The Orlesian Empire or simply Orlais is currently the largest and the most powerful nation in Thedas. It was founded by Kordillus Drakon I and its capital is Val Royeaux, as well as the Chantry's seat of power and home to the Divine. Orlais is ruled by an Emperor or Empress.
Two of the human tribes that arrived in Thedas, the Ciriane and Inghirsh, settled in the region that became known as Orlais and were the ancestors of modern Orlesians. The Ciriane settled in central Orlais and were loosely defined and culturally rich. The Inghirsh, who settled in north Orlais, were easily defeated in their conflict against the Neromenians, as they were a decentralized and nomadic people. The Ciriane people, on the other hand, were largely isolated and remained a strong and distinct group until the founding of Orlais. In modern times, Ciriane culture has all but disappeared.
At the outbreak of the First Blight, the Ciriane fought besides the Tevinters and the Grey Wardens in order to defeat the Archdemon Dumat. Later on, during Andraste's Exalted March against the Imperium, she expelled the Tevinters from a large portion of Orlais. After the war in -165 Ancient, the southern Tevinter Imperium was divided between Maferath's sons including the lands of Inghirsh.
In -155 Ancient, the Ciriane united into a kingdom in a moment known as the Grand Unification. In -11 Ancient, the cults of the Maker spread quickly in the southern lands, initiating the construction of the first great temple in Val Royeaux, which was to become a major center of worship for the new faith. One of its most fervent followers was the young king of Orlais, Kordillus Drakon, who began a series of holy wars in the name of the Maker, quickly proving himself to be one of the greatest generals in history. By -3 Ancient, having conquered several neighboring city-states and forced others to submit to his overlordship, Kordillus Drakon was crowned an emperor in Val Royeaux, with Orlais becoming an empire it is to this day. His ambitions to spread farther north into the Free Marches were confounded by constant pressures from the Dales to the east. During his reign, the Chantry was formed as the Maker's cult became the official religion. Drakon also sent missionaries in order to spread the Chantry's teachings.
With Justinia I becoming the first Divine of the Chantry in 1:1 Divine, the free use of magic was declared illegal in Orlais except by those mages operating under the direct auspices of the Chantry.
In 1:5 Divine the Second Blight broke out. Emperor Drakon lead the fight against the darkspawn while also recruiting mages to his cause. Under his command, humanity achieved several victories and at the time of his death in 1:45 Divine, the Orlesian empire had expanded into Anderfels and the most of the western Free Marches. However, his son, Kordillus II, did not possess the political savvy of his father, and Anderfels declared independence in 1:65 Divine.
In 2:5 Glory, the border skirmishes between the Dales and Orlais increased in number. In 2:9 Glory the elves attacked the Orlesian town of Red Crossing and quickly took it over. Orlais declared war, but the elves quickly managed to capture Montsimmard and besieged Val Royeaux. At this point, Divine Renata I called for an Exalted March against the attacking elves. Although the elves eventually sacked Val Royeaux and push well into human lands, Halamshiral was conquered and the elves were completely crushed by 2:20 Glory. The Dales were annexed to become part of the Orlesian Empire and alienages were created for the elven population who submitted.By decree of Divine Renata I, any Chantry art in Orlais depicting elves has been destroyed save a single mural of Shartan which is at the University of Orlais.
In 3:10 Towers, the Third Blight began, and the darkspawn attacked the Orlesian cities of Arlesans and Montsimmard. The Orlesians were able to push them out of their borders. By 3:18 Towers, due to constant pressure from the Grey Wardens, they sent aid to the beleaguered city-states of Free Marches. In 3:25 Towers, the Orlesian armies participated in the final battle of the Third Blight in Starkhaven. However, they then took advantage of the weakened state of the Free Marches and occupied the Nevarra City until their ousting in 3:85 Towers.
Between 4:40 Black and 5:10 Exalted, the Andastrian Chantry was recruiting armies from all of its domains in order to conquer Tevinter. Within that period, four Exalted Marches had been called, but all of them failed. In 4:80 Black, the Orlesian Empire took advantage of Alamarri's fractured state and crossed the Frostback Mountains to invade the land for the first time. The campaign lasted for three years until the Fereldan teyrns once again united to push the Orlesians back. The Empire had hoped to take the port of Highever and therefore switch to supplying their forces by sea rather than by Gherlen's Pass, but the fortress of Redcliffe held out for longer than expected, and winter in the Frostbacks left many Orlesian forces unsupplied. By the spring of 4:84 Black, most Orlesian troops had pulled out or been captured.
In 5:12 Exalted, the Fourth Blight began and Orlais sent only a token force to help its neighbors. The first king of the Nevarran Van Markham family, Tylus Van Markham, was crowned after having claimed to be a descendant of Drakon's son. He proved his military might by winning several major battles against the Orlesians, establishing Nevarra as a new, growing power.
In 7:25-85 Storm, during the Qunari Wars, three Exalted Marches were called upon by the Divine against the Qunari. During the wars, Orlais managed to steal the Tome of Koslun. In 7:44 Storm, the newly crowned emperor of the Orlesian Empire, Freyan, allowed women to become knights, after witnessing of the death of Ser Aveline, the Knight of Orlais. In 7:60 Storm, the Qunari occupation of Kirkwall was lifted by an Orlesian chevalier named Ser Michel Lafaille, who became its first Viscount on behalf of the Emperor of Orlais. In 7:99 Blessed, the end of war with the Qunari and the birth of twin boys to Emperor Etienne I ushered in the Blessed Age.
In 8:5 Blessed, Kirkwall rebelled against Orlais and re-gained the status of a free city. 8:24 Blessed, the Orlesian Empire under the direction of the "Mad Emperor" Reville invaded the kingdom of Ferelden. Due to the clandestine support of a number of powerful banns undermining the kingdom's defence, the Orlesian military quickly established a strong foothold and fully occupied the country by 8:44 Blessed. In 8:47 Blessed, Emperor Reville, fearing the court favor turning towards the rival Grand Duke Gratien, had Gratien, his wife, three grown children, and all eight grandchildren murdered. The youngest, Camille, was only eight months old. Reville died after spending more than a year locked in his room, fearing retribution for his assassination of the Gratien family. In 8:96 Blessed, the young Fereldan prince Maric Theirin took over the leadership of the Fereldan Rebellion after his mother's assassination, and Emperor Florian was forced to send more chevalier legions to support the rule of his first cousin and king of Ferelden, Meghren.
In 9:2 Dragon, Ferelden was freed from Orlesian occupation. The relations between the two countries remained tense, but after Celene I's ascension of throne, Ferelden and Orlais officially made peace. After 9:14 Dragon, the new viscount of Kirkwall, Perrin Threnhold, enforced exorbitant fees on Orlesian ships docking in his city, prompting Emperor Florian, through Divine Beatrix III, to pressure the Templar Order stationed in Kirkwall to overthrow him.
In the years leading up to the Mage-Templar War, many Orlesian nobles began to plot to re-conquer Ferelden after the Fifth Blight left the kingdom in a weakened state. This was against Empress Celene's wishes, who did what she could to hold the peace and bring her nobles under control. In 9:38 Dragon, unrest brews in Orlais as Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons stirs dissent against reigning Empress Celene. Two years later, he openly moves against her, starting the Orlesian Civil War.
Culture and society
Orlais is famed for its culture and extravagance. The current Empress, Celene I shares the expansionist dream of Orlais's founder, Kordillus Drakon, that the nation's borders should stretch to the edges of the continent. Furthermore, Drakon's legacy continues to heavily influence Orlesian laws and social customs.
The capital city is Val Royeaux, which boasts the University of Orlais: a major center of learning that attracts young nobles from all over Thedas with the best education one can buy. The University is a relatively modern institution, whose liberal-minded professors have already clashed with religious conservatives over the content of their classes. This is likely to become a much larger issue in the future.
The Summerday holiday is particularly holy in Orlais. This holiday celebrates the beginning of summer and on this day children who come of age wear white tunics and gowns and join a procession to the local Chantry. When they reach it, they are taught the responsibilities of being an adult. It is celebrated at the beginning of Molioris.
Art is particularly prized in Orlais, such as works by the famed artists Henri de Lydes, who created a famous mural of Andraste and her Disciples and the painter Caliastri. Nobleman and sculptor Arwand de Glace also created a controversial nude sculpture of Andraste that was censored in an unusual manner.
In their personal lives, many Orlesians favor habits such as indulging in alcohol or smoking kohl pipes (kohl is considered particularly illicit within the Circle of Magi). They also tend to prefer small "toy dogs" as companions, as opposed to the hearty Mabari wardogs favored in Ferelden.
The class divide
Orlais is a nation where class and social politics frequently rule the day. As such, the concerns and lives of the various classes can differ greatly. Among the nobility a penchant for high fashion is common, often copied in other lands such as Nevarra and the Free Marches but always at its most extreme within Orlais. Both men and women wear cosmetics of various kinds, with subtle differences that indicate social standing. In public, they are also prone to wearing very elaborate masks. These are hereditary and identify one's family almost as uniquely as the heraldry on a crest. Servants also wear masks in public that are simpler and not so elaborate as their masters' which indicate the noble household they serve.
Aristocratic society is vicious and marked by fawning envy to the powerful. Bards often entertain nobles in their courts despite their roles as spies, assassins and saboteurs for their employers who are usually other nobles. Nobles welcome such entertainers with full knowledge that any could be a bard; the thrill of outwitting a spy is a notion the Orlesian aristocracy can hardly resist.
The lives of Orlesian nobility may give the impression that life is easy and prosperous for all. However, the lives of commoners are often much more difficult, while all aspire to the lives of the noble class. Many Orlesians are hardly well-to-do and work as freeholders, or else laborers on another's property, often leading to general discontent and simmering resentment. For a class of people with little besides belief in the Chant of Light to uplift their lives, this discontent may cause friction with those seen as having unfair privileges or else upsetting their routine or religious beliefs, such as mages.
Furthermore, Orlesian commoners are at the mercy of the nation's needs in a way that the nobility, and even the Chantry (including the Circle of Magi and Templar Order), are not. During war times, press gangs led by the nobility commonly force Orlesian peasants into military service willingly or no. Those who are not conscripted may be left starving by the demands of the army or else taken as slaves by opportunistic bandits.
Additionally, the chevaliers are allowed great liberties with commoners, up to and including murder and sexual assault.
The lot of elves in Orlais is unique as well, even from the common classes. Servitude, often bearing little difference from outlawed slavery), is the existence of many. However, despite the aesthetic appreciation Orlesians have for elves, and the fact that some can potentially live more richly than most commoners, there does not seem to be the hope of social ascendance for them that is a possibility, however small, for humans.
A bare face in Orlais is considered gauche, especially in the presence of a foreigner or a commoner.
The Orlesian nobility, and those who serve publicly, are prone to wearing very intricate--as opposed to simply gaudy--masks in public. These masks, often half-masks specifically, are hereditary and identify one's family and social class almost as uniquely as the heraldry on a crest: a family might be associated with a lion crest, and matching lion masks will identify them in public. Retainers and servants wear a simpler form of a family's mask. Family symbols are well known among the Orlesian public, and anyone attempting to wear a mask that doesn't belong to their house runs the risk of a quick death if discovered.
Wearing makeup is another popular tradition for both men and women in Orlais. Even chevaliers may wear cosmetics. There is both masculine and feminine makeup, although outsiders may have trouble telling the difference. Makeup can be a strong indicator of social standing. The quality and rarity of one's makeup—uncommon hues and consistencies are prized—speak volumes of one's status.
Under the rule of the legendary Kordillus Drakon, the fledgling nation of Orlais rose to prominence. He used the Second Blight to expand its borders and the influence of the Chantry. While Orlais in the Dragon Age is nowhere near as large as it was under Drakon, it remains the most powerful nation in Thedas, and Drakon's legacy continues to heavily influence Orlesian laws and social customs.
In Orlais, land is owned exclusively by the aristocracy and titles are granted by the Council of Heralds. Power rests solely in the Emperor or Empress as in many monarchies in Thedas where power descends from the throne, unlike Ferelden whose power derives from the support of freeholders.
Many Orlesian nobles belong to its renowned knightly order, the chevaliers. The martial training of the chevaliers is legendarily harsh, instilling in the knights a fierce discipline and code of honor that takes precedence over the value of their own lives. The penalty for dishonor is death, something that a chevalier would welcome if he or she has failed their lord. They are honored by many and are considered amongst the best of all soldiers but they also have unlimited rights when it comes to handling the peasantry; a cause of many conflicts.
The Grand Game
- Main article: The Grand Game
"The game" refers to the perpetual competition for influence and esteem between the Orlesian nobles. Every Orlesian of noble birth is subject to their peers' manipulation, if not as a player, then as a pawn, and the only way out seems to be joining the Chantry or affiliated organizations such as the Templar Order and the Circle of Magi.
The goals of the game are personal prestige, reputation, and patronage, and its "rules" are as simple as "anything goes". Nobles often employ assassins or, more often, bards to accomplish these goals. Social engineering is also important in this aspect of Orlesian culture, and masks, elaborate dress and social engagements are important tools to further the Game.
The lower classes of Orlesian society also attempt to participate in the Game, even though it would be assumed they would view it with contempt. However, despite the Game offering a veneer of genuine social mobility through accumulated wealth and patronage, with the ultimate aim of a title, the chances of this happening are in reality very slim. Though it appears meritocratic, the Grand Game offers most commoners only a faint hope that "is enough to keep the poor preoccupied and the rich in power."
Royalty and nobility
- Main article: Orlesian royalty and nobility
Centuries of expansionist behavior has contributed to Orlais having sour relations with its neighbours. The empire has invaded Ferelden two times, battled with Nevarra, organized four Exalted Marches against Tevinter, squandered favor with the Free Marches and crushed the Dales.
However, they maintain a good relationship with the dwarves of Orzammar with which they share borders in the western side of the Frostback Mountains. The dwarves provide the empire with lyrium and minerals, as well as smithing. Lyrium is especially important as it is consumed by the Chantry's templars.
- Val Royeaux - Capital, location of the first Circle of Magi in the White Spire, the Grand Cathedral, the headquarters for the Seekers of Truth, the Imperial Palace and the University of Orlais.
- Halamshiral - Former capital of the Dales and home of Empress Celene's Winter Palace.
- Jader - Nearest major Orlesian city to Ferelden.
- Lac d'Argent
- Lydes - Ruler is Duke Remache
- Montfort - Ancestral home of the Montfort noble family.
- Montsimmard - Headquarters of the Orlesian Grey Wardens and a second Circle of Magi.
- Val Chevans
- Val Firmin
- Val Foret
- Val Chevin - The lands under the stewardship of Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons
- Velun - a small town
- Verchiel - Ruler is Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons
- Arbor Wilds
- Arl Dumat
- The Blasted Hills, on the border of Anderfels
- Lake Celestine
- The Dales
- Deauvin Flats
- Fields of Ghislain, on the border of Nevarra
- Frostback Mountains
- Hunterhorn Mountains with the Gamordan Peaks in the south
- Nahashin Marshes
- Western Approach with the Abyssal Reach (also called the Abyssal Rift)
Notable people with Orlesian origins
- Ser Aveline - the first female Chevalier
- Empress Celene I - the current ruler of Orlais
- Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons - leader of the Chevaliers
- Jeshavis- Mother of Orlais, first female gjoya, or chieftan, of the unified proto-Orlesian tribe and creator of the Game
- Divine Justinia V - the current Divine
- Leliana - Left Hand of the Divine, and head of the Inquisition's spy network
- Duke Prosper de Montfort - a senior Orlesian nobleman, and close ally of Empress Celene
- Vivienne - Enchanter to the Imperial Court, and First Enchanter of Montsimmard
- The sun is the symbol of the Orlesian Empire.
- The Imperial Highway enters Orlais from its northeast borders with Nevarra. One branch moves northeast until Andoral's Reach while the other moves through the Heartlands and Val Royeaux and then turns east towards the Frostback Mountains.
- Orlais was given its name by one of the sons of Andraste and Maferath, after her betrayal and death.
- Orlais' current ruling family is House Valmont, the family of Empress Celene I. 
- There is a thriving thieves' guild in Orlais. In the capital it appears to operate at least in part in the sewers, making use of the "sous de gens", the poorest of the poor who live there. Elves may also join the local guild to make a living, willingly or unwillingly.
- It is a tradition for Orlesian children to line up and beg for "petit alms" from passing travelers.
- In the expansion pack Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, if the player chooses not to import a previous Warden character, they have the option to play as a Grey Warden new to the series, an Orlesian Warden-Commander, starting at level 18.
- Mary Kirby has stated that France was the starting point of inspiration for Orlais, but since then the developers were inspired by many things that aren't French.
- Orlais was once called Arles. The name was changed because Arles is a real town in France.
See alsoCodex entry: The Orlesian Empire Codex entry: The Orlesian Game of Intrigue Codex entry: Shadow of the Empire Codex entry: The Chevaliers