A Balrog is a fictional creature from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy writings.

Balrogs were tall, menacing humanoid beings, with the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appeared armed with fiery whips of many thongs. In Tolkien's later conception, they could not be casually destroyed: significant power was required. Only dragons rivalled their capacity for ferocity and destruction,[1] and during the First Age, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces. The Silmarillion states that they were also called the Valaraukar.[2]

Balrogs first appeared in print in The Lord of the Rings, though they figured in earlier writings that later appeared in The Silmarillion and other books.


The Balrogs were Maiar, of the same order as Sauron, Saruman and Gandalf. They were seduced by Melkor, who corrupted them to his service in the days of his splendour before the making of Arda.[3][4]

At the dawn of the First Age, upon the waking of the Elves, the Valar captured Melkor and destroyed his fortresses Utumno and Angband . But the deepest pits were overlooked,[5] and the Balrogs fled into hiding along with Melkor's other allies. Many years later, Melkor, now named Morgoth, returning to Middle-earth from Valinor, was attacked by Ungoliant, and his piercing scream drew the Balrogs out of hiding to his rescue.

When the Noldor arrived in Beleriand in pursuit of Morgoth, they won a swift victory over his Orcs in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath. Fëanor pressed on towards Angband; but the Balrogs came against him, and Fëanor was mortally wounded by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. His sons fought off the Balrogs, but Fëanor died of his wounds shortly afterward.[6]

Tolkien tells of two Balrogs slain by Elves in the fall of Gondolin.[7] During the assault on the city, Ecthelion of the Fountain fought Gothmog in the square of the king where "each slew the other." Glorfindel fought a Balrog who waylaid an escape party from the fallen city; both fell off the mountainside in the struggle and perished.

In the War of Wrath that ended the First Age, most of the Balrogs were destroyed, though some managed to escape and hide in "caverns at the roots of the earth".[8]

In the year 1980 of the Third Age, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm delved so deeply that they disturbed or released one of the hidden Balrogs. The Balrog killed Durin VI and his son Náin I, and was subsequently known as Durin's Bane (below). The Balrog forced the Dwarves to abandon Moria. In Template:ME-date, the Fellowship of the Ring also ventured through Moria and were attacked in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Orcs and the Balrog.[9] Gandalf faced the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. He slew the Balrog but perished himself at the same time — only to be sent back as the more powerful Gandalf the White.


Tolkien's conception of Balrogs changed over time. In his early writing, they are numerous (hosts of them number in the hundreds),[10] roughly of human shape and size,[11] and are frequently killed in battle with Elves and Men. They were always fierce demons, associated with fire, armed with fiery whips of many thongs and claws like steel, and Morgoth delighted to use them to torture his captives.[12] They were very loyal to Morgoth, and once came out of hiding to save him from death.

But in the published version of the The Lord of the Rings, they have become altogether more sinister: powerful, larger, and less common. Christopher Tolkien notes the difference, saying that in earlier versions they were "less terrible and certainly more destructible", and quotes a late note saying "at most seven" ever existed.[13] By this time they have ceased to be creatures, but are instead Maiar (lesser Ainur, like Gandalf or Sauron), spirits of fire whom Melkor had corrupted before the creation of the World.[14] It requires power on the order of Gandalf's to destroy them;[15] and as Maiar, only their physical forms could be destroyed.

Tolkien says of the Valar (including the Maiar) that they can change their shape at will, and move unclad in the raiment of the world, meaning invisible and without form.[16] But it seems that Morgoth, Sauron, and their associated Maiar could lose this ability: Morgoth, for example, was unable to heal his burns from the Silmarils or wounds from Fingolfin and Thorondor;[17] and Sauron lost his ability to assume a fair-seeming form after his physical body was destroyed in the downfall of Númenor.[18]

Tolkien does not address this specifically for Balrogs. In "the Bridge of Khazad-dûm" in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Balrog appears "like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater". Though previously the Balrog had entered the "large square chamber" of Mazarbul (through a doorway with a stone door on hinges, which cannot have been very large), at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm it "drew itself to a great height, and its wings spread from wall to wall" in what was a vast hall.

The Balrog's size and shape, therefore, are not given precisely. It is easy to conclude that it could change both; and some conclude that this spirit of flame and shadow may not be very corporeal — though when Gandalf threw it from the peak of Zirakzigal, the Balrog "broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin".[19]

Whether Balrogs have wings (and if so, whether they can fly) is a vexed and heated debate that has raged for years on the Internet.[citation needed] This is due partly to Tolkien's changing conception of Balrogs, but mostly to his imprecise but suggestive and possibly figurative description of the Balrog that confronted Gandalf in Moria.[20]

The two key quotes:

His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.

… suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall …

The argument hinges on whether the "wings" are physical wings or simply figurative wings of shadow. Many additional facts are adduced to the argument (such as the possible shape-shifting character of Balrogs, or that they seem never to fly, even when it would be to their advantage), but there is not enough firm description in Tolkien's writing to settle the argument definitively. Good summaries are available at The Encyclopedia of Arda and (a partisan view)

The Balrog of Moria used a flaming sword ("From out of the shadow a red sword leapt flaming") and the characteristic many-thonged whip of flame in its battle with Gandalf. In The Silmarillion, they also used black axes and maces.[21] Earlier writings also speak of steel claws and iron mail.[22]


The name, but not the meaning, is early: it appears in the Fall of Gondolin, one of the earliest texts Tolkien wrote (ca. 1918). An early list of names described Balrog as "an Orc-word with no pure Qenya [Quenya] equivalent: 'borrowed Malaroko-' ".[23]

In the Gnomish (early Sindarin) wordlist from the same period Balrog is parsed as balc 'cruel' + graug 'demon', with a Quenya equivalent Malkarauke. Variant forms of the latter include Nalkarauke and Valkarauke.[24]

By the 1940s, when the writing of The Lord of the Rings had begun, Tolkien had come to think of Balrog as Noldorin (Sindarin) balch 'cruel' + rhaug 'demon', with a Quenya equivalent Malarauko (from nwalya- 'to torture' + rauko 'demon'.[25]

The last etymology, appearing in Quendi and Eldar, derives Balrog as the Sindarin translation of the Quenya form Valarauko (Demon of Might). This etymology was published in The Silmarillion.[26]

The Sindarin plural for Balrog is not known. Tolkien consistently used Balrogs, but this is generally considered an anglicization because Sindarin does not form plurals that way. In one case Tolkien used Balrogath,[27] similar to Periannath 'Halflings' and Dagorath 'battles'. However, the -ath suffix was often used as a 'class plural' (cf. giliath 'all stars of the firmament'), and thus Balrogath might mean 'Balrogkind' rather than simply 'Balrogs'. Linguists disagree about how a simple Sindarin plural would be formed, but most often suggest either *Balroeg or *Belryg.

The plural of Quenya Valarauko is attested as Valaraukar.[26]

Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dûm calls the Balrog "flame of Udûn" (Udûn being the Sindarin name of Morgoth's fortress Utumno).

Gothmog is called a "son of Melko",[28] though creatures that appear as offspring of the Valar in early recensions of the stories instead become Maiar in later versions.

Individual BalrogsEdit


Gothmog appears in various versions of Silmarillion material. He is physically massive and strong, and in one version he is some 12 feet tall. [29] He wields a black axe and whip of flame as his weapons. As the chief of the Balrogs, Gothmog is perhaps the single most physically powerful of Morgoth's servants.

He holds the titles of the Lord of the Balrogs (but see Lungorthin below), the High Captain of Angband, and Marshal of the Hosts. While Sauron is widely considered to be Morgoth's second in command, Gothmog is clearly Morgoth's champion at arms as his armies deal the Noldor their most crushing defeats on the battlefields of Beleriand. As High Captain of Angband he is particularly visible in several of the six great battles fought by Melkor's evil forces against the Elves.

In the Second Battle, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, he leads a force that ambushes Fëanor and wounds him mortally. He leads Balrogs, Orc-hosts, and Dragons as Morgoth's commander in the field in the Fifth Battle, Nírnaeth Arnoediad, and slays Fingon, High King of the Noldor. In that same battle, he captures Húrin of Dor-lómin, who had slain his personal guard of Battle-trolls, and brings him to Angband. As Marshall of the Hosts he is in command of the Storming of Gondolin. He is near to killing Tuor when Ecthelion of the Fountain, Noldorin Elf-lord, intervenes, slays and is slain by Gothmog in single combat.

In The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien describes Kosomot, the original version of Gothmog, as a son of Morgoth and the ogress, Fluithuin or Ulbandi,[30] but the idea of the children of Valar was largely abandoned in later writings.

Gothmog is Sindarin and means 'Dread Oppressor'.[31]

Kosomot is often considered Gothmog's Quenya name;[32] however, in the Qenya name-list of The Fall of Gondolin another version appears, Kosomoko.[33] (According to later etymology, his name in Quenya would rather be Osombauko.)

In The Lord of the Rings, a different character bears the name "Gothmog"; see Gothmog (Third Age).


Lungorthin appears in Tolkien's early Lay of the Children of Húrin as "Lungorthin, Lord of Balrogs". This might be another name for Gothmog (above), though Christopher Tolkien thought it more likely that Lungorthin was simply "a Balrog lord".[34]

Balrog of MoriaEdit

Durin's Bane is the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings, encountered by the Fellowship of the Ring in the Mines of Moria.

This Balrog survived the defeat of Morgoth in the War of Wrath and escaped to hide beneath the Misty Mountains.[35] For more than five millennia, the Balrog remained in its deep hiding place at the roots of the mountains in Khazad-dûm, until in the Third Age the mithril-miners of Dwarf-King Durin VI disturbed it in Template:ME-date. Durin was killed by the Balrog, whence it was called Durin's Bane.[35][36]

The Dwarves attempted to fight the Balrog, but its power was far too great. Despite their efforts to hold Khazad-dûm against it, King Náin and many other Dwarves were killed and the survivors were forced to flee. This disaster also reached the Silvan Elves of Lórien, many of whom also fled the "Nameless Terror".[35] (It was not recognized as a Balrog at the time.) The Elves called the place Moria, the "Black Pit"[37] or "Black Chasm"[38] (though the name Moria also appears on the West Gate of Moria, constructed thousands of years earlier in the Second Age).

For another 500 years, Moria was left to the Balrog. Then around Template:ME-date Sauron began to put his plans for war into effect, and he sent Orcs and Trolls to the Misty Mountains to bar all of the passes.[36] Some of these creatures came to Moria, and the Balrog allowed them to remain.

The Battle of Azanulbizar was the climax of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs. It took place before the eastern gate of Moria in Template:ME-date and was a victory for the Dwarves. However, the victors did not conquer Moria because Dáin Ironfoot, having slain the Orc Azog, felt the terror of the Balrog at the gate.[35] Despite an attempt to recolonize Moria by Balin in Template:ME-date,[36] Durin's Bane remained there a menace whose nature was hidden to the outside world.

In January, Template:ME-date, the Fellowship of the Ring travelled through Moria on the way to Mount Doom. They were attacked in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Orcs.[39] The Fellowship fled through a side door, but when the wizard Gandalf the Grey tried to place a "shutting spell" on the door to block the pursuit behind them, the Balrog entered the chamber on the other side and cast a counterspell. Gandalf spoke a word of command to stay the door, but the door shattered and the chamber collapsed. Gandalf was severely weakened by this encounter. The company fled with him, but the Orcs and the Balrog, taking a different route, caught up with them at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. The Elf Legolas instantly recognized the Balrog and Gandalf challenged it. Since Gandalf and the Balrog were both Maiar, they were beings of the same order. As they faced each other, Gandalf broke the Bridge beneath the Balrog, but as the Balrog fell it wrapped its whip around Gandalf's knees, dragging him to the brink. As the Fellowship looked in horror, Gandalf cried "Fly, you fools!" and fell.

After the long fall, the two landed in a subterranean lake, which extinguished the flames of the Balrog's body, greatly weakening it. The Balrog fled, and Gandalf pursued the creature for eight days until they climbed to the peak of Zirakzigil, at which point the Balrog's body burst into flames again. Here they fought for two days and nights. In the end, the Balrog was defeated and cast down, breaking the mountainside where it fell.[19] Gandalf himself died following this ordeal, but was later sent back to Middle-earth with even greater powers as Gandalf the White. Tolkien does not discuss the ultimate fate of the Balrog.



For movie adaptations of the book, the issues regarding Balrog wings and size needed to be resolved. The Balrog in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version resembled a winged lion complete with a mane, who walked upright, not much larger than man-sized but considerably heavier, and it did fly.

Peter Jackson's film versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, released in 2001 and 2002 respectively, ultimately decided on a very large winged monster that resembled lava covered with a dark crust. However, during the fight with Gandalf, the Balrog could not fly. This may have been because the physical characteristics of the wing did not permit flight (they did not have any sort of flesh on them, but like the rest of the Balrog's body appeared to be made out of shadow and fire, thus the Balrog's wings may not have needed substance to be capable of flight), or the Balrog may have been too injured and engaged in combat with Gandalf to fly. It was also killed only when Glamdring was struck by lightning, temporarily infusing the energy into the sword. John Howe designed this version of the creature, explaining in The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring book; "It doesn't say they don't have wings, so why not? That was Peter's tongue-in-cheek approach, too!"

Concept art was drawn up for a "slime balrog"; the balrog fell into the lake and its fires were extinguished, and the "shadow" aspect of it emphasized, a "thing of slime" (as described in the book) and pure darkness. The concept was not used in the film for budgetary reasons.

In the computer game The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, and its sequel, both based on Jackson's movies, the Balrog can use its wings, although only in short leaps.

Though the Balrog of Moria was never named by Tolkien himself, Iron Crown Enterprises later dubbed him Muar for their Middle-earth role playing (MERP) products.

In the game, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, the Balrog uses its wings to fly into the air, and comes crashing down, sending a tremendously damaging shockwave of flames at the player.

In the game, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, a Balrog named Thaurlach was included in the second major update to the game, Book 11. It appeared as a final encounter in the Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu, the new 12-player instance located at the far northeast corner of Angmar. The balrog has been imprisoned, and thus, has lost so much of its power that a party of 12 players, along with an elf-lord, are capable of killing it. As of the time of the update, the Balrog has the second-highest amount of health of any creature that can be fought.

In the upcoming game, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, Balrog is a playable character[40][41].


  1. Lost Tales, Part II, "Turambar and the Foalókë", p.85: "yet of all are they [dragons] the most powerful, save it be the Balrogs only."
  2. The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta", p. 31.
  3. The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta", p. 31.
  4. The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chpater 3, p. 47.
  5. The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 3, p. 51.
  6. The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 13, p. 107.
  7. The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 13, pp. 242–3.
  8. The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 14, p. 251.
  9. The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm".
  10. Lost Tales, Part II, p. 170.
  11. The Treason of Isengard, p. 197.
  12. Lost Tales, Part II, p. 169.
  13. Lost Tales, Part II, "The Fall of Gondolin", p. 212–3.
  14. The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta", p. 31.
  15. Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, for example, tells the others that "This is a foe beyond any of you."
  16. The Silmarillion, "Ainulindalë", p. 21.
  17. The Silmarillion "Quenta Silmarillion", Chapter 18, p. 154.
  18. The Return of the King, Appendix A, Part I, Section (i).
  19. 19.0 19.1 The Two Towers, "The White Rider".
  20. The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm".
  21. The Silmarillion, "Of the Fifth Battle", pp. 193-4.
  22. Lost Tales, Part II, pp. 169, 181, 194.
  23. Lost Road, p. 404.
  24. Lost Tales, Part I, Appendix: Names in the Lost Tales, p. 250.
  25. Lost Road, "The Etymologies", entries for ÑGWAL (p. 377) and RUK (p. 384).
  26. 26.0 26.1 The Silmarillion, Index, p. 353.
  27. Morgoth's Ring, "Annals of Aman", Section 2.
  28. Lost Tales, Part II, "The Fall of Gondolin", p. 183
  29. Lost Tales, Part II, p. 194: "... it pierced the Balrog's belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature) ..."
  30. Lost Tales, Part I, p. 93.
  31. Lost Road, "The Etymologies", p. 359, 372.
  32. Lost Tales, Part II, p. 216.
  33. Parma Eldalamberon, No. 15, p.26, the 'Name List to The Fall of Gondolin'.
  34. The Lays of Beleriand, p. 102.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 The Return of the King, Appendix A (III).
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 The Return of the King, Appendix B.
  37. The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South".
  38. The Return of the King, Appendix F, Part II.
  39. The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm".
  40. What is “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: CONQUEST”? Pandemic Studios’ Eric “Giz” Gewirtz Tells Us About It! | Hobbit Movie News and Rumors |™ | The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Movie News and Rumors
  41. IGN: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest Unveiled

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