Notes on an astrolabe in Game of Thrones, Season 7

In the seventh season of Game of Thrones, I noticed a planispheric astrolabe* in the background of many of the scenes between Sam and the Maesters.


It is an interesting detail to me for many reasons. First of all, the Maesters seem to be doctors above all else, and it is not unheard of for doctors to have had astrolabes. For example, one of the instruments I worked on at the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar is this astrolabe by the 15th century physician Amirdovlat of Amasia.

The Game of Thrones astrolabe was never shown in focus, so I can’t make out enough detail to say much about it. However, a few things are apparent.

Note that the astrolabe appears to have an alidade over the front rather than a rule. Also note the height and shape of the throne. These features lead me to think that the prop (or CGI image) they used was based on an eastern instrument rather than a western one, because western instruments tend to have low thrones (if they have thrones at all), and they also tend to have a rule on the front and an alidade on the back (whereas eastern instruments rarely ever have rules). Indeed, the Game of Thrones instrument recalls several eastern instruments I’m familiar with. The shape of the throne recalls this one, if it were assembled with the alidade in front like so:

Safavid astrolabe with "eye" on central pin.
Image from Bernard O’Kane, The World of Islamic Art (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), p.41.

I don’t know how conscious the show’s designers are of these details. But one of my favourite things about Game of Thrones is the amount of details that goes into the props and costumes, and I was glad to see an astrolabe that I recognize as such* on the show.

*I know that the device that appears in the title sequence is frequently referred to as an astrolabe, but I disagree with this. The closest analogue to a real instrument might be an an armillary sphere, but ultimately, this device is purely fantastical.