- Capital City: Vorbarr Sultana.
- Size/population: Barrayar itself has a relatively small population relative to other worlds settled by humans. The exact number is unknown, but there are known to be 60 Districts, each with a Count in charge, and some Districts, including Vorpatril's District, have populations measured in the millions. Thus, a total planetary population seems likely to come out to somewhere between one and two hundred million. In addition, Barrayaran casualties during the Cetagandan occupation are described as being "about five million", which would be disastrous in a population of fifty million or less. The original settlement of Barrayar consisted of 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"; in the earlier stories it was worth about a fifth of a Betan dollar, and in the later ones it is closer to one quarter of a Betan dollar (the Betan dollar is regarded as one of the hardest currencies in the Nexus).
- Government: Barrayar is the main planet of the Barrayaran Imperium, an absolute monarchy with hereditary succession. Its governmental system is largely unwritten, and is largely based on oaths. The planet (or at least the inhabited regions of its main continent) is divided into sixty Districts, each governed by and named for a Count: for instance, Count Vorkosigan controls Vorkosigan's District. The sixty Counts form the Council of Counts, which meets to judge cases among its members and to resolve conflicts between them, especially water-use disputes. There is also a Council of Ministers which controls the executive functions of the government. The Council of Counts and the Council of Ministers combine to form the Joint Council; this group meets regularly for budget decisions and to approve law codes. There are appointed positions, such as Imperial Auditor and Chief of Imperial Security, as well.
Barrayar is Earth-like, but its native vegetation is inedible for humans and Earth-descended life; terraforming was necessary for settlement. It has two major continents; the North Continent and the South Continent; there are also islands in its oceans. Since there are areas of Arctic-like climate, as well as temperate zones with winter snow, it is likely 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.
It has two moons, at least one of which can raise tides. A Barrayaran day is 26.7 Earth-hours in length, and the length (in Earth-hours) of a Barrayaran year is approximately as long as an Earth one (see "Behind the scenes" below for more details).
Native plants tend towards red and brown coloration; the land animals are small, featuring bug-like creatures and "horned hoppers". There are larger animals in the oceans.
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. Barrayar was isolated from the rest of the known galaxy for many centuries, and devolved into a quasi-medieval level of technology. Upon their rediscovery by the wider Galactic Nexus, modernization proceeded rapidly at the price of a great deal of culture shock. This modernization has been spotty; while the cities are changing rapidly, much of rural Barrayar has not changed much from the conditions in their "Time of Isolation."
Barrayarans have many customs inherited from the Time of Isolation, in which the society was agrarian and semi-feudal. A saying on Barrayar is that anything done twice is a tradition.
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 have 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 vassal's hands placed between those of the liege.
Titles of nobility were only inherited by males, although the heir is appointed at the discretion of the noble and need not be a son or the closest relative. In default of a will, inheritance was by male primogeniture. 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 Vorsoisson, the nearest male relative.
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 Naismith 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, Konstantine Bothari, his childhood bodyguard and surrogate father.
- Main article: Baba
Some Barrayaran families, especially the old Vor, arrange marriages for their children using a go-between known as a Baba. These are usually 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 very attracted – however, she greatly fears that marriage will lead her again into the self-negating life she had under Tien.
Year of mourningEdit
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.
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. All four languages are spoken on Barrayar, though they have changed considerably over time from the original forms. While there may have been other minority languages, over time they have either been wiped out or absored into one of the four major tongues. A common modified Cyrillic alphabet with forty-six characters is used to write in all four; the writing looks like curlicues to Escobarans.
The Greeks are an explicit minority on Barrayar, and it appears that Russian is the predominant 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.
However, the majority language appears to be English, as there are mentions of a Russian minority.
A detailed history of Barrayar, particularly during the Time of Isolation, does not exist. However, some things are known:
- The planet was discovered soon after wormhole travel was invented, in the 23rd Century.
- The original settlers, who arrived soon after its discovery, were the 50,000 Firsters from Russia, Britain, France, and Greece.
- The wormhole they'd used to travel to Barrayar collapsed soon after they arrived, cutting them off from the rest of the galaxy.
- A Time of Isolation followed, lasting approximately 600 years.
- About 400 years into the Time of Isolation or a bit before was the beginning of the "Bloody Centuries" in which Counts and Emperors fought battles and the balance of power fluctuated between the Emperor and his Counts (see article Selig Vorkosigan for a discussion of the timing).
- Near the end of the Time of Isolation, Dorca the Just became Emperor; he united Barrayar and broke the power of the Counts to wage war against each other.
- Shortly after the rediscovery of Barrayar, the Cetagandan Empire invaded them through "neutral" Komarr – their only link to the wider galaxy. The subsequent war lasted 20 years and left five million Barrayarans dead.
- Not long after the end of this war, Mad Emperor Yuri gained power. He was deposed after a few years and replaced by Ezar Vorbarra.
- About five years before the end of Ezar's reign, Barrayar invaded Komarr. They gained a galaxy-wide reputation for brutality and militaristic behavior, which was not improved by their subsequent unsuccessful invasion of Escobar at the end of his reign.
More recent details of Barrayaran history are explicitly discussed in the books of the Vorkosigan Saga.
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.
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.
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.
This is where the Council of Counts meets, as the main legislative body on Barrayar.
Imperial Security's headquarters are situated in the middle of Vorbarr Sultana. The building was designed by a paranoid and maniacal architect under the employ of Yuri Vorbarra. 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 had 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.
A high-end weapons shop in Vorbarr Sultana.
A high-end clothiers in Vorbarr Sultana.
The District that the Counts Vorkosigan administer, as all Districts on Barrayar, is named after the family surname; it is sometimes called the Dendarii District, for the mountain range running along its southern border. 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 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.
Silvy Vale is a typical Dendarii Mountain village, and the location of a significant event in Miles Vorkosigan's life, 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 has been known to return there to rest and recuperate.
An arctic island used as a training base for the military, it is considered the worst posting in the entire Empire.