Middle-earth weapons and armour
Weapons and armour of Middle-earth are found in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy writings, such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Wars and battles are featured in much of Tolkien's writings, and weapons and armour are often given special attention.
Tolkien modelled his fictional warfare on the Ancient and Early Middle periods of history. His depiction of weapons and armour particularly reflect the Northern European culture of Beowulf, the Norse sagas and similar works. Tolkien established this relationship in The Fall of Gondolin, the first story in his legendarium to be written. In this story, the Elves of Gondolin use mail armour, swords, shields, spears, axes and bows, which is consistent with Northern European warfare. In Tolkien's writings, these kinds of weapons and armour are used by his fictional races, including Elves, Dwarves, Men, Hobbits, and Orcs. Like his sources Tolkien sometimes uses the motif of ceremonial runic inscriptions in his fictional items of warfare to show these items are magical and have their own history.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 General items
- 3 Named items
- 3.1 Named swords and knives
- 3.2 Named bows and arrows
- 3.3 Other named weapons and armour
- 4 References
- Sword: Noldorin Sindarin: magl, magol, North Sindarin magor, Quenya: makil, macil, Noldorin Sindarin: crist.
- Dagger, knife: Noldorin Sindarin: sigil, Quenya: sicil
- Axe: North Sindarin: hathol, Quenya: pelekko (Hooker notes the similarity of the Greek πέλεκυς pélekys: double-headed axe), Khuzdul: baruk (construct state: reconstructed singular burk )
- Spear: Quenya: hatal also ehte
- Bow: Noldorin Sindarin: peng also poetically cû ("arch"), Quenya: quinga.
- Arrow: Quenya: pilin, pl. pilindi (Hooker notes the similarity of the Latin pīlum [javelin, throwing spear], with cognates in the Old High German [pfīl], Modern German [Pfeil], Old English [pīl], late Old Norse [píla], and the Dutch [pijl].
Tolkien also devised terms for specific makes of weapons, like lango (broad sword), eket, ecet (short sword), and lhang (cutlass, sword). Lhang was used for a large two-handed, curved-bladed sword with a long handle used by Elves in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Swords symbolized physical prowess in battle for Tolkien, following Northern European culture. Tolkien writes that Elves and Dwarves produced the best swords (and other war gear) and that Elvish swords glowed blue in the presence of Orcs. Elves generally used straight swords while Orcs generally used curved swords. Both races have exceptions: Egalmoth of Gondolin used a curved sword and the Uruk-hai of Isengard used short, broad blades. Tolkien so often mentions the use of shields together with swords that it seems one-handed swords would be the norm.
In The Lord of the Rings film trilogy most Elvish swords are curved but some named swords are interpreted as two-handed longswords. The films also embellished upon Tolkien's descriptions of swords (and other weapons) by making up inscriptions for these items.
Knives are mentioned in Tolkien's works, sometimes as backup weapons—such as the nondescript long knife of Legolas the archer. However, some individual knives are given more significance through naming (e.g. Sting, see below). Weapons that were only knives or short swords for adult Men or Elves could function as formidable swords in the hands of Hobbits, a diminutive people.
Towards the end of The Lord of the Rings, Saruman attempts to stab Frodo with a knife, but is foiled by the mithril shirt Frodo wore under his jacket. Shortly afterwards Saruman's throat was fatally cut with a knife born by Wormtongue.
For The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, some characters such as Aragorn was gifted with an Elven hunting knife which he retained well towards the Battle of the Black Gate. Boromir's costume design included throwing knives, and Legolas now possessed twin fighting knives carried in sheaths near his quiver.
Special unnamed knivesEdit
There are some knives in Tolkien's fiction which do not have proper formal names, but nevertheless play important roles in the plot.
The Witch-king of Angmar, leader of the Nazgûl, used a magical dagger called a "Morgul-blade" to wound Frodo Baggins at Weathertop. The dark magic of the knife gravely affects Frodo's well-being, threatening to turn him into a wraith, especially because its detachable point migrated in Frodo's body for more than two weeks before it could be extracted, thus causing great damage. Recurring ill effects from the wound contribute to Frodo's eventual departure to Valinor. The weapon may owe something to the Old English tradition of the "elf-shot". The term appears in Old English medical texts and charms and refers to illnesses of presumed supernatural origin.
Four magical daggers, which had been forged by the Men of Westernesse to fight the powers of Mordor, are recovered from a tomb in the Barrow-downs by Tom Bombadil. He gives them to Frodo Baggins and his Hobbit companions, for whom the daggers are effectively swords. One of these "Barrow-blades" – that given to Merry Brandybuck – proves instrumental in bringing about the death of the Witch-king.
The three other daggers had varying fates in The Lord of the Rings. When the Nazgûl attacked Aragorn and the hobbits on Weathertop, Frodo slashed at one of them with his dagger but only damaged its cloak. He broke the blade when he fell from a horse, and left it behind in Rivendell, taking Bilbo's sword Sting instead. Sam Gamgee left his beside Frodo in Cirith Ungol and later had it returned to him by Gandalf. Pippin Took made use of his dagger in the Battle of the Black Gate to slay a Troll-chief.
Battle axes are especially favoured by Dwarves in Tolkien's writings; they famously used the battle cry: Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you! (Khuzdul: Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!). For The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Gimli the Dwarf was assigned various axes of different makes during the course of the films.
The use of battle axes in other races tended to be more exceptional. The Sindarin Elves of Doriath favoured axes as weapons during the First Age. Other notable axe-bearers were Tuor (the wielder of Dramborleg), the Men of the White Mountains who marched to the defence of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings, and a contingent of Easterlings among the besiegers of Minas Tirith.
Bows and arrowsEdit
Bows of different sizes and construction are featured in Tolkien's works. Elves of Lothlórien, Men, and Uruk-hai used longbows, while Elves of Mirkwood and Orcs of Mordor used smaller ones. These bows are said to be made of wood, horn and even steel.
The most famous bowman in Tolkien's stories of the First Age of Middle-earth is the Elf Beleg; his bow was named Belthronding, and his arrow Dailir. Infamously Curufin, a lord of the Noldor, attempts to shoot the Elf-princess Lúthien with the bow of his brother Celegorm. His first arrow is intercepted by Huan; Beren attempts to intercept the second shot, and is wounded.
In The Lord of the Rings, set in the late Third Age, a bow is the main weapon of Legolas, the Elf-member of the Fellowship of the Ring. When the Fellowship meet Galadriel, she gives Legolas a new bow. He later uses it to shoot all the way across the great river Anduin and bring down an airborne Nazgûl.
The films of The Lord of the Rings assign a bow to Aragorn and crossbows to the Uruk-hai. However, in Tolkien's writings Aragorn is armed only with the sword Andúril (below), and crossbows are nowhere mentioned.
Sometimes individual arrows are given special mention in Tolkien's works. In The Hobbit, the Black Arrow was a royal heirloom used by Bard the Bowman to kill the dragon Smaug. In The Lord of the Rings, the Red Arrow was a token used by Gondor to summon its allies in time of need. In the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the Red Arrow is omitted and its role is conflated with the Beacons of Gondor.
Body armour in Tolkien's fiction is mainly in the form of mail or scale shirts, in keeping with Ancient and Early Middle periods of history. In contrast, the Lord of the Rings film trilogy features plate armour suits in the style of the High and Late Middle periods. These kinds of plate armour are not found in Tolkien's writings, but plate does appear in the form of individual pieces such as vambraces (forearm guards) or greaves (leg and shin guards). As with other items of war, Elves and Dwarves produced the best armour. The mail shirt forged by Dwarves from the fictional metal mithril appears in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, worn in turn by the protagonists Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
Battle helmets are commonly used by virtually all races in Tolkien's writings. The Rohirrim were partly modeled on the Anglo-Saxons, who wore elaborate helmets; Éomer's helmet had a long white horse-tail. The Crown of Gondor was a jewelled battle-helmet; Aragorn received it at his coronation. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee use Orc-helmets as part of their disguise in Mordor.
The Second Age was dominated by Númenor. The Númenórean helmet, the karma, reached particularly elaborate forms. Those of the Uinendili, a guild of mariners, were "made of overlapping plates of metal, the 'fish-crest' of leather embossed and coloured". Tolkien's coloured drawing of the karma of a Uinendili captain features on the cover of Unfinished Tales.
Tolkien emulated his Northern European mythological and literary sources in creating weapons and armour with names (real examples of named weapons include Hrunting and Nægling in Beowulf, Tyrfing in the Elder Edda and Gram in the Völsunga saga). The items illustrate the passage of time and the transfer of power or fate to their future bearers.
Named swords and knivesEdit
Anglachel (Sindarin: Iron of the Flaming Star) was a sword forged of meteoritic iron by Eöl the Dark Elf, given to Thingol King of Doriath as a fee for leave to dwell in Nan Elmoth. It could cleave all earth-delved iron. Later wielded by Beleg Strongbow and ultimately Túrin; Anglachel was reforged and renamed Gurthang (Sindarin: Iron of Death). Túrin used Gurthang to kill Glaurung, the Father of Dragons, and later used the sword to take his own life in recompense for the accidental slaying of Beleg and the unjust slaying of Brandir. The stories endow the sword with a personality; Melian the Maia perceived malice in it as it was given to Beleg Cúthalion, and the elf Gwindor observed that Anglachel (so named then) seemed to mourn the death of Beleg at the hand of his friend Túrin by Anglachel itself. Túrin asked the sword whether it would slay him swiftly if he cast himself on its point, and it responded at length (the only instance of Gurthang speaking with voice). The depiction of the sword was influenced by that of the sword of the Finnish character Kullervo in the Kalevala.
Angrist (Sindarin: Iron-cleaver) was a knife made by the great weaponsmith Telchar of Nogrod, and borne by Curufin. Beren, who had taken it from Curufin, used it to cut a magical Silmaril jewel out of Morgoth's Iron Crown; as Beren attempted to remove another, the knife snapped. In the earliest version of Beren's story in The Book of Lost Tales, he uses an ordinary household knife; the element of Curufin's involvement in Beren's affairs came later.
Anguirel (Sindarin: Iron of Eternity) is the sword forged by Eöl the Dark Elf, similar to Anglachel which was given to Thingol of Doriath in The Silmarillion. It was the mate of Anglachel, was made of the same meteoritic iron, and had the same physical properties and capabilities as Anglachel, but there is no evidence of sentience in Anguirel. Anguirel was kept by Eöl until it was stolen by his son, Maeglin.
Glamdring (Sindarin: Foe-hammer) is a sword in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales forged in the First Age by the High Elves of the hidden city of Gondolin. It belonged first to Turgon, the King of Gondolin. Thousands of years later, in T.A. 2941, Gandalf appropriated it after it was discovered among the hoard of the three trolls in The Hobbit, and he carried it throughout his journeys with Bilbo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring. It was the mate of Orcrist, and like Orcrist would glow blue whenever orcs were nearby. Glamdring was nicknamed "Beater" by the goblins of the Misty Mountains.
Gúthwinë (Old English: gúð-wine Battle Friend) is the sword wielded by Éomer, third marshal of the Riddermark in The Lord of the Rings. The name is found in Beowulf, where the hero uses the word as an epithet for the sword Hrunting, lent to him by Hrothgar's thane Unferth for the fight with Grendel's mother. The diaeresis (two dots) over the final “e” does not occur in Old English. Tolkien presumably added it – as he frequently did in Quenya words such as Eressëa – to indicate that the letter is pronounced as a separate syllable: “gooth-wee-neh.”
Hadhafang is the sword invented for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, where it was wielded by Arwen. The name is derived from Tolkien's etymological word list written in the 1930s; here Tolkien provides the word hadhathang (dissimilated: havathang, hadhafang), which he translates as "throng-cleaver". The author never actually used this name in any of his writings. Hadhafang is also wielded by Arwen's father Elrond in The Hobbit film trilogy.
Narsil / AndúrilEdit
Narsil (Quenya: roughly, Red and White Flame), a sword in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, influenced by the legendary swords Tyrfing and Gram. The sword was forged during the First Age by the Dwarf Telchar of Nogrod, a famous weaponsmith and artificer who also made the knife Angrist (which cut a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth) and the Helm of Hador (later used by Túrin Turambar). By the end of the Second Age Narsil was borne by Elendil; it was broken in the struggle of Elendil and Gil-galad against Sauron. Isildur used the hilt-shard to cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand. The shards, acquiring the additional name the Sword that was Broken, remained an heirloom of Isildur's heirs throughout the Third Age, and were thus inherited by Aragorn. In T. A. 3018 the sword was reforged as Andúril (Quenya: Flame of the West).
In the motion picture series directed by Peter Jackson, Narsil was broken into six parts (rather than two), which were kept in Rivendell, and broke not when Elendil fell but rather when Isildur reached for it and Sauron stomped on it. It is also not reforged into Andúril until the third film, when Arwen persuades Elrond to have elven smiths reforge it from the shards of Narsil and bring it to Aragorn. In the book, he actually wears the broken blade and shows it to the Hobbits when they meet at the Prancing Pony in Bree, and its reforging prior to the departure of the Fellowship is a decisive move toward kingship.
The incident involving Aragorn disarming reluctantly before entering king Théoden's palace Meduseld is omitted from the second film on the grounds that the sword he surrenders there is not Andúril. However, the first film does include an invented scene of Aragorn reverently placing the hilt of Narsil back into the display after Boromir knocks it from its podium onto the floor.
In The Two Towers, it is written that Aragorn uses Andúril with a shield from Théoden's armoury during the Battle of the Hornburg. In The Fellowship of the Ring it is also stated that his sword was similar to Boromir's, who uses his with a shield consistently. This, coupled with Tolkien's comparisons of Middle-earth's clothing and war gear to that of Dark Age Europe and the Bayeux Tapestry, would suggest that it and other swords would be single-handed rather than the two-handed longsword depicted in the films, which is more akin to the late medieval and Renaissance periods.
The filmmakers opted not to make Andúril glow at all, keeping that property only for Sting. (Gandalf's sword Glamdring also did not glow in the presence of orcs. Peter Jackson notes, in his DVD commentary on The Fellowship of the Ring, that this was an oversight, not a deliberate change from the books.)
Christopher Tolkien suggested that Narsil was introduced during the writing of The Lord of the Rings rather spontaneously: "It is possible that the Sword that was Broken actually emerged from the verse 'All that is gold does not glitter': on this view, in the earliest form of the verse ... the words a king may yet be without crown, A blade that was broken be brandished were no more than a further exemplification of the general moral [that not everything is what it appears to be]." Following this, references to the Sword were introduced during major recastings of "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony" and "The Council of Elrond" chapters.
Originally the sword was only referred to as "the Sword of Elendil" or "the Broken Sword"; later the name Branding (from Old English brand 'sword') was devised for the Sword Reforged. This was replaced by Andúril after the emergence of Narsil.
Orcrist (Sindarin: Goblin-cleaver), a sword in The Hobbit. was originally forged in Gondolin and was nicknamed "Biter" by the goblins of the Misty Mountains. After finding it in a troll-hoard, Thorin Oakenshield carried the sword through the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood before being taken prisoner by the Elves, and it was laid on his tomb after he died in the Battle of Five Armies. It is the mate of Glamdring.
In Peter Jackson's Hobbit films, the sword is found and wielded by Thorin Oakenshield but ends up in the possession of Legolas, who uses it in battle with the Orc Bolg but later returns it to Thorin so that the Dwarf may wield it against Azog the Defiler. Like Andúril and Glamdring in the Lord of the Rings films, it was not shown to glow in the presence of orcs due to the film-makers fearing that doing that made it resemble a lightsaber.
Ringil (Sindarin: Cold-Star / Cold-Spark) is a sword wielded by Fingolfin in The Silmarillion and The Lays of Beleriand. It bit with chilling cold, and glittered like ice with a pale light. This was the sword with which Fingolfin wounded Morgoth seven times, causing the first dark lord to limp forever afterward.
In Tolkien's early writings, Ringil was the name of one of the two pillars supporting the Two Lamps of primeval Middle-earth.
Sting is a knife in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Although made by the Elves as a large knife, it functioned well as a sword for the smaller race of Hobbits. Bilbo Baggins named the weapon after using it to fend off the giant spiders in Mirkwood forest, then later passed it on to Frodo to use in his quest to destroy the One Ring. Sting would glow blue whenever orcs or goblins were nearby.
Named bows and arrowsEdit
The Black Arrow was used by Bard the Bowman, mentioned by him as having been used many times, always successfully, and always having been recovered. An heirloom from many generations of Bard's family and believed by him to have been made in the forges of the King under the Mountain; Bard recites its history before urging it to "go now and speed well" and successfully shooting Smaug. The arrow was lost with the Dragon's corpse in the Long Lake.
In Peter Jackson's Hobbit films, the Black Arrow's significance was elaborated on. Instead of being a regular-sized arrow, the Black Arrow was the size of a short spear, and was used as ammunition for a windlance (a ballista-type weapon) in Dale. All but one were used to defend the city from Smaug during his invasion, but it only broke one of his scales, and Dale was subsequently destroyed. The final Black Arrow was kept by Bard's family as an heirloom. When Smaug attacks Lake Town, Bard attempts to shoot Smaug with a normal longbow, but his arrows inflict no harm to Smaug. After receiving the Black Arrow from his son Bain, Bard constructs an improvised ballista and fires the Black Arrow at Smaug's weak spot, which successfully hits its mark and kills Smaug.
The Red Arrow is a black-feathered arrow barbed with steel; its tip was painted red. It was a token used by Gondor to summon Rohan in time of dire need, and may have been associated with the Oath of Eorl. In The Return of the King, the Red Arrow was presented to Théoden by Hirgon with the message: "...the Lord Denethor asks for all your strength and all your speed, lest Gondor should fall at last." Théoden pledged his assistance, but Hirgon was killed during the ride back to Minas Tirith, leading Denethor to believe that no help was forthcoming from Rohan. The Red Arrow has a historical antecedent in the Old English poem Elene in which Constantine the Great summoned an army of mounted Visigoths to his aid against the Huns by sending an arrow as a "token of war".
Other named weapons and armourEdit
Aeglos (Sindarin: Snow Point, i.e. icicle; also spelled Aiglos) is the spear wielded by Gil-galad; Aiglos is also the name of a type of plant in Middle-earth which most notably grew on Amon Rûdh. Aeglos is also the name of a Tolkienist semiannual almanac published by the Polish Silesian Science-Fiction Club, parent organisation of the Polish Tolkien Society.
Dragon-helm of Dor-lóminEdit
The Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin is the fabulous helmet owned and used by lords of the House of Hador (such as Húrin and Túrin). Also known as the Helm of Hador. The helm was made of heavy steel, decorated with gold and runes, and a gold likeness of Glaurung the Dragon was set upon its crest. It had originally been made for a Dwarf-king by Telchar, the great Dwarf-craftsman of Nogrod. The Dwarf-king was Azaghâl, of the neighbouring city of Belegost; he gave it to Maedhros, who gave it to Fingon. Fingon gave it to Hador himself, along with the lordship of Dor-lómin.
Durin's Axe was part of the regalia and weaponry of the Dwarf-kings of Khazad-dûm. In T.A. 2989 Balin attempted to recolonize Khazad-dûm (by then called Moria), and the early records of the colony mention Durin's Axe, indicating it was sought for or even found.
Grond (Sindarin: Club) is the mace of Morgoth used against Fingolfin in The Silmarillion; also a battering ram in The Lord of the Rings, used to assault the Great Gate of Minas Tirith. Grond the battering ram was in-universe named after Morgoth's mace: "Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old." In the Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Return of the King, the ram Grond is called "the arm of the devil" also named "the hammer of the underworld".
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- The Etymologies under the root PÍLIM-.
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- The Two Towers
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- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, appendix A part I(iii) p. 322; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
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- The Silmarillion, p. 226
- The Silmarillion, p. 225.
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- The Silmarillion. p. 317
- The Silmarillion, p. 201, 279; Unfinished Tales, p. 171
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- Beowulf, line 1810
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- The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 290, 338-339, 391; The Two Towers, p. 36, 104, 115, 139; The Return of the King, p. 123, 158, 245
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- The Return of the King. p. 437
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- The Hobbit, p. 53, 83, 167, etc.;The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 23, 290; The Two Towers, p. 221, The Return of the King, p. 173, 204
- The Lost Road. p. 388
- The Silmarillion, p. 208, 320; The Lays of Beleriand, p. 26, 117, 127
- The Hobbit. "Fire and Water", p. 236
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- The Silmarillion, p. 313
- The Fellowship of the Ring (Book II, Chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond"), The Silmarillion, p. 294; Unfinished Tales, p. 148, 417
- Significantly, "Eigil" is a Norwegian proper name meaning "sword point" or "spearhead".
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- J. R. R. Tolkien (1980), Unfinished Tales, George Allen & Unwin part 1 ch. II p. 75; ISBN 0-04-823179-7
- Unfinished Tales. p. 172; The Book of Lost Tales (vol. 2), "The Fall of Gondolin"
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966) George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. V p.336; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
- The Silmarillion, p. 154, 333
- The Return of the King, p. 112
- The Return of the King, "The Siege of Gondor".