The History of Tolkien's Dwarves

I have been working on a game lately, and I found myself wanting a history of the Dwarves. Unfortunately, there is far less written about the Dwarves than there is about the Elves. If Tolkien did flush out the history of the Dwarves, he didn’t share it with us. What I was able to cobble together had to be scrounged from all of his works.

What follows is a brief timeline of every major event in Dwarven history, that we know of. Tolkien’s mythology evolved and improved over time; where possible I try to use his last and most recent version.

Table of Contents

Before the Dwarves

Much of what happened before the Dwarves were awakened shaped their world.

  • Eru Ilúvatar creates the gods* Ainur, with Aulë and Melkor among them. 1 29
  • Melkor is the greatest of the Ainur, but is overwhelmed by a desire for power. 1
  • Arda, the physical world, is created. 1
  • Some Ainur descend into Arda to oversee it; they are known as the Valar. 1 29
  • Melkor claims Arda for himself, and so becomes the source of all evil. 2
  • Aulë, god* of skill and craftsmanship, creates the Dwarves in secret from the other Valar. 2 9 26
  • Ilúvatar tells Aulë to destroy the Dwarves, but stops him at the last moment and allows the Dwarves to exist, stipulating only that they must go to sleep until after the Elves awake. 9 26
  • Sauron is originally a Maia, something like a demigod servant, to Aulë; but he is corrupted and becomes the chief lieutenant of Melkor. 2
  • YT 1050: Elves are awakened by Ilúvatar. 8
  • Melkor begins breeding Orcs. 8 9

*In the Valquenta, Tolkien writes of the Valar: “Men often called them Gods”, but he does not say what the Dwarves called them.

First Age

The First Age is counted by Elves as starting before Eru awoke the Dwarves. But Dwarven history starts here; even before the Sun and Moon exist.

  • The seven Fathers of Dwarves are first awakened by Ilúvatar, as are the first Ents. 9 26 29
  • Durin the Deathless awakes alone, first of all Dwarves, in Mount Gundabad in the Misty Mountains, and it was forever after sacred to the Dwarves. 4 27
  • Two Fathers awoke in the Blue Mountains, and there they founded the clans of the Broadbeams and the Firebeards who later lived in Nogrod and Belegost respectively. 27 29
  • The four other Fathers awoke in the far East. We know the least about these Dwarves, except that they arose in the Orocarni Mountains and formed the four clans Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks, and Stonefoots. 27
  • Durin sees a reflection of himself wearing a crown in the lake Kheled-zâram and then founds Khazad-dûm in the caves behind it. Dwarves begin to gather there and form the composite Longbeards clan. 4
  • YT 1250: The Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost are met by the Sindarin Elves, etablishing trade. 23
  • The Dwarves are the first to forge mail armor of linked rings. Tolkien’s works rarely involve plate armor. 26
  • YT 1300: The Dwarves of Belegost and the Sindarin Elves begin building the great underground Elven city of Doriath. 23
  • The Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost build the great Dwarf-road to trade with the Elves of Doriath and Beleriand. 23 29
  • YT 1497: Dwarves join the Sindarin and Green Elves in the First Battle of Beleriand is the first of the Wars of Beleriand against Melkor. 31
  • -1: The moon rises for the first time. 24
  • 0: The sun rises for the first time. (YT 1500) 24
  • 0: Humans are awakened by Ilúvatar in Hildórien. 25
  • The great Dwarven smith Telchar of Nogrod crafts many works, including the famous blades Narsil and Angrist and the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin. 27 29
  • 468: The Dwarves of Belegost join the Union of Meahdros in Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the fifth battle of the Wars of Beleriand against Melkor. King Azaghâl was slain by Glaurung, the first dragon, but not before he stabbed the beast in the stomach making it flee the battle. (Since Dwarves were in the first and fifth wars of Beleriand, they were probably in the others.) 29 30
  • 502: The Nauglamír is wrought of the treasure of Glaurung, and the Silmaril is hung thereon. Thingol quarrels with the Dwarves who had wrought for him the Necklace. (This was the Silmaril of Beren and Lúthien) 20 29
  • 503: The Dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod invade Doriath. King Elu Thingol is slain and his realm ended.[…] Curufin and Celegorm, hearing of the sack of Menegroth, ambushed the Dwarves at the Fords of Ascar as they sought to carry off the Dragon-gold to the mountains. The Dwarves were defeated with great loss, but they cast the gold into the river, which was therefore after named Rathloriel. (This ambush is sometimes called the Battle of Sarn Athrad. It should be noted that later, Tolkien wrote other Elves out of this battle, saying it was only the Elf Beren and the Ents.) 20 21 29
  • 545-587: The War of Wrath between the Valar; after which the world West of the Blue Mountains is sunk into the sea. Melkor is captured. Two great houses of Dwarves, Nogrod and Belegost, are destroyed; the survivors flee to Khazad-dûm. It is also believed that the original mansions of the four Eastern clans are destroyed in this war. 32
  • 590: The Valar thrust Melkor into the Timeless void. 32

Second Age

The second age lasts 3441 years, during which little is written about the Dwarves.

  • c 750-1500: The two greatest craftsman of the age, Celebrimbor (the Elven Lord of Eregion) and the Dwarf Narvi, build the Doors of Durin: the West gate of Khazad-dûm. The gate was designed to aid the friendship between Dwarves and Elves. 19
  • c 1500-1590: Sauron led Elven-smiths to craft seven rings of power for seven Dwarf Kings. It is these Elven smiths, and not Sauron, who give Durin III his ring. (It is clear that these rings could not corrupt Dwarves as they did Humans. It is likely that a ring is given to the leader of each of the seven Dwarven clans. Later in the Second Age, four of these rings are destroyed by Dragons, and Sauron retrieves two more.) 4 19
  • 1697: Sauron corrupts Eregion, the vast region including that above Khazad-dûm, and drives out all the Sindarin Elves. The Doors of Durin are shut, and the Dwarves there begin a long seclusion from the outside world. 4 19 27
  • 3430: Durin IV adds a Dwarven army to the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, in the fight against Sauron. 33
  • 3434: The Last Alliance defeats Sauron’s forces in the Battle of Dagorlad; and the Siege of Barad-dûr begins. 19
  • 3441: Isildur cuts the One Ring from Sauron’s finger with the shattered hilt of the sword Narsil, ending the war. 14

Third Age

The third age lasts 3021 years, and during this time the number of Dwarves begins to decline.

  • 1980: Dwarven mithril miners in Khazad-dûm delve too greedily and too deep and awaken a Balrog which kills King Durin VI, and ever after the Dwarves call it Durin’s Bane. 4 19
  • 1981: Durin VI’s son, Náin I is killed by the Durin’s Bane, and Dwarves abandon Khazad-dûm; they start calling it Moria, meaning “Black Pit”. 4
  • 1999: After fleeing Khazad-dûm, Thráin I founds Erebor and discovers the Arkenstone underneathe it. 4
  • 2210: Thorin I leaves Erebor, and goes North to the Grey Mountains, where most of the remnants of Durin’s Folk are now gathering. 19
  • 2570-2589: The War of the Dwarves and Dragons in the Grey Mountains. The Dwarves lose and the survivors flee. Thrór returns to Erebor. Grór his brother goes to the Iron Hills. 19
  • 2770: The fire drake Smaug the Golden takes Erebor, killing many. 12 19
  • c 2780-2790: After fleeing Smaug, the Longbeards temporarily settle in the human town of Dunland, in the foothills of the Misty Mountains. 19
  • 2790: King-in-Exile Thrór leaves Dunland and enters Moria alone. Azog the Orc kills him, defiles the body, and claims Moria for the Orcs. 19
  • 2790: Nár, servant of Thrór, brings word of Thrór’s death back to Thráin II, his son. Thráin II sat for seven days and said no word.Then he stood up and said “This cannot be borne!” 4
  • 2790-2793: For the first time, all seven clans of Dwarves gather; to wage war on the Orcs. 4 19
  • 2793-2799: The War of Dwarves and Orcs starts at Mount Gundbad in the North of the Misty Mountains and the Dwarves clear out every Orc stronghold to Methedras in the South. 4 19
  • 2799: The war ends at the Eastern gate of Moria with the Battle of Azanulbizar. In this battle that Thorin II, son King Thráin II, gains the epithet “Oakenshield”. Every Orc is slain, but the Dwarves suffer huge losses. Instead of the usual stone tombs, the dead are burned in a great pyre and their decendants are honored as “the sons of burned Dwarves”. After the battle, Dwarves see the Balrog in the gates of Moria, and turn back. They do not retake Moria. (Without this underground war, there would have been many more orcs in the Misty Mountains during the War of the Ring, and it would have been much harder to win. This war also accounts for why Dwarven numbers were already so small by the time of the War of the Ring.) 4 19
  • 2845: Thráin II was captured by Sauron’s forces and in the dungeons of Dol Guldur and the last of the seven rings was taken back. 4
  • 2850: Gandalf the Grey finds Thráin II in Dol Guldur, insane after years of torture. Thráin gives Gandalf a map and a key to Erebor and asks Gandalf to give them to his son, though Gandalf does not yet know who Thráin is. 4 19
  • 2941: Thorin Oakenshield begins the Quest of Erebor with his close relations: Balin, Fíli, Kíli, Glóin, Óin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. At the request of Gandalf, they invite the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. 12 19
  • 2941: Bilbo Baggins obtains the One Ring from Gollum, who had carried it for 478 years. 6 7 19
  • 2941: Esgaroth is attacked by the dragon Smaug, who is consequentially killed by Bard the Bowman. 15 19
  • 2941: Bilbo steals the Arkenstone and attempts to use it to forestall a war with Mirkwood Elves and Esgaroth Humans. 16
  • 2941: Thorin, Fíli, and Kíli are killed in The Battle of the Five Armies along with Bolg son of Azog, and many Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, and Humans. Dáin II Ironfoot becomes King of The Lonely Mountain and recieves the Arkenstone. The town of Dale, just outside of Erebor, is re-established by Bard. 4 13 19
  • 2989: Balin takes a company of Dwarves to recolonize Moria. They succeed for a time, and even find Durin’s Axe. 11
  • 2994: King Balin is killed by an Orc arrow outside Moria in the Dimrill Dale. His tome is built in his throne room; the Chamber of Mazarbul. 11
  • 2994: The Orcs have far greater numbers and swiftly retake Moria; the Dwarves make their final stand in the Chamber of Mazarbul. 11
  • 3017: Sauron sends an emissary to Erebor three times, seeking the One Ring and an alliance with the Dwarves. 14
  • 3018: Gimli and his father Glóin go to Rivendell hoping to learn of Balin’s fate. There they learn that the One Ring has been found; Gimli joins the Fellowship of the Ring. 14
  • 3018: Erebor and Dale are attacked by Sauron’s forces from the East. King Dain II Ironfoot is killed defending King Brand of Dale. Then many Dwarves and Humans retreat to Erebor, where they are put under a very long siege. (The War of the Ring might have turned out differently had not the Dwarves of Erebor held out against this seige.) 19
  • 3019: The Elves of Rivendell reforge the ancient Dwarf blade Narsil, for the Human King-in-Exile Aragorn. 22
  • 3019: The Fellowship enters Moria; Gimli learns the fate of his cousin Balin, of Moria, and sees Durin’s Bane firsthand. Gimli also retrieves the Book of Mazarbul, a record of the five-year recolonization of Moria.11
  • 3019: Gandalf the Grey slays the Durin’s Bane and becomes Gandalf the White. 17 19
  • 3019: While preparing for the Battle of the Hornburg, Gimli discovers the caves of Aglarond underneathe the fortress of Helm’s Deep. 18
  • 3019: Sauron’s One Ring is destroyed in Mount Doom. 10 19
  • 3019: After Sauron’s fall, the siege of Erebor breaks and the Dwarves slaughter the fleeing Orcs. Thorin III Stonehelm becomes King Under the Mountain. 19

Fourth Age

Tolkien does not tell us much about the Fourth Age or beyond.

  • c 1-100: The Dwarves of Erebor, Gimli in particular, rebulid and greatly improve the Human city of Minas Tirith. 4
  • c 20-120: Gimli returns to Aglarond and founds a Dwarf colony there, where he is known as Lord of the Glittering Caves. 4
  • 120: It is said that Gimli, son of Glóin, becomes the only Dwarf ever to cross the sea to the Undying Lands. 4 19
  • In Erebor the line of Dain prospered until there arose again for the last time an heir of that House that bore the name of Durin, and he returned to Moria; and there was light again in deep places, and the ringing of hammers and the harping of harps, until the world grew old and the Dwarves failed and the days of Durin’s race were ended. 27

Nature of Dwarves

  • Dwarves are “short and squat in stature; they were deep-breasted, strong in the arm, and stout in the leg, and their beards were long.” 27
  • Dwarves are “stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more heartily than other speaking peoples”. 9
  • Both male and female Dwarves are born with full beards. 3 26
  • Of Dwarves in the First Age, Tolkien writes, “A warlike race of old were all the Naugrim, and they would fight fiercely with whomsoever aggrieved them: folk of Melkor, or Eldar, or Avari, or wild beasts, or not seldom with their own kin”. 27 The phrasing would suggest they were less warlike in the later ages.
  • By the Second Age, Dwarves naturally live about 250 solar years. 4
  • The Dwarves are secretive about their religion, but believe in an afterlife. For they say that Aulë the Maker, whom they call Mahal, cares for them, and gathers them to Mandos in halls set apart; and that he declared to their Fathers of old that Ilúvatar will hallow them and give them a place among the Children in the End. Then their part shall be to serve Aulë and to aid him in the remaking of Arda after the Last Battle. 9
  • The Dwarves are secretive about their language, Khudzul; which was given to them by Aulë (who the Dwarves call Mahar). 9 27 (They do not speak Khudzul in front of non-Dwarves and only two outsiders ever learned to speak it: the elves Eöl and Curufin. Through intensive effort, Khudzul remained unchanged throughout all four ages.) 5 27 29
  • Dwarves did not give their real names to outsiders, instead they usually used names from the local Human dialect. Even very famous names, like Durin and Gimli, are only the names they gave to outsiders. 27
  • The Dwarves had a lunar calendar, that we know little about. 28

References

The Books

The works of J.R.R. Tolkien and his son Christopher, in order of publication.

Citations

  1. The Silmarillion - Ainulindalë
  2. The Silmarillion - Valaquenta
  3. HoME - Volume 11 - Part 4 - Quendi and Eldar
  4. LotR - Return of the King - Appendix A - Durin’s Folk
  5. HoME - Volume 11, part 4, Appendix D
  6. Unfinished Tales - Note #9
  7. The Hobbit - Chapter 5 - Riddles in the Dark
  8. The Silmarillion - Chapter 3 - On the Coming of Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
  9. The Silmarillion - Chapter 2 - Of Aule and Yavanna
  10. LotR - Return of the King - Book 6 - Chapter III - Mount Doom
  11. LotR - Fellowship of the Ring - Book 1 - Chapter V - The Bridge of Khazad-dum
  12. The Hobbit - Chapter 1 - An Unexpected Party
  13. The Hobbit - Chapter 18 - The Return Journey
  14. LotR - Fellowship of the Ring - Book 2 - Chapter II - The Council of Elrond
  15. The Hobbit - Chapter 14 - Fire and Water
  16. The Hobbit - Chapter 16 - A Thief in the Night
  17. LotR - Two Towers - Book 3 - Chapter V - The White Rider
  18. LotR - Two Towers - Book 2 - Chapter VIII - The Road to Isengard
  19. LotR - Return of the King - Appendix B - The Tale of Years
  20. HoME - Volume 11 - Part 3 - Tale of Years
  21. Unfinished Tales - Letter 247
  22. LotR - Fellowship of the Ring - Book 2 - Chapter III - The Ring Goes South
  23. The Silmarillion - Chapter 10 - Of the Sindar
  24. The Silmarillion - Chapter 11 - Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor
  25. The Silmarillion - Chapter 12 - Of Men
  26. HoME - Volume 11 - Part 2 - Chapter 13 - Concerning the Dwarves
  27. HoME - Volume 12 - Part 10 - Of Dwarves and Men
  28. The Hobbit - Chapter 3 - A Short Rest
  29. The Silmarillion - Index of Names
  30. The Silmarillion - Chapter 20 - Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad
  31. HoME - Volume 11 - The Grey Annals
  32. The Silmarillion - Chapter 24 - Of the Voyage of Earendil and the War of Wrath
  33. The Silmarillion - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Published: October 31 2016