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Balrogs (/ˈbælrɒɡz/; singular: Balrog) are fictional creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. They first appeared in print in his high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship of the Ring encounter one known as Durin's Bane in the Mines of Moria. Balrogs appear also in Tolkien's The Silmarillion and other posthumously published books.

Balrogs are tall and menacing beings who can shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appeared armed with fiery whips "of many thongs",[T 1] and occasionally used long swords. In Tolkien's later conception, they could not be readily vanquished—a certain stature was required by the would-be hero. Only dragons rivalled their capacity for ferocity and destruction,[T 2] and during the First Age of Middle-earth, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces.


According to the fictional history in The Silmarillion, the evil Vala Melkor corrupted lesser Maiar (angelic beings) to his service in the days of his splendour before the making of Arda.[T 3][T 4] These became known as "Demons of Might", Valaraukar in Quenya.

Upon the awakening of the Elves, the Valar captured Melkor and destroyed his fortresses Utumno and Angband. But they overlooked the deepest pits,[T 5] where, with many of Melkor's other allies, the Balrogs fled into hiding. When Melkor returned to Middle-earth from Valinor, now bearing the epithet Morgoth, he was attacked by Ungoliant, a spider-like creature; his piercing scream drew the Balrogs out of hiding to his rescue.

When the Noldor arrived in Beleriand in pursuit of Morgoth, they won a swift victory over his Orcs in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath. Fëanor pressed on towards Angband, but the Balrogs came against him, and Fëanor was mortally wounded by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. Fëanor's sons fought off the Balrogs, but Fëanor died of his wounds shortly afterward.[T 6]

In The Lays of Beleriand, The Lay of Leithian mentions Balrog captains leading Orcs: "the Orcs went forth to rape and war, and Balrog captains marched before".[T 7]

Tolkien tells of two Balrogs slain by Elves in the fall of Gondolin.[T 8] During the assault on the city, Ecthelion of the Fountain fought Gothmog, and "each slew the other." Glorfindel fought a Balrog who waylaid an escape party from the fallen city; both fell from the mountainside in the struggle and perished.

In the War of Wrath that ended the First Age, most of the Balrogs were destroyed, although some including the Balrog known as Durin's Bane, managed to escape and hide in "caverns at the roots of the earth".[T 9]

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship ventured through Moria and were attacked in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Orcs and the Balrog.[T 10] Gandalf faced the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and broke the Bridge, but was dragged down by the Balrog. He slew the Balrog but perished himself at the same time—to be sent back as the more powerful Gandalf the White.


Tolkien's conception of Balrogs changed over time. In all his early writing, they are numerous. A host of a thousand of them is mentioned in the Quenta Silmarillion,[T 11] while at the storming of Gondolin Balrogs in the hundreds ride on the backs of the Dragons.[T 12] They are roughly of twice[T 13] human size,[T 14] and were occasionally killed in battle by Elves and Men.[T 15] They were fierce demons, associated with fire, armed with fiery whips of many thongs and claws like steel, and Morgoth delighted in using them to torture his captives.[T 16] They were loyal to Morgoth, and once came out of hiding to save him from capture.

In the published version of The Lord of the Rings, however, Balrogs became altogether more sinister and more powerful. Christopher Tolkien notes the difference, saying that in earlier versions they were "less terrible and certainly more destructible". He quotes a very late margin note[T 17] that was not incorporated into the text saying "at most seven" ever existed;[T 18] though in the Annals of Aman, written as late as 1958, after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Melkor still commands "a host of Balrogs".[T 19] In later writings they ceased to be creatures, but are instead Maiar, lesser Ainur like Gandalf or Sauron, spirits of fire whom Melkor had corrupted before the creation of the World.[T 3] Power of the order of Gandalf's was necessary to destroy them,[T 20] and as Maiar, only their physical forms could be destroyed.

Tolkien says of the Valar (including the Maiar) that they can change their shape at will, and move unclad in the raiment of the world, meaning invisible and without form.[T 21] But it seems that Morgoth, Sauron, and their associated Maiar could lose this ability: Morgoth, for example, was unable to heal his burns from the Silmarils or wounds from Fingolfin and the eagle Thorondor;[T 22] and Sauron lost his ability to assume a fair-seeming form after his physical body was destroyed in the downfall of Númenor.[T 23]

Tolkien does not address this specifically for Balrogs though at least in his later conception they are Maiar. In "the Bridge of Khazad-dûm" in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Balrog appears "like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater". Though previously the Balrog had entered the "large square chamber" of Mazarbul, at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm it "drew itself to a great height, and its wings spread from wall to wall" in what was a vast hall.

The Balrog's size and shape, therefore, are not given precisely. When Gandalf threw it from the peak of Zirakzigil, the Balrog "broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin".[T 24]

Whether Balrogs have wings (and if so, whether they can fly) is unclear. This is due partly to Tolkien's changing conception of Balrogs, but mostly to his imprecise but suggestive and possibly figurative description of the Balrog that confronted Gandalf in Moria.[T 10]

The three key quotations:

His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.

… suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall …

With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished.

The argument hinges on whether the "wings" are physical wings or simply figurative wings of shadow. Many additional facts are adduced to the argument, but there is not enough firm description in Tolkien's writing to settle the matter definitively.[1][2]

The Balrog of Moria used a flaming sword ("From out of the shadow a red sword leapt flaming") and a many-thonged whip that "whined and cracked" in its battle with Gandalf. In The Silmarillion, they also used black axes and maces.[T 25] Earlier writings also speak of steel claws and iron mail.[T 26]

In earlier drafts of The Lord of the Rings, some further indications of Tolkien's evolving conceptions appear. Notably,

A figure strode to the fissure, no more than man-high yet terror seemed to go before it. They could see the furnace-fire of its eyes from afar; its arms were very long; it had a red [?tongue].[T 27]

At this writing Tolkien contemplated an edict of the Valar concerning Balrogs, having Gandalf challenge the Balrog by saying:

It is forbidden for any Balrog to come beneath the sky since Fionwë son of Manwë overthrew Thangorodrim.[T 28]

Name and etymology[edit]


The name "Balrog", but not the meaning, emerges early in Tolkien's work: it appears in the Fall of Gondolin, one of the earliest texts Tolkien wrote (ca. 1918). An early list of names described Balrog as "an Orc-word with no pure equivalent in Tolkien's invented language of Quenya: 'borrowed Malaroko-' ".[T 29] In Gnomish (another of Tolkien's invented languages), Balrog is parsed as balc 'cruel' + graug 'demon', with a Quenya equivalent Malkarauke. Variant forms of the latter include Nalkarauke and Valkarauke.[T 30] By the 1940s, when Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings, he had come to think of Balrog as Noldorin balch 'cruel' + rhaug 'demon', with a Quenya equivalent Malarauko (from nwalya- 'to torture' + rauko 'demon').[T 31] The last etymology, appearing in the invented languages Quendi and Eldar, derives Balrog as the Sindarin translation of the Quenya form Valarauko (Demon of Might). This etymology was published in The Silmarillion.[T 32] The Sindarin plural for Balrog is not known. Tolkien consistently used the anglicization Balrogs; Sindarin does not form plurals that way. In one case Tolkien used Balrogath.[T 33] The plural of Quenya Valarauko (also Valarauka) is attested as Valaraukar.[T 32] Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dûm calls the Balrog "flame of Udûn" (Udûn being the Sindarin name of Morgoth's fortress Utumno).

Real-world origins[edit]

Tolkien's Sigelwara etymologies led to major strands in his writings on Middle-earth, including the idea of the Balrog.[3][4]

Tolkien was a professional philologist, a scholar of comparative and historical linguistics.[5] The Balrog and other concepts in his writings derived from the Old English word Sigelwara, used in the Codex Junius to mean "Aethiopian".[6][7] He wondered why the Anglo-Saxons would have had a word with this meaning, conjecturing that it had formerly had a different meaning. He emended the word to Sigelhearwan, and in his essay "Sigelwara Land",[3] explored in detail the two parts of the word. He stated that Sigel meant "both sun and jewel", the former as it was the name of the Sun rune *sowilō (ᛋ), the latter connotation from Latin sigillum, a seal.[4] He decided that Hearwa was related to Old English heorð, "hearth", and ultimately to Latin carbo, "soot". He suggested from all this that Sigelhearwan implied "rather the sons of Muspell than of Ham", a class of demons in Northern mythology "with red-hot eyes that emitted sparks and faces black as soot".[3] The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey states that this both "helped to naturalise the Balrog" and contributed to the Silmarils, which combined the nature of the sun and jewels.[8] The Aethiopians suggested to Tolkien the Haradrim, a dark southern race of men.[9][10]

A real-world etymological counterpart for the word "Balrog" existed long before Tolkien's languages: the Norse bál "fire"; an epithet of the Norse god Odin was Báleygr, "fire-eyed".[11]

Individual Balrogs[edit]


Gothmog at the Storming of Gondolin[T 34]

Gothmog appears in various versions of Silmarillion material. He is physically massive and strong, and in one version he is some 12 feet tall.[T 35] He wields a black axe and whip of flame as his weapons.

He holds the titles of the Lord of the Balrogs (but see Lungorthin below), the High Captain of Angband, and Marshal of the Hosts.

In the Second Battle, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, he leads a force that ambushes Fëanor and wounds him mortally. He leads Balrogs, Orc-hosts, and Dragons as Morgoth's commander in the field in the Fifth Battle, Nírnaeth Arnoediad, and slays Fingon, High King of the Noldor. In that same battle, he captures Húrin of Dor-lómin, who had slain his personal guard of Battle-trolls, and brings him to Angband. As Marshal of the Hosts, he is in command of the Storming of Gondolin. He is about to kill Tuor when Ecthelion of the Fountain, a Noldorin Elf-lord, intervenes. Gothmog fights Ecthelion in single combat, and they kill each other.

In The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien describes Kosomot, the original version of Gothmog, as a son of Morgoth and the ogress Fluithuin or Ulbandi.[T 36]

Gothmog is Sindarin and means 'Dread Oppressor'.[T 37]

Kosomot is often considered Gothmog's Quenya name;[T 38] however, in the Quenya name-list of The Fall of Gondolin another version appears, Kosomoko.[12]


Lungorthin appears in Tolkien's early Lay of the Children of Húrin as "Lungorthin, Lord of Balrogs". This might be another name for Gothmog (above), though Christopher Tolkien thought it more likely that Lungorthin was simply "a Balrog lord".[T 39]

Durin's Bane[edit]

Durin's Bane, the Balrog in Moria

This Balrog appears in The Lord of the Rings, encountered by the Fellowship of the Ring in the Mines of Moria.[13]

It survived the defeat of Morgoth in the War of Wrath and escaped to hide beneath the Misty Mountains.[T 40] For more than five millennia, the Balrog remained in its deep hiding place at the roots of Caradhras,[T 41] one of the Mountains of Moria, until in the Third Age, the mithril-miners of the Dwarf-kingdom of Khazad-dûm disturbed it. The Balrog promptly killed Durin VI, the King of Khazad-dûm, whereafter it was called Durin's Bane by the Dwarves.[T 40][T 42] Steve Higham points out that avarice, principally for mithril, drove the dwarves to go too deep and thus to awaken the balrog.[14]

The Dwarves attempted to fight the Balrog, but its power was far too great. In their efforts to hold Khazad-dûm against it, many Dwarves were killed: Durin's successor King Náin only a year after his father. The survivors were forced to flee. This disaster also reached the Silvan Elves of Lothlórien, many of whom also fled the "Nameless Terror".[T 40] From this time Khazad-dûm was generally known by the name Moria (Sindarin for the "Black Pit"[T 43] or "Black Chasm"[T 44]).

For another 500 years, Moria was left to the Balrog; though according to Unfinished Tales, Orcs crept in soon after the Dwarves were driven out, leading to Nimrodel's flight.[T 45] Sauron began to put his plans for war into effect, and he sent Orcs and Trolls to the Misty Mountains to bar the passes[T 42]

During the reign of Thráin II, the Dwarves attempted to retake Moria in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, culminating in the Battle of Azanulbizar before the eastern gate of Moria. This was a victory for the Dwarves, but the Balrog prevented them from reoccupying Moria. Dáin Ironfoot, having slain the Orc Azog near the gate, perceived the terror of the Balrog within[T 40] and warned Thráin that Moria was unachievable until some greater force could remove the Balrog. The Dwarves departed and resumed their exile. Despite Dáin's warning, Balin made another attempt to retake Moria.[T 42] His party was initially successful in starting a colony, but was massacred a few years later.

The Fellowship of the Ring travelled through Moria on the quest to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. They were attacked in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Orcs.[T 10] The Fellowship fled through a side door, but when the wizard Gandalf the Grey tried to place a "shutting spell" on the door to block the pursuit behind them, the Balrog entered the chamber on the other side and cast a "terrible" counterspell. Gandalf spoke a word of Command to stay the door, but the door shattered and the chamber collapsed. Gandalf was severely weakened by this encounter. The company fled with him, but the Orcs and the Balrog, taking a different route, caught up with them at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. The Elf Legolas instantly recognized the Balrog and Gandalf tried to hold the bridge against it. As Gandalf faced the Balrog, he proclaimed, "You cannot pass, flame of Udûn!", and broke the bridge beneath the Balrog. As it fell, the Balrog wrapped its whip about Gandalf's knees, dragging him to the brink. As the Fellowship looked on in horror, Gandalf cried "Fly, you fools!" and plunged into the darkness below.

After a long fall, the two crashed into a deep subterranean lake, which extinguished the flames of the Balrog's body; however it remained "a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake". They fought in the water, with the Balrog clutching at Gandalf to strangle him, and Gandalf hewing the Balrog with his sword, until finally the Balrog fled into the primordial tunnels of Moria's underworld. Gandalf pursued the creature for eight days, until they climbed to the peak of Zirakzigil, where the Balrog was forced to turn and fight once again, its body erupting into new flame. Here they fought for two days and nights. In the end, the Balrog was defeated and cast down, breaking the mountainside where it fell "in ruin".[T 24] Gandalf himself died shortly afterwards, but he returned to Middle-earth with even greater powers, as Gandalf the White, "until his task was finished". Critics such as Jerram Barrs have recognised this as a transfiguration similar to that of Jesus Christ, suggesting Gandalf's prophet-like status.[15]

The critic Clive Tolley notes that the contest between Gandalf and the Balrog on Durin's bridge somewhat recalls a shamanistic contest, but that a far closer parallel is medieval vision literature, giving the example of St Patrick's Purgatory, and even Dante's Divine Comedy.[16]


As there are no known dimensions for a Balrog, there are differing representations in the various film adaptations, some capable of flight.

See also[edit]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ The Silmarillion and its early drafts speak frequently of the whips of fire. The Lays of Beleriand describe Morgoth's prisoners tortured by Balrogs with scourges; and the Balrog in Moria (The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm") is armed explicitly with a "whip of many thongs" or strands.
  2. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, "Turambar and the Foalókë", p.85: "yet of all are they [dragons] the most powerful, save it be the Balrogs only."
  3. ^ a b The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta", p. 31.
  4. ^ The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 3, p. 47.
  5. ^ The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 3, p. 51.
  6. ^ The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 13, p. 107.
  7. ^ The Lays of Beleriand, p.281
  8. ^ The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 13, pp. 242–3.
  9. ^ The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 14, p. 251.
  10. ^ a b c The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm".
  11. ^ The Lost Road, p. 312, "there came Balrogs one thousand".
  12. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, p. 170.
  13. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, p. 194: "... it pierced the Balrog's belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature) ...". For comparison, other Maiar are human size: Olórin (Gandalf), Melian. In Morgoth's Ring p.69, a note by Tolkien states: "The Valar.... most often used shapes of 'human' form, though taller (not gigantic) and more magnificent."
  14. ^ The Treason of Isengard, p. 197.
  15. ^ Lost Tales Part II, p.179 "the number of Balrogs that perished was a marvel and a dread to the hosts of Melkor, for ere that day never had any of the Balrogs been slain by the hand of Elves or Men."
  16. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, p. 169.
  17. ^ Morgoth's Ring, p.80.
  18. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, "The Fall of Gondolin", p. 212–3.
  19. ^ Morgoth's Ring, p.75 and p.79.
  20. ^ Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, for example, tells the others that "This is a foe beyond any of you."
  21. ^ The Silmarillion, "Ainulindalë", p. 21.
  22. ^ The Silmarillion "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 18, p. 154.
  23. ^ The Return of the King, Appendix A, Part I, Section (i).
  24. ^ a b The Two Towers, "The White Rider".
  25. ^ The Silmarillion, "Of the Fifth Battle", pp. 193-4.
  26. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, pp. 169, 181, 194.
  27. ^ The Treason of Isengard, "The Bridge", p. 197.
  28. ^ The Treason of Isengard, "The Bridge", p. 198.
  29. ^ Lost Road, p. 404.
  30. ^ Lost Tales, Part I, Appendix: Names in the Lost Tales, p. 250.
  31. ^ Lost Road, "The Etymologies", entries for ÑGWAL (p. 377) and RUK (p. 384).
  32. ^ a b The Silmarillion, Index, p. 353.
  33. ^ Morgoth's Ring, "Annals of Aman", Section 2.
  34. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, "The Fall of Gondolin": "… seven dragons of fire are come with Orcs about them and Balrogs upon them …"
  35. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, p. 194: "... it pierced the Balrog's belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature) ..."
  36. ^ Lost Tales, Part I, p. 93.
  37. ^ Lost Road, "The Etymologies", p. 359, 372.
  38. ^ Lost Tales, Part II, p. 216.
  39. ^ The Lays of Beleriand, p. 102.
  40. ^ a b c d The Return of the King, Appendix A (III).
  41. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1966) [1954]. The Fellowship of the Ring (2nd ed.). George Allen & Unwin. Book 2 ch. IV p. 331. ISBN 0-04-823045-6.
  42. ^ a b c The Return of the King, Appendix B.
  43. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
  44. ^ The Return of the King, Appendix F, Part II
  45. ^ Unfinished Tales, "The Tale of Galadriel and Celeborn", p. 241.


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Arda
  2. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2010-06-21. Retrieved 2006-09-05.
  3. ^ a b c J. R. R. Tolkien, "Sigelwara Land" Medium Aevum Vol. 1, No. 3. December 1932 and Medium Aevum Vol. 3, No. 2. June 1934.
  4. ^ a b Shippey 2005, pp. 48-49.
  5. ^ The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #165 to Houghton Mifflin, 30 June 1955
  6. ^ "Junius 11 "Exodus" ll. 68-88". The Medieval & Classical Literature Library. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  7. ^ Shippey 2005, p. 54.
  8. ^ Shippey 2005, pp. 49, 54, 63.
  9. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1989), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Treason of Isengard, Unwin Hyman, ch. XXV p. 435 & p. 439 note 4 (comments by Christopher Tolkien)
  10. ^ Lee, Stuart; Solopova, Elizabeth (2016). The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-1-137-45470-6.
  11. ^ Grímnismál, stanzas 46-48
  12. ^ Parma Eldalamberon, No. 15, p.26, the 'Name List to The Fall of Gondolin'.
  13. ^ Abbott, Joe (1989). "Tolkien's Monsters: Concept and Function inThe Lord of the Rings (Part 1) The Balrog of Khazad-dum". Mythlore. 16 (1): 19–33.
  14. ^ Higham, Steve (2012). Ideology in The Lord of the Rings: a Marxist Analysis. University of Sunderland (doctoral thesis). p. 151.
  15. ^ Barrs, Jerram (2013). Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts. Crossway. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-4335-3600-7.
  16. ^ Tolley, Clive. "Old English influence on The Lord of the Rings" (PDF). Pearson Education. p. 55. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  17. ^ What is “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: CONQUEST”? Pandemic Studios’ Eric 'Giz' Gewirtz tells us about it.
  18. ^ Roper, Chris (May 8, 2008). "The Lord of the Rings: Conquest Unveiled". IGN. San Francisco, California: j2 Global. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  19. ^ Joffe, Justin (April 12, 2017). "King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Expand Their Universe by Murdering Ours". Observer. j2 Global. Retrieved December 13, 2019.