"Braavos is the strangest, a city erected not by the Freehold, but against it. A labyrinth of illusion and deceit to hide the refugees from Valyria's slave-lords. After the Doom, the city emerged from the shadows to become one of the greatest banking centers in the world."
―Ser Jorah Mormont discusses the Free Cities.
Braavos is one of the Free Cities located to the east of Westeros. It is the northern-most, the richest, and arguably the most powerful of the Free Cities. Described as a city of seafarers and master swordsmen, Braavos consists of hundreds of tiny islands connected by stone bridges. Its main landmarks include the Titan of Braavos, the House of Black and White and the city's famed Iron Bank.
The people of Braavos are known as Braavosi.
Of the nine Free Cities in western Essos, Braavos is unique in that it was not founded as a colony of the Valyrian Freehold. The city was established by a large group of slaves, who overpowered their Valyrian captors and took control of the ships that were transporting them. Knowing they would be severely punished for such an act of rebellion, the slaves sought a refuge as far away from the Freehold as possible. Braavosi histories claim that a group of wise women- priestesses who followed the religion of the Moonsingers- prophesied where they would find sanctuary; in a distant lagoon surrounded by pine-clad slopes, where the thick fog would help conceal the refugees from passing dragonriders. It was to just such a place that the refugees ultimately arrived, and their city began to expand across the many islands and mudflats that dotted the lagoon.
For more than a century, Braavos remained hidden from the world: To disguise their stolen Valyrian ships, the refugees used a dye derived from a local species of snail to stain the hulls and sails of their ships a deep purple (a practice that the Braavosi continue to use on their ships in the present-day). Fearing recapture, the founders of the city took great pains to keep its existence secret, presenting false information to any outsiders when questioned about their homeland. Eventually, the city's elected leader- known as the Sealord- sent ships across the world to proclaim the existence of Braavos, an event known as the Unmasking and celebrated every year since with ten days of feasting and revelry. After the Doom of Valyria, Braavos rose to even greater prominence, becoming a major trade and banking center. The Iron Bank of Braavos became the greatest single repository of wealth in the known world, and to the present-day everyone from princes to merchants frequent it to request loans of gold.
Braavos is located at the northwestern-most point of the continent of Essos, where the Narrow Sea to the west meets the Shivering Sea to the north. The city is spread across hundreds of tiny islands in the lagoon, connected by stone bridges and a vast network of canals.
As well as the city itself, the rulers of Braavos also control the surrounding lagoon and a strip of the coastline southwards towards Pentos.
Locations in the city
Braavos is ruled by the Sealord, an elected position.
More than any of the other Free Cities, Braavos is renowned for its ethnic diversity and religious tolerance. Since the founders of the city came from many different lands and possessed numerous physical appearances, there are no set features that mark a "Braavosi" ethnicity. This is in sharp contrast with some of the more ethnically homogeneous Free Cities, such as Lys (whose inhabitants are fair-skinned, blue, green or violet eyed and blonde) and Myr (where residents are dark-haired and dark-eyed with olive skin). Because the city founders worshiped many different gods, it was decreed that all faiths would be honored and that no one religion would be elevated above any other, although some faiths have more devotees- and thus larger temples- than others (the Moonsingers and the Lord of Light being outstanding examples).
Another defining trait of Braavosi culture is its hatred of slavery, a direct relic of the city's founding. The first law of Braavos- engraved on the arch that rises above the Long Canal- decrees that no man, woman, or child in the city is ever to be made a slave. In fact, Braavos is one of the very few places in Essos where slavery is not practiced (by contrast, the Free City of Volantis contains five slaves for every free man).
Braavosi swordsmen, or "bravos", are famous for their unique fighting style: Rather than donning armor and wielding heavy broadswords like the knights of Westeros, bravos wear virtually no armor at all and wield long, slender blades in an elaborate fencing-like style known as Water Dance.
Unlike Westerosi nobility, wealthy and powerful Braavosi favor wearing dark colors.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Braavos lies at the northwestern-most point of the continent of Essos, roughly due east of the Vale of Arryn in Westeros. Braavos is the only one of the nine Free Cities which is not a former colony of the Valyrian Freehold. The city was founded by galley slaves after they staged a mutiny and killed their Valyrian overseers. Directed by the Moonsingers, they sailed as far north as they could in the Narrow Sea in search of a refuge. They established Braavos and kept its location secret for over four centuries, accepting other refugees and escaped slaves in the process. Because of the nature of its founding, Braavos does not keep slaves, does not like to do business with those who keep slaves, and frequently uses its military and economic power to encourage other states to give up slavery. Although the novels imply that Braavos revealed itself to the world after the Doom of Valyria four hundred years ago, World of Ice and Fire suggests this occurred further in the past than that. The Braavosi apparently revealed their existence to the Freehold and the Iron Bank offered the dragonlords reparations (with interest) for their lost ships and material goods- but not the slaves. The Valyrians apparently didn't care enough seek revenge on the city and those that did were mollified by the Iron Bank's bribe.
Whatever the case, Braavos was in an advantageous position when the Doom struck, and as the other Free Cities were left in chaos for decades after the Doom, Braavos rose to become the most powerful of the Free Cities. Due to its unique origin, Braavos is sometimes referred to as the Bastard Daughter of Valyria.
Braavos has a sizeable navy. In a great battle at Bitterweed Bay, the Braavosi fleet destroyed the last great fleet of the Kingdom of Sarnor, securing its eastern frontier. Braavos opposed Volantis in the Century of Blood, its most direct involvement in the war being the deployment of a hundred warships to the aid of Lys. During the War of Conquest, a dozen Braavosi ships helped House Arryn fend off the initial Targaryen assault on the Kingdom of the Mountain and the Vale, destroying the Targaryen fleet in the process. The Braavosi fleet also deployed to suppress a rebellion on the Three Sisters on behalf of House Stark, a task it achieved peacefully when the Sistermen surrendered without a fight.
After the Targaryen conquest of Westeros, Braavos joined forces with Pentos and Lorath and defeated a Myr-Lys-Tyrosh alliance. Braavos fought six wars with Pentos over slavery, emerging victorious in four of these (including the last one, which left Pentos utterly stripped of its former power). Pentos was subsequently forced to abolish slavery, though very wealthy Pentoshi like Illyrio Mopatis privately flout this with their "servants". Aerys II Targaryen almost went to war with Braavos in 276 AC over a dispute with the Iron Bank, but Tywin Lannister solved the crisis by paying off the loans with his own money. Braavos is currently the most powerful of the Free Cities, and the Iron Throne is in massive debt to the Iron Bank. That is, the crown WAS in massive debt until Cersei Lannister raids the homeland and vaults of House Tyrell to repay the crown's debt to the Iron Bank.
Braavos is heavily inspired by some Renaissance Europe's mercantile republics, of which Venice is the most famous. Due to its northern climate, it also has several parallels with Antwerp or Bruges (see "Behind the Scenes" above).
In spite of this, the historical development of Braavos has some loose parallels with ancient Athens. Braavos is actually located on very poor swamp lands, and does not actually produce many of its own products for export: the Braavosi economy is based on banking, and maintaining a large merchant fleet which transports goods between the different Free Cities and Westeros. The ancient Athenian historian Thucydides, writing in the fifth century B.C., pointed out that Athens was also located on lands which were actually poor relative to other parts of Greece, yet it rose to dominate much of the rest of Greece. Thucydides theorized that because Athens started out on poor lands, it wasn't a frequent target of foreign invasions, while other more wealthy cities were constantly being invaded or fighting trade wars. Thus while these other cities may have been physically richer, they could not capitalize on this raw wealth, while poor Athens enjoyed enough long-term political stability that it eventually became a major hub for the development of regional commerce. Similarly, Braavos is relatively small, and has few natural resources, but because it wasn't reliant on Valyria it enjoyed political and economic stability during the Century of Blood, the hundred years of constant civil wars between the Free Cities following the Doom of Valyria. Because Braavos was so stable, its banks and shipping became the most reliable, until it dominated commerce throughout the rest of the Free Cities.
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