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For the novel of the same name, see Barrayar (novel)

Barrayar (pronounced barra-YAR or BEHR-ah-yahr) was a planet in the Galactic Nexus with a single useable wormhole leading from it. It took five hops to reach its only immediate neighbor Komarr.

  • Capital City: Vorbarr Sultana.
  • Size/population: Barrayar itself had a relatively small population relative to other worlds settled by humans. The original settlement of Barrayar consisted of about 50,000 people. The exact "current" number is unknown, but there were known to be 60 Districts, each with a Count in charge, and some Districts, including Vorpatril's District, had populations measured in the millions. According to the author the population is somewhere between fifty and five hundred million. Barrayaran casualties during the Cetagandan occupation were described as being "about five million", disastrous in a population of fifty million or less (nevertheless, the author confirms this number as correct). See Behind The Scenes at bottom for details.
  • Economy: Barrayar's planetary economy was mostly based upon agriculture, though the role of industry grew considerably since the Cetagandan Invasion. The Barrayaran Empire drew most of its revenue from trade passing through the wormholes in Komarran space. The economy was weak by the standards of many other planets: The currency of the planet was the Barrayaran Imperial Mark; in the earlier stories it was worth about a fifth of a Betan dollar, and in the later ones it was closer to one quarter of a Betan dollar (the Betan dollar was regarded as one of the hardest currencies in the Nexus).
  • Government: Barrayar was the main planet of the Barrayaran Imperium, an absolute monarchy with hereditary succession. Its governmental system was largely unwritten and based on oaths. The northern of the two continents (or at least the inhabited regions of it) was divided into sixty Districts, each governed by and named for a Count: for instance, Count Vorkosigan controlled Vorkosigan's District. The sixty Counts formed the Council of Counts, which met to judge cases among its members and to resolve conflicts between them, especially water-use disputes. There was also a Council of Ministers which controlled the executive functions of the government. The Council of Counts and the Council of Ministers combined to form the Joint Council; this group met regularly for budget decisions and to approve law codes. There were also appointed positions, such as Imperial Auditor and Chief of Imperial Security, as well.


Barrayar had an Earth-like climate, but its native vegetation was inedible for humans and Earth-descended life; terraforming was necessary for settlement. It had two major continents; the North Continent and the South Continent; there were also islands in its oceans, including a northern one with an Arctic-like climate. Thus, it likely had a north-polar ocean and/or land masses under icecaps. Geographical diversity was similar to that of Earth, with flat plains, high mountains, swamps and river valleys.

Gravity on Barrayar was significantly stronger than on Komarr[1].

It had two moons, at least one of which could raise tides[2][3]. A Barrayaran day was 26.7 Earth-hours in length, and the length (in Earth-hours) of a Barrayaran year was approximately as long as an Earth one (see "Behind the scenes" below for more details).

Native plants tended towards red and brown coloration; the land animals were small, featuring bug-like creatures and "horned hoppers". There were larger animals in the oceans[4]. See Barrayaran Native Plants and Animals for more details.


Barrayaran culture was feudal, dominated by a military caste known as the Vor, headed by an Emperor and sixty Counts each governing a district. (On Barrayar the title of Count was derived from accountant, since the original Counts were tax-gatherers.) Counts and their liege-subjects had reciprocal duties and obligations to each other. Members of the Vor class had the syllable "Vor" prepended to the original surname. Barrayar had been isolated from the rest of the known galaxy for many centuries, and devolved into a quasi-medieval level of technology. Upon their rediscovery by the wider Galactic Nexus, modernization proceeded rapidly at the price of a great deal of culture shock. This modernization was spotty; while the cities were changing rapidly, much of rural Barrayar had not changed much from the conditions in their "Time of Isolation" by the time of the latest books of the Saga.

Their celebrations included Winterfair, Midsummer, and the Emperor's Birthday.


Barrayarans had many customs inherited from the Time of Isolation,during which the society was agrarian and semi-feudal. A saying on Barrayar was that anything done twice was a tradition[5].


Barrayaran Counts took oaths of fealty from the residents of their Districts and their personal bodyguards, known as Armsmen. The oath of a resident was necessarily less formal and personal than that of an Armsman, and could consist simply of signing a document. Thanks to enlightened legislation pushed through by Count Vorkosigan, residents could easily switch their oaths to another District, causing Counts to have to compete with each other to improve the living conditions of residents[6]. The oath of an Armsman or other Vassal was, necessarily, more formal and direct. This was performed in the same manner as was practiced in Europe during feudalism, with the vassal's hands placed between those of the liege.[7]

Male Privileges[]

Countships could only inherited by males, although the heir was appointed at the discretion of the noble and need not have been a son or the closest relative. In default of a will, inheritance was by male primogeniture. The eldest son was also the legal guardian of his brother's children in the event of the brother's death, a fact which complicated the life of Ekaterin Vorsoisson after the death of her husband Etienne on Komarr. Etienne had no living brothers, so the guardianship went to his cousin Vassily Vorsoisson, the nearest male relative.

Female Roles and Privileges[]

A Barrayaran woman was exempted/prevented by her sex from taking a number of oaths - probably related to military vassalship - but she did pledge herself to liege lord, Count and Emperor. However, her primary oath was the marriage oath to her husband. If she followed him into crime or treason she was not held liable, contra-wise he may have been liable for her crimes as her liege[8]. A woman's role as a reproducer and the head of a household was one of some importance: As a reproducer she was responsible for the purity of the genome - which in the Time of Isolation meant she was expected to cut the throats of any infant she bore who showed visible deformities. She was also the sole guardian of her daughters and in the case of divorce or her husband's death, the girls would be given into her custody or that of her next female relative[9]. A Countess was expected both by law and tradition to be something of an assistant Count, taking care of District-internal matters while her husband focused on the inter-District ones[10].

Death offering[]

Barrayarans often sacrificed an item in a small fire to memorialize a dead person. The item could be a lock of hair, a memento, or an item specially made. The most important time for this was at a funeral, where the eldest son was expected to light the fire for his father, but Barrayarans could burn an offering for anyone at any time as an act of remembrance, or a personal catharsis. At a funeral, close friends and other family members would add their own items to the pyre. Miles Naismith Vorkosigan's sacrifices included: a lock of hair for twenty Pelian enemies[11], an illuminated copy of his graduation certificate from the Imperial Military Academy for his dead grandfather, General Piotr[12]; a lock of his hair for a baby killed in the backcountry whose murder he investigated[12]; and an offering to one of the victims of the Komarran massacre for which his father was blamed[13]. He also burned offerings for, and talked to, Konstantine Bothari, his childhood bodyguard and surrogate father.[14]


Main article: Baba

Some Barrayaran families, especially the old Vor, arranged marriages for their children using a go-between known as a Baba. These were usually women, and at the highest levels they were professionals who guarded their reputations. Ekaterin Vorsoisson's first marriage was arranged this way, although she had the right to refuse Etienne.[15] After Etienne's death she was shocked and elated to receive a proposal which she at first imagined to come from Miles Vorkosigan[16], to whom she was very attracted – however, she greatly feared that marriage would lead her again into the self-negating life she had had under Tien.

Year of mourning[]

Traditionally after the death of her husband a woman would not entertain suitors for a year. She would signal this by wearing black. Apart from allowing her to recover from being widowed, this was designed to ensure that any child born after the husband's death would be clearly his and not that of any other man.[17]


See Barrayaran Recreational Activities, Barrayaran Laws, Barrayaran Charms, Barrayaran Tales, and Barrayaran Dances for additional cultural details.

Ethnic groups[]

There were four major ethnic groups on Barrayar, descended from Russian, French, English, and Greek-speaking forebears, presumably to be found among the original colonists. All four languages were spoken on Barrayar, though they had changed considerably over time from the original forms. While there may have been other minority languages, over time they were either wiped out or absorbed into one of the four major tongues. A common modified Cyrillic alphabet with forty-six characters was used to write in all four; the writing looked like curlicues to Escobarans.[18]

The Greeks were an explicit minority on Barrayar, and it appears that Russian was the predominant culture, based on the number of Barrayaran cultural aspects that mirrored, or were derived from, Russian culture. An example would be the prevalence of Baba Yaga in Barrayaran folklore.

However, the majority language appears to have been English, as there were also mentions of a Russian minority. 


A detailed history of Barrayar, particularly during the Time of Isolation, does not exist. However, some things are known:

  • The planet was discovered soon after wormhole travel was invented, in the 23rd Century.[19]
    • The original settlers, who arrived soon after its discovery, were the 50000 Firsters primarily from Russia, Britain, France, and Greece.
    • The wormhole they'd used to travel to Barrayar collapsed soon after they arrived, cutting them off from the rest of the galaxy.
  • A Time of Isolation followed, lasting approximately 600 years.
    • About 400 years into the Time of Isolation or a bit before was the beginning of the "Bloody Centuries" in which Counts and Emperors fought battles and the balance of power fluctuated between the Emperor and his Counts (see article Selig Vorkosigan for a discussion of the timing).
    • Near the end of the Time of Isolation, Dorca the Just became Emperor; he united Barrayar and broke the power of the Counts to wage war against each other.
  • Shortly after the rediscovery of Barrayar, the Cetagandan Empire invaded them through "neutral" Komarr – their only link to the wider galaxy. The subsequent war lasted 20 years and left five million Barrayarans dead.
  • Very close to the end of this war, Mad Emperor Yuri gained power (it is not clear whether this occurred before or after the end of the war). He was deposed after a few years and replaced by Ezar Vorbarra.
  • About five years before the end of Ezar's reign, Barrayar invaded Komarr. They gained a Nexus-wide reputation for brutality and militaristic behavior, which was not improved by their subsequent unsuccessful invasion of Escobar at the end of his reign.

See Barrayaran Timeline, Time of Isolation, and Bloody Centuries for more information. More recent details of Barrayaran history are explicitly discussed in the books of the Vorkosigan Saga.

Important Locations[]

Vorbarr Sultana[]

The Capital of Barraryar, and the entire Imperium. A good many tales from the Saga took place here. Each Count maintained a residence in the city; this was also where the Emperor generally resided. The Imperial Residence was occupied by the Vorkosigan family during the early years of the regency, until approximately when Emperor Gregor Vorbarra turned twelve and went to a pre-Academy preparatory school (and Miles Vorkosigan turned five and Piotr Vorkosigan was reconciled with the rest of the family).

Imperial Residence[]

The Emperor's Official Palace in the city of Vorbarr Sultana. The building's architecture was very new in some parts, yet old in others – as one emperor succeeded the previous, new rooms and wings were built. It featured a main ballroom, stables, Imperial quarters, a large courtyard style garden, and a system of secret underground tunnels. The underground tunnels acted as an escape route if the building came under attack.

Vorkogisan House[]

The official residence of the Vorkosigans when in the city. As such, it served as their primary residence, because the Vorkosigans spent much more time involved in Imperial politics than in District politics. It was a large stone mansion, situated near the Vorbarr Sultana University.

Vorhartung Castle[]

The Council of Counts met here, as did the Joint Council of the Counts and the Ministers; the main legislative body on Barrayar.

Imperial Security Headquarters[]

Imperial Security's headquarters were situated in the middle of Vorbarr Sultana. The building was designed by a paranoid and maniacal architect under the employ of Yuri Vorbarra. It was a very ugly building, mostly made of a cement-like substance. However, its design, while ugly, was very effective, and very secure. It had spaceship grade (or better) air filtration systems and secure water and food supplies.

ImpSec's main concern was the security of the emperor and the Imperium. They were a mix of military and civilians, serving as analysts and covert operatives.


Near the center of the old part of Vorbarr Sultana, this area used to be a pit of poverty. During the timeline of the series, the Caravanserai underwent much renovation.


A high-end weapons shop in Vorbarr Sultana.


A high-end clothiers in Vorbarr Sultana.

Vorkosigan's District[]

The District that the Counts Vorkosigan administered, as all Districts on Barrayar, was named after the family surname; it was sometimes also called the Dendarii District, for the mountain range running along its southern border. There were a number of cities and a great multitude of towns and villages in the District.


Hassadar was the capital of Vorkosigan's District, and contained the administrative offices of the Count's government, as well as higher educational and medical facilities. The Count's official Residence in the District was found there, but the Vorkosigans spent more time at Vorkosigan Surleau when in the District.

Vorkosigan Surleau[]

Vorkosigan Surleau was a small village situated in the Vorkosigan District. The Vorkosigans maintained a summer home nearby, on the shore of the Long Lake. This home was originally an outlying barracks for the family castle dating from the Time of Isolation, but the Cetagandan Invasion left it a burnt-out ruin.

Silvy Vale[]

Silvy Vale was a typical Dendarii Mountain village, and the location of a significant event in Miles Vorkosigan's life, when he acted as his father's Voice in an infanticide-for-mutation just after his graduation from the Imperial Service Academy. Profoundly impacted by the experience and the people he met, he was sometimes known to return there to rest and recuperate.

Kyril Island[]

An arctic island used as a training base for the military, it was considered the worst posting in the entire Empire.

South Continent[]

A thinly-populated continent only partially terraformed. The highest mountain range on the planet was located here.

Behind the scenes[]

  • The author has stated that Barrayar's calendar has 12 28-day months in a year, with some leftover days put around Winterfair. See "time" for details.
  • Likewise, the author gives population of Barrayar as between 50 and 500 million, with 50 million at the time of the end of the Time of Isolation. See Goodreads answer for details.

Notes and references[]

  1. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 2
  2. Memory chapter 11
  3. Shards of Honor chapter 5
  4. Cryoburn chapter 2
  5. Memory chapter 20
  6. A Civil Campaign chapter 5
  7. The Warrior's Apprentice chapters 5,9
  8. Komarr chapter 1
  9. Komarr chapter 16
  10. Diplomatic Immunity chapter 7
  11. The Warrior's Apprentice chapters 16,19
  12. 12.0 12.1 "The Mountains of Mourning"
  13. Komarr chapter 4
  14. The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 21
  15. Komarr chapter 12
  16. A Civil Campaign chapter 8
  17. Komarr chapters 16,17
  18. Shards of Honor Aftermaths
  19. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 3