House Martell

 Jesse Brauner
House Martell

The sigil of House Martell from Game of Thrones.


Based on George R.R. Martin’s famous series of novels (collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire”), the television series “Game of Thrones” first premiered in 2011 on the channel HBO. It is set in a fantasy world heavily based on the society and culture of the European Middle Ages. Two primary continents, known as Westeros and Essos, make up the bulk of the visible landmass in this world, with the former being featured in storylines much more frequently. While typical elements from fantasy stories, such as dragons and various forms of magic, are seen throughout the series, in the long run these generally take a backseat to the military conflicts, political machinations and family dynamics that are the principle focus of the story.

The continent of Westeros is made up of many different regions, each of which has its own culture and history. Most of these regions form constituent parts of a single political realm, which is presided over by a ruling monarch. While the monarch holds ultimate power over the realm, local governance of each region is handled by a “Great House”, a noble family whose members answer directly to the sovereign. House Martell is one of these Great Houses, but their relationship with the ruling monarch of Westeros is distinctly different from their ilk (as we will see later). The ancestral land of House Martell is known as Dorne, a large peninsula at the southern edge of the continent. Consisting primarily of arid desert, Dorne is governed from the seaside castle of Sunspear. The sigil of House Martell is a red sunburst on a field of orange, the sunburst pierced by a golden spear, and their motto is “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”.

The symbolic meaning behind House Martell's sigil is explained in the history that George R.R. Martin developed for his world. A thousand years prior to the start of the series, the warrior princess Nymeria led a great migration of the Rhoynar- people who formally dwelled along the Rhoyne River in Essos- across the sea and eventually landed in Dorne. She later entered into a marriage alliance with Mors Martell, and together their forces were able to unite the warring peoples of the region into a single kingdom. The red sunburst of Nymeria was combined with the golden spear of the Martells to create the sigil that has been used ever since.

House Martell's motto is a reference to the fact that Dorne has never been successfully conquered by outsiders. Before the invasion of Aegon Targaryen three hundred years prior to the series beginning, every region in Westeros (except for The Riverlands, which was then ruled by The Iron Islands) was a sovereign nation in its own right, and each Great House had the status of royalty. Dorne, however, was the only kingdom able to resist the invading forces, and they retained their autonomy even after the Targaryens installed themselves as rulers of the whole continent. Although House Martell did join with the rest of Westeros through marriage at a later date, their motto continues to be a refection of the great sense of national pride and independence that has always been felt by the Dornishmen (as the natives are called).