The Lord of the Rings trilogy mentions the existence of Orcs and Uruks.

I know that Orcs used to be Elves as Saruman says that they were once Elves, but what did Uruks used to be and why are they bigger and better fighters than the Orcs?

What are the differences between Orcs and Uruks?

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    Where does Saruman say Orcs used to be Elves?
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 13:13
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    @AndresF. - it needs to be clarified that this quote is from the movies; it doesn't appear in the books (strictly speaking Jackson was overstepping the bounds of what material he was allowed use by including it).
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 19:51
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    @JimmyShelter I thought so. But I asked just in case I was forgetting about something :) I consider the movies non-canon.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:17
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    Tolkein makes plenty of allusions, more in the Silmarillion, to the elvish origins of Orcs. Since Saruman would know of this, I don't think claiming it doesn't exist in the books or that Jackson "overstepped" is accurate. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 13:55
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    See scifi.stackexchange.com/q/26725/4918 "What is the true origin of the orcs?" about whether the orcs were once elves or not (we don't really know).
    – b_jonas
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 8:28

6 Answers 6


Uruk-Hais are Orcs. Just a special breed, that is stronger, faster and can withstand sunlight. Although Treebeard speculates that Saruman created them by crossbreeding Orcs with men, there is no tangible evidence for that. Nonetheless your average Orc is bow-legged while Uruk-hais have straight legs. Also they are bigger. But as far as we know Uruks are just a subspecies of Orcs.

This is further evidenced by their name: In the Black Speech Uruk-hai means Orc-Folk.

  • Their name in which language out of interest?
    – Liath
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 11:05
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    @Liath It's the Black Speech. You wouldn't expect less of Sauron, wouldn't you?
    – Einer
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 11:10
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    depends who was naming them - thanks for the expansion!
    – Liath
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 11:12
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    It's strongly suggested in the books that it's a cross-breed between traditional orcs and humans. That's also backed up by allusions to men who seem a bit orc-ish as Saruman's muscle when, in the books, he pretty much occupies the Shire after being evicted from Orthanc by Treebeard. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 13:53

This question is a little bit tricky because it's important to remember that Uruk and Uruk-Hai refer to different things, at least in the dialect of the Isenguard Uruk-Hai. Tolkien was a linguist, and he loved adding this kind of cultural quirk. According to legend, he created Middle Earth, just as a place to simulate these kinds of cultural drifts, changes and misunderstandings.

Isenguard Uruk-Hai are strongly implied (in the book trilogy) to be an abominable hybrid of the races of Orcs and Men, designed by Saruman to have all the strengths of both and none of the weaknesses.

Meanwhile Orc, Uruk, Hobgoblin, Goblin and Snaga (lit. "slave" or "maggot") are all words that refer to members of the Orc race, which was created by the First Dark Lord, Morgoth, in the Pit of Angband.

One character might use one word in particular to refer to any Orc, because of that character's cultural background. Another character might use each of those words selectively, depending on the size, heritage and social status of the orc in question.

Some purebred Orc tribes even go so far as to claim the title of Uruk-Hai for themselves, adding another term for pure Orcs, and further complicating the task of distinguishing between Orcs and Hybrids. In universe, it appears that Saruman actually appropriated the term from them, when indoctrinating his hybrid shock troops, but it still makes things extra confusing.

  • No. Snaga is Black Speech. That's from Sauron; it's not from Morgoth.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 3:09
  • And I neglected to mention something else so I'll say it again. Uruk is short for Uruk-hai (or more correctly Uruk-hai = orc people, orc folk). Whatever Saruman claims doesn't equate to reality (neither does the claim it was a trilogy equate to reality for that matter). And to elaborate on my point about Morgoth they aren't members of the 'Orc race'. Uruks are an improvement over Morgoth's Orc and so are the Olog-hai (the trolls) over Morgoth's trolls. You're right that Saruman confuses things though - for everyone including Sauron. Lots of infighting and Sauron encouraged it too.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 18:16
  • @Pryftan - No. There is a lot of dispute about that, and it's certainly not considered established fact that Uruk = Uruk-hai. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 18:22
  • @PoloHoleSet Funny really. The Encyclopaedia of Arda would agree with me. So would many other sources. Ironically this answer points out the confusion - perhaps you should read it? Saruman once again confuses matters in his own pride and arrogance.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 18:29
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    @PoloHoleSet I said I wasn't going to continue but I will. With this: In UT CT finally published what Tolkien promised - an index of names/definitions. And I quote: Uruks Anglicized form of Uruk-hai of the Black Speech; a race of Orcs of great size and strength. 357-9, 361 And guess what? That first page references both Uruks (not Uruk-hai) and Isengarders. So the Uruk-hai and Uruks are related; Isengarders are different. And in HoME this distinction is also made. So actually it is settled to those who bother with checking references that would matter.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 19:54

From what I understand, Uruks are simply stronger and faster and can tolerate the sun. I also don't recall it ever being explicitly stated whether this is due to them being a different breed of, or just "better" orcs meaning rank wise, and their stature may be due to what their rank or position in orc society affords. The Uruk-hai on the other hand are definitely a product of Saruman as they are distinct from the other orcs in the raiding party which may or may not have also included Uruks from Mordor and Moria.


Sauron created the black Uruk's, a race of black Orcs that are stronger. This is stated in the appendices of The Return of the King when they attack Gondor. Saruman's Uruk-Hai are different, slightly. They have straight legs and are likely a cross breed of Men and Orcs. They are very similar to Sauron's Uruks, but different.

They both have Uruk's! Saruman's are called the Uruk-Hai. Sauron's are called the Uruks. They both have black skin.


Uruk Hai: Strong, fast, tolerate sun, smart, disciplined, humanly proportional arms, poor eyesight at night

Regular Orc: Weak, slow, can't tolerate sun, idiot, undisciplined, longer arms, excellent eyesight at night

I think in the third book, when Sam and Frodo were under disguise, an Uruk was complaining about other orcs and stated all the things I listed here.

Although Saruman claims he perfected orcs, Sauron uses them as well.


The difference is melkor made orcs, and sauron made the uruks. Saruman has uruk-hai but he didn't create them.merely plucked them out of the ground in the movies, also in the movies saruman tells a uruk that orcs were once elves,saruman says the word they. Uruks behave like men and is the most likely answer to their being.the true identity is not known. I have to say I truly believe myself some could be numenoreans, only because in the book the silmarillion numenor fell to the sea. Before it fell sauron in disguise managed to make some them believe in melkor as master of the world.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Can you cite any references for this? (Especially that Sauron created the Uruk[-Hai].)
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 1:54

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