Do orcs in the Lord of the Rings universe wander the world like nomads sometimes or just live underground until summoned by the one controlling them?

Also do the orcs have a tribal like society as opposed to a more structured one with laws and whatnot?


The goblins/orcs in The Hobbit live underground in caves in the Misty Mountains, and they have a rather structured society with a king rather than a chieftain. Tolkiens also mentions that there are 'many' goblin strongholds in the Misty Mountains. The Moria orcs obviously also live underground, led by first Azog and later his son Bolg (the two were conflated in the movies). The Mordor orcs seem to live as much aboveground as underground, but that may be due to Sauron's organisation. Underground, hence, seems to be the preferred habitat of orcs, which makes sense given that they hate the sun.

Orcs have some industry, making their own weapons and armor, and the Goblin King of the Misty Mountains also has elaborate machines to torture prisoners. This suggests some level of organization, though it seems doubtful that there are many laws except the will of the king or chieftain. There does, however, seem to be a law or code against orcs eating orc-flesh: Grishnákh, leader of the Mordor Orcs, accuses Saruman's Uruks of eating Orc-flesh, which they angrily deny.

  • 2
    Mordor was also obscured by clouds to keep the sun out, enabling orcs to live on the plains etc. One strength of the uruk-hai was that they could march at dawn, withstanding the sun, which (I believe it was Aragorn or Legolas) finds peculiar.
    – Amarth
    Nov 9 '18 at 19:42
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    A very small part of Mordor was obscured by clouds (though, to be fair, it was the staging area for the armies). There is a mention in RotK of orc strongholds in the mountains around the Black Gate.
    – chepner
    Nov 11 '18 at 2:38

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