The Nazgûl: Who Were They and What Were Their Names?

The Nazgûl: Who Were They and What Were Their Names?

Tolkien’s Legendarium is one of the biggest, most popular and most interesting fictional universes we have. It is – in a way – the epitome of a fantasy-based universe and served as a prototype for all later similar universes that are part of the fantasy genre. Tolkien’s universe has a lot of mysteries and while some of them are unclear, there are some that are solved but need further clarification. We at Fiction Horizon have decided that today, we are going to talk about the Nazgûl, a notorious group of Sauron’s servants who was utterly feared throughout Middle-earth. In today’s article, you’re going to find out everything you need to know about them so keep reading!

The Nazgûl, also known as the Ringwraiths, are a group of nine ring-servants of Sauron, the second Dark Lord. They were feared throughout Middle-earth and are generally considered to be among the most notorious characters in Tolkien’s Legendarium.

Today’s article is going to be a detailed analysis of the Nazgûl, one of the most dreaded characters from Tolkien’s Legendarium. You are going to find out who and what they were, their stories and their names before they became Nazgûl, as well as some of their basic traits. He have prepared a thorough and informative analysis for you, so be sure to read everything to the very end.

Who were the Nazgûl?

The Nazgûl (from the Black Speech words nazg, meaning “ring”, and gûl, meaning “spirit, wraith”), introduced as Black Riders and also called Ringwraiths, Dark Riders, the Nine Riders, or simply the Nine, are a group of fictional characters (antagonists) appearing in stories written by J.R.R. Tolkien, which are part of his Legendarium. They are the most feared servants of Sauron, the second Dark Lord.

The Nazgûl were actually the original great warriors and lords of Men, who got nine Rings of Power during the initial division. This made them almost immortal, but they gradually fell under the power of the One Ring and became ghosts and slaves of Sauron. Known as Ringwraiths from that point, they were visible only to those who could see into the world of wraiths.

The primary weapon of the ringwraiths was, above all other, the paralyzing horror caused by their mere appearance. When in contact with the living, they wear black coats with hoods and black boots to hide their invisibility. They also use bewitched blades as weapons, such as the Morgul-knife, with which the Witch King injures Frodo on the Weathertop and which can transform a living person into a wraith.

The sunlight can weaken them. Traditional weapons, though, ricochet off them, but certain blades of Elvish and Númenórian origins can injure or even kill them. Their sensory impressions are severely impaired in daylight, which is why they avoid walking around during the daytime. Gandalf describes them as follows:

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants. Long ago. It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad. Yet who knows? As the Shadow grows once more, they too may walk again.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter II, “The Shadow of the Past”

When the Last Alliance defeats Sauron towards the end of the Second Age, the Ringwraiths go into hiding. Their Master is greatly weakened after this defeat and the loss of the One Ring, and the Nazgûl are also in hiding. Their seat is the city of Minas Morgul, which they conquer in TA 2002. From there they prepare for Sauron’s return and reappear for the first time in TA 2251.

Who were the Nazgûl before they became wraiths?

As the legend states – and we see it in Gandalf’s explanation cited above – the Nazgûl were actually the great warriors and leaders of Men who received nine Rings of Power from Sauron. Out of the nine, there were three Númenóreans and one Easterling king. Initially, the powerful leaders were not influenced by their Ring, but as soon as Sauron started using the seductive power of his One Ring, he succeeded in corrupting the leaders of the men.

They became greedy, wanting more wealth and power, which is why the kept wearing the Rings of Power all the time. This eventually made their bearers invisible to all but those who could see into the wraith world and enslaved them to the will of Sauron. Their lives and their powers became bound to Sauron’s via the One Ring; as Sauron grew or diminished, so too did the Nazgûl.

What were the names of the nine Nazgûl?

The nine canonical Nazgûl were not named, at least not all of them. We know that they were the great leaders of Men and that three of them were Númenóreans and one was an Easterling king, but the identities of seven of them are completely unknown to us. There are some non-canonical adaptations of Tolkien’s stories where some of them have been named or added to the list, but that is not related to Tolkien’s works. The two Nazgûl whose identities are known are – the Witch-king and the Easterling king, Khamûl.

The Witch-king

The Lord of the Nazgûl, also referred to as the Witch-king of Angmar, was the leader of the Nazgûl and Sauron’s deputy in the Second and Third ages; he was the most powerful and the most feared among the Ringwraiths, with Tolkien describing him as follows:

“Upon it sat a shape, black-mantled, huge and threatening. A crown of steel he bore, but between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes: the Lord of the Nazgûl… now he was come again, bringing ruin, turning hope to despair, and victory to death. A great black mace he wielded.”

The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter VI, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”

His true identity is unknown, but he is still among the Nazgûl whose name we know. Once a king of Men, possibly of the Númenórean heritage, he was corrupted by one of the nine Rings of Power given to the masters of Men by Sauron, after which he became a wraith in the Dark Lord’s service. After Sauron’s first defeat in the War of the Last Alliance, the Witch-king remained hidden for over a millennium, but eventually reappeared to establish the evil Angmar Empire, where he was nicknamed “the Witch-king” and ruled for over six hundred years until the Númenórean line of the kings of Arnor was ruined.

He returned to Mordor to aid Sauron’s return to power, then took the Gondorian citadel of Minas Ithil and restored it as the fearsome Minas Morgul, which became the capital of the Ringwraiths, and also wiped out the lineage of the kings of Gondor there. He led Sauron’s armies in the War of the Ring, stabbed Frodo Baggins in the early months of Frodo’s adventure from the Shire to Rivendell on Weathertop, as well as besieged and smashed the gates of Minas Tirith and killed King Théoden of Rohan in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. In his hour of triumph on the Pelennor Fields, however, at the end of the War of the Ring, he was killed by the hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) and Éowyn, Théoden’s niece.

Khamûl

Khamûl was one of the nine Ringwraiths and the only one, besides the Witch-king, whose identity is known. During the Third Age, he occupied the fortres of Dol Guldur as one of Sauron’s lieutenants; Khamûl was the Witch-king’s second-in-command and the second most powerful Nazgûl. After the Witch-king was killed, he became Lord of the Nazgûl for a short time, before he himself perished.

Khamûl was once a mortal Man who ruled the eastern land known as Rhûn. He received one of the nine Rings of Power from the Dark Lord Sauron himself and, over time, was corrupted by it and became one of his servants, the Ringwraiths. He first appeared as one of the Nazgûl in SA 2251. In TA 2951, Sauron sent three Nazgûl to stay in Dol Guldur, and Khamûl then commanded the fortress before Sauron was eventually expelled from it. Khamûl was the wraith who chased the hobbits to Bucklebury ferry in the Shire and asked Farmer Maggot about “Baggins” just before Frodo Baggins left Hobbiton. Khamûl also appeared in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields along with the other Nazgûl; he rode his Fellbeast and killed the soldiers of Gondor at the start of the battle. After the death of the Witch-king, he and the other seven smaller Nazgûl retreated to Mordor. After that, Khamûl became the leader of the Nazgûl. He led them with his Fellbeast to the Battle of the Black Gate before they were attacked by the eagles. The Nazgûl withdrew when they sensed Frodo claiming the One Ring and were drawn to Mount Doom, but it was too late; when Gollum fell inside the fires of Mount Doom with the One Ring, the Nazgûl were all destroyed.

Are the Nazgûl blind?

Now that we’ve given you all the basic information, we can dedicate our time to more precise questions. One of them is the Nazgûl’s sight. Due to their specific appearance, as well as their way of hunting their prey, a lot of people wondered whether they were really blind or not. Here is what Aragorn says about that in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“‘It is just as I feared,’ he said, when he came back. ‘Sam and Pippin have trampled the soft ground, and the marks are spoilt or confused. Rangers have been here lately. It is they who left the firewood behind. But there are also several newer tracks that were not made by Rangers. At least one set was made, only a day or two ago, by heavy boots. At least one. I cannot now be certain, but I think there were many booted feet.’ He paused and stood in anxious thought.

Each of the hobbits saw in his mind a vision of the cloaked and booted Riders. If the horsemen had already found the dell, the sooner Strider led them somewhere else the better. Sam viewed the hollow with great dislike, now that he had heard news of their enemies on the Road, only a few miles away.

‘Hadn’t we better clear out quick, Mr. Strider?’ he asked impatiently. ‘It is getting late, and I don’t like this hole: it makes my heart sink somehow.’

‘Yes, we certainly must decide what to do at once,’ answered Strider, looking up and considering the time and the weather. ‘Well, Sam,’ he said at last, ‘I do not like this place either; but I cannot think of anywhere better that we could reach before nightfall. At least we are out of sight for the moment, and if we moved we should be much more likely to be seen by spies. All we could do would be to go right out of our way back north on this side of the line of hills, where the land is all much the same as it is here. The Road is watched, but we should have to cross it, if we tried to take cover in the thickets away to the south. On the north side of the Road beyond the hills the country is bare and flat for miles.’

‘Can the Riders see?’ asked Merry. ‘I mean, they seem usually to have used their noses rather than their eyes, smelling for us, if smelling is the right word, at least in the daylight. But you made us lie down flat when you saw them down below; and now you talk of being seen, if we move.’

‘I was too careless on the hill-top,’ answered Strider. ‘I was very anxious to find some sign of Gandalf; but it was a mistake for three of us to go up and stand there so long. For the black horses can see, and the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies, as we found at Bree. They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys; and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence C it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly. Also,’ he added, and his voice sank to a whisper, ‘the Ring draws them.’

‘Is there no escape then?’ said Frodo, looking round wildly. ‘If I move I shall be seen and hunted! If I stay, I shall draw them to me!’

Strider laid his hand on his shoulder. ‘There is still hope,’ he said.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XI, “A Knife in the Dark”

If you read the paragraphs carefully, you’d have seen that Aragorn explicitly states that they weren’t technically blind – they could see shapes and shadows, but not the light nor anything precise – but in practice, they never really focused on their sight, but rather on their smell. They could see better in the dark and they could see everything in the world of the wraiths, and were, likewise, drawn to the power of the One Ring whenever someone would put it on. So no, the Nazgûl aren’t blind, but they never relied on their sight but rather on their smell, or even the smell of their Fellbeasts or the horses they rode on, who could also see normally and helped their masters in that way. This was also confirmed in The History of Middle-earth, in a story that describes what happens to a person who becomes fully possessed by the ring:

“Yes, if the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible – and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see. You have no power however like a Ring of making other things invisible: you are a ringwraith. You can wear clothes. (you are just a ringwraith; and your clothes are visible, unless the Lord lends you a ring) But you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings.”

The Return of the Shadow, “Of Gollum and the Ring”

Why do Nazgûl hate water?

Another question related to the Nazgûl is their fear of water. We see, in The Lord of the Rings, that the Nazgûl actively avoid all water surfaces and it is confirmed that they are actually afraid of the water. This is one of those question that was left unanswered by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is son, Christopher, also confirmed:

“My father nowhere explained the Ringwraiths fear of water. It is made a chief motive in Saurons assault on Osgilliath, and it reappears in detailed notes on the movements of the Black Riders in the Shire: thus of the Riders seen on the far side of Bucklebury Ferry just after the Hobbits had crossed it is said that he was well aware that the ring had crossed the river; but the river was a barrier to his sense of its movement, and that the Nazgul would not touch the elvish waters of Baranduin. My father did indeed note that the idea was difficult to sustain.”

The Unfinished Tales

To which he added, confirming their fear of water:

“All except the Witch-king were apt to stray when alone by daylight; and all, again save the Witch-king, feared water and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dryshod by a bridge.”

The Unfinished Tales

So, as we can see, the Nazgûl really did hate water and they were afraid of it. It was not because the water would harm them – as we come to understand, even Tolkien noted that the idea of the elvish hurting the Nazgûl was a difficult one to sustain – but because they had some deep fear of it and they also feared for their mounts, actual black horses bred by Sauron to serve the Nazgûl. These horses could drown in the water, which is why the Nazgûl avoided such surfaces. Their “care” for their mounts was further stressed out when the mounts actually drowned, which made the Nazgûl return to Mordor on foot.

Can you kill a Nazgûl?

The Nazgûl are a group of wraiths, or ghosts, but they are not like the Army of the dead from Tolkien’s Legendarium. Instead, they became spectres due to be being corrupted to much by the One Ring’s powers. Since they’re not technically alive, people often wonder whether they can be killed or not. Luckily for the greater good, te Nazgûl can be killed, although the Witch-king is subject to several exceptions. The Ringwraiths have four known weaknesses:

  • Water, which we have talked about in the preceding paragraph;
  • Daylight, as they could not move around freely during the day;
  • Fire, which is something all of the Ringwraiths, including the Witcher-king (who is more immune than others, but still fears it), and;
  • Another Man, which is quite logical when you think of it, because of the curse and their very nature (observe the capital lettering).

Each of these four ways is interesting and while water or daylight will not directly kill a Nazgûl, they are going to weaken them so significantly that one would be able to kill them with relative ease. Now that we’ve seen the basics, let us see what happened in the books.

How do the Nazgûl die?

In case you were wondering – all of the Nazgûl die in The Lord of the Rings and no Nazgûl survived in Tolkien’s canon. If you find any iterations where one of them survived or where there were more than nine Nazgûl, know that it is not canon. As for the manner of their deaths, the Witch-king was killed separately, while the other eight Nazgûl died altogether in the same manner. Here is how it happened:

“The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry’s fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgûl Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy’s eyes.

Éowyn it was, and Dernhelm also. For into Merry’s mind flashed the memory of the face that he saw at the riding from Dunharrow: the face of one that goes seeking death, having no hope. Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate! At least she should not die alone, unaided.

The face of their enemy was not turned towards him, but still he hardly dared to move, dreading lest the deadly eyes should fall on him. Slowly, slowly he began to crawl aside; but the Black Captain, in doubt and malice intent upon the woman before him, heeded him no more than a worm in the mud.

Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.

Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair yet terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise.

Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.

But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry’s sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.

Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.

But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry’s sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.

‘Éowyn! Éowyn!’ cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.

And there stood Meriadoc the hobbit in the midst of the slain, blinking like an owl in the daylight, for tears blinded him; and through a mist he looked on Éowyn’s fair head, as she lay and did not move; and he looked on the face of the king, fallen in the midst of his glory. For Snowmane in his agony had rolled away from him again; yet he was the bane of his master.”

The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter VI, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”

As you can clearly see, the Witch-king was killed in a direct fight with Éowyn and Merry. He underestimated them and had either of them been alone, they would have probably died, but together, they were able to defeat the powerful Lord of the Nazgûl and stop an end to his fear-inducing reign. As for the others, they met their end at Mount Doom:

“There was a roar and a great confusion of noise. Fires leaped up and licked the roof. The throbbing grew to a great tumult, and the Mountain shook. Sam ran to Frodo and picked him up and carried him out to the door. And there upon the dark threshold of the Sammath Naur, high above the plains of Mordor, such wonder and terror came on him that he stood still forgetting all else, and gazed as one turned to stone.

A brief vision he had of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land. And then at last over the miles between there came a rumble, rising to a deafening crash and roar; the earth shook, the plain heaved and cracked, and Orodruin reeled. Fire belched from its riven summit. The skies burst into thunder seared with lightning. Down like lashing whips fell a torrent of black rain. And into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgûl came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.”

The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter III, “Mount Doom”

The original book doesn’t directly describe their deaths, but the last line clearly states that they disappeared in the destruction of Mount Doom. Whether they died in the explosion or because of the destruction of the One Ring remains unclear, but seeing how the eagles saved the Hobbits, we assume it’s the latter as it makes complete sense.

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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