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The Free Holders were one of the three main political factions in the Valyrian Freehold in the years leading up to the Doom of Valyria.[1] They appear in the prequel TV series Empire of Ash.

The Free Holders were rich merchant-princes, bankers and magisters - the local elites of Valyria's provinces, below the dragonlords but above the slaves.

Overview

Valyria's realm was neither a kingdom nor an empire, but a "Freehold": a republic in which, in principle, every "Free Land-Holder" had the right to vote. Over the centuries, however, as wealth and power became concentrated, politics became functionally dominated by the aristocratic families of Dragonlords.

The "Free Holders" were thus the diverse local elites from Valyria's far-flung provinces, from the Free Cities to Slaver's Bay, and even Sothoryos: areas outside "Valyria", but within "the Freehold". Some were descended from Valyrian tradesman or religious dissidents who struck out on their own, but more were local governors that the dragonlords co-opted, or descendants of freedmen who went on to become wealthy merchants. They had no one unified culture or religion, save one: without dragons of their own, such power as they had was based on trade and wealth.

The wealthiest colony-city in all of Valyria's provinces was not Meereen or even Volantis, but Zamettar on the coast of Sothoryos. Therefore, over time, Zamettar became the main hub of the Free Holders as an emerging political faction.

Members

  • "The Free Holders' POV character" - a self-made former slave, a deceptively matronly-looking YiTish woman, that rose to become not only one of the richest citizens in the Freehold, but also a major political leader and government intrigue-player.

Behind the Scenes

Just as the War of the Five Kings is loosely inspired by the War of the Roses in Medieval England, the civil wars leading to the fall of Valyria seem loosely inspired by the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic. In this regard, the "Sphinxes" seem to take inspiration from the "Optimates" faction of Rome's upper aristocracy (led by Sulla) and the "Young Dragons" seem to be inspired by the "Populares" faction of Rome's younger aristocracy (led by Marius).

The "Free Holders" don't have as direct of an analogue, but seem to be a loose combination of various local powers who actually did fight against Marius and Sulla, though not unified into a rival faction on this scale:

  • They broadly resemble the Italian city-states that revolted against Rome itself during the Social War of 91 BC. The Italian provinces had been loyal to Rome for generations, but after being excluded from political enfranchisement in the senate for so long, eventually decided to secede from Rome and form their own short-lived breakaway government.
  • They also have some similarities to Jugurtha, king of Numidia in North Africa (which by that time was an allied client-state within Roman hegemony). After seizing the throne in a civil war, Jugurtha simply bribed off corrupt Roman generals sent after him. Even when Marius and Sulla arrived and could not be bought, Jugurtha still ran circles around the "invincible" Roman legions using light cavalry in hit-and-run attacks. The war became an embarrassing quagmire for Rome that dragged on from 112 to 106 BC. Like Jugurtha, the Free Holders' stronghold in Sothoryos is said to be like "Roman North Africa". They do not have dragons, but like Jugurtha (or Littlefinger) they use money as power. Dragons or Roman legions may have been "invincible" on the battlefield, but they are not very useful against an enemy using hit and run attacks and harassing supply lines.
  • They are also somewhat like Mithradates VI of Pontus, whose kingdom was on the southeast coast of the Black Sea. Taking advantage of the distraction caused by the Social War in Italy's provinces, Mithradates started invading provinces in Asian Minor. When the Romans began mustering forces against him, Mithradates played off the internal tensions between the Optimates and Populares into all-out war, so Sulla had to withdraw back to Italy to fight Marius. Mithradates was then able to defeat the few Roman forces already in Asia Minor, who were spread thin. Similarly, the Free Holders aren't fighting a united front of "the Valyrian dragonlords", but in the middle of a three-way struggle for power in which the Sphinxes and Young Dragons are more worried about each other (also compare to how in the War of the Five Kings, the Starks and Lannisters were so busy fighting each other than they didn't have enough forces to spare to fight the Greyjoys, despite them having the fewest men).

In the books

The individual cultures of the different Free Holder subfactions are beyond the scope of a single article to cover, as they draw extensive details from the entire 60 page section of The World of Ice & Fire on the lands "Beyond Westeros" (see "Pentos", "Volantis", etc.). Some of the Free Holders are also ethnically/culturally Summer Islander (African) or Yi Tish (East Asian) people who moved along the trade routes.

None of the three major factions in Empire of Ash will exist as such beyond the Doom of Valyria, but the Free Holders will logically have the most surviving members or successor groups. The Targaryens were the only dragonlords who survived, by fleeing to Westeros, thus both dragonlord factions ceased to exist. After the Doom, Valyria's surviving colonies and provinces tore themselves apart in generations of civil wars known as the Century of Blood, thus it is a foregone conclusion that the "Free Holders" as an organization will eventually break apart - but this does not mean they were "destroyed". Variously the "Free Holders of Pentos" or "the Free Holders of Myr" went their separate ways as they became independent powers, but Free Holder characters introduced in Empire of Ash have the potential to survive the Doom and become major shapers of history in the subsequent Century of Blood. Essentially, just as Empire of Ash is the story of how the Targaryens originated from the Valyrian dragonlords, it is also the origin story of how the local powers in the rest of Essos and Sothoryos evolved from the "Free Holders" alliance. The Free Holders are the precursors of the later magister class ruling many of the Free Cities, such as Illyrio Mopatis.

During the Century of Blood, Volantis tried to conquer and unite the other surviving Free Cities, managing to conquer Lys and Myr for a generation, before the other cities united to drive them back. Two centuries later, there was another attempt to reunite some of the Free Cities - voluntarily, in the form of a triple-alliance between Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh known as the "Kingdom of the Three Daughters". This was no "kingdom" as its technical name was "the Triarchy" - but this too was a misnomer, as it wasn't ruled by triarchs like Volantis, but a council of 33 magisters, 11 from each member. This may have been some echo of the older "Free Holders" alliance, but even the Three Daughters fell apart into civil war after only three decades.

Volantis itself is dominated by two political parties: the pro-war "Tiger" party and the pro-trade "Elephant" party. The Elephants, however, do not appear to be a direct successor of the Free Holders faction. While both do base their power on wealth, politicians in Volantis must be able to trace their descent from the blood of Old Valyria; during the timeframe of Empire of Ash, the Free Holders don't care at all about blood purity, and many of them are descended from conquered peoples and foreigners.

The Free Holders' POV character, meanwhile, seems to be draw inspiration from the Widow of the Waterfront - a former slave who rose to become one of the wealthiest merchants in Volantis.

Translation

The name "Free Holders" is short for "Free Land-Holders" - as in "Free Land-Owners". The name is deliberately anachronistic, because most of them are actually wealthy magisters whose power comes from commerce and banking. Their inaccurate name reflects the fact that they didn't name themselves: the Valyrian dragonlords came up with the term thousands of years ago, that any "Free Land-Holder" would have the right to vote. As old-minded aristocrats, the ancient dragonlords only conceived of power coming from land-ownership, not commerce. This is directly comparable to how in the A Song of Ice & Fire novels, most of the aristocrats in Westeros do not consider Littlefinger a threat, because he only owns a small strip of poor land, without bothering to consider that through investment and lending he is one of the wealthiest men in the realm. Calling Valyria's local elites something like "the Merchants Alliance" or "the Commerce Guild" would have been more accurate, but calling them something like "the Land-Owners League" reflects how little the old dragonlord aristocrats understand them.

The name is explicitly written as two words, "Free Holders", even though "Freehold" is written as only one word in "Valyrian Freehold" (just because).

Fans have already pointed out that the name "Free Holders" doesn't neatly translate into non-English languages - many of which don't already use the term "Valyrian Freehold" in their translations of the novels. Complicating matters is that the term "Free Holders" is supposed to be deliberately inaccurate, in-universe. Several fan translations for "Free Holders" have been suggested, based on culture-specific analogues combined with several specific factors: ideally, their name should mean "independent land owner", but not a term used for hereditary minor aristocracy (only use an equivalent of "landed gentry" if it such a term does not have hereditary connotations in your language). If a direct analogue cannot be found, they might be called something meaning "magisters' alliance" (depending on how "magister" is translated into that language for the main novels). If possible, the commonly used form of their name should actually be short for a longer term ("Free Holder" is short for "Free Land-Holder"/"Free Land-Owner").

Tentative fan-translations suggested so far:

  • German: "Freie Bürger" (short for "Freie Provinzbürger"). Some prefer the translation "Freistaatler".
  • Dutch: "Vrijgeboren Titularis"
  • French: "Les Franc-tenants" (short for "Franc tenant du titre")
  • Spanish: "Terratenientes Libres"
  • Portuguese: "Burguesia Livre"
  • Italian: ("L'Alleanza dei Mercanti"?)
  • Polish: "Wolni Włościanie" (vol-nee vuosh-cha-nye) or "Konfederacja Kupiecka" (con-fed-er-ats-ya koo-PYE-tska)...or "Ziemianie"?
  • Russian: "Kulak"
  • Finnish: "Talonpojat"
  • Japanese: "Jiyu Tochi Syojisya"? (Literally: "Free-Land-Owners")
If you can suggest a translation in another language, please see the Talk page for this article.

References