- This article is about the Valyrian people and culture. For other related topics, see: Valyria
- "Wielding these weapons, astride their dragons, the Valyrians conquered the surrounding lands and slowly expanded west."
- ―Viserys Targaryen
The Valyrians, also known as the Blood of Old Valyria or Blood of the Dragon, are a people and culture native to the Valyrian Peninsula, on the continent of Essos. For thousands of years, their empire, known as the Valyrian Freehold, was the dominant civilization on the continent. Roughly four hundred years prior to the War of the Five Kings, a cataclysmic event known as "the Doom" shattered the Valyrians' capital city and all but obliterated them.
Originally a community of shepherds, the Valyrians rose to prominence after discovering dragons in a volcanic area of their home peninsula known as the Fourteen Fires. After taming the mighty beasts, they established the city of Valyria and became skilled in both magic and metallurgy. With these skills, they created a unique metallic compound later known as Valyrian steel, which could be fashioned into weapons far superior to those produced by other cultures.
With their dragons and weapons, the Valyrians conquered the surrounding lands and began their outward expansion. Early on, they came into conflict with the Ghiscari Empire to the east and the Rhoynar people to the north and west. The Ghiscari fought five wars against the Valyrian Freehold and were eventually defeated, their capital destroyed, and their people enslaved. The Rhoynar fought equally hard against the Valyrians until their cities were razed, many of their people also enslaved, and the survivors scattered.
For nearly five thousand years, Valyrian hegemony was uncontested, until "the Doom" destroyed the capital city and much of the Valyrian peninsula. Not only were most of the dragons wiped out, but the Valyrians' spells, knowledge, and recorded history were also lost.
The cause of the Doom remains unknown; some believe it was a massive volcanic eruption from the Fourteen Fires, while others think the Valyrians themselves caused it with their reckless use of magic. In any event, the power of the Valyrians was broken and the ruling dragonlords dead. Soon afterwards, the Freehold's colonies throughout Essos declared their independence and a period of constant warfare began: the Century of Blood.
Some traces of the Valyrian people and their culture survived the Doom. Their language, known as High Valyrian, gave birth to a number of dialects spoken in many of the Freehold's former colonies, such as the modern-day Free Cities. Valyrian bloodlines and practices also survived in the Free Cities, but to varying degrees: after four hundred years, the surviving Valyrian colonists in the Free Cities have intermingled with the local populations to such an extent that they no longer exist as a major, distinct group. A few aristocratic families in the Free Cities still retain classic Valyrian features - to greater or lesser extents - and possess light blonde hair and distinctive eyes. People with such features are said to have "the blood of Old Valyria" in their veins.
A few Valyrian noble families also survived on the island of Dragonstone. Located off the coast of Westeros, this island represented the extreme western edge of Valyrian expansion. The families were led by House Targaryen, who controlled the last surviving dragons. Some of their vassals, such as House Velaryon and House Celtigar, settled on neighboring islands. A few noble families were later founded by their servants, such as House Qoherys (which went extinct within three generations). On the whole, however, the Targaryens and their few followers had almost no impact upon the ethnic composition of Westeros - particularly because they continued the Valyrian custom of "keeping the bloodline pure" by engaging in incestuous marriages whenever possible, rather than intermingling with local noble families.
Features and practices
The Valyrians are known for their great beauty and possessed physical features not seen among other peoples of the world (at least not commonly). Typically they possessed silver hair and violet or deep blue eyes, though the Targaryens had lost the latter feature by the time of Aerys II's reign, the king having brown eyes, and all of his children having blue-green eyes.
To keep their bloodlines "pure" - by which they retained these features - Valyrian noble families often practiced heavily incestuous marriages, wedding brother to sister, cousin to cousin, uncle to niece, and aunt to nephew. Aegon the Conqueror took this a step further and married both of his sisters, Visenya and Rhaenys. The World of Ice & Fire sourcebook explained that although such a practice was not the norm among the Valyrians, it was not unheard of either, so polygamy must have existed in some form within the dragonlord families.
Not much is known about the Valyrian religion, other than that they believed in a group of deities, of whom only the names of three are known: Balerion, Vhagar and Meraxes. The three dragons of Aegon and his sisters were named after them.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Valyrians are famous for having silver-gold (platinum blonde) hair, very pale skin, and violet-purple eyes. Hair color can vary from white to silver to gold, and eye color from lilac to deep purple, and sometimes blue. The TV series originally attempted to portray Daenerys and Viserys with purple irises using colored contacts, in the unaired pilot episode. However, the producers soon decided that it detracted from the actors' performances, because "actors act with their eyes", and was much too distracting. Therefore, in the TV continuity it seems like ethnic Valyrians tend more towards having brightly colored eyes such as blue. Inhabitants of the Free City of Lys are directly descended from Valyrian colonists who didn't heavily intermingle with other peoples, so they are said to retain classic Valyrian features: some Lysene aristocratic families still have silver hair and purple eyes, though the more "classic" Lysene look is blonde hair with blue eyes - so Daenerys and Viserys having blue eyes isn't too far removed from possibilities in the books.
The "Valyrians", as an ethnic group, were largely destroyed by the Doom. The survivors that lived on in colonies such as the Free Cities generally intermingled with the local populations to such a degree that they ceased to exist as a distinct group. A few aristocratic families here and there in the Free Cities are famous for maintaining pure Valyrian lineages - those with "the blood of Old Valyria" retain strong Valyrian features of pale hair and purple irises.
The major exceptions to the above are Lys and Volantis, in which large segments of the population can still be said to exhibit classic Valyrian features. Lys was founded directly by Valyria, built from scratch and settled by pure-blooded Valyrian colonists, so Valyrian bloodlines are still very strong there. In Volantis, the ruling aristocracy became obsessed with their identity as the first colony of Valyria, and thus believed that they were the direct heirs of the Valyrian Freehold, destined to reconquer all of the other Free Cities. As a result the Volantene nobility is obsessed with blood purity, and practices extreme (apartheid-like) separation between the free aristocratic families (with pure Valyrian lineages) and the non-aristocrats and slaves (though Volantis is not only the most populous of the Free Cities but also has the most disproportionately large ratio of slaves in that population, about five slaves to each free man).
In Westeros, the only major surviving Valyrian families were the Targaryens and their vassals, the Velaryons and Celtigars. While they generally retained classic Valyrian features, they acculturated to Westeros, adopting the Common Tongue and converting to the local Faith of the Seven. The Targaryen family still considered itself "the blood of Old Valyria", but not to be a full "ethnic group" anymore. The Targaryens had such small numbers that their Valyrian bloodlines had a negligible impact on the continent's ethnic makeup. In addition to their initially very small numbers, the Targaryens and their vassals frowned upon intermarriage and continued to try to keep the bloodline as pure as possible by incestuously marrying brother to sister (or at least cousin to cousin), significantly limiting their already small impact on the ethnic makeup of Westeros.
Cultures and peoples of the known world
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