- The Great Houses hate each other -- theft, murder, assassinations, secret raids, standard stuff. -- Hasphat Antabolis
The Great House traditions derive from ancient Dunmer clans and tribes, but now function as political parties. In modern times, Morrowind is ruled by the Grand Council of five Great Houses: House Redoran, House Telvanni, House Sadras, House Indoril, and House Dres. House Hlaalu previously sat on the Council, but lost its seat to House Sadras in the early Fourth Era. Each House governed an eponymous district on mainland Morrowind; Redoran in the north-west, Hlaalu in the western-center, Telvanni in the east, Indoril in the central heartlands and Dres in the south-east. Three of the Houses also had interests in the island of Vvardenfell, and identified themselves by their traditional colors: red for Redoran, yellow for Hlaalu, and brown for Telvanni.
Dunmer Great House membership is largely a matter of birth and marriage, but Imperial colonists may also become retainers of a Great House, or may be adopted into a Great House. Initially an outlander may gain status in a house as an oath-bonded hireling, pledging exclusive loyalty to a single house and forsaking ambitions with all other houses. Later, after faithful service and advancement in lower ranks, an outlander may seek adoption into a Great House. Adoption and advancement to higher ranks in a Great House requires that a Great House councilor stand as sponsor for the candidate's character and loyalty. Finding a councilor to sponsor an outlander often involves performing a great service for the prospective sponsor and the Great House in question.
In times of extreme danger, house councilors may choose to elect a "hortator" who has the ability to make decisions on behalf of the House as a whole. Election of a hortator requires unanimous consent among all councilors. It has been known for a single dissenting councilor to fight a potential hortator candidate in a duel to the death, thus protecting the honor of the councilor if they win or proving the candidate's ability if they lose.
The Great Houses have their origin in the ancient customs of the Chimer, a self-exiled Aldmeri sect who followed their prophet Veloth across Tamriel from the west. They abandoned their former nomadic lifestyle, and divided themselves into political clans, which would become the Great Houses Indoril, Redoran, Telvanni, Hlaalu, Dres and Dagoth.
In 1E 416, following almost two centuries of suppression by the ruling Nords, the Chimeri hero Indoril Nerevar united the squabbling Great Houses as Hortator, also making alliance with the Dwemer, their traditional enemies, and succeeded in driving the Nords out of the region. Nerevar and the Dwemer leader Dumac Dwarfking subsequently created the First Council of Resdayn to jointly rule the area as an independent nation.
Resdayn flourished for a few hundred years until the War of the First Council broke out between the secular Dwemer and the orthodox Chimer Houses Indoril, Redoran, Dres, Hlaalu, and Telvanni. The role of the sixth House, House Dagoth, is not fully understood. Some Imperial sources claim that they sided with the Dwemer in the war, while other sources, including the Apographa of the Tribunal Temple, claim that they never betrayed their kin. Whatever the case, House Dagoth was thought exterminated following their defeat at the Battle of Red Mountain. After Nerevar's death, three of his associates from House Indoril, Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil, succeeded to control of the Council, which they renamed the Grand Council of Morrowind.
House Indoril, due to their association with Nerevar and the Tribunal, remained the dominant party in the Grand Council right through until the end of the Second Era. Throughout this time, the Grand Council was responsible for local governance in Morrowind, while the land as a whole was ruled indirectly by the Tribunal.
In 2E 896, the Armistice was signed between Tiber Septim and Vivec which saw Morrowind reorganized as a province of the Empire. House Indoril swore they would resist this to death, and the Lord High Councilor of the Grand Council, himself an Indoril, refused to accept the treaty, and refused to step down. He was assassinated, and replaced by a Hlaalu. A number of other Indoril chose to commit suicide. House Hlaalu, who had advocated accommodation to the Imperials since the Legions started massing on the western border, took this opportunity to take over a number of Indoril councils. Their enthusiastic support of the Empire cemented the Hlaalu as the leading Great House throughout the Third Era.
Little is known of the Grand Council through the Third Era, but the role of the figurehead Monarch of Morrowind, personally selected by the Emperor, was first filled by Queen Barenziah, a member of clan R'Aathim and thus House Hlaalu.[oog 1] Her son, King Helseth of House Hlaalu, was the ruler of Morrowind at the end of the Third Era. His reformation of the Grand Council was seen by some as a return to more traditional Dunmer ways, although he also managed to persuade both his own House and House Dres to back the abolition of slavery, and carry that policy through the Council.
During the Oblivion Crisis of 3E 433, the Empire pulled the Legions out of Morrowind and the province was left virtually defenseless. While House Redoran succeeded in creating an army, and House Telvanni were able to close some of the Oblivion Gates, the Redoran citadel of Ald'ruhn was destroyed by the Daedric invasion, and House Hlaalu was left powerless without the backing of the Empire. Following the eruption of Red Mountain in 4E 5, which obliterated the settlements on Vvardenfell, Morrowind came under siege from the Argonians of Black Marsh; Helseth's abolition of slavery had come too late. House Hlaalu, due to their close ties with the Imperial administration, became the scapegoat for all of the Dunmer people's suffering. As a result, Hlaalu was stripped of its Great House status and dismissed from the Grand Council.  House Telvanni, having lost most of their settlements on Vvardenfell to the Oblivion Crisis, was almost extirpated in the Argonian invasion as well, with at least one report of its destruction when the last mainland settlement also fell to the Argonians; a few survivors escaped in a ship, "The Pride of Tel Vos", which was later found wrecked in Skyrim. The last child of the Telvanni familial line itself was brought up in Black Marsh under the Argonian name of Brand-Shei , although some of the House survived to re-found a colony in Solstheim under the aging Master Neloth. Telvanni, in fact, appears to have rebuilt well enough to hold its seat on the Dunmer council, while the previously unknown House Sadras was selected to fill the space left by Hlaalu. House Redoran became the eminent power in Morrowind, taking the position as leaders of the Grand Council. They moved the capital to the Redoran city of Blacklight, where the Grand Council meets within the Rootspire.
By the immemorial customs of Dunmer society, a House may challenge the honor of another House in the person of one of the House's ranking nobles. The ranking noble of the impugned house is marked for death -- in ancient times, actually formally marked with a black banner, but in modern times, served with a formal written public announcement. If within the year of the challenge, the marked noble still lives, the challenging house must publicly forgo any further complaint or scandal on the matter.
In pre-Tribunal Morrowind, feuding was carried out with open warfare. This was forbidden by the Tribunal, and only a ranking challenging noble or a Morag Tong assassin could attack the marked noble. Before the eruption of Red Mountain, Houses routinely engaged the Morag Tong, taking out regulated contracts called Writs. This custom permitted Houses to hassle one another on a small scale without threatening public peace and rule of law. Codes of behavior under House Wars are complex and subtle, and the Morag Tong specialized in the honorable and legal prosecution of these factional vendettas. House Wars are expensive, dangerous, and disruptive to all Houses involved. On the island of Vvardenfell alone, a dozen or more Marked Challenges were being prosecuted at any one time.
Current Great Houses
- House Redoran prizes the virtues of duty, gravity, and piety. Duty is to one's own honor, and to one's family and clan. Gravity is the essential seriousness of life. Life is hard, and events must be judged, endured, and reflected upon with due care and earnestness. Piety is respect for the gods, and the virtues they represent. A light, careless life is not worth living. — Great Houses of Morrowind
House Redoran is one of the five remaining Great Houses of the Dunmer. It governs the Redoran District of northwestern Morrowind from the city of Blacklight, close to the border with Skyrim. In the District of Vvardenfell, the House's council seat was located in Ald'ruhn, and all councilors lived there in the hollowed shell of a colossal prehistoric Emperor Crab, in the district known as Ald'ruhn-under-Skar. Other Redoran-dominated towns on Vvardenfell included Khuul, Maar Gan and Ald Velothi.
The main focus of House Redoran is maintaining the traditions of the settled Dunmer and, more specifically, the way of the warrior. Due to this focus, the Tribunal Temple was a natural ally. There is also mutual respect between them and the Fighters Guild and Imperial Legion. They have less respect for the other Imperial institutions, such as the Mages Guild, the Thieves Guild, and the Imperial Cult religion.
- The wizard-lords of House Telvanni have traditionally isolated themselves, pursuing wisdom and mastery in solitude. But certain ambitious wizard-lords, their retainers, and clients have entered wholeheartedly into the competition to control and exploit Vvardenfell's land and resources, building towers and bases all along the eastern coast. According to Telvanni principles, the powerful define the standards of virtue. — Great Houses of Morrowind
- "House Telvanni matches the disposition of my brother Sotha Sil -- iconoclastic, profane, unconventional." – Vivec
House Telvanni is one of the Great Houses of Morrowind. It governed the Telvanni District of eastern Morrowind, and administered the eastern portion of the Vvardenfell District from its council seat in Sadrith Mora. The house comprises mainly highly egocentric and ambitious mages, and is known to many as the house of the master wizard. Here, it was common to rise through the ranks by eliminating or otherwise 'indisposing' other members. Of the Telvanni lords, only Master Aryon of Tel Vos seemed able to look beyond the end of his own nose and at the concerns of other people; the rest wanted little more than to be left alone to their research and ambitions. The other members were similarly isolationist in outlook and did not intend to be presided over by any of the other institutions, predominantly the Guild of Mages.
The Telvanni, in general, did not interact with other Houses or Guilds, nor did they have many enemies save for Abolitionists and the Imperial Mages Guild. In the Second Era, they refused to join the Ebonheart Pact, much to the chagrin of the other houses. On the other hand, the Telvanni did not have the usual hatred of vampires that most other factions had, and some of their lords and Mouths were willing to speak to them; wizards did not fear vampires nearly as much as others did.
- [T]he Indoril are orthodox and conservative supporters of the Temple and Temple authority. House Indoril is openly hostile to Imperial culture and religion, and preserves many traditional Dunmer customs and practices in defiance of Imperial law. – Great Houses of Morrowind
- "To my sister-brother's city I give the holy protection of House Indoril, whose powers and thrones know no equal under heaven, wherefrom came the Hortator." - Vivec
House Indoril is one of the five Great Houses of the Dunmer. It governed the Indoril District in the heartland of Morrowind from the historic capital city of Almalexia. Indoril District comprises the lands south of the Inner Sea and the eastern coast, including the city of Mournhold, located within Almalexia, and the town of Necrom with its City of the Dead. House Indoril has no territorial holdings on the island of Vvardenfell.
The Indoril were orthodox and conservative supporters of the Tribunal Temple and Temple authority, and have always held prominent positions within the Temple hierarchy. Throughout history, the fates of House Indoril and the Temple have been closely linked.
- House Dres is an agrarian agricultural society, and its large saltrice plantations rely completely on slave labor for their economic viability. Always firm Temple supporters, House Dres is hostile to Imperial law and culture, and in particular opposed to any attempts to limit the institution of slavery. – Great Houses of Morrowind
- "House Dres represents the past of pre-Tribunal Great House culture, a persistent tradition of Daedra- and ancestor-worshipping civilized Dunmer clans." – Vivec
House Dres is one of the Great Houses of Morrowind, with presence only on the mainland. It governed the Dres District of south-eastern Morrowind from the city of Tear. The district included parts of the fertile Deshaan plain, and bordered Indoril District and the swamps and marshes of Black Marsh. In the mid-Second Era, House Dres also controlled the cities of Ebonheart and Kragenmoor in central Morrowind. It was formally established as a Great House by Grandmaster Thalthil Dres after a slave-raid over Thorn.
The Dres had a mainly rural but still very wealthy agrarian agricultural society, maintaining vast saltrice plantations on the plains and marshes surrounding Tear. The Dres were also the Dunmer that enslaved and shipped slaves to the other Great Houses, keeping thousands of captives, mostly Argonians, in their infamous slave-pens of Tear and the surrounding plantations.
House Sadras is one of the five Great Houses of Morrowind. At the beginning of the Fourth Era, following the Oblivion Crisis of 3E 433 and the eruption of Red Mountain in 4E 5, the House Hlaalu was stripped of its Great House status and removed from the Grand Council of Morrowind. House Sadras, whose prior status and holdings are unknown, was selected to fill the fifth seat on the Council.
Former Great Houses
- As a result of its close relationship with the Imperial administration, House Hlaalu has emerged as politically and economically dominant among the Great Houses of Vvardenfell and Morrowind. Hlaalu welcomes Imperial culture and law, Imperial Legions and bureaucracy, and Imperial freedom of trade and religion. Hlaalu still honors the old Dunmer ways -- the ancestors, the Temple, and the noble houses -- but has readily adapted to the rapid pace of change and progress in the Imperial provinces. — Great Houses of Morrowind
House Hlaalu was one of the five traditional Great Houses of the settled Dunmer. It governed the Hlaalu District of western-central Morrowind from its ancient capital of Narsis. In the District of Vvardenfell, the house's council seat was located in Balmora, with other Hlaalu-run towns at Suran, Hla Oad and Gnaar Mok. House Hlaalu could be characterized as adaptable and opportunistic, and any morals they might have had came second to business. Early in the Fourth Era, soon after the Empire released Morrowind, anti-Imperial sentiment and House Hlaalu's association with them amongst the Dunmer led to the stripping of its position as a Great House, and House Hlaalu was removed from the Grand Council of Morrowind. Their position on the council was filled by House Sadras.
The House was largely concerned with business and diplomacy, seeking to strengthen ties with at times unconventional allies such as the Empire, and although profit was often a primary objective, traditional Hlaalu practice recognized the value of a good reputation over money. This was their great strength - they were fast talkers and intelligent traders - and their great liability; most Hlaalu were bribable, either with gold or with other favors, with their leaders as no exception. House Hlaalu retainers were also masters of thievery, sneaking, lock-picking, blackmailing and backstabbing, both literal and metaphorical. While some councilors were honest and fair, others were more under-handed and corrupt. However, House Hlaalu's most distinguishing characteristic was its willingness to live in harmony with the other races, setting it apart from the other, occasionally xenophobic, Dunmer Great Houses.
- 'House Dagoth is the "lost" Sixth House. In the First Age, House Dagoth betrayed the other Great Houses during the War of the First Council, and was destroyed for their treason.' — Hasphat Antabolis
House Dagoth is what remains of the ancient, defunct, Sixth Great House of the Chimer, headed by the demi-god Dagoth Ur. The House briefly reappeared in Vvardenfell c. 3E 400 but was destroyed shortly thereafter by the Nerevarine. Dagoth Ur attempted to create a new god, Akulakhan, to conquer Tamriel. Their primary bases lay within Red Mountain, in the ancient Dwemer crater citadels.
- Great Houses of Morrowind
- The History of Raven Rock, Volume III — Lyrin Telleno
- A Short History of Morrowind — Jeanette Sitte
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The Temple: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: All the Eras of Man, A Comprehensive History of our History — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- The War of the First Council — Agrippa Fundilius
- Nerevar at Red Mountain — the Tribunal Temple
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- On Morrowind — Erramanwe of Sunhold
- Adril Arano's dialogue in Dragonborn
- Lymdrenn Tenvanni's Journal — Lymdrenn Tenvanni
- Lleril Morvayn's dialogue in Dragonborn
- Cindiri Arano's dialogue in Dragonborn
- Dialogue of Savants in Morrowind
Little is known of the faction referred to by some as House Dwemer. During the time of the First Council, Resdayn was united by the Chimer hero Nerevar and the Dwemer king Dumac. According to some Imperial texts and Tribunal Apographa, the Dwemer of Resdayn were considered a Great House.
House Sotha was a minor House with holdings in the city of Ald Sotha. It is said that Vivec rescued Sotha Sil, the only surviving member of the House, from there when the city was destroyed by Mehrunes Dagon.
House Mora was a minor House of the Dunmer which no longer exists. Members of the House were rumored to have some human ancestry, and they were purportedly involved in hiding the Staff of Chaos beneath Mournhold.
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- The Lost Prophecy — Gilvas Barelo
- Tholer Saryoni's dialogue in Morrowind
Note: the following references are not found in-game. They are included to provide a rounder background to this article, but may not reflect established lore.
- Interview With Three Booksellers at The Imperial Library