Orcs were the most commonplace villains serving the Dark Powers in all of Tolkien's Legendarium, a race of sentient beings bred by the evil Vala Melkor (Morgoth) during the time of the Great Darkness.

If Orcs were made by Melkor (by breeding Elves he had captured and corrupted) then are they immortal?

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    Nice Question, by the very least they seem to have an extended life span. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:32
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    @Simon - A review of the HoME texts would suggest their lifespan is slightly shorter than that of the First Men.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 19:58
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    @Simon - I thought it was fairly clear that Bolg was a maiar, hence immortal. He was still in his prime at the age of 150+. That strongly suggests that he wasn't simply a normal orc.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 20:03
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    Possible duplicate: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/33986/…
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 14:09
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    Bolg was a Maiar?I haven't heard of that theory before
    – turinsbane
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 13:32

7 Answers 7


There's a couple of nice quotes from text 10 of the "History of Middle Earth" (Morgoth's Ring) that directly address the issue of orc immortality and orc lifespans:

"They needed food and drink, and rest, though many were by training as tough as Dwarves in enduring hardship. They could be slain, and they were subject to disease; but apart from these ills they died and were not immortal, even according to the manner of the Quendi; indeed they appear to have been by nature short-lived compared with the span of Men of higher race, such as the Edain"

Robert Foster's "Complete Guide to Middle Earth" notes that the average Edain lifespan is between 70-90 years, which suggests that average Orc longevity (barring illness and injury) is somewhere around 60 years of age.

It seems that the fact that certain (immortal) maiar were posing as Orcs gave rise to the myth that the orc race was immortal...

This last point was not well understood in the Elder Days. For Morgoth had many servants, the oldest and most potent of whom were immortal, belonging indeed in their beginning to the Maiar; and these evil spirits like their Master could take on visible forms. Those whose business it was to direct the Orcs often took Orkish shapes, though they were greater and more terrible. Thus it was that the histories speak of Great Orcs or Orc-captains who were not slain, and who reappeared in battle through years far longer than the span of the lives of Men.

  • Bingo - that's the very quote I'm referring to in my answer, from Morgoth's Ring Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 10:02
  • The second Quote is what I made reference to couldn't find it, brilliant finds! Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 12:25
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    Certainly at least some Orcs could survive on far less food and drink than other races, otherwise the many Orcs inhabiting the Mines of Moria and the Misty Mountains would have starved.
    – RobertF
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 15:03
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    @Richard: But aren't Orcs and Goblins the same thing?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 19:56
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    Maiar took the shape of orcs? That could explain why Tomator (supreme ruler of Crouton, evil space alien from the Lost Vikings video game) looks like a giant-sized orc.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 12:39

In his essay Myths Transformed, which can be found in The History Of Middle Earth vol. 10: Morgoth's Ring, Tolkien explicitly states that the Orcs have a lesser lifespan than the Numenoreans. This would suggest that they are long-lived, but not immortal.

The main evidence for Orcs being long-lived is the well documented dates of death of the Azog and Bolg. Azog was succeeded by Bolg after his death in the war with the Dwarves some 150 years before the Battle of Five Armies. Bolg then leads an army in that battle, so he is at least 150 (and presumably somewhat older).

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    To add onto @JimmyShelter Comment, It is believed Tolkien set the origin of Orcs to be corrupted Elves but soon grew a distaste for this origin. I also seem to remember that some Orc leaders may have spirits in them i.e maiar like spirits leading to an immortal lifespan. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:56
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    Not so much spirits 'in them' as actual spirits (Maia) who had taken Orc form, much like Melian took the form of an Elf. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 10:00
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    +1 and it's by no means certain that Orcs actually are corrupted Elves. That's just a theory offered by the feigned authors of the Silmarillion in the imagined world, rather than a statement of canonical fact, and Tolkien had in fact experimented with many different origins for Orcs.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 10:01
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    Just to allay possible confusion: @Simon doesn't have time-travel powers. I'd originally added the above comment first, but due to a browser crash while editing to fix a typo, ended up deleting the original and re-adding it here.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 19:55
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    Nope I'm a wizard Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 19:57

We don't really know for certain, but it seems unlikely. The narrative purpose of orcs is to be hordes of disposable arrow-fodder and the optimum design for such is "short-lived and fast reproducing". I see no particular reason to think that Shagrat and Gorbash were talking about a time 3,000 years past, rather than just the situation that applied before Sauron once again gathered the orcs to his banner.

Tolkien did in fact go back and forth about the origins of orcs, but even if they did start as corrupted elves there's no particular reason to think they retained their divinely granted longevity. If they had retained the eivish traits of great longevity combined with low reproductive ability...then the amount of warfare they engaged in, and how good they were at it would surely have led to their extinction.


In The Two Towers, Shagrat and Gorbag were talking about the "good old days" before the Last Alliance:

'We'll see. But anyway, if it does go well, there should be a lot more room. What d'you say? - if we get a chance, you and me'll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.'

'Ah!' said Shagrat. 'Like old times.'

The Two Towers Book IV Chapter 10: "The Choices of Master Samwise"

So that would say they were over 3000 years old would it not? Or am i wrong?

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    Maybe ... however one can speak of "the good old days" without having lived through them.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 17:28
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    I personally read this text (and the other text around it) as stating that orcs are more or less immortal at least in the sense of old age. Not only does this make sense within the context, it trumps, IMO, other material in that it was actually published by JRRT. Regardless of Morgoth's Ring or JRRT's letters, the published book makes it sound very much like Gorbag is very old indeed.
    – Nagora
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 18:16
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    Good old days might mean before Sauron recruited them i dont think that quote is enough to conclude they were over 3000 years old
    – turinsbane
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 13:36

I don't know much about the orcs' life span. But if indeed they were elves once, then they should be immortal because the gift of immortality and death was given by Eru. Besides him, no one can change that, not even Manwë.

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    Tolkien contested the origin of Orcs with himself and for a long period of time had not decided on a final decision. The Ideas he most hotly contested was Orcs being from Elves which was his initial Idea, but he came to dislike after realising that would mean Orcs are immortal, and Orcs being from Men however that would require him to shift the entering of the Edain earlier into the Histories of Middle Earth or move the origin of Orcs backwards. Tolkien debated other ideas, but died before he could settle on one.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 8:23

Short answer: Were they immortal? Yes, probably.
Long answer:

  1. Let's first establish that The Silmarillion, The Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Unfinished Tales (this book basically expands on the first 3 books) are all canon. Morgoth's Ring (it's a collection of later musings that are contradictory and basically throws out The Silmarillion) is not.

  2. No one can say for sure where Orcs came from ... but if it holds true that Melkor cannot create life nor fundamentally change the nature of any living thing so it is no longer at its base what it was in its beginning ... then yeah ... more than likely orcs are elves ... and they are immortal in the same sense that Elves are immortal; in that their souls can never leave the confines of Arda as opposed to being gifted with "death" as men are such that their souls are not bound by the world and leave for elsewhere. Dwarves in this sense are neither mortal or immortal as their bodies do die naturally but their souls are also bound to Arda.

  3. There are a few clues that lend weight to the "They are corrupted Elves and thus are immortal" argument. In LOTR you have a pair of orcs discussing "The Bad Old Days" as if they might have been there ... the "Bad Old Days" here being the 1st Age, more than 9000 years ago at the least. In The Hobbit ... the "Great Goblin" experiences a fit of murderous rage the moment he lays eyes on Ocrist ... which was first recognized by one of his minions. He later instantly recognizes Glamdring also. How would he or some random orc if they were at most merely a few hundred years old instantly know either of these swords that were forged in the days when Gondolin was at its zenith? Why would he have such a visceral reaction to story about how so many orcs where slain with these blades in a battle that happened over 10 thousands years ago that he had no part in?

  4. Orcs have an allergy to sunlight. This wouldn't make any sense whatsoever if they were Men, or fallen Maia. Men awoke in the far East ages after the Elves at the first rising of the Sun ... basically at the very beginning of the 1st Age, as opposed to the Elves who awoke in Y.T. 1050 where there was relative darkness in Middle Earth.

  5. The Elves have stories where two demonic characters ... the Hunter, and The Dark Rider who would literally hunt down Elves who wandered from the group after they awoke in the far East of Middle Earth. "Shortly" after this orcs start showing up.

  • If you are taking Unfinished Tales as canon, then it contradicts itself, no? (I'm thinking the Galadriel and Celeborn material). And by "establish" do you mean "assume"? I think if you want to take the Hobbit and LotR as canon, you'll get little argument, but UT and Silm are trickier. Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 9:43
  • Are you sure 'the bad old times' refers to the First Age? Assuming we are thinking of the same passage, Gorbag also mentions the 'Great Siege' which I have always thought was a reference to the Siege of Barad Dur. Still a long time ago of course, but not so far back as the Siege of Angband. Commented Mar 29, 2021 at 21:16
  • @David Roberts No. Some stories in the Unfinished Tales fit into the published Legendarium, and some don't...such as the story implying the Dunedrain are infact the original prototype for Orcs..which makes absolutely no sense as Orcs appeared millennia before Men.
    – user405887
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 20:15
  • @Ian Thompson Remember...that Shagrat and Gorbag where talking about "The Last Great Siege" in association with "renegades"...now what could they possibly mean by either ? There where no "great sieges" during the 3rd age until after The Battle of The Pelenor fields. If not the 1st age, then the last "great siege" that occurred at the latest was at the end of the 2nd age, when The Last Alliance waged a 7 year siege on Mordor, where , according to The Elves, all living things was divided on that day but The Elves(that whole renegade part)
    – user405887
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 20:22
  • @user405887 --- I know. That's the siege of Barad Dur. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 19:36

In his essay "The Unnatural History of Tolkien's Orcs", the author "Tyellas" references the same passage from "Morgoth's Ring" (without quoting it or giving an accurate bibliographic reference) that states Orks are not immortal. He also makes good arguments, with similar references, for their "creation" as corrupted Elves.

As stated in this conversation, I am also of the mind that while Morgoth could corrupt Elves, he could not deprive them of their nature imbued by Eru. Elves are immortal and can choose to return to Arda. After they "die", they go to the Halls of Mandos to wait to return or until the end of the world, because they are tied directly to the fate of the world.

In corrupting them, I think Morgoth tried to deny them the choice of how or when to return, and he may have denied them the ability to coexist in the spiritual and physical worlds. Besides corrupting them to evil, he could have bound them to an endless existence of a harsh life, a harsh death, and the inevitability of doing it all over again. Kind of like the Tom Cruise movie "Edge of Tomorrow" or Michael Morcock's concept of the Eternal Warrior.

In the aforementioned essay, the author also makes a case for the potential of Orks choosing to become uncorrupted, which is in keeping with the idea that Elves can choose how they evolve throughout their immortal existence. Reducing them to base instincts ensures there is always some Ork somewhere looking for an opportunity to breed, which in turn provides an opportunity for a fallen Ork to return - no extinction!

Daniel "Vaco" Vacaflores' article "Quendi" in issue 12 of "Other Minds" magazine (othermindsmagazine.com) expounds on the nature of the various types of Elves based on analyses of professor Tolkien's works. In the article he discusses the consequences of their immortality and their ability to choose how they personally evolve through the ages, which provides the basis for the idea that Orks could potentially, though perhaps highly improbably, choose to become uncorrupted.

  • Morgoth's Ring isn't cannon, and if it where then you would have to throw out the entirety of The Silmarillion. It is stated in The Silmarillion that Elves, both body and soul are truely the stuff of The Earth and shall endure as long as it does....hence the reason their souls are bound to Arda. It also states that this cannot be changed by anyone but Eru himself. The Nazgul are effectively "immortal", but only artificially so..once you remove their rings they will surely die(at some point) naturally...and so it would go for Orcs.
    – user405887
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 20:26

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