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The Valyrians enslave the conquered people of Old Ghis - by Marc Simonetti ©
Tyrion Lannister, enslaved - by Marc Fishman ©

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Though slavery is outlawed in Westeros, it is widespread throughout many parts of Essos.

Slavery is mentioned in the earlier novels but it is given more prominence in A Storm of Swords and later becomes a main plot consideration in A Dance with Dragons.


Slavery is abhorred and strictly forbidden on the Westerosi mainland. It is likely due to the Faith of the Seven, which was brought by the Andal Invaders 6,000 years ago, that it is so. The faith is the dominant religion in the Seven Kingdoms and it forbids the practice of slavery.[1]

The Ironborn also keep thralls and salt wives. Neither are slaves in the literal sense, but are subject to forced labor and low status, and are not too far removed from enslavement. Their children, however, are considered free if they are drowned to the Drowned God. The thought of selling captives in Lys for coin leaves a foul taste in even Victarion Greyjoy’s mouth:

"Taking a man as a thrall or woman as a salt wife, that was right and proper, but men were not goats or fowl to be bought and sold for gold".[2]

However the illegal practice does take place in Westeros sometimes. In the North Ser Jorah Mormont sold a few poachers to some Tyroshii slavers and had to flee to the Free Cities when his crime was discovered by Eddard Stark, who had to condemn him to death for his crime. It is also said that Cersei Lannister had the mother of Robert Baratheon's bastard twins sold to a passing slaver, presumably because she couldn't bear such an affront to her pride that close to home.[3]

Aristan Whitebeard puts it thusly to Daenerys Targaryen when she is contemplating whether or not to purchase Unsullied:

There have been no slaves in the Seven Kingdoms for thousands of years. The old gods and the new alike hold slavery to be an abomination. Evil. If you should land in Westeros at the head of a slave army, many good men will oppose you for no other reason than that. You will do great harm to your cause, and to the honour of your House.

According to some, the smallfolk of Westeros does not live too differently from slaves. It is certainly apparent that their rulers often give them little more consideration that they would give true slaves. Tyrion Lannister after being briefly owned as a slave by Yezzan zo Qaggaz contemplated slavery thusly...

"Yezzan's slaves ate better than many peasants back in the Seven Kingdoms and were less likely to starve to death come winter. Slaves were chattel, aye. They could be bought and sold, whipped and branded, used for carnal pleasure of their owners, bred to make more slaves. In that sense they were no more than dogs or horses. But most lords treated their dogs and horses well enough. Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were as rare as dragon's teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves."[4]

The East

Free Cities

In the Free Cities, well spoken and gently born slaves are prized. They will become tutors, scribes, bed slaves, and even healers and priests.[5]

  • In Pentos, slavery is forbidden by law, as part of the terms imposed by the Bravosi on Pentos a hundred years ago.[6] However, in a city where wealth equals power, many rich magisters can flout such laws and bronze-collared slaves are common on their estates.[7] One such case is Illyrio Mopatis, who has a finger in the slave trade, and maybe a whole hand.
  • Lys has a high slave population. Slaves are used for labor too harsh for Lysene hands, trained to act as guards and soldiers, and even posed for various performances.[5] As such, most slave ships bring their cargoes to Lys first, allowing the wealthiest patrons to buy the cream of their crops. This practice creates a vibrant, active market in the slave trade, which is one of the greatest sources of Lys income.[8] Lys is well known for its pleasure houses, training slaves in the arts of love and selling them as concubines and bed-slaves.
  • In Volantis, due to the relative proximity to Slaver's Bay, there is a thriving slave market.[5] There are five slaves for every free man. Slaves are always tattooed on the face, which prevents escaping on the constant flow of ships. Such tattoos are often designed to reveal the slaves role. A fool might be patterned in tattooed motley from neck to scalp.[9]
  • Braavosi are the exception, descended from escaped slaves, they do not permit slavery and they do not trade with Slaver's Bay.
  • Qohor's city guard is comprised solely of Unsullied eunuch slave soldiers. However, much like in Pentos, slaves can be bought by powerful men who can flout the laws.[10]
  • Myr is a hub of trade in slaves.
  • Tyroshi traders deal extensively in slaves. Tyrosh is deeply involved in the slave trade, and Tyroshi slavers are known to be especially aggressive. They even sail north beyond the Wall, in search of wildlings to enslave.[11]

Slaver's Bay

Yunkai, Meereen, and Astapor are the great slaver cities of Slaver's Bay. For centuries, until the coming of Daenerys Targaryen, they had been the linchpins of the slave trade, the place where Dothraki khals and the corsairs of the Basilisk Isles sold their captives and the rest of the world came to buy.

Yunkai is known for training bed slaves not warriors. A bed slave in Yunkai learns the way of the seven sighs and the sixteen seats of pleasure.[12]

Unsullied, eunuch slave soldiers, are made in Astapor. The Unsullied learn the way of the three spears.[12]


The Dothraki make slaves by enslaving conquered peoples and selling them, often to the Ghiscari who train them. Dothraki keep slaves from many lands, notably in Vaes Dothrak, which was built by slaves, where they serve the dosh khaleen. Dothraki also sell their own kind, when khalasar meet khalasar in the sea of grass the defeated Dothraki are enslaved. [13]


The Qartheen trade in slaves.

Visiting Queen Daenerys Targaryen in Meereen as an emissary of Qarth the merchant prince Xaro Xhoan Daxos tried to persuade Daenerys as to the essentialness of slavery to people such as the Qartheen:

Consider Qarth. In art, music, magic, trade, all that makes us more than beasts, Qarth sits above the rest of mankind as you sit at the summit of this pyramid … but below, in place of bricks, the magnificence that is the Queen of Cities rests upon the backs of slaves. Ask yourself, if all men must grub in the dirt for food, how shall any man lift his eyes to contemplate the stars? If each of us must break his back to build a hovel, who shall raise the temples to glorify the gods? For some men to be great, others must be enslaved.

Old Ghis

Old Ghis practised slavery
A dragonlord oversees the sale of conquered peoples in Slaver's Bay

Old Ghis practised slavery. The Ghiscari Empire developed into a major power in the east, dominating much of Essos before it eventually fell to Valyria.

Old Valyria

At the beginning of its rise to power Valyria had watched the Ghiscari grow rich and powerful off of the backs of conquered peoples. After the fall of Ghis the self-styled freehold wanted its turn, seeking to emulate the success that slavery had brought to Ghis. The Valyrian Freehold made an extensive use of slaves, thousands of slaves from across the continent, of a hundred different nations.

In the blisteringly hot red darkness of the mines underneath Fourteen Fires "only the worst"[14] slaves toiled, burned, and died to find gold and silver.

Slaves perished by the score, but their masters did not care. Red gold and yellow gold and silver were reckoned to be more precious than the lives of slaves, for slaves were cheap in the old Freehold. [14]

Slave revolts were common in the mines, but the Valyrians were strong in sorcery and able to put them down.[14] When there was war, the Valyrians took thousands of slaves, and when there was peace they bred them.[14]

It's said the first Faceless Man existed in Valyria. There he brought death to the slaves who lived horrid lives toiling in the heat of the Fourteen Flames, praying for an end. He came to realize that the many gods they prayed to were one god, and that he was an instrument of the gods.[14]


The city of Gogossos on the Isle of Tears outlived the Doom of Valyria and waxed rich and powerful during the Century of Blood, some calling it the "Tenth Free City", thanks to slavery and sorcery. Its slave markets became as notorious as those of the cities of Slaver's Bay. However, seventy seven years after the Doom a terrible plague, the Red Death, emerged from the slave pens of the city and swept across the Isle of Tears and then the rest of the Basilisk Isles.

Notable former slaves

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

When talking to Jon Snow Tyrion Lannister reflects that had he been born a peasant he may have been sold to some slaver's grotesquerie on account of his dwarfism.

After Khal Drogo's defeat of Khal Ogo and the Lamb Men, Ser Jorah advises him to make for Meereen. The city had a plague the previous year so the brothels are paying double for healthy young girls and triple for boys under ten. Jorah tells Dany that if enough enslaved children survive the journey the gold earned from their sale will buy them all the ships they need to sail for Westeros. [15]

Before her dragons are born Daenerys Targaryen frees the slaves of what is left to her of Drogo's khalasar.

A Clash of Kings

Before giving her khalasar the order to enter the Red Waste Daenerys contemplates heading downriver with her ragged band to the ports of Meereen, Yunkai and Astapor, but Rakharo warns her that Khal Pono's khalasar had ridden that way, driving thousands of captives before them to sell in the fleshmarts of Slaver's Bay. [16]

In the House of the Undying Daenerys Targaryen sees a vision of ten thousand slaves lifting bloodstained hands as she races by on her silver, riding like the wind.[17]

A Storm of Swords

Freed slaves lift their hands towards Mhysa. © Josu Hernaiz

Daenerys Targaryen frees slaves and fills the ranks of her army with the slaves she freed, people who are completely loyal to her and who have no aspirations beyond protecting their freedom.

A Feast for Crows

Euron Greyjoy mentioned that the price of slaves is rising since the fall of Astapor and Meereen. After the Battle of the Shield Islands Euron plans to sell his captives as slaves in Lys and Volantis.

A Dance with Dragons

It is revealed that a Slave of R'hllor is a man or woman who has been purchased in the Free Cities to serve the temple of R'hllor.

Tyrion Lannister, Penny and Ser Jorah Mormont are enslaved and become the property of Yezzan zo Qaggaz. Slavers take some of the wildlings at Hardhome.

According to Qavo Nogarys, a customs officer Selhorys, the actions of Daenerys Targaryen has smashed the slave trade which Volantis and Qarth relied on. Making the dragon queen enemies behind the Black Wall and beyond. While playing cyvasse with Tyrion Qavo tells Tyrion,

This arrogant child has taken it upon herself to smash the slave trade, but that traffic was never confined to Slaver's Bay. It was part of the sea of trade that spanned the world, and the dragon queen has clouded the water. [18]


No man wants to be owned
- Daenerys Targaryen

There was never a slave who did not choose to be a slave. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there.[4]
- Tyrion Lannister

Take this one as our gift to you, a token of a bargain well struck. [1]
- Kraznys mo Nakloz, to Daenerys Targaryen

A man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.[7]
- Illyrio Mopatis

Lot ninety-seven … A pair of dwarfs, well trained for your amusement.
- Auctioneer, auctioning Tyrion Lannister and Penny

You could breed the two of them, get good coin for the whelps.
- Auctioneer, auctioning Tyrion Lannister and Penny

Lot Seven [19]
- Melisandre's memory

His pets, thought Tyrion. And he loved us so much that he sent us to the pit, to be devoured by lions.[4]
- Tyrion Lannister, during his time as a slave

References and Notes

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