I notice dragon’s fire has played a major part in recent episodes of Game of Thrones, but this article is about dragon fire, the mysterious substance Tyrion discovered hidden in the vaults under King’s Landing.
You’ll remember dragon fire from the dramatic finale of series two, when Stannis’s invading fleet is repelled by Tyrion’s deft tactics and Littlefinger’s diplomacy in making sure the troops of Highgarden rally to the Lannisters’ cause. The decisive blow to the fleet was the use of dragon Fire, an ancient weapon stored deep in the vaults of King’s Landing. You’ll also remember it from the giant green explosion that wiped out the Sept, the ancient temple of the Gods, in Kings Landing at the end of series six.
Before the Battle of Blackwater, dragon fire had not been used in Westeros since many generations past, and had been dormant until Danaerys hatched her dragons on the other side of the world… The Lannisters knew nothing of this, of course, but happily reaped the benefits.
Dragon fire was surely inspired by the mysterious antiquity / early mediaeval weapon, Greek fire. Greek fire was a weapon that the Byzantines used in their battles against the invading muslims, a rushing liquid fire. Actually, Tyrion’s other successful ploy, the spreading of a grand chain across the river, is also a tactic that the Byzantines used against the Turks (in their case, unsuccessfully). Martin has obviously done a bit of reading around Byzantine history – and indeed the visual style chosen for King’s Landing in the series owes a lot to the Byzantines.
Greek fire disappeared from history for the rather prosaic reason that people seemed to lose the recipe. The attempted recovery of the formula is at the centre of the plot of the second of C.J. Samson’s Shardlake mysteries, Dark Fire. Thomas Cromwell has fallen from favour at court, having set up Henry VIII with the disastrously plain Anne of Cleves. The conservatives, led by the Howards, who seek to undo the reforms of Cromwell and Cranmer, agitate for Cromwell’s downfall. When Cromwell catches a whiff that someone in London has cracked the ancient formula of the ‘dark fire’ of the Greeks, he gets Shardlake on the case, hoping to recapture the king’s affection through the discovery.
Naturally, Shardlake has to solve some murder’s on the way, this being a detective story. We know of course, that Cromwell won’t succeed, because of course, no one ever did manage to recreate Greek fire, but that doesn’t stop it being an absorbing story. Somewhat as in Game of Thrones, there is an ancient flask or two of the ancient substance hanging around, which lets Samson describe what it might have been like – ‘alive with fire, brighter than a thousand candles’…not quite as dramatic as dragon fire, but still…