The Nazgûl were once nine great powerful Men, all of whom were given Rings of Power by Sauron. Sauron meant and achieved the goal of corrupting the powerful Nine. The Nine took them and used them to achieve great power, wealth and prestige in life. But as time passed, the Rings continued to exert their corrupting influence. The Rings eventually left the kings spectral, invisible to all but those who could see into the wraith world, and slaves to the will of Sauron. Their lives and power became bound to Sauron's via the One Ring; as Sauron grew or diminished in power, so too did the Nazgûl.
The Nine were first seen around 2251 of the Second Age, and soon became established as Sauron's primary servants. Despite being Sauron's most useful servants, not much is known of their activities during the Second Age. They were temporarily dispersed after Sauron's downfall in SA 3434 during the war of Last Alliance of Elves and Men, losing the ability to maintain any sort of physical form as Sauron did after losing the One Ring. However, the Ring was not destroyed, and as such, both the Nazgûl and Sauron were able to endure.
Return of the NazgûlEdit
The Nazgûl re-emerged around 1300 of the Third Age as Sauron at long last began to take shape after his defeat at the hands of the Last Alliance. It was around this time that the Witch-king established himself in Angmar and began to launch attacks against the nearby kingdom of Arnor, which had fractured into three smaller kingdoms due to infighting. His first target was the realm of Rhudaur. After conquering Rhudaur and replacing the Dúnedain king with one of the native Hillmen 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, and it 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. After the fall of Cardolan, Angmar's advance was slowed by resistance from the elves of Lindon and Rivendell. By TA 1974, Angmar arose again and captured Arthedain's capital of Fornost, and with that the last kingdom of Arnor was destroyed.
However, Eärnur arrived too late to be of help in defending any of Arnor's territories. Instead, he and his army sought revenge against the Witch-king. He and his forces marched against the armies of the Witch-king and utterly destroyed them during the Battle of Fornost. With the destruction of his forces, the Witch-king escaped and retreated to Mordor. Despite the complete annihilation of Angmar, the campaign was accounted a tremendous success by Sauron, for the territories formerly occupied by Arnor became essentially wilderness, with the Dúnedain Rangers being all that stood between its people and complete lawlessness. At some point, the Barrow-wights left Angmar and Rhudaur to occupy the Barrow-downs of Cardolan. 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 (which was renamed Minas Morgul), acquiring a Palantír for the Dark Lord.
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 three of the Nazgûl to garrison his fortress Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. They were led by Khamûl, the second most powerful of the Nazgûl behind the Witch-King.
Hunt for the RingEdit
Shire and BreeEdit
Near the beginning of the War of the Ring in TA 3018, Gollum, a Stoor who had once owned the One Ring, was captured and tortured in Mordor. From him, Sauron learned of the location of the One, and the family identity of those who had kept it. Having learned this, Sauron released Gollum, but Gollum was soon recaptured by Aragorn, captain of the Rangers of the North. Learning of this, Gandalf the Grey went immediately to interrogate the creature and discovered that Sauron now knew where the Ring was and who had it; the hobbit Frodo Baggins. Accordingly, Gandalf advised Frodo to leave the Shire and make for Rivendell, taking the Ring with him. However, Sauron wasted no time in attempting to capture the Ring, sending all of the Nine to retrieve it.
Soon the Nazgûl entered the Shire, where they learned the Ring was in the possession of Bilbo Baggins' nephew, Frodo Baggins. 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 fortunately encountered Aragorn himself, who had been asked by Gandalf to watch for the hobbits and aid them if he could.
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 BruinenEdit
- "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.
Battle of the Pelennor FieldsEdit
- "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 his new mount, the Witch-king attacked the ruined city of Osgiliath with an army of Orcs and secured it. After this, he made way for the assault on Minas Tirith, leading 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 against Mordor's forces.
The Witch-King attacked King Théoden on the battlefield. As Théoden was crushed by his horse, the lord of the Nazgûl prepared to finish 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 DefeatEdit
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 AbilitiesEdit
- "Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"
- —The Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
The Nazgûl were sustained by the power of Sauron. The Witch-king in particular was difficult to slay, for any weapon that struck him would be destroyed. The Nazgûl's own weapons included long swords of steel and daggers. Their leader possessed a powerful black mace 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 and a general aura of dread. They wore hauberks of silver mail and had enhanced senses of hearing and smell.
The Nine could 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 that they desire and hate. 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 Aragorn managed to hold off five of the Ringwraiths 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 challenged 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.
All the Ringwraiths but the Witch-King feared water, although it seems this weakness was abandoned by Tolkien in the published version because it was an idea difficult to sustain.
At Weathertop, Aragorn used fire to drive the Ringwraiths away from Frodo. Even the Witch-King feared fire; though it's possible it had less of an effect on him over the other eight Nazgûl. At the Ford of Bruinen, Aragorn and the hobbits that accompanied Frodo used it to assist Glorfindel and drive the Ringwraiths into the raging water.
If an enemy was strong enough so to resist their aura of dread, 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 a few could resist them all at the same time. But it has also been seen that legendary heroes like Glorfindel can instill fear in the hearts of the Nazgûl too.
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 in addition to new 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 in attempting to seek and find the ringbearer, Frodo.
- Fell Riders
- Black Wings
- Nine Riders
- Black Riders
- Wraiths on wings (by Gollum)
- The Witch-king of Angmar is often referred to as Lord of the Nazgûl and The Black Captain.
- Khamûl, second-in-command, is called the Black Easterling or the Shadow of the East.
Portrayal in adaptationsEdit
Ralph Bakshi versionEdit
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.
Rankin and Bass versionEdit
The Rankin-Bass version of the Return of the King also featured the Nine, but with drastically altered appearances. With the exception of the Witch-king, all the Ringwraiths appear as hideous, skeletal humanoids riding black horses with red eyes and bat wings. They notably wear black cloaks and brown tunics that bear the red eye insignia of Sauron, with black crowns atop their heads. The Witch-king shares this outfit save that he initially appears hooded, and upon removing his hood a crown and glowing red eyes are visible but no head. The Witch-king initially appears riding a winged horse, but later rides in atop a Fell beast to attack the body of Theoden before being slain by Éowyn.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogyEdit
The Nazgûl portrayed in the films are emphasized with their deafening shrieks, provided by Peter Jackson's partner and co-screenwriter Fran Walsh. Andy Serkis voices Khamûl who briefly speaks in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Storywise, the Nine are largely unchanged from their novel roles, with the most notable changes taking place in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and centering on the Witch-king. Here he is only seen riding his Fell beast mount, and never without his hood; he is also established in the film's extended edition as being more powerful than Gandalf the White, shattering his staff during a brief confrontation.
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.
The Hobbit film trilogyEdit
The Witch-king of Angmar appears in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Dol Guldur, where he briefly fights Radagast, dropping his Morgul-blade, which Radagast shows to Gandalf and which Gandalf then shows to the White Council in Rivendell. Galadriel and Elrond are alarmed by the dagger's appearance, knowing it was buried with the Witch-King in his tomb, which they believed could not be opened.
In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Galadriel sends Gandalf to the Ringwraiths' tombs in the High Fells, and find each of them has been broken open from the inside. This is enough to convince Gandalf that the Necromancer of Dol Guldur is in fact Sauron in disguise, as the Nine only answer to him.
In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the nine Ringwraiths appear in armored, ghostly versions of their mortal selves after Galadriel rescues Gandalf from his cage in Dol Guldur. The Nine fight against Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond and are seemingly banished by them. Radagast arrives to take Gandalf to safety. But after a few moments, Sauron appears with the Nine hovering before him. The Witch-King floats forward to stab Galadriel, but she quickly takes the shape she did in The Fellowship of the Ring and banishes the Nine, leaving only Sauron. After a short duel Sauron flees towards Mordor together with the Ringwraiths.
The Lord of the Rings Trading Card GameEdit
The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game, which is based on the film trilogy, gave the Ringwraiths-aside from the Witch-king-titles consisting of the word Úlairë, another term for Ringwraith, and a number. Thus, the other eight wraiths are identified as Úlairë Attëa (two), Nelya (three), Cantëa (four), Lemenya (five), Enquëa (six), Otsëa (seven), Toldëa (eight), and Nertëa (nine).
Games Workshop modelsEdit
The Games Workshop model company give each Ringwraith a particular title as well as backstory and personality. As well as The Witch King (the best match for this particular Nazgûl is Isilmo) 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 best match for this particular Nazgûl is Herumor or Fuinur)
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 Nazgûl 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 best match for this particular Nazgûl is also Herumor or Fuinur who came from Numenor island to the south during the second age, eventhough either one or both of them became the Lords of Haradrim. It is also known that, both Haradrim and Umbar were in league to destroy Gondor)
Middle-Earth Roleplaying GameEdit
The Ringwraiths each received unique names and backstories in MERP, though Khamul remained as the Black Easterling. The Witch-King was identified as the Black Númenórean prince Er-Mûrazôr, while the other seven unnamed Ringwraiths were named Adûnphel, Indûr Dawndeath, Hoarmûrath, Dwar of Waw, Ûvatha and Akhôrahil. Both Akhôrahil and Adûnphel were also Black Númenórean with the latter surprisingly being a woman. 
The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king dubbed one of the Ringwraiths as Morgomir. The One Ring also gave titles to the three wraiths sent to Dol Guldur by Sauron: the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, the Ghost of the Forest, and the Messenger of Mordor. 
- 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. They are also the subject of the song "Die Schwarzen Reiter" by the German New Age group E Nomine.
- It is important to note that the Witch-king's appearance in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first time that one of the Nazgûl can be seen in their true form without wearing the One Ring.
- The Dementors in the Harry Potter series are often compared with the Nazgûl of Middle-earth.
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Translations around the WorldEdit
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||戒靈|
|Finnish||Sormusaavet = Ringwraiths
Mustat ratsastajat = Black Riders
Ringgeister (Ringwraiths), Schwarze Reiter (Black Riders)
Spettri dell'Anello, Kittemmuorti
|Serbian||Назгул (Cyrillic) Nazguli (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Назгул (Cyrillic) Nazgûl (Latin)|
|Vietnamese||Ma Nhẫn, Nazgûl|