It seems that the major differences between them are that one had dragons and the other did not, that one fought ice zombies and the other did not, and that one used blood magic, and the other did not.

Did George R. R. Martin have Cleopatra in mind when he wrote chapters about Daenerys?

I am looking for answers based on comments, writings, or interviews of the author.

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    Compared to Cleopatra, any woman who has not conquered a kingdom by age 21 is a slacker. – LincolnMan Oct 20 '17 at 7:48
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    She's likely to be inspired from many and not just one in particular, that being said I'll try and find word of her inspiration somewhere – TheLethalCarrot Oct 20 '17 at 8:08
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    There are also some obvious parallels to the Stuart pretenders to the British throne: Senior branch of a royal family overthrown and exiled by a more junior one; lives in relative poverty and obscurity; descendant raises an army many years later and attempts to take back the kingdom. – Royal Canadian Bandit Oct 20 '17 at 8:08
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    I guess Daenarys is not based on Cleopatra as the latter didn't have dragons :D – Rebel-Scum Oct 20 '17 at 8:18
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    @Loki Or maybe Cleopatra did have dragons but all historical records were lost. :-p – LincolnMan Oct 20 '17 at 20:12
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Real Answer

The answer is We do not know.

As far as I know, George has never talked about his inspiration behind Daenerys Targaryen, which of course we must note, there need not be any.

GRRM has however talked about what inspires him.

He has mentioned that war of the Roses is one of the key influences on him:

The Wars of the Roses have always fascinated me, and certainly did influence A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, but there's really no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence. I like to use history to flavor my fantasy, to add texture and versimillitude, but simply rewriting history with the names changed has no appeal for me. I prefer to reimagine it all, and take it in new and unexpected directions.

And he also stated that It's the English and French history which are the core of his historical borrowings:

Q: [Edited for clarity after this point. Ser Loras's (Ser Loras is the nickname of the fan) question concerning whether GRRM borrows from history, particularly Spanish history, received the reply below.]

George: Well, yes and no. I have drawn on a great many influences for these books. I do use incidents from history, yes, although I try not to do a straight one-for-one transposition of fact into fiction. I prefer to mix and match, and to add in some imaginative elements as well.

Most of my borrowings, however, come from English and French medieval history, simply because I am more familiar with those than with the heroes, legends, and traditions of other countries. The Wars of the Roses, the Crusades, and the Hundred Years War have been my biggest influences... oh, and some Scottish history as well, such as the infamous Black Dinner that inspired my own Red Wedding. This isn't a matter of choice so much as it is one of necessity. I don't have any other language besides English, and there's a paucity of good popular English language histories about medieval Spain, medieval Germany, and the like. I was in Germany last fall, and looked everywhere for good reference books about the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which would be treasure trove, I suspect. There are a ton of them that looked likely... but all in German.

And in about a week I will be travelling to Spain, coincidentally enough, where I plan to search for some good popular histories as well. Whether I will find any I can read, however... well, it's doubtful.

For further details, see here.


Other similar historical characters

There are however a number of similar historical characters other than Cleopatra who share something with Daenerys Targaryen.

Henry VII of England

There are many who draw parallels between Henry VII Tudor and Daenerys I Targaryen. The core reasons are following:

  1. Both of them lived in Exile across the narrow sea (Or English channel).
  2. Both lost their fathers in early age, Edmund and Aerys.
  3. Both of them are pitted against a usurper, Edward IV in Henry's case and Robert in Daenerys'.
  4. Another usurper appears who removes the heirs of original usurper Edward IV/Robert Baratheon. That's Richard III and Joffrey Baratheon.
  5. Both are the rightful heirs in eyes of some nobles.
  6. Both used dragons on their banners.
  7. Both had dissidents join them in exile.
  8. Daenerys had Ser Barristan, Henry had John de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
  9. This fits with the author's area of historical expertise. GRRM has already stated that his core inspirations come from French and English history, particularly the war of Roses.

Abd el Rahman I "The Falcon" of Andalusia

Personally, I see more of Abd el Rahman I Umayyad of Andalusia in her than Henry VII.

Here's why:

  1. Both were last scions of great dynasties, him the last of the Umayyads (At least he thought so at the time but later other members turned up like Aemon tried to reach Daenerys), her the last of the Targaryens.

    🎶 Oh I am the last of the Umayyads/Targaryens, my people are gone from the world. The last of the great Syrian/Westerosi Umayyads/Targaryens, who ruled half the world/Westeros at my birth.....They hunt me with dogs in the day light, they hunt me with torches by night. For these Abbasids/Baratheons who are small can never stand tall, whilst Umayyads/Targaryens still walk in the light.🎶

  2. Both had their families ousted in popular rebellions.
  3. Both lost their fathers early, He lost Muawiyah, she lost Aerys.
  4. Both ran from their home with their brothers while their families were butchered.
  5. Brothers of both Abd al-Rehman and Daenerys were killed.
  6. Both ran for their lives, in fear.
  7. Both then managed to carve themselves a Kingdom with no other strength than their own.
  8. Both never forgot where they came from and always wanted to go back. To go East (Damascus), Abd al-Rehman had to go West (Andalus). Daenerys was told by Quaithe that to go West (Westeros) she had to go east. He wanted to go East and fate kept taking him further and further West. She wants to go West but fate keeps taking her further and further East.
  9. Both then decided to improve the affairs of their newly forged Kingdoms. So both of them stayed and ruled. Abd al-Rehman planted Date Palm trees, Daenerys planted olive trees.
  10. Both were polyglots.

On an unrelated note, regarding the Black Dinner being the inspiration for the Red Wedding, there's sort of a Black Dinner from this character's life too. After their rival family, Abbasids deposed the Umayyads, the new Caliph Abu al-Abbas invited the members of the deposed dynasty who were still in the capital to a dinner. When the guests arrived, Abbasids had them all beaten to death with clubs before the first course. The table was set then on their corpses and Abu al-Abbas, henceforth known as As-Saffah (Blood-shedder) had dinner with his friends and Generals.

Abd el Rahman however never managed to return to take back his Grandfather's throne. He never managed to avenge his family. In the end he built a new Palace, named and modeled after the Imperial Palace he was born in, al-Rusafa , and planted Palm Trees there so that he could give himself some solace that he was still home.

Here's a testimonial by one of his greatest enemies, the Caliph al-Mansur of Abbasid Empire, which should really summarise all the similarities between him and Daenerys.The Caliph asked his courtiers that who deserved the title of "Falcon of Quraysh" (Most capable man of the tribe of Quraysh). Courtiers replied that it would have to be the Caliph himself. He said no. Courtiers said then it would have to be Muawiya I (Founder of Umayyad Caliphate), the Caliph again said no. The courtiers then presented the name of Abd al-Malk (One of the greatest Umayyad Caliphs), the Caliph again said no. Courtiers asked then who might deserve the title? The Caliph replied:

The falcon of Quraysh is Abd al-Rahman, who escaped by his cunning the spearheads of the lances and the blades of the swords, who after wandering solitary through the deserts of Asia and Africa, had the boldness to seek his fortune without an army, in lands unknown to him beyond the sea. Having naught to rely upon save his own wits and perseverance, he nonetheless humiliated his proud foes, exterminated rebels, organized cities, mobilized armies, secured his frontiers against the Christians, founded a great empire and reunited under his scepter a realm that seemed already parcelled out among others. No man before him ever did such deeds. Mu'awiya rose to his stature through the support of Umar and Uthman, whose backing allowed him to overcome difficulties; Abd al-Malik, because of previous appointment; and the Commander of the Faithful [i.e. al-Mansur himself] through the struggle of his kin and the solidarity of his partisans. But Abd al-Rahman did it alone, with the support of none other than his own judgment, depending on no one but his own resolve.

He also wrote a beautiful poem for his trees. Translated version below:

In the midst of Rusafa

Grows a palm-tree;

Born in the West,

Away from the country of palm-trees. I cried: You are like me,

For you resemble me

In wandering and peregrination,

And the long separation from kith and kin. You also

Grew up on a foreign soil;

Like me,

You are far from the country of your birth. May the fertilizing clouds of morning

Water you in exile,

May the beneficent rains besought by the poor

Never forsake you.

And so ended the reign of Abd el-Rahman I of House Umayyad, called "The Immigrant" by his subjects and "the Falcon" by his foes. He built a realm that would be called "Jewel of the World", defeated his foes, provided a new home for his Kin where they would rule for centuries to come, crushed rebellions, united the Iberian peninsula, threw back invasions from North and South but he never got his heart's one true desire, Home!

Pourandokht I of Persia

The first woman to rule the Sassanian Empire had somethings in common with Daenerys as well, although not as much as the first two candidates:

  1. She lost her father and most of her family when a coup in favor of her brother Kavadh II ended in wholesale murder of the Imperial Family with the King and thirty of his sons being executed by the new King.
  2. Kavadh died soon and Usurper Shahrbaraz a Persian General then killed his minor son Ardeshir III and claimed the throne for himself.
  3. While it is unknown who was her mother, It is very possible that she was a product of incest as practice of Incest was considered holy by Zoroastrianism. But if her mother was related to her father, then she'd be a proper wife, not a concubine and she would not have been unknown, as then she'd be a Persian Princess, not some random lowborn girl.

Within forty days of the usurper's actions, the loyalists murdered him and crowned Princess Pourandokht as First Sassanian female Empress. She was then deposed in favor of her sister Azarmidokht, who was then murdered by another General. So Pourandokht was crowned for a second time. And then she was murdered herself.

Yazdegerd III of Persia

Yezdegerd also bears some resemblence with Daenerys:

  1. Both were last scions of great Dynasties. Yezdegerd was practically the last Sassanian when he was crowned.
  2. Both lost their fathers early. His father Prince Shahryar was executed by his uncle Kavadh II.
  3. In the following civil war which saw the Persian throne usurped by a General and the coronations of his aunts Pourandokht and Azarmidokht, he was hiding in Estakhr for his life.
  4. The rival factions however decided to make him Emperor as a compromise when he was somewhere between 12-16, when someone murdered his aunt Empress Pourandokht. A year after he was crowned, Arabs invaded and ended the Persian Empire for good. Yezdegerd fled into exile with his children.
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    There's also parallels to Cleapotra, as mentioned in the OP, Elizabeth I etc. There are lots of parallels to lots of different historical figures. My guess is she isn't actually based off one in particular but likely several different ones. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 20 '17 at 8:16
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    @TheLethalCarrot Aye but why repeat what he has already figured out on his own, eh? – Aegon Oct 20 '17 at 8:19
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    Oh yeah I'm not saying put it in your answer just pointing out she probably doesn't come from one person alone. Good article on it adds in some extra people again. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 20 '17 at 8:21
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    I have to stop saying that this is what I was going to post, because your answers are easily more comprehensive and better than mine. Well done. +1 alone for recognising that GRRM borrows from many sources and purposefully won't ever say exactly what has inspired his story or characters. – Möoz Oct 20 '17 at 8:30
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    @jackwise I have read in other books regarding pre-sassanid Persia about incestual marriages and their holiness. I'll come back on Monday and provide you further references in comments. The source cited here which I admittedly skimmed through goes on the debate that how prevalent was the practice in Sassanid Persia and how the Zoroastrians redefined it after Arab invasion iirc. One thing I'm sure about is that incest was considered holy, I love Persian history. What is debatable however is prevalence of the norm – Aegon Oct 20 '17 at 16:56
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@Aegon's answer is correct in that we don't actually know who Dany is inspired from. However, it seems really likely that she is actually inspired from multiple historical figures. As well with Cleopatra and those that his answer cites I can think of two others, sourced from this article that is well worth a read and goes into far more detail than I will here.

Queen Elizabeth I

  • Both third in line to succession, before their siblings had any children.
  • Following the death of a sibling they became "Queen".
  • Both surrounded themselves with powerful and intelligent men.
  • Both have shown the ability to put a great amount of inspiration in their people.
  • Both demonstrate an immense amount of care and passion for the good their people and seek only to do ensure the well being of their kingdoms.
  • The two have to deal with invasions though they are on the opposite ends of them.
  • Dany's speech in Astapor to the slaves about breaking their chains has been compared to Elizabeth's speech at Tilbury.

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra

  • Began a rebellion against the Roman Empire as Dany has against the Iron Throne.
  • Both are said to be damn fine beautiful.
  • Dany married Khal Drogo and Zenobia married a King with a great army.
  • Both marriages didn't last leaving them in control of the armies.
  • Zenobia's conquest of Middle Eastern countries is similar to Dany's of the Cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Meeren.
  • Zenobia was eventually defeated by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, however, as Dany is still currently locking horns with her enemy we won't know if this is can be drawn as a parallel.
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As we're just listing potential influences and similarities, I see her as similar to:

Empress Matilda

  • Sister of the successor to the throne (Viserys/William Adelin)
  • Moved abroad when just a child
  • Became ruler overseas (Mereen and Khaleesi/German Queen and Queen of Italy)
  • Married a foreign ruler as a child who dies while she was still young (Khal Drogo/Henry V HRE)
  • Later married another foreign ruler to strengthen her position (Hizdahr zo Loraq/Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou)
  • Both are described as being beautiful

Also in both cases there was a rebellion started by a nobleman named Robert. However in aSoIaF it was against the Targaryens, whereas Robert of Gloucester rebelled against King Stephen, so not a direct comparison and most likely a coincidence even if Matilda was an inspiration for Dany.

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