SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information from all released seasons of Game of Thrones.
Daniel Paul, Ph.D. student at Fordham University and graduate of Cambridge and Oxford, recently gave another talk in his engaging lecture series, “Controversial Leaders of Antiquity.” He began his talk by playing a short clip from the popular television program Game of Thrones and asking the audience to remark on the leadership strategies of Daenerys Targaryen. Daniel then went on to say that Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, shared many leadership traits with The Mother of Dragons.
So what do Daenerys Stormborn and Augustus have in common? First, “They both had the right people around them to make up for their own deficiencies,” says Paul. He specifically mentions that both leaders lack battlefield prowess and that they would hand off the organization of the army to their military strategists - Agrippa for Augustus and Tyrion Lannister for Daenerys. Paul also says that “neither wanted to rule the ashes,” and that both Daenerys and Augustus “wanted sovereignty but with the blessing and support of those around them,” including the common people.
This desire to have the common folks’ support inspired how they wanted their rivals to be seen. Dany hoped the common people would rebel against the self-serving and tyrannical rule of Cersei Lannister, while Augustus painted Antony to look like a “foreign monarch who had abandoned his Roman-ness,” according to Paul. Both rulers hoped to defeat their rival and gain absolute power, albeit through legitimate means. In Paul’s words, “Dany wanted to unite the Seven Kingdoms but through loyalty rather than force or threats, while Augustus took on many roles that were institutions of the Republic and so were not tyrannical or original, but they had never all been held by one person simultaneously.”
Many similarities can be drawn between Daenerys Targaryen and Augustus Caesar: they both kept good counsel and delegated responsibility; they hoped to gain absolute power through existing institutional structures and without much bloodshed; they believed the common people’s impression of them was central to their rise to power. Their final similarity lies in succession. As Paul says, “Augustus never had a clear line of succession and ended up losing one heir-apparent after another to death, illness, or disgrace.” Augustus ended up “having to very much settle for Tiberius.” Daenerys’ line was always thought to end with her because she was cursed never to have another child. However, the cliffhanger of the season 7 finale very much revolved around that issue, and we shall see what the writers have in store for us!