Reader: The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 20 “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”

Reader deep thought: With the year it happened was everafter called “Year of Lamentation”, that surely was a mark of the abject horror among wars the Nirnaeth Arnoediad was. Unless one sat it out *cough*Doriath*cough*, everyone who signed up seemed to have died or suffered terrible fates in its aftermath. Even those who betrayed the allies were rewarded with just desserts, served cold and ironically bitter by the deceitful Morgoth. But truly, surviving Nirnaeth Arnoediad was really the raw deal to end all bad deals when you were Húrin.

“And even so it came to pass; but it is not said that Húrin asked ever of Morgoth either mercy or death, for himself or for any of his kin.”



In the prelude, and as the aftermath of the preceding chapter, the end of Beren and Lúthien’s tale was written: Returned to the north of Middle-earth they did, taking “their mortal form in Doriath”. Then in Menegroth Lúthien’s touch healed Thingol of his aged melancholy, but with Melian her parting was the most sorrowful for her mother “looked in her eyes and read the doom that was written there, and turned away; for she knew that a parting beyond the end of the world had come between them, and no grief of loss has been heavier than the grief of Melian the Maia in that hour.”

74677_800_600Thereafter the lovers settled in  Tol Galen in Ossiriand, past the River Gelion. There their son, Dior Aranel the beautiful, who was also known as Dior Eluchíl aka Thingol’s Heir, was born. After the pair died, the region around Tol Galen was renamed Dor Firn-i-Guinar.

The tale of Lúthien and Beren was spread far and wide. And inspired Elves to action. Maedhros hearkened to it as it showed that Morgoth, who had proven hellbent on destroying the Elf-realms of Beleriand, was not unassailable, never mind Lúthien’s advantage in her pedigree. His concerted efforts for a call to arms, to unite before Morgoth succeeded in picking them off singly, was called the Union of Maedhros. Too bad, attendance was hindered by residual bad vibes from deeds in the name of the Oath still binding them all.

  • All the sons of Fëanor
  •  Nargothrond
    • Thanks to Celegorm and Curufin, Orodreth would not march forth at the word of any son of Fëanor.
    • Besides, still trusting to the secrecy and stealth of their hidden realm, the Noldor there chose to focus on its defence.
    • Only a small contingent led by Gwindor son of Guilin, who grieved for the loss of Gelmir his brother in the Dagor Bragollach, and in whose memory went north for the wat. They took the badge of the house of Fingolfin, and marched beneath the banners of Fingon, and none but one returned from the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
  • Doriath
    • Almost no participation. In response to the prior bluster of the sons of Fëanor for the Silmaril’s return, and “filled with anger, thinking of the anguish of Lúthien and the blood of Beren whereby the jewel had been won, despite the malice of Celegorm and Curufin”, Thingol heeded not Melian’s advice to give it up. He had in fact replied in like rudeness. In Maedhros stead, Celegorm and Curufin vowed to kill him and his people and seize the Silmaril after the war if it was still not surrendered. Instead, driven by his growing desire to keep the jewel, Thingol shut his borders and went about fortifications.
    • Only Mablung and Beleg, “who were unwilling to have no part in these great deeds”, came, with Thingol’s conditional leave that they did not serve the sons of Fëanor. So they joined the host of Fingon.
  • Hithlum
    • Fingon, ever besties with Maedhros, coordinated with him, and prepared both his Elves and Men for the war.
  • Gondolin
    • Turgon got the despatches, but did not sign up.
  • Naugrim
    • From Nogrod and Belegost were Maedhros’ host supplied, and Dwarven enlistees swelled his ranks.
  • Men
    • Easterlings
      • The armies of Bór and Ulfang marshalled and trained for war. More were also summoned from the East.
    • Edain
      • Halmir, lord of the People of Haleth, gathered his men, but Halmir
        died before the war, and it was Haldir his son who marched to the north.
      • Men of the house of Hador prepared and marched to war under the banners of Fingon.


But Maedhros flexed his muscles too early. Though they managed to drive the Orcs out of northern Beleriand, and even got Dorthonion cleared for a while, Morgoth was forewarned by his spies and double-agents, and took pre-emptive measures.

After regrouping and with more prep, Maedhros planned another attempt. This time he planned to attack Angband from both east and west in an anvil and hammer maneouvre: first by marching “with banners displayed in open force over Anfauglith”, to draw Morgoth’s armies forth, and then have Fingon spring his attack from the passes of Hithlum. The means of coordination was to be the firing of a great beacon in Dorthonion.

On the morning of Midsummer, the appointed day, Eldar trumpets sounded at the dawn in Eithel Sirion. From his vantage point, Fingon could see the standard of the sons of Fëanor in the east, and his own in the west. His host, great in number, was hidden from the Enemy in the valleys and the woods upon the east of Ered Wethrin, consisting of all the Noldor of Hithlum, Elves of the Falas and Gwindor’s company from Nargothrond, and a large number Men: from Dor-lómin, Húrin and Huor, and also Haldir of Brethil. But Maedhros was yet to come across the Anfauglith, and “a shadow of doubt fell upon Fingon’s heart”, for he was delayed in his march by false intelligence from Uldor the accursed that Angband was attacking Himring.

Northwards, about Thangorodrim was a dark cloud, gathering black smoke curling up from the peaks. The wrath of Morgoth was aroused in response to their challenge.

Battle_of_Unnumebered_Tears_by_lomehirBut now a cry went up, passing up the wind from the south from vale to vale, and Elves and Men lifted their voices in wonder and joy. For unsummoned and unlooked for Turgon had opened the leaguer of Gondolin, and was come with an army ten thousand strong, with bright mail and long swords and spears like a forest. Then when Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon his brother, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: ‘Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, 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!’


Such a morale booster it was that the Elves were rearing to go against the Morgoth host that had just become visible upon Anfauglith. But looks could be deceiving: what they saw was merely a part of Morgoth’s strength that he had sent forth with the aim of keeping Turgon from joining with Fingon, while Maedhros was kept away by Ulfang. Húrin it was who kept his wits and counselled the warlords to wait for more clarity on Morgoth’s plans, and let the dark hordes to break themselves upon the hills, ans “beware of the guile of Morgoth, whose strength was always greater than it seemed.”

Morgoth’s plan was devious: his Captain in the west had been ordered to draw Fingon out asap. Therefore his army he marched right up to the banks of Sirion, arrayed from the fortress of Eithel Sirion to the inflowing of Rivil at the Fen of Serech, where the Elves on the outposts can look even into his soldiers’ eyes. But Húrin’s counsel was sound and heeded and there was no response to the taunts of the Captain. Then the Captain went into the next phase of his mission plan.

Then the Captain of Morgoth sent out riders with tokens of parley, and they rode up before the outworks of the Barad Eithel. With them they brought Gelmir son of Guilin, that lord of Nargothrond whom they had captured in the Bragollach; and they had blinded him. Then the heralds of Angband showed him forth, crying: ‘We have many more such at home, but you must make haste if you would find them; for we shall deal with them all when we return even so.’ And they hewed off Gelmir’s hands and feet, and his head last, within sight of the Elves, and left him.


Gwindor, his brother who led the Nargothrond contingent in his memory witnessed his cruel death. Enraged he led a charge and slew the heralds, and penetrated into the main host of the Captain of Morgoth. This triggered a chain reaction and the rest of the Noldor followed, with Fingon leading the follow-on attack. So ferocious was it that Morgoth’s plots were almost all thwarted, for his host was overwhelmed before it could regroup, and the Elves reached the walls of Angband itself. There Gwindor and the Nargothrond Elves were still not to be reigned in, and they breached the Gate and reached the very doors of Morgoth’s throne. There he was trembling in fear. But the Elves were trapped and all but Gwindor were killed. Then Morgoth released his armies through secret ways out onto the battlefield and beat back Fingon’s forces from the walls, causing great loss to the Good.

There upon Anfauglith, on the fourth day of the war, Nirnaeth Arnoediad proper, the War of Unnumbered Tears, began.

  • Fingon retreated over the sands, and Haldir was slain in the rearguard and most of the Men of Brethil
  • The next day, Fingon was still far from Ered Wethrin by evening. The Orcs closed in on the host of Hithlum, and they fought until dawn
    • Turgon, who had held back at the Pass of Sirion, came to Fingon’s aid.
    • Turgon managed to reunite with Fingon and also Húrin.
    • Three hours later, Maedhros arrived and the armies of  Fëanor’s son attacked the enemy’s rearguard.
    • The tide was turning in the Noldor’s favour.
    • Morgoth unleashed all his reserves, including
      • wolves and wolfriders,
      • Balrogs,
      • Dragons, including Glaurung, who separated Maedhros and Fingon’s forces.
    • If the Noldor’s allies held their positions, they might still have won, but then most Easterlings fled, while Ulfang’s sons went over to the dark side, attacking the sons of Fëanor from the rear.
      • Maglor took out Uldor.
      • The sons of Bór slew Ulfast and Ulwarth before they themselves were killed.
      • Uldor’s reserves charged and hemmed in Maedhros’ forces on three sides.
      • Fëanor’s sons managed to band together and with some Elves and Dwarves broke through, and escaped toward far-off Mount Dolmed in the east.
    • The Dwarves of Belegost was the last army of the Union standing. Their custom to wear “great masks in battle hideous to look upon” in battle stood them in good stead against Glaurung’s fire. They bravely surrounded him to stop his fire from more damage to the allies.
      • Glaurung struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost,
      • In crawling over Azaghâl, the Dwarf-lord inflicted a wound on Glaurung wirh his dying breath.
      • The Dwarves then bore away Azaghâl, without regard for the ongoing mêlée.
    • In the western theatre, Fingon and Turgon were assailed by foes three times their forces.
      • “Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, high-captain of Angband, was come; and he drove a dark wedge between the Elvenhosts, surrounding King Fingon, and thrusting Turgon and Húrin aside towards the Fen of Serech.”Feanor_and_Gothmog_colored_by_guisa
      • Fingon and Gothmog had an epic set-to. But it was only after another Balrog “cast a throng of fire” about the combatants that Gothmog finally slew the Elf with a swing of his black axe, and beat into a pulp into the earth.
    • Defeat was confirmed, but Húrin and Huor continued to stand with Turgon.
      • Morgoth had not captured the Pass of Sirion.
      • Turgon took Húrin’s advice to make a run for it – bearing the last hope of the Eldar as he was, and to defend Gondolin even were it exposed already.
        • “… Huor spoke and said: ‘Yet if it stands but a little while, then out of your house shall come the hope of Elves and Men. This I say to you, lord, with the eyes of death: though we part here for ever, and I shall not look on your white walls again, from you and from me a new star shall arise. Farewell!’And Maeglin, Turgon’s sister-son, who stood by, heard these words, and did not forget them; but he said nothing.”
      • Turgon retreated to the Pass of Sirion with the remnants of both his forces and that of Fingon.
        • His captains Ecthelion and Glorfindel guarded the flanks to right and left to keep the enemy from passing through.
        • the Men of Dor-lómin held the rearguard, as Húrin and Huor wanted, for they were determined either to die or win back their homes in the Northlands.
          “Thus was the treachery of Uldor redressed; and of all the deeds of war that the fathers of Men wrought in behalf of the Eldar, the last stand of the Men of Dor-lómin is most renowned.”
      • Turgon made it to safety down the Sirion.
      • Húrin and Huor, as usual bringing up the rear, stood their ground at the Fen of Serech and ther Huor perished, but Húrin was taken alive, bound and in humiliated by Gothmong to Angband.
  • “Thus ended Nirnaeth Arnoediad, as the sun went down beyond the sea. Night fell in Hithlum, and there came a great storm of wind out of the West.”


Morgoth was in glee.

… his design was accomplished in a manner after his own heart; for Men took the lives of Men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those that should have been united against him. From that day the hearts of the Elves were estranged from Men, save only those of the Three Houses of the Edain.


In the aftermath of the War:

  • The realm of Fingon was destroyed
  • The sons of Fëanor were scattered
    • Their people were relegated to “a wild and woodland life beneath the feet of Ered Lindon, mingling with the Green-elves of Ossiriand, bereft of their power and glory of old.”
  • In Brethil some Haladin continued to live in the protection of their woods, with c son of Haldir their lord.
  • Hithlum was deserted.
    • Morgoth packed off his Easterlings there and forbade them to leave it. “Such was the reward he gave them for their treachery to Maedhros: to plunder and harass the old and the women and the children of Hador’s people.”
    • Surviving Eldar of Hithlum that he captured were sent to work the mines of the north as his thralls.
  • The Orcs and the wolves roamed freely through all the North, and even reached Nan-tathren, the Land of Willows, and the borders of Ossiriand, in the south of Beleriand.
  • Of the hidden realms of Doriath and Nargothrond, “Morgoth gave small heed to them, either because he knew little of them, or because their hour was not yet come in the deep purposes of his malice.”
  • Many refugees reached the Havens of Falas and Círdan’s protection.
    • His mariners marauded the coast and harried the enemy with swift landings.
    • But before the next winter, Morgoth sent a great host over over Hithlum and Nevrast, and through the rivers Brithon and Nenning, and it “ravaged all the Falas, and besieged the walls of Brithombar and Eglarest,” and laid the Havens to ruin, cast down the tower of Barad Nimras, and decimated or enslaved Círdan’s people.
      • Among those who managed to escape with Círdan south to the Isle of Balar was Ereinion Gil-galad, the son of Fingon.
        • There a refuge was set up.
        • And by keeping a foothold at the Mouths of Sirion, the mariners were able to run refugees with light and swift ships stashed among “creeks and waters where the reeds were dense as a forest.”

When Turgon heard of Círdan’s runner operations, he requested help. Círdan built for him seven swift ships to be sailed West; only one from the seven ships, Voronwë, ever came back, after being saved by Ulmo from Ossë’s wrath. He washed ashore in Nevrast.


Meantime, Turgon himself was in Morgoth’s thoughts.

Now the thought of Morgoth dwelt ever upon Turgon; for Turgon had escaped him, of all his oes that one whom he most desired to take or to destroy. And that thought troubled him, and marred his victory, for Turgon of the mighty house of Fingolfin was now by right King of all the Noldor; and Morgoth feared and hated the house of Fingolfin, because they had the friendship of Ulmo his foe, and because of the wounds that Fingolfin gave him with his sword. And most of all his kin Morgoth feared Turgon; for of old in Valinor his eye had lighted upon him, and whenever he drew near a shadow had fallen on his spirit, foreboding that in some time that yet lay hidden, from Turgon ruin should come to him.


In place of having Turgon at his mercy, Morgoth vented on Húrin, who defied and mocked him. Morgoth responded with a curse on both Húrin and Morwen his wife, and even their kids, “and set a doom upon them of darkness and sorrow.” (Poor Túrin, poor Nienor).

Then binding Húrin to a chair of stone perched in Thangorodrim, Morgoth cursed him again.

‘Sit now there; and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom thou lovest. Thou hast dared to mock me, and to question the power of Melkor, Master of the fates of Arda. Therefore with my eyes thou shalt see, and with my ears thou shalt hear; and never shalt thou move from this place until all is fulfilled unto its bitter end.’


ted nasmith_the silmarillion_2_quenta silmarillion_20_of the fifth battle - nirnaeth arnoediad2_medMorgoth commanded his Orcs to gather all who fell in the Battle, and along with their belongings the great battle, pile into a great mound in Anfauglith, a hill visible from afar. The Elves called it Haudh-en-Ndengim, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-en-Nirnaeth, the Hill of Tears. But there alone in all the desert wrought by Morgoth, grass grew again long and green upon that hill, and no minion of Morgoth walked where “the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled into rust.”

It seemed the final resting places of the Good often became hallowed. Was there a Maia in charge of maintaining the sanctity of the fallen opposing the Enemy?

(Relevance: read-along schedule)

4 thoughts on “Reader: The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 20 “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”

  1. Eric

    Battles can be such a drag to summarize, especially where there’s not a lot of external drama going on. But the Nirnaeth is something different. I say this a lot, but I absolutely love how it’s not called Dagor Nirnaeth Arnoediad. It’s translated as the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, but to the Elves, it’s simply called “Unnumbered Tears,” as if the battle was so secondary to the sorrow it caused that it was forgotten.

    I really appreciate how you basically give an “order of battle” for the armies involved. It makes things so much easier to follow.

    As for the grassy mound where the Orcs wouldn’t walk, I’ve always thought two things. First, Orcs are superstitious, which would account for them not going there. And second, the grass grew greener there because of the bodies.

    These always remind me of “Iverson’s Pits” at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A brigade was slaughtered, suffering 60-70% casualties. The dead were buried in lines, just how they fell, and almost immediately everyone became superstitious: “”that the place was then known throughout the neighborhood as the Iverson Pits and that for years after the battle there was a superstitious terror in regard to the field and that it was with difficulty that laborers could be kept at work there on the approach of night on that account.”

    About thirty years after the battle, one of the officers in the brigade returned to the area, toured the spot where his friends had been killed, and wrote: “The surface of these pits is to be easily distinguished this day from surrounding ground on account of the more luxuriant growth of the grass and crops over them.”


    1. lurkerinthemirk Post author

      Nice observation about the meaning and significance of Nirnaeth Arnoediad in Elvish. Thanks for that.

      To be honest, when I read this chapter, I was a little disappointed in the lack of details about the Battle itself, but when doing the notes, I literally heaved a sigh of relief it was not chockful of details instead! 😛

      That is fascinating insight on the concept of superstition and, for want of the right description, the workings of nature on resting places of the fallen. I will have to keep that in mind.


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