One of the best things about the hit television show, Game of Thrones, is the enormous universe that the author of the books, George R.R. Martin, created for it. But for a show-watcher (as opposed to book-reader), the unknown size of this universe can lead to much frustration. If you are anything like me (nerd! wedgie), you cannot go an episode without wanting to know more about it. Who are those people they just referenced? What is that song? How long does it take them to march from Point A to Point B? Daenerys just got eight thousand Unsullied – is that even a lot?
[FN1] If at any point you find yourself saying something like “this isn’t scientific enough!” or “he cited to Wikipedia, get him!” please take two chill pills, and don’t call me in the morning. If at any point you find yourself saying “the population was zero, the show is fictional!” you’re right, but not half as clever as you think you are.
[Edit: This article was posted on the Game of Thrones subreddit and I am overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback that it received. Thank you! You can read the Reddit thread and the amazing comments here. In light of some of the feedback I received, it looks like my original estimate was slightly high. If the prior estimate was around 40 million (say, 36 to 44 million) I would adjust my present estimate to be closer to 36 million (about 32 to 40 million) instead.]
In this blog post, we will take a few different paths toward estimating the overall population of Westeros, the main continent in the Game of Thrones universe. I was surprised to find that, despite all of the websites and forums dedicated to Game of Thrones, that nobody had made a real effort to ballpark the number of people. Even the “A Wiki of Ice and Fire” Game of Thrones wikipedia, the largest Game of Thrones forum on the web, has only this to say when it comes to population: “The population of the Seven Kingdoms numbers in the millions.” Not good enough for me!
[FN2] Westeros.org (which may be the official-unofficial source for all things GoT) has forums in which a lot of speculation takes place. I drew a lot of my inspiration for this article from the crazy ramblings of fellow fans contained therein. The best such thread/discussion can be found here.
You should also know that I began this article in the beginning of Season 3. In my research, I accidentally read that Tyrion and Sansa get married. I was devastated. I do this for you, my friends. I do this for you.
We have a few different tools at our disposal to make this estimate, and we will use three of them here: First, estimating population by the size of the continent and an estimate of overall population density, second, by looking by the size of the cities in Westeros and an estimate of “urbanization” rates, and third, by making a ballpark estimate relative to the size of the armies raised by each of the regions during the War of the Five Kings.
For the purposes of this project, we will be working under the generally-shared assumption that Westeros has a lot in common time periods in Europe’s past (George R.R. Martin has stated that his books, A Song of Ice and Fire, are heavily influenced and inspired by the Wars of the Roses). It has elements of different phases of European history with regard to urbanization, medicine, religion, etc., so for the purpose of this project I’ll be using rough estimates from data found across the ages.
[FN3] It differs in a great many ways – one of which being that Westeros has remained in the middle ages for thousands of years, rather than advancing scientifically and industrially like we did on Earth. It also differs in size, and, um, in the existence of Dragons and White Walkers. But for the most part, some of the more boring aspects of medieval Europe will help us make parallels to Westeros.
The more boring or mathy parts of the analysis will be footnoted.
Here’s our world:
Population by Size of Continent and Population Density
The first and most obvious way of estimating the population of Westeros is to estimate the size of the continent and multiply that by our estimates at its population density.
[FN4] Beginning with Europe in the Middle Ages, population densities varied for each region. In the High Middle Ages the range extended from 90 to 100 people per square mile in the friendlier climates (France, Germany, Italy) down to approximately 40 people per square mile in the British Isles, with most of those clustered at the bottom of the island and with an even sparser density in the harsher climes. This was also the densest of times for Europe in the Middle Ages, as the Early Middle Ages had an overall lower population while factors such as the Great Famine and Black Plague caused the population to contract again in the Late Middle Age. The population around that time, even as late as 1450 A.D. is thought to be around 50 million.
Since the population in the Early Middle Ages was roughly half that of the population of the High Middle Ages, our beginning estimate for population density should be somewhere around 30 people per square mile (accounting for denser populations in the more moderate climates like the Reach, perhaps upwards of 50-60 people per square mile, and less dense populations in the enormous North, perhaps around 10 per square mile). The number may be even lower than that, if one accounts for the North being less habitable than, for instance, the British Isles in general. A look at the population density of Canada in present day illustrates this pretty starkly (Stark, get it?). Canada’s population density is only 10 per square mile.
As for continent size, the Game of Thrones wiki speculates that the TV version of Westeros is a little smaller than the book version. The wiki also includes a statement attributed to George R. R. Martin’s about the continent’s size:
George R. R. Martin has stated that the Wall is a hundred leagues long, or three hundred miles. Thus the continent stretches for about 3,000 miles from north to south and for some 900 miles at its widest point east to west.
We can also estimate the size of the continent from characters’ statements in the show. In the show’s first season, Robert Baratheon and his company was able to travel from King’s Landing to Winterfell in approximately one month (Cersei says this at around 5:12 in the video).
In order for that to be possible, the distance between the two locations must be around a thousand miles (30 days x ~35 miles per day). You can adjust your estimate up or down depending on what you think the speed of the Baratheon party was, but this would make the continent around 2250-2750 miles from north to south.
[FN5] George R.R. Martin has stated that the continent of Westeros is roughly the same size as the real-life continent of South America. I found one such reference to that in an article, in passing, and another in a blog post from Martin in 1999. You hate to disregard something directly from the author, but given the distances in the books and show, and the enormous size of South America, it is hard to reconcile the two. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that any feudal system as seen in Game of Thrones could operate over such a distance (South America is 6.8 million sq. miles). For comparison, the size of the Roman Empire at its peak was somewhere around 2.5 million square miles, with a population density somewhere around 30-50 people per square mile.
Therefore, we will assume that Westeros is approximately 2250 to 3000 miles north to south, and approximately 750 to 900 miles east to west. The continent is not rectangular, but is instead an irregular shape (including the basically uninhabitable portion north of the wall), therefore we must make an estimate of the uninhabitable or ocean space within that rectangle.
[FN6, Math] On the high end, we can speculate that the continent is 3000 x 900 (2.7 million sq. miles – larger than the peak of the Roman Empire) and 75% of it is habitable, resulting in 2.025 million square miles. On the lower end, we can speculate that the continent is 2250 x 750 (1.687 million sq. miles) and 65% of it is habitable, resulting in 1.097 million square miles.
Using the estimate of approximately 30 people per square mile, that we end up with a thumbnail sketch estimate of a population somewhere between 32.9 million and 60.75 million.
Population by Size of Major Cities
According to the Game of Thrones wiki, “The population of Westeros extends into many millions, though a precise count has never been attempted. The major cities of the continent have populations in the hundreds of thousands, and each of the Great Houses can field a reasonably-well-equipped army in the tens of thousands.”
We know from various sources that King’s Landing is the largest city in Westeros, and has a population of approximately half a million. Jamie Lannister reaffirms that number by making a sneaky reference to the population of King’s Landing in Season 3, Episode 7.
There are a few other large cities with populations of a quarter million or more (Oldtown, Lannisport), and as far as I can tell a handful of other cities with populations in the tens of thousands (Gulltown, White Harbor). According to the wiki, cities with less than ten thousand or so inhabitants are considered towns.
[FN7] What you believe about the overall population of the continent will be related to our estimates of what percentage of populations live in cities. This is a very difficult thing to research, so I will just summarize my findings. I have found that European urbanization from the 1300s (9.5% in towns of 5,000 or more, 3.3% in cities of 10,000 or more) to the 1600s (11.7 in towns of 5,000 or more, 4.2% in cities of 10,000 or more) remained low (source: Paolo Malanima).
Malanima concludes in his paper that in the period from 1300 to 1600, growth depended in the number of cities that existed rather than the growth of the existing large cities. Another conclusion (from multiple sources) is that urbanization is more common in more temperate climates (France, Spain, Italy) than in harsher climes (England, Russia). A comparison may be drawn to the presence of larger cities in Westeros existing in more temperate zones.
Similar statistics are found when looking at the original Thirteen Colonies here in the United States, who prior to the American Revolution had an urbanization rate of approximately 5% in towns of 2,500 people or more.
For more detailed information, I ventured onto a message board for A Song of Ice and Fire. Risky, I know, you’re welcome! I also cross-referenced some individuals who posted on message boards and on reddit for their takes on the number and sizes of cities. Here’s the approximate consensus from a few sources:
• King’s Landing- 500,000
• Old Town- 500,000 (in the books, the largest city in Westeros before the Targaryen conquest)
• Lannisport- 300,000
• Gulltown- 60,000
• White Harbor- 50,000 (the only “city” in the North, and the smallest of five “cities” in Westeros)
This places 1.41 million people living in cities of 50,000 or more. If the urbanization rate of Westeros is closer to 5%, that makes the overall population 28.2 million. Should we include cities smaller than White Harbor but which are certainly larger than 10,000 or so (such as Sunspear, Winterfell, Riverrun, the Twins, and a handful of others) that would push the urbanized population to around 1.66 million. Combine that estimate with a lower urbanization estimate (of 4%) and our estimate through this method is 41.5 million.
Population by Size of Armies
A little more unconventional, but perhaps still useful, would be estimates on the size of various regions relative to the armies that they were able to raise. Again, I ventured to wiki for my quick sketch information:
Crownlands (King’s Landing): 15,000-20,000 men
The North (Stark): approx. 40,000-45,000 men
The Iron Islands (Greyjoy): approx. 20,000 men
The Riverlands (Tully): approx. 45,000 men
The Vale of Arryn (Arryn): approx. 45,000 men
The Westerlands (Lannister): approx 50,000 men
The Reach (Gardener, Highgarden): approx. 100,000 men
The Stormlands (Durrandon): approx. 30,000 men
Dorne: less than 50,000 men
As a show watcher, I was not even that familiar with all of these regions when I began writing this (much like Martin himself, I have taken forever to finish this project, which I started in the middle of Season 3). Overall, this makes for a total 405,000 soldiers. From this estimate, we must determine what percentage of populations may be kept under arms at any given point. Elio Garcia estimates, citing sources, that the percentage is somewhere near 1%. Another source, citing to Edward Gibbon, also recommends an estimate of 1%.
Using that rate of 1%, that would put the total population of Westeros at 40.5 million.
[FN8] One more recent note on army sizes before we move on. In the most recent episode, Jon Snow says that “if the Wildlings breach the wall, they’ll roll over everything and everyone for a thousand miles before they reach an army that can stop them.” He also explains to his fellow Night’s Watch that Mance “has what he needs to crush us,” and “even if every one of us kills 100 wildlings, there isn’t a thing we can do to stop them.”
If the Wildlings outnumber the Night’s Watch by over 100 to 1 — and there are just over 100 men, according to Maester Aemon — that puts the force north of the Wall at over 10,000 soldiers. Depending on exactly how large it is, this would lend some credence to Jon’s estimate that the Wildling army might make it most of the way to King’s Landing before being stopped.
Shockingly, all three methods returned similar results. Population density resulted in an estimate between 32.9 million and 60.75 million, while city size and army size returned almost identical figures of 41.5 million and 40.5 million. We’ve made a number of assumptions and drawn a lot of parallels, but as best as we can do, we can estimate (let’s say +/- 10%) a population of Westeros from approximately 36 million to 44 million.
To put those numbers into perspective, here are some modern day countries which have populations within that range: Ukraine (45m), Argentina (42m), Canada (35m), Iraq (34m). If you prefer United States, it would be near the population of California (38m) or the combined populations of Texas and New York (46m) or New York and Florida (39m).
If you’re more into geographic regions here in the US, the population of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (the Mid-Atlantic region) combined is 41.3 million, while the population of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin (East North Central region) is 46.6 million. Westeros, according to our estimate, has twice as many people as Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming combined (22.8 million).
[FN8] Finding out how big Westeros actually is threw me for a loop a little bit when considering certain things like, for instance, the fact that a random farmer on a road might recognize Jaime Lannister in tattered clothes on a back road. That said, there is probably a) some suspension of disbelief required and b) without television, and living in a backwoods, seeing one of the world’s most famous men fighting in a tournament would probably be a lifelong memory. I can live with it, but it’s pretty amazing.
Doing this project has given me a vastly greater appreciation for the show, which at times can move very fast. Like for instance, when Stannis and Ser Davos went to the Iron Bank last week and admitted that they had only 4,000 soldiers and 32 ships? Well, now I know, that’s not very good:
In another scene, Daenerys Targaryen asks whether 9,300 soldiers would be enough to take King’s Landing and Jorah is hesitant. He answers, “It could be enough. But we’re not fighting to make you queen of King’s Landing. Ten thousand men cannot conquer Westeros.”
This project was a labor of love, so I hope that everyone enjoyed reading. I am not an expert on Game of Thrones, nor am I an expert on European history or the military. If you are well-versed on any of these topics, or on Game of Thrones in general, I would love to hear what you think about this opinion and your thoughts on the approximate population of Westeros (remember, this is limited to the TV version, so there may be some changes from the books).
Please leave comments below, and vote in the poll to let me know what you think. Like I said in the introduction, I was unable to find a cohesive, thorough estimate anywhere else on the internet – so I’d like to consolidate as much information and as many opinions as possible here. As always, no spoilers! Even in the comments!
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Brian Mangan is a lawyer living in New York City, and he did not expect this project to be so… wordy, although he supposes thats appropriate for something pertaining to a George R. R. Martin work.
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Acknowledgements: The idea for the methods of estimating the population of Westeros were partially inspired by Elio Garcia, the founder of Westeros.org and this video:
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