What advantage did Saruman gain by breeding the new species, Uruk-hai? How exactly are they superior? Wikipedia says they are
"larger and stronger than other breeds of orc and consequently looked down upon and often bullied them"

But through out the movie they fail in multiple missions:

  • like capturing Frodo;
  • killing people of Rohan fleeing to Helm's Deep

(we can accept these as protagonists are fighting them in both cases).

Their performance in battlefield is even not good, as shown both in the Battle of Helm's Deep and in Battle of Pelennor Fields (Gondor):

  1. They are shown to be afraid of, or easily killed by riding cavalry in both battles. Once by Eomer's and then again by Theoden's army. Men and Elves are known to ride horses in a battle - isn't it common sense when creating a new army to make them immune or resistant to some extent for cavalry charges?

  2. Pippin Took (a hobbit) puts a good fight in battle of Gondor against them.

Why build an army, which looks way scarier than elves and men but performs so much worse?

Are they written in the novels the same way as depicted in movies?

  • 13
    I seem to recall something in the LOTR movies about the Uruk-Hai "being able to move in daylight." Don't know if that's in the novels, but it implies that regular orcs shun the sun and won't go outside in daylight. Being able to march through the day is a fairly significant restriction to have lifted, anyway.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 15:58
  • 27
    You assume that where the Uruks failed, other species may have succeeded? Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:07
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    Also of note: Saruman's army took thirty years or less to build. You can't get that kind of output out of any of the other races.
    – user40790
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:24
  • 4
    Your issue with cavalry is more an issue of a surprise attack. The only good effective counter to a heavy cavalry charge would be rows and rows of pikes. the orcs are shown to have pikes, yet they must be set up in pike lines to deter/halt the incoming cavalry, in the battle of of minis tirith, the orcs were not prepared to face a massive cavelry charge from behind, because the Riders took a secret short cut dodging the orcs outriders and sentries. without the pike lines set up, a rout will always happen.
    – Himarm
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:16
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    In the books, the Uruk Hai were created by SAURON. They were no more or less than the ultimate version of the "orc" that had originally been a broken and twisted form of elves created by Morgoth. Saruman bred HALF ORCS from Orcs and evil humans (there was NOTHING like the mud-pit scene in the books at all). The Uruk Hai were very rare, very tough, and very smart, and really only showed up at the final battles with Sauron's full army (as generals and leaders). Saruman's "half orcs" were loyal to HIM instead of Sauron and superior to a typical orc, but not as hard to make as a real Uruk Hai.
    – JBiggs
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


You are comparing the Uruk-hai to Humans or Elves, which isn't a very relevant comparison. Instead, compare them to the other breeds of Orcs that serve Sauron, which the Uruk-hai were bred as a replacement for.

Here is a confrontation between the Uruk-hai and some northern Orcs. Uglúk is the Uruk-hai, Grishnákh is the northern Orc. Emphases are mine. (Book III, Chapter 3: "The Uruk-hai")

In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Uglúk, standing facing Grishnákh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Round them were many smaller goblins. Pippin supposed that these were the ones from the North. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Uglúk. Uglúk shouted, and a number of other Orcs of nearly his own size ran up. Then suddenly, without warning, Uglúk sprang forwards, and with two swift strokes swept the heads off two of his opponents.

We can see that the Uruk-hai are bigger, stronger and more intimidating then the other orcs, and can kill them brutally and with barely a thought. Grishnákh is a mean and devious orc, but he knows he can't beat them in a fight.

The Uruk-hai are also braver than the regular orcs, who are prone to panic and desert when the going gets tough. Again, this is Uglúk talking to the northern Orcs, later in the same chapter:

'Let the fighting Uruk-hai do the work, as usual. If you're afraid of the Whiteskins, run! Run! There's the forest,' he shouted, pointing ahead.

And they are implacable, and do not fear the sun: (Book III, Chapter 7: "Helm's Deep")

'What of the dawn?' they jeered. 'We are the Uruk-hai: we do not stop the fight for night or day, for fair weather or for storm. We come to kill, by sun or moon. What of the dawn?'

whereas regular orcs do (Book IV, Chapter 4: "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbits")

but though Orcs may shun the sunlight, there were too many places here where they could lie hid and watch;

All in all, most of Sauron's orc armies are, individually, no match for an equivalent human force. They are smaller, weaker, less disciplined and cowardly, and make up for it in sheer numbers alone. The Uruk-hai were bred to be as vicious and numerous as Orcs, but as large and dangerous as Humans, or at least closer to that than the average Orc.

  • Upvoted. So Urks strength is same as or close to human? For looks they look far more powerful :-)
    – Janakiram
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 2:51
  • Individuals like Uglúk are probably as strong or stronger than most humans. But he's probably stronger than most Uruk-Hai as well. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 4:58
  • 2
    @Janakiram As the answer says, the comparison to humans isn't really important. It's the comparison to evil's other available forces, namely goblins and orcs and the like. No matter how far above or below human strength and intelligence the Uruk-Hai are, they still compare more favorably against Sauron's enemies than his other forces. (At least discounting forces of limited quanities like Ringwraiths, Balrogs, and fallen wizards, which he might have a little trouble controlling the latter two anyway.) Looking more intimidating is itself an advantage, of course.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 9:26
  • @jpmc26 ''comparison to humans isn't really important'' - the army was build to fight men ( of course others like elves, dwarves). i think comparing there strengths to their enemies makes more sense than comparing to their mates.
    – Janakiram
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:40
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    @Janakiram No, no that doesn't make sense. You were asking what the advantages were for Saruman. Saruman can't breed an army of men overnight. It's not one of his options. He has orcs already, and now he's upgrading them with Uruk-Hai. You need to compare to his other options to find out why he chose this one.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 16:44

What the Uruk-hai lack in quality, they make up for in quantity.

Saruman's army took thirty years or less to build.


For a comparison, Elves would often go centuries without bearing children, Men appear to function equivalently to their real life counterparts, and Hobbits weren't seen as being adults until they reached 33 years of age. The amount of Uruk-hai that could be bred in such a small window of time is quite simply astounding.

Given their massive numerical advantage, they then manage to fight nearly on par with the armies of Men. We see them kill by the dozen, and they even appear to hold the advantage until the Riders of Rohan enter the fray.

It is important to note that the shortcomings of the army you bring up are largely due to rushed training. One cannot breed an army to know how to deal with cavalry, or fight any better than an untrained brute, but they can be trained to such proficiency.


  • 8
    @Janakiram What, you think Saruman was a genetic engineer?
    – user40790
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 16:57
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    @Janakiram All he did was interbreed humans and orcs. And he didn't know they would lose; hell, they almost won both times they went out. Sneak attacks from behind generally do that.
    – user40790
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:12
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    Why did he know that he would lose anyway? There's no reason to believe that. Numbers are huge in wars - meaning that if a particular side has a vastly superior numerical advantage (especially prior to gunpowder), then they will win. So, Sauruman probably realized this and sought the best bang for his buck - perhaps thicker skins, stronger claws, etc would mean less soldiers for him. Also, he probably didn't think that all the other races would come together against him/Sauron. So he'd have vastly superior armies fighting smaller ones. Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 17:25
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    @Janakiram Why don't car engineers of 1930s build 5$ cars that can drive at 300 mph, carry 15 tonnes and drive themselves so well they never get in accidents? Just because Saruman can do things you don't know how to do, doesn't mean he can do everything you don't know how to do.
    – Yakk
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 19:59
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    @Janakiram "Yer an engineer, Harry"
    – SethWhite
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 16:23

The question of why not create a supreme race is flawed a bit from the very beginning. Why didn't the forces of good simply reach out to Valinor and summon an army of Maiar because surely an army of divine being with power comparable to Gandalf, Radagast, Sauron, Saruman, etc. would far outweigh the Riders of Rohan? Even Sauron had lesser fallen spirits at his disposal in the form of Balrogs. Sauron's power and thus Saruman's was greatly weakened long before the popular books everyone is aware of even come into the timeline. Sauron himself by the time of LotR had already lost his ability to take physical form other than the mountain featuring his ever watchful eye in the first war against him where he was separated from The One Ring. That ring held much of his essence and power inside itself and without it he was forever greatly diminished, but more importantly he was just a servant, a false weak champion of evil without true creative power. Orcs, Dragons, Balrogs, and the truly powerful evils of Middle-earth including Sauron himself were only possible due to his master Melkor, the most powerful of all the Ainur. Melkor tainted the lands by singing in his own disharmonies during the Singing of Creation which was led by Eru Ilúvatar. (The godlike creature that created all the Ainur.) Afterwards Melkor sought out and tried to become a creator like Eru himself was but he lacked The Flame Imperishable and so his tainted song simply never was capable of TRUE creation. At best it simply lured some of the lesser Ainur serving him such as the balrogs and Sauron and through Sauron eventually Saruman. The seeds of disharmony along with his lies and his wit tricked and twisted creatures into orcs, dragons, and other evils but still he was incapable of truly ever "creating" any race. Even the orcs are simply Elves that Melkor twisted and tortured into their corrupt form. During the events that occur long before The Hobbit and LotR, in a time only remembered by the Valar, Maiar, and the eldest of the immortal Elves, Melkor was defeated after much war, and death leaving a taint forever lingering until the remastering of the world was to occur. Melkor fueled his 'creations' just as Sauron fueled the ring, with their very essence and this false hubris led to Melkor's defeat. Sauron was simply a Maiar that followed Melkor and served him in the same sense as the Witch-king served Sauron. The day Melkor was defeated, and the battles leading to that day, led to the death or fleeing of much of "evil's" forces, such as most of the wyrms and the Balrog etc. Sauron himself never truly was even this capable of 'making' his own race. He was but a shadow compared to Melkor, which was a shadow compared to the power of Eru Ilúvatar and his sole capability to truly create.

Now speed to the events you speak of, in which Sauron has already been depleted of much of his personal power when he lost the ring itself. Take into account that Saruman and Sauron were neither Valar but simply the lesser Maiar. Saruman is three steps removed from any being capable of creation, and even his most powerful leader had lost half his being, life-force, and essence long ago when the ring was stripped from him.

So for a lot of the commenting about why not create better, or why not breed much stronger is simply that for all his power Urak-hai was the best the weak-willed fool could do to help the weakened fool he followed in carrying out the plans of the only true Valar long since removed from the battle.

So when looking at Uruk-hai vs Orcs remember they are corrupted mutts of a true species. As far as why breed and use Uruk-hai over Orcs, since they aren't as strong as the true races, (Which was out of the range of Melkor, Sauron, and definitely Saruman to even created) to fight an actual Eru-created race you are asking the wrong question.

Its almost as simple as looking at it like this: I have a sword I made from iron. You're incapable of the skills required to make something of metal. You're handed a bone sword by your commander but you know how to craft a sword made of rock like obsidian; sharper, lightweight, somewhat more durable. Which sword would you use against me in the fight? He simply used what he knew to be an 'inferior technology' because it's the best he could use with Melkor's battles taking most of the power (wyrms/balrog/etc.) off the chessboard, and Sauron a mere shell of the Maiar he once was.

  • +1 for "Urak-Hai was the best the weak willed fool could do to help a weakened fool he followed in carrying out the plans".
    – Janakiram
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 13:04

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