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Nirnaeth Arnoediad
Outnumbered by WF74
The Nírnaeth Arnoediad, by Wouter Florusse (WF74).
Conflict: The War of the Jewels
Date: FA 472
Place: Thangorodrim, outside of Angband
Outcome: Decisive victory for Morgoth and The Dark Powers
Combatants
Angband, Amon Ereb (mid to late battle) Union of Maedhros
Commanders
Morgoth, Glaurung, Gothmog, Ulfang (mid to late battle, †), other members of The Dark Powers Maedhros, Fingon†, Turgon, AzaghâlCaranthir, Gwindor, Húrin, Huor†, Bór, Ulfang (early battle, †)
Strength
Around 500,000 Orcs and Balrogs; and some thousands of Men from Amon Ereb (mid to late battle) Roughly 120,000 total (Thousands of Elves and Men from Himring; a small Elven company from Nargothrond; ten thousand Elves from Gondolin; thousands more Elves and Men from Hithlum; a few hundred Elves from the Falas; hundreds of Men from Brethil; an army of Dwarven infantry from Belegost and, initially, some hundreds of Men from Amon Ereb)
Casualties
>200,000; all Easterlings slain Approximately 100,000; the armies of Nargothrond, Belegost, and Hithlum were demolished, and the rest were greatly weakened and demoralized
Great Battles of Beleriand

First Battle of Beleriand - Dagor-nuin-Giliath - Dagor Aglareb - Dagor Bragollach - Nirnaeth Arnoediad - War of Wrath

The Nírnaeth Arnoediad or the Battle of Unnumbered Tears was the fifth great battle against Morgoth that took place in the First Age.

HistoryEdit

Unnumberedtears-map

A Map showing the site of the battle.

Almost twenty years after the defeat of the Elves and their Edain allies in the Dagor Bragollach, the Noldor had lost control over the entire north of Beleriand, and were for the most part reduced to holding on defensively in 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 in the First Age, Maedhros began building 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 the 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. Here, the battle splits into two slightly different versions.

In Tolkien's earlier writings, Maedhros was delayed from joining the western host of Fingon's force due to a treacherous warning of assault from Angband by Ulfang. In his later writings, Morgoth actually does assault the host of Maedhros, sending great forces against it to prevent the two Elven armies from meeting. In both versions however, Fingon's troops eventually settle in the woods of Ered Wethrin to await the coming of Maedhros's forces, not knowing they were delayed. 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.

Having learned of the battle plan of the Eldar from his spies, 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.

Glaurung the golden by lyntonlevengood-d34lpfh

The Golden dragon with the Dwarves of Belegost by LyntonLevengood.

The fate of the eastern host of Maedhros has two different versions. The version in Tolkien's older writings had this host at last arriving to aid Fingon in the fifth day as Turgon's forces did. Maedhros's forces assail the armies of Angband in the rear. Then Morgoth releases 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 version in Tolkien's later writings sees the host of Maedhros defeated by the armies Morgoth sent against it, though the treachery of Ulfang still occurs and Glaurung is apparently present from the start.

In both versions, 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 dragon fire better than Elves or Men, and moreover they wore great iron masks that allowed them to further resist the dragons. These dwarves formed the rearguard of the eastern host, and allowed the remaining Elves and Men to escape the dragons. Azaghâl and his forces formed a ring around Glaurung, and such was their strength and the keenness of their axes that even his 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.

The Edain by WF74

The Host of Huor and Húrin and Men of Dor-lómin standing ready for battle, by Wouter Florusse (WF74).

Fingon's forces, with the aid of Turgon, had managed to beat back the host of Angband and had began an orderly retreat. However, with Maedhros defeated, Morgoth now turned his full attention to Fingon's forces, committing to that battle the full might of the force that destroyed the eastern Elven host. Gothmog himself arrived on the field with his Troll guard, and Fingon fought him in single combat. The High Elven King managed to hold his own against the High Captain of Angband until another Balrog restrained Fingon from behind. Gothmog then clove 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 all slain, and Huor fell with his eye pierced by a poisoned arrow. 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 a great number of Gothmog's troll guard, falling at last after his axe withered away from the caustic troll blood upon it. Gothmog then pulled Hurin out from under the mountain Orcs and Trolls that he slew, bound him, and dragged him to Angband with mockery.

AftermathEdit

After Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the ability of Elves and Men to make war against Morgoth was broken. Morgoth's victory was nearly 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 Hurin to him, seeking from him the location of Gondolin. But Hurin mocked Morgoth and refused to betray Turgon. Morgoth then laid a terrible curse upon him and his kin, and bound Hurin to a chair upon Thangoridrim to witness the curse unfold.[1][2]

Order of BattleEdit

Hosts of Angband:[4]

  • Vanguard: 80,000—100,000. One to two Orc-hosts, each 40,000–50,000 strong - sent to provoke Fingon into a premature attack from Hithlum in the west.
  • Centre: 150,000—300,000. Main Host - three to six Orc-hosts, each 40,000–50,000 strong - sent to overwhelm Fingon as he pursued vanguard.
  • Reserve: 100,000 Orcs with many auxiliaries. Two to four Orc-hosts, Balrogs, Trolls, Dragons, Wolves and wolfriders. Additionally some Men in the Union change sides.
  • Casualties: 200,000+

Hosts of the Union of Maedhros:

  • West wing - Host of Fingon = 42,500 to 56,000
    • Noldor of Hithlum: 15,000 to 20,000 Elves
    • Men of Dor-lómin: 12,000 to 15,000 Men of the House of Hador
    • Sindar of Mithrim: 1,000 to 3,000 Elves
    • Falas: 3,000 to 5,000 Elves of Círdan
    • Nargothrond: 500 to 1,000 Elves
    • Folk of Brethil: 1,000 to 2,000 Folk of Haleth
    • Gondolin: 10,000 Elves
  • East wing - Host of Maedhros = 42,500 to 60,000
    • Sons of Fëanor: 12,000 to 15,000 Elves
    • Men of Bór: 8,000 to 10,000 Men
    • Men of Ulfang: 10,000 to 15,000 Swarthy Men
    • Green Elves (Laiquendi):2,500 to 5,000
    • Dwarves: 10,000 to 15,000
  • Casualties: 65,000+

An alternate versionEdit

The 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.

The major difference was that Morgoth does much better against the Elves in this version than he did in the old one. The entire element of the "Machinations of Uldor" delaying Maedhros' 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 does 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 given the extreme length and difficulty of the later War of Wrath). This is all speculation, however. It is 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.

EtymologyEdit

Nírnaeth Arnoediad was a Sindarin word that meant 'Tears Unnumbered'.[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XX: "Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad"
  2. The Children of Húrin, Narn i Chîn Húrin, The Tale of the Children of Húrin, II: "The Battle of Unnumbered Tears"
  3. The Silmarillion, Index of Names

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