As far as our comparisons go, we at Fiction Horizon always try to make things more interesting for you. In the past, we’ve mostly done comparisons of individual characters, including a group from time to time. Seeing how we value diversity, we have decided to take a different approach this time. And while comparing characters from Tolkien’s Legendarium should not come as a big surprise, we have decided to compare two “races” (well, they’re not races in the technical sense, but we wanted to avoid the word “group”), i.e., a subrace and a species of creatures – the Balrogs and the Dragons.
The Balrogs and the dragons were both in the service of Sauron, which means that they were allies, although they were bitter rivals when it came to who was the most feared “race” in Middle-earth. Both extremely powerful, we think that Balrogs are, still, significantly stronger than dragons due to their divine nature, a wider array of powers and abilities, as well as the fact that dragons have an obvious weak spot (their underbelly), which the Balrogs don’t have.
In today’s article, we are going to tell you about the Balrogs and the Dragons in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. This article is going to be different in the sense that we are first going to introduce you to the two “races”, before we actually compare them via a direct clash between their best-known representatives – During’s Bane, the Balrog who fought Gandalf, and Smaug, the greedy dragon from The Hobbit. Enjoy!
About the Balrogs
The Balrogs are a fictional group from Tolkien’s Legendarium that first appeared in The Lord of the Rings and later in The Silmarillion. They are powerful demonic creatures who incite fear in their enemies but were actually Maiar that have been corrupted by Morgoth and turned into evil beings. The most famous Balrogs are Gothmog and Durin’s Bane.
The Balrogs are Maiar, spirits belonging to the same species as Sauron, Gandalf or Saruman. They were seduced by the Vala Melkor (the first Dark Lord and Sauron’s original master, later known as Morgoth), who made them his servants before the creation of Arda. A few years after the awakening of the Firstborn – the Elves – the Valar go to war against Melkor, who oppresses the Elves and dominates Middle-earth. The Valar take Melkor prisoner during the assault on his stronghold, Utumno, which they destroy. However, they neglect to fully explore the depths of this fortress as well as Melkor’s second stronghold, Angband, where Melkor’s minions took refuge, among whom were the Balrogs.
Many centuries later, Melkor, now called Morgoth, returns to Middle-earth. Attacked by Ungoliant, a gigantic evil spider, he is rescued by the Balrogs still taking refuge in the ruins of Angband who hear his terrible howl, rushing to his call. When the Noldor, from the far west (Valinor) arrive in Middle-earth, in Beleriand, they are close to Morgoth, with the latter having fled from Valinor carrying the Silmarils of Fëanor. They then gain a first victory against the Orc armies of Morgoth (Battle of Dagor-nuin-Giliath).
Fëanor, drunk with revenge, pursues the fugitives in the direction of Angband, but finds himself isolated, constituting a prime target for the Balrogs, who suddenly appear from the depths of Angband. Attacked, Fëanor is mortally wounded by their prince, the Balrog Gothmog. The Balrogs also participate in the battles of Dagor Bragollach and Nírnaeth Arnoediad, during which the Noldor are defeated; in the latter, High King Fingon is killed by Gothmog. The Balrogs are again present during the assault on Gondolin, but two of them are killed there: Ecthelion of the Fountain and Gothmog kill each other at the foot of the King’s Tower; Glorfindel confronts a Balrog to allow the few survivors of the rampage of the city to escape from the circle of mountains surrounding Gondolin. Their duel ends when, in the end, they both fall into the abyss.
Most of the Balrogs are destroyed at the end of the First Age, during the War of Wrath, “except a few who fled to hide in inaccessible caves in the roots of the Earth”, among them being Durin’s Bane. Durin’s Bane is released in the year TA 1980 of the Third Age by the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, while they were digging ever deeper in the bowels of the mountain of Mines of Moria, in search of mithril. The Balrog kills Durin VI, then his son Náin I, which forces the remaining dwarves to flee their city. He was defeated in TA 3019 by Gandalf, at the end of a duel started on the Durin’s Bridge, at the east exit of Khazad-dûm, and completed at the top of Celebdil.
About the Dragons in Middle-earth
Inspired by actual mythological stories, the dragons of Middle-earth are an ancient, powerful and highly intelligent race of creatures that inhabited Middle-earth for a long time, being feared throughout. The dragons’ origin is closely connected to Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, but by the time of Sauron’s resurrection, they had already been extinct. Smaug is probably the most famous dragon from the Legendarium.
The dragons were “created” at an unspecified date during the First Age by Morgoth, but their first appearance dates back to FA 260, when Glaurung, the first dragon and the father of the Dragons, made his first outing for a surprise attack on the plains of Ard-Galen. Its shell was still incomplete at the time, for it was still young -only “half its adult size”. It is easily repelled by a group of archers of Ñoldor, led by Fingon.
Then followed two hundred years of relative peace, during which the dragons remained locked in Angband, Morgoth being unhappy that Glaurung had revealed itself too soon. At the end of these two hundred years, in the year FA 455, Morgoth initiates the Battle of Dagor Bragollach (Battle of the Sudden Flame), by sending his troops of Balrogs and Orcs led by Glaurung on the Ñoldor and human troops, thus ending four hundred years of the siege of Angband and causing the ruin of Beleriand.
In FA 468, Maedhros, bound by the oath of Fëanor, created the Union of Maedhros, an alliance between Elves, Dwarves and Men (whether Edain or Orientals) to counter Morgoth and defeat his stronghold of Angband. Despite all the precautions taken by the Union to remain secret, Morgoth learns of its existence and prepares its forces. Thus begins the Nírnaeth Arnoediad in the year FA 472.
Maedhros foresaw a simultaneous attack of his troops from the east and the west by the troops led by his friend Fingon. While the two armies went forth to meet in front of the gates of Angband, Morgoth emptied his fortress. The arrival of Glaurung, the head of a troop of dragons, and his army marked a turning point in the battle, as “the Elves and the Humans were crumbling before him.” However, the dragon offensive is stopped by the contingent of the Dwarves, led by Azaghâl. The Dwarves assault the dragons with their axes, inciting Glaurung’s fury, who then knocks down and crushes Azaghâl, who in return stabs Glaurung in the belly. Severely injured, the dragon, followed by its offspring, returns to Angband.
In FA 495, he emerges from Angband, and participates in the capture of the city of Nargothrond, during which he meets and bewitches Túrin, then his sister Nienor, before being killed by Túrin a few years later. The dragons did not reappear until several years later, in FA 507, when Morgoth, having learned the location of Gondolin from Húrin and then Maeglin, attacked the city, sending the Balrogs and dragons “which were now numerous and terrifying” in the lead. Gondolin is destroyed, but survivors led by Tuor flee and find refuge at the mouth of the Sirion.
In FA 524, Tuor and Idril left their people and set sail west aboard the Eärramë, a vessel built by Tuor. Their 25-year-old son Eärendil becomes the lord of their community, alongside his wife Elwing, granddaughter of Beren and Lúthien, who owns one of the three Silmarils. The year which follows the departure of his parents, Eärendil undertakes his first navigations, then with the help of Elwing and the Silmaril, manages to rally Valinor in FA 533 of the First Age. There, he pleads for the Valar to come to the aid of the peoples of Middle-earth who are fighting Morgoth.
In FA 547, the army of the Valar, led by Eönwë the herald of Manwë, Finarfin, king of the Ñoldor of Aman, Ingwë, king of the Vanyar and Eärendil flying on the Vingilot marched on the Thangorodrim to end the yoke of Morgoth. Despite all the forces he hires, Morgoth is quickly overtaken by the armies of the Valar. He, therefore, sends his last trump card, the first flying dragons, led by Ancalagon the Black. Their attack is like a storm, and the Valar are pushed back. Eärendil flying on his Vingilot intervenes, accompanied by an armada of birds led by the Eagle Thorondor, and brings down Ancalagon on the peaks of Thangorodrim, ending the War of Wrath and leading to the imprisonment of Morgoth and the end of the First Age.
Most of the dragons are exterminated during this battle. According to the Quenta Silmarillion, only a couple of dragons survived and fled east. During the Second Age, the accounts are centered mainly on the history of Númenor and its relations with the Elves that remained in Middle-earth, the history of the dragons during this age is thus not told. Around the year TA 2000, Fram kills Scatha, the last of the Great Worms of the Gray Mountains. Around TA 2210, Thorin I left Erebor, gathered the Dwarves of the Durin lineage and led them to the Gray Mountains. The country is still occupied by dragons and we learn that they “became powerful again and multiplied, and they waged war on the Dwarves, plundering their facilities.” In TA 2589, Dáin Ier and his son Frór were killed by a Great Dragon. About two hundred years later, in TA 2770, Smaug the Golden, “the last of the great Dragons”, attacks Erebor and drives out the Dwarves. He was killed in TA 2941, by Bard.
Durin’s Bane vs. Smaug: Who would win?
Now that we’ve told you about the Balrogs and the Dragons and now that you’ve seen that the two actually worked together, we also have to tell you that the Balrogs and the Dragons were bitter rivals for the most feared creatures in Middle-earth. They never fought against each other but we have decided to simulate a duel between them by pitting their best-known members – Durin’s Bane of the Balrogs and Smaug of the Dragons – against each other. Let us commence.
Who was Durin’s Bane?
A former Maia created by Eru Ilúvatar, Durin’s Bane, like the other Balrogs, became an ally of Morgoth even before the creation of Eä. After this, he descended on Arda along with his master, who will serve throughout the history of Arda until the War of Wrath; in this war nearly all of the other Balrogs were killed, and he was somehow among the few Balrogs who managed to escape the forces of Valinor by hiding in the deepest tunnels of the Misty Mountains.
There he remained for more than five millennia, undisturbed, until, in the year TA 1981, the mithril miners of the King of the Dwarves, Durin VI, digging, came to his hiding place. Durin was then killed by this creature, which, for this reason, was given the name Durin’s Bane. The Dwarves tried to fight the Balrog, but his powers were vastly greater than theirs; all their attempts to defend their colony of Khazad-dûm from the monster failed, and King Náin I, son of Durin VI, along with many of his subjects, was also killed. This forced the surviving Dwarves to flee from that place.
It seems that the Bane then came to the Wood Elves of Hollyhide, many of whom fled because of the “Nameless Terror” (he was not recognized as a Balrog at the time). Since then the Elves began to call the Balrog’s place of origin, Khazad-dûm, as Moria, the “Black Well”, and 500 years from then no one dared to disturb the Balrog. Around TA 2480, Sauron began to transform his war plans against Middle-earth into reality. He sent Orcs and Trolls to the Misty Mountains to block all passes. Some of these creatures reached Moria, and the Balrog allowed them to remain while he dwelt there.
In TA 2799, the Battle of Nanduhirion, the most important and bloody battle of the War between the Dwarves and the Orcs, was held in front of the eastern gates of Moria. This battle saw the victorious Dwarves; but this was not enough to make them retake ancient Khazad-dûm, as the threat of the Balrog could not be defeated even with an entire army. In TA 2989, Balin, together with some of his companions again attempted the colonization of Moria, which failed miserably after the death of Balin and most of his followers.
Finally, in January TA 3019, The Fellowship of the Ring crossed the deep tunnels of Moria, as it was a quicker way to reach Mount Doom. They collided with Durin’s Bane at the end of their journey in the mines, at the place called Khazad-dûm Bridge; the elf Legolas immediately recognized the Balrog, having memory of him from his peoples’ tales. The wizard Gandalf challenged him personally, knowing full well that the powers of the being could only be compared to his. In fact, both Durin’s Bane and Gandalf were Maiar, and therefore belonged to the same race. As the Balrog advanced towards the Fellowship on the Bridge, Gandalf broke the bridge, plunging the opponent into the abyss below. But in the fall, he twisted his whip around Gandalf’s knees, dragging him with him. After a long fall, the two landed in a huge underground lake, which extinguished the flames that covered the body of the Balrog, weakening it greatly.
Realizing his state, Durin’s Bane fled, pursued by Gandalf, who followed him for eight days, until they climbed to the peak of Celebdil, the summit of the mountain under which Moria stood. At this point the flames of the Balrog strengthened, increasing his power; thus began the Battle of the Peak, in which the two adversaries fought for two days and two nights, until the exhausted and defeated Balrog fell dead, breaking one side of the mountain. Gandalf also perished after the battle, but was soon sent back to Middle-earth with new powers, as Gandalf the White.
Who was Smaug?
Like every member of his race, Smaug was indirectly created by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, with the aim of supporting the orcs against the elven armies. Tolkien writes that dragons live practically forever unless they are killed, so Smaug’s exact age is unknown, but it is certain that he is over 170 years old. The first appearance of the dragon takes place in the year TA 2770, a period in which it was already the last remaining great dragon in Middle-earth.
He attacks and destroys the city of Dale and then conquers Erebor (or Lonely Mountain), thus ending the reign of the Dwarves in what was known as the Kingdom under the Mountain. He takes possession of all the treasures of the Dwarves and accumulates them in the central hall of the caves, thus making it his own bed. Among the objects in Smaug’s possession are the Arkenstone and several mithril casks (the resistant metal from Moria). Thorin Oakenshield, the last heir of the ancient family that lived in the Kingdom under the Mountain, decides to organize an expedition to defeat Smaug and recapture Erebor. Upon reaching their destination, after finding a secret entrance, the dwarves send the hobbit Bilbo Baggins into the caves.
The little hobbit makes himself invisible thanks to his magic ring, but Smaug manages to smell it anyway. The dragon begins a conversation with the hobbit and discovers, as he suspected, that the inhabitants of the Lake-town, the new residence of the inhabitants of the ancient city of Dale, have given aid to the Dwarves of Erebor. He, therefore, decides to go personally to the city and destroy it with his own strength. The dragon sets the city on fire, but is killed by Bard the Bowman with his black arrow. Bard, in fact, had learned about the weak point of Smaug (a spot in the hollow of the left side of the chest) from a thrush (whose language could be understood by the members of the lineage of the King of Dale, and Bard was a descendant), who had overheard Bilbo’s account of the meeting, and learned of the bare patch on Smaug’s underside. Smaug’s body sinks into the town’s lake, while Bard is elected king of Dale
Comparing their powers
Now, the essential thing to do before giving a final verdict on their powers is comparing their powers and abilities. We have seen that both the Balrogs and the Dragons are extremely powerful; in fact, they are among the most powerful beings in the history of Middle-earth. Now, comparing their powers and abilities is far from easy, but we are going to do our best to give you at least a rough outline of their powers. The fact is, Tolkien never precisely listed their powers in the manners that comic book authors do for their characters, so all of the facts you are about to read are taken from different stories written by Tolkien and actually present a summary of the events that happened in the history of Middle-earth.
The Balrogs were immensely powerful creatures. Only seven Balrogs were needed to hunt down the dreaded, a large spider-like monster powerful enough to devour the fruits of Telperion, which created light for billions of stars. The above mentioned Durin’s Bane succeeded – singlehandedly – in driving the mining dwarves of Moria out of their highly fortified former nation-state, which at the time was the largest dwarf kingdom that ever existed. He also fought with Gandalf and smashed the side of a mountain with only his physical strength, and that happened while he was dying.
The Balrogs were physically very agile, so their death was once called the “firestorm.” Gothmog fought and defeated Fëanor, an elf powerful enough to control the light on both trees. He also wreaked havoc on the town of Gondolin, filled with Elves of the same caliber, albeit far inferior. It was even thought that he was at least somewhat comparable to Sauron at an early age.
As an adult dragon, Smaug was both massive and powerful, and possessed a physical strength that made it easy for it to crush stones, as evidenced by his attack on the Lonely Mountain. Its large wings enabled it to fly and breathe streams of burning flames and vapors from its mouth and nostrils. Some comments in The Hobbit suggest that his entire body was imbued with fire, as he glowed in the darkness of the depths of Lonely Mountain, and that his usual ways were “smoothed and stripped” (i.e., melted down) by its passage.
Like many dragons in Middle-earth, Smaug’s monstrous appearance hid his acute senses and a dangerously sharp mind. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of his treasure and immediately recorded the theft of a single cup after Bilbo made his first visit to his hiding place. When the hobbit came back a second time, Smaug was already pretending to be asleep waiting for him and immediately declared that he could smell the thief even if he couldn’t see him.
Although Bilbo was smart enough not to fall for Smaug’s attempts to get him to reveal his exact location, the dragon used the resulting conversation to raise doubts in Bilbo’s mind and rightly suspect that “the intruder was dealing with the dwarves and men of Laketown and whether Bilbo had ever considered the logistical difficulties of bringing his share of Smaug’s treasure home.
Despite his size, Smaug is agile and quick, can easily jump over objects, and dive at very high speeds with little effort. Defensively, Smaug’s red and golden scales made him impervious to almost any weapon, but his lower abdomen was relatively soft and vulnerable. To make up for this, Smaug slept on the collected treasure from the Lonely Mountain and had gold coins and jewelry embedded in his body.
This “diamond vest” was meant to cover his only physical weak spot, but when Bilbo Baggins confronted the dragon in his hiding place, he discovered a bare stain on the left side of his chest. Bard learned this from an ancient thrush who overheard Bilbo associate this information with the dwarves, which allowed him to defeat Smaug by shooting his black arrow into the bare spot.
Out analysis has shown that both the Balrogs and the dragons are exceptionally powerful beings and are among the most powerful ones in Middle-earth. As you could have read, the Balrogs and the dragons achieved extraordinary victories, defeating monsters, armies and even whole kingdoms during their reign of horror in Middle-earth. Both of them also heavily rely on fire, which is yet another similarity between these two groups. So, are they equally powerful? Well, not exactly.
The Balrogs are Maiar, actually divine creatures that have been corrupted by Morgoth, which further increased their powers. The corruption made them shells of their former selves, but it increased their powers and it gave them new ones, ones they did not have as regular Maiar. Gothmog, the most powerful among the Balrogs, was often compared to an early Sauron, while Durin’s Bane was, as we have seen, able to send away a whole dwarf kingdom, and the largest one at that. Several Balrogs were able to kill the monstrous Ungoliant, which was also an amazing feat. Their destructive powers knew no bounds, as Durin’s Bane was able to destroy a piece of a mountain just by falling on it. The Balrogs didn’t have a weak spot, as far as we know, and although they were killable, it took exceptional power to do it; Gandalf managed to kill Durin’s Bane after more than 10 days of chasing and fighting, and we all know how powerful Gandalf actually was.
As for the Dragons, their powers varied between each individual dragon. The great dragons, who were also the biggest, were exceptionally powerful and destructive, but the smaller ones weren’t that dangerous. Those dragons that could fly were an even greater threat and they were likewise able to wipe out armies and even whole cities. Dragons were also extremely intelligent and knowledgeable – probably more than the Balrogs – and while they might have had the upper hand there, the dragons, with all their might, had a weak spot on their underbelly which could be easily exploited.
This is why we think that the Balrogs are much stronger than dragons. The dragons have a weakness that every single Balrog could easily exploit, seeing how powerful they were. Also, the Balrogs are creatures of divine origin that rely on magic, while dragons were bred to be war machines in the service of Morgoth. If we’re looking at the individual battle between Durin’s Bane and Smaug, we still think that Durin’s Bane would have been able to exploit Smaug’s weakness (we mean, Bard was able to, and he would be smashed into bits by Durin’s Bane) and defeat the dragon, despite Smaug being an experienced representative of the great dragons.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!
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