In the case of Dorne, yes, Wales was definitely an influence, for all the reasons you cite. But there’s also some distinctly unWelsh elements down there. South of the wall of mountains you have a hot, dry country more like Spain or Palestine than the cool green valleys of Wales, with most of the settlements along the seacoast and in few great river basins. And you also have the flavor given the culture by the great Rhoynar influx led by Nymeria. I suppose the closest real life equivalent to that would be the Moorish influence in parts of Spain. So you could say Dorne is Wales mixed with Spain and Palestine with some entirely imaginary influences mixed in. Or you could just say it’s Dorne….
Here is a collection of published fanart personally selected by George R. R. Martin realting to Dorne, and analysis thereof. Pictures include one of Sunspear with architecture of domes and minarets, Nymeria Sand carrying a scimitar, a snake charmer, Arianne wearing South Asian forehead jewelry and brown-skinned people in general.
Dornish fighting tactics differ from those of the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Saladin’s warriors were pretty lightly armored when they went up against Richard the Lion Hearted and his Crusaders, but still did pretty well.
George R. R. Martin
GRRM moreover told Indian actress Janina Gavankar that she looked like Nymeria Sand. The artwork he constantly cites as being his favorite of Arianne involves her wearing a teeka, i.e. a South Asian forehead decoration, and a snake arm cuff. Other links that have spoken at length on this are as follow. In the GRRM-approved graphic novel of Dunk and Egg, Tanselle of Dorne is depicted as “nonwhite.”
The case for Dorne being “nonwhite” does not merely lie in the extra-textual realm, however. There’s ample textual evidence too. Under the cut because it got long.
To delve into this we need to trace the cultural/ethnic origins of the Dornishmen/women. They are divided into three categories (following passages lifted from A Storm of Swords, pages 520- 521)
There were three sorts of Dornishmen, the first king Daeron had observed. There were salty Dornishmen who lived along the coasts, the sandy Dornishmen of the deserts and the long river valleys, and the stony Dornishmen who made their fastness in the passes and heights of the Red Mountains. The salty Dornishmen had the most Rhoynish blood, the stony Dornishmen the least.
The Rhoynar are from Essos (the East) and fled to Dorne due to Valyrian invasion. Of course, Essos is ethnically heterogeneous, but it’s notable that the first two empires the Valyrians subdued were Ghis (explicitly brown) and Rhoynar (olive-skinned/ambiguous as some would argue, but which I intend to disprove with this post). Once in Dorne, they mixed with the Andals. The rest of Westeros generally derives their heritage from the Andals and the First Men, and the stony Dornishmen/Andals are the least Rhoynar-mixed, most similar to Westeros, and the “whitest” of Dorne, if you want to claim one subcategory of Dornishmen being white. The stony Dornishmen being the least Rhoynar-mixed strengthens the case for the Rhoynar being “nonwhite.” Continuing to physical descriptions…
All three sorts were well represented in Doran’s retinue. The salty Dornishmen were lithe and dark, with smooth olive skin and long black hair streaming in the wind. The sandy Dornishmen were even darker, their faces burned brown by the hot Dornish sun. They wound long bright scarfs around their helms to ward off sunstroke. The stony Dornishmen were biggest and fairest, sons of the Andals and First Men, brown-haired or blond, with faces that freckled or burned in the sun instead of browning.
The bolded part explicitly states sandy Dornishmen being “brown.” The detail of scarves over their faces is reminiscent of scarves that peoples in the Middle East wear. Other such motifs alluding to general “Eastern” influences recur throughout the text. Sandy Dornishmen are least mixed with Andals/stony Dornishmen, and the latter are least mixed with the Rhoynar, ergo sandy Dornishmen are in fact the closest to the salty Dornishmen. Interpreting the salty Dornishmen/Rhoynar therefore as being “nonwhite” when their closest brethren are sandy/brown is not a stretch. I would in fact argue that it is rendered explicit by the text.
Much of the textual evidence amounts to the Dornish being racialized differently from the rest of Westeros. From Tyrion’s perspective, Father should have sent Joffrey after all. He could have asked Prince Oberyn if he knew how a Dornishman differed from a cowflop (cow manure) (A Storm of Swords, page 529). They’re sexualized in contingence with their ethnicity/Dornish-ness, particularly the women. In the Reach men said it was the food that made Dornishmen so hot-tempered and their women so wild and wanton (A Feast for Crows, page 190). (The food by the way is specifically spicy, which I will address later.) Even in the show, this sexualization manifests. A conversation between Tyrion and the Nights’ Watch in season 1 follows thus: "What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?" "Do Dornish girls count?" The tendency of King Daeron, a conqueror, to classify Dornishmen/women based on race and ethnic mixing in itself exhibits an Orientalism that other peoples in Westeros, with the exception of the Crannogmen, are decidedly lacking.
Dorne avoided being conquered by the Targaryens and even afterwards refused being subsumed into the rest of Westeros. It retains its culture, government and to some extent its independence. Elia Martell’s rape and brutal murder, and the way it is brushed aside by Westerosi nobles hinges on how she is constructed as racially different and ultimately worthless, which trumps her status as a princess. More thoughts on that here.
Physical descriptions of the Martells and Dornishmen/women lie in the realm of “olive skin” to “brown skin” with the occasional reference of light skinned Dornishmen/women, an example being the Daynes. The Martells are contrasted with their white counterparts, “The two children could not have looked more different, him [Trystane Martell] with his olive skin and straight black hair, her [Myrcella Baratheon] pale as milk with a mop of golden curls” (AFFC, page 187). Arianne Martell has “huge dark nipples” (AFFC, page 189). Oberyn Martell’s face is “saturnine” and his nose “sharply pointed” (ASOS, page 521). The description of olive skin is applied to other characters of color, such as Myrish Lady Taena Merryweather.
Dorne is painted as a desert. This is enforced by imagery of the snake/viper, an animal decidedly ‘exotic’ to Westeros’ medieval European inspiration, the Dornish sun, and the sands. These motifs are emphasized as intrinsic to Dorne. The emblem of the Martells is the sun and the name of Dorne’s capital is Sunspear. Her skin was smooth beneath his fingers, as warm to the touch as sand baked by the Dornish sun (AFFC, page 189). Once again, the sun is described as inherently Dornish, “The arms of House Martell display the sun and spear, the Dornishman’s favored weapons,… but of the two, the sun is the more deadly” (AFFC, page 308). Sand substantiates desert imagery. His throat felt as dry as the Dornish sands (AFFC page 189). In centuries past, many a host had come down from the Prince’s Pass with banners streaming, only to wither and broil on the hot red Dornish sands (AFFC, page 308).
The desert continuously reappears in a capacity markedly different from Westeros’ topography and climate. The Dornish nights grew cold out upon the sands (AFFC, page 300) and He [Darkstar] had outraced all his pursuers and vanished into the deep desert, with blood upon his blade (AFFC, page 587). Dorne is thus a desert and/or a place of warmer climes. In addition to this, snakes and vipers recur in relation to Dorne. Oberyn Martell’s chosen nickname was the “Red Viper” and his bastard daughters are called the “Sand Snakes.” All of Prince Oberyn’s daughters have his viper eyes. The color does not matter. (AFFC, page 42) (Interestingly enough, this was upon reflecting that Tyene Sand’s eyes were blue.) Examples such as “…that smiling Dornish snake. . .” (AFFC, page 392) reinforce snakes as uniquely Dornish. Another animal distinct to Dornish culture are horses, The fabled sand steeds of Dorne were smaller than proper warhorses and could not bear such weight of armor, but it was said they could run for a day and night and another day, and never tire (ASOS, page 520). This is a blatant allusion to Arabian horses.
Other relevant motifs include the veil, which we’ve already seen above in the example of scarves worn over the face, but they are not limited to men. Dornishwomen wear veils. Arianne drew her veil across her face (AFFC, page 307). Arys Oakheart, a Westerosi from the Reach, asks her if she covers to “hide her beauty”, a regularly Orientalist turn of phrase for veiled women. She replies, "No, your princess wears a veil to keep the glare out of her eyes and the sand out of her mouth" (AFFC, page 308). Ser Arys Oakheart refuses to veil himself at the expense of his comfort, insinuating a cultural tension emerging from the veil. (It is important to mention that Oakheart is from the Reach, a region historically at war with Dorne, and his racism and perceptions of Dorne not only correspond to the rest of Westeros’, but are intensified because of this native enmity.) Another revealing cultural trait is spicy food.Myrcella had taken to Dornish food… and from time to time Ser Arys would try a dish or two to please her. The food seared his mouth and made him gasp for wine, and burned even worse coming out than it did going in(AFFC, page 186). Norvosi Areo Hotah reflects on Dorne, Dornishwomen were lewd, Dornish wine was sour, and Dornish food was full of queer hot spices (AFFC, page 504). Notice the construction of Dornishwomen as “sluts” or sexually Other, once again tangential with spicy food.
Dorne and its people roughly correspond to the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Now, where does this leave the idea of them being “Southern European” or “Mediterranean”? Neither Southern Europe nor the Mediterranean are exclusive to whiteness or even Europe. GRRM’s foremost inspiration is Andalusian/Moorish Spain, implying a melange of culture/ethnicity similar to Dorne. Greece is (loosely speaking) culturally diverse, has historical extensions into modern-day Turkey and was considered part of the Middle East by the US state department in the twentieth century. They can be “southern European” so long as that doesn’t eradicate the significant cultural and ethnic (via physical description) traits and influences belonging to places and peoples outside of Europe.
When Pedro Pascal was cast as Oberyn Martell, people were furious, and rightly so. A white Latino actor was playing a man coded as brown in the text. This prompted GRRM to backtrack on everything else he had said and state that the Martells were white (“Mediterranean”). Note that GRRM is bound by contract to not criticize the show. This prompted eloquent fan responses (1) (2). Indira Varma, a half-Indian actress, as Ellaria Sand is better, but Oberyn is lost to us forever and we’ve been thrown under the bus by gorm otherwise. I also suggest you check out the blog Siham and I used to run, unbleachedunbentunbroken.
tl;dr Dorne isn’t white. Not by a long shot.
"You ride like a northman, milady. Your aunt was the same. Lady Lyanna."
There were three sorts of Dornishmen, the first King Daeron had observed. There were the salty Dornishmen who lived along the coasts, the sandy Dornishmen of the deserts and long river valleys, and the stony Dornishmen who made their fastnesses in the passes and heights of the Red Mountains. The salty Domishmen had the most Rhoynish blood, the stony Dornishmen the least.
All three sorts seemed well represented in Doran’s retinue. The salty Dornishmen were lithe and dark, with smooth olive skin and long black hair streaming in the wind. The sandy Dornishmen were even darker, their faces burned brown by the hot Dornish sun. They wound long bright scarfs around their helms to ward off sunstroke. The stony Dornishmen were biggest and fairest, sons of the Andals and the First Men, brownhaired or blond, with faces that freckled or burned in the sun instead of browning.
The lords wore silk and satin robes with jeweled belts and flowing sleeves. Their armor was heavily enameled and inlaid with burnished copper, shining silver, and soft red gold. They came astride red horses and golden ones and a few as pale as snow, all slim and swift, with long necks and narrow beautiful heads. The fabled sand steeds of Dorne were smaller than proper warhorses and could not bear such weight of armor, but it was said that they could run for a day and night and another day, and never tire.
And the woman said, The serpent
beguiled me, and I did eat.
— Genesis 3:13
Beguiled, my ass. I said no such thing.
You say I lost the gift of Paradise.
I couldn’t lose what I never had.
You say the serpent tempted me to eat.
You omit that he entered the Garden
on two legs and walked like a man.
And here’s what your story always ignores:
I had pure gold, rare perfume, precious stones,
but Adam hadn’t touched me all those years.
Perfection in the Garden didn’t mean that way.
Not having it and not wanting it
was God’s idea of perfection, not mine.
So when that serpent strolled up to the tree,
all upright and fine, he threw off the balance,
and I began to pray, Oh, let him be mine.
When he held out the apple, so round and lush,
when he stroked it to a keen red glow,
I didn’t fall to temptation — I rose to it.
I ate that apple because I was hungry.
I wanted what lay outside of Paradise,
a world without the burden of perfection.
Now you call all sinful women my sisters.
I say, let them claim their own damn sins.
The apple may not be perfect, but it’s mine.