Here, we're among family. We look out for each other. Here, we do what we can to remember the old ways. ―Hahren Sarethia[1]

The Kirkwall Alienage vhenadahl

The City Elves are the descendants of those Elves that accepted the Chantry's terms after its successful Exalted March upon the Elves' second homeland, the Dales. As opposed to the nomadic and isolationist life lead by their cousins, City Elves live alongside humans and other races in the various realms and cities of Thedas, but the two are far from equals.

The shadow of Tevinter slavery and the Dales' destruction hangs heavy over the Elves; despite worshiping humanity's god and following their prophet's teachings, City Elves are second-class citizens no matter where they live. They are often forced to take up the most menial or demeaning jobs just to survive, and are constantly faced with prejudice and poverty in day-to-day life.

Alienage Culture Edit


Preparations for a marriage in the Denerim Alienage

Alienage Wedding

A celebration in the Alienage

Alienages are the only places in human cities where elves can exist in peace among their kind and practice their culture in safety, diminished though it may be. The most striking testaments to this heritage are the presence of a Hahren or "elder" that acts as the unofficial leader of the community and, undoubtedly, the vhenadahl (or, "Tree of the People").

This huge tree, often brightly adorned and lovingly tended by the community against the poverty and slums, serves as a symbol of Arlathan - the first elven homeland - with its roots deep and branches reaching for the sky. In Denerim the vhenadahl is arguably the tallest and most vibrant tree in the entire city, and in Val Royeaux, for example, the elves leave offerings of brightly-colored cloth or ribbons at the foot of their tree, while the elves of Kirkwall paint theirs in bold designs.[2] Some alienages, however, have cut their vhenadahl down out of necessity for firewood in a brutal winter, or have simply forgotten its meaning.[3][1] Sometimes the tree may also be cut down and destroyed against the elves' wishes, as punishment by local rulers.[4]

Though the realities of alienage life are harsh, with crime and discrimination a constant reality, the city elves are downtrodden but proud. As much as it pens the elves in, an alienage often serves as a sanctuary in keeping prejudiced invaders out and the elven community together. Indeed, elves that manage the funds or connections to live outside the alienage are looked down as "flat-ears" for abandoning their people, especially since they inevitably are forced to return to the alienage's protective walls after being nearly lynched and burned out by their human neighbors.[1] Within the alienages, elves learn how to avoid drawing attention to themselves and to keep their heads down for their own safety, and where elven merchants can barter fair prices for their goods. On the other hand, "good" city elves also look out for their community and may engage in small acts of defiance and civil disobedience, such as sheltering runners and sometimes working with the local thieves' guild. "Standing tall" against oppression is difficult and often fatal, but provides a sense of personal and communal pride[5] that can prove deadly to those humans that push them too far.

Alienages tend to be closed communities due to the costs and distance that separates one from another, with bribes being often necessary to move between them.[6] Some alienages may be perceived as more or less restrictive than others [7], but alienages and their elves are often left to their own devices if not outright neglected by their human overlords, which can be a blessing or another problem to face. Ferelden elves for example tend to be very proud of the relative freedom of their lives as "low Freemen" compared to city elves in Orlais or other nations.[8] The alienage in the Orlesian capital of Val Royeaux has nearly ten-thousand Elves pressed together in a space smaller than Denerim's market with walls so tall that sunlight does not reach the vhenadahl until noon,[1] as if the elves are not worthy even to look upon the rest of their city.[9] In the opposite extreme, elves living in Halamshiral are sequestered to the wide fringes of the city while the humans reside in the High Quarter, sometimes coming down at nightfall to harass, assault, and murder Elves [10]

Edgehall City Elves

The elves of the Edgehall alienage

All alienages are places of extreme poverty, with most of their inhabitants barely managing to get by on a day-to-day basis. Some elves may manage to scrape together small savings or marriage dowries by opening a store or finding work outside of the alienage as laborers, prostitutes, couriers, or servants. For the majority however, the possibility of going hungry is simply a fact of life; rats (also called the "rabbits of the city")[11] and cats may be eaten as a last resort.[12] Disease is also widespread in these elven slums, and virulent plagues often spring up in alienages due to the poor living conditions[13]. In such situations, an alienage's gates may be sealed shut by the ruling authority to contain the plague.[14]

City elves and the law Edit

Being second-class citizens, elves have debatable legal rights. Alienages are subject to nightly curfews and are walled off from the rest the city to allow the city authorities to lock it down if necessary.[13] Even beyond the Alienage walls, prejudice usually dictates that the average passersby will ignore crimes against elves when they do occur. Similarly, the city guard tends to overlook crimes committed against Elves but will readily target them in cases involving theft or murder.[15] Elves can also be kicked out of their homes and businesses without any legal recourse, particularly those existing outside of proscribed areas like the Alienage.[16]

This legal inequality has had the benefit of creating greater social autonomy in the alienages, yet also encouraged greater isolation of the Elves as well as reinforcing their substandard status.[13] Furthermore, restrictions on owning a business (though some individuals continue to operate in the shadows[17]), or even a weapon,[18] may be enforced depending on the city, nation, and the laws at the time. Those elves that do attempt to make a living on their own, in Orlais for example, must obtain permits to enter the human market districts.[19] Overall, the laws governing elves, or lack thereof, is a major source of the inequality between them and their human neighbors.

Similarly, elves in the Alienage may not truly oversee their own marriage ceremonies, and must obtain a permit to marry.[20] Officiating these events—considered in the Alienage a cause for celebration and a literal rite of adulthood[21]—is largely left to a human Revered Mother, though a Hahren may say a few words.[22] Marriage between Alienages is common, and normally arranged by a Hahren or the intended's parents through a matchmaker sent to other alienages, if alive.[23] This promotes trade and interaction with other elves and to bring a new face and new blood to the city.[20]

Religion Edit

Following the Exalted March upon the Dales, Divine Renata I outlawed belief in the Elven pantheon and decreed that a place must be made for elves in human settlements on the condition that they renounce their pagan beliefs.[24][25] Consequently, belief in the Maker is one of the few things that City Elves and humans share. However, there are no Chantries in the alienage and elves are generally barred from entering the Chantry priesthood.[26] Religious instruction usually comes from a visiting Revered Mother, often with a detachment of wary Templars sent to protect her, bearing the Chant of Light, alms and advice. As a result, Andrastianism is a more distant concept than it might be for humans for many city elves.[27]

In spite of this, as well as a sense among some Dalish elves that city elves are "poor cousins"[28] who have forgotten their heritage and beliefs, there is evidence that some city elves remember the Elven pantheon and worship them in their own way.[29] Furthermore, city elves practice what few unique cultural rituals they remember, as slaves in the Tevinter Imperium do, to differentiate themselves from human culture.[30] Nevertheless, City Elves do have some sense on how far they have fallen and how mistreated they are, which has pushed many elves towards the Qun for guidance.[31]

This section contains spoilers for:

If Leliana is made Divine she will allow all races to officially join the Chantry, including elves. She also canonizes the Canticle of Shartan and returns it to the official Chant of Light.

Interaction with other cultures Edit

Dalish elves Edit

We serve a prince, and you serve Miss Celene. None of those Dalish elves can say that. You should be proud of who you are. ―Briala's mother to young Briala[32]
For a more in-depth discussion of city elf and Dalish interaction , see Elf.
Alienage Interaction

Alienage elves acknowledge the Dalish Keeper Marethari in Dragon Age II[33]

Relations between city elves and the Dalish tend to be mixed, as each Dalish clan varies and appears to uphold different beliefs towards their cousins in the city.

Some Dalish hold derisive views on their city cousins. They are known to refer to their city cousins as "flat ears"[34], believing the city elves are no more than "pets" for humans in need of being "reminded on what it means to be Elvhen".[35] This gives the Dalish the reputation of being haughty and condescending, as self-proclaimed "true elves".[36] Additionally, some Dalish believe that city elves are human in spirit if not body, and there are clans that are so convinced of the City Elves' loss of identity that they don't consider them worthy of care or attention[37].

Other Dalish clans, in contrast, view the city elves in a warmer light, seeing them as fellow brethren and empathizing with the plight faced by the elves in the alienages.[38] Some even say that the Dalish and city elves can learn from one another once the elves finally have a home to call their own. [39] In dire circumstances, Dalish elves are known to pay visit to their more urban cousins and provide them their support, despite their cultural and religious differences [40].

In return, their urban kin view the Dalish as an enigmatic myth: in the same light humans do, as savages, bandits or heathens, or else as noble wood elves or even living legends.[41] Few know enough of the Dalish to be certain of the truth of their nomadic kin, and though some see the Dalish as a chance to learn how to be a "true elf,"[42] others resent this notion and take pride in the work they do in human society, such as serving nobles.[43]

Regardless, many city elves see the clans as a last resort or safety valve should the alienage no longer become a safe place to live, either through personal misadventure or the oppression of the cities.[44] The expectation is that the clans will accept their city brethren, and though some clans do others see them as "strays," only truly desirable if they have magical talent.[45] Often rumors pile on top of rumors, and those who flee to the Dalish are said to return later wealthy and privy to ancient knowledge and lore.[46] The truth is likely much less idyllic, however, even if they reach a friendly clan. Many City Elves cannot even imagine life outside of the city to begin with.

This section contains spoilers for:

As of Trespasser, many elves of all stripes--both city elf servants as well as their Dalish brethren--are leaving their old lives to apparently join the reawakened Fen'Harel's forces. It remains to be seen if this strange new circumstance will foster a sense of community between the two groups.

Humans Edit

Every society has its lowest of the low. Do you think it would be so different in human society? Do you think anyone would go out of their way to ensure that the elves in the alienages were safe if a crisis came to the city? ―Katriel[47]

City Elf interaction with other cultures is not limited to Dalish clans, however. Given their proximity, humans tend to mix frequently with city elves. Often this relationship is one of violence on both sides, as well as abuse along racial lines, and many humans—particularly nobles—may take advantage of the comparative inequality and powerlessness of city elves to rape or abduct them, or even kill them, simply because they can.[48] If guards are instated to an alienage, it is for the sake of controlling the elves, not protecting them.

Not all interactions with humans are negative, however. Some city elves may find affection and love with humans. This results in what may be known as an "Elf-blooded" human (or in a slightly pejorative manner, a "half elf"), as the product of humans and elves are human in appearance and may normally be discouraged to protect the integrity of the People.[49] The crisis of such individuals is whether to live life as a human outside of the Alienage, or embrace the elven side of their heritage and remain.[50] This can be a difficult choice, however, as elf-blooded humans may endure prejudice from both sides of their heritage.[51]

When tensions grow too hot between humans and elves, the residents of the alienage may call for mien'harel, or rebellion (or else a violent call for justice, depending on the interpretation).[52] Such attempts, however, are often futile and only result in damage to the Alienage until things settle down, or even purges committed by the human rulers against the elven populace. Furthermore, when elven bandits are captured and executed, their ears are normally hacked off.[53] Likewise, though some villages will trade with Dalish elves, others will kill traveling city elves on sight out of fear of them being Dalish raiders.[54]

Dwarves and Qunari Edit

City elves normally interact rarely with surface dwarves, and often assume they remain as merchants in the marketplace of their respective cities.[55] City elves normally have little interaction with Qunari as well, but may be more likely than members of other races to convert to the Qun if they do.[56] The possibility of elven sleeper agents is seen as a particular threat to the Tevinter Imperium, and increasingly beyond.[57]

The Chantry and the Circle of Magi Edit

The Chantry has failed the elves. If we made them more welcome, they would not have to run. ―Sebastian Vael

As a largely Andrastian community, the Alienage has dealings with the Chantry; however, in a more superficial manner than humans would due to their complicated history. Elves receive the word of the Maker, but few Revered Mothers dare to enter the Alienage without a complement of templars to protect them.[58] Furthermore, when mages are discovered among the elves of the Alienage, they are usually sent to the Chantry's Circle of Magi. Rather than being a curse, to many—though not all—elves it may be seen as a better life, one with greater possibilities than in the cities.[59] Indeed, elven mages are more prominent in the Loyalist Fraternity within the Circle for this very reason.[60] Perhaps ironically, however, magical healing from a Circle mage, for example, is nonetheless considered too good for elves.[61] Furthermore, even within the Circle there is lingering discrimination against elves, and true equality is often unattainable for elven mages amongst their human brethren.[62] Elves are not barred from becoming templars, but this is rare.[63] Notably, however, elves appear to have some limited function within the Seekers of Truth as Lord Seeker Lambert employs an elven page in Dragon Age: Asunder.[64]

City Elves and the Slave Trade Edit

Nobody pays attention if an elf disappears here and there. Nobody cares what happens to us in the alienage. ―Fiona[65]

Though slavery is technically illegal in all countries except the Tevinter Imperium, it still occurs in places like Orlais under the guise of servitude.[66] Elves in the city are frequently lured to predatory nations, particularly Tevinter, by the promise of profitable work or a warm bed, and drawn thereby into the slave trade. They may even be abducted, or even voluntarily be sold into slavery in order to support their families.[67] Also, the Antivan Crows have no compunctions about buying an elven slave to train as an assassin, and elves are therefore useful as commodities. Nevertheless, former slaves consider it a great improvement to be freed and living in the Alienage.[68]

Known alienages Edit

Notable city elves Edit

For a complete list, see Category:City elves.

Trivia Edit

  • According to David Gaider, the alienages were originally inspired by medieval Jewish ghettos, and as Thedas is a fictionalized version of Europe, that inspiration eventually encompassed other historical aspects that were added to alienage culture.[78] However, both Patrick Weekes and David Gaider have also since said that they do not identify elves with the Jewish culture, and that they regret having used such quick analogies.[79]
  • City elves tend not to move around much. If one is encountered in a city, it is probably where they were born.[80]
  • Halamshiral is mostly populated by elves and therefore has no alienage. Humans who form the privileged minority live separately in the High Quarter instead. The Dales is also referenced as being predominantly elven.[81]
  • In Orlais, an informal final test of a Chevalier's training involves roaming the streets, intoxicated, and testing one's blade by killing elves.[82]
  • Much like Casteless dwarves being forced by dire circumstances to join the Carta, city elves in Orlais may join the thieves' guild to survive, either willingly or unwillingly.[83] Elves in the thieves' guild may wear blades at their hips in open defiance of the guard.[84]

This section contains spoilers for:
Dragon Age: Origins.

  • If playing as a City Elf Warden during Dragon Age: Origins, an elf might be named Bann of the Alienage.

Codex entries Edit

Ico codex entry Codex entry: The City Elves
Ico codex entry Codex entry: Vhenadahl: The Tree of the People
Ico codex entry Codex entry: Alienage Culture

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Codex entry: Alienage Culture.
  2. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 85.
  3. Codex entry: Vhenadahl: The Tree of the People
  5. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 72, 162, 95.
  6. According to Nessa's father in the City Elf Origin.
  7. According to Nesiara in the City Elf Origin, Highever's alienage is smaller and thus more restrictive, while Denerim's is larger and the elves are more ubiquitous and easier to ignore.
  8. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, p. 46
  9. Dragon Age: The Calling, p. 308
  10. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, Chapter 2
  11. According to Shianni during Unrest in the Alienage.
  12. Dragon Age: The Calling, p. 62-63
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 28
  14. In Dragon Age: Origins, the Alienage is sealed shut for most of the game due to a mysterious "plague" that leaves elves outside begging in the streets.
  15. Dialogue with Aveline; conversation with Elren during Magistrate's Orders
  16. The city elf Nessa and her family, for example, were turned out of their home in the Denerim alienage by their human landlord and seemingly had no legal recourse unless they could pay.
  17. Alarith runs an items shop on the sly in the Denerim Alienage, and Elren refers to himself as having some coin, and may be a businessman as well in the Kirkwall Alienage.
  18. According to the signs posted in the Denerim Alienage during Unrest in the Alienage. Furthermore, in Dragon Age: The Calling, p. 62, elves in the Val Royeaux Alienage, at least, are not allowed to keep dogs as pets; presumably this would make them a threat to humans. In Halamshiral, elves are forbidden from carrying blades longer than their palms.
  19. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 72
  20. 20.0 20.1 According to Cyrion Tabris during the City Elf Origin.
  21. According to the City Elf Origin, an Alienage elf is a "child forever" until they marry.
  22. As seen in the City Elf Origin.
  23. Codex entry: Valendrian and according to Cyrion Tabris during the City Elf Origin.
  24. Dragon Age: Origins: Prima Official Game Guide, Collector's Edition, p. 342
  25. History of the Elves
  26. This is highlighted in conversation with Soris during the City Elf Origin if the player asks why there are no elven priests, as well as in conversation with Leliana in Dragon Age: Inquisition. There is an elven servant in the household of Johane Harimann, however, who writes that she is becoming at least a lay sister in the Chantry following the events of Repentance.
  27. Dragon Age: The Calling, pg 199.
  28. According to Keeper Thelhen.
  29. Dialogue from the widower in Flowers for Senna in Inquisition, who tells Lavellan that his wife and him kept to the Old Ways.
  30. According to Solas when asked about city elves and their culture.
  31. Elven Fanatic during Blackpowder Courtesy
  32. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 236
  33. During the events of Night Terrors in Dragon Age II
  34. Dialogue upon meeting Mithra at the Dalish Camp when playing the City Elf Origin or elven Magi Origin; dialogue with Mihris during Measuring the Veil with Solas in the party
  35. According to Gheyna, and conversation with Sarel in the Dalish Camp. This view is sometimes shared by humans, as exemplified by Vaughan's remark that an Alienage wedding amounts to the Chantry "dressing up its pets and having tea parties".
  36. See Codex entry: The City Elves from the Dalish perspective of Keeper Gisharel.
  37. The elves of Clan Virnehn in Dragon Age: The Masked Empire showed no concern for Briala or the City Elves.
  38. Merrill refers to the alienage elves as "our people" in dialogue with Fenris.
  39. Paivel will say that the Dalish and the city elves can learn from one another in a hypothetical new elven homeland during the Dalish Origin.
  40. Clan Lavellan are willing to give their lives to protect the elves of Wycome, even in the face of certain death.
  41. According to conversation with Soris during the City Elf Origin, regarding Cyrion Tabris's stories during the player's childhood.
  42. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, pp. 116-117
  43. Briala's father and especially mother displayed a fierce pride in their work for House Valmont that they instilled in their daughter, according to Dragon Age: The Masked Empire.
  44. See Pol. Likewise, the city elf Warden can suggest during their origin story that they may need to seek out the Dalish in order to lay low for a time away from the city.
  45. The Sabrae clan took in Aneirin and Pol as a brother and Lanaya as a sister, and Ariane's clan did the same for an elven Circle mage seeking refugee. Zevran was also allowed to join a Dalish clan in his younger years. However, Keeper Thelhen's clan Virnehn considered Briala and her city elf kin to be misguided strays. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 217-218
  46. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 181
  47. Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, p. 300
  48. Vaughan perpetrates this abuse in the City Elf Origin, and Arl Howe institutes a purge of the Denerim Alienage during the events of Dragon Age: Origins.
  49. BSN David Gaider (2009). "Where are the half-races?" . The BioWare Forum. Retrieved on August 25, 2013.
  50. Some elf-blooded humans, such as Slim Couldry, choose to live with and assist their elven kin, though they could leave the Alienage much more easily than full-blooded elves. Other elf-blooded humans like Feynriel and Slim Couldry, for example, seek a life beyond the Alienage.
  51. Some city elves don't willingly see them as elves, though elf-blooded humans receive no particular benefits while living in the alienages.
  52. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 102
  53. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 96
  54. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 189
  55. According to Shianni during quest Unrest in the Alienage, if playing a dwarven Warden.
  56. Codex entry: Qunari of Other Races.
  57. The restored Inquisition, and Orlais, were riddled with both elven viddathari from the Qunari Kirkwall assault as well as city elf agents of Fen'Harel.
  58. Mother Boann is, in the City Elf Origin, the only Revered Mother willing to venture into the Alienage to perform wedding ceremonies.
  59. In the Magi Origin, Eadric will comment on this.
  60. Tumblr icon David Gaider"Re: Dear Mr. Gaider" . Tumblr.
  61. According to an elven beggar during the City Elf Origin.
  62. According to Valya.
  63. Twitter icon David Gaider . Twitter.
  64. Dragon Age: Asunder, p. 411
  65. Dragon Age: The Calling, p. 333
  66. Dragon Age: The Calling, p. 333
  67. According to a loading screen from Dragon Age II.
  68. According to Alarith in the City Elf Origin.
  69. Mentioned in Dragon Age: Warden's Fall. The dwarf Bartholomew runs a brothel employing elves from the alienage.
  70. See Orsino.
  71. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, p. 276
  72. Alienage Culture. BioWare wiki.
  73. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 357-358, and 375.
  74. Mentioned by Alarith.
  75. Codex entry: Alienage Culture
  76. Codex entry: Eluvians.
  77. Tenasarin
  78. BSN David Gaider (2009). "Elven alienage = Jewish ghetto?" . The BioWare Forum.
  79. Twitter icon David Gaider, Patrick Weekes . Twitter.
  80. Dragon Age 2 PAX Day 3 - David Gaider interview
  81. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 40
  82. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 54-55
  83. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 43
  84. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, p. 115
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