They were the primary foot soldiers of the Dark Lords' armies and sometines the weakest (but most numerous) of their servants. They were created by the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, before the First Age and served him and later his successor in their quest to dominate Middle-earth.
Many Orcs (along with fallen Maiar and other evil servants of Melkor) survived in the deep caves, pits, chambers, and tunnels of Melkor's great underground fortresses of Utumno and Angband. They multiplied and later spread through northern Middle-earth. They were first seen by the Dwarves who reported them to King Thingol, the High King of the Sindar, causing the latter to seek weapons of war for the first time. For over a millennium, the orcs were only a minor problem, but when Melkor (Morgoth) returned with the Silmarils he took full charge of them and soon unleashed them on Beleriand. The newly organised 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 wasn't broken 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 the Ossiriand under the cloak of secrecy, or took refuge in Doriath.
- "They were Elves once. Taken by the Dark Powers ... tortured and mutilated...a ruined and terrible form of life."
- — Saruman
Before the 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 the elves later believed these were brought to Utumno, where they were cruelly tortured and twisted into Orcs.
In the First Age, thousands of Orcs were bred in Angband by Morgoth and to participate in the Battles of Beleriand, which lasted 587 years. They first appeared in the Battle of Lhammoth, where they were defeated by the Noldor. 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, 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.
After their crushing defeat in the Dagor Aglareb and in a minor raid on Hithlum, the Orcs nevertheless regained their numbers and fought again in large numbers in the Dagor Bragollach and Nirnaeth Arnoediad, where they and their master won crushing victories against the free peoples. They were nearly destroyed in the War of Wrath, and those that survived fled eastwards into the Mountains of Angmar and the Grey Mountains.
Second Age and on
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 Numenoreans due to their united force and numbers.Until Sauron's final downfall in the Third Age, Orcs remained the backbone of the armies of Mordor, and of Isengard when Saruman ruled it.
In J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, Orcs were evil, cruel, wicked, hateful, blackhearted, and hated everybody and everything, particularly the orderly and prosperous. Physically, 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 are able to disguise themselves as Orcs in Mordor. They were shaped in mockery of the elves they descended from. They were humanoid in shape with pointed ears, sharpened teeth and grimy skin. Their appearance was considered revolting by most of the other races.
Orcs made no beautiful things, but many clever ones including machines, tools, weapons, and instruments of torture, were delighted by wheels, engines, and explosions, and could tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled Dwarves. This was so since the day they were bred by Melkor from corrupted, tortured and mutilated elves. They hate themselves and have an even deeper hatred of the Dark Lord who has brought them to this end. The result is a violent and warlike race in a perpetual state of chaos with itself and others. Despite their abominable nature, they are not dim-witted but clever and crafty. Tolkien writes that they can mine and smith as well as anyone if they have the mind to do it. They make good tools, weapons, and machines of war but produce no beautiful things nor do they trade or share anything with others, unless ordered to by a Dark Lord for the purposes of war and conquest. Their tools and weapons, however, are usually crude compared to those of the Free Peoples.
They also developed tunnel-making, for living underground away from the light. Wickedness and violence were their nature, and they were known to quarrel and kill each other over petty things. An example of this destructiveness was its effect on nature such as was the case with forests and trees, which were often destroyed to fuel their war-making. See: Fangorn forest during the War of the Ring and the western part of Middle-earth after Sauron's War on the Elves in the mid-Second Age. However, perhaps the best example of this was during the War of the Ring, when two different groups of Orc soldiers captured the Hobbit Frodo Baggins, and then killed each other to the last in the Tower of Cirith Ungol due to a quarrel over his belongings. This allowed Samwise Gamgee to rescue Frodo and ultimately caused the destruction of the One Ring. Orcs generally hated all Elves, Dwarves, and Men, and yet some were said to make alliances with wicked Dwarf groups and others with corrupted Men. Without the leadership of a Dark Lord, Orcs usually live in tribal communities in underground lairs under mountains under the rule of brutal chieftains, raiding and pillaging settlements of other races that are unfortunate enough to live near them. Thus, they were hated by almost every race that knows them, even those allied with them. Without firm leadership, Orcs presumably went into battle often in complete disarray and without any semblance of formation or tactics. Their strength in combat came from numbers and sheer violence. Due to superior organization, training and weaponry, Men, Dwarves, Elves, and at times even Hobbits, were able to defeat larger numbers of Orcs, provided an ability to withstand the horror and shock of the initial onslaught.
However, when serving under a strong and competent leader, Orcs were capable of impressive military discipline and made an effective fighting force.
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." The term Uruk-hai merely means "orc-folk" in the Black Speech, and was the Uruk-hai's name for themselves.
Portrayal in adaptations
Peter Jackson's film trilogies
In the Peter Jackson films, Orcs range greatly in appearance. Skin colour ranges from bone white (Azog and Bolg), to peachy colours (orcs like the lieutenant Gothmog), 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. Early orcs shown are particularly slack with poor posture and broad with long arms (Grishnakh is a good example of this shape) but some later Orcs are a more human shape. Another variety of Orc appears in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. These orcs are 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. Many of these Orcs also had small amounts of thinning white hair, and cataracts on their sensitive eyes. Some were the height of Men, others were shorter than Hobbits.
The clothing and armour worn by Orcs in the films also ranges greatly. The orcs seem to wear an assortment of different styles of armour and clothing and also commonly have various piercings and tribal scars. The clothing and armour was probably scavenged. Other Orcs wear specifically designed and made uniform armour for battle. Orcs are often bald or balding, but there are also Orcs who have longer matted hair. The Orcs' hair is nearly always dark or greying in colour, but in The Return of the King some Orcs with blonde hair and beards can be seen marching from Minas Morgul. The favourite weapon of the Orcs is an Orc Scimitar, used by Orcs from all areas.
Translations around the World
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Serbian||Оркови (Cyrillic) Orkovi (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Орчс (Cyrillic) Orchs (Latin)|
Races of the Creatures of Arda
Servants of the Shadow: