- "The Free Marches are not a kingdom, nor even a nation in the most basic sense. People from that region dislike even being lumped together as "Marchers." Rather, they are a collection of independent city-states united only when it suits them; in this respect, they resemble the Bannorn before the arrival of King Calenhad. Because of this, the Free Marches have no capital, and what passes for a central government exists only sporadically, a sort of Landsmeet that convenes only during times of crisis.
- I arrived in time for the Grand Tourney while it was on in Tantervale--a remarkable sight indeed. I saw Avvar hillsmen test their mettle against Orlesian Chevaliers, riders from the Anderfels buying Nevarran cavalry horses, Antivan craftsmen selling their wares to Tevinter mages. All of Thedas was on display."
―From In Pursuit of Knowledge: The Travels of A Chantry Scholar, by Brother Genitivi
The Free Marches encompass a group of 11 independent city-states situated in eastern Thedas (south of Antiva and the Tevinter Imperium, east of Nevarra, and north of Ferelden across the Waking Sea). The three real cities with any semblance of power in the Marches are Kirkwall, Starkhaven and Tantervale, each led by a titled official with the special right to name their city's Champion.
The "Marchers" are independent-minded descendants of tough barbarians. Their cities have formed a loose confederation that rarely unites on any matter. In the event of aggression from larger neighbors, however, the Marchers can assemble a joint military front that even the greatest powers cannot dismiss.
During the Fifth Blight, many Fereldan refugees fled to the Free Marches.
Originally the cities that now make the Free Marches were either Planasene villages conquered by the magisters or settlements established from the grounds up by the Tevinters as the nation expanded. The settlements and villages grew into cities under Tevinter development.
Between -180 Ancient and -171 Ancient, the Alamarri led by Maferath and Andraste invaded the Tevinter Imperium, taking over their southern cities with the notable exception of Emerius, which resisted them but fell to a slave rebellion much later in -25 Ancient. The last Tevinter city to fall was Nevarra City. There, Maferath made a secret deal with Archon Hessarian, who allowed the Alamarri to keep the lands they conquered in exchange for ceasing their invasion, and the life of Andraste. However Maferath's treachery is exposed and his people abandoned him and he was killed by his own sons, who split the newly conquered lands between themselves. As the Alamarri army lost its momentum and the chieftans battled between themselves, and the Tevinter Imperium recovered from the invasion, the cities took the opportunity to break free and become independent. This state was not to last, however, as many of the cities have been taken over and made independent over again; others, such as Nevarra City expanded so much that they turned into full grown nations.
In 1:95 Divine, the last battle of the Second Blight was fought at Starkhaven with a human army led by the Wardens. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but Zazikel was finally slain by the Grey Warden Corin.
In 2:15–2:45 Glory Starkhaven arose and prompted its king, Fyruss, in attempt to unite the Free Marches under his banner and build his own empire. In 2:80 Glory, Fyruss was betrayed by his Tevinter allies and ousted from Starkhaven; the Tevinter Imperium conquered his city in result. This led the Chantry to declare an Exalted March to liberate Starkhaven from the Imperium. The following battle for the independence of Starkhaven was short, but bloody.
In 5:12 Exalted, the Archdemon Andoral awoke triggering the Fourth Blight. The darkspawn devastate Antiva & Rivain before swarming across the Free Marches. The cities of Wycome and Kirkwall are evacuated by the Grey Wardens and Fortress Haine is rebuilt as a haven for refugees.
In 5:37 Exalted, Tylus, the first Van Markham king of Nevarra, was crowned after having claimed to be a descendant of Drakon's son, killed in Cumberland. Being a hero of the recent Fourth Blight, Tylus was able to stir nationalistic feelings in the western Free Marches against the growing power of Orlais. He proved his military might by winning several major battles against the Orlesians, with a decisive battle taking place in 5:40, establishing Nevarra as a new, growing power.
In 7:56 Storm, the Qunari landed near Ostwick and launched assaults against Starkhaven and Kirkwall. Starkhaven prevailed, but Kirkwall fell due to the magic of the Saarebas. The city remained under Qunari power until Orlesian Chevalier Ser Michel Lafaille liberated Kirkwall in 7:60 Storm. He found that most of the population was converted to the Qun. Kirkwall was incorporated into the Orlesian Empire, and Lafaille became the ruler of the city, named Viscount by the Orlesian emperor.
In 8:05 Blessed, Kirkwall rebelled against Orlesian rule and gained independence, but maintained the title of viscount as its ruler.
In 8:82 Blessed, Nevarra begins a bloody campaign of conquest within the Free Marches, encouraged by their taking of Perendale & Hasmal. They are stopped by Cade Arvale, who is named Champion of Tantervale for his deed.
In 9:21 Dragon, Viscount Perrin Threnhold attempts to expel the Templar Order from Kirkwall, killing Knight-Commander Guylian in a raid on the Templar stronghold, only to be overthrown by the Templar Knight Meredith Stannard, who was promoted to Knight-Commander soon after. With the Chantry's support, she appointed Marlowe Dumar to succeed Perrin as Viscount, but commands the true authority in the city from the Gallows.
In 9:31 Dragon, Qunari set out to meet Orlesians who agreed to return the Tome of Koslun to them. However, the book is intercepted by a Rivaini pirate.
Following a storm, a Qunari ship founders on the coast of Kirkwall. The Arishok and his surviving army are forced to remain in Qunari Compound, until they reclaim the Tome of Koslun.
In 9:34 Dragon, the Arishok decides to attack the city, starting the First Battle of Kirkwall. In the ensuing invasion Marlowe Dumar is killed by the Arishok. Hawke drastically helps in the liberation of the city and thus is named "Champion of Kirkwall" by Kirkwall's Knight-Commander, Meredith Stannard.
In 9:37 Dragon, an apostate mage, Anders, destroys the Kirkwall Chantry, igniting the Kirkwall Rebellion when the Templars attempt to annul the Circle in turn this inspires mages throughout Thedas to rebel against the Circle system. The Champion of Kirkwall kills First Enchanter Orsino and Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard during the battle.