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"Tolkien creates them to represent all that is bad about modern war."
Lynette Nusbacher in The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of the Rings

Orcs were the primary soldiers of both Dark Lords' armies, and their most common servants. Invented by Morgoth during the Years of the Trees of the First Age, they served him and later his successor, Sauron, in their aims to dominate Middle-earth. It was believed by the Eldar that before Oromë first discovered Cuiviénen, Morgoth had kidnapped some of the Avari and cruelly deformed them, twisting them into the first Orcs.[1]

After the Battle of the Powers many Orcs alongside other servants of Melkor survived in the deep caves, pits, chambers, and tunnels of Melkor's underground fortress Angband. They multiplied and later spread through northern Middle-earth. They were first seen by the Dwarves who reported them to Thingol, King of Doriath, causing the latter to seek weapons of war for the first time.[2] For over a millennium, the Orcs were only a minor problem, but when Morgoth returned with the Silmarils he took full charge of them and soon unleashed them on Beleriand. The newly organized Orcs killed Denethor, the King of the lightly armed Laiquendi, but were eventually defeated by Thingol and his allies. They besieged the Havens of the Falas under Círdan, and the siege was maintained until the arrival of the Ñoldor. The heavy losses that the Sindar suffered at the hands of the Orcs frightened them to the point that Melian, Queen of Doriath, raised a great enchantment to protect their kingdom. The Laiquendi, who suffered the most in the battle, hid themselves in Ossiriand under the cloak of secrecy, or took refuge in Doriath.


"They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated, a terrible, ruined form of life..."
Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring film adaptation

First Age

Melkor was the first to learn of the Awakening of the Elves. He soon began sending evil spirits among the Elves, who planted seeds of doubt against the Valar. It is also rumoured that some of the Elves were being captured by a "Rider" if they strayed too far, and it was believed by the Eldar that these unfortunate Elves were brought to Utumno, where they were cruelly tortured and twisted into Orcs.

Orc army

Orcs served under Morgoth in the First Age and Sauron in the Second and Third Ages

In the last six centuries of the First Age, thousands of Orcs were bred in Angband by Morgoth and to participate in the Battles of Beleriand, which began after the Ñoldor arrived to north-western Middle-earth. They first appeared in the Battle of the Lammoth, where they were defeated by the Elves. When the House of Fëanor returned to Middle-earth Morgoth sent a force of Orcs against them. Although the Orcs outnumbered the exiles they were no match for the power and wrath of the Ñoldor, and were quickly and easily defeated. However, Fëanor could not defeat the power of Morgoth alone and he was killed by Balrogs, leaving the Orcs to continue to breed under the Dark Lord. Years later, when the House of Fingolfin arrived in Middle-earth, Orcs were sent against them as well, but they were utterly defeated in the Battle of the Lammoth.

Orcs crop, WoW

Orcs of Morgoth, in the War of Wrath, by Firat Solhan

After their crushing defeat in the Dagor Aglareb and in a minor raid on Hithlum, the Orcs nevertheless regained their numbers. In the Dagor Bragollach and Nírnaeth Arnoediad, they and their master won crushing victories against the free peoples. However, they were nearly destroyed in the War of Wrath that ended in FA 585, and those that survived fled eastwards into the Mountains of Angmar, Grey Mountains, or Red Mountains.

Second Age

Sometime around SA 1000, Sauron reappeared in Middle-earth and made the land of Mordor his realm, and then started to build the foundations of Barad-dûr. During the War of the Elves and Sauron in SA 1700, the Orcs formed the main host of Sauron's power. Despite the immeasurable number of Orcs present, the battle was won by the Elves and the Númenóreans due to their united force, superior weaponry, greater strength and stature and combat skill.


Orcs depicted by Jenny Dolfen

However, Sauron had not been able to gather all the Eastern Orcs into his armies, as they at first scorned him, seeing only his fair form. It was after his first defeat that Sauron went back among them, in a dark guise, and subdued them. and was able to begin rebuilding his power.

Until Sauron's final downfall in the Third Age, Orcs remained the backbone of the armies of Mordor, and of Isengard while the wizard Saruman ruled it.

Orc of moria by giovabellofatto d4oegxk-pre

An Orc dwelling in Moria, by Giovani Bellofatto

Third Age

After the War of the Last Alliance Mordor was desolate and the surviving Orcs were concentrated in the Misty Mountains. With the return of Sauron to Dol Guldur and the spread of his evil influence, their numbers began to increase once more. In TA 2475 at the ending of the Watchful Peace, a new tougher, stronger breed of Orc appeared; the Black Uruks, specifically bred for fighting Men.

Following the abandonment of Khazad-dûm by the Dwarves, Orcs eventually colonised the abandoned halls, killing King Thrór when he sought to enter his lost realm. This triggered the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, a massive conflict where the Dwarves gathered their full strength and destroyed every Orc stronghold they could find in the Misty Mountains. This and the Battle of Five Armies greatly reduced the numbers of Northern Orcs, weakening their contribution to the War of the Ring.


Orcs of Mordor in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films

In the meantime Sauron had returned to Mordor, rebuilding his fortress and creating a vast army of Orcs. His thrall Saruman also created the Uruk-hai, a breed of Orc stronger than any seen before. Following the destruction of the One Ring, the Orcs scattered, eventually dwindling and being hunted to extinction in the Fourth Age.


"For all that race were bred by Melkor of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not, but their laugh that of the clash of metal, and to nothing were they more fain than to aid in the basest of the purposes of Melko."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fall of Gondolin

In J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, Orcs were cruel, sadistic, black-hearted, vicious, and hateful of most things, particularly of those who were orderly and prosperous.[3] They were short in stature (unless of the Uruk variety) and humanoid in shape. They were generally squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, bow-legged, with wide mouths and slant eyes, long arms, dark skin, and fangs. Tolkien describes one "huge Orc chieftain" as "almost Man-high", and some must have been close to Hobbit height, as Sam and Frodo were able to disguise themselves as Orcs in Mordor. They were roughly humanoid in shape with pointed ears, sharpened teeth and grimy skin. Their appearance was considered revolting by most of the other races.


Orcs of Mordor as depicted by John Howe

Orcs Artwork

Two different breeds of Orcs, as depicted by Alan Lee

Orcs made no beautiful things, but many clever ones including machines, tools, weapons, and instruments of torture. They were delighted by wheels, engines, and explosions, and could tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled Dwarves, though they are often untidy and dirty.[3] This was so since the time Melkor bred them (in an unknown process) from mutilated and corrupted Elves. They hated themselves, and had an even deeper secret hatred for Melkor, thus resulting as a violent and warlike race in a perpetual state of chaos with itself and others. Despite their abominable nature, Orcs were often crafty and clever rather than dim-witted. Tolkien writes that they were capable smiths and craftsmen, though things of their making are described as crude compared to those of the Free Peoples. Orcs also developed tunnel-making, so as to dwell underground away from the light. It is also worth noting that Orcs prefer to do no more work than they can help, as they would rather coerce others into working for them.[4]

Wickedness and violence were their nature, and it was not uncommon for them to kill each other in petty quarrels.[5] They had a destructive effect on nature, especially forests, and often destroyed trees to fuel their war-making, particularly those near Isengard. Orcs had unchangeable disdain for all Elves, Dwarves, and Men, though they fought alongside wicked men under Morgoth and then Sauron in the First, Second, and Third Ages and were also said to have made alliances with wicked Dwarves.


In Tolkien's Sindarin language, Orc is orch, plural yrch. In his late, post-Lord of the Rings writings (published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), he preferred the spelling "Ork", evidently mainly to avoid the form Orcish, which would be naturally pronounced with the c as /s/ instead of /k/. (In Tolkien's languages the letter c was always pronounced /k/.) It is also possible that the word is a Common Tongue Version of 'orch', the Sindarin word for Orc. The original sense of the word seems to be "bogey", "bogeyman", that is, something that provokes fear, as seen in the Quenya cognate urko, pl. urqui. In the old English Orc means "demon."[6] The term Uruk-hai merely means "orc-folk" in the Black Speech, and was the Uruk-hai's name for themselves.

Other names

Glamhoth was a Sindarin word for the Orcs that meant 'din-horde'.[7]

Gorgûn was the name that the wild men of the Drúadan Forest used for Orcs in their own language. Although is was also the name of an orc in specific.

Yrch was the term used by Haldir and his brothers, who were Elves of Lothlórien. This same word was also used by Legolas, indicating that it was either Sindarin or Silvan Elvish in origin.


"Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places [in The Hobbit] but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds)."
J.R.R. Tolkien, Preface to The Hobbit

Tolkien explained in a note at the start of The Hobbit that he was using English to represent the languages used by the characters, and that goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kind) was the English translation he was using for the word Orc, the hobbits' form of the name. Tolkien used the term goblin extensively in The Hobbit, and also occasionally in The Lord of the Rings, as when the Uruk-hai of Isengard are first described: "four goblin-soldiers of greater stature".

A clear illustration that Tolkien considered Goblins and Orcs to be the same thing, the former word merely being the English translation of the latter, is that in The Hobbit (the only one of Tolkien's works in which he usually refers to Orcs as goblins) Gandalf asks Thorin if he remembers Azog the Goblin who killed his grandfather Thrór,[8] while in all his other writings Tolkien describes Azog as a "great Orc".[9]

In The Hobbit, Tolkien mentions Orcs as a large variety of Goblins, leading some to the notion that the Northern Orcs of the Misty Mountains were of smaller build than average Orcs, although the "Great Goblin" and "Azog the Goblin" (as he was called in The Hobbit) were massive in size. Tolkien also described Goblins as big, ugly creatures, "cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted."

Named Orcs

Quotes about Orcs

"But of those unhappy ones [elves] who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty. For who of the living has descended into the pits of Utumno, or has explored the darkness of the counsels of Melkor? Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes. For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar; and naught that had life of its own, nor the semblance of life, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion in the Ainulindalë before the Beginning: so say the wise. And deep in their dark hearts the Orcs loathed the Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery. This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Ilúvatar."
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
"And ere long the evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains, or up from the south through the dark forests. Wolves there were, or creatures that walked in wolf-shapes, and other fell beings of shadow; and among them were the Orcs, who afterwards wrought ruin in Beleriand: but they were yet few and wary, and did but smell out the ways of the land, awaiting the return of their lord. Whence they came, or what they were, the Elves knew not then, thinking them perhaps to be Avari who had become evil and savage in the wild; in which they guessed all too near, it is said."
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of the Sindar

Other writings

Goblins appear in some of Tolkien's other writings outside of the legendarium. For example, in Letters From Father Christmas they were enemies of Father Christmas and of Red Gnomes, Green Elves and Snow Elves. In this account, Goblins used a pictographic writing system.[10]

In adaptations

Ralph Bakshi's Orcs

Orcs (1978)

The Lord of the Rings (1978 animated film)

In The Lord of the Rings (1978), the Orcs are voiced by extras. They are all humanoid beings with red eyes and many inhuman features; there doesn't seem to be much variation among them outside of three types.

The first and most prominent type is distinguished by their clawed hands and feet, fangs, black body hair, feline cheeks, and potentially green skin. In addition, they are quite broad-shouldered and have a stooped posture. Their attire is mostly consistent: many wear robes resembling togas and double-horned helms similar to Viking helmets; a few members of Uglúk's group seem to be wearing jet-black body suits instead of togas (and these ones tend to be skinnier than the rest); further still, at least two orcs (seen both at Moria and as a part of Uglúk's group) wear very scaly armor and are shorter than the rest.

Another less-common Orc type has more apelike features, including large mouths, thick teeth, heavy brows, long faces with flat noses, and a lot of head hair; they stand tall, lack claws, and wear robe-like tunics and no headgear. They appear after Merry and Pippin are captured and are extensively featured throughout the Battle of Helm's Deep.

Finally, a third type is observed, faintly resembling the previous two but wearing tunics and head-bandages that reveal nothing but their eyes and noses (though, at least one can be seen with fangs). They are the least prominent variety, appearing until after Merry and Pippin are captured.

Rankin-Bass Mordor Orc

Orcs (1980)

The Return of the King (1980 animated film)

In The Return of the King (1980), the Orcs are voiced by Paul Frees. They resemble the Goblins seen in The Hobbit, but have grey skin and are generally more thin.

Peter Jackson's films

In Peter Jackson's two film trilogies, Orcs range greatly in appearance. Skin colour ranges from bone white (Azog and Bolg) to peachy colours (Orcs like the lieutenant Gothmog in The Return of the King), to shades of green. Most Orcs however are shown as having darker shades of black or brown skin. Some are more human-like than others; Azog looks like a large and muscular but pale and hairless human, whilst Gothmog has a very deformed face. In general the Orcs tend to be shorter than most men. Some orcs shown are particularly slack with poor posture and broad with long arms, a shape represented best in Grishnákh's portrayal in The Two Towers; others, such as all Uruks, have a human posture. A new rendition of Orcs was introduced in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: short mutated creatures covered in dubious warts and unidentified growths. They have pallid pinkish-white skin, large heads, and bat-like or porcine facial features.


Bolg in The Battle of the Five Armies

The clothing and armour worn by Orcs in the films vary greatly. The Orcs wear an assortment of different styles of armour and clothing and also commonly have various piercings and tribal scars. Other Orcs wear specifically designed and made uniform armour for battle. They are often bald or are balding, while others have long, coarse hair. Their hair is most often dark or greying in colour, but in The Return of the King some Orcs with blond hair and beards are seen marching from Minas Morgul.

In video games

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game) (2002)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (video game) (2002) for Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, Gameboy Advance
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (video game) (2003) for Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, Gameboy Advance
  • The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring
  • The Hobbit: The Prelude to The Lord of the Rings (2003) for Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, Gameboy Advance
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (2004) for Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, Gameboy Advance
  • The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest (2010) for Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Volume 1 (1994) for SNES. Orcs appear as minotaur-like creatures in four different colors: green, blue, red, and gray.


Azog in The Hobbit film trilogy
Bolgcgi span
Bolg in The Hobbit film trilogy
Orcs of the Misty Mountains
Line of Orc Archers at the Battle of the Pelennor
Orc Captains - Gothmog
Gothmog in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy
Orcs as seen in the prologue of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Orcs as portrayed by illustrator Alan Lee


Foreign Language Translated name
Amharic ዖርችስ
Arabic الأورك
Armenian Ործս
Basque Orkora
Belarusian Cyrillic Оркі
Bengali ওর্চ্স
Bosnian Orci
Bulgarian Cyrillic Орките
Chinese 兽人(Lucifer Chu Edition) /奥克(Deng Jiawan Edition)
Croatian Orci
Czech Skřeti
Danish Orker
Dutch Orks
Esperanto Orko
Finnish Örkit
French Orques
Galician Orco
Georgian ორკები
German Orks
Greek Ορκς
Gujarati ઑર્ચ્સ
Hebrew אורקים
Hindi ॐर्च्स
Hungarian Orkok
Icelandic Orkar
Italian Orchi
Japanese オーク
Kannada ಓರ್ಕ್ಸ್
Kazakh Cyrillic Орцс
Korean 오크
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Орцс
Laotian ອrຈຊ ?
Latvian Orks
Lithuanian Orkai
Macedonian Cyrillic Орци
Marathi ॐर्च्स
Mongolian Cyrillic Орцс
Nepalese ॐर्च्स
Norwegian Orker
Pashto ورچس
Persian اورک
Polish Orkowie
Romanian Orcii
Russian Орки
Sanskrit ॐर्च्स्
Serbian Оркови (Cyrillic) Orkovi (Latin)
Sinhalese ඕර්ච්ස්
Slovak Ohyzdi
Slovenian Orki
Spanish Orco
Swedish Orcherna
Tajik Cyrillic Орчс
Tamil ஓகர்ஸ்
Telugu ఓర్చ్స
Thai ออร์ค
Turkish Orklar
Ukrainian Cyrillic Орки
Urdu ورچس
Uzbek Орчс (Cyrillic) Orchs (Latin)
Welsh Orchod
Yiddish ױרשס


  1. The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
  2. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Sindar"
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Hobbit, Chapter IV: "Over Hill and Under Hill
  4. The Hobbit, Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill
  5. The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Six, Ch. II: "The Land of Shadow"
  6. The Complete Guide to Middle-earth
  7. Unfinished Tales, Part One: The First Age: "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"
  8. The Hobbit, "an Unexpected Party".
  9. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, III. "Durin's Folk"
  10. The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, chapter II: "Reader's Guide"