The Witch-king of Angmar was once a Man. He was corrupted by one of the nine Rings of Power given to Nine lords of men by Sauron in the Second Age. He and the eight others received incredible power from the rings, which they used to further their own ambitions, but eventually the Rings completely corrupted them and turned them into wraiths, undead Nazgûl, completely under the will of Sauron. The Witch King became the leader of the Nazgûl and second in command to Sauron himself.
The Second and Third Ages
The first sighting of the Nazgûl in Middle-earth was reported in SA 2251. For the next 1200 years, the Lord of the Nazgûl would serve Sauron as his second in command. He fought in the war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men between SA 3434 and SA 3441. It was in SA 3441 when Sauron was finally defeated and the nine Nazgûl disappeared from Middle-Earth.
One thousand years into the Third Age, Sauron took a new form as the Necromancer, and founded the fortress of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood in TA 1050. This signaled the return of the Nine Nazgûl to Middle-earth.
The Lord of the Nazgûl reappeared in TA 1300 in the north near the lost realm of Arnor. There he founded the kingdom of Angmar. It was after the formation of Angmar and several conflicts with the Dúnedain of the North that the Lord of the Nazgûl received the title of Witch-king, Lord of Angmar.
He then began his open war campaign with the three divided kingdoms of Arnor (Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan). In TA 1356, the Witch-king invaded the kingdom of Rhudaur and replaced the Dúnedain king of the land with a hill chief allied to Angmar. King Argeleb of Arthedain was killed trying to defend Rhudaur against Angmar. In TA 1409 the troops of the Witch-King assaulted the fortress of Amon Sul and burned the tower, during which conflict king Arveleg of Arthedain was killed. The Witch-King then invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Cardolan. Then the Witch-King invaded Arthedain and came close to destroying it but King Araphor with the help of the elves of Lindon and Rivendell managed to defeat the invading forces.
Soon, the only resistance against the Witch-king's forces was the western kingdom of Arthedain. The Witch-king continued his war for hundreds of years. In TA 1636, the Witch-king sent wights to the Barrow-downs in Cardolan in order to prevent the rebirth of the kingdom. The Witch-king claimed ultimate victory in the north in TA 1974, when his forces captured Fornost Erain, the capital of Arthedain. With its capture, the final kingdom collapsed, and with it, the last remnants of the lost realm of Arnor were destroyed.
The Witch-king gladly took his seat of power in the newly captured Fornost. But his glory did not last long, for in TA 1975, general Eärnur of Gondor landed at the harbours of the Grey Havens, leading an army of Gondor. His army was joined by the Elves of Lindon and the remnant of the northern Dúnedain and marched on the Witch-king.
They did not meet the Witch-king at Fornost, but on the plains west of it toward Lake Evendim, home of the ancient kings of Arnor, Annúminas. The battle would forever be known as the Battle of Fornost. Eärnur's Dúnedain army was later joined in the mists of battle by Glorfindel and his Elven army from Rivendell. The Witch-king revealed himself and challenged Eärnur. As Eärnur attempted to attack, his horse was overwhelmed with fear of the Nazgûl lord and bucked. The Witch-king, taunting Eärnur, fled the battlefield. When Eärnur attempted to follow, Glorfindel stopped him with a warning that would become prophetic in the future:
- "Do not pursue him! He will not return to these lands. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man shall he fall."
The Witch-king, having destroyed the North-kingdom, fled the North. Angmar was left leaderless and soon collapsed.
Return to Mordor
Having ruined the Dunedain kingdoms in Eriador, the Witch-king returned to Mordor. Although Sauron was still hiding in Dol Guldur (disguised as the Necromancer), the other eight Nazgûl rallied around the Witch-king. Together, the nine of them laboured to rebuild their master's power in Mordor, gathering huge Orcish hordes about themselves. In the year TA 2000 they came out of Mordor and began attacking Gondor, which was recovered from the Great Plague but devastated by the Wainriders. In TA 2002 they captured Minas Ithil, and took the place for their own. It became known as Minas Morgul and its citadel the Tower of Witchcraft and remained a place of great evil for centuries thereafter.
In TA 2043, King Eärnil II of Gondor passed away and his son Eärnur, the Witch-king's old enemy, inherited the throne. Upon his coronation, the Witch-king challenged him to single combat, but Eärnur refused. However, seven years later in TA 2050 the Witch-king again challenged him—and Eärnur accepted. The Gondorian King rode out of Minas Tirith to fight the Witch-king at Minas Morgul. He entered the city's gates and was never seen again, thus ending the reign of the Gondorian Kings and beginning the rule of the Stewards of Gondor. In TA 2063 the Watchful Peace began when Sauron fled Dol Guldur and hid in the East, and the Nazgûl remained quiet in Minas Morgul for the next 400 years.
In TA 2460 the Watchful Peace ended when Sauron, disguised as the Necromancer, returned with increased strength to Dol Guldur, and in TA 2475 the Witch-king led hordes of Orcs and Haradrim against Osgiliath and seized its eastern half. The city was ruined, and the great stone bridge linking the east and west banks of the Anduin river was destroyed, dealing a devastating blow to the morale of Gondor.
In TA 2941 the Necromancer was finally expelled from Dol Guldur when Gandalf confirmed that he truly was Sauron in disguise. Sauron returned to Mordor and began preparations to find his One Ring. He began the reconstruction of Barad-dûr in TA 2951 and sent three Ringwraiths to re-capture Dol Guldur. And in TA 3018, with the capture of Gollum, Sauron learned, through torture, where the land of the Hobbits lay. Unfortunately, Gollum had lied, and the Ringwraiths went to Saruman, who refused to tell them the location of the land of the Halflings. The Witch King chanced upon Grima Wormtongue in Rohan, who, for fear of his life, told the Nazgûl where the Shire was. Sauron opened the gates of Minas Morgul and sent forth the Witch-king and the other Nazgul disguised as Black Riders to fetch his Ring.
With an attack on Osgiliath that was in fact a ruse, the Nazgûl were able to cross the river and ride west.
The War of the Ring
The Witch-king and the other eight Nazgûl rode swiftly from Mordor to the lands of the Shire. They continued to search for "Baggins" until they tracked him to Buckland. The Nine Riders raided Buckland but could not find the Ring.
The Witch-king led four other Nazgûl to Weathertop where they discovered Frodo, Aragorn, and the other hobbits. The Ringwraiths attacked the party and the Witch-king wounded Frodo with a Morgul blade. Though successfully driven off by Aragorn, Frodo's wound threatened to turn him into a wraith like the Nazgûl. Elrond of Rivendell sent Glorfindel to guide Frodo to Rivendell where Elrond could heal his wound. Glorfindel's race to Rivendell lured the Ringwraiths into the Bruinen. Here, Elrond released a Great Flood, with Gandalf giving the waves of the torrent the form of horses. This flood destroyed the physical forms of the Ringwraiths, killed their horses, and sent the Wraiths back to their master in Mordor, buying the Fellowship time to plan an attack.
With their return to Mordor, Sauron bestowed upon the Nazgûl great winged creatures as their new mounts. Sauron used the lesser eight Nazgûl for reconnaissance work and the occasional shock troop. The Witch-king, however, returned to Minas Morgul and resumed the role of commander of Sauron's forces. He then began battles to capture Osgiliath, finally issuing from Morgul with a great host. However, at the bridge over Morgulduin he pauses, feeling the Ring nearby; until Frodo touches the Phial and turns aside his enemy's thought.
Siege of Gondor
The final battle for Osgiliath was fought on March 13, 3019 of the Third Age against Faramir's rangers. Faramir's forces could not hold the Orc hordes under the control of Gothmog. Faramir pulled his forces back to Minas Tirith assailed by flying Nazgûl, losing much of his force in the retreat. A second time he went forth, and from that assault only Faramir returned to Minas Tirith, gravely wounded, in Gandalf's arms. With Gondor's defeat at Osgiliath, nothing stood in the way of Sauron's ambitions of destroying Minas Tirith and the Free People's hopes.
On March 14, Orcs, Haradrim, and Easterling forces numbering over 200,000 marched on the gates of Minas Tirith. Sauron had bestowed the Witch-king with newfound strength, making his might the greatest it ever had been. At the Battle of the Pelennor Fields he appears on a black horse, his presence casting a shadow of utter paralysis and fear upon defender and foe. Crying incantations in "some forgotten tongue," he enhances the power of Grond, and weakens the already damaged gate of Minas Tirith. The ram breaks open the gate, and the defenders inside flee, terror stricken by his dark presence. However, his march in is hindered by Gandalf the White, the only one able to withstand his power. There is a duel of words between them, and the Witch-king doffs his hood revealing a crown on empty air, mocking Gandalf as "old fool" and bidding him die, threateningly draws his blade, which blazes on its own accord. Gandalf holds firm, ready to do battle. Before the two warriors can clash the horns of Rohan sound, signaling the arrival of aid to Minas Tirith. The Witch-king then withdraws to order the defence against this new threat.
The Witch-king mounted his Fell beast and rallied his troops against the furious charge of the Rohirrim. The army of Rohan was slowed and the initial charge blunted by their encounter with the Mumakil, allowing the hosts of Mordor to re-organize. The Witch-king took this opportunity to strike down King Théoden while his troops were in confusion. Flying on the back of his fell beast, he drove upon Théoden. The advancing Rohirrim horses panicked as his beast attacked. Théoden's horse, Snowmane, became frightened, was struck by a black dart and fell upon its master.
Éowyn: Be gone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!
Nazgûl: Come not between the Nazgul 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.
Éowyn: Do what you will, but I will hinder it, if I may.
Nazgûl: Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!
Éowyn: But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Be gone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.
Éowyn slew his fell beast in two strikes. The Witch-king arose filled with malice, attacked, and though a powerful warrior, Éowyn was no match for the Witch-king's might. With a single blow of his mace, he shattered her shield and broke her left arm.
As he towered over her, preparing to deliver the final blow, Merry snuck up behind him and plunged his sword into the back of Witch-king's knee. The sword, made in Westernesse centuries ago, broke the magic of Sauron that kept the Witch-king anchored to this world. While the Witch-King was distracted, Éowyn drove her sword where the head of the wraith would have been, slaying him.
The prophesy of Glorfindel so many centuries before had ironically come to pass. For not by the hands of a man had he fallen, but by those of a hobbit and a woman. With his death, the tide of the battle had changed, and ultimately the outcome. No more than ten days later, Sauron himself was finally defeated when the One Ring was finally cast back into the fires of Mount Doom.
Portrayal in Adaptations
In the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), the Witch-king confronted Gandalf the White on one of the upper levels of Minas Tirith. The Nazgûl drew out his sword, which immediately burst into flame and sucked air straight towards it, a spell which eventually shattered Gandalf's staff.
Video Game Appearances
Games WorkshopGames Workshop has released several miniatures of the Witch King based on his appearances in the movies. He is depicted on foot, riding a fellbeast and riding a horse. He is also included in a mini diarama depicting his last moments in The Return of the King.
The Witch-king appears as a boss hero in all The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (video game) games as a boss, although in the PS2/Xbox/GameCube the player merely shoots his Fell beast a number of times until it dies. He was also in the Third Age PS2 game as a Pelennor Fields boss and in the GBA game as an optional Evil commander that focuses mainly on dealing out huge amounts of damage directly.
His more notable appearance is in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king which features Angmar's rise to power and eventual destruction, including new heroes such as Morgomir.
It would appear based on much of Angmar's powers that the Witch-king's original sorcery was based on ice, cold, and the dead. In The Battle for Middle Earth games, the Witch-king is noted for being extremely cruel, as he will attack friend and foe alike. The only two other units in the franchise that show this savagery are the Balrog and the Spectral Werewolf, as not even Sauron kills his underlings for being in the way. He also has the largest health pool for a standard hero, at 8,000 health points at the start, but has very little to any armor.
In Video Games
- The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II
- The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king
- The Lord of the Rings: Conquest
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (video game)
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
- The Lord of the Rings Online
- Guardians of Middle Earth
- LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game
. The Witch-king was a powerful warrior, and his weapons match his strength and skill.
Broad SwordWhen entering a battle, his primary weapon is a mighty broad sword. This ancient weapon was created in the dark forges of Mordor, a blade that suited the Witch-king well. Whether he was out searching for the hobbit with his master's One Ring, or battling the forces of Gondor and Rohan at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the Witch-king used this weapon to dispatch and cut down his enemies easily and effortlessly. It is possible that the sword has some fell magic entwined within it. This fiery broad sword is used again apparently in The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, when he is attacking Éowyn and Berethor's party, who has joined with Éowyn against the mighty Lord of the Nazgûl.
Although not officially named in The Lord of the Rings books, those who preordered The Lord of the Rings: Conquest video game were given a replica of the Witch-king's sword. On the box art (and playing as the Witch-king in the game), EA provides a name for the weapon: The Sword of Terror.
The Witch-king's other primary weapon was his mace. The Lord of the Nazgûl uses this weapon with the same amount of skill and dexterity as his sword, able to take down several foes at once when used together. While the mace may not have any magic or curse placed on it like the sword does, it is obviously more menacing in general; a mighty weapon that can shatter shields and/or kill enemies in one swing. Together with his sword, the Witch-king was an unstoppable force, a mighty warrior that was only slain with the combined efforts of an extremely lucky shieldmaiden and hobbit whose blades were very powerful against the Witch-king specifically, a fact which was unknown to them.
In the movies, the Witch-king uses a flail instead of a mace. Although the choice of weapon was different, it is a relatively minor change as both mace and flail are similar in nature, and used with equal power in the hands of the Lord of the Nazgûl.
In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, the Witch-king is featured using a flail, since it is swung, however in the expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-king, he uses a steel sceptre that appears to be a small trident instead of his mace.
The Witch-king's last and smallest weapon was, in a way, more powerful than any of his primaries. That was the Morgul-blade, a deadly sorcerer's device that could turn any it stabbed into a lesser wraith, slave to the true Nine and Sauron. The Morgul-blade was reserved for the most powerful enemies of the Dark Lord, or for special purposes. He used it on Frodo, in an attempt to claim the Ring and punish its bearer by putting him in a state worse than death. Fortunately, though, the blade failed to complete its task. Nevertheless, the Morgul-blade is a powerful tool of destruction, with one of the most powerful curses imaginable on its blade. The Witch-king is the only person who can wield this weapon as is seen in the Peter Jackson Film Trilogy, Aragorn defends the hobbits from the Witch-king and the other Black Riders on top of Weathertop, he picks up the Morgul-Blade and the blade evaporates.
Besides weapons actually crafted from forges in Mordor, the Witch-king also used his winged Fellbeast as a method of attacking his enemies. This Fell Beast served two purposes: to take down enemy structures and catapults and to kill massive amounts of enemies at once. When the Witch-king (or indeed, any other Ringwraith) swooped down upon his enemies, they would flee in terror and attempt to save themselves (usually unsuccessfully). This Fell Beast was finally slain by Éowyn via decapitation.
As a Nazgûl, the Witch King had a wide arsenal of powers. Besides from the common Black Breath any weapon that touched the Witch-King should be destroyed (a fate that both Eowyn´s sword and Merry`s sword shared), and its bearer should be poisoned. The Witch-King was also a feared sorcerer, having powers over the physical world, breaking Frodo`s sword with just a move of his hand, or weakening the Gates of Minas Tirith allowing Grond to break them. He was stronger at nighttime.
His power has fluctuated over the centures, with the two peaks of his power being his campaign against Arnor and the final battle at Minas Tirith. His power also varies from adaption and novels. In the novels, he is severely outclassed by Gandalf the White. While in the Peter Jackson adpations, he was far more powerful than his novel counterpart and even feared by Gandalf, even going as far as breaking Gandalf's staff with a powerful screech.
Behind the Scenes
The Witch-king's true name was never given, and therefore among Tolkien fans, the Witch-king is often simply called Angmar, after the name of the realm he founded and led (like how Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington who helped defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, was and is referred to as simply "Wellington"). Many fans also identify him as one of the three Black Númenóreans Tolkien stated had become Nazgûl or possibly Isilmo, a Númenórean prince and father of Tar-Minastir. In the now defunct Middle-earth Role Playing game, he was named Er-Murazor, a Númenórean prince, though this is strictly non-canonical. In the Angband computer game he was listed as Murazor, the Witch-King of Angmar.
In the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Éowyn challenges the Witch-king with the words: "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!" . It is supposed that the word "dwimmerlaik" is formed from the Old English words "gedwimer" (sorcery), and "lic" (corpse).
Though no character in the story uses the title Witch-king of Angmar, Tolkien does use the title in full in Appendix B in the entry for the year 1409 of the Third Age.
Roots in Norse mythology
An undead witch-king named Þráinn appears in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar. It is probable that this was Tolkien's source of inspiration. Although, another witch-king appears in Greek mythology, and is named Aeetes. What should be noted is that Aeetes' appearance bears more resemblance to the one of Angmar.
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- The Silmarillion: Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Lord of the Rings: Appendix A
- The Lord of the Rings: Appendix B
- The Complete Guide to Middle-earth