Barrayar is a fictional planet in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga series of science fiction novels and stories. The series takes place at a time which is, apparently, one thousand years in the future.

*Capital City: Vorbarr Sultana.

*Size/population: Barrayar itself has a very small population relative to many other planets in the universe. The exact number is not mentioned in the novels, but there are known to be 60 Districts, each with a Count in charge, and some districts at least have populations measured in the millions. Thus a total planetary population of 60 to 120 million seems likely. In addition, Barrayaran casualties during the Cetagandan occupation are described as being "about five million", which would be disastrous in a population of 50 million or less. Compare this to Old Earth, with a population in the billions. The original settlement of Barrayar comprised about 50,000 people.

*Economy: Barrayar's planetary economy is mostly based upon agriculture, though the role of industry has grown since the Cetagandan Invasion. The Barrayaran Empire draws most of its revenue from trade passing through the wormholes in Komarran space. It is important to note that Barrayar's economy is weak by the standards of many other planets. The currency of the planet is the "Barrayaran Imperial Mark", which is worth about one quarter of a Betan dollar, regarded as the hardest currency in the Nexus.

*Government: Barrayar is the main planet of the Barrayaran Empire, an Empire with hereditary succession. Its governmental system is largely unwritten, and is largely based on oaths. It is led by an Emperor, with supreme and absolute power. There is also a legislative body known as the Council of Counts, which largely controls the Barrayaran Empire's finances and is somewhat parallel to the traditional British House of Lords. Each member of the 60-man Council of Counts controls a District, or a large-sized slice of the planet. For instance, Count Vorkosigan controls the Vorkosigan District. There is also a Council of Ministers which controls the executive functions of the government, and other formal and informal advisors to the Emperor.


Barrayar is Earth-like, but its native vegetation is inedible for humans and Earth-descended life; terraforming is necessary for settlement. It has two major continents, as well as islands in its oceans. Since there are areas of Arctic-like climate, as well as temperate zones with winter snow, it has to be assumed that there are also polar oceans and/or land masses under icecaps. Geographical diversity is similar to the Earth, with flat plains, high mountains, swamps and river valleys.


Barrayaran culture is 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" is derived from accountant, since the original Counts were tax-gatherers.) Counts and their liege-subjects have reciprocal duties and obligations to each other. Members of the Vor class have the syllable "Vor" prepended to the original surname. The original surnames were mostly Russian. The result is somewhat similar to the use of "Von" for the Junker class in Prussia in the 19th century.

The entire setup is not unlike early-Meiji-era Japan, particularly since Barrayar was isolated from the rest of the known galaxy for many centuries, and devolved into a quasi-medieval level of technology. Modernization is proceeding rapidly at the time of the Vorkosigan Saga, but at the price of a great deal of culture shock. While the cities are modern, much of rural Barrayar is still not too different from conditions in the "Time of Isolation."


Barrayarans have many customs inherited from the Time of Isolation, in which the society was agrarian and semi-feudal.


Barrayaran Counts take oaths of fealty from the residents of their Districts and their personal bodyguards, known as Armsmen. The oath of a resident is necessarily less formal and personal than that of an Armsman, and may consist simply of signing a document. Thanks to enlightened legislation pushed through by Count Vorkosigan, residents can easily switch their oaths to another District, causing Counts to compete with each other to improve the living conditions of residents. The oath of an Armsman or other Vassal is, necessarily, more formal and direct. It is taken in the same manner as was practiced in Europe during feudalism, with the hands placed between those of the individual administering the oath.

Male primogeniture

The first-born son in a family inherits any titles and family wealth upon the death of his father, no matter how many older sisters he has. The eldest son is also the legal guardian of his brother's children in the event of the brother's death, a fact which complicates 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, the nearest male relative of the same generation.

Death offering

Barrayarans will sacrifice an item in a small fire to memorialize a dead person. The item may be a lock of hair, a memento, or an item specially made. The most important time for this is at a funeral, where the eldest son is expected to light the fire for his father, but Barrayarans may 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 will add their own items to the pyre. Miles Vorkosigan's sacrifices have included an illuminated copy of his graduation certificate from the Military Academy, for his dead grandfather, General Piotr, a lock of his hair for a baby killed in the backcountry whose murder he investigated, and an offering to one of the victims of the Komarran massacre for which his father is blamed. He also burns offerings for, and talks to, Konstantin Bothari, his childhood bodyguard and surrogate father.


Some Barrayaran families, especially the old Vor, arrange marriages for their children using a go-between known as a Baba. These are old women, and at the highest levels they are professionals who guard their reputations. Ekaterin Vorsoisson's first marriage was arranged this way, although she had the right to refuse Etienne. After Etienne's death she is shocked and elated to receive a proposal which she at first imagines to come from Miles Vorkosigan, to whom she is both attracted and repelled.

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.

Ethnic groups

There are four major ethnic groups on Barrayar, descended from Russian, French, English, and Greek-speaking forebears, presumably to be found among the original colonists.

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


Not much is known at this time about Barrayaran history, but it appears that some time after the first colonists arrived, the wormhole that allowed them contact with the rest of the galaxy closed, isolating them on Barrayar. During the "Time of Isolation," wars were frequent, with the Vor fighting among themselves, until Emperor Dorca the Just united Barrayar under his rule. These centuries of warfare made Barrayaran culture very militaristic, as did the invasion from Cetaganda that occurred about twenty years after the end of the "Time of Isolation." The occupation period continued for around twenty more years, costing about five million Barrayaran lives. After the Cetagandans were defeated, Barrayar was determined not to allow this to happen again, and conquered Komarr, the planet that controlled the only wormhole that allowed access to Barrayar; the Komarrans had accepted bribes from the Cetagandans to allow their invasion fleets to pass through the wormhole. This gave Barrayar a very militaristic reputation in the rest of the civilized galaxy, not unlike Prussia or pre-1945 Japan.

Important Locations

Vorbarr Sultana

The Capital of Barraryar, and the entire Imperium. A good deal of the story takes place here. Each Count maintains a residence in the city and this is also where the Emperor generally resides. It was occupied by the Vorkosigan family during the regency, which took place after the death of Emperor Ezar Vorbarra, and the coming of age of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra.

Imperial Residence

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

Vorkosigan House

This is the official residence of the Vorkosigans when in the city. This is the default residence since the Vorkosigans spend much more time involved in Imperial politics than in District politics. It is a large stone mansion, situated near the Vorbarr Sultana University.

Vorhartung Castle

This is where the Council of Counts meets, as the main legislative body on Barrayar.

Imperial Security Headquarters

Imperial Security's (otherwise known as ImpSec) headquarters are situated in the middle of Vorbarr Sultana. The building was designed by a paranoid and maniacal architect under the employ of Mad Emperor Yuri. It is described throughout the series as a very ugly building, mostly made of a cement-like substance. However, its design, while ugly, is very effective, and very secure. It is described in the novel "Memory" as having spaceship grade (or better) air filtration systems and secure water and food supplies.

ImpSec is the branch of the Imperial Military primarily concerned with the security of the emperor and the imperium. Mostly, ImpSec consists of Analysts and Covert Operatives. However, since ImpSec is the Emperor's Last Resort, they can requisition whatever forces they need.


Near the center of the old part of Vorbarr Sultana, this area used to be a pit of poverty but during the timeline of the series has undergone much renovation.

Vorkosigan's District

The District that the Counts Vorkosigan administer, as all Districts on Barrayar, is named after the family surname. There are a number of cities and a great multitude of towns and villages in the District.


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

Vorkosigan Surleau

Vorkosigan Surleau is a small village situated in the Vorkosigan District. The Vorkosigans maintain a summer home nearby, on the shore of The Long Lake. The Vorkosigan home was originally an outlying barracks for a castle dating from the Time of Isolation. That castle is now a burnt out ruin on a headland overlooking the lake.

ilvy Vale

Silvy Vale is a typical Dendarii Mountain village, and the location of a significant event in Miles Vorkosigan's life, described in The Mountains of Mourning, 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 returns there from time to time to rest and recuperate.

Kyril Island

An arctic island used as a training base for the military, it is considered the worst posting in the entire Empire. During the long winter night the permanent staff suffer from boredom relieved only by alcohol. In the summer when trainees arrive, the permanent staff scramble to keep the raw recruits alive in an environment consisting of sudden violent storms and tundra bogs that can swallow vehicles whole. Ensign Miles Vorkosigan was posted to the island as Weather Officer after his graduation from the Military Academy. This resulted in his arrest for mutiny and, since he is Vor, treason. Years later Lieutenant Alexi Vormoncrief was posted there as Laundry Officer, as punishment for his activities in Vorbarr Sultana politics, specifically the attempt to smear Miles Vorkosigan for the death of Ekaterin Vorsoisson's husband.

ee also

*List of Vorkosigan Saga planets

External links

* [ Bo Johansson's Map of Barrayar]

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