- "Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the domination of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants."
- —The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past"
The Nazgûl (in the Black Speech); (English: Ringwraiths, sometimes written Ring-wraiths, also referred to as the Black Riders or as the Nine; or the Ulairi in Quenya) were the dreaded ring-bound servants of the Dark Lord Sauron in Middle-earth throughout the Second and Third Age, and they dwelt during the Third Age in Minas Morgul.
Once nine great Kings of Men, they were all given Rings of Power. The Nine took them without question and subsequently, after the forging of the One Ring, became slaves of Sauron and later his chief lieutenants. After centuries the effect of the rings left the kings spectral, invisible to all but Sauron and whoever wore the One Ring. Their rings were forged approximately SA 1500.
The nine Nazgûl traveled abroad in black cloaks and hauberks of silver mail which gave them visible form. Widely feared, the Nine were known as Sauron's "most terrible servants," the most notable of whom was the Witch-king of Angmar. His second is Khamûl, who was previously a King of Rhun, making him a former Easterling. He is the one who meets Farmer Maggot at night, saying, "Shire... Baggins...", to which the farmer says that the Bagginses are "...up in Hobbiton." However, Khamûl is not the one who chases Frodo near Bucklebury Ferry, but rather the Witch-king, who is the leader of the Nine.
During the Second Age of Middle-earth the Elven-smiths of Eregion forged the Rings of Power, nine of which were given to great and "powerful kings of Men". For many years the nine kings used these rings, which gained them great wealth, prestige and power. However, the effect of the rings made their bodily forms fade over time until they had become wraiths entirely, and served only Sauron.
The nine, known as the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths, were first seen around 2251 of the Second Age, and soon became established as Sauron's primary servants, though they were temporarily dispersed after Sauron's downfall in SA 3434 at the hands of Isildur in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. It was believed that the Northern men took their bodies and placed them in their tombs inside the High Fells of Rhudaur and sealed it off with a powerful magic that forbid anyone from opening.
Return of the Nazgûl
Because the ruling Ring was not destroyed, the Nazgûl re-emerged around 1300 of the Third Age. It was around this time that the Witch-king of Angmar launched attacks against the nearby kingdom of Arnor. The first target was the realm of Rhudaur. After conquering Rhudaur and replacing the Dúnedain king with one of the native Hillmen, possibly descended from the kin of Ulfang, in the year TA 1356 the Witch-king moved against Arthedain, resulting in the death of King Argeleb I.
But Arthedain was not yet defeated, for it still managed to maintain a line of defense along the Weather Hills. In TA 1409 came the attack on Cardolan. Also during this time, the forces of the Witch-king burned and destroyed the watchtower of Amon Sûl. With the fall of Cardolan, Arthedain's capital Fornost followed, and with that the last kingdom of Arnor was destroyed.
Discovering that he was too late, he and his army marched against the forces of the Witch-king, utterly destroying them at the Battle of Fornost. The Witch-king escaped and retreated to Mordor, Angmar having served its purpose. At some point, the Witch-king sent Barrow-wights to the Barrow-downs to prevent Cardolan from being resurrected. Upon his return to Mordor, the Witch-king gathered the other eight Nazgûl. In the year TA 2000 the Nazgûl attacked, and after two years conquered Minas Ithil, renaming it Minas Morgul, and acquiring a Palantír for their Dark Master.
It was from Minas Morgul that the Nine directed the rebuilding of Sauron's armies and the preparation of Mordor for their master's return. In 2942 Sauron returned to Mordor, openly declaring himself by TA 2951. He sent two or three of the Nazgûl to garrison his fortress Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. They were led by Khamul, the second most powerful of the Nazgul behind the Witch-King.
Hunt for the Ring
Shire and Bree
Near the beginning of the War of the Ring in TA 3018, the creature Gollum, who had once owned the Ring, was captured and tortured in Mordor, leading Gandalf to think the Enemy had now heard of hobbits, the Shire, and even the name Baggins. Accordingly, Gandalf advised Frodo to leave the Shire and make for Rivendell, taking the Ring with him.
Soon the Nine entered the Shire, where they learned the Ring was in the possession of Bilbo Baggins' nephew, Frodo. Subsequently, after searching for Frodo, one of the Nine, Khamûl the Easterling, had his first encounter with him.
As Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry and Pippin, took Bucklebury ferry to reach Crickhollow, Khamûl, who had narrowly missed them, was forced to go around to the Brandywine Bridge instead. Shortly after this, the Nine arrived at Frodo's new home in Crickhollow.
Though Frodo had already left for Bree by the time the Nine arrived, they were soon given information regarding Frodo's whereabouts by Bill Ferny, a spy of Saruman. Consequently, the Nazgûl attacked the village of Bree, where Frodo was located. However, during the time it took the Nazgûl to reach Bree, Frodo and company were hidden from their pursuers by Gandalf the Grey's ally: Aragorn.
Unable to find the Hobbit, the Nine left Bree, and at Weathertop several days later they encountered Gandalf the Grey, who was scouting nearby on his way to Rivendell to meet up with Frodo. An all-night battle commenced at Weathertop between the Nazgûl and Gandalf. Though Gandalf was able to escape, four of the Nine pursued him, while five remained near Weathertop. Several days later, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry made camp at the base of the ruins of Amon Sûl.
Discovering them, the five Nazgûl attacked the group. As they confronted the four Hobbits, Frodo put on the Ring and attempted to resist the Nazgûl. The Nazgûl leader quickly stabbed Frodo with a Morgul-blade, but the Nazgûl then fled because Aragorn arrived carrying firebrands, and also perhaps (as Aragorn surmised) because the Nazgûl were unprepared for Frodo's show of resistance.
The Ford of Bruinen
- "Come back! Come back! To Mordor we will take you!"
- —The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
Regrouping, the Nazgûl continued to pursue Frodo. Eventually, they caught up with him, then riding the horse of Glorfindel. Chasing Frodo until they reached the Ford of Bruinen, the nine Nazgûl, now reunited, demanded Frodo give them the Ring.
Frodo refused and defied them. Provoked, the Nazgûl crossed the river to take the Ring by force from a weak and injured Frodo. However, the water, enchanted by Elrond and Gandalf, formed a great wave and swept the Nine away, killing their horses.
Lacking the means to successfully attack Rivendell, where Frodo and his companions took refuge, the Nazgûl were forced to retreat to Mordor on foot and stop their hunt for the Ring.
War of the Ring
Battle of the Pelennor Fields
- "Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye."
- —The Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
Returning to Mordor in complete failure, the Nazgûl were forced to abandon their hunt for the Ring. At this point the Nine received new mounts to replace their horses: Fell beasts.
With their new mounts, the nine attacked the ruined city of Osgiliath with an army of Orcs and secured it. After this, they made way for the assault on Minas Tirith. The Witch-King led Sauron's forces during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
During the battle, the Witch-King confronted Gandalf the White when attempting to enter the city. However, before the Witch-King could engage Gandalf in battle, the forces of Rohan arrived. The Witch-King immediately left Gandalf to deal with the new threat.
The Witch-King attacked King Théoden on the battlefield. As Théoden was crushed by his horse, the lord of the Nazgûl prepared to finsh him off. However, Théoden's niece Éowyn and Meriadoc Brandybuck rode up on horseback and she confronted the Witch-King.
Engaging the Witch-King in battle, Éowyn killed the Nazgûl's Fell beast. The Witch-King, however, was unaffected by this and attacked Éowyn with his mace. After breaking Éowyn's arm, the Witch King prepared to kill her, but Meriadoc stabbed him in the leg from behind with his Barrow-blade, which was of Westernesse make. Injured, the Witch-King screamed in pain and Éowyn stabbed her sword into his crown and body, thus killing the lord of the Nazgûl and fulfilling the prophecy of Glorfindel.
Battle of the Morannon and Defeat
Simultaneously, Frodo Baggins claimed the Ring for himself near the fires of Mount Doom. Sauron immediately became aware of Frodo, as well as his own folly. Enraged and frantic, Sauron ordered the Nazgûl to fly with all possible speed to Mount Doom and seize the Ring.
However, the Nazgûl failed; the Ring was cast into the fires of Mount Doom when Gollum bit Frodo's finger and accidentally fell into the Cracks of Doom himself, with the ring. Sauron was immediately defeated by the loss of the Ring, Mount Doom underwent a gigantic volcanic eruption and all eight Nazgûl were destroyed, their form and power dissipating forever.
Weapons and Abilities
- "Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
- —The Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
The Nazgûl were untouchable to mortal men, unless attacked with enchanted weapons. Their own weapons included long swords of steel, daggers, and poisonous darts. Their leader possessed a powerful black mace and a large flail as well. Their arsenal of deadly armaments was not confined to physical means; they also had powerful voices, which brought terror into the hearts of mortals. They wore hauberks of silver mail and had enhanced senses, the greatest of which was their sense of smell.
The Nine could communicate telepathically. They do not see during the day as mortals do; instead they see shadowy forms. During the night they see many signs and forms invisible to mortal eyes; it is at night that they are to be feared most. They can smell the blood of living things, and they desire and hate it. Their presence can be felt as a troubling of the heart, and they can more keenly feel the presence of others. At all times, they sense the presence of the Ring and are drawn to it.
They were surrounded by an aura of terror, which affected all living creatures; their aura (called the Black Breath) could be toxic to those hapless enough to come near them. Of course, their horrible cries put many a battle-hardened warrior to flight as well. Some of the Nazgûl appear to have been accomplished sorcerers and used magic to devastating effect. The fear the Nine inspired was one of their greatest strengths. According to Gandalf, if Sauron regained the One, they would become vastly more powerful. However, it is unclear as to how. However, as Sauron's strength grew through the books, the Nazgûl became obviously more powerful. In the Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgûl's cries were simply unnerving to the hobbits (this may possibly be explained because it was important that the Hunt of the Ring remained in secrecy so they might have diminished their auras, and they did not have the rings of power), and they appeared to be physically weak, as five of them were driven off by Aragorn with two burning sticks. Additionally, Gandalf the Grey managed to hold off the entire Nine single handedly on Weathertop. In The Return of the King however, their cries are powerful enough to send all but the most stout-hearted of Gondor's defenders into a state of helpless terror, and the Witch King in particular has become so powerful that he is a match for Gandalf the White (which of the two is the more powerful is not revealed).
Though the Ringwraiths were among the greatest of Sauron's servants, they also had certain weaknesses that could be used against them. One of these was daylight itself. With the exception of the Witch-King of Angmar, none of them (especially Khamûl) could operate as well under the Sun and generally feared it. It can be seen that all nine Nazgul were attacking Minas Tirith, though this was due to the dark clouds of Sauron covering most of the sunlight.
They seemed to be unwilling to cross running water, although they could if they had to. Their greatest weakness was apparently fire.
At Weathertop, Aragorn used fire to drive the Ringwraiths away from Frodo. At the Ford of Bruinen, Aragorn and the hobbits that accompanied Frodo used it again to assist Glorfindel and drive the Ringwraiths into the raging water.
Even the Witch-King feared fire; though it's possible it had less of an effect on him over the other eight Nazgûl. If an enemy was strong enough so to resist fear, then the Ringwraiths (with the exception of the Witch-King) had little real power over them individually.
Heroes of Middle-earth such as Aragorn, Gandalf, and Glorfindel could single-handedly face a Ringwraith and defeat or at least elude them, provided that they were not confronted by multiple Ringwraiths or the Witch-King. However, only Glorfindel and Gandalf are able to confront multiple Ringwraiths alone because of their respective status as a High Elf and an Istari Wizard.
At the start of the War of the Ring the nine Nazgûl rode black horses descended from horses stolen from Rohan, which they relied heavily on for transport. However, after the encounter with Glorfindel at Ford of Bruinen, the Black Riders lost their horses, which were killed in the flood. Returning to Mordor by foot to regroup, the Nazgûl received winged creatures from Sauron to replace their horses. With these Fell beasts, the nine attacked the ruined city of Osgiliath in order to clear the way for a siege on Minas Tirith. Subsequently, the Nazgûl used the Fell beasts to their advantage at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Morannon, but most of all attempting to seek and find the ringbearer, Frodo, which the Witch-King does at Osgiliath in the second New Line film.
Names, Titles, and Terms
Sauron's Ringwraiths were unusual in that they were normally referred to by their native name - Nazgûl - which is Black Speech for "Ringwraith", or "servant"- rather than being given an Elvish name.
They are also called the Fell Riders and Black Wings (when they ride the Fell beasts), and the Nine Riders and the Black Riders (when they ride the black horses). By the Orcs of the Tower of Cirith Ungol they are called the Shriekers.
Some Nazgûl are named or identified individually in Tolkien's works. Their leader was the Witch-king of Angmar, and his second in command was named Khamûl, the "Black Easterling" or the "Shadow of the East". Tolkien stated that three of them were great Númenórean lords. Khamûl was a lord of the Easterlings.
Portrayal in adaptations
Ralph Bakshi version
The Nazgûl appear in Prancing Pony to slash the beds of the Hobbits. After this, the Nazgûl remove their hoods, revealing black masks and armor underneath.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
The Nazgûl portrayed in the films are emphasized with their deafening shrieks, provided by Peter Jackson's partner and co-screenwriter Fran Welsh. Andy Serkis voices Khamûl who briefly speaks in The Fellowship of the Ring.
According to IMDB, the Nazgûl are portrayed by the following actors: Victoria Beynon-Cole, Lee Hartley, Sam La Hood, Chris Streeter, Phil Grieve, Jonathan Jordan, Semi Kuresa, Clinton Ulyatt, Paul Bryson, Lance Fabian Kemp, Jono Manks and Ben Price. Thomas McGinty and Kate O'Rourke are uncredited. It is unknown which one of them portrayed which Nazgûl.
Games Workshop models
The Games Workshop model company give each Ringwraith a particular name. As well as The Witch King and Khamûl, the other seven are named as: The Dark Marshal, The Betrayer, The Shadow Lord, The Undying, The Dwimmerlaik, The Tainted and The Knight of Umbar.
The Dark Marshal - The most black-hearted and unrelentingly cruel of all the Nazgûl, his name is a byword for misery and death. Where the Dark Marshal passes, evil creatures fight harder, fearful of their lives whilst good warriors feel the icy touch of death upon their hearts. By his armour it is guessed that he is one of the three Númenórean Ringwraiths
The Betrayer - Cursed long ago for yielding the Southlands to Sauron's rule, the Betrayer is driven by malice and self-hatred that knows no bounds. Of all the Nazgûl, the Betrayer is amongst the lowest of Sauron's lieutenants, for even the Dark Lord is wary of placing trust in one who betrayed his kin so readily. The Betrayer was once one of the Haradrim, as seen by the ancient turban that he still wears.
The Shadow Lord - The Shadow Lord was once the king of a small and insignificant kingdom. When Sauron offered him one of the Nine Rings, the promise of its power proved irresistible. Now, his physical being all but gone, and his will enslaved to Sauron, the Shadow Lord wears his dark pride like a cloak, blotting the sun from the sky and dimming the sight of his foes.
The Undying - Originally a great sorcerer, The Undying endured longest when others fell under Sauron's sway. He is said to be the oldest of the Ringwraiths, and the last to succumb to the wasting influences of the Rings of Power. Through an obsessive mastery of evil magics, the Undying has learnt to draw sustenance from the magics of others, fortifying himself with the magical energy that flows around him.
The Dwimmerlaik - The Dwimmerlaik is possibly the most mysterious of all the Nazgûl, for scant record of his past deeds exist in the tomes of the Wise. Yet in Rohan, this particular Ringwraith is feared beyond all others, for he has been a blight upon that realm for centuries untold, directing the Dark Lord's minions against the Sons of Eorl. Because of him a person is quite possible to be blinded by greed.
The Tainted - Where the other Nazgul were slowly swallowed by the taint of their rings, the Tainted gave himself wholly and willingly to Sauron. Now all natural things rebel in his presence, vegetation withers, animals sicken and bold warriors cower. He is an abomination whose merest presence is poison to life, honour and hope.
The Knight of Umbar - The third of the Númenórean Lords to become one of Sauron's servants, the Knight of Umbar's past is shrouded in mystery. If the rumours pertaining to him hold any truth, he was once one of the great Númenórean kings who ruled the Southlands prior to the days of the Last Alliance.
The Nazgûl are the subject of the song "The Wraith Of The Rings" from the album "Middle Earth" by Bob Catley. They are also the subject for the song "Shadows" by the Swedish Power metal band Sabaton.
They are mentioned in the song "Battle of Evermore" by Led Zeppelin "The drums will shake the castle wall, the ring wraiths ride in black, Ride on."
They are the focus of the song "Flight of the Nazgul" by the Austrian Black Metal band Summoning.
The Witch-king of Angmar appears in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Dol Guldur, where he briefly fights Radagast. It is important to note that this is the first and so far only time that one of the Nazgûl can be seen in their real form without wearing the One Ring. This may be because Sauron`s power was so weak that their cloaks did not mask their appearance, and thus it was no longer necessary to be a ringbearer in order to see them as they were (more or less) in life. However, it is most likely that the Istari can see the ringwraiths which is why they are show during the Radagast encounter.
The Dementors in the Harry Potter series are often compared with the Nazgul of Middle-earth, but they are not based on the Nazgul and are the original work of J.K. Rowling.
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- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XI: "A Knife in the Dark"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XII: "Flight to the Ford"