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Nick Deligaris - Nazgûl.jpg
"Nazgûl" by Nick Deligaris
General Information
Other namesRingwraiths, the Black Riders, the Nine, Úlairi (Q)
OriginsMen who received the Nine Rings; corrupted by Sauron
LocationsMordor, Angmar, Dol Guldur, Minas Morgul
LanguagesBlack Speech, Westron
MembersWitch-king, Khamûl
Physical Description
DistinctionsWithout physical form
Average heightMan-high
ClothingBlack robes
GalleryImages of Nazgûl
" 'They come from Mordor,' said Strider in a low voice. 'From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you.' "
The Fellowship of the Ring, "Strider"

The Nazgûl (Black Speech: Ringwraiths, sometimes written Ring-wraiths), also known as the Nine Riders or Black Riders (or simply the Nine), were Sauron's "most terrible servants" in Middle-earth.


[edit] History

Sometime during the Second Age (after year S.A. 1697[note 1]) Sauron gave nine Rings of Power to powerful mortal Men. It is said that three of the Nine were lords of Númenor corrupted by Sauron,[1] and one was a king among the Easterlings.[2]

For many years the bearers used the rings to gain great wealth, prestige and power, becoming "mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old". The effect of the rings caused their lives to be prolonged, and to see things of the Unseen. But over time their bodily forms faded until they became wraiths entirely, slaves under the domination of Sauron's One Ring.[3]

Known as the Nazgûl, they first appeared around S.A. 2251[4] and were soon established as Sauron's principal servants. However the circumstances of this appearance are not recorded, nor their actions during the Dark Years, or during Sauron's capture to Númenor.

Their actions during the War of the Last Alliance are also unknown, but when Sauron was overthrown in S.A. 3441 at the hands of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the wraiths faded into the shadows.[4]

[edit] Third Age

However around 1050 of the Third Age Sauron returned in the form of a shadow in Greenwood the Great, triggering also the return of his servants. About 50 years later the Wise of that Age discovered the shadow of Dol Guldur and theorized that it was one of the Nazgûl.[5]

But it was around T.A. 1300 when evil things, like the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, multiplied again, and the Nazgûl definitely reappeared; it was then when Lord of the Nazgûl gathered evil Men and founded the Witch-kingdom of Angmar. From there he led Sauron's forces against the mannish kingdom of Arnor in T.A. 1409.[5]

Meanwhile Gondor was weakened by the Great Plague and War, and it was believed that Sauron's plan was to open the way to Mordor; indeed as the watch on Mordor stopped and Gondor's borders withdrew, it is believed that the Nazgûl freely re-entered Mordor around T.A. 1856 or later.[6]

The Witch-king was eventually defeated in battle in T.A. 1975 and sometime later returned to Mordor, gathering the other Nazgûl in preparation for the return of Sauron to that realm.[5][6]

In T.A. 2000, they issued by Cirith Ungol and captured Minas Ithil after a two-year siege. The city thereafter became the stronghold of the Nazgûl, from where they directed the rebuilding of Sauron's armies, also acquiring a palantír for the Dark Lord.[5]

During the Watchful Peace, when Sauron hid from the power of the White Council, the Nazgûl also remained hidden in Morgul Vale, allowing some peaceful time for the first Ruling Stewards of Gondor.[7]

But after his defeat in Dol Guldur, Sauron returned to Mordor in T.A. 2942 and declared himself openly in T.A. 2951. Three of the Nazgûl were sent to his fortress at Dol Guldur to garrison that outpost.[5]

In T.A. 3017 Sauron commanded the Ringwraiths to recover the One Ring of Power from "Baggins of the Shire". Disguised as horse riders clad in black (hence the term Black Riders), they sought out Bilbo Baggins who, as Gollum had revealed, had the One Ring in his possession.

The Dwarves of Erebor spoke of a rider who had come to offer Sauron's friendship and ask about Hobbits. As a token of their friendship he asked for a "trifle", a ring, "the least of rings", that the thief had stolen.[8][note 2]

[edit] War of the Ring

Sauron decided to assault Gondor directly. In attack on Osgiliath he let the Nazgûl lead, causing terror with the Black Shadow among the Gondorians[8][9] and making them think that they are the vanguard of Sauron's military force. However this was a feigned move of Sauron, who intended them to send them invisible to look for the Ring.[10]

The Nazgûl were given black horses (stolen from Rohan) for transportation and set off to find "the Shire", on their way learning from a Squint-eyed Southerner that Saruman wasn't a true ally of Sauron. Failed to find it, they return to the Wold empty-handed; messengers from Sauron send them to Isengard. There they encountered Gríma Wormtongue, who told them of the location of the Shire, but giving him a threatening message to Saruman.[10]

Crossing the Fords of Isen they reached Sarn Ford at evening and drove off the guard of Rangers of the North and five pursued the Rangers eastward, then returned to guard the Greenway. The other four entered the Shire before the dawn of 23 September; at nightfall Khamûl came to Hobbiton and interrogated Hamfast Gamgee asking for "Baggins", not knowing that Frodo Baggins, the Ring-bearer, had left the Shire that day.[9]

On 24 September a Rider approached Frodo and his companions near the Woody End, when a Wandering Company of Elves approached form Emyn Beraid, chanting the name of "Elbereth", and fled away.[11] The next day a Rider came to Bamfurlong approached Farmer Maggot asking about Baggins. The farmer directed him to in Hobbiton. The Rider said that the individual had left Hobbiton promised him gold if he informed him the next time he came. The farmer felt chill and was enraged by his trespassing and threatened him with his dogs, which, however, yelped and ran. The Rider was infuriated by his defiance, hissed and rode away.[12]

On 26 September two Riders came to the Prancing Pony at Bree and asked Nob for "Baggins", making the dogs and geese noisy. Nob, terrified, slammed the door on them, and the Riders continued all the way to Archet.[13]

Some days later, the hobbits arrived at Bree and Bill Ferny with the Southerner gave information about how one of the hobbits mysteriously "disappeared", but one of them spotted this encounter presence, and notified the others.[13]

In the early hours of 30 September, Riders raided Crickhollow while others silently sneaked into the Prancing Pony and raided the room of the hobbits, but Aragorn had took them to his room. Aragorn led the hobbits away that day.[14]

They pursued Gandalf from Bree and attacked him at night on Weathertop who defended himself with his magic.[9] Four Riders followed Gandalf as he escaped to the north.[8] The others attacked again Aragorn and the hobbits while camping under Weathertop, and the Witch-king wounded Frodo Baggins with Morgul-wound.[9][14]

On 11 October T.A. 3018[9] three Riders were guarding the Last Bridge of Mitheithel expecting Aragorn and the hobbits on their journey to Rivendell. Their plan was foiled by Glorfindel, who drove them away.[9][15] Two days later, some of them pursued Frodo across the Ford of Bruinen.[9] Elrond and Gandalf released a flood and the waters of Bruinen swept away and drowned the horses of the Riders.[8]

Ted Nasmith - The Nazgûl

The Ringwraiths were forced to return to Mordor to regroup. They reappeared later mounted on flying creatures, at which point they were referred to as Winged Nazgûl.

By the conclusion of the War of the Ring, all of the Nine Nazgûl were destroyed. The Lord of the Nazgûl himself was slain by Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden (with help from Merry, known as "The Magnificent" thereafter) during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The remaining eight Ringwraiths attacked the Army of the West during the last battle at the Black Gate. However, when Frodo Baggins put on the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sauron ordered the eight remaining Nazgûl to fly with all possible speed to Mount Doom to intercept Frodo. They arrived too late, with the Ring falling into the fire along with the hapless Gollum. The Nazgûl were caught in the firestorm of the erupting mountain and were destroyed.

[edit] Powers and abilities

"The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death."
― "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"

Given form only through the attire of black cloaks and hauberks of silver mail, their original form was completely gone and invisible to mortal eyes. Their hypnotic eyes could be plainly distinguished from their dark clothing, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. Mortal men could not touch them (unless blessed by weapons or tools of the ancient Elves of the First Age or by the Dúnedain, such as the barrow-blade used by Merry on the Witch-king of Angmar). The Ringwraiths had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with venomous properties, poisonous darts and black maces of great strength.

Ted Nasmith - The Attack of the Wraiths

Their arsenal of deadly armaments was not confined to physical means; they also had seemingly magical weapons of devastating power. They were surrounded by an aura of terror, which affected all living creatures; their "breath" (called the Black Breath) was poisonous, and their cries caused terror and despair in all who heard them. Some of the Nazgûl appear to have been accomplished sorcerers and used magic to devastating effect. According to Tolkien, though, it was the fear they inspired that was the chief danger:

They have no great physical power against the fearless," he wrote, "but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness
Letter 210

The Nazgûl existed mostly in the wraith world (the Unseen), making them extremely difficult to harm. Ordinary weapons would not hurt them, and even weapons of Númenórean manufacture would be destroyed if they passed through the wraith forms of the Nazgûl. They could not, however, interact normally with the material world (the Seen): they needed garments and weapons provided by Sauron to give them form. Consequently, they could be defeated by attacks that destroyed their disguises, forcing them to return to Sauron to receive new ones.

The Nazgûl spread terror in mortal creatures merely by their presence. Only specially trained horses or the fell beasts of Mordor could bear them. They caused panic and despair in their enemies simply by flying overhead, and only individuals of great courage could face them in combat.

They were also poisonous to mortal beings, causing a condition known as the Black Breath. Merely being in the vicinity of one of them could cause disorientation and illness. Intense exposure could be lethal.

The Nazgûl had poor vision in the material world, but they were acutely aware of the beings with a presence in the wraith world, like the wearer of the One Ring and certain Elves, such as Glorfindel. Anyone who could see into the wraith world could see the Nazgûl as they had appeared in their mortal lives.

The Witch-king could also affect matter with his voice, shattering the dagger that Frodo had gotten in the Barrow-downs and weakening the gates of Minas Tirith. Whether other Nazgûl could perform similar feats is unknown.

[edit] Identities

Only a few of the Nazgûl are named or identified individually. Their leader was the Witch-king of Angmar, and his second in command was named Khamûl. Khamûl was a lord of Easterlings,[2] and was the only Nazgûl known by his name. Three of them were Númenóreans.[1]

[edit] Etymology

Nazgûl means "ringwraiths" in the Black Speech (consisting of nazg + gûl).[16]

[edit] Other names and titles

Among their many names and titles were: the Ringwraiths,[17] the Black Riders, the Fell Riders, the Nine Riders, the Nine,[17] the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings, the Black Wings, Winged Messenger(s), the Shadows, and the Shriekers.

An Elvish name given for the Ringwraiths is Úlairi.[3][18] Linguists have remarked that it is a Quenya plural name of unknown meaning and etymology.[19][20] Michael Martinez, analysing the word, has tentatively suggested that:

Úlairi is a compound formed from Ú + lai + ri with probable meaning of "un (bad or immoral)" + "shadow" + "ones". In other words, the name may mean something like "those who are in/of unnatural shadow".[21]

[edit] Other versions of the legendarium

The first appearance of a Black Rider in Tolkien's drafts was actually a disguised Gandalf who scared the Hobbits on their way to Rivendell, before revealing himself.[22]

[edit] Portrayal in adaptations

Nazgûl in adaptations
Four of the Nazgûl on horseback in The Lord of the Rings (1978 film)  

[edit] Films

1978: The Lord of the Rings (1978 film):

The Nine are clad in brown and black, and have red eyes. The attack on The Prancing Pony is their deed, not that of any accomplices. After the attack, they cast off their hoods, revealing the black armour and hideous masks they wear beneath their cloaks.

1980: The Return of the King (1980 film)

The Nine are skull headed demons, who ride winged horses. The Witch-king himself rides a dragon-like creature, and has no face. Only a suspended crown and two red eyes can be seen. The Nazgûl have the Red Eye of Barad-dûr rather than the emblem of Minas Morgul.

2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

The Nazgûl serve as the main antagonists in the first half of the first film. Their dialogue is changed; the conversation with Gaffer Gamgee is omitted, and the conversation with Farmer Maggot is reduced. In the Unseen, they are pale white ghostly creatures.
After the death of the Witch-king in the third film, the other eight are taken out by Eagles and debris from Mount Doom, however, nothing is told of their individual fates.

2012-14: The Hobbit (film series) :

The Witch-king and the other Ringwraiths were buried in a dungeon in the High Fells of Rhudaur after the fall of Angmar. The Witch-king initially appears in Dol Guldur, where he briefly fights Radagast with his Morgul-blade; he drops it and Radagast takes it, ultimately bringing it to Gandalf, who then shows to the White Council in Rivendell. Later, Gandalf, following Galadriel's advice, visits the High Fells and discovers that the Nazgûl's cells were empty, broken open from the inside. Through this investigation, he is convinced that the Necromancer in Dol Guldur is indeed Sauron.
During the Attack on Dol Guldur they appeared in armour, ghostly versions of their mortal forms. The Nine do battle with Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond. During the confrontation between Galadriel and Sauron, their living forms seem to phase in and out of reality as holograms. Eventually they are driven to Mordor, with their master following suit.

[edit] Television

1993: Hobitit:

The Nine are featured in this adaptation through CGI as a passing shadow with their winged steed.They do not speak at all.

[edit] Radio series

1981: The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series):

The role of the Ringwraiths was expanded with material from The Hunt for the Ring.

[edit] Games

1979: War of the Ring (board game):

The Nazgûl are present in this game. The Witch-king is the most powerful character available to the Sauron player. The second most powerful is identified as Gothmog.

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

The name of the eight, other than Khamûl, are given as Er-Mûrazôr (the Witch-king, of Númenórean race), Dendra Dwar of Waw, Jí Indûr Dawndeath, Akhôrahil (Númenórean), Hôarmûrath of Dír, Adûnaphel (female Númenórean), Ren the Unclean and Ûvatha Achef the Horseman.[23][24]

1995: Middle-earth Collectible Card Game:

The Nazgûl appear as hazard cards within Middle-earth: The Wizards. Their names are identical to those used in Middle-Earth Role Playing, except for the Witch-king, who is referred to only as the Witch-king of Angmar.

1988: J.R.R. Tolkien's War in Middle Earth:

The Nazgûl are portrayed as black figures with red eyes and purple mantle.

2001-: The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game:

All the Nazgûl are named - The Witch-king of Angmar, The Dark Marshal, Khamûl The Easterling, The Betrayer, The Shadow Lord, The Undying, The Dwimmerlaik, The Tainted and The Knight of Umbar. Versions based on their depiction in The Hobbit trilogy retain the Witch-king and Khamûl; however, the remaining seven are dubbed the Dark Headsman, the Forsaken, the Lingering Shadow, and two pairs known as the Abyssal Knights and the Slayers of Men.

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (video game):

Black Riders form a threat in the Shire-stages of the game, where they need to be avoided by the player (in the persona of Frodo Baggins), and as the end boss for the game (in the persona of Aragorn). They are tall and robed in black, and nothing is seen underneath.

2001-7: The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game:

The Nazgûl, other than the Witch-king, are given Neo-Quenya titles based on their numbers, and various English titles:
  • Úlairë Attëa (from atta = 2); Black Predator, Keeper of Dol Guldur, Second of the Nine Riders, The Easterling.
  • Úlairë Nelya (from neldë = 3); Black Hunter, Lieutenant of Morgul, Third of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Cantëa (from canta = 4); Black Assassin, Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, Fourth of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Lemenya (from lempe = 5); Black Enemy, Lieutenant of Morgul, Fifth of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Enquëa (from enquë = 6); Black Threat, Lieutenant of Morgul, Sixth of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Ostëa [sic, later corrected to Úlairë Otsëa] (from otso = 7); Black Specter, Lieutenant of Morgul, Seventh of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Toldëa (from tolto = 8); Black Shadow, Messenger of Morgul, Eighth of the Nine Riders
  • Úlairë Nertëa (from nertë = 9); Black Horseman, Messenger of Dol Guldur, Ninth of the Nine Riders.[25][26]

2004: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth:

The Mordor faction has two different Nazgûl units: "Witch-king on Fell Beast" and "Nazgûl on Fell Beast". They are primarily used for scouting and surprise attacks.

2006: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II:

A new Ringwraith is introduced in the expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-king. Morgomir is the "Lieutenant of Carn-Dûm", the right-hand man of the Witch-king, of Black Númenórean descent. The design is similar to that in Peter Jackson's films: he is hooded and cloaked when he works for the Mordor faction, and white and ghostly when he fights for Angmar.

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

The Nazgûl appear throughout the game. Three are Easterlings: "The Bane of Rhûn", "The Woe of Khand", and "The Cursed Rider"; three are Haradrim: "The Grim Southron", "The High Sorcerer of Harad", and "The Forsaken Reaver"; and three are of Númenórean origin: "The Black Blade of Lebennin", "The Gloom of Nurn", and the Witch-king of Angmar. The Nazgûl are also given the Sindarin name "Gwatharan" (pl. "Gwetherain").
Early in the game one of the Nine wounds a Dúnedain ranger, Amdir, with a Morgul blade, who is later transformed into a Wraith himself, despite the best efforts of Free Peoples. Later, the player attempts to resist the troubles the Nine are spreading in Bree-Land. During the Fellowship's stay in Lothlórien, the Galadhrim Elves launch a military strike against Dol Guldur, to draw the attention of the Eye from the company departing down the Shores of Anduin. During their travel down the waters of the Great River, Legolas shot and killed a fell shadow in the sky, not knowing it to be a Nazgûl. The player is later able to find the corpse of the fell beast in the Brown Lands and it becomes clear that a Nazgûl is not far. At night, the Wraith ambushes the player who manages to drive him away with the use of fire.
During the Battle of the Pelennor, the Witch-king plays the role as described in the books. The High Sorcerer of Harad and the Woe of Khand guard the way to Gothmog in the raid instance "Throne of the Dread Terror", and the Forsaken Reaver is found at the end of the "Quays of the Harlond instance, in which he attempts to prevent Aragorn and his host from joining the battle. The Gloom of Nurn confronts the players at the conclusion of "The Silent Street" instance, as he attempts to reclaim the crown of Eärnur among the tombs of Gondor's kings and stewards.

2009: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest:

In the Evil Campaign, the Eight Nazgûl bring the Witch-King back to life after Sauron reclaims the One Ring.

2011: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North:

The Nazgûl appear in a flashback during the prologue of the game, in which they attack the Rangers at Sarn Ford, the entrance of the Shire. Later in the flashback their leader, the Witch-king, speaks with Agandaûr.[27]

2014: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor:

Although the Nazgûl do not appear in the game, they are mentioned many times.

2017: Middle-earth: Shadow of War:

The Nazgûl are featured in the game. Besides the Witch-king and Khamûl the other Nazgûl are:
  • Helm Hammerhand, the king of Rohan who fell into darkness after receiving a Ring of Power from Sauron and Celebrimbor, and in his rage he was turned into a Nazgûl.
  • Talion, who succumbed into the power of the Ring.
  • Isildur, whose body was found by Orcs. He was revived by Sauron after receiving a Ring of Power; he was eventually freed by Talion who took his place amongst the Nazgûl.
  • Suladân, an original character, who was once a Númenórean king.
  • The Nazgûl Sisters, also original characters, known as Riya and Yuka, who stole their Rings from the other Nazgûl and took their places.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links


  1. Sauron captured the Rings of Power in the Sack of Eregion around this year, and later distributed the Nine Rings (cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B and J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn").
  2. The identity of the messenger is unknown. In fandom it has been proposed that he was the Mouth of Sauron. Michael Martinez considers more possible that it was a Nazgûl .


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Hunt for the Ring", "(i) Of the Journey of the Black Riders"
  3. 3.0 3.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Second Age"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", "The Stewards"
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Great Years"
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Hunt for the Ring"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Three is Company"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Short Cut to Mushrooms"
  13. 13.0 13.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Strider"
  14. 14.0 14.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 31, 79, 125
  17. 17.0 17.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past", p. 51
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "V. The History of the Akallabêth", p. 153 (§30)
  19. Helge Fauskanger, "English-Quenya Wordlist (Quettaparma Quenyanna)", Ardalambion (accessed 25 June 2011)
  20. Ruth S. Noel, The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth
  21. Michael Martinez, "What is the Literal Translation of Úlairi?" dated 15 August 2014, (accessed 16 August 2014)
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: II. From Hobbiton to the Woody End"
  23. Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. et al. (1987), Lords of Middle-earth Vol II: The Mannish Races (#8003)
  24. Jessica Ney (ed.; 1990), Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (#8007)
  25. "Naming the Nazgul", (accessed 31 July 2012)
  26. "Lord Of The Rings (search function)", Trade Cards Online (accessed 31 July 2012)
  27. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, Prologue