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Nirnaeth Arnoediad

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Nirnaeth Arnoediad
Conflict: Wars of Beleriand
Date: F.A. 472
Place: Anfauglith and the Fen of Serech
Outcome: Decisive victory for Morgoth

Union of Maedhros
Gondolindrim army

Forces of Morgoth
Easterlings (under Ulfang)[note 1]


Húrin Thalion
Azaghâl of Belegost

Unnamed Captain of Morgoth[1]


Elves, Men, Dwarves. Specific numbers are not given other than force of 10,000 Gondolindrim[2]

Full strength of Angband including Balrogs, Wolves, Orcs, Dragons, see note on numbers.[note 2]




Then in the plain of Anfauglith, on the fourth day of the war, there began Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Unnumbered Tears, for no song or tale can contain all of its grief.

The Nirnaeth Arnoediad, also known as the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, was the fifth battle in the Wars of Beleriand fought between the forces of Morgoth and the Union of Maedhros. Its name was taken from the first words of the Doom of Mandos: "Tears unnumbered ye shall shed...". The battle was a pivotal moment in the war as the northern power of the Elves took heavy casualties, allowing Morgoth to exercise his dominance over Beleriand.


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 refugees dwelling in Hithlum and Nargothrond. Gondolin was shut up and unknown.

In F.A. 468,[3] Maedhros after hearing the deeds of Beren and Lúthien perceived Morgoth was not unassailable and planned to take the offence against Angband before Morgoth would destroy them all one by one. Thus he set out plans to reunite the foes of Morgoth under a new league, the Union of Maedhros.[2]

Under this 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 smithies of Nogrod and Belegost were busy preparing weapons and the Easterlings following Bór and Ulfang were trained for war. In west Beleriand the Noldor in Hithlum prepared as well as the Men of the house of Hador and people of Haleth. Tidings of the Union also came to Turgon.[2]

Because of the evil deeds of Celegorm and Curufin it hindered Maedhros' plans, Orodreth the king of Nargothrond refused to participate, but Gwindor joined the Union, commanding a group of Elves against his will. From Doriath, where Thingol had sworn never to fight beside any son of Fëanor, came only Mablung and Beleg, who did not wish to remain behind.[note 3][2]

A year later[4] Maedhros made the first trial of his strength and cleared the northward regions of Beleriand of Orcs and regained much of the land the Elves lost in the Dagor Bragollach, even Dorthonion was freed. Unbeknown to Maedhros Ulfang and his followers were in secret league with Morgoth and he was well aware of the plans of the Union from his spies.[2]

Strategy and array

The Union of Maedhros was divided into two hosts, the western host was commanded by Fingon and the eastern host was commanded by Maedhros.

Western Host

Eastern Host

The strategy of the Union was for Maedhros to march in force into Anfauglith, there he hoped Morgoth would respond by sending out his armies to meet the eastern host. The western host would remain hidden in the woods and valleys east of Ered Wethrin waiting for the firing of a great beacon in Dorthonion. Upon firing of the beacon Fingon would lead his host and engage the host of Morgoth from the west hoping to break it like hammer and anvil. The western host was reinforced later when Turgon unexpectedly came forth with ten thousand Gondolindrim.[2]



Then When Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: 'Utúlie'n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatarni, utúlie'n aurë! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!' And all those who heard his great voice echo in the hills answered crying: 'Auta i lómë! The night is passing!'

On the morning of Midsummer the trumpets of the Eldar greeted the rising of the sun and hosts of Fingon and Maedhros gathered in the west and east. Fingon on the walls of Eithel Sirion saw his host arrayed, hidden in the woods and he looked to the east and through the dust he saw the glint of steel and indeed Maedhros had set forth into Anfauglith. A dark cloud gathered about Thangorodrim and the wrath of Morgoth was aroused and he accepted the challenge. A shadow of doubt fell upon the heart of Fingon then suddenly a cry went up of wonder and joy, as Turgon had come unsummoned and unlooked for with his host - "ten thousand strong, with bright mail and long swords and spears like a forest".[2]

Fingon received Turgon's army with the cry "Utúlie'n aurë!" and they stationed guarding the passes of Sirion and he became hopeful. Morgoth through his spies had learned of the battle plan, and his treacherous servants had delayed Maedhros' march to prevent swift union of the two forces.[2]


Gwindor's Charge by Peter Xavier Price

Morgoth then moved forward with his plan, that same hour a host of Orcs sallied forth from Angband to provoke the western host to attack and another greater host was sent to meet Maedhros.[1] The hearts of the Noldor grew restless and the captains wished to assail the Orc-host in the plains, but Fingon forbade this and to urge caution and to wait for the Orcs to assault the hills.[1][note 4] Within sight of the Ered Wethrin, Gwindor's brother Gelmir, captured during the Dagor Bragollach, was brought forth, and brutally slain. Enraged, Gwindor broke ranks and charged along with his men. From their hidden positions in the eastern hills, Fingon's forces suddenly charged along with them. The Orc host was taken by surprise and swiftly defeated, and the sudden charge of Fingon's army nearly foiled Morgoth's plans; the forces of Gwindor and Fingon pushed forth, reaching Angband itself.[2]

Morgoth shook upon his throne as Gwindor's company pounded at his gates above. They burst through, and slew the guards on the steps of Angband itself, though Morgoth had trapped them. They were then ambushed with hidden forces set about Angband; all of Gwindor's company was slain and Gwindor himself was captured. From clandestine gates around Angband, thousands of Orcs erupted suddenly, repulsing the host of Fingon from the walls. The Elven army was driven back in great slaughter, and many Haladin fell fighting in the rearguard including their lord Haldir.[2]

The Fall of Azaghâl by Joona Kujanen

Turgon, who had withheld his host from the reckless charge, now came upon the Orc host. The phalanx of Turgon broke through the Angband lines, and met with the guard of Fingon.

Finally, Maedhros arrived, but before he could make junction with Fingon and Turgon, Morgoth unleashed his last strength and all of Angband was emptied; wolves, wolfriders, Balrogs, dragons and with them Glaurung. Union forces could yet have prevailed, but Uldor turned ranks and attacked Maedhros in the rear, while more of his kin came down from the mountains and attacked from the east. Maglor slew Uldor in single combat[note 5], Bór and his sons slew Ulfast and Ulwarth and they themselves were slain, but could not turn the tide of the battle. Under assault from three sides, the eastern host was scattered, and only the valour of the Dwarves of Belegost helped them escape, as their lord Azaghâl and his forces held off Glaurung, allowing the sons of Fëanor to escape into Ossiriand.[2]

Nirnaeth Arnoediad - Unnumbered Tears by Jenny Dolfen

Azaghâl and his army fought with fierce iron masks on, and they were able to resist the fire far better than any Elf or Man. Then Glaurung trampled Azaghâl beneath his feet, but Azaghâl ran a dagger through Glaurung's stomach, and the dragon fled in pain. Many beasts retreated with him. In a solemn ceremony, the Dwarves picked up their fallen leader, abandoning the battle, and marched him home in a great procession. Their wrath was so great that none troubled them.[2]

All this had not helped the western host, who were attacked by many Orcs under Gothmog. Gothmog cut a path to Fingon and fought him in single combat. After another Balrog bound him with a whip, Fingon was hewed by Gothmog's black axe and his body was beaten with maces. Húrin begged Turgon to retreat back to Gondolin, knowing now he was the last of the House of Fingolfin and Gondolin still remained hidden so Morgoth would still know fear in his heart. Huor then said to the king that from his house the hope of Elves and Men will come and 'from me and you a new star shall arise.' Huor and Húrin and the remaining Men of Dor-lómin formed a living wall across the Fen of Serech, buying time for Turgon to escape with what remained of the Elves of Gondolin and Fingon's host. Acting as a rearguard, these Men were almost all slain – Huor fell when his eye was pierced by a poisoned arrow. His brother Húrin fought ferociously to buy his allies time to escape, fighting until his axe withered away. Morgoth had ordered him to be taken alive, however; he killed no fewer than seventy Orcs[note 6] and Trolls before he became pinned under their corpses, and was later taken prisoner by Gothmog.[2]


The Hill of Slain by Ted Nasmith

The Orcs gathered all of the slain Elves and Men and piled them in a mound in the midst of the desolate landscape and it was so great it could be seen from afar, and the Elves named it Haudh-en-Nirnaeth, Hill of Tears or Haudh-en-Ndengin, Hill of the Slain. Grass grew on that hill long after the battle but nowhere else in Anfauglith and no servant of Morgoth would go near it.[2]

Morgoth now had complete dominance in the north and his servants pressed southwards whenever. Morgoth sent the Easterlings that served him into Hithlum and shut them in and denied to them the fertile lands of Beleriand. The Easterlings plundered and harassed the women, children and old of Hador's people and what remnant of Elves still in Hithlum was sent to the mines of Angband. In the east the sons of Fëanor were scattered and they retreated to the woods and mountains and Himring was occupied by the Orcs. A year later Morgoth sacked the havens of the Falas.[2]

Morgoth's destruction was not entirely complete, however, for Turgon, now High King of the Noldor after the death of Fingon, had evaded capture, and his city Gondolin was still unknown to Morgoth. Doriath and Nargothrond still remained.[2]


Nirnaeth (or Nírnaeth) Arnoediad (or Arnediad) is Sindarin for "Tears Uncountable".[5][6]

Note that the "oe" of "Arnoediad" is not the Sindarin diphthong "oe", but rather the single umlaut vowel "œ", better represented with a ligature.[7]

Other versions of the legendarium

The earliest concept of the battle appears in Gilfanon's Tale and is named the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The text was abandoned by Tolkien and what information of the battle existed in outlines for the Lost Tales, from it many essential features would remain in later writings including the death of the leader of the Gnomes (Noldor), treachery of Men - corrupted by Melko and Turgon escaping with his host.[8]

A common element of the battle in the drafts is that the Union of Maedhros comprises of two hosts, a western force commanded by Fingon and a eastern force commanded by Maedhros. This division was mainly due to strategy employed by the leaders, a hammer and anvil tactic to encircle and destroy the host of Morgoth. In the Sketch of the Mythology the division is caused because the Fëanorians refuse to be led by Finweg (Fingon) thus the host is divided and the other is led by Maidros and Maglor.[9] This animosity between the two factions was changed later to have them more friendly and cooperative. This is part of the frequent revisions that Tolkien made of the composition and allegiances of the armies:

  • In the earlier drafts the Dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod do not participate in the battle but instead help arm the eastern host as well as 'many armies' - their "smithies were busy in those days".[10][11] The Dwarves were more concerned with war profiteering than fighting,[12] it is said that they gained much "wealth and jewelry of Elves and Men", and they "did not favour either side".[note 7] This is from the earlier view of the Dwarves that they were neutral and so inclined to deal with the servants of Morgoth.[13] The Sketch mentions that the Fëanorians made war upon them but this was later changed to converse.[9] In the later writings Tolkien made the Dwarves 'less evil' and they now participate in the battle and the Dwarves of Belegost were able to hold their ground against the brood of Glaurung and their lord Azaghâl wounds Glaurung.[14] This is incorporated in The Silmarillion.
  • In the Sketch and Quenta (as originally written) Turgon is already with Finweg in Hithlum and is one of the commanders of the western host. When they are defeated Turgon flees with the remnant of the Gnomes down Sirion thanks to the heroics of Húrin and Huor. It is here that their scouts discover the valley encircled by the mountains and establish Gondolin[9][15]. In the Quenta there was a change and it had Turgon coming forth 'unlooked for' with a great host, which would mean that Gondolin was already established before the battle.[10] The foundation of Gondolin occurring before the battle remained in later writings.
  • In The Silmarillion Thingol did not send any of his people to war save only Mablung and Beleg.[16] In the Sketch Thingol does indeed send help and allows the 'Gnomes of Doriath' to join the Union and a 'few from Doriath'. These Gnomes were refugees when Morgoth broke the Siege of Angband and they arrived to Doriath to take service to Thingol and Melian.[9] This element originates from The Tale of Tinúviel where some Noldoli are in Tinwelint's service.[17] In another version Thingol sends Mablung and a small force of Grey-elves.[18]
  • In the earlier drafts Maidros' host consist of Men, Gnomes and Ilkorins or Dark-elves.[9] The Ilkorins were an early name for Úmanyar. The Dark-elves answer the summons of Maidros but they are not from Doriath[10] but from the south,[11] where they fled after Morgoth broke the Siege of Angband.[19] Furthermore the Green-elves of Ossiriand join Maidros in the battle.[11] The explicit mention of Dark-elves and Green-elves joining the battle disappeared in the latest writings which is most likely due to keeping consistency of the story, Thingol refusing to help and the Green-elves refusing to go to war after the death of their leader. In The Silmarillion it states Maedhros gathered all the strength of Elves, Men and Dwarves.

In The Silmarillion Morgoth plans to send a decoy force to draw out Fingon, which succeeds due to the dismembering of the prisoner Gelmir. However this element plays out differently in early drafts, for instance in the Sketch it has Finweg's host advance into Dor-na-Fauglith (Anfauglith) and they defeat an Orc host, they pursue them only to fight against a greater host when they reach Angband. There is no prisoner but the element of Finweg fighting two hosts in the opening stages remained in later writings.[20] This is further developed in the Quenta, Finweg does not advance nor is their any Orc host present, but Finweg send heralds to Angband to summon the hosts of Morgoth, Morgoth replies by sending a host out with a captured herald and they slew him in front of Finweg which provokes him and the entire host to charge.[10] Notice that it is Finweg that is provoked by the slewing of the herald, this later changes to Gwindor, who was also present in the battle but is named Flinding. The use of the heralds was abandoned in later writings,[21] so the role was replaced by Gelmir who was now in the later writings the brother of Gwindor.

Turgon was originally already in Hithlum, however this was altered when Tolkien had Gondolin already existing before the battle so Turgon would arrive later on the day onlooked.[10] In the Annals of Beleriand there is different version of events where Turgon does not arrive to take part in preparation near Hithlum, instead he emerges from Taur-na-Fuin unlooked for and engages the Orcs that were driving back Fingon's host.[22]

The battle was originally the third Battle of the Wars of Beleriand but was replaced by the Dagor Bragollach and it became the fourth battle[23] and then eventually to the fifth battle.

The Elvish name went through many changes in Tolkien's writings. In the stories of the Lost Tales it appeared as Gnomish Nínin-Udathriol or Qenya Nieriltasinwa.[24] Later revised to Nínin Unothradin or Nirnaithos Unothradin,[25] and again later to Nirnaith Únoth then to Nirnaith Ornoth[26] in the The Lay of the Children of Húrin. In the drafts it appeared as Nirnaith Irnoth then changed to Nirnaith Dirnoth[27] There was another variant Dagor Nirnaith.[28] Nírnaith Arnediad was the name of the battle in the Quenta Silmarillion which had another variant Nírnaeth Arnediad (or Aronoded).[29] The final form was now Nirnaeth Arnoediad, which had another variant Dagor Arnediad[30]

See also


  1. There is no mention of Ulfang taking part in the battle and it is noted that his son Uldor was the leader of the treachery, commanding his forces. It is unknown if he was alive or dead by that time or still alive after. In the appendix of The Lost Road it states that Ulfand (earlier form of Ulfang) was born in year 100, died 170. When comparing the dates with the earliest Annals of Beleriand Ulfand died two years before the battle which started at 172.
  2. In the Annals of Beleriand it is written that there were 100,000 Orcs and 1000 Balrogs when Morgoth emptied Angband. It is unclear if this number was definite since Tolkien had revised the number of Balrogs significantly over the development of the story.
  3. In the The Grey Annals Thingol sends a small force of Grey-elves with Mablung, Beleg is not mentioned to have gone to war.
  4. In The Silmarillion this warning was told by Húrin.
  5. In The Grey Annals Uldor was slained by Cranthir (Caranthir)
  6. In The Grey Annals it was a hundred Orcs
  7. This line is different depending on which draft you read. In the Quenta: 'For we do not know the rights of this quarrel,' they[Dwarves] said 'and we are friends of neither side-until it hath the mastery.' In the Quenta Silmarillion: 'For we do not know the right causes of this quarrel,' they[Dwarves] said, 'and we favour neither side-until one hath the mastery.'


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Children of Húrin, "The Battle of Unnumbered Tears"
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": §212
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": §213
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Index"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Index of Names"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", entry "NOT"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, "X. Gilfanon's Tale: The Travail of the Noldoli and the Coming of Mankind": "Notes and Commentary"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "II. The Earliest 'Silmarillion' (The 'Sketch of the Mythology')"
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "III. The Quenta: [Section] 11"
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, "Part Two: Valinor and Middle-earth before The Lord of the Rings, VI. Quenta Silmarillion"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": Note on §212
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "IV. The Nauglafring"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": §232
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "III. The Quenta: [Section] 15"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad"
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "I. The Tale of Tinúviel"
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": §221
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "III. The Quenta: [Section] 9"
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "II. The Earliest 'Silmarillion': Commentary on the 'Sketch of the Mythology'"
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "III. The Quenta: Commentary on the Quenta, [Section] 11"
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "VII. The Earliest Annals of Beleriand: [The first version of The Earliest Annals of Beleriand (Text AB I)]"
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "Index"
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "Appendix: Names in the Lost Tales – Part II"
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lays of Beleriand, "I. The Lay of the Children of Húrin: Prologue (Húrin and Morgoth)"
  26. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lays of Beleriand, "I. The Lay of the Children of Húrin: III. Failivrin"
  27. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "VII. The Earliest Annals of Beleriand: Notes [to text AB I]"
  28. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, "Appendix: II. The List of Names"
  29. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies"
  30. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals"

War of the Great Jewels
First Battle · Dagor-nuin-Giliath · Dagor Aglareb · Dagor Bragollach · Nirnaeth Arnoediad · War of Wrath