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What exactly was, or happened in the Doom of Valyria?

I'm nearing the end of the ASOIAF books and despite countless references, I'm still not clear on what exactly the Doom of Valyria was. If I recall correctly, there have been many different mentions of what appear to be natural disasters. For example:

In A Dance with Dragons (Chapter 33), Tyrion is quoted as thinking:

An empire built on blood and fire. The Valyrians reaped the seed they had sown.

The implication being that fire was the Doom of Valyria.

Fire is mentioned often, with clear references to the 'Fourteen Flames' which I believe to be a chain of volcanoes.

However

Many other seemingly natural disasters are described, including earthquakes and a tsunami(?).

This makes me wonder, are all these events chained? As in, related or even caused by each other? Was the Doom of Valyria a completely natural event?

Did magic play a part, in any form? I know from references in the books that magic was very prevalent in Valyria.

As stated I'm nearing the end of the books now, so any 'spoilers' which answer my question or relevant questions are very welcome.

  • 5
    Seeing as there are still two books left to publish in ASOIAF and it hasn't been detailed in any of the already published material I think you'll have to wait until the series is over. – Monty129 May 13 '14 at 11:44
  • If any definitive answer isn't available, I'm happy to settle for spirited speculation. – Danieloplata May 13 '14 at 11:53
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    This isn't a site for speculation, I'm afraid, only for actual verifiable answers. – Mike Scott May 13 '14 at 11:57
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    @Monty129 a question-asker here isn't required to know all canon in a universe, which would be needed to know whether a question is answerable. – Kevin May 13 '14 at 13:08
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    @JimmyShelter I always felt Valyria was more a take on Atlantis than anything else. – Monty129 May 13 '14 at 13:12
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It's pretty much clear that it was a natural disaster (Earthquake). Earthquakes can cause volcanoes to erupt and tsunamis to form.

A quote from A Wiki of Ice and Fire:

The cataclysm hit the Valyrian capital city Valyria, fragmenting the land surrounding the city into numerous smaller islands, creating the Smoking Sea between them. the Freehold was annihilated in a single night of fire and storm, with great earthquakes and volcanic eruptions laying waste to the empire.

Unless they later on explain that it was some magic or other dark event that caused it, it's pretty clear that an earthquake destroyed the land.

  • 3
    Do they cite that? I don't recall reading it in the books. – Kevin May 13 '14 at 12:52
  • The quote is not from the books directly, but it's a 100% accurate description of the area. If you look at the map of the world you can see it has a heavily fragmented landmass in the south, which is Valyria. Tyrion describes it the best in the books, saying fire spewed from the ground and boulders came flying from the sky, which points directly to a volcano erupting (or in this case, multiple (14)). – Parrotmaster May 13 '14 at 13:18
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    @Parrotmaster: The Doom is clearly volcanic in nature, but I'd question whether it was entirely natural. Having a chain of 14 volcanoes all erupt at once with that degree of violence is pretty much unknown on the real Earth. Also, we have the fact that this disaster just happened to strike the greatest centre of magical power in the world. It is likely that the magic of Valyria and the Doom are connected in some way, but we won't find out until the later books (if at all). – Royal Canadian Bandit May 13 '14 at 15:24
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    Is this analogous to Pompeii? – ctzdev May 13 '14 at 21:26
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit But it also mentions Tsunami's, which makes me believe it was actually an earthquake that set off the 14 volcanoes (14 volcanoes tell us that it was an area with a lot of tectonic activity.) We have places like this on earth and events like this, but in our case it's mostly underwater. – Parrotmaster May 15 '14 at 6:45
10

As with many other lore details, the books have been deliberately vague about the actual unfolding of the event, though from context clues we know that there was certainly some sort of natural disaster involving earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Since the event happened several centuries before the start of the narrative, accounts of the Doom could mostly now be exagerated legends (such as the idea that the ruins are filled with demons). From the wiki as well:


Tyrion recalls that it was written that on the day of Doom every hill for 500 miles had split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire, blazes so hot and hungry that even dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents had opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons, and to the north the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself and an angry sea came rushing in.


While aboard the Iron Victory, near the Isle of Cedars, Victarion Greyjoy recalls what he knows of the day the Doom came to Valyria. It is said a wall of water 300 feet high had descended on Velos drowning hundreds of thousands of man, women, and children


It's fairly well-known that even in our world earthquakes can cause chain-reactions of tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. It's therefore plausible that the Doom was nothing more than a horrific natural disaster, and that the Valyrians were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Whether or not it was caused by some other external force, such as magic or some malicious divine being, still remains to be seen. GRRM stated in an interview that we may get to see old Valyria, but that there wasn't a big chance, so we'll have to wait for the last two books to be sure.

  • Nice answer, and thanks for the links. If indeed the Doom of Valyria was a purely natural event, is it feasible that the area would remain inaccessible? Surely the eruptions will not be ongoing after such a long time? With the amount of water existing around that area, it would seem to me the magma would have cooled and solidified. – Danieloplata May 14 '14 at 8:24
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    Hmmm, depends on what you mean by "inaccessible." I believe Euron claimed he explored the area to find the dragon horn, so clearly there must be some passable areas there. My guess is that all the tectonic activity opened up a ton of undersea steam vents, causing the seas to look like they are boiling. To me it seems more likely that superstition and rumors mostly keeps travellers away, rather than the physical danger of the area itself. – YonkeyDonk64 May 15 '14 at 20:34
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The World of Ice and Fire, which is written from the perspective of Maester Yandel, seems to contain the best in world description of the event.

From page 26, The World of Ice and Fire:

To this day, no one knows what caused the Doom. Most say that it was a natural cataclysm — a catastrophic explosion caused by the eruption of all Fourteen Flames [volcanoes] together. Some septons, less wise, claim that the Valyrians brought the disaster on themselves for their promiscuous belief in a hundred gods and more, and in their godlessness they delved too deep and unleashed the fires of the Seven hells on the Freehold. A handful of maesters, influenced by fragments of the work of Septon Barth, hold that Valyria had used spells to tame the Fourteen Flames for thousands of years, that their ceaseless hunger for slaves and wealth was as much to sustain these spells as to expand their power, and that when at last those spells faltered, the cataclysm became inevitable.

The chapter also lists a curse by Garin the Great and dark magic by the priests of R'hllor as other possible causes.

5

The first insight we get into what the Doom was is from the perspective of what the Doom is still doing to Valyria. From the description it sounds like there are active volcanoes both on land and under the sea so it is likely that volcanic activity occurred during the Doom.

Every man there knew that the Doom still ruled Valyria. The very sea there boiled and smoked, and the land was overrun with demons. It was said that any sailor who so much as glimpsed the fiery mountains of Valyria rising above the waves would soon die a dreadful death, yet the Crow's Eye had been there, and returned.
A Feast for Crows, The Reaver

Tyrion thinks about what he has read in the books about the Doom and from his description it sounds as if the Doom was Volcanoes erupting, earthquakes and the ground falling through. It also sounds like a tsunami might have occurred but it could just be a few big waves.

"Fourteen or fourteen thousand. What man dares count them? It is not wise for mortals to look too deeply at those fires, my friend. Those are the fires of god's own wrath, and no human flame can match them. We are small creatures, men."
"Some smaller than others." Valyria. It was written that on the day of Doom every hill for five hundred miles had split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire, blazes so hot and hungry that even the dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents had opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons, and to the north the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself and an angry sea came rushing in. The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, its fabled empire vanished in a day, the Lands of the Long Summer scorched and drowned and blighted.
An empire built on blood and fire. The Valyrians reaped the seed they had sown. "Does our captain mean to test the curse?"
A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion VIII

A description later on seems to confirm that a tsunami hit Valyria, though there could have been multiple of them.

On the day the Doom came to Valyria, it was said, a wall of water three hundred feet high had descended on the island, drowning hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, leaving none to tell the tale but some fisherfolk who had been at sea and a handful of Velosi spearmen posted in a stout stone tower on the island's highest hill, who had seen the hills and valleys beneath them turn into a raging sea. Fair Velos with its palaces of cedar and pink marble had vanished in a heartbeat. On the north end of the island, the ancient brick walls and stepped pyramids of the slaver port Ghozai had suffered the same fate.
A Dance with Dragons, The Iron Suitor

The World of Ice and Fire also seems to hold that the Doom was volcanic eruptions and earthquakes though has some debates over what caused it.

And then, unexpected to all (save perhaps Aenar Targaryen and his maiden daughter Daenys the Dreamer), the Doom came to Valyria.
To this day, no one knows what caused the Doom. Most say that it was a natural cataclysm—a catastrophic explosion caused by the eruption of all Fourteen Flames together. Some septons, less wise, claim that the Valyrians brought the disaster on themselves for their promiscuous belief in a hundred gods and more, and in their godlessness they delved too deep and unleashed the fires of the Seven hells on the Freehold. A handful of maesters, influenced by fragments of the work of Septon Barth, hold that Valyria had used spells to tame the Fourteen Flames for thousands of years, that their ceaseless hunger for slaves and wealth was as much to sustain these spells as to expand their power, and that when at last those spells faltered, the cataclysm became inevitable.
Of these, some argue that it was the curse of Garin the Great at last coming to fruition. Others speak of the priests of R'hllor calling down the fire of their god in queer rituals. Some, wedding the fanciful notion of Valyrian magic to the reality of the ambitious great houses of Valyria, have argued that it was the constant whirl of conflict and deception amongst the great houses that might have led to the assassinations of too many of the reputed mages who renewed and maintained the rituals that banked the fires of the Fourteen Flames.
The one thing that can be said for certain is that it was a cataclysm such as the world had never seen. The ancient, mighty Freehold—home to dragons and to sorcerers of unrivaled skill—was shattered and destroyed within hours. It was written that every hill for five hundred miles split asunder to fill the air with ash and smoke and fire so hot and hungry that even the dragons in the sky were engulfed and consumed. Great rents opened in the earth, swallowing palaces, temples, and entire towns. Lakes boiled or turned to acid, mountains burst, fiery fountains spewed molten rock a thousand feet into the air, and red clouds rained down dragonglass and the black blood of demons. To the north, the ground splintered and collapsed and fell in on itself, and an angry sea came boiling in.
The World of Ice and Fire, Ancient History: The Doom of Valyria

The last paragraph in the above quote seems very similar to what Tyrion recalls so it seems as though Tyrion probably got his information from The World of Ice and Fire.

Later on Maester Yandel goes on to say the following, again saying fire played a part in the Doom.

The world has known ice in the Long Night, and it has known fire in the Doom. From the Frozen Shore to Asshai-by-the-Shadow, this world of ice and fire has revealed a rich and glorious history—although there is much yet to be discovered.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Glorious Reign

In conclusion the Doom of Valyria was a combination of many natural disasters occurring at the same time:

  • Volcanic Eruptions
  • Earthquakes
  • Tsunamis
  • Did an especially long, brutal winter follow very soon after? That would seem to be the natural follow-up of volcanic activity of that magnitude, because of all the particulate matter that would be thrown into that atmosphere. newscientist.com/article/… – PoloHoleSet Dec 11 '17 at 22:34
  • @PoloHoleSet Not that I'm aware of but note this is fantasy and I don't think GRRM is a geologist/meteorologist so things like that might not hold true to our world anyway. – TheLethalCarrot Dec 12 '17 at 9:05
  • I just thought it would make sense if that were the case. It's a pretty widely known and understood phenomenon (who hasn't heard of "nuclear winter," which is based on the same concept?), so no scientific expertise is necessary, really. I'm not a meteorologist or geologist, either. – PoloHoleSet Dec 12 '17 at 15:09
  • @PoloHoleSet I've had a look and can't find any reference to what happened to Valyria immediately afterwards. Some people survived but they would have left to Essos anyway so I doubt anyone was in the area after the event. If you're more interested in real world reasoning to the event it looks like it could have been caused by two tectonic plates moving apart, though the result is obviously much bigger than anything we've seen. – TheLethalCarrot Dec 12 '17 at 15:14
  • Thanks. I appreciate the effort. It just seems that this would be an easy out for the randomness of length and severity of winters. – PoloHoleSet Dec 12 '17 at 15:17
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Some more info has been given in the World of Ice and Fire. It still isn't mentioned what kind of natural cataclysm caused the Doom, but it is mentioned that fourteen volcanoes erupted together. It was a natural disaster that the world hadn't seen before (or since).

These fourteen volcanoes are called the Fourteen Flames and all of them were on the Valyrian peninsula.

Also, some not-so-wise septons believe that the Valyrians brought the doom to themselves because they believed in many gods

Some septons, less wise, claim that the Valyrians brought the disaster on themselves for their promiscuous belief oin a hundred gods and more, and in their golessness they delved too deep and unleashed the fires of the Seven hells on the Freehold.

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