There has been a resurgence in all things Lord of the Rings ever since Amazon's announcement of a new series. The Uruk-hai are known as being the elite soldiers of ultimate evil, yet we don't really know all that much about them. The Uruks are primarily loyal to whoever wields power over them. Sauron and his minion Saruman have both been leaders of the Uruk-hai at different points in time.
Their true origins have long been debated and questions arise as to whether they’re purely a creation of Sauron or his predecessor Morgoth. Morgoth is considered the true source of evil within Middle-earth, though there is some speculation that there was a greater darkness that corrupted him as well. Given Tolkien's views on the nature of good and evil, it is likely that the evil does not stem from a specific physical being in the realm of Middle-earth.
Despite the Uruk-hai’s extensive role in Lord of the Rings, many people view all orcs as being the same. They seem to be scary-looking creatures that do nothing but grunt and kill. However, what isn’t often realized is just how detailed J. R. R. Tolkien was when it came to creating the orcs. In fact, the Uruk-hai are considered a step removed from the rest, engineered to be more ruthless and efficient warriors in the war of good vs. evil.
Here are the 15 Things You Never Knew About The Uruk-hai.
15 They Have Their Own Runes
Runes are an ancient type of alphabet, used mostly today for their use in fantasy fiction and visual artwork. They play a significant role in Tolkien’s work and the Uruk-hai, like the other races of Middle-earth, had their own set. While it might seem like they would use their set extensively, there were many times that Uruks used other runes.
In fact, the “S” written on their armor was an Elvish rune that marked them as belonging to Saruman. There were other Uruks that had the symbol of Sauron’s eye on their armor. Tolkien invented several types of runes, likely based on Elder Futhark, Younger Futhark, and Anglo-Saxon runes.
The main runic-based alphabet in LotR is known as the Cirth, which Tolkien invented himself. By some accounts, the runes used by the Uruk-hai were an amalgamation developed by Sauron for Black Speech, the official language of Mordor.
14 They Have Their Own Language
Tolkien had a love for history and languages, which is apparent in his meticulously detailed works. He invented several languages for LotR, including the dialect spoken by the Uruk-hai. The Black Speech was created by Sauron to guarantee only one language was spoken amongst his hordes of troops.
This served as a means for Sauron to more easily keep the orcs and Uruks under his control. However, according to the literature, some of the Black Speech was lost and was later combined with previous versions of the orc’s language.
Studies of the work indicate the speech was derived from ancient Mesopotamian. This is likely because Tolkien wanted the Black Speech to sound harsh, and ancient languages are said to be more guttural.
13 They Have Traditions
While the Uruk-hai are often depicted as brutish warriors, they also had definitive cultural traditions. Since Tolkien's work is fundamentally about the nature of good vs. evil, it makes sense that the characters who embody the corruption of good would not be all bad.
The Uruks have interests and traditions that are relatable, but that are twisted toward the darker aspects of human nature. There are examples of Uruk-hai traveling for miles to bury their fallen as they have specific rituals.
Not only does this make them more well-rounded villains, but it also builds upon the idea that even the best aspects of humanity can be corrupted. Like most literature that examines this, it appears that Tolkien wanted to emphasize what he saw as the folly of unrestrained power and bloodlust.
12 They Love Machinery
The Uruk-hai are not only more intelligent than orcs, they are also incredibly inventive. Uruks are capable of building siege weapons that had previously not been seen by the other factions of Middle-earth. An example of this can be seen at The Battle of Isengard, where the machines built by the Uruk-hai were used in attempt to fight off the Ents.
The Uruks also build excellent strongholds. The manifestation of this skill could be due to Sauron’s corruption, which imbued them with a strong drive to destroy. This pursuit of destruction is a top priority for them, as they kill and pillage anything they get their hands on.
Tolkien was an adamant environmentalist and there is an undeniable connection between the chaos perpetuated by the Uruks and our own destruction of Earth.
11 They Are Stronger And Smarter Than Orcs
While some Tolkien scholars are unclear about the exact origins of the Uruk-hai, it’s clear that they’re stronger and smarter than the other types of orcs. The Uruk-hai are not harmed by sunlight like most orcs. They’re more capable of speech and self-directed planning.
They’re also good at figuring out battle plans and anticipating the cruel wishes of Saruman. The Battle of the Hornburg showcases their use of strategy, as they place explosives in the weakest spot of the Deeping Wall.
Peter Jackson also uses one Uruk-hai in particular to illustrate this. When Saruman is creating his army, one of the Uruk-hai bursts forth from his encasing and strangles the first orc it can reach. This is our introduction to Lurtz - the vicious Uruk-hai leader that later kills Boromir.
10 They Have Custom Weapons
Another distinction of the Uruk-hai is that they used different kinds of weapons, though it’s not clear if this was for practical or aesthetic reasons. Throughout The Lord of the Rings, every group within Middle-earth used distinct weapons. Even the different classes of warriors use various weapons based on their skillset.
In the books and the movies, they used broad-bladed swords as well as crossbows. According to the LotR Wikia, “As the Isengard Uruk-hai were an army that was being rapidly grown, mass production of arms was required to equip them quickly."
This was also a distinct scene in The Two Towers, when orcs can be seen pouring molten steel in to molds, hammering them out as they cool down, and distributing them to the waiting Uruk-hai.
9 They Fought For Sauron First
There are various accounts of when Uruks first appear in the Tolkien history, but they were initially the result of breeding and magic. They were used for war by Sauron and later by Saruman, though both of them bred their own Uruks.
The LotR Wikia states, “Uruk-hai were first created by Sauron late in the Third Age. There are suggestions that the Uruk-hai were the result of crossbreeding Orcs and men." There are multiple points in the movies as well that describe the Uruks as ruined or tortured elves.
While the most notable use of Uruks in the films is Saruman's army, Sauron used them to capture the city of Osgiliath long before the forming of the Fellowship.
8 Their Physical Attributes Sparked Racial Controversy
Because of the descriptions of the Uruk-hai being black and also slant-eyed, many have questioned if latent racism is present in J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. From the time that the first LotR book was published until now, this has been a topic of discussion.
Tolkien was fervently against apartheid, Antisemitism, and any claims of superiority or inferiority between cultures - to the point of wanting to prevent German-language versions of the books from being published because of his disgust for Nazis. He despised the racists who tried to claim his work and felt that they sullied anything noble about European history and culture. He wrote about it in his letters and spoke out publicly against racism.
Despite this, some have wondered why he chose the descriptions he did for a group as evil as the orcs and Uruk-hai. There have been numerous pieces written about this, many of which can be found at the Tolkien Gateway.
7 There Have Been Several Interpretations Of Uruk-hai
According to the Tolkien Gateway, Uruk-hai were portrayed differently in various adaptations of the work. For instance, in the earliest films, they were exactly the same as other orcs. However, Jackson’s trilogy took things further in building the Uruk-hai lore.
There are pikemen, swordsmen, archers, and berserkers that can all be distinguished just by watching the movies. In order to create a believable army, it was necessary to qualify each Uruk with a specific role. Most notably are the Berserkers, who are the armorless Uruks that manned the tops of ladders during The Battle of the Horrnburg.
These Uruk-hai are likely derived from the Norse Berserkers who were known to fight ruthlessly and without fear during battle. Notably, Jackson’s version of the Uruk-hai are the most extensive, likely because he wanted to create as clear a visual representation of war as possible.
6 They Are One Of Seven Type Of Orcs
The Tolkien Gateway lists seven types of orcs: consisting of the Snaga-hai, snufflers, orcs of Mordor, orcs of the Misty Mountains, half-orcs, Uruk-hai, and hobgoblins. The Snaga-hai are the lowest of the orcs and are primarily used as slaves, workers, and as a disposable line of defense. The Uruk-hai were the elite warriors.
However, even Snaga-hai were frequently used in the Peter Jackson trilogy, and they were capable killers. As stated at Tolkien Gateway, “The Fellowship usually encountered the large soldier-Orcs bred for war, and sometimes the snaga variety which were more geared towards being labourers."
While every type of orc has been on-screen when including The Hobbit films, none of them can come close to the sheer power of the Uruk-hai.
5 The Word Orc Is Derived From Old English
The word orc is considered by many to be an invention of Tolkien’s. However, variations of the word have existed in one form or another for centuries. In medieval times, the word was at times used to mean a general demon.
There was also an interpretation of the word which meant that one was cursed by an oath or for breaking an oath. While it appears that orcs, by that name, were not depicted in literature before Tolkien, there are many examples of orc-like figures throughout history.
In Peter Jackson's LotR, the Uruk-hai are born from mud-like casings in the earth, which could be a nod to the etymology. Though the nature of the orcs was already pretty well-established throughout the movies and books, Jackson creates a specific Uruk-hai character to exemplify the more demonic nature of the Uruk-hai in particular.
4 They Were Inspired By The Mythic God Orcus
As with the rest of LotR, Tolkien was inspired by older myths. When specifically talking about the appearance of the Uruk-hai, there’s evidence to suggest that Tolkien was inspired by Beowulf. Other works of literature that inspired him included The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald.
Tolkien also used mythical legends such as the ancient god Orcus. In Italian history, Orcus was once considered a god of the underworld who later became known as a demon of the wild. He’s described as being tall and having wild features.
A stone depiction of him is located in the Garden of Bomarzo. These, along with other well-known depictions of ogres and goblins, are where Tolkien drew his inspiration. Pulling from long-established legends allowed him to put together the Urk-hai, who have now become an established part of fantasy literature.
3 The Uruk vs. Uruk-hai Debate
In the books, Uruk means orc and Uruk-hai means orc-folk. However, there’s clearly a distinction between the two, even though the words can still be used interchangeably. Is it because as elite soldiers, adding “hai” gave them a higher status? Or is it because of their further refinement by Saruman?
In either case, Uruk was a real city in ancient Mesopotamia, and the home of the legendary King Gilgamesh. This points to another of Tolkien’s literary influences in creating LotR. Tolkien seemed to be concerned with how an obsession with power of any kind could corrupt even the most innocent minded.
Given the mysterious origins of the Uruk or Uruk-hai, it’s possible that they go back further in the history of Middle-earth.
2 They Were Controlled By Saruman Before He Was Suspected Of Betrayal
While some accounts say that Sauron created the various Uruks, Saruman himself is said to have created his own Uruk-hai. By further refining Sauron’s creation, Saruman made them incredibly loyal to him alone.
In creating the Uruk-hai, Saruman made them invulnerable to sunlight, which is something that was still a problem for normal orcs. This allowed them to travel great distances, as they also need far less rest. This can be seen when the Uruks have captured Merry and Pippin and are able to stay well ahead of the rest of the pursuing Fellowship.
Saruman’s Uruk-hai are considered an improvement over Sauron's and seem to be used more frequently in battle from the time that they’re created. Despite these advanced warriors, Saruman loses control of Isengard since he sent all of his Uruk-hai to Helm's Deep.
1 How They Are Born
It’s a surprise to many that despite the detailing of the world of Middle-earth - from languages to clothing, customs, traditions - one thing Tolkien is not specific about is how the Uruk-hai are born. In all seriousness, there are no female orcs. They appear to be made of organic material, as they are proven able to bleed.
The clue behind their origin might be in Tolkien’s overall vision of LotR, since it is about the fight between good and evil. While the movies say the Uruk-hai are ruined elves, the books say they were destroyed men.
While he wanted to establish that elves could only be corrupted to a certain degree, Tolkien makes a point of just how deeply men could be corrupted by greed. It makes sense then that the Uruk origins are less about physical birth and are instead symbolic of the birth of evil in mankind.
Do you have any trivia to share about the Uruk-Hai from The Lord of the Rings? Leave it in the comments!