Throughout their existence, Elves have been masters of making and using weapons and arms. Their skill at forging weapons and armour surpasses the race of Man, but of the race of Dwarves, Tolkien writes: "In the tempering of steel alone of all crafts the Dwarves were never outmatched even by the Noldor, and in the making of mail [...] their work had no rival."
Even more renowned is the Elven skill at using their fine weapons, be it bow or blade. The purpose of this article is to explain just what type of weapons the Elves have used and what effect these weapons have had in past wars and battles. The article is not extensive, and covers only the most basic of Elven weapons.
The Elven sword is used frequently by standard Elf warriors and it comes in different forms. Apart from notable Elven blades such as Anglachel (wielded by Beleg Cúthalion and Turin Turambar) , Glamdring (wielded by Gandalf), and Orcrist (used by Thorin Oakenshield), many more fierce swords have served their handlers well in battle and have no title. Descriptions of these swords and their representations in film and documentary range widely. In Tolkien's actual mythology, the reader can find no elaborate description of Elven blades, save those that have been given a title.
A clue to what the earliest of the Elven blades were made of lies in a description of the first Orcs who attacked the Elves in Beleriand. Apparently, these Orcs were equipped with steel weapons and that (if the reader will pardon the pun) gave them the edge over their Elven counterparts. Therefore, Elven weapons at that time were not in existence or were made of a weaker material than steel, presumably iron. The iron sword therefore could have taken on many forms. Elven iron or non-steel swords were most likely used in Valinor by the Noldor and other High Elves, rather than in Beleriand, and these blades were of course well crafted.
Naturally, any Elven blade is well crafted and of the higher quality, but when the use of steel weaponry came upon the Elves in Valinor, most notably the Noldor, a great change in the style of swordmaking and the sword itself came about. For one, the Elves developed different ways of making these blades, using the ingredient of steel as a vital part of the sword. The shape of the sword changed, now being able to take on the form of a great broadsword or a light and agile curved sword. The Elves, being great artists as well as craftsmen, were able to decorate their swords more skillfully. Thus, it was that they were able to win more battles as steel became common among Elves all over Arda, but better blades were to come.
Sting, the shortsword used by the Hobbits Bilbo and Frodo, is an example of Elven blades at their peak. Being able to glow blue when orcs and goblins are near, Sting shows how Elven blades grew to have magical properties. Even the black sword Anglachel is said to have spoken to Turin before it aided him in his suicide. Thus, Elven blades became renowned as great weapons, capable of performing deeds beyond the skill of their handlers and were even more glorious when the use of Mithril was allowed to the Elves.
The Elven bow is a marvel to behold. Crafted from many different woods, from yew to ancient Mallorn, it takes on a variety of shapes. The first bows in use by the elves were short and did not have long range. As time went on, the Elves became masters of making and using the bow, developing the standard longbow and creating different variations of it. None were more skilled with the longbow than the Silvan Elves and most notable of those were the Galadhrim, the wardens of Lothlórien, the Golden Wood. Some who became true masters of this weapon won great renown as skilled marksmen in several wars, the most famous being Legolas Greenleaf and Beleg Cúthalion. The impact the bow was to have on both the Elves and their enemies was enormous.
Being the most famous and most used by the Elves, the longbow is indeed a deadly weapon and even deadlier when wielded by a skilled Elf. The accounts of the deeds of Legolas Greenleaf are enough proof that Elves certainly are masters of the bow, but when it is told that Legolas is given a longbow of Lothlórien, it becomes clear why he was such a threat. The Elven longbow has a far range but is truly deadly when shot in groups, thus having a greater chance to hit targets. As said, the Elven bow is crafted from different woods, each wood having different properties that allow the bow increased deadliness. Using the longbow of Legolas as proof, it becomes clear that the Mallorn longbow is the most deadly of all the recorded types of bows. However, this could be just because of its skilled handler.
The armour of the Elves has evolved throughout their days in Arda, but has always been well made and of the highest quality, the only rival to it being Dwarf-make armour. Again, not much is said regarding Elf armour only that it is bright and beautiful to look upon. For Orcs and other servants of Melkor, this armour is terrible to behold and often an advancing Elven army is frightening to a rival Orc army. However, much of Elven armour is derived from Dwarf armour, for the two races have great influence upon one another.
The reader can assume that the earliest Elf armour was worn in Valinor and consisted of either mail (overlapping rings or scales of either iron or steel) or leather and/or hide, but as time went on, Elves, especially the Noldor, developed different types of armour, a lot of which was inspired by the Dwarves. An early form of plate armour may have been introduced by the time of the Wars of Beleriand. Certainly, by the end of the Second Age of Sun, during the siege of Barad-dûr, the standard Elf warrior was equipped with a mail undershirt and either lightly or heavily armoured with plate on top. The plate most likely consisted of steel or some other Elven metal. The Elven helm was used very extensively, and came in many shapes and forms, and usually covered most of the face and had a noseguard.
Shields there were also used by the Elves and highly decorated in Elf-fashion, like their armour. Not much is described regarding shields, only that they were elaborate and protected the user well. Like most shields, they could be used as a weapon as well as a barrier.
Lastly, regarding Silvan Elves, the armour in which these forest dwellers were clad in consisted mostly of leather and offered minimal protection, as the chief element in their attacks was not to charge openly, but to hide in the shadows and ambush their enemy.
In the Lord of the Rings movies Elven Soldiers of the Noldor of the 2nd Age wore copper like armor which consisted of a breastplate, gauntlets, helmets, with a long greenish robe. In the 3rd Age the noldor wore the same armour but it was silver (As seen in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). The Elves that went to aid the Rohirrim at Helms Deep were Elves from Lothlorien and therefore wore dark blue hooded robes which covered golden armor that looked very different from the armor worn by the armies of the Noldor in the 2nd age.