Yunkai sold bed slaves and got referred to as the Queen of Cities, a title it shared with Qarth. When Daenerys arrived in Slaver’s Bay and changed the leaders of Astapor, Yunkai went to war with the city to restore it to its original self; this led to a bloody battle resulting in the spread of a disease called the bloody flux. The Yunkish emblem, like its neighboring cities, is a variation of the Harpy of Old Ghis. It features a woman’s torso, an eagle’s legs, a bat’s wings, and a scorpion’s tail. However, the emblem looks different from other cities because it features a whip and an iron collar in the harpy’s talons.
- Name: Yunkai.
- Continent: Essos.
- Origin: Founded by the Old Empire of Ghis.
- Rulers: Wise Masters.
- Notable Organizations: Graces.
- Region: Slaver’s Bay, Essos.
Yunkai is one of the cities of Slaver’s Bay and is about one hundred leagues to the south of Astapor, the Red City. It is north of Meereen, and with experienced riders, a six-day journey would end in Astapor. Besides its proximity to other cities of Slaver’s Bay, to its southwest lies the Island Yaros, where Victarion Greyjoy found three of his missing ships. Besides being close to cities and islands, there is a birchwood forest three leagues from the Yellow City.
Yunkai itself is an ancient city that has survived two massive empires. Atop its gates is a version of the city-state’s emblem. The city’s walls are made from yellow bricks and are beginning to crumble due to age. Though an ancient city, it has towers and tall stepped pyramids like the neighboring Astapor and Meereen. Of the pyramids, the golden Pyramid of Qaggaz is the most prominent.
Slavery is the primary source of wealth for Yunkai. As the city deals in slaves, particularly bedslaves, it supplies most of Essos with erotic slaves of all manners. On getting to the city, slaves get taught the seven sighs and sixteen seats of pleasure, an ancient pleasuring technique; this training typically begins once a child is old enough to walk.
Unlike Astapor, Yunkai does not deal in eunuch soldiers. All eunuchs in the city get treated more humanely as the testicles are removed instead of the entire genitalia. As a city-state, it has its currency of coins with golden marks stamped with a stepped pyramid and the harpy of Ghis on either end.
The culture of Yunkai closely resembles that of Astapor. However, there are slight variations in governance, language, and nobility. The Wise Masters, a council of slavers considered by many to be intensely corrupt, govern Yunkai.
Though there are other notable organizations like the Graces, the Wise Masters are the government in charge of the political running of the city. The Yunkai’i speak High Valyrian, a native dialect of the Valyrian Freehold. However, their language is slightly different from that of Astapor or Meereen.
Warriors of noble birth in Yunkai wear linen skirts and yellow tunics with copper discs sewn unto them. Like the nobles of Astapor, the warriors of Yunkai style their hair into different shapes using oil. The styles get preserved by wearing tall helms. To show nobility, wealthy people in the city dress in fringed tokars.
Slavery is an integral part of Yunkai’s culture. As both empires that controlled it relied on slavery, the city-state continued its practices and used slaves for everything, from soldiers to house workers.
Yunkai got founded as a colony of the Old Empire of Ghis. When the Valyrians discovered the power of the dragons, they led a campaign against the ghiscari and won. After Ghis fell to the Valyrian Freehold, the Valyrians continued the slavery culture the ancient empire fostered. When the Fourteen Fires erupted, the Valyrian Freehold got destroyed, leading to anarchy. With no one in charge of the cities in Slaver’s Bay, the Ghiscari of the region took back control and continued slave trading.
When Vogarro, a Triarch of Volantis, bought a pleasure slave trained in the seven sighs from Yunkai, he fell in love with her and married her; this raised a scandal in Volantis. When Vogarro died, his wife, now free, remained in the city, remaining powerful.
Relevance in A Song of Ice and Fire
A Storm of Swords
After Daenerys Targaryen arrives in Astapor and frees the slaves in the city, she goes on a campaign to free the chained in Slaver’s Bay. When the Wise Masters of Yunkai hear of her campaign, they begin getting ready for battle by adding sellswords to their army. The masters try to dissuade Daenerys from their city by sending Grazdan mo Eraz to offer her fifty thousand golden marks. However, Daenerys refuses the offer to leave Slaver’s Bay and head back to Westeros.
After a battle near Yunkai, Daenerys defeats the city-state, and Stormcrows switch to her side. With the help of Daario Naharis, the Second Sons switch to Daenerys’s side, and Yunkai surrenders. The slaves in the city get freed, and Daenerys decides not to sack the city, as they had complied with her demands. She then heads to Meereen and sacks the city. Yunkai returns to its old ways after Daenerys’s departure. Lord Ghael from Astapor travels to Meereen and begs for Daenerys’s assistance.
A Dance with Dragons
On Daenerys reaches Meereen, Yunkai begins gathering troops and hiring sellsword companies like the Windblown, Long Lances, and the Company of the Cat. Their envoys travel to the free cities spreading false rumors about Daenerys to gather support. Grazdan persuades the Triarchs of Volantis to send their fleet and other envoys, including New Ghis, Tolos, Elyria, and the Dothraki enter an alliance with the Yunkish forces.
The Yunkis forces besiege Astapor and sack the city. The conflict leads to so much bloodshed that Quentyn Martell laments at the thought of the war. After sacking Astapor, the commanders of the Yunkish forces start planning to attack Merren. Though many believe attacking is the best option, others contemplate favoring peace.
Daenerys then makes peace with Yunkai, and hostages get exchanged as a symbol of peace. Envoys from the city-state attend the reopening of the fighting pits of Meereen, but during the event, Drogon, Dany’s dragon, appears and causes havoc. To prevent further carnage, she flies away on him, leaving Meereen with no queen. After her disappearance, Yunkai kills their hostages and demands that Hizdahr, the new King, kills Daenerys’s dragons.
In the Great Pyramid of Meereen, Skahaz mo Kondaq, the leader of the Brazen Beasts, tells Ser Barristan Selmy, Hand of the Queen, that the city has resumed its siege.
Relevance in Adaptations
In HBO’s Game of Thrones, Yunkai places a vital role in Daenerys’s rise to power. However, the events involving it in Game of Thrones differed from those in the books. In the tv series, the city is North of Astapor and Southwest of Meereen. The difference in the events of Yunkai was necessary as the producers of Game of Thrones did not want to spoil the remaining books of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Yunkai: The Unchangeable City
Besides Astapor, Yunkai is another classic example of the idea that change is almost impossible for a society. As Yunkai had been a city of slavery, Daenerys should have realized that it was impossible to change it. However, being naive, she thought freeing the slaves would produce a better outcome than the present one; this backfired on her as human societies are incredibly hard to change. Yunkai only reaffirms the saying:
You can force a horse to the stream but can never force to to drink water from that stream.
What makes Yunkai better than Astapor?
Though a slavery hub, Yunkai was more humane in its practices. In Astapor, young boys got castrated by having their entire genitals removed; this led to many boys dying. Though it also had eunuchs, they got castrated more humanely. Also, it was more lenient than its neighbors. However, it was still a place where disgusting practices took place.
Why did Daenerys not sack Yunkai?
Daenerys fought with Yunkai but did not sack the city because its leaders agreed to a peace treaty. They banned slavery, but when Daenerys left, they resumed their practices.
Was Daenerys foolish for not invading Yunkai?
Yes. Though they agreed to abolish slavery, Daenerys should have realized that leaders make empty promises. However, she was not politically enlightened enough to see through the city’s bluff.
Why did Yunkai want slavery back?
Because it was what its economy thrived on. One thing Daenerys failed to realize was that the cities of Slavers Bay could not change because slaves were what fuelled their economies; this is why Yunkai besieged Astapor after she left.