Vorkosigan Wiki
Vorkosigan Wiki

For the novel of the same name see Cetaganda (novel)

Cetaganda (see-tuh-GAN-duh) was the collective name of an eight planet empire in the Galactic Nexus.

Cetaganda boasted a number of allied or subjugated planets, but the eight main worlds of the Cetagandan Empire were:

There also existed a connection to Jackson's Whole, but the planet that connected to it has not been specified.

Cetagandan history[]

Cetaganda was principally known as a multi-planet empire that had been stable as such for several hundred years by the time of Miles Vorkosigan.

Cetaganda was undergoing a militarily aggressive expansionist phase, having staged several unsuccessful wars against the planet Barrayar, home to Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, his father Aral Vorkosigan, and grandfather Piotr Vorkosigan. Shortly after the Time of Isolation ended with rediscovery of Barrayar, the Cetagandans invaded. After a twenty-year occupation and resistance, they were repulsed.

Several minor wars with Barrayar were later fought over contested wormhole jump points, and the Barrayaran Imperium was part of the Hegen Alliance that repulsed a later Cetagandan invasion of Vervain.

The Cetagandan Empire then invaded the world of Marilac, but were repulsed and driven off the planet after less than a decade. Another war nearly happened with Barrayar over a thousand putatively stolen haut fetuses, but the situation was defused by Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan.

Cetagandan Society[]


Cetaganda was an unusual society with a two-tiered aristocracy. The haut caste Cetagandans were the products of a several-century long, tightly controlled, self-conducted genetic engineering experiment to develop the perfect human being. (They believed this process was yet incomplete at the time of Cetaganda). The haut identified themselves by "genomic constellation", a type of family grouping that Barrayarans identified with "clan". Known constellations included: Degtiar, Rond, Navarr, Kety, and Giaja. As the total population of the haut was less than a million, they were a very small proportion of the population; they lived communally in lavish luxury.


The ghem-comrades of Cetaganda were a military caste which carried some engineered genes, but were largely free of the intensive oversight of reproduction which so thoroughly pervaded the haut. While outside observers often assumed the ghem were in charge, in fact the ghem were driven to impress their haut masters, largely through military conquest. The ghem population functioned as an intermediary between the haut and the lower class by occasionally contributing genetic material to the haut, and sometimes receiving haut women as wives. People from the lower class could sometimes be named as ghem; however, many ghem acquired their status through inheritance. Having a haut wife or contributing genes to the haut were regarded as the highest honors among the ghem. It appeared that Cetagandans, at least among the ghem or haut, practiced polygamous marriages, as in Cetaganda, Mia Maz mentioned that when a ghem officer was awarded a haut wife she would take precedence over any of the officer's other wives, and in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Tej seemed surprised by the fact that Barrayar practiced solely monogamous marriages.

There were subrankings within each of the levels of ghem; when Yenaro was promoted to the lowest level of ghem-lords who worked for their emperor, he was given tenth rank, sixth degree.


There was also a genetically engineered servitor caste, the ba. This was a genderless group incapable of reproduction that were the product of haut genetic experiments. The ba also generally acted as servitors for their masters. They were strictly conditioned and engineered for loyalty. Ba were not a common sight except in the presence of haut women.


Not much is known about commoners, but this much can be noted:

  • The mad witch woman whose genes seved as a template for Terrence Cee and who disappeared into Faz Jahar's lab provides a troubling picture of what being a commoner meant in Cetagandan society.
  • Ghem had servants, and probably at least sometimes cloned them. This looks rather close to institutionalized slavery.
  • For a better view: the military was not solely male ghem - commoner women served separately: "The Cetagandan military service also had a women’s auxiliary, with long-running traditions of its own, but they were almost all commoners, un-gene-modified Cetagandans." (Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, chapter 2)

Cetagandan culture[]

A simple listing of details of their culture is given here. Most references are found in Cetaganda; but a few are from Captain Vorpatril's Alliance and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

  • Artistry was highly valued, with a strong preference for unique, hand-made items. Displays were common. See Discernment Garden, Moon Garden Hall, and Celestial Garden for examples.
  • Ghem wore face paint, though amounts and details varied over time.
  • Haut women never cut their hair.
  • Haut women worked in human genetics; ghem women in animal and plant genetics.
  • Haut women went about in public behind bubbles of personal force shields (originally biotainers).
  • Poetry readings were not unusual; the best poetry was created by haut women, sometimes commissioned by men.
  • Ghem ladies might clone their servants; haut women never cloned them.
  • Social messages could be very complex.
  • Perfume was popular among men and women both, and could convey messages.
  • Ghem and haut wore fine robes in multiple layers.
  • Ceremonies for the dead included Death offerings.
  • Imperial titles tended to be not very revealing of role or level in society: see Celestial Lady.
  • Ghem singing could be astonishingly beautiful.

People from Cetaganda[]

Behind the scenes[]

The Cetagandans were introduced gradually, with the existence of the haut class revealed only in the novel Cetaganda.

The novels written earliest, The Warrior's Apprentice and Ethan of Athos, featured Cetagandans in the characteristic face paint of the ghem. In the first case, they were mercenaries employed by the young Miles as he invented his alter ego, Admiral Miles Naismith. In the second, a group of Cetagandan agents searching for stolen bio-engineered materials kidnapped and interrogated the protagonist Ethan, from the planet Athos, who had wandered into the situation while attempting to recover a shipment of human ova supposed to be shipped to his home.

The novel Brothers in Arms had Admiral Naismith trying to repair his mercenary fleet's ships while avoiding revenge hits from the Cetagandans for a recent mission against them. He found himself dealing with a full ghem-Captain, "painted and sworn to the hunt". Using his clone brother as a double, Miles was able to persuade the Cetagandans that Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith were not the same person, preserving the Vorkosigan identity as a place for him to hide between missions.

This marked the end of the ghem appearing as foes. The novel Cetaganda, while taking place early in Miles' career, was written later than the novels above. It took place somewhat before the events of Ethan of Athos, and thus before Admiral Naismith's flight to escape their wrath. Barrayar and Cetaganda were at peace, and Miles, as Miles Vorkosigan, helped to solve a mystery for the Cetagandan empire, if only because failing to do so would lead to chaos and probable war with Barrayar. The late novel Diplomatic Immunity required him to rescue a shipment of haut embryos stolen by a Cetagandan renegade, who had arranged for Barrayar to take the blame for the theft and the associated murder of a planetary consort.


Despite the impressive wealth and power of the Empire, it seems that the Cetagandan science in most areas isn't superior (excluding the genetic research), but more likely inferior even to the Barrayarans', not to mention Betans'. In The Vor Game, it was shown that the newest Barrayaran ships were armed with more advanced and longer-ranged weapons than Cetagandans':

"The ripple in the Cetagandan formations was like a silent cry of dismay. An imploder-armed Cetagandan ship dove bravely at the Prince Serg, and was sliced in half discovering that the Serg's imploder lances had been improved to triple the Cetagandans' range. That was the first mortal blow."
―Better gravitic imploders[src]

It should be mentioned that non-haut, non-ghem, and non ba showed no signs of any "super-human" intellectual or physical abilities. However, there is virtually no mention about the average citizens of Cetagandan empire, despite the remark that the "lower classes" existed. Cetagandan subjects enjoyed a per capita tax rate that was approximately half that of a Barrayaran's. From Ethan of Athos: There was an impoverished mad witch woman who carried a predecessor form of the telepathy complex; and Terrence Cee's primary use to them was in the interrogations of politically-suspect persons.

A possible reason is that Cetagandan society was extremely focused on the elder generations, and had virtually no use for young ghems (Lord Yenaro, for example). There is also the question of where they got their military-class of ghem; the friends of Lord Yenaro didn't seem well-suited to such employment. Possibly military service was a route by which members of the lower classes could become ghem.

External links[]

See also[]

List of Vorkosigan Saga planets