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I am currently rereading A Song Of Ice And Fire and in the first book, A Game of Thrones, I found a confusing section in Tyrion II about the dragon skulls in the throne-room of the Red Keep:

There were nineteen skulls. The oldest was more than three thousand years old; the youngest a mere century and a half. The most recent ones were also the smallest; a matched pair no bigger than mastiff's skuls, and oddly misshapen, all that remained of the last two hatchlings born on Dragonstone. They were the last of the Targaryen dragons, perhaps the last dragons anywhere, and they had not lived very long.

From there the skulls ranged upward in size to the three great monsters of song and story, the dragons that Aegon Targaryen and his sisters had unleashed on the Seven Kingdoms of old. The singers has given them the names of gods: Balerion, Meraxes, Vhaghar.

A Game of Thrones: Tyrion II

There are three bits of information here:

  • The oldest skulls were three thousand years old.

  • The skulls got smaller over time.

  • The biggest dragon was Balerion.

This implies that the biggest skull is also the oldest, but that would also imply that Balerion was three thousand years old. That seems a bit excessive.

Even Barristan Selmy seems to think so:

The squire Whitebeard, standing by the figurehead with one lean hand curled about his tall hardwood staff, turned toward them and said: "Balerion the Black Dread was two hundred years old when he died during the reign of Jaehaerys the Conciliator."

A Storm of Swords: Daenerys I

On the other hand, I wouldn't expect the Targaryens to be importing even bigger, older skulls during their conquest, so I don't see who else would be the prior owner of the skull, other than Balerion.

Are there any additional sources that cite Balerion's age?

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    @JarkoDubbeldam Okay, I think I see the issue. The skull is three thousand years old, Balerion didn't live to be three thousand years old. In other words, Balerion was alive - and died - roughly three thousand years ago. – Anthony Grist Oct 31 '17 at 21:53
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    @AnthonyGrist Balerion died ~200 years before the books are set. So, no. I am working up an answer, bare with. – Edlothiad Oct 31 '17 at 21:56
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    @AnthonyGrist You still have it wrong. The 3000-year-old skull is not Balerion's. It belongs to another, unknown dragon that died long before the conquest. Balerion was born roughly 400 years ago and died roughly 200 years ago, Balerion was Aegon's dragon during the conquest of Westeros roughly 300 years ago. – J Doe Oct 31 '17 at 21:58
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    Then the assumption that the biggest is also the oldest is clearly incorrect, and the question is founded on a faulty premise. There's no actual evidence for that in the text; it just says that the most recent skulls were the smallest, but that doesn't mean that there's a strict relationship between age and size. – Anthony Grist Oct 31 '17 at 22:01
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    @CorleyBrigman That's not correct, there actually was a correlation in text about the most recent Targaryen dragons being small. Not because they were children, but because they were kept indoors (the Dragonpit). Selmy (as Arstan) tells Dany that in ASoS, Daenerys1. – Paul Nov 1 '17 at 14:37
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There is no explicit age given. But Barristan Selmy's guess seems to be a good one.

There is no reason to believe that oldest MUST mean it is also the biggest. Not all the dragons would have died at the same time, some may have died 2900 years ago. But the longer a dragon lives, the larger they get.1 (All quotes will be compiled at the end).

What we do know?

  • Balerion flew West with Aenar Targaryen before the Doom of Valyria2,
  • Balerion was the largest skull in the throne room, followed by Meraxes and Vhagar3,
  • Meraxes' and Vhagar's skulls were no more than ~415 years old at the time of A Game of Thrones4,
  • Meraxes was no more than 125 years old at the time of its death and yet was the second largest skull5,
  • Balerion died in 94 AC and was at least 220 years old at the time (because he arrived with Aenar)6,
  • Vhagar died in 130 AC and was 182 at the time of its death. It was said to be nearing Balerion's size7,
  • Although the second largest skull in the throne room, Meraxes died at least 60 years before Vhagar8

With all the above information, we can make a reasonable claim that Dragons did not live forever, and that if Vhagar was reaching Balerion's size after 182 years Balerion couldn't be 3000 years old, otherwise he would've been FAR bigger. Balerion is also noted to have been the oldest dragon, meaning dragons were not immortal and died after ~200 years of life. This is given further evidence, since Meraxes, at most 125 years old, was larger than Vhagar and therefore the three skulls must've been similar in size, and within at least a few decades, at most maybe a couple of centuries in age. (Although accounts seem to differ whether Vhagar was larger or smaller than Meraxes 3, 6)

Therefore Barristan's prediction was likely a good guess for Balerion's age, although not quite exactly right, it was a close bound. Balerion was definitely not 3000 years old and this suggests that the Targaryens had in fact brought Dragon skulls with them before the Doom.


1 A dragon never stops growing, Your Grace, so long as he has food and freedom.
A Storm of Swords - Daenerys I

2 Of the five dragons who had flown with Aenar the Exile from Valyria, only one survived to Aegon's day: the great beast called Balerion, the Black Dread.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest

3 You could have ridden a horse down Vhaghar's gullet, although you would not have ridden it out again. Meraxes was even bigger. And the greatest of them, Balerion, the Black Dread, could have swallowed an aurochs whole, or even one of the hairy mammoths said to roam the cold wastes beyond the Port of Ibben.
A Game of Thrones Tyrion II

4 The remaining two dragons—Vhagar and Meraxes—were younger, hatched on Dragonstone itself.
The World of Ice and Fire - The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest

As shown below, Aenar left for dragonstone in 114BC

5 Earliest possible birth: Twelve years before the Doom of Valyria (114 BC), Aenar Targaryen sold his holdings in the Freehold and the Lands of the Long Summer and moved with all his wives, wealth, slaves, dragons, siblings, kin, and children to Dragonstone, a bleak island citadel beneath a smoking mountain in the narrow sea.

Death: Matters escalated, and more Dornish seats fell to dragonfire in 9 AC... A bolt from a scorpion pierced the eye of Meraxes, and the great dragon and the queen who rode upon it fell from the sky.

6 When the Black Dread died (of old age, not in war), he did not take a second dragon.
The Rogues are Coming (March 12, 2014), Reply to question (March 12, 2014)

...the oldest and largest of the Targaryen dragons since the passing of the Black Dread in 94 AC.
The Rogue Prince

7 ...she had grown nigh as large as the Black Dread of old.
The Princess and the Queen

8 It was upon the twenty-second day of the fifth moon of the year 130 AC when the dragons danced and died above the Gods Eye. Daemon Targaryen was nine-and-forty at his death; Prince Aemond had only turned twenty. Vhagar, the greatest of the Targaryen dragons since the passing of Balerion the Black Dread, had counted one hundred eighty-one years upon the earth.
The Princess and the Queen

  • I think we just have to accept that either the OP's first quote is an early one that doesn't mesh very well with the later history: the Targaryens had more than 19 dragons ( scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/134332/… + the ones they settled on Dragonstone with); only one last dragon is mentioned in AWOIAF, not a matched pair of skulls; other evidence would suggest Vhagar was larger than Meraxes; and the 3000 year quote is pretty much unexplained. Tyrion might have got some history wrong, but his basic counting skill are probably fine. – Nolimon Nov 1 '17 at 13:27
  • I'm confused with your comment, the Targs had more than 19 dragons but due to the Dance of the Dragons it is likely the opposition dragon skulls were not kept, furthermore some dragon skulls may have been broken or destroyed, etc. It is possible the oldest is 3000 years old, but it is certainly not Balerion – Edlothiad Nov 1 '17 at 13:34
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    Indeed, I see no disparity in Tyrion's assessment. He asserts these things: the oldest is more than three thousand, the largest is Balerion (who was around 400 years ago and certainly wasn't thousands of years old) and the most recent ones are the smallest. None of these is contradictory, it's just the assumption that the trend from smallest to largest also applies from most recent to oldest, but Tyrion never asserts that. – delinear Nov 1 '17 at 13:40
  • Regarding the contradictions about which of Vhagar and Meraxes was the biggest : maybe the third quote should be understood as saying that Meraxes was bigger than Vhagar at the time of the Conquest, when both were alive, but that Vhagar lived longer (he died more than a century later) and thus was bigger at the time of the Dance of Dragons... – Arnaud D. Nov 1 '17 at 15:16
  • @ArnaudD. that is possible, however I'm not certain about that since it's Tyrion saying after both Dragons are dead, and Tyrion having only seen the two skulls is most likely basing it off that. However skull size need not mean the rest of the Dragon was smaller, I guess Vhagar could've had an especially small head, compared to Meraxes – Edlothiad Nov 1 '17 at 15:18
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IMHO opinion the OP may confuse two different meanings of age.

1) number of years between birth of a life form or making of an artifact and the time when the age is given.

2) Number of years between the birth of a life form and the death of that life form.

The oldest dragon skulls were the skulls of the dragons who were born and/or died the greatest number of years before the passage in question. Thus those skulls were oldest in meaning number one.

The oldest dragons were probably not the earliest born and died dragons but the ones that lived the greatest number of years between birth and death and grew the longest and most and thus left the largest skulls upon their deaths. They were the oldest dragons in meaning number two.

Suppose that someone collects prehistoric human skulls. The oldest skull in his collection might be of a baby who lived 25,000 years ago according to meaning number one. But the oldest human whose skill was in his collection could be someone who died aged about sixty years old about 3,000 years ago according to meaning number two.

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    You should consider merging your accounts as you've got several and your main account already has several thousand rep. You can see more about that in the help center. Next, the asker is asking specifically for canon details which suggest which quote is most accurate. – Edlothiad Nov 1 '17 at 6:43
  • @Edlothiad that may be true, but the asker is misinterpreting the text he quoted and therefore an external quote isn't necessary as rereading it using the proper meaning does make sense then. The oldest fossil of a skull was 3000 years old but the older dragons had bigger skulls. The asker doesn't need a quote as his own logic is flawed and therefore clarifying his logical mistake immediately answers his question. That passage says nothing about the age of balerian other than that it lived the longest out of the one's in the room. – The Great Duck Nov 1 '17 at 15:27
  • But who are you to say that Drogon couldn't be 3000 years old without a statement from the texts. Valyria is certainly old enough.for Balerion to be 3000 years old, as his House Targaryen. It's the text that give it the strong canon support, which is what this sight is about. – Edlothiad Nov 1 '17 at 15:32
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200 Years Old

The quote you supplied from Barristan Selmy seems to be the most accurate representation we have of Balerion's age.

The squire Whitebeard, standing by the figurehead with one lean hand curled about his tall hardwood staff, turned toward them and said: "Balerion the Black Dread was two hundred years old when he died during the reign of Jaehaerys the Conciliator."
A Storm of Swords, Daenerys I


Your question is based on multiple misunderstandings of the text that you have quoted.

The skulls got smaller over time.

The most recent ones were also the smallest

This only implies that only the most recent were getting smaller especially as Balerion, Meraxes and Vhaghar are the largest and not the oldest.

The biggest dragon was Balerion

From there the skulls ranged upward in size to the three great monsters of song and story, the dragons that Aegon Targaryen and his sisters had unleashed on the Seven Kingdoms of old. The singers has given them the names of gods: Balerion, Meraxes, Vhaghar.

No where in the text is this said or even stated, it might be implied by the order of the names but that's pushing it a bit.

This implies that the biggest skull is also the oldest, but that would also imply that Balerion was three thousand years old.

No it doesn't as mentioned above and also more extensively in @Edlothiad's answer.

I wouldn't expect the Targaryens to be importing even bigger, older skulls during their conquest

Why? A large dragon skull is a great tool at scaring your opponents with "Look what we can use!" Also I'm sure such a thing would have been a prized posession of the Targaryens.

There were nineteen skulls. The oldest was more than three thousand years old; the youngest a mere century and a half.

This means that the oldest skull was 3000 years old not that the dragon was 3000 years old when it died.

  • 'Ranging upward to' implies to me that the the three great monsters are all the way at the end of that range, ergo, that the biggest skulls actually were of the three dragons during Aegon's Conquest. – JAD Nov 1 '17 at 14:09
  • @JarkoDubbeldam The biggest skulls are of the 3 named dragons from the conquest ~300 years ago yes, I don't see what you're getting at though. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 1 '17 at 14:14
  • "The biggest dragon was Balerion" "No where in the text is this said or even stated." – JAD Nov 1 '17 at 14:40
  • @JarkoDubbeldam Go on? – TheLethalCarrot Nov 1 '17 at 14:45
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    @JarkoDubbeldam I'm not arguing that Balerion is not the largest but that the quote you supply does not say that. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 1 '17 at 14:54

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