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

The Nazgul Who Were They What Were Their Names
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There are plenty of terrifying entities in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, but most hideos of all tend to be those aligned with Sauron. The Nazgûl are usually seen as a dark and mysterious presence, and if you’ve only watched the movies without going further into the Lord of the Rings lore, there’s probably plenty you are wondering about them. This is why we decided to create this neat guide of Nazgûl, so if you’re interested in who they were, and what were their true names, this pretty much covers it all.

  • Article Breakdown:
  • The Nazgûl, also known as the Ringwraiths, are a group of nine ring-servants of Sauron, the second Dark Lord.
  • The Nazgûl were actually the great warriors and leaders of Men who received nine Rings of Power from Sauron.
  • The nine canonical Nazgûl were not named, at least not all of them

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 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: Who Were They and What Were Their Names?

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 ringwraiths’ primary weapon lies in the paralyzing horror instilled by their mere presence. Cloaked in black coats and hoods and wearing black boots to conceal their invisibility, they wield bewitched blades like the Morgul knife, capable of transforming the living into wraiths. While sunlight weakens them, traditional weapons are ineffective, but blades of Elvish and Númenórian origin can harm or kill them. Due to severe sensory impairments in daylight, they avoid venturing out during the daytime, as described by Gandalf.

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”

After the Last Alliance defeats Sauron at the end of the Second Age, the Ringwraiths retreat into hiding. Following Sauron’s weakening and the loss of the One Ring, they conceal themselves, with their seat established in the city of Minas Morgul, captured in TA 2002. From this stronghold, they prepare for Sauron’s eventual return and resurface for the first time in TA 2251.

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Who were the Nazgûl before they became wraiths?

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

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 they 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 are not related to Tolkien’s works. The two Nazgûl whose identities are known is – the Witch-king and the Easterling king, Khamûl.

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

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.

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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 fortress 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.

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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:

‘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.’

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 Nazgûl 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, 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 questions that was left unanswered by J.R.R. Tolkien, which his 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.

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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 specters due to being corrupted too 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, the 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.

Have something to add? Let us know in the comments below!

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