- "Valyria" and "Valyrian" redirect here. For other related topics, including specifically the capital City of Valyria, see "Valyria (disambiguation)".
The Valyrian Freehold was the empire established by the Valyrian civilization in the continent of Essos, centered around the city of Valyria in the eponymous peninsula. At its height, the Valyrian Freehold covered over half of the known world.
Thought to initially be a modest community of shepherds, the Valyrians rose to prominence five thousand years ago after they discovered dragons living in the Fourteen Fires, a string of volcanoes in the mountains of their homeland. After taming the mighty beasts, the Valyrians used then to conquer surrounding lands and began expanding outwards.
The Ghiscari Empire, however, sought to halt Valyrian expansion and declared war on their neighbors from the opposite shore of Slaver's Bay. Massive Ghiscari slave-legions marched against Valyrian in a series of five major wars, but each time they were defeated. The Freehold's forces then marched on the Ghiscari capital of Ghis and laid waste to it, leaving little more than a smoldering ruin behind and nearly erasing Ghiscari people and culture from history.
Afterward, the Valyrian Freehold became the dominant civilization in the known world, with its own language, religion and customs. The Freehold founded a number of colony cities, connected by a network of roads all of which led back to the capital city.
For nearly five thousand years, Valyrian supremacy remained uncontested. However, a cataclysmic event known as "The Doom" laid waste to the Valyrian capital, its people, and the surrounding lands. The Valyrian peninsula itself was shattered and the ocean came sweeping in, becoming the Smoking Sea. Dragons, as well as Valyrian recorded history, spells, and knowledge were lost. With its center of power destroyed, the empire collapsed. Of the mighty families of dragonlords who ruled the Freehold, only one survived, House Targaryen, which had established on Dragonstone years before the Doom, off the coast of a new continent: Westeros.
Surviving colonies in the Free Cities
Surviving colonies in the Valyrian Peninsula
Surviving cities in Slaver's Bay
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Valyria was neither a kingdom nor an empire: theoretically, all of the freeborn landholders ("free-holders") had equal say in government, hence the formal name of their government was the "Valyrian Freehold". In practice, however, this meant that it was essentially an oligarchy run by the wealthy noble families (there was no single emperor or king). There were about forty great families of wealth, high birth, and strong sorcerous ability, known as Dragonlords, that tended to dominate the rest. The Targaryens were one of these families, but far from the most powerful.
The Freehold not only conquered the Ghiscari Empire, but also the Rhoynar people established around the Rhoyne river, leading to their exodus across the sea to Dorne. The modern Free Cities, as well as several others, were established as Valyrian colonies and became independent after the empire was shattered. The major exception to this is Braavos, located in the extreme northwest of Essos, which was founded by escaped slaves who fled Valyria, and remained hidden even long after the Doom. Braavos is thus sometimes referred to as the Bastard Son of Valyria.