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
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
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
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.
There are many who draw parallels between Henry VII Tudor and Daenerys I Targaryen. The core reasons are following:
- Both of them lived in Exile across the narrow sea (Or English channel).
- Both lost their fathers in early age, Edmund and Aerys.
- Both of them are pitted against a usurper, Edward IV in Henry's case and Robert in Daenerys'.
- Another usurper appears who removes the heirs of original usurper Edward IV/Robert Baratheon. That's Richard III and Joffrey Baratheon.
- Both are the rightful heirs in eyes of some nobles.
- Both used dragons on their banners.
- Both had dissidents join them in exile.
- Daenerys had Ser Barristan, Henry had John de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
- 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.
Personally, I see more of Abd el Rahman I Umayyad of Andalusia in her than Henry VII.
- 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.🎶
- Both had their families ousted in popular rebellions.
- Both lost their fathers early, He lost Muawiyah, she lost Aerys.
- Both ran from their home with their brothers while their families were butchered.
- Brothers of both Abd al-Rehman and Daenerys were killed.
- Both ran for their lives, in fear.
- Both then managed to carve themselves a Kingdom with no other strength than their own.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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;
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!
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:
- 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.
- Kavadh died soon and Usurper Shahrbaraz a Persian General then killed his minor son Ardeshir III and claimed the throne for himself.
- 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.
Yezdegerd also bears some resemblence with Daenerys:
- Both were last scions of great Dynasties. Yezdegerd was practically the last Sassanian when he was crowned.
- Both lost their fathers early. His father Prince Shahryar was executed by his uncle Kavadh II.
- 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.
- 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.