Valyrian Freehold

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Valyrian Freehold
HBO VFreehold.png
Dragons fly above the Freehold
Location Essos
Government Freehold
Religion Mixed religions
Founded At least five thousand years ago.
Destroyed 114 BC, during the Doom of Valyria[1]
Valyrians tamed and used dragons

The Valyrian Freehold was a great territory that spanned much of the continent of Essos, but has since fallen to ruin, approximately one hundred years before Aegon's Conquest, when it was brought down by a cataclysmic event known as the Doom of Valyria.

At its prime, the Valyrian Freehold encompassed most of the eastern continent, and reached as far as the current Free Cities and the island of Dragonstone off the coast of Westeros. The Valyrian Freehold was technically never an empire,[2] however for ease of reference it tends to be referred to as one.

The Freehold was an advanced civilization, and the dominant military and cultural power of the known world. Its capital was the city Valyria. The Freehold was ruled by the lords freeholder, powerful noble families. The most powerful of these were the dragonlords.


Valyrians discover dragons living in the Fourteen Fires

Valyria was once a minor civilization of peaceful sheep-herding folk dwelling on the Valyrian peninsula, until the Valyrians discovered dragons lairing in the Fourteen Fires, a ring of volcanoes on the said peninsula. The Valyrians tamed the dragons with magic and mastered the technique of raising and training the dragons into devastating weapons of war.[3] They began expanding their influence, establishing the Freehold with Valyria as its capital. There, magic flowered, topless towers rose toward the heavens where dragons soared, stone sphinxes gazed down through eyes of garnet, and smiths forged swords of legendary strength and sharpness; and with their dragons and magic they began expanding their influence.

Rise to Power and the Fall of Ghis

The dragon defeats the harpy

Some five thousand years ago, in the early days of Valyria, the Old Empire of Ghis dominated and controlled much of the eastern continent. The Ghiscari attempted to stop Valyria's expansion and the burgeoning freehold was involved in a series of great wars against the Old Empire. The Ghiscari lockstep legions attacked Valyria five times, but they could never defeat them - with the help of dragons, Valyria was able to defend and emerge victorious each time.

Finally, in the last of the Ghiscari Wars, the Valyrians marched on their capital, Old Ghis, razed it to the ground, and sowed its fields with salt, sulfur, and skulls,[4] obliterating it and thereby destroying the Old Empire of Ghis. After the conquest of Ghis, Valyria expanded its influence over the surviving Ghiscari colonies of Slaver's Bay, and continued to conquer and colonize further.

War against the Rhoynar

The Rhoynish Wars were a series of wars fought between the city-states of the Rhoynar and colonies of the Valyrian Freehold between ~950 BC and 700 BC.[5][6] They are described in Beldecar's History of the Rhoynish Wars.[7]

The wars were concluded in the Second Spice War, when the Valyrian colony Volantis turned its eyes to the ancient and high civilization of the Rhoynar. Prince Garin the Great led an army of a 250,000 men and defeated the Valyrian armies at Selhorys, Valysar, and Volon Therys, where they won their greatest victory defeating an army of a hundred thousand men and killing two dragons in the process.

However, the Valyrians responded with an overwhelming force of three hundred dragons, and burned the Rhyonish armies, forcing the exodus of the remaining Rhoynar out of Essos. The remnants fled to Dorne, led by the warrior queen Nymeria. The singers say her 10,000 ships were filled with women and children, suggesting most of the men of fighting age had died in the conflict with the Freehold.

Valyrian Imperialism & Western Expansion

The Valyrian Freehold continued to expand and conquer further west, capturing many slaves from its conquered lands and using them to mine great wealth from the Fourteen Flames, as well as build great cities and roadways that led to Valyria. Cities built by the Valyrian Freehold include Oros, Mantarys, Tyria, and all of the Free Cities except Braavos.

At the height of its power, the Freehold stretched over most of Essos west of the Bone Mountains. Of the fabled great cities, the topless towers are remembered for their great beauty. Some two centuries before the Doom, the Valyrian Freehold expanded into the western coastal reaches of Essos. They colonized the island of Dragonstone in the narrow sea and established a stronghold there, presumably from which they could trade with the Seven Kingdoms. The island was the westernmost outpost of the Freehold.[8][9]

Doom of Valyria

The shattered remains of the Valyrian peninsula after the doom.

The Doom of Valyria was a cataclysmic event that took place in 114 BC, after which the city Valyria was utterly destroyed and the Valyrian Freehold crumbled and was no more. The Doom fragmented the land surrounding the city itself into numerous smaller islands, creating the Smoking Sea between them.[10][11] The area is now described as "demon-haunted", and most people are afraid to go there, as all known expeditions to the shattered peninsula has ended up in failure. Hence the quote:

The Doom still rules in Valyria.[12][13]


Daenerys Targaryen exhibits the classic valyrian racial characteristics - purple eyes and silver-gold hair. by © Denkata5698

At its apex, the Freehold's capital, Valyria, was the greatest city in the known world, the center of civilization. Most of Valyria's culture, language, and craft was lost in the Doom, which was followed by the Century of Blood. Valyrian descendants scattered across the world, many across the surviving Valyrian colonies, which gained independence after the Doom and are now known as the Free Cities, and across the cities of Slaver's Bay. Many of the surviving Valyrians intermarried and became mixed with other peoples. Their descendants speak in various local dialects of Valyrian.[4][14]

Valyria is remembered for its ability to raise and command dragons and using them as weapons of war. This was demonstrated by the Targaryens, the last of the known Valyrian dragonlords, who used that knowledge to conquer and rule the Seven Kingdoms.[15] Valyria is also remembered for forging weapons made of Valyrian steel, a magical alloy used to make weapons of unparalleled quality. The secret of forging such metal was apparently lost with Valyria, making those remaining weapons highly treasured and extremely rare.[16]

Valyrian cities

People and Culture

Dragonlords with a hatchling dragon. Art by Magali Villeneuve

Valyrians are famous for having silver-gold hair and violet-purple eyes, characteristics not found amongst any other peoples of the world. This can vary from white to silver-gold to blond hair, and from lilac, to deep purple, and pale blue eyes. The most noble of Valyrians were considered strikingly, some say inhumanly,[15] beautiful.[17]

The Valyrian nobility valued purity of blood. Therefore, the practice of incest was common in old Valyria,[18] as the Valyrians would customarily wed brother to sister.[15] These practices were not limited to the Freehold; on Dragonstone the Targaryens continued to practice incestuous marriage and polygamy to keep the dragon bloodline pure.

The language Valyrians spoke was High Valyrian.


The Valyrians had a number of different gods, including Balerion, Meraxes, Vhagar, and Syrax.[19][20][21][22]

According to some scholars, the dragonlords regarded all faiths as equally false, and looked down on clergy and temples as relics of more primitive times but useful to placate the lower classes with promises of a better life to come after death. Thus, they promoted religious tolerance in order to keep their subjects divided, and prevent them from unifying under the banner of a single god.[23]


The people of Valyria were very strong in magic, and they would use their powerful wizards and their dragons in conjunction with their armies to conquer most of Essos west of the Bone Mountains. Dragons were controlled by whips, magic horns, and sorcery.


The Freehold of Valyria at the zenith of its power was neither a kingdom nor an empire, or at least it had neither a king nor an emperor.[2] Instead, all freeholders, or freeborn landowners, had a say in its governance.

In practice, however, the Freehold was ruled by the lords freeholder, powerful noble families. They were forty families of great wealth, high birth, and strong sorcerous ability, those families which controlled and rode dragons in battle, who came to dominate, were known as dragonlords.[24][2] The Targaryens were one of these dragon houses.

Architectural works

The Valyrians had great skill in shaping stone. It is often said that the old wizards of Valyria did not cut and chisel stone, but worked it with fire and magic as one might work clay, although much of their knowledge is now lost. Valyrians had a powerful magic which could liquefy stone and shape it how they wanted.[25] Valyrian roads, known as dragon roads, still exist as monuments to their work[26][27] as do the castle of Dragonstone, and the Black Wall and Long Bridge of Volantis.


One practice the Valyrians adopted from their wars with the Old Empire of Ghis was slavery.[28] The Valyrians used thousands of slaves from across the continent in the blisteringly hot mines underneath the Fourteen Flames to find gold and silver. Slave revolts were common in the mines, but the Valyrians were strong in sorcery and were able to put them down. When there was war, the Valyrians took thousands of slaves, and when there was peace they bred them.[3] As the power of the Freehold grew, so did its hunger for ore, and the dragonlords led many conquests to keep the mines full with slaves. It is said so many perished, toiling in the Valyrian mines, that the number was so large as to surely defy comprehension.[28]

Books and Scrolls about Valyria


Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone.[29]

Luwin to Bran Stark

All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man's dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles.[30]

Marwyn to Samwell Tarly

The proudest city in all the world was gone in an instant, its fabled empire vanished in a day, the Lands of the Long Summer scorched and drowned and blighted. An empire built on blood and fire. The Valyrians reaped the seed they had sown.[31]

- thoughts of Tyrion Lannister


It is possible that the titanic clashes between Valyria and Old Empire of Ghis are inspired by the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage over control of the Mediterranean. Valyria's advanced technology and magic, as well as the Doom, may be inspired by the legends of Atlantis.

References and Notes

  1. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 So Spake Martin: SF, Targaryens, Valyria, Sansa, Martells, and More (June 26, 2001)
  3. 3.0 3.1 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 22, Arya II.
  4. 4.0 4.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 23, Daenerys II.
  5. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships.
  6. See the Rhoynish Wars calculations
  7. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 12, Tyrion II.
  8. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 5, Tyrion II.
  9. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Doom of Valyria.
  10. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 41, Jon V.
  11. A Game of Thrones RPG and Resource Book, Guardians of Order
  12. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 8, Daenerys I.
  13. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 28, Cersei VI.
  14. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 1, Tyrion I.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 A Game of Thrones, Appendix.
  16. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 32, Tyrion IV.
  17. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21, The Queenmaker.
  18. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 33, Catelyn IV.
  19. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 13, Tyrion II.
  20. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 12, Daenerys I.
  21. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 57, Daenerys V.
  22. The Rogue Prince.
  23. The World of Ice & Fire, The Free Cities: Norvos.
  24. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Rise of Valyria.
  25. So Spake Martin: Chicon 7 Reading (September 02, 2012)
  26. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 23, Daenerys III.
  27. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 6, The Merchant's Man.
  28. 28.0 28.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 59, The Discarded Knight.
  29. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 28, Bran IV.
  30. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 45, Samwell V.
  31. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 33, Tyrion VIII.