I had always thought all Orcs to have quite the same posture, but when watching The Hobbit movie and the Orcs of Gundabad are mentioned (together with the Pale Orc), I noticed that they are larger than the Mordor Orcs we've seen before in the LotR movies.

Is this only theatrical (i.e. for the purpose of dramatic effect in the movie) or did Tolkien really want Northern Orcs to be taller than Mordor Orcs?

5 Answers 5


In The Two Towers, chapter 2 (The Uruk-Hai), we see the northern orcs facing off against the Uruk-Hai:

In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Ugluk, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature...Round them were many smaller goblins. Pippin supposed that these were the ones from the North.

From here we note that the northern orcs are notably smaller than the Uruk-hai. However, as the Uruk-hai are man-sized (larger than the 'typical' orc), this doesn't prove anything about northern orcs' size.

Later in the same chapter, we see the following:

most of the Northerners broke away and dashed off...The hobbits were left with the Isengarders: a grim dark band, four score at least of large, swart, slant-eyed Orcs...A few of the larger and bolder Northerners remained with them.

We don't see a comparison here between the Uruk-hai and these other, larger orcs. But there is clearly a significant range of sizes among the northern orcs.

I haven't been able to source it from the novels yet, but wikipedia says:

The Uruk-hai of Isengard were the tallest of these orcs, and had large hands and thick, straight legs, while the orcs of Mordor are described as bow-legged. Although the Isengarders still did not like the light of the sun, they could withstand it, unlike other orcs. The orcs of Mordor were all long-armed and crook-legged, not as tall as the Isengarders but larger and more powerful than the orcs from Moria.

In "the Disaster at the Gladden Fields," (Unfinished Tales) it is noted that

"[the Numenoreans] towered above the tallest Orcs, and their swords and spears far outreached the weapons of their enemies."

Numenoreans were 6.5-7.5 feet tall (Elendil the Tall being the tallest at nearly 8 feet). There are no Uruk-Hai mentioned in the story, but "man-height" for Uruk-Hai would have been by the measure of more normal men and therefore closer to 6 feet. Note that the Uruk-Hai are noted for their height as compared to other orcs.

It is certain that there are some orcs of nearer to hobbit height: since Sam and Frodo wear their armor in Mordor and Halflings are approximately half the height of the Dunedain who gave them that name.

So we have tribes of orcs hovering around 4 feet to 5 feet (Mordor, Northerners, etc.) and 6 feet (Uruk-Hai). Like all living things, there would be potentially large in-group differences of course.

  • 2
    In "the Disaster at the Gladden Fields," it is noted that "[the Numenoreans] towered above the tallest Orcs, and their swords and spears far outreached the weapons of their enemies." Numenoreans were 6.5-7.5 feet tall (Elendil being the tallest at nearly 8 feet). There are no uruk-hai mentioned in the story, but "man-height" for Uruk-hai would have been by the measure of more normal men and therefore closer to 6 feet.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 20:06
  • Where is that story located? I didn't see it in the appendices
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 20:08
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    It is in "The Unfinished Tales". There are lots of tribes, but it is certain that there are some orcs of nearer to hobbit height (since Sam and Frodo wear their armor in Mordor) and the Uruk-Hai (which are going to be around 6-ish feet tall) are noted for their height. This gives 5 feet as most likely average/median/magic number. Hopefully my notes and what you wrote can help form a picture of their diversity.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 21:21
  • 1
    I don't have that book, so please feel free to edit my answer to add the relevant information. Thanks for this info!
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 21:23
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    Good answer! I always thought only the tallest orcs were man/elf sized (say 6ft) whereas the Uruk-Hai seem to have been more in the 6 - 6.5 ft range. For comparison, Aragorn is described as being very tall (for a man, not an ancient Numenorean) at around 6.5 ft in one of Tolkien's notes (possibly also in Unfinished Tales). Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 14:02

My take on Gundabad and the Northern territories is that they feed them a lot better up there, and their genetic lines are far stronger than what they are in Mordor. Even their Wargs are bigger and faster than the other Wargs of Middle Earth. During the Hobbit films, we can see Gundabad Orc front-liners leaping and showing greater athleticism than the average Orc or even Uruk-hai, with the exception perhaps of Uruk-hai Berserkers. Bearing that in mind, we can suggest that the Gundabad front-liners are better fed and train more regularly than any other Orc forces we see in the complete collection of films. Perhaps the Uruk-Hai could have been agile and athletic too, but it's possible they were just bred to siege so bulk would make sense.

In any case, as has been noted, yes they're taller than Mordor orcs, definitely at least 6' tall, if not more so. But just looking at where they stand by comparison, they're a highly versatile breed of Orcs.

Goblins/ Moria Orcs are the most agile by far, sleek and spider-like, but are also the smallest and weakest

Mordor/ "regular" Orcs are bow-legged and somewhat cumbersome, lacking agility and great strength, they're just cannon fodder, and vary from Goblin-sized to short man-sized. They strike me as largely underfed slaves

Gundabad Orcs are as tall as Men, stronger than Orcs and Goblins, and have the agility needed to prowl, stalk and also leap in combat. They could accomplish a variety of different tasks, in and out of combat

Uruk-Hai are the tallest and strongest of the breed, able to wade into combat with a physical advantage, but lacking the agility and stealth of the Gundabad Orcs. Definitely the heavy infantry of Sauron's armies, but not as all-purpose as Gundabad Orcs, though Uruk-Hai may still have greater overall stamina, judging by their marching abilities

I'm really excited to see if the Battle of the Five Armies final conflict shows more of the Gundabad Orcs, they're an impressive force. I'm guessing the efforts of Azog and

his subsequent defeat

must have completely expended the Gundabad forces in Middle Earth?

One last point, I think there's a variant of both Uruk-Hai and Gundabad, the Berserker type, an Orc whose courage and almost suicidal determination makes him nearly impervious to pain. Looking at the brand-carrying Uruk at Helm's Deep, Azog, Bolg, Lurtz, there are examples of Uruks and Gundabad Orcs taking extreme punishment beyond their kin's abilities.


If you read the entire collection of JRR Tolkien, you will find that orcs vary in different places. Saruman's orcs differed from the orcs of Sauron. Even amongst the orcs in Mordor, differences in height, strength, etc. can be noted. So it isn't merely the director Peter Jackson's option in the films. Orcs were first brought into being by Morgoth (this story appears in The Silmarillion) and Tolkien never specified exactly how that was done, although in the aforementioned story, the elves and men suspected that orcs were captive men or elves that Morgoth turned into hideous beings to spite not only the children of Isvatar (elves & men), but also the "gods" in Valinor who loved them.

  • Ilúvatar not Isvatar
    – user128845
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 17:49

Orcs & Goblins are the same thing in Middle Earth and even the largest orcs were not as tall as men or elves.

Uruk-Hai were as large as they would ever get through cross-breeding.

Most of the orcs in LOTR trilogy were about right but the Hobbit movies portrayed much larger orcs than was suggested in the original story.

The goblin-town tribe are about right (except for the great-goblin who appears to be the size of a small Troll for some reason).

  • What's the source for this info please? Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 16:06

It says in book- The Return of the King, when Frodo and Sam are in the orc tower Cirith Ungol and Sam is collecting armor for a disguise for them; Sam says- "I've had a bit of a search to find anything small enough for the likes of us. We'll have to make do." Shortly after, while Frodo puts on the orc gear the narrative says- "Over the tunic went a coat of stout ring mail, short for a full sized orc, to long for Frodo and heavy." From those passages it's pretty clear to me at least that even the smaller orcs were larger then hobbits. Probably about the same size as the Dwarves as they are decribed also as being a somewhat bigger then hobbits. But like I said those are only the small orcs

  • 1
    This addresses the size of the Mordor Orcs relative to Hobbits, but not relative to Northern Orcs as OP specified in his question. Consider adding some more information, such as also comparing the Norther Orcs to Hobbits, or even a direct comparison between the various Orcs.
    – amflare
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 17:53

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