“Ours is a harsh land, and poor, yet not without its beauties […]. We Dornish are a hotblooded people, quick to anger and slow to forgive.” – Prince Doran Martell
Dorne is a large peninsula which makes up the southern-most part of Westeros and one of the seven constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms. The regions capital is Sunspear and Lords of the ruling House Martell still style themselves “Prince” and “Princess” in the Rhoynish fashion. Bastards born in Dorne are given the surname Sand.
Dorne is a land like no other. A part of the Seven Kingdoms like The North and The Reach and the rest, its folk are technically bound to the Iron Throne, but it is an alliance forged of war and conquest, steeped in the blood of thousands. More than any other region of Westeros, Dorne is a fusion of cultures and peoples, an unusual mingling of First Men, folk of the Free Cities, and the Rhoynar into one more or less cohesive society of fiercely independent folk. While pledged to Robert Baratheon and the Targaryen kings before him, the Dornishmen have never proved the most constant of subjects. The isolation provided by the Dornish Marches and the unforgiving climate have enabled this diverse and intoxicating land to retain its cultural peculiarities independent of the influence of the noble houses and social expectations of those lands beyond their borders. Dorne is unique in its character and people, and travelers would do well to remember this before venturing recklessly into foreign lands.
Dorne is the southernmost realm of the Seven Kingdoms, separated from the rest of Westeros by the rugged Red Mountains that tumble down to the Dornish Marches to the northwest and the Sea of Dorne to the north. Travel through the mountains can be achieved by one of two major routes: the Prince’s Pass or the Boneway. Other routes may exist, but none are as safe or as traveled. The Prince’s Pass leads to The Reach, while the Boneway exits the mountains by Summerhall.
As the land slopes down and away from the western mountains it becomes hotter, with vast stretches of empty deserts punctuated by tiny oases with villages huddled around them. Rising from the dunes are stretches of badlands, small ranges of broken hills, such as the Ghost Hills fronting the Sea of Dorne. The rest is a barren expanse of swirling dust and sand, both red and white, extreme heat, and scarce water. At night, it’s even worse, as temperatures plunge well below freezing.
Aside from oases, Dorne does have a few rivers. The Greenblood River is one of the largest, meeting the sea not far from the Lemonwood, the hold of House Dalt. Further inland, the river splits into its sources, the Scourge and the Vaith, the latter named for the house that controls its waters. To the west, the Brimstone river flows past Hellholt, the grim castle ruled by House Uller.
Like the rest of Westeros, Dorne is no stranger to violence, and its lands have been shaped by countless skirmishes and wars between themselves and their neighbors. The earliest settlers into Dorne were the First Men, having crossed the land bridge that bound the realms across the narrow sea to Westeros. The first Dornishmen likely carved out their settlements along the coasts to escape the unforgiving heat of the sun on its interior, or settled along the rare and sluggish rivers flowing out to the sea. Armed with bronze weapons and horses, they battled the children of the forest and cut down their weirwoods, wherever they found them.
Stories say the children tried to halt the flood of First Men by working powerful magics from the Children’s Tower in Moat Cailin, far to the north. The magic shattered the land bridge, forming what would be called the Broken Arm of Dorne and the Stepstones, but it was akin to bracing a leaky dam with one’s fingers. It could not stop the arrival of the First Men, let alone push them back.
Eventually, a peace between the First Men and the children was struck throughout Westeros, and the early kingdoms flourished. As the First Men carved out their domains, the distance between those who settled here and their northern kin widened in more ways than just leagues. The Dornishmen splintered into dozens of petty kingdoms and warring factions, each vying for dominance. While their conflicts raged in the south, the Andals invaded the continent far to the north. Once again, wars wracked the kingdoms of the First Men.
Roughly a thousand years before Aegon the Conqueror set foot at King’s Landing, the last major migration came to Westeros. The Rhoynar were a people from the eastern continent, beyond the Broken Arm and the Stepstones, who lived along the Rhoyne River from which they drew their name. The Rhoynar were an ancient empire, but it would not survive the ascension of the Freehold of Valyria.
Although the cities of the Rhoynar fell to the Valyrians, their queen proved to be their savior. Queen Nymeria is often remembered as a “warrior-queen,” but in truth, she was more a shrewd and inspirational leader than a military fighter. Legends say Nymeria ordered her people aboard ten thousand ships, and told them to sail west to find a new land across the narrow sea.
The Rhoynar crossed the narrow sea and made landfall at ancient Dorne. Nymeria burned the fleet so they would not give in to homesickness and try to return to their lost land. Nymeria led her people – many of whom were women and children – and tried to find a place for them in this new realm.
Queen Nymeria forged an alliance with Lord Mors Martell through marriage, and the pair immediately set out to unify the squabbling kingdoms under a single banner. They succeeded, and thus, House Martell was established as the ruling family of Dorne with Mors taking the title of Prince after the Rhoynish fashion. The Dornishmen accepted the refugees for they could not stand against the combined might of Mors and Nymeria. In time, Dorne would adopt many of the beliefs, customs, and values of the Rhoynish.
The Dornishmen lived in their own fashion, but there were bloody skirmishes and terrible wars with the Reach and the stormlands for a thousand years. Kings of the Reach occasionally attempted to invade across the Dornish Marches, but every foreign army was destroyed due to the fortitude of the Dornish and—more often than not—the blistering sun and the merciless desert.
Dorne maintained its independence until the time of Aegon the Conqueror. As the Targaryen forged his new dynasty, the Dornishmen watched the Andal kings fall and the last King of Winter kneel. When Aegon turned south, he found Dorne to be the one land he could not conquer. Whereas other kings and lords had taken to the field against Aegon, or clustered in castles, the Dornishmen scattered. Dragons burned the northerners in the plains and in their castles of stone, but these peoples would not be lured into open battle, nor pen themselves in fortresses that could be turned into ovens. Instead, they turned to ambush and raids, striking quickly and then slipping back into the desert or through the mountain passes, where even the dragons could not find them. In time, Aegon pulled away from Dorne.
It was an uneasy peace, for the Dornishmen knew conquest was ever in the veins of the Targaryens. Their fears bore fruit when King Daeron I, the Boy King, led an enormous host south over one hundred and fifty years after Aegon abandoned Dorne. Daeron managed to do what his ancestor could not: he conquered the fierce people and crushed them beneath his heel, though the cost was tremendous. Forty thousand soldiers gave their lives for Daeron’s dream. The Boy King could not hold it, however. And when his loyal governor, a Tyrell lord, was murdered, the entire territory rose up in arms, slaughtering the Targaryen warriors and driving them out of their lands.
It wasn’t until the noble sacrifice of King Baelor the Blessed, brother to Daeron I, that Dorne finally surrendered to the Targaryen kings. Baelor walked the Boneway barefoot, rescued his cousin, Aemon the Dragonknight, from a viper pit and was bitten countless times. His noble sacrifice and his great piety set the stage for Dorne’s joining the Seven Kingdoms, which was finally achieved when Daeron II, the Conciliator, wed Princess Myriah Martell. Their marriage secured a lasting peace, and the marriage of Daeron II’s sister to Prince Maron Martell cemented the treaty.
In the years that followed, Dorne upheld the peace, and the raids into the Dornish Marches slowed and even halted at times, though not completely. When called for help, the Dornishmen aided the Iron Throne in their struggles against the last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, fighting in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and lending ships and soldiers against the threat to the Targaryen line. Their loyalty, however, would be scarcely remembered in the dark years to come.
Since the marriage pacts that first bound Dorne to the Seven Kingdoms, the Targaryens often wed Dornish princesses. When Prince Rhaegar came of age, King Aerys passed over the young Cersei Lannister offered by an ambitious Tywin Lannister and, instead, wed his son to Princess Elia, sister to Prince Doran Martell. Although he did his duty, fathering two children on his wife, Rhaegar fell in love with Lyanna Stark, and his error in judgment precipitated the war that would end the Targaryen line as kings of Westeros and also claim the life of Princess Elia and her children in the sack of King’s Landing.
When word reached Sunspear of Elia’s death, Prince Oberyn tried to raise Dorne for the now-exiled Prince Viserys, but Lord Jon Arryn came south within the year on a mission for the newly crowned King Robert Baratheon. Arryn answered all he could about Elia’s death— what happened during those private meetings between Prince Martell and Lord Arryn remains something of a mystery, but when Jon Arryn left, all talk of war was ended. Still, old grudges—especially in Dorne die hard, and many are looking for an excuse for bloodshed.
Culture, Customs & Society
Although Dorne remains part of the Seven Kingdoms, it is in many ways a separate nation, a people divided by heritage and beliefs that have evolved apart from those upheld in the lands of their neighbors. Their cuisine – which is frightfully hot – their architecture, their belief in equal primogeniture, and even their appearance set them apart. The Dornish even give special status to their paramours, granting them privileges unmatched by their peers in other parts of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Dornishmen eschew the heavy armors and mail used by the northeners, favoring loose cloth or enameled armor and round metal shields. In place of the straight-bladed longswords, Dornishmen fight with short throwing spears and double-curved bows. Their horses, the fabled sand steeds, are prized for their speed and endurance, being able to run day and night and day again without tiring.
Daeron I was the first to observe there are three different ethnicities in Dorne. The first are the salty Dornishmen who live along the coasts. These people are lithe and dark, with olive skin and black hair, usually work long. The second are the sandy Dornishmen who lie in the deserts and in the long river valleys, who are darker, permanently tanned by the sun. The third are the stony Dornishmen who live in strongholds in the heights of the Red Mountains that form the border between Dorne and the lands north. The salty Dornishmen have the most Rhoynish blood, while the stony Dornishmen have the least, with fair skin that burns easily or is spotted with freckles. There’s a fourth group, called the orphans, but they are fewer and are almost exclusive to the Greenblood River along which they pole their flat-bottomed boats.
As for religion, the Dornishmen largely keep the Faith of the Seven. Although untouched by the Andal invaders (or only lightly so), the gods of the Rhoynish fell out of favor in the face of the more influential Andal faith, so septs and septons can be found in most castles and keeps throughout Dorne.