|The War of the Great Jewels|
Almost twenty years after the defeat of Elves and Edain in the Dagor Bragollach, the Ñoldor had lost control of the entire north of Beleriand, and held only the defenses of Hithlum, Himring, and Nargothrond. Gondolin was still hidden and could not yet be assailed. However, the deeds of Beren and Lúthien, defeating Sauron at Tol-in-Gaurhoth and retrieving a Silmaril from Angband, convinced Maedhros that Morgoth was not invincible. In the year 468 of the Years of the Sun, Maedhros began forming an alliance that he believed capable of taking the war to Thangorodrim, known as the Union of Maedhros.
Under the command of Maedhros, all the Elves of Beleriand, as well as the Edain, Dwarves, and newly arrived Easterlings, were invited to combine in arms and fight against Morgoth. Unfortunately, the Oath of Fëanor and the evil deeds done by the Sons of Fëanor to fulfill it caused the Union to have less strength than it could have had. For Orodreth, the Lord of Nargothrond, remembering the deeds of Celegorm and Curufin that indirectly resulted in the death of Lord Finrod Felagund, sent no aid to the alliance. Against Orodreth's will, however, a small company under the command of Gwindor went from Nargothrond. Their hope was to avenge the capture of Gwindor's brother Gelmir during the Dagor Bragollach. Worse yet, from Doriath there came only Mablung and Beleg, who wished to take part in the great deeds they knew were to come. For Thingol, King of Doriath, had in his possession the Silmaril recovered by Beren and Lúthien, and the Sons of Fëanor sent to him a haughty demand for its surrender. Thingol however, was both insulted by the demand and had begun to lust for the Silmaril. Thus, against the counsel of Melian, he refused to surrender it. As a result, Celegorm and Curufin vowed openly to destroy Doriath should they emerge victorious from the battle against Morgoth. Therefore Thingol enhanced the guard at his borders and sent no troops to aid Maedhros.
The Union divided its strength into two separate forces to attack Angband. Under Maedhros in the east were gathered the remainder of the Sons of Fëanor, the Elves and Men of Himring under Maedhros and Bór, the men of Amon ereb under Caranthir and Ulfang, and the Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost. Under Fingon in the west were gathered the Elves and Men of Hithlum, the Elves of the Falas, the Haladin of Brethil, the companies sent from Nargothrond and the two Elves of Doriath, Beleg and Mablung. The plan was for Maedhros's host, the slightly greater of the two, to march openly across Anfauglith and draw out the main army of Angband, after which Fingon's host would attack from the Ered Wethrin and crush the armies of Morgoth between the two forces. They would then seal the doors of Angband and, hopefully, drive Morgoth underground forever. The Union first cleared Beleriand and Dorthonion from the Orcs, and then gathered to assault Angband. However, these attacks alerted Morgoth to the existence of the Union, and he took counsel against it.
Morgoth learned of the battle plan of the Eldar from his spies, and sought to prevent Maedhros's forces from meeting with Fingon's. To that end, he sent a gigantic force of his own, one which included Glaurung and his numerous fire-breathing brood, to destroy Maedhros's host. Fingon's troops eventually settled in the woods of Ered Wethrin to await the coming of Maedhros's forces, not knowing that they had been attacked. Upon the arrival of Fingon's forces to Ered Wethrin, smoke and fire poured forth from Thangorodrim and the Iron Mountains. Fingon thus knew that Morgoth had become aware of his forces, and doubt began to grow on him. Just at that moment however, Turgon arrived unexpectedly with an army ten thousand strong from Gondolin, and hope was renewed in the heart of the Elven host.
Aware of both the location of Fingon's troops and the strategy the elves hoped to employ, Morgoth sent a great force of Orcs from Angband to meet Fingon's host. In actuality, this force was but a small portion of the armies Morgoth had prepared, and was ultimately little more than bait. For Morgoth intended for this decoying force to draw out Fingon's army, and then to strengthen it when Fingon came from the hills to meet it. But Fingon, wary of the guile of Morgoth, ignored the taunts of the Orcs and kept his forces hidden. Seeing this, the captain of the Orcish host sent out riders with tokens of parley. With them was Gelmir, Gwindor's brother of Nargothrond, whom the Orcs had blinded. To provoke the Elvish host, they dismembered Gelmir within sight of the Ered Wethrin and then killed him, threatening to do the same with their other Elvish thralls. Unfortunately, Gwindor himself was in the forefront of the Elvish host, and he witnessed the cruel murder of his brother. Insane with grief and rage, he broke ranks and charged the heralds with the company from Nargothrond and slew them, driving deep into the center of the Orcish host. Seeing that his troops could not be restrained, Fingon sounded the charge, and committed his entire force to the battle. Here, Morgoth's designs nearly went astray, for the onset of the Noldor charge was so swift and terrible that the Orcish host was destroyed before it could be strengthened. At the forefront of the battle were Gwindor and his company, and their wrath was so great that they burst through Morgoth's outer gates and slew the guard in the very courts of Angband.
It was said that Morgoth trembled as Gwindor's company pounded upon his gates, but surrounded by a sea of enemies they became trapped in the court, and all were slain except Gwindor who was taken, for Fingon could not come to their aid. Then, from many hidden doors in Thangorodrim, Morgoth let forth his main host. Fingon's army was driven back from the walls of Angband with great loss. The Men of Brethil that comprised the rearguard were nearly all slain, along with Haldir, Lord of the Haladin. The fourth day of the conflict was the official beginning of Nírnaeth Arnoediad, and Fingon's forces continued to retreat with their casualties mounting. At the start of the fifth day however, Fingon's forces were joined by Turgon, who had withheld most of his troops from the foolhardy assault. The phalanx of Turgon broke through the lines of the Enemy, and met with the guard of Fingon, along with Húrin son of Galdor. With Turgon's help, Fingon's forces managed to beat back the host of Angband enough to begin an orderly retreat.
However, the fortune of the Eldar then took another turn for the worse. For while Fingon's armies had been fighting Morgoth's forces on the plains of Anfauglith, Maedhros had been defeated by the armies that Morgoth had sent against his host. To make matters worse, Maedhros had been betrayed by Ulfang, one of the sons of Uldor, who had summoned a great force of evil men from the surrounding hills to attack the elven host. Reeling from the unexpected treachery and the continual assault of Morgoth's dragons, the eastern host would have been utterly destroyed if not for the valor of the Dwarves of Belegost. For they were naturally able to withstand the dragons' fire better than Elves or Men, and moreover they wore great iron masks that gave them additional protection. These dwarves formed the rearguard of the eastern host, and allowed the remaining Elves and Men to escape the dragons. Azaghâl, King of the Dwarves of Belegost, gathered his forces and formed a ring around Glaurung to keep him at bay. Such was their strength and the keenness of their axes that even Glaurung's armored hide was not invulnerable to their blows. Enraged, Glaurung struck down Azaghâl and crawled over him, but with his last strength Azaghâl ran a dagger through Glaurung's belly, and the dragon fled in pain. With him fled all the beasts of Morgoth. In a solemn ceremony the Dwarves picked up their fallen leader, forgetting about the battle, and they marched his corpse home. Their wrath was so great that none troubled them. Their sacrifice allowed all seven of the Sons of Fëanor to escape, though their host was routed and scattered throughout Ossiriand.
After defeating Maedhros, Morgoth's eastern host had made haste to join the battle against Fingon's forces, and arrived as the Elven forces had begun to withdraw. As they engaged the retreating Elves, Gothmog himself arrived on the field with his Troll guard and engaged Fingon in single combat. Fingon managed to hold his own against the High Captain of Angband until another Balrog restrained Fingon from behind with a flaming whip. Gothmog then split Fingon's head with his black axe, and the field of battle was soon utterly lost. Seeing this, Húrin begged Turgon to return to Gondolin, and told the King that he and his men would cover the Elven retreat. Huor, Húrin, and the remaining Men of Dor-lómin then formed a living wall across the Fens of Serech, buying time for Turgon to escape with most of the surviving Elves of the north. The warriors of Dor-lómin were slain to a man, and and Huor fell to a poisoned arrow through his eye. Finally Húrin was left to fight alone, wielding the great axe of an Orc captain two handed. He managed to slay seventy of his foes, including so many of Gothmog's troll guard that his axe withered away from their caustic blood, which was ultimately his undoing. Once unarmed, Gothmog captured him and took him to Angband.
After Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the ability of the Elves and Men of Beleriand to make war against Morgoth was broken. Morgoth's victory was essentially complete, as he had destroyed all the people of Hithlum and had scattered the sons of Fëanor away from Himring. Morgoth's orcs razed all of Beleriand except for Doriath, which was still protected by the Girdle of Melian, and sacked the havens of the Falas. Nargothrond was also still free, but Morgoth gave little thought to either it or Doriath, knowing that the two remaining Elven kingdoms were no threat to him.
Morgoth betrayed his servants the Easterlings and trapped them in Hithlum under penalty of death, denying them the fertile lands of Beleriand. Still Morgoth knew fear, for Turgon, now High King of the Ñoldor after the death of Fingon in the battle, had survived, and his city of Gondolin was still unknown to Morgoth. Hoping to discover the whereabouts of Turgon, Morgoth summoned Húrin to him, seeking from him the location of Gondolin. But Húrin mocked Morgoth and refused to betray Turgon. Morgoth then laid a terrible curse upon him and his kin, and bound Húrin to a chair upon Thangoridrim to witness the curse unfold.
Other versions of the legendarium
A first and older version of the story was drawn by Christopher Tolkien primarily from a text called the Grey Annals, although the Quenta Silmarillion was used as well. But in the writing of the long Narn i Chîn Húrin, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a new version of the battle which postdates both the GA and QS accounts. Christopher Tolkien did not incorporate the major changes of the new version into the Silmarillion text, although he did take some phrasing and description from it.
In the earlier version of the battle, Morgoth sent no armies against the forces of Maedhros, and instead Uldor delayed Maedhros's host with a treacherous warning of a false assault from Angband. Maedhros eventually realized what he believed to be a mistake on Uldor's part, and his host at last arrived to aid Fingon in the fifth day as Turgon's forces did. Maedhros's forces assailed the armies of Angband in the rear, and Morgoth was forced to release his reserves, including his Balrogs, Glaurung and his brood, and Gothmog the Lord of Balrogs. It was said in this version that the Elves might still have won, but Ulfang and his Easterlings betrayed Maedhros, and summoned a great strength of evil Men from the surrounding hills, routing the host of Maedhros.
The major difference was that Morgoth defeats the Elves much more handily in the newer version than he did in the old one. The entire element of the "Machinations of Uldor" delaying Maedhros's march is removed, and Morgoth sends a second force to meet Maedhros and prevent him from joining with the other elf lords. This version also lacks the nearly explicit statement that the Elves could have won had it not been for the treachery of men.
Christopher Tolkien did not venture a guess on why his father made these changes, but it may be that he felt the Elves did much better against Morgoth than they reasonably should have (especially since Mandos himself had proclaimed that no force of the Noldor could overthrow Morgoth). This is all speculation, however. It was explicitly stated several times both by in-universe characters and Tolkien in The Silmarillion that the Elves had absolutely no chance of defeating Morgoth unaided, so it is possible that the changes were made to concur with this line of thinking.
|Arabic||مَعركة الدُموع الاْتُحصى|
|Belarusian Cyrillic||Нірнаэт Арнаэдыяд (Nírnaeth Arnoediad)
Бітва незлічоных слёз (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)
|Bulgarian Cyrillic||Нирнает Арноедиад|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||尼南斯·阿農迪亞德戰役|
|Czech||Bitva nespočetných slz (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Danish||De utalte tårers Kamp (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Dutch||Slag van de Plotseling Vlam (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Galician||Batalla de Innumerábeis Bágoas (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Japanese||ニアナイス・アルノイディアド (Nírnaeth Arnoediad)
涙尽きざる合戦 (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)
|Kazakh||Нірнаетһ Арноедіад (Cyrillic) Nirnaeth Arnoediad (Latin)|
|Korean||니르네스 아르노 디아드|
|Lithuanian||Nesuskaičiuojamų Ašarų Mūšis (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Macedonian Cyrillic||Нирнаетх Арноедиад|
|Mongolian Cyrillic||Нирнает Арноедедад|
|Norwegian||Slaget ved Utallige tårer (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Persian||نیرنائت آرنوئدیاد (Nírnaeth Arnoediad)
نبرد اشکهای بیشمار (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)
|Serbian||Нирнаит Арноидиада (Cyrillic) Nirnait Arnoidiada (Latin)|
|Spanish||Batalla de Lágrimas Innumerables (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Tajik Cyrillic||Нирнаетҳ Арноедиад|
|Turkish||Sayısız Gözyaşı muharebesi (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)|
|Ukrainian Cyrillic||Нірнаед — Аноедіад|
|First Battle • Dagor-nuin-Giliath • Dagor Aglareb • Siege of Angband • Dagor Bragollach • Nirnaeth Arnoediad • War of Wrath|
- The History of Middle-earth, The Shaping of Middle-earth, pg. 302, "There came afresh a hundred thousand Orcs..."
- Mythlore, Number 51, Vol. 14, No. 1, 'The Kindreds, Houses and Population of the Elves During the First Age', 1987; Mythlore ISSN 0146-9339, a detailed study of the numbers of Elves. From this 1987 article and from more recently published volumes of The History of Middle-earth, e.g.: Vol. XI, pp. 380-381, pp. 420–423; Vol. XII, p. 307, "two thousand full grown men"; relatively sound estimates can be drawn of the numbers of Elves, Men and Dwarves.
- The History of Middle-earth, The Peoples of Middle-earth, pg. 307
- The Silmarillion, pg. 190
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1986), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Shaping of Middle-earth, p.117
- The Lost Road and Other Writings p. 135, "...many Dark-elves were joined to him..."; p. 308, "...and of the Dark-elves of the South; and of the Green-elves of Ossiriand many companies..."
- The Shaping of Middle-earth, p. 117: "and that day there was a greater slaughter of the servants of Morgoth than there yet had been..." This statement serves as an important point of reference in making estimates as the "great force, but not too great", p. 117; Silmarillion p. 191, "a force seeming great (and yet but a part of all that he had made ready)" destroyed by the host of Fingon has to be of convincing size to accomplish its end and could have hardly been much less than 75,000—100,000 strong. The Lost Road, p. 288: "...he recalled the main hosts of his Orcs...he was dismayed to find how great had been their loss."
- The History of Middle-earth, Vol. I: The Book of Lost Tales Part One, pg. 241: "Nearly half of all the Gnomes and Men who fought there were slain."
- The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XX: "Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad"
- The Children of Húrin The Tale of the Children of Húrin, Chapter II: "The Battle of Unnumbered Tears"
- The Silmarillion, Index of Names