Sundering of the Elves

From Tolkien Gateway

The Elves were a race subjected to many sunderings and divided into many tribes and peoples. The name Quendi refers to all Elves, but even from their beginning, elvenkind was divided.

A chart of the Sundering of the Elves

Minyar, Tatyar & Nelyar[edit | edit source]

The unbegotten Elves who awoke at Cuiviénen were divided into three tribes, distinguished by appearance and temperament.

  • The Minyar were golden-haired and loved poetry.
  • The Tatyar had dark hair and grey eyes and loved craft and knowledge. They were noted as being especially quarrelsome.[1]
  • The Nelyar were dark or silver of hair and loved song (this was the source of their alternate name, Lindar, meaning "Singers"), the woods, and the Sea.

Eldar and Avari[edit | edit source]

Some time after the Elves awakened, the Vala Oromë discovered them and invited them to come west to live in Aman. That invitation and the Great Journey that followed split the Elves into two main groups and many minor ones, which were never fully reunited.

The Avari (the "Unwilling") were those who refused the summons of Oromë. Half of the original Avari were of the Tatyar and the other half were of the Nelyar.[1]

The Eldar were those who accepted the summons. Their name, "People of the Stars", was given to them by Oromë in their own language. All the Minyar accepted the summons to Valinor and became known as the Vanyar. Those of the Tatyar and Nelyar who embarked on the Great Journey would come to be known as the Noldor and Teleri respectively.

Sunderings of the Teleri[edit | edit source]

Unlike the Vanyar and Noldor, the Teleri were subject to multiple sunderings along the Great Journey:

  • Those who feared to cross the Misty Mountains and stayed in the vales of the River Anduin were called the Nandor ("Those Who Go Back").[2]
    • A splinter group of the Nandor left the vales of Anduin under the leadership of Denethor and came to Beleriand before the Sun first rose. These were called the Laiquendi ("Green-elves").[1]
  • Those who reached Beleriand west of the Blue Mountains but did not make the crossing to Aman were called the Sindar ("Grey-elves").
    • Many chose to remain behind in order to look for their lord Thingol, who disappeared near the end of the journey. These were known as the Eglath ("Forsaken"), because they were left behind when their kindred crossed the Sea.
    • Those who came to the shores of the Great Sea but decided to stay there or, like Nowë, intended to cross to Aman but arrived too late to board the island ferry, were called the Falathrim ("People of the Shore").
  • The Teleri under the lordship of Olwë who crossed the Great Sea to reach Aman were known as the Falmari ("Wave-folk").

Calaquendi and Moriquendi[edit | edit source]

The Elves who completed the journey to Aman – the Vanyar, the Noldor, and the Falmari – referred to themselves as Calaquendi ("Elves of Light"). They referred to the Avari, Nandor, and Sindar as Moriquendi ("Elves of Darkness") in recognition of the fact that they never saw the light of the Two Trees. The largest part of the Moriquendi were Nelyarin, since half of the original Avari were so, as were all of the Nandor and Sindar.[3]

Amanyar and Úmanyar[edit | edit source]

After the Darkening of Valinor, most of the Noldor returned to Middle-earth with Fëanor and some remained there until the end of the Third Age. These became known as the Exiles, and they lived near to the Sindar for the rest of their time in Middle-earth. The Sindar were insulted by the appellation "Moriquendi," so the Exiles instead generally referred to them as Úmanyar ("Those Not of Aman"). Over the ages, use of this term grew to include all those Elves who started on the Great Journey but did not complete it. The Exiles referred to themselves and those who still dwelt in Valinor as Amanyar ("Those of Aman").

Thingol[edit | edit source]

Thingol was an exception to the usual overlap of the categories Calaquendi with Amanyar and Moriquendi with Úmanyar. This is due to the fact that he was one of the original three Elven ambassadors to Valinor and saw the light of the Two Trees, but did not complete the Great Journey and never dwelt in Valinor. As such, he alone was both Calaquendi and Úmanyar.[4]

Reunions of the Elves[edit | edit source]

In the great forests of Middle-earth, several new peoples were born from the unions of tribes that had once been sundered.

Silvan Elves[edit | edit source]

The Silvan Elves were a composite tribe of Nandor and Avari that emerged in the forests of Wilderland (notably Eryn Galen and Lindórinand) before the end of the First Age.

The Nandor had lived in the forests that girdled the upper vales of the Anduin since the time they turned back from the Great Journey. Over time, tribes of Avarin Elves spreading westward from Cuiviénen reached the Anduin as well, where they reunited with their Nandorin kin. These peoples effectively "became merged together."[1]

By the end of the First Age, some Silvan Elves had migrated as far south as the Ethir Anduin and Edhellond.

Galadhrim[edit | edit source]

The Galadhrim ("Tree-people")[5] were a composite tribe of Silvan Elves, Sindar, and Noldor that emerged in the forest of Lindórinand in the Second Age. It is unclear when exactly the residents of Lindórinand began to refer to themselves as "Galadhrim," but this name came to include many elves of diverse origin that arrived in Lindórinand in multiple waves of immigration.

After the sinking of Beleriand, the Elves who had lived there and did not wish to leave for Valinor had to find new homes. Those Sindar and Laiquendi who preferred the forests to the sea shores (or who wished to distance themselves from the remaining Noldorin Exiles) went eastward to reunite with their Silvan kin who dwelt in the great forests of Eryn Galen and Lindórinand. In both forest realms, the native Silvan Elves took Sindar for their kings (Oropher and Amdír, respectively) and underwent a process of "Sindarization" as they absorbed the culture of the Beleriandic immigrants. There were also Noldorin immigrants to the forest realms at this time, though evidently lesser in cultural impact than the Sindar.[6]

Separately from Eryn Galen, Lindórinand experienced a second great wave of immigration after the Sack of Eregion in S.A. 1697. Many Elves of Eregion, who were primarily Noldor,[7] escaped Sauron by fleeing through Khazad-dûm and emerged from the eastern side of the Misty Mountains onto Amdír's very doorstep. Some traveled down Anduin to Edhellond to depart Middle-earth, but others remained in Amdír's realm and dwelt there.[8] By the time Galadriel and Celeborn took up the Lord and Ladyship of the realm in T.A. 1981, the Galadhrim had thoroughly absorbed these Noldorin refugees into their culture; there is no further mention of them as a distinct people within the Elves of Lórien.

Ratio of Elvish clans[edit | edit source]

According to Noldorin historians, the proportions (out of 144) of Elves who remained (Avari), who started but didn't complete the March (Úmanyar), and who completed the March (Amanyar) were as follows:[9]:504

Clan Avari Eldar Total
Úmanyar Amanyar
Minyar 0 0 14 (Vanyar) 14
Tatyar 28 0 28 (Noldor) 56
Nelyar 28 26 (Sindar and Nandor) 20 (Falmari) 74
Total 56 26 62 144

Other versions of the Legendarium[edit | edit source]

The above ratio of the initial population of the Eldar, but without giving exact figures, derives from Tolkien's notes between 1959-1960, eventually published in a collection of essays titled Quendi and Eldar.

Around the same time, or perhaps earlier (1959) Tolkien wrote several drafts of Elvish proportions and populations for the outset (and in one case, at the conclusion) of the Great March. They were eventually published in The Nature of Middle-earth.

Scheme Total Avari Vanyar Noldor Teleri Other
"March" unnamed[10]:56 15,000 5,000 1,000 3,500 5,500
"March" unnamed[10]:56 29,000 9,060 (~ 9000) 2,000 7,000 11,000 At Atyamar the Telerin population had increased to 13,000, of which 3,000 became Nandor
"Increase" Text 1[11]:108 32,400 10,800 2,100 8,400 11,100 1/3 of Minyar become Avari
"Generation" Scheme 1[12]:123 26,244 8,748 1,701 (1,700) 6,804 (6,800) 8,991 (8,900)
"Generation" Scheme 2[12]:123 48,232 (48,168 with losses) 16,056 3,122 (3,100) 12,488 (12,400) 16,502 (16,500)
"Generation" Scheme 7[12]:131 27,000 9,000 1,750 7,000 9,250


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: C. The Clan-names, with notes on other names for divisions of the Eldar", pp. 380-85
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: Author's Notes to Quendi and Eldar", p. 412, Note 18
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Thingol and Melian"
  5. 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), p. 50
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Second Age"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Amroth and Nimrodel"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: C. The Clan-names, with notes on other names for divisions of the Eldar"
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part One. Time and Ageing: VII. The March of the Quendi"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part One. Time and Ageing: XIV. Calculation of the Increase of the Quendi"
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part One. Time and Ageing: XV. A Generational Scheme"
(Quendi · People of the Stars · Firstborn · Elder Kindred)
Three Kindreds:
(Eldar · Eldalië · Edhil)
 Vanyar (Fair-elves · Minyar) · Noldor (Deep-elves · Tatyar) · Teleri (Lindar · Nelyar)
(High-elves · Amanyar)
 Vanyar · Noldor · Falmari
Úmanyar:  Sindar (Grey-elves · Eglath · Falathrim) · Nandor (Green-elves · Silvan Elves)
 Moriquendi:  Úmanyar · Avari (Cuind · Hwenti · Kindi · Kinn-lai · Penni · Windan)
See also:  Awakening of the Elves · Sundering of the Elves · Great Journey