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General Information
MembersWitch-king of Angmar, Khamûl
Physical Description
DistinctionsWithout physical form
Average heightMan-high
GalleryImages of Nazgûl
" 'They come from Mordor,' said Strider in a low voice. 'From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you.' "
The Fellowship of the Ring, Strider

The Nazgûl (Black Speech: Ringwraiths, sometimes written Ring-wraiths), also known as the Nine Riders or Black Riders (or simply the Nine), were Sauron's "most terrible servants" in Middle-earth.



Sometime during the Second Age (after S.A. 1600[note 1]) Sauron gave nine Rings of Power to powerful mortal Men. It is said that three of the Nine were lords of Númenor corrupted by Sauron,[1] and one was a king among the Easterlings.[2]

For many years the bearers used the rings to gain great wealth, prestige and power, becoming "mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old". The effect of the rings caused their lives to be prolonged, and to see things of the Unseen. But over time their bodily forms faded until they became wraiths entirely, slaves under the domination of Sauron's One Ring.[3]

Known as the Nazgûl, they first appeared around S.A. 2251[4] and were soon established as Sauron's principal servants.

They were dispersed after the first overthrow of Sauron in 3441 at the hands of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men,[4] but re-emerged around 1300 of the Third Age. The Lord of the Nazgûl, the Witch-king of Angmar, led Sauron's forces against the mannish kingdom of Arnor in T.A. 1409. He was eventually defeated in battle in 1975 and returned to Mordor, gathering the other Nazgûl in preparation for the return of Sauron to that realm. In 2000, they besieged Minas Ithil and captured it after a two-year siege. The city thereafter became the stronghold of the Nazgûl, from where they directed the rebuilding of Sauron's armies, also acquiring a palantír for the Dark Lord.[5]

The Nazgûl by Ted Nasmith

In 2942 Sauron returned to Mordor and declared himself openly in 2951. Three of the Nazgûl were sent to his fortress at Dol Guldur to garrison that outpost.[5]

In Third Age 3017 Sauron commanded the Ringwraiths to recover the One Ring of Power from "Baggins of the Shire". Disguised as horse riders clad in black (hence the term Black Riders), they sought out Bilbo Baggins who, as Gollum had revealed, had the One Ring in his possession.

The Nazgûl at this point were dependent on their black horses (stolen from Rohan) for transportation. When they were swept away by the waters of the river Bruinen, their horses were killed. The Ringwraiths were forced to return to Mordor to regroup. They reappeared later mounted on flying creatures, at which point they were referred to as Winged Nazgûl.

By the conclusion of the War of the Ring, all of the Nine Nazgûl were destroyed. The Lord of the Nazgûl himself was slain by Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden (with help from Merry, known as "The Magnificent" thereafter) during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The remaining eight Ringwraiths attacked the Army of the West during the last battle at the Black Gate. However, when Frodo Baggins put on the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sauron ordered the eight remaining Nazgûl to fly with all possible speed to Mount Doom to intercept Frodo. They arrived too late, with the Ring falling into the fire along with the hapless Gollum. The Nazgûl were caught in the firestorm of the erupting mountain and were destroyed.

Powers and Abilities

"The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy's most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death."
The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"

Given form only through the attire of black cloaks and hauberks of silver mail, their original form was completely gone and invisible to mortal eyes. Their hypnotic eyes could be plainly distinguished from their dark clothing, and in a rage they appeared in a hellish fire. Untouchable to mortal men (unless blessed by weapons or tools of the ancient Elves of the First Age or by the Dúnedain, such as the barrow-blade used by Merry on the Witch-king of Angmar), they had many weapons, which included long swords of steel and flame, daggers with venomous properties, and black maces of great strength.

The Attack of the Wraiths by Ted Nasmith

Their arsenal of deadly armaments was not confined to physical means; they also had seemingly magical weapons of devastating power. They were surrounded by an aura of terror, which affected all living creatures; their "breath" (called the Black Breath) was poisonous, and their cries caused terror and despair in all who heard them. Some of the Nazgûl appear to have been accomplished sorcerers and used magic to devastating effect. According to Tolkien, though, it was the fear they inspired that was the chief danger:

"They have no great physical power against the fearless," he wrote, "but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness"
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

The Nazgûl existed mostly in the wraith world (the Unseen), making them extremely difficult to harm. Ordinary weapons would not hurt them, and even weapons of Númenórean manufacture would be destroyed if they passed through the wraith forms of the Nazgûl. They could not, however, interact normally with the material world (the Seen): they needed garments and weapons provided by Sauron to give them form. Consequently, they could be defeated by attacks that destroyed their disguises, forcing them to return to Sauron to receive new ones.

The Nazgûl spread terror in mortal creatures merely by their presence. Only specially trained horses or the fell beasts of Mordor could bear them. They caused panic and despair in their enemies simply by flying overhead, and only individuals of great courage could face them in combat.

They were also poisonous to mortal beings, causing a condition known as the Black Breath. Merely being in the vicinity of one of them could cause disorientation and illness. Intense exposure could be lethal.

The Nazgûl had poor vision in the material world, but they were acutely aware of the beings with a presence in the wraith world, like the wearer of the One Ring and certain elves. Anyone who could see into the wraith world could see the Nazgûl as they had appeared in their mortal lives.

The Witch-king could also affect matter with his voice, shattering the dagger that Frodo had gotten in the Barrow-downs and weakening the gates of Minas Tirith. Whether other Nazgûl could perform similar feats is unknown.


Only a few of the Nazgûl are named or identified individually. Their leader was the Witch-king of Angmar, and his second in command was named Khamûl. Khamûl was a lord of Easterlings,[2] and was the only Nazgûl known by his name. Three of them were Númenóreans.[1]


Nazgûl means "ringwraiths" in the Black Speech (consisting of nazg + gûl).[6]

Other names and titles

An Elvish name given for the Ringwraiths is Úlairi.[3][7] Linguists have remarked that it is a Quenya plural name of unknown meaning and etymology.[8][9]

Among their many names and titles were: the Ringwraiths, the Black Riders, the Fell Riders, the Nine Riders, the Black Wings, the Shadows, the Nine, the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings, and the Shriekers

Portrayal in Adaptations

1978: The Lord of the Rings (1978 film):

The Nine are clad in brown and black, and have red eyes. The attack on The Prancing Pony is their deed, not that of any accomplices.

1980: The Return of the King (1980 film)

The Nine are skull headed demons, who ride winged horses. The Witch-king himself rides a dragon-like creature, and has no face. Only a suspended crown and two red eyes can be seen. The Nazgûl have the Red Eye of Barad-dûr rather than the emblem of Minas Morgul.

1981: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings:

The role of the Ringwraiths was expanded with material from The Hunt for the Ring.

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

The name of the eight, other than Khamûl, are given as Er-Murazor (the Witch-king, of Númenórean race), Dwar, Ji Indur, Akhorahil (Númenórean), Hoarmurath, Adunaphel (female Númenórean), Ren and Uvatha.[10][11]

1988: J.R.R. Tolkien's War in Middle Earth:

The Nazgûl are portrayed as black figures with red eyes and purple mantle.

2002: Vivendi's The Fellowship of the Ring

Black Riders form a threat in the Shire-stages of the game, where they need to be avoided by the player (in the persona of Frodo Baggins), and as the end boss for the game (in the persona of Aragorn). They are tall and robed in black, and nothing is seen underneath.

2001-3: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy:

The Nazgûl serve as the suspense in the first half of the first film. Their dialogue is changed; the conversation with Gaffer Gamgee is omitted, and the conversation with Farmer Maggot is reduced. The Nine have an iconic scream, provided by Fran Walsh. Under their robes, they are pale white ghostly creatures.
After the death of the Witch-king, the other eight are taken out by eagles and debris from Mount Doom, however, nothing is told of their individual fates.

2004: EA's The Battle for Middle-earth:

The Mordor faction has two different Nazgûl units: "Witch-king on Fell Beast" and "Nazgûl on Fell Beast". They are primarily used for scouting and surprise attacks.

2006: EA's The Battle for Middle-earth II:

A new Ringwraith is introduced in the expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-king. Morgomir is the "Lieutenant of Carn-Dûm", the right-hand man of the Witch-king, of Black Númenórean descent. The design is similar to that in Peter Jackson's films: he is hooded and cloaked when he works for the Mordor faction, and white and ghostly when he fights for Angmar.


  • The term Nazgûl has been used to refer to IBM's cadre of lawyers, with whom it has been said that IBM can blacken the sky.
  • Nâzgul is a girl's name of Persian origin, adopted in various Middle-eastern languages, meaning "Shy rose" or "delicate flower".
  • George R. R. Martin's novel The Armageddon Rag is about a fictional rock band named the Nazgûl.
  • Nazgûl is also the name of an Orkish black metal band from Italy, who sing The Lord of the Rings-inspired songs in Latin.
  • Nazgûl is also the name of a pagan black metal band from Spain. Commonly mistaken for the Italian Orkish black metal band and the Norwegian band of the same name.
  • The bird-like Ra'zac from Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy are heavily inspired by the steeds of the Nazgûl, particularly their breath, which acts as a mind-numbing drug of sorts.
  • In Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore" (from Led Zeppelin IV) there is an allusion to a Ringwraith. One of the lyrics reads, "The drums will shake the castle walls, the ringwraiths ride in black, ride on."
  • The Garo from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask somewhat resemble the Ringwraiths. The Garo are undead "shells" that are basically robes. The Garo spy on the undead Ikana. The four Poes that haunt the Arbiter's Grounds in Twilight Princess also resemble them.
  • Nazgûl appear as enemies in the roguelike computer game NetHack. They breathe a gas that can put your character to sleep, and carry cursed rings that bestow invisibility.

See Also


  1. Sauron created the One Ring around this year, and later distributed the Nine Rings (cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B).


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Hunt for the Ring", "(i) Of the Journey of the Black Riders"
  3. 3.0 3.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Second Age"
  5. 5.0 5.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), pp. 31, 79, 125
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The History of the Akallabêth", p. 153 (§30)
  8. Helge Fauskanger, "English-Quenya Wordlist (Quettaparma Quenyanna)", Ardalambion (accessed 25 June 2011)
  9. Ruth S. Noel, The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth
  10. Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. et al. (1987), Lords of Middle-earth Vol II: The Mannish Races (#8003)
  11. Jessica Ney (ed.; 1990), Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (#8007)