Nírnaeth Arnoediad

Nírnaeth Arnoediad

In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium of Middle-earth, the (Dagor) Nírnaeth Arnoediad or (Battle of) Unnumbered Tears was the climactic Fifth Battle in the Wars of Beleriand.


The Fifth Battle as told in The Silmarillion

In the almost two decades since their defeat 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 shut and unknown. The great deeds of Beren and Lúthien in defeating Sauron, overthrowing his fortress of Tol-in-Gaurhoth and wresting a Silmaril from Morgoth's Crown, as well as the military victories of Thingol on all the borders of his realm of Doriath, gave hope to the Noldor that Morgoth could still be defeated. In the year 468 of the Years of the Sun in the First Age, Maedhros began building an alliance capable of taking the war to Angband and regain the lands of the Noldor.

Under the Union 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 Morgoth. The Union first cleared Beleriand and Dorthonion from the Orcs, and at Midsummer of 472 gathered to assault Thangorodrim. Due to the prideful attitude and words of Maedhros' brothers, Celegorm and Curufin, and their sedition against Orodreth, no significant armies from Nargothrond or Doriath joined the Union.

Maedhros' plan was for his main host to attack and draw out the army of Angband and engage their front, after which Fingon's host would attack from the Ered Wethrin in the west, striking the forces of Angband on the flank. Led by Maedhros in the east were gathered the Sons of Fëanor, the Elves and Men of Himring under Maedhros and Maglor, the Elves of Amon Ereb under Caranthir, the Easterlings of Bór and Ulfang and the Dwarves of Belegost. Under Fingon in the west were gathered the Elves and Men of Hithlum, the Elves of the Falas, the Folk of Haleth from Brethil and the companies sent from Nargothrond.

Other potential allies of great strength would not join the Union because of the evil deeds of Celegorm and Curufin, two of Maedhros' brothers. Nargothrond would send only a small company of elves under Gwindor because of their part in the death of Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond. From Doriath, Thingol had sworn never to support any son of Fëanor after they kidnapped his daughter Lúthien and treacherously wounded Beren. Only Mablung and Beleg, two of Thingol's great captains, who did not wish to remain behind, came and joined the western army. On the other hand, Turgon unexpectedly appeared with an army of ten thousand Elves from Gondolin.

Maedhros had mustered the largest force of Elves and allies ever, but his failures in statesmanship and diplomacy, along with the ill deeds of his brothers, alienated one of the largest Elven force in Beleriand, King Thingol's army of Doriath, some 30,000–45,000 strong.[1] The actions of Celegorm and Curufin deprived the Union of a further 15,000–20,000 Elves of the army of Nargothrond. None doubted that Morgoth had not been idle, and when every sword would be needed the loss of potentially 45,000 to 65,000 more warriors would prove crippling to Maedhros' plan.

Morgoth had learned of the battle plan through his spies and his agent Uldor son of Ulfang, who proved to be a traitor, delaying Maedhros with false information and preventing the lighting of the signal beacon on Dorthonion. To further disrupt the coordination of Maedhros' plan a large detachment of Orcs was sent west from Angband with orders to provoke Fingon's host in the west into a premature attack. When Fingon's host stayed in position, the Captains of the Orc-host brought a prisoner, Gelmir, the brother of Gwindor, and he was mutilated and beheaded in sight of the Elves. Tragically, though Fingon's army was concealed in the Shadowy Mountains over a very long front, the Orc captain killed Gelmir in front of Gwindor's position. Enraged, Gwindor and his company of Elves from Nargothrond broke ranks and charged, killing the heralds and driving into the bulk of the Angband army, and Fingon promptly ordered his entire army to charge. The Army of Hithlum in this first encounter nearly managed to disrupt Morgoth's plans by destroying his western army on the plains of Anfauglith.

Gwindor and his small company led the charge all the way from Eithel Sirion to Angband, to the extent of breaking through the front gates and killing the guards on the stairs; it is said that Morgoth trembled as Gwindor's company pounded on his doors. Once inside, though, they were surrounded and killed, except Gwindor, who was captured and imprisoned. Fingon and the main Army of Hithlum could not come to their rescue, as Morgoth had by this time ordered his main army, many thousands strong, to emerge from a large number of hidden entrances in Thangorodrim. Fingon suffered great losses as his army was beaten back from the walls of Thangorodrim, and soon ordered a general retreat back towards Hithlum. Many Men of Brethil fell in the rearguard during the retreat, including their Chieftain Haldir. For two days and the intervening night, Fingon's army continued its retreat, until on the second night they were surrounded on the plains of Anfauglith, and they fought desperately through the night.

Turgon had restrained the Army of Gondolin from joining in the first attack, and was able to come to his brother's assistance. Attacking the Orc army from the south, the phalanx of Turgon's guard broke through the Angband lines, and Turgon's army linked up with Fingon's. At this time, Húrin and Turgon had a friendly meeting with each other.

Finally, Maedhros and the Eastern Army joined the battle, causing many Orcs to flee in terror. But before he could cut through to Fingon and Turgon, the last reserves of Angband under Glaurung the Dragon attacked, preventing the two armies from joining. However, Uldor and a large contingent of Easterlings turned traitor and attacked the Eastern Army from within, nearly approaching Maedhros' banner before they were cut down. But further forces of Easterlings, summoned by Uldor, joined the battle against Maedhros, and the Eastern Army, attacked from three sides, broke and fled in disorder. The seven Sons of Fëanor gathered a remnants of the Noldor and Dwarves, cut a way out of the battle and escaped towards East Beleriand, eventually establishing themselves on Amon Ereb. The Dwarves of Belegost helped them escape, as their forces formed a sort of rearguard, holding off Glaurung. Glaurung was vulnerable to the Dwarves' axes, while the Dwarves themselves wore fire-resistant iron masks and were naturally able to resist fire better than Elves or Men. When Glaurung found himself surrounded he crushed Azaghâl, the King of Belegost, but Azaghâl stabbed Glaurung in the stomach, and the dragon fled back to Angband, along with the beasts of the host of Morgoth. In solemn ceremony the Dwarves picked up their fallen leader, and, leaving the battle, they marched his corpse home singing a funeral dirge; no-one attempted to stop them.

The Eastern Army having been utterly defeated, Fingon and Turgon found themselves surrounded and vastly outnumbered.[2] The Balrog Gothmog, High-Captain of Angband, cut a path between Fingon and Turgon, isolating Fingon and forcing Turgon and his army to retreat towards the Fen of Serech. Turning his attention to Fingon, Gothmog killed all Fingon's personal guard, and Fingon duelled with Gothmog until a second Balrog caught Fingon in a fiery whip. Gothmog took the opportunity this presented to strike a killing blow at Fingon's head.

The battle was now thoroughly lost, with Turgon reduced to maintaining a defensive line guarding the entrance to the Pass of Sirion. Húrin and Huor urged Turgon to retreat to Gondolin. During this discussion, Huor prophesied to Turgon that out of Gondolin the hope of Elves and Men would come, and that from both their houses a new star would arise, a reference to Eärendil the Mariner. Huor, Húrin and the remaining Men of Dor-lómin formed the rearguard, desperately fighting and only gradually conceding ground, thus buying time for Turgon to escape with his surviving forces and as many Elves of Fingon's former Army as could safely be gathered. Retreating behind the Fens of Serech, the Men of Dor-lómin positioned themselves with the Fen of Serech to their front, forming a natural defence, and with their backs to the Stream of Rivil, intending to fight there to the death. The Silmarillion says that "...of all the deeds of war that the fathers of Men wrought on behalf of the Eldar, the last stand of the Men of Dor-lómin was most renowned."[3]

The Men of Dor-lómin indeed fought to the death. Late in the afternoon, Huor was killed, shot through the eye with a poisoned arrow, and all the others were killed; the Orcs chopped the heads off the bodies and piled them "as a mound of gold in the sunset". Finally, Húrin was the only one left, and during this very last phase of the battle he killed no fewer than seventy of Morgoth's soldiers. But Morgoth gave orders that Húrin was to be taken alive, and the corpses of Orcs eventually became so numerous that at the end he fell trapped beneath a pile of them. The battle thus ending, Gothmog bound him and dragged him to Angband.

This was Morgoth's greatest victory in the wars. Before the Battle, he controlled Anfauglith, with Lothlann, Dorthonion and the Pass of Sirion more or less secure. With the conclusion of the battle, Morgoth gained Hithlum, which he gave to the Easterlings to occupy, securing the entire North. Also, his control over the passes into Beleriand, both in the west (the Pass of Sirion) and the east (the Pass of Aglon and Maglor's Gap) was unquestioned. Shortly afterwards, Morgoth's Orcs would sack Himring and the East Marches, and the next year Morgoth defeated and destroyed the seaside towns of the Falas. Within a few years, Morgoth came to control virtually all of Beleriand, the principal exceptions being Nargothrond, Doriath and Gondolin; and these three kingdoms knew that, even all together, they were no longer capable of resisting Morgoth, so they turned to secrecy and stealth. Elsewhere, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains survived, as did the Green-elves of Ossiriand, and a few refugees from the Falas who escaped to the Isle of Balar.

Morgoth betrayed his servants, the Easterlings, trapping them in Hithlum under penalty of death, and denied them the fertile lands of Beleriand. Still Morgoth knew fear, for Turgon, now High King of the Noldor after the death of Fingon in the battle, had survived, and his city Gondolin was still unknown to Morgoth. Also, while Morgoth had achieved a crushing and decisive victory over his enemies, his own forces had suffered heavy losses to achieve it, and it would be some time before his forces recovered to their full strength from it.

Order of battle

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+[5]

Hosts of the Union of Maedhros: [6]

  • 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[7]
    • 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[8]
    • Gondolin: 10,000 Elves
  • East wing - Host of Maedhros = 42,500(32.500) to 60,000(45.000)
    • 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):[9] 2,500 to 5,000[10]
    • Dwarves: 10,000 to 15,000
  • Casualties: 65,000+[11]

Concept and creation

Later version of the Battle

The presented version of the story was drawn by Christopher Tolkien primarily from 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 aforementioned accounts.[12] 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 is 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 Elven lords. This version lacks the nearly explicit statement that the Elves would have won had it not been for the treachery of Men.

Christopher Tolkien does not venture a guess on why Tolkien 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.

Story development

The battle was from the beginning conceived by Tolkien to be the decisive point in the history of the Exiled Noldor. In the original outlines already appear the late arrival of the Sons of Fëanor, the escape of Turgon and, most important, the treachery of Men except the faithful folk of Úrin (Húrin), who are all slain. However, the sight of the battle is "the Vale of Fountains" that is from that time called "the Valley of Weeping Waters", and this is the second battle fought, not fifth.[13] Preceding battle were introduced in stages, as well as particular aspects of the Nírnaeth.


The name was taken from the Doom of Mandos: "Tears unnumbered ye shall shed...",[14] which prophesied its disastrous outcome for the Elves and their allies. The Elvish form Nírnaeth Arnoediad (pronounced IPA: [ˈniːrnae̯θ arˈnœdi.ad]; in this case the digraph oe denotes a rounded variant of the sound [ɛ], more or less like German 'ö') comes from Sindarin, one of the languages invented by Tolkien, and translates to Tears Uncountable: nîn means 'tear(s)', in compound nírnaeth 'tears of woe'; prefix ar- bears the sense of 'beyond' and the root nod- means 'count', with o umlauted to œ by the following i.[15] J. R. R. Tolkien often omitted the accent over the first vowel (due to haste or neglect), and this spelling was introduced into the published Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien; in editorial text within later writings, as The War of the Jewels, he used the accented form.[16]

The Elvish translation of the name itself was one of the most changeful within Tolkien's works. Originally it was given as Nínin-Udathriol, with Quenya variant Nieriltasinwa;[17] later Tolkien experimented with roots in question and various negative prefixes: Nínin Unothradin, Nirnaith Únoth, N. Ornoth,[18] N. Irnoth, N. Dirnoth[19] and finally Nírnaeth Arnediad. The latter spelling is equally "correct" with Arnoediad and represents the pronunciation of the name in later Ages, when the [œ] sound was unrounded to [ɛ].


Tolkien survived the Battle of the Somme, where Britain lost a great fraction of a generation. A possible influence from World War One, if one must be found, can be seen in the terming of the 5 Battles of Beleriand as Battles when each actually contains more than one battle and, like the Battle of the Somme, more properly might be called an Offensive.


  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 43, p. 251: "...the most mighty and the longest free was Thingol of the Woods", ISBN 0-395-36614-3  This statement taken in ratio, along with others about the relative numbers of Sindar to Noldor to any other single Elven realm (Tolkien, J. R. R. (1994), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The War of the Jewels, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 21: "though the Sindar were not numerous they far outnumbered the hosts of Fëanor and Fingolfin..."; p. 31: "...the people of Fingolfin and...Finrod were still more numerous than...Fëanor" (, ISBN 0-395-71041-3 ), makes this a reasonable estimate. however in Silmarillion (ISBN 0-345-32581-8) ": p. 223: " ...Thingol had not the strength to assail the seven sons of Fëanor", this was before the Union of Maedhros was formed makes this doubtful.
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 193, "a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them", ISBN 0-395-25730-1 
  3. ^ The Silmarillion, p. 194.
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1986), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Shaping of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 302, "There came afresh a hundred thousand Orcs...", ISBN 0-395-42501-8  Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Lost Road and Other Writings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 137, "a hundred thousand Orcs", ISBN 0-395-45519-7  As the final reserve, and one of three, or possibly four, battle formations sent from Angband of which the one released upon Fingon at Angband is called the "main host" in the Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin and is therefore larger than 100,000; whereas the first host is described as not as large, all together add up 300,000+. This singular hard number, as well as the 10,000 for the army of Gondolin, part of the host of Fingon which is later surrounded by forces "thrice greater", provide a textual basis for estimating strengths.
  5. ^ The Shaping of Middle-earth, p. 117: "and that day there was a greater slaughter of the servants of Morgoth than there yet had been..." This statement serves as an important point of reference in making estimates as the "great force, but not too great", p. 117; Silmarillion p. 191, "a force seeming great (and yet but a part of all that he had made ready)" destroyed by the host of Fingon has to be of convincing size to accomplish its end and could have hardly been much less than 75,000—100,000 strong. The Lost Road, p. 288: "...he recalled the main hosts of his Orcs...he was dismayed to find how great had been their loss."
  6. ^ Mythlore, Number 51, Volume 14, No.1, 'The Kindreds, Houses and Population of the Elves During the First Age', 1987; Mythlore ISSN:0146-9339, a detailed study of the numbers of Elves. From this 1987 article and from more recently published volumes of The History of Middle-earth, e.g.: Vol. XI, pp. 380-381, pp. 420–423; Vol. XII, p. 307, "two thousand full grown men"; relatively sound estimates can be drawn of the numbers of Elves, Men and Dwarves.
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1996), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Peoples of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 307: " Bëor...having no more...than two thousand full-grown men..."; "three hosts of the Folk of Hador...each host was as great as all the Folk of Bëor..."; "probably more numerous than the Folk of Bëor...the Folk of Haleth...", ISBN 0-395-82760-4  From this it follows that there were some 10,000 (2000 Bëor, 6000 Hador, 2000 Haleth) full grown Men of the Edain at their arrival in Beleriand. 12–15,000 for the Folk of Hador in Dor-lómin in Y.S. 472 seems reasonable and might actually be low; see The War of the Jewels, p. 219: "...after some fifty years many thousands had entered the lands of the kings."
  8. ^ Some tales hold that a portion of the warriors of the Folk of Haleth were women, The Peoples of Middle-earth", p. 309: "chieftainess Haleth had been a renowned amazon with a picked bodyguard of women."
  9. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1986), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Shaping of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p.117, "...and the Dark-elves, save out of Doriath, marched to his banner..."; p. 301, "...and multitudes of the Dark-elves, and of Men, in East Beleriand...", ISBN 0-395-42501-8 
  10. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Lost Road and Other Writings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 135, "...many Dark-elves were joined to him..."; p. 308, "...and of the Dark-elves of the South; and of the Green-elves of Ossiriand many companies...", ISBN 0-395-45519-7 
  11. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 241: "Nearly half of all the Gnomes and Men who fought there were slain.", ISBN 0-395-35439-0 
  12. ^ The War of the Jewels, pp. 165-169.
  13. ^ The Book of Lost Tales Part 1, pp. 327-45.
  14. ^ The Silmarillion: "The Flight of the Noldor".
  15. ^ The Lost Road: The Etymologies, roots NIE-, NAY-, AR-, NOT-.
  16. ^ See the index to The War of the Jewels, p. 459.
  17. ^ The Book of the Lost Tales Part 2, p. 84.
  18. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1985), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Lays of Beleriand, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 387-8, ISBN 0-395-39429-5 
  19. ^ The Shaping of Middle-earth, p. 312.

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