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"I shan't call it the end, till we've cleared up the mess." — Sam
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"The Uruk-hai" by John Howe
General Information
Other namesGreat Orcs, Uruks
OriginsOriginally bred by Sauron in the late Third Age
LocationsMordor, Northern Rohan and Isengard, the Misty Mountains
AffiliationSauron (Nazgûl & Saruman)
LanguagesVarious dialects of the Black Speech, Westron
MembersUglúk, Mauhúr, Gorbag
Physical Description
DistinctionsLarge build; better resistance to sunlight; faster, stronger, and smarter than other Orcs
Average heightShorter than Men
Skin colorSwarthy
WeaponryShort, broad-bladed swords, shields, bows of yew, knives
GalleryImages of Uruk-hai

...and others, too, came out of the forest. Great Orcs, who also bore the White Hand of Isengard: that kind is stronger and more fell than all the others.

The Uruk-hai were a new breed of Orcs that appeared during the Third Age.


They were faster than normal Orcs and could travel during the day without being weakened. They were not only faster but smarter, stronger and larger, though they were still shorter than Men.

The Uruks in the service of Barad-dûr, the folk of Mordor, used the symbol of the Red Eye of Sauron. The Red Eye was also painted on their shields. At least one, a guard on the march with Merry and Pippin, had a black knife with a long saw-edged blade, used by Pippin to cut through the ropes on his hands. It is not clear whether or not these Uruks of Sauron should be regarded as identical with the Uruks of Saruman, who could be a further 'improvement' to the race achieved prior to the war.[source?]

The Uruk-hai in the employ of Orthanc used an S elf-rune wrought in white metal on the front of their iron helms. It was clear this "S" stood for Saruman, because their shields had a small White Hand of Saruman centered on a black field. Aragorn commented that their gear was not in the manner of other Orcs at all. Instead of curved scimitars, they used short, broad-bladed swords. Their great bows were made of yew wood, in length and shape as those of Men. Although they did not like the light of the Sun, they could withstand it better than other orcs. Saruman promised them man-flesh as a treat.


The race of Uruks, described as "black orcs of great strength", first appeared out of Mordor in the last years of the Stewardship of Denethor I. In T.A. 2475 they conquered Ithilien and destroyed the city of Osgiliath, but they were defeated by Steward Boromir later.[1] The following years, Orcs of Mordor - among them Uruks - continued to infest Ithilien, further deserting it by T.A. 2901.[2]

Around T.A. 2990, the corrupted Wizard Saruman began to use and possibly breed Orcs in Isengard.[3]. As the Shadow of the Enemy fell over Rohan, Uruks out of Isengard joined raiding parties of Orcs of the Misty Mountains against the Rohirrim.[4]

In the War of the Ring, the Uruks of Mordor referred to the Dark Lord Sauron as the Great Eye, and Shagrat was the commanders of one such garrison at Cirith Ungol, while Gorbag was an Uruk captain of Minas Morgul.[5]

Orc Assault by Darek Zabrocki

The Uruk-hai of Isengard made up the core of a ten-thousand strong army, mustered by the Wizard Saruman both in service to, and in tacit competition with, his Lord Sauron.[6] Joined by Dunlendings and the common Orcs of Isengard, they fought against the Rohirrim in the First and Second Battle of the Fords of Isen.[7], notably slaying Prince Théodred. The Uruk-hai army was then sent against King Théoden and his people at Helm's Deep, where they faced utter defeat in the Battle of the Hornburg.[8]

Behind his Master's back, the corrupted Wizard sent a smaller troop to capture the Ring-bearer for his own ends. These Uruks were led by Uglúk and ambushed the Fellowship of the Ring at Amon Hen, slaying Boromir and capturing Merry and Pippin. Though quarreling with the Mountain-orcs and Grishnákh's Mordor-orcs who had joined them, the Uruks imposed Isengard as the destination for the captive Hobbits. Saruman aided them with his sorcery as well: when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas followed the Orc-company, Saruman's will caused weariness of the heart for the pursuers and lent speed to his Uruks.[source?] The Uruk-hai troop and the other two Orc warbands were slain to the last on the eaves of Fangorn by Third Marshal of the Riddermark Éomer and his riders.[9]

On 29 February T.A. 3019,[10] Treebeard said to Merry and Pippin that Saruman had done something dangerous to the Orcs and that those Orcs were more like wicked Men, because they could tolerate sunlight although they hated it. He openly wondered if they were Men that Saruman had "ruined" or if he had "blended" Orcs and Men, an act which Treebeard considered to be "a black evil".[11]

After Samwise Gamgee's fight with the Spider Shelob, two Orc-troops led by the Uruk captains Shagrat and Gorbag stumbled upon the unconscious Frodo Baggins and carried him as their prisoner to Cirith Ungol.[12] Squabbling among themselves over Frodo's belongings, the Orcs and Uruks slaughtered each other, allowing Sam to enter the unguarded tower and rescue Frodo.[13]


Uruk-hai is a name in the Black Speech, which means "Orc-folk".[14][15] Paul Strack suggests that it is a compound of uruk ("Orc")[16][17][18][19] (for related words in other languages, see Orcs in Tolkien's languages) and -hai ("folk").[20]

Portrayal in adaptations

In both The Lord of the Rings (1978 film) and The Return of the King (1980 film), Uruk-hai are portrayed identically as (and without distinction to) the Orcs.

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

Uruk-hai at Isengard in J.R.R. Tolkien's War in Middle Earth
The Uruk-hai are portrayed as figures with purple armor and a shield.

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

In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, the Uruk-hai are shown as being released from a kind of membrane in the mud deep under Isengard (special commentary on the DVD edition explained that they were trying to base the scene on an early description of Tolkien's that Orcs "worm their way out of the ground like maggots"). In the movies Uruk-hai are described as a crossbreed between "Orcs and Goblin-men". This is a reference to the creatures mentioned by Gamling in the novel that blend the traits of Orcs and Men. These Uruks are sent after the Fellowship, and their initial captain is Lurtz, a movie-only character.
The Uruks of Isengard included Pikemen, Swordsmen, Archers, and Berserkers. The Berserkers are the shock troops. When they were first spawned a helmet filled with blood was placed on their heads, so that they were filled with a bloodlust for their enemies. They carry doubly-bent two-handed swords without guards, and forgo any armour in lieu of agility, slaying foes left and right, completely devoid of fear and pain. Pikemen, as the name suggests, carry long pikes, while archers carry crossbows. Swordsmen wield a straight, single-edged iron sword, hooked at the tip and lacking a guard, and deadly in an Uruk's strong grip. They also use bladed shields (resembling the late-Medieval spiked pavise), as seen in Amon Hen during Aragorn's fight against Lurtz. During the Battle of the Hornburg, all Uruk-hai (save for Berserkers) are equipped with heavy armor that covers everything other than their elbows and knees. The foot-soldiers' helmets bear crests that spread laterally across the top of helmet (unlike along the length of the helmets, such as the Renaissance morion that this helmet design resembles the most).
The Uruks were also very efficient using siege equipment, and had been trained to use crossbows with deadly accuracy. The Uruks, like the lesser Orcs, seemed to not care of each other's presence, shown by the battering ram wielders at Helm's Deep, barging each other off of the thin bridge. The Uruks also hated the Orcs, believing they were a lesser being and often rioting, e.g. in the tower of Cirith Ungol when Shagrat and Gorbag argued over Frodo's vest of Mithril and starting a mass war within the tower. The Uruks seem also to be able to control natural urges more than the Orcs, e.g. the Orcs demanded to eat the Hobbits they had captured, while the Uruks were protective. It would seem the only way Orcs were better than Uruks is in treachery, lying and being devious. The Uruks are also not seen to ever ride a mount, possibly due to size, weight and build (the Wargs which attacked the Rohan migration were ridden by trained Orcs).

2002: EA's The Two Towers:

Uruk-hai appear as enemies in the "Battle of Helm's Deep" and "Fangorn Forest" missions, retaining the movie appearance.
Uruk-hai in the cancelled video game The Lord of the Rings: The Treason of Isengard

2004: The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring:

Uruks become available after a storyline mission in which Saruman manages to perfect his creation.

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

Uruks compose most of the units of Isengard faction: swordsmen, pikemen, crossbowmen, in addition to Uruks operating siege engines are available, following the movie appearance.

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

Most of Uruk-hai units from the first game return with little if any changes in behavior.

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Multiple Uruks are used by the Enemy in different parts of Middle-earth. In addition to White Hand Uruks, notable are the Angmar Uruks and the Black Uruks from Dol Guldur, all sporting a variety of different appearances. Players can play as Uruks as part of the "Monster Play" game option.

2009: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest:

Uruk-hai appear as enemies during the Battle of Helm's Deep.

2014: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor:

Uruks replace the role of the lesser Orcs, making up the force stationed in Mordor.

2017: Middle-earth: Shadow of War:

Uruks once more fill in for the common Orcs. They are a confederation of various tribes: the Dark, Mystic, Terror, Slaughter, Warmonger, Outlaw, Feral and Machine Tribes.

See also


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion", "The Stewards"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Palantíri", "Notes", note 7
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl", "The Kings of the Mark"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise", pp. 735-42
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Road to Isengard"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Uruk-hai"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Great Years", entry for the year 3019, February 29, p. 1092
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Treebeard", p. 473
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise", pp. 735-42
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol", pp. 905-7
  14. 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), entry B Urukhai, p. 136
  15. 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), entry B krimp-, p. 12
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Other Races", p. 1131
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part Four. Quendi and Eldar: Appendix C. Elvish names for the Orcs", pp. 389-91
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954), p. 178
  19. 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), entry B uruk, p. 47
  20. Paul Strack, "BS. Uruk-hai n.", Eldamo - An Elvish Lexicon (accessed 13 January 2023)