Season six just ended; we’re eagerly awaiting the sixth book. What better way to fill the Game of Thrones void than to talk about everyone’s favorite part of the series – dragons… Gold Dragons, that is.
It’s interesting to see how George R. R. Martin incorporates taxes into the feudal economy of Westeros and mercantilist economy of the Free Cities in Essos.
In simplest terms, feudalism is centered around land; lords own the land, vassals work on the land. Vassals give their lords a share of their crops or other goods in exchange for food, a place to sleep, and protection. No wages are paid to servants and taxes are paid with goods and services, generally. Mercantilism, on the other hand, is centered around trade. The importing and exporting of goods are taxed, and taxes must be paid to the state.
While tax and finance subjects are mentioned quite a few times in both the books and show, the following are some of the most memorable and impactful throughout the major areas of the “known world”.
SPOILER WARNING: If you’re not fully caught up with books and/or show, there may be some spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk!
Let’s start in Westeros at the largest city, and capital, of the Seven Kingdoms. As mentioned above, Westeros practices feudalism. This is evidenced more clearly in the books, however there are certain instances where monetary taxes are imposed.
In the beginning of the war, Cersei wanted to fortify the city’s defenses by tripling the size of the City Watch, strengthening the walls, building catapults, making arrows and swords, and producing ten thousand jars of wildfire (I wonder why she would want that many jars?).
In order to pay for all of that, Littlefinger, knowing that the common folk had nowhere else to go, imposed a tax of one silver stag per refugee entering King’s Landing.
War wasn’t the only thing the Crown had to fund. Joffrey needed an extravagant wedding with 77 courses. Much to the pleasure of the father of the bride, Tywin Lannister imposed a tax on brothels of a penny per…erm…adventure to pay for the celebration. He disguised it as an action to help “improve the morals of the city”. Tyrion Lannister, as master of coin, carried out the tax, which is why it became known as the “Dwarf’s Penny”.
Aside from taxes, the Crown gets a sizeable amount of money from borrowing. The Iron Throne is a total of about 6 million Gold Dragons in debt – 3 million to House Lannister and 3 million to the Iron Bank of Braavos, neither of which the Crown can even come close to repaying.
To the windooooow, to the Wall. To refresh your memory, the area just south of the Wall is called the Gift. It was donated to the Night’s Watch by the Starks thousands of years ago so the sworn brotherhood could collect food and other provisions from the families living there. Over time, Wildling raids on the Gift became more frequent, driving mostly all inhabitants further South. As the tax paying villagers fled, the Watch’s income declined and never recovered.
When Jon Snow joined forces with the Wildlings, he allowed them to pass through the Wall and settle in the Gift (with the help of a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos). He imposed a tax (of mostly turnips) on all who lived there to help fuel the brothers of the Night’s Watch.
Let’s jump across the Narrow Sea to Essos. As stated earlier, mercantilism is practiced in the Free Cities, so we are dealing with actual currency. On this side of the known world, Gold Honors are used instead of Gold Dragons, among other differences between coins.
If you’ve read the books, you are probably a bit more familiar with Hizdahr zo Loraq, Daenerys’s second husband and very rich Meereenese merchant who begs Daenerys a million times to reopen the fighting pits in Meereen. Daenerys’s seneschal, Reznak mo Reznak, informs her that the city claims one-tenth of profits (after expenses) generated by the fighting pits and that the money may be put to good use. Daenerys says that if she agrees, she will take 10% of revenues (before expenses) instead, but ultimately decides to keep the fighting pits closed.
Daenerys’s stubbornness and rigid rule bred many rebels throughout the series. The Sons of the Harpy rebelled against Daenerys for freeing the slaves from their masters by killing nine of her soldiers. Daenerys decided to remove her Unsullied from guarding Meereen and employ Meereenese men to protect their own city.
When asked how she would pay their wages, she imposed a “blood tax” – one hundred pieces of gold per pyramid (the wealthiest families of Meereen lived in the pyramids) for each of Daenerys’s men that were slain. This tax was permanent and continued to be collected any time Daenerys’s men or the freedmen were killed in an act of rebellion. When will people learn not to mess with the Mother of Dragons?
Braavos, home of the biggest and baddest bank in the known world, The Iron Bank. Each of the Nine Free Cities has its own bank (some even have more than one), but the Iron Bank of Braavos is larger and wealthier than all of the others combined. All Westerosi borrowers borrow from the Iron Bank, especially the Crown.
How does the saying go? A Lannister always pays his debts…unless it’s a massive debt to the largest, most merciless bank in the world? Something like that.
Granted, the Lannisters aren’t personally liable for the loan, but they sit atop the Iron Throne. The Iron Bank, understandably, is uneasy about the inability of the wealthiest house in the Seven Kingdoms to repay their debt. If the Iron Bank assumes that a debt will be uncollectible, they lend money to a rival house and collect both loans once the throne has been taken over.
The Lannisters know this and, except for Cersei, are very concerned that the Iron Bank will begin to fund a rebellion. Cersei, instead, stopped repaying the Iron Bank and offered up the idea of opening their own bank, the Golden Bank of Lannisport, to rid themselves of their debt.
Large outstanding loans coupled with the ongoing war caused the Iron Bank to be reluctant to lend more money (case in point, Stannis attempting to get a loan to help sail to Westeros and claim the Iron Throne). This led to many cities raising taxes to generate more revenue, causing further rebellion and war.
The other banks in the Free Cities are not as powerful as the Iron Bank and do not have the resources to help overthrow a prince in default. When the less popular banks deem a debt uncollectible, the failed bankers sell their families into slavery and often commit suicide.
Simply put, Essos is a much more economically advanced continent. Westeros is not evolving financially because there isn’t a single bank on the entire continent, making it very hard for the Westerosi people to obtain loans to start businesses.
Hopefully, in the last two seasons and books, we get what we’ve all been waiting for… Economic development and the birth of tax accountants! Or more dragons and direwolves; I’ll take either.
Nick Aiola is a CPA located in New York, NY. Nick provides tax and accounting services to a wide range of clients, including individuals, businesses, and fiduciary entities.