There are guesstimates of their numbers ranging from as little as three all the way up to hundreds. Still other accounts say there were actually a thousand strong.

We know five were "killed" by Tuor, three by Ecthelion, and two score (40) by the warriors of the king's house. Combine those with the one disturbed in Moria in the TA, that makes at least 49 Balrogs.

Is there any other indication in Tolkien's works of a total number or mentions of any others?


5 Answers 5


Christopher Tolkien indicates that his father eventually decided there were no more than seven Balrogs.

"In the margin my father wrote: 'There should not be supposed more than say 3 or at most 7 ever existed.'"

But as you noticed, there are plenty of references in earlier writings to the existence of a great deal of Balrogs. Tolkien himself noted that in early writings, Balrogs were much more numerous and destructible than they later became.

Crucially, that note - which is invariably cited in any discussion of the number of Balrogs - was not necessarily Tolkien's final word. We really can't know for sure because Tolkien changed his mind, and we don't know if he changed his mind again.

So it's up to you - 7 or "a lot."

  • 3
    He may have waffled about a bit on how many he ultimately wanted and how tough he envisioned them to be, even I was able to find 49 'confirmed' (though posthumously). They seemed to be pretty formidable in a fight though I'm sure not all Balrogs were equally fierce; Some more than others.
    – Morgan
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 5:04
  • 2
    Yeah, I personally prefer to imagine at least hundreds of Moria-tough Balrogs, myself. The way I see it a lot of the Elves in Gondolin, for example, were swarming them on suicide runs. And hey, even Morgoth was afraid of Feanor when he slammed his door in Morgoth's face. To me Moria turned out the way it did because the Balrog would have started out inside their defenses and the mines would have helped a single Balrog against many dwarves. Otherwise it's hard to see how Morgoth would have stood a chance prior to Men coming along.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 22:44
  • 1
    Melkor/Morgoth would go big. He rebelled against his creator Eru Iluvatar, stole the Silmarils and destroyed the Two Lamps... no small thing so I'm told. If he could 'create' such formidable shock troops he wouldn't stop at just a few.
    – Morgan
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 23:05
  • 2
    @Shamshiel "How Morgoth would have stood a chance" is a question that was no doubt of interest to him as well, since he was mortally terrified of leaving Angband for almost any reason and suffered bad setbacks in the first several battles with the elves. Things only turned for him when he was able to simply overwhelm the opposition with sheer numbers. Any attempt to use his powers directly was a failure. This doesn't mean, though, that his Balrogs were chumps; it just means that the elves weren't.
    – Ryan Reich
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 4:07
  • 3
    @Morgan Morgoth didn't create the Balrogs; they were pre-existing spirits corrupted into his service.
    – chepner
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 13:19

According to Christopher Tolkien's note at the start of "The Earliest Annals of Beleriand" (SoME, p. 351), this is likely a much later work (although precise dating of these manuscripts is impossible.) In this text, we find

There came afresh a hundred thousand Orcs and a thousand Balrogs.

In fact, there is only one marginal note (which @Shamshiel pointed out) that EVER suggests the number should be considered limited, while there are dozens of references to "armies," "hordes," and even "thousand(s)."

This preponderance of evidence leads me to argue that there we are fully justified in stating there were, at some point, thousands of Balrogs - although this number clearly had dropped significantly after Fionwe crossed Sirion in the War of Wrath, wherein

[t]he Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth.

  • 1
    With what I'm learning here, I can accept hundreds, maybe as many as a thousand or so at their most populous, but thousands? I just can't get there.
    – Morgan
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 5:31
  • 2
    The early conception of Balrogs more resembled troll-size gargoyles, driving magical armored personnel carriers into battle at one point (Book of Lost Tales, inspired presumably by the tanks Tolkien saw in battle) So they started out as more supernatural orc captains, or minor devils of some sort. Still, thousands of Balrogs driving robotic wyrms into battle... I guess it was too metal.
    – Ber
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 0:27
  • "The Earliest Annals of Beleriand" is from c.1930, like everything else printed in that volume. It is not "likely a much later work". It predates the publication of LotR by nearly 25 years. In contrast, the note that limits the balrogs to seven is from the 1950s.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 13:38

The number of Balrogs changed as Tolkien's conception of the world evolved, and we shouldn't take material from the Lost Tales or Quenta Noldorinwa too literally: in the Lost Tales Beren was an Elf and the precursor of Sauron was a big cat, after all.

In the earliest concepts Balrogs weren't even Maiar, after all, so if we accept the numbers of them from those writings, should we also accept the contradiction of them not being Maiar?

By the time of Lord of the Rings the concept had changed, and a Balrog was now a destructive force capable of wiping out the mightiest Dwarf kingdom.

The figure of "3, or at most 7" comes from the Balrogs that we definitely know existed:

  • Gothmog
  • The Balrog killed by (and who killed) Glorfindel
  • Durin's Bane

A fourth, "Lungorthin, Lord of Balrogs", appears in the early Lay of the Children of Hurin, but there is some doubt over him (is it another name for Gothmog? is he just a Balrog lord?), and this work of course is more representative of the earlier concepts than the later.

There is, however, another named "Balrog" (not really a "Balrog", but the intention appears to be that we're talking about the same type of spirit, so I'll use "Balrog" as a convenient shorthand) in Tolkien's work who is rarely considered, but who survived to the end in all writings:

Arien the maiden was mightier than he, and she was chosen because she had not feared the heats of Laurelin, and was unhurt by them, being from the beginning a spirit of fire, whom Melkor had not deceived nor drawn to his service.

As always, remember that we're dealing with legends from a mythical age rather than a precise history here (Tolkien himself calls them "the mythology and legends of the Elder Days" in his foreword to LotR). Contradictory or confusing statements are to be expected.

  • 1
    You really can't call Arien a Balrog. She's a spirit of fire, but since she wasn't corrupted by Melkor, she didn't never became a Balrog.
    – fgp
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 13:12
  • @fgp - true, but the intention seems to be that she's the same type of spirit. I'll edit to reflect this.
    – user8719
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 16:31
  • Good observation. Their roll and status definitely evolved as the story matured. We can also reasonably conclude that not all Balrogs were 'named' so the possibility of more numbers is likely though thousands seems unreasonable considering their 'power level' and status. The tougher they are, the lower their total number... not unlike military special forces. Somewhere between 50 to 100 of these terrors seems well within reasonable for their level of badassnesses. More populous than Dragons but very elite shock troops.
    – Morgan
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 16:44

TL;DR: It is not known.

There are different mentions of the numbers of Balrogs. Christopher Tolkien mentions that there were thousands or hundreds, whereas Tolkien himself only mentions seven.

The early conception of Balrogs makes them less terrible, and certainly more destructible, than they afterwards became: they existed in 'hundreds' (p. 170), and were slain by Tuor and the Gondothlim in large numbers: "thus five fell before Tuor's great axe Dramborleg, three before Ecthelion's sword, and two score were slain by the warriors of the king's house.

― The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, commentary by Christopher Tolkien on "The Fall of Gondolin"

There came wolves and serpents and there came Balrogs one thousand, and there came Glomund the Father of Dragons.

― The Lost Road and Other Writings, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 16, §15

In the margin my father wrote: 'There should not be supposed more than say 3 or at most 7 ever existed.'

― Morgoth's Ring, Section 2 (AAm*): note 50

The latter might be the most correct, since it's the only note from Tolkien himself

  • This is incorrect. There are multiple quotes from Tolkien with the larger numbers, but he changed his views over time.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 13:40

To ask these questions one has to take into account Tolkien's late ideas, not earlier, rejected ones. The texts that speak of hundreds of Balrogs and of Elves killing them by dozens in Gondolin are all very early texts, or texts that were never fully revised. At this time, Balrogs were still creations of Morgoth (and Gothmog was even his son). That's why in the published Silmarillion, Cristopher removed most of the references to hosts or thousands of Balrogs.

When Tolkien decided that Morgoth couldn't create life, he turned Balrogs into Maiar, and as consequence, he reduced their number greatly. That's why he said that only 3-7 ever existed. This note may not be definitive (it's possible that there were 10 or 20, instead of 7), but certainly his last intention was that there weren't a lot of Balrogs.

It's even possible that he wouldn't have made Glorfindel fight a Balrog if he had rewritten the tale of Gondolin. In one of Tolkien's last essays (found in History of Middle Earth vol. XII) he changed the name "Balrog" for "demon" when writing about this battle.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.