A Visitors Guide to the Barrayaran Empire

by Eric M. Snodgrass

First appeared on the AOL Lois McMaster Bujold Message Board 24 Aug 1998.

Terran Defense Forces
Intelligence Directorate

Visitors Guide To The Barrayaran Empire
(Barrayar, Komarr, and Sergyar)

The Barrayaran Empire is a three planet imperial system close to the Hegen Sector. It consists of Barrayar, the capital planet, Komarr (conquered approximately 35 years ago) and Sergyar (discovered approximately 30 years ago). Entry to the system is typically through wormhole-rich Komarr (in fact Komarr remains the planet Barrayar's only access to the wormhole nexus), although some travellers will access the Empire through Sergyar via Escobar. Immigration control is relatively liberal for visitors, although weapons and other forms of contraband are strictly forbidden. Trade goods are subjected to moderate duties and tariffs, as this remains Barrayar's primary source of income. Immunization requirements are normal for Barrayar and Komarr, Sergyar also requires vaccination for a subcutaneous worm infestation unique to that planet. Holders of valid Terran passports do not require visas.


Barrayar itself is cool-temperate with pronounced seasons. Sergyar is average-temperate. Komarr remains a enclosed environment, all human habitation remains enclosed. Visitors to the planet itself must attend a breath-mask usage training session.

Political Climate:

Barrayar may be the most misunderstood planet in the nexus. Many who have never visited the planet still maintain the perception of it as a technologically backwards totalitarian state. At the other extreme, visitors who deal strictly with Barrayar's polished galactic interface often forget that they are not dealing with a free society (an impression the Barrayarans are more than happy to foster).

The truth is somewhere in between. The visitor to Barrayar who does not get involved with the political system will run into no restrictions more rigid than those found in most planets in the nexus. However, the visitor must not forget two basic facts:
1) Barrayar is an absolute monarchy. The apparent liberalness of the society is solely at the discretion of Emperor Gregor.
2) Barrayar has the most efficient and competent security forces in the nexus. Cetaganda's may be more overbearing, but Barrayar's are just as good. Security is particularly watchful on Komarr.

The Terran Federation maintains close diplomatic relations with Barrayar, and an extensive embassy and consulate staff. The embassy is of course in the capital (Vorbarr Sultana), consulates are maintained in all major cities on Barrayar, in Solstice on Komarr, in Sergyar, and there are consulate offices on all jumpstations in Barrayaran space. Terran citizens are guaranteed by treaty consulate representation during any and all dealings with Barrayaran officials. It is IMPERATIVE that all Terran visitors exercise this right.

Unlike Cetaganda, Terran citizens can reasonably expect to have their rights respected by the Barrayaran Imperial Government. However, it cannot be stressed strongly enough that the current liberalism is solely at the whim of Emperor Gregor. While Gregor is firmly and completely in control of the Barrayaran government, he has no proclaimed heir. Therefore, if he became sick or unrest began, the situation on Barrayar could become highly unstable very quickly. Therefore, Terran citizens who are visiting Barrayar are advised to keep in close contact with the consulate offices, and be prepared to depart the planet quickly as neccesary. In particular, all Terran citizens are advised to immediately enter Terran diplomatic space upon even the rumor of the death, serious illness, or overthrow of Emperor Gregor. The bloodiness of Barrayaran succesion conflicts may be the stuff of historical legend, but the legends are accurate in this case.

On Komarr, Terran citizens should also immediately enter diplomatic space during any citizen unrest. On Sergyar, the same rules as Barrayar apply, although perhaps with less urgency as this is a "frontier" planet with very little intrigue. Potential visitors to Sergyar should not be the least bit concerned about the fact that Count Aral Vorkosigan is planetary viceroy (see History section).


Despite common beliefs to the contrary, medical services in the cities of the Barrayaran Empire are at or close to galactic standard. Terra has an agreement with the Barrayaran Imperium that any Terran citizen stricken in the Empire will be brought to the Imperial Hospitals in Vorbarr Sultana, which is one of the better facilities in the nexus, particularly for trauma cases.

However, it is critical to note that in much of rural Barrayar, medical services are extremely subpar by galactic standards. It is imperative that all Terran citizens maintain communications equipment capable of reaching consular personell when traveling in rural Barrayar.

Under no circumstances should rural Barrayar be toured without a native guide. Certain areas are still highly radioactive as a result of Cetaganda's invasion attempt.

Komarran medical facilities universally meet galactic standard. Sergyar's are suprisingly good for a "frontier planet", for reasons having to do with the history of its settlement.

General Travel Advisory:

Even in non-radioactive areas, it is not recommeneded that Terran citizens travel rural Barrayar without a native guide. Nor should the poorer, older areas of urban Barrayar be travelled without escort. More traditional Barrayarans are xenophobic by nature, and while the upper classes hide such prejudices, the lower classes not only show them but occasionally act upon them.

It is not recommended that persons with physical differences from the norm venture beyond Barrayar's "galactic interface". Barrayarans are extremely fearful of and prejudiced against anything they consider to be "mutation".

Foreign Relations:

The Barrayaran Empire maintains normal diplomatic and trade relations with Terra. Since Barrayar's reintegration into the galactic nexus, Terra has not been a party to any of the empire's various conflicts.

The Barrayaran Empire still raises strong feelings throughout the nexus, primarily due to its violent history. Cetaganda remains its primary rival (although relations between the two are currently correct, if rather cool). Cetaganda of course attemped to invade Barrayar approximately seventy years ago. It is not recommended that travellers visit both Empires on the same trip, although if it is neccesary it is suggested that Cetaganda be visited first.

Relations are also rather cold between Escobar and the Barrayaran Empire, due to Barrayar's attempt to invade Escobar about 30 years ago. The coldness is primarily driven by Escobaran memories, and the Barrayarans have recently attempted to reduce tensions by playing on the (growing around the nexus) perception that the invasion was an abberation. Visitors may freely visit Escobar before Barrayar, but should not make the trip in reverse order.

Relations between Barrayar and what passes for a government on Jackson's Whole remain coldly hostile.

Relations with Beta Colony can best be described as schizophrenic on both sides. This can be explained by the role of Countess Vorkosigan (see history). While the official policy of Beta Colony toward Barrayar is coldly suspicious due to the Escobar invasion attempt (a sizable faction still considers Countess Vorkosigan a fugitive), to many Betans (particularly younger people and females) Barrayar is considered exotic and romantic. Barrayar's officially neutral policy towards Beta Colony represents a sort of compromise between conservative Barrayarans who see it as corrupt (note: these same people often see Terra as corrupt) and younger Barrayarans who see it as glamourous and progressive. Many Barrayaran subjects are currently students on Beta Colony, and trade between Beta and the Empire (particularly Komarr) is significant and growing.

The Empire's allies are primarily nations that have benefitted from Barrayar's policy of opposing Cetagandan expansionism. Barrayar is a full member of the Hegen Alliance (other members include Vervain, Pol, and Aslund), and relations with Marilac are also very close (giving credence to the rumor that the Dagoola Escape that sparked the ultimately succesful Marilacan War of Independence was financed by Barrayar).


Barrayar was one of the first planets settled by colonists from Terra, the settlers being primarily Russian with significant Greek and French minorities.

Barrayar is unique in the nexus in that it was isolated from contact with the rest of human civilization when its only wormhole collapsed soon after settlement. The colony soon reverted to a pre-technology feudalistic civilization, and remained there until rediscovery (through a different wormhole route found by Komarran traders) about 100 years ago. Barrayarans call the period of time that they were out of contact with the nexus the "Time of Isolation".

Barrayar's baptism into the world of the nexus was a bloody one. Reintroduction soon led to invasion, as the Cetagandan Empire bribed the Komarrans into letting an invasion fleet through Barrayar's lone wormhole. Komarr, an inhospitable world supported solely by traffic through its several wormholes. This was a decision Komarr was to regret later.

Barrayar shocked the galaxy by defeating an invading force a thousand years more advanced than itself. During this time, and the time immediately following, Barrayar quickly caught up with the rest of the nexus regarding military technology, while retaining its feudalistic system of government (which became more complicated, but no less democratic).

The first of two events that gave Barrayar its somewhat sinister reputation followed a generation later. Quite literally so, as it was led by the son of one of the legendary leaders of the guerilla forces that defeated the Cetagandans. "Backwards" Barrayar stunned the nexus for the second time in a lifetime when they captured Komarr, one of the key strategic points in the nexus, in a brilliant strike planned by then-Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, without much doubt the most important man in post-Time Of Isolation Barrayaran history not to carry the title of Emperor.

Most modern historians consider the taking of Komarr to be entirely justifed. The Komarran government choked the trade of the newly developing Barrayaran economy, and was actively complicit in the Cetagandan Invasion that killed approximately five million Barrayarans. However, the invasion still carries a barbaric overtone because the entire ruling council of Komarr, which had surrendered on terms, was massacred by Barrayaran troops.

Admiral Vorkosigan has always denied ordering the "Solstice Massacre", and most historians (although by no means all Komarrans) believe he is telling the truth. Historians are split over whether it was ordered by Emperor Ezar or by the Barrayaran secret police acting on their own accord. What cannot be doubted is that it poisons relations between the two peoples to this day.

The answer may be provided by the second of the two "sinister events", the attempted Barrayaran invasion of Escobar. As brilliant and understandable as the Komarran invasion may have been, Escobar was stupid and inexcusable. The Barrayaran forces were firmly repulsed, and only the fact that the out-of- favor Admiral Vorkosigan had been relegated to retreat contigency plans saved the Barrayaran forces. Escobaran defenders, primed for the kill, were stunned when clumsy attack seamlessly turned into a sharp and flawless retreat.

As the Komarr invasion transformed Barrayar into a fully advanced galactic power, the Escobar invasion was also key to Barrayar's success. As can be expected in a militaristic society, military defeat led to rioting in the capitol. What was different was the reaction of the military, which refused to defend the secret police, which was then decimated by the mobs.

Perhaps the crowning moment of defeat for the secret police was the appointment of Aral Vorkosigan, known to be their enemy, as regent by the dying Emperor Ezar. Crown Price Serg had died in the Escobar invasion, the new heir, the current Emperor Gregor, was four years old.

In true Barrayaran tradition, Vorkosigan's first task was to defend Gregor's succesion in a civil war. During this war Gregor's mother died, leaving the child Emperor to be raised by Vorkosigan and his new wife, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, a Betan officer considered one of the heroes of the defense of Escobar.

Not suprisingly, Barrayaran society has become much more progressive since Vorkosigan became regent, although he was careful to do nothing that Emperor Gregor could not easily undo once the Regency was over. Gregor has indeed continued this trend however.

Despite its archaic and often confusing government (Gregor is one of only two non-constitutional monararchs in the nexus, the other ironically enough being the Cetagandan Emperor), Barrayar has rapidly progressed economically, technologically, and socially. It may be the most vibrant entity in the nexus today, with the possible exception of rebuilding Marilac (ironically enough, rumored to be its offspring). Komarr is becoming fully integrated into the Empire, although travellers should be aware that old animosities remain. This integration is no doubt due to the man some still wrongly call the Butcher Of Komarr, although Gregor has done his part as well, his fiancee the future Empress is a prominent Komarran. Sergyar and the South Continent of Barrayar proper are bustling frontiers, although this has led to blight in rural Barrayar.

The Barrayaran Empire's climate, scenery, culture, rich history, and growing economic importance make it an increasingly popular destination for Terran visitors. While vistors should be cautious and be sure to check in with the appropriate consulate, the experience of Terrans in the Empire has been generally good.

Travellers Risk:

Low To Moderate.

© 1998 by Eric M. Snodgrass (ERocc@aol.com)

Current version by Michael Bernardi, mike@dendarii.co.uk

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Last updated: September 15th 1998