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History of Thrones: GAME OF THRONES’ Maesters of Oldtown’s Citadel

Winter is here, and along with it the return of our series History of Thrones. To refresh your memory, History of Thrones will examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward on Game of Thrones. However, you might prefer to bury your head in a book if you consider theories as spoilers.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.


The maesters are in many ways like the brothers of the Night’s Watch. The “knights of the mind” give up their family names and titles, and (are supposed to) live celibate lives, all in a lifetime of service to the Seven Kingdoms. But while the brothers in black stand ready to fight as the realm’s swords in the darkness, the maesters role is to illuminate Westeros with wisdom. Theirs is a world of science, medicine, and knowledge–one that might not have room for magic and dragons.


Maesters train at the Citadel of Oldtown, a city which earned its name from being one of the oldest in Westeros (mankind eventually got more creative naming things). Beautiful Oldtown, the largest realm’s largest city (in size), with its cobbled streets and stone structures lies, in the south near the western coast in The Reach, not far from Dorne. It sits along the Sunset Sea, at the mouth of the Honeywine river, and has long been one of the most important and busiest ports in the the entire world. Such is why it is also Westeros’ richest city.

While no one knows its true origins, its founding is believed to go back millennia, at least 12,000 years to the Dawn Age when the First men arrived and warred with the Children of the Forest. The city eventually came to grow around the seat of House Hightower, one of the oldest and most prestigious families in Westeros. Their home at the center of Oldtown is known as Hightower (also named before man got creative), the tallest structure in Westeros. Standing higher than even the Wall, Hightower castle has a beacon at the top to work as a kind of lighthouse for ships entering the port.

The tower sits on an oily, black stone that is so old and mysterious that no one knows what it is or who built it, leading to wide-ranging theories that get to the questions of the origins of life in the world. Oldtown might predate the coming of the First Men, and much more.


One of the most important monuments of the city is the Starry Sept, the former seat for the High Septon of the Faith of the Seven. It was here where Aegon the Conqueror was crowned as king of the Seven Kingdoms by the High Septon himself, and where Aegon was then anointed in the faith. (Though House Targaryen refused to stop practicing incest, forbidden by the religion.) Though the faith’s headquarters moved to King’s Landing–to the now destroyed Sept of Baelor–it still plays an important role in Oldtown.

But an even older institution still makes its home there, at the Citadel where maesters train. Thought to be the single greatest center of knowledge in the world, with books and scrolls going back thousands of years, the Citadel is where maesters earn their chains. Each link forged of a different metal indicates a mastery of a field of study. Among the links that can be earned are silver for knowledge of medicine and healing, yellow gold for math and economics, and black iron for ravenry.


Among their many functions maesters are Westeros’ mailmen, responsible for the message-carrying ravens of the realm. Included are the white ravens, which announce the changing of the uneven seasons. Sam and Gilly saw the white ravens heading out to announce the coming of winter when the two arrived in Oldtown.

Once a student–which is apparently a really crappy position–has earned a link, they go from a novice to an acolyte, but they don’t graduate to maester until they have a chain they can wear around their neck. They never remove their chain, not even to sleep, so they can be reminded of their service to the realm.

There are four classifications within the order:

  • Maesters: Assigned to individual houses to advise the lords and ladies of the castle or keep, to whom they are supposed to remain loyal to without political affiliation. (This is why Maester Luwin advised Theon after he took Winterfell. Maester Luwin’s position was to the Lord of Winterfell, not the Starks.)
  • Archmaesters: Senior members who are thought to be the master of a particular field, earning them a mask, ring, and rod of that subject’s metal. Archmaesters also sit on the Conclave, the governing body of the Citadel.
  • Grand Maester: The Conclave also elects the Grand Maester, who advises the King and sits on the Small Council. (Even such an exalted position does not guarantee a maester will follow all of the order’s rules, as Grand Maester Pycelle often served House Lannister over the entire realm, in violation of his vows).
  • Seneschal: A randomly chosen archmaester responsible for governing the Citadel for a year–a job no one seems to want.

Maester Pycelle is likely just taking an uneventful stroll along the Red Keep, eh?

Despite their ubiquitous presence throughout Westeros, in some ways the maesters are a mysterious order. The Citadel is not open to women, and its enormous library contains books so rare the world considers them lost forever–if the rest of the world even knows they ever existed. In A Dance With Dragons, Lady Barbrey Dustin refers to maesters as “grey rats,” saying they can’t be trusted because they are a close knit order who know all of their lords and ladies’ darkest secrets. She is far from the only person who thinks the maesters are way more influential and powerful than they would like anyone to know.

And they might be as powerful as Lady Dustin fears, especially if they were the reason dragons died out in the first place, in what is referred to as the Grand Maester Conspiracy.


The maesters are men of knowledge and science, and while the world was full of magic for almost the entirety of the orders existence, it largely disappeared with the death of the last dragons 150 years before Daenerys hatched three of them. While some believe that dragons died out because House Targaryen started locking them up in the Dragon Pit of King’s Landing, stunting their growth until they became as small as cats, at least one character in the novels thinks the maesters brought about the end of the creatures in secret. And his opinion carries extra weight since he is isn’t just a member of the order, he is the archmaester of magic and the occult.

Known as Marywn the Mage, he believes the maesters may have killed off the dragons covertly. Why? The maesters are opposed to magic, and dragons are thought to be directly tied to the presence of magic in the world (it has seemed to come alive again with the birth of Daenerys’ three). Magic is unpredictable, and it robs the maesters and their learned knowledge of power. As men who put their faith in science and tested wisdom, even the study of it is taboo, with only one in a hundred earning a Valyrian steel link for mastery of magic.

The order might very well have decided there was no place for dragons in the world because there was no place for magic, especially when magic challenged their position.

With apparently only one maester, Jim Broadbent’s way too relaxed archmaester Ebrose, believing Sam that the White Walkers have returned, the living’s greatest possible weapon against the army of the dead (dragons) might have something to fear in the Seven Kingdom’s “smartest” servants.


Their loathing of magic might explain why they are so protective of those books Sam wants to read. The older the book, the more they would reveal about a world of magic the maesters wish to keep hidden.

The Citadel contains many secrets that Sam could uncover to help save mankind. But both he and dragons could be undone by Oldtown’s greatest secret: the maesters are far more powerful than anyone realizes, and their hatred of magic and dragons could doom the world to darkness.

But what do you think? Are the maesters allies to the living, or a secret danger who could doom all of mankind. We’ve lit a glass candle in the comments below to help guide you there to share your thoughts.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

Images: HBO

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