One question that arises more than almost any other in truly nerdy discussions about A Song of Ice and Fire relates to the population of the Seven Kingdoms and how many people live in each region, in the lands beyond the Wall and in the cities. That’s quite a big discussion and there’s been lots of conclusions drawn over the years.
How to determine the size of the population? Elio Garcia of westeros.org has an excellent video which outlines several methods of doing so. The first involves extrapolating from the military figures we are given. These figures vary due to George R.R. Martin having characters using guesswork, estimates and sometimes (as in the case of Dorne) misinformation in their figures. But certain trends have emerged throughout the books that have allowed some fairly accurate military figures to be gained and thus a civilian population to be extrapolated. Another method involves mapping the square mileage of Westeros (in a similar manner to what we have already done) and then comparing that to the population of real-life corresponding areas (Scandinavia for the North, France for the Reach, Spain for Dorne etc) in the medieval period, so see what results you’d get, adjusting for factors like the latitude and the long winters.
For the military technique, we need to know the armies of the Seven Kingdoms. Using the books as a base, Garcia extrapolated as follows:
- 15,000 for the Crownlands.
- 35-40,000 for the North.
- 35-40,000 for the Riverlands.
- 35-40,000 for the Vale of Arryn.
- 50-55,000 for the Westerlands.
- 15,000 for the Iron Islands.
- 20,000-25,000 for the Stormlands.
- 25-30,000 for Dorne.
- 120,000 for the Reach.
This totals 380,000 troops. Given unknown variables (like Dorne’s unknown true strength and the extra potential forces available on Skagos or sellswords), this can be raised to 400,000 for the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms.
Various percentages have been given for the ability of a medieval population to support a large force under arms for a prolonged period of time. The figure varies from around 0.5% of the population up to almost 2%, although that seems rather high (10%, the figure reached in WWII, was only possible through mass industrialisation and mechanisation on a colossal scale so the figure is certainly far, far less than that). A commonly-cited figure is 1% which is what Garcia goes with, and seems reasonable.
Using a combination of these techniques, Garcia estimates a population of 40 million people, give or take 5 million. For comparison’s sake, the population of Europe was about 25 million in 800 AD, 56 million in 1000 and 78 million in 1300. This means that Westeros was considerably more lightly populated than Europe of the corresponding time period, possibly as low as half the population density. Given the harshness of the winters, this may not be too surprising.
Using the same technique we can work out the approximate populations of the constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms.
- 1.5 million for the Crownlands.
- 4 million for the North.
- 4 million for the Riverlands.
- 4 million for the Vale of Arryn.
- 5.5 million for the Westerlands.
- 1.5 million for the Iron Islands.
- 2.5 million for the Stormlands
- 3 million for Dorne
- 12 million for the Reach.
If the population of the Reach seems disproportionately huge, it’s worth remembering that in 1300 the population of France was approximately 17 million compared to 3 million for England, which makes it kind of incredible that England was able to maintain any possessions at all on the continent given the overwhelming French numerical superiority.
The next thing to look at is urbanisation. The Seven Kingdoms, at first glance, look extremely under-urbanised. There are only five cities in a region the size of Europe. However, I would argue that this is down more to the Westerosi custom of only counting “cities” as extremely large settlements, whilst in the real medieval period a city could have only a few thousand inhabitants (in fact my home town, with a population of just under 200,000, is not counted as a city by UK standards even though it would be in many countries). This can be seen in the Free Cities, where the Rhoyne river towns Volon Therys, Selhorys and Valysar are not counted as cities despite being larger than any settlement in the Seven Kingdoms (including, allegedly, King’s Landing and Oldtown).
The “cities” of Westeros are counted as follows:
- King’s Landing (c. 400,000)
- Oldtown (c. 350,000)
- Lannisport (c. 200,000)
- Gulltown (c. 50,000)
- White Harbor (c. 30,000)
The population figures are worked out as follows: King’s Landing has over 500,000 people in and around it in A Storm of Swords when Oberyn Martell arrives and meets Tyrion Lannister, but this includes parts of the Lannister and Tyrell armies and a flood of refugees from the Riverlands. Ordinarily I’d say that there’s no way that Tyrion could know how many transients were in the area, but Littlefinger had introduced a tax on refugees for this exact purpose. As a result, King’s Landing’s population is swollen significantly above its norms. In addition, the city-as-mapped appears too small to support 500,000 people inside it, especially as unlike in many real cities there was no major urbanisation outside the walls. To be frank, the city is probably too small for 400,000 people to live comfortably either (at least not without the place catching fire every five minutes) but we can go with that figure. Oldtown is then cited by GRRM as being slightly smaller, a “big drop” to Lannisport and then a further big drop to Gulltown and White Harbor, with White Harbor being the smallest city.
These figures may seem okay, but it’s worth noting that in 1328 Paris had a population of around 250,000 and London about 80,000. So, slightly oddly, we have a situation where the Seven Kingdoms have a much lower population than the real medieval Europe but rather larger big cities.
The low urbanisation issue can be taken care of by counting the smaller towns, however. Martin has been much cagier about the number and populations of the walled towns of Westeros and has in fact been happy to introduce apparently quite big towns (Stony Sept, Weeping Town, Planky Town) out of nowhere when there had been no clue as to their existence in prior books. There seems to be quite a fair number of these “big towns” in the books, including: Duskendale, Barrowton, Lordsport, Sisterton, Saltpans, Lord Harroway’s Town, Maidenpool, Stony Sept, Kayce, Tumbleton, Hull (on Driftmark), the Weeping Town, the Planky Town, Starfish Harbor and Vintown. The populations of some of these towns, particularly Duskendale and Stony Sept, seems to comfortably be in the thousands.
This isn’t even addressing the issue of “castle towns”, that is the fact that some of the castles in the books seem to have quite large towns surrounding them. There’s the winter town of Winterfell, Ashford, Seagard, Sunspear and Rosby as the very least. I wouldn’t be surprised if the overwhelming majority of the castles of the Reach had reasonably-sized towns attached to them, and a reasonable number in the Westerlands, Riverlands, Crownlands and Vale either.
So there we have it. The population of Westeros would appear to be in the ballpark of 40 million people, maybe slightly less. Working out the population of Essos is altogether more difficult, but is something we may attempt further down the road.