In the Elder Scrolls series, every race is, at one point, at war or conflict with another for various reasons; eventually, the conflict may be resolved and the two races can live together in peace.

However, as shown in Morrowind, Oblivion, and most prominently, Skyrim, the Dunmer of Morrowind and the Argonians of Black Marsh have been warring since long before the events of Morrowind. So, my question is why? Is there a reason these two races are constantly at war; an event, perhaps, that sparked it all?

  • 3
    Argonians were often used as slaves by Dunmer, though I doubt that's the sole reason.
    – SBoss
    Oct 21, 2014 at 14:29
  • 2
    I think it's shown much more prominently in Morrowind than in Skyrim.
    – TylerH
    Oct 21, 2014 at 18:22
  • @TylerH by the time of Skyrim the Argonians were on the offensive, so even though there aren't many Argonians in the game, hostility between the two races would be at an all-time high...
    – KutuluMike
    Oct 21, 2014 at 18:25
  • @MichaelEdenfield There had already been wars between the Dunmer and the Argonians by the time Morrowind took place. So I don't think the Argonians going on the offensive during Skyrim's events qualifies for an "all-time high". We have to look outside of what the player sees if we're talking about lore
    – TylerH
    Oct 21, 2014 at 18:44
  • @TylerH Yeah I couldn't decide between which to say it was featured more prominently, Morrowind or Skyrim (because we know it wasn't Oblivion). I guess I chose Skyrim just because I played it more than I did Morrowind. Oct 21, 2014 at 19:04

3 Answers 3


tl;dr: The Dunmer historically treated the Argonians as sub-human, using them for slave labor, and there have been multiple wars between the two races. Although nearly every other race on Tamriel has treated the Argonians pretty badly, the Dunmer just happen to be right next door, so the conflict between them is heightened moreso than any other race.

The Argonians have, in general, a very strong dislike for almost every race on Tamriel, in particular the Mer races, for much the same reason that so many real-world cultures dislike each other: invasion and subjugation.

As near as we know, the Argonians were already firmly established in the Black Marsh when the mer first arrived on Tamriel from Aldmeris. (This is true of all of the "beast" races -- the Khajiit were apparently quite advanced when the Altmer first arrived, for example.) However, the Argonians were not what the mer considered 'civilized' -- they were not literate, for example, in the sense that mer thought of it. (They didn't grasp the concept of the language of the Hist that the Argonians used.)

Because of the very harsh climate of the Black Marsh, the Argonians were largely left alone by the mer and men that populated the rest of Tamriel. However, they didn't escape entirely unscathed. Some examples from in-game lore books:

  • According to the Anuad:

    The Hist were bystanders in the Ehlnofey war, but most of their realm was destroyed as the war passed over it. A small corner of it survived to become Black Marsh in Tamriel, but most of their realm was sunk beneath the sea.

  • The Pocket Guide to the Empire's entry on Argonia claims that the early 1st Era Empire used Argonia as a dumping ground for unwanteds, who

were sent to Black Marsh as refugees or prisoners

  • Also in the Pocket Guide, and getting to the heart of the matter, was the first true invasion of the Marsh by the Empire:

A very successful enterprise of bandits and thieves had long been exploiting the swamplands of southeastern Tamriel, a convenient location to the riches of the Empire, where one could disappear without recourse. The coastline along the east of Topal Bay had become notorious for acts of piracy, and in 1E 1033, the Empress Hestra demanded the head of the most infamous of the brigadiers, "Red" Bramman.

The Argonians in the interior swamps of Black Marsh were skittish, and little wonder, as the contact they had with men from the outside was from the like of Bramman and other brigands. Imperial civilization was, to them, rape, pillage, and slavery. As the Cyrodiils pushed deeper into their land, trying to settle it along the pirate routes, they encountered stronger and more violent resistance with each incursion. Once the pirate menace was dealt with, the First Empire was generally content to leave Black Marsh to its native inhabitants.

This already sets up a strong distrust of outsiders for the Argonians, who were subsequently left alone for most of the 1st and 2nd eras. Occasionally, Argonians did leave the Marsh (as can be seen in the Elder Scrolls Online, where Argonians can be found in most major cities) but like most of the Beast races, they were subjected to incessant racism and abuse by the "higher" races.

Eventually, though, the rest of Tamriel began to make it's way into the Argonian's territory. Again, according to the Pocket Guide, it was nominally a part of the Second Empire, and Tiber Septim also brought the Black Marsh into his Third Empire. Unfortunately, this exposes a lot about life in the Marsh to the Dunmer, who controlled the bordering province of Resdayn/Morrowind. In particular, the climate and environment of the Black Marsh was one of the few places on Tamriel more harsh and dangerous than that of Vvardenfell, making the Argonians especially suited to work the farms near the ash mounts. This, combined with the Dunmer's existing belief in their own superiority, led to the inevitable mass slave raids. (Even as part of the Third Empire, which outlawed slavery, Morrowind's agreement with Cyrodiil allowed them to keep practicing legal slavery within their province).

This kicked off a series of intermittant slave revolts and wars between the Dunmer and Argonians over the next few years, with the Argonians and Dunmer trading the bordering territories of their provinces back and forth. Even after slavery was formally outlawed in Morrowind, the Argonians held a grudge, and when the Dunmer society began to collapse after the events of Morrowind, and then the rest of the Empire after Oblivion, the Argonians even took to invading Morrowind and nearly capturing it's capital city.

  • I like that this answer uses quotes from in-game books, but it's important to note that the Chimer were enslaving Argonians long before the First Empire, back when men were still the slaves of the Ayleids.
    – Omegacron
    Oct 23, 2014 at 13:16
  • That's true, but the impression I got was that somewhere along the line, there was a stretch where the Argonians were left alone while they "evolved" from beast-like to civilized, and then the slavery started back in en masse. But we also know that the in-game books themselves are not infallible, so that may just be a bias towards Imperial History in favor of pre-empire stuff in the writings.
    – KutuluMike
    Oct 23, 2014 at 14:17
  • Originally, much of the transition occurred due to their exposure to the Chimer. Elder Scrolls Online has retconned that somewhat and now indicates that they had a thriving Aztec-like civilization prior to the Dunmer. If Elder Scrolls 6 really IS set in Argonia as rumored, then perhaps we'll get an official answer then.
    – Omegacron
    Oct 23, 2014 at 14:22

As a long-time player of the Elder Scrolls series, I am fairly knowledgeable on the lore behind the games. Here is a brief history of the relationship between the two cultures, which should explain the antagonism:

Short Answer: The Dunmer see the Argonians as somewhere barely above animals, so it is in effect a form of racism coupled with resentment for past rebellions. The Argonians, on the other hand, see the Dunmer as an aggressive and conquering people who enslaved them for many generations. After several centuries, there is now a self-perpetuating hate on both sides.

Long Answer: In the late Merethic Era, a large group of Aldmeri dissidents calling themselves the Chimer travelled across Tamriel and settled in what would later become the province of Morrowind. It was here that they began to build great cities and restructure their society based on the teachings of their leader Veloth. These Chimer are the people who would later become the Dunmer, or Dark Elves.

In the southern swamps of Morrowind, they encountered the lizard-like Argonians, who proved to be a hardy & resilient race. Unfortunately for the Argonians, their sturdiness made them perfect as slave labor. The Chimer conquered the Argonians in increasing number, putting them to work at the many mines & construction projects being raised throughout their new territory.

Although a primitive race, the Argonians learned quickly. The Chimer, however, continued to see them as little more than animals. Within several generations, the Argonians began to rise up against their Chimer (now Dunmer) masters. The last years of the Merethic Era and most of the First Era witnessed a series of slave rebellions and small wars as the Argonian slaves waged a covert resistance movement against the Dunmer, often supported by free Argonians to the south.

As the Second Empire began to expand in the later years of the First Era, both the Dunmer and the Argonians found themselves fighting a war on two fronts - the first against each other and the second against the more overt invasion forces of the Empire. Yet still they refused to cooperate. While it briefly held the territory, the Empire named the southern swamps as the province of Black Marsh. Although the province was soon lost again, the Argonians now understood and desired the concept of their own land. The latter part of the First Era and much of the Second saw the Argonians not only fighting for freedom, but also recognition.

Despite later recognition from the Empire as the province of Black Marsh, the Argonians still found themselves fighting against slavery, which was allowed in Morrowind as a political concession to the Dunmer people. This is the situation found throughout most of the games. Their efforts were finally rewarded when slavery was abolished - even in Morrowind - by the Fourth Era (about 150 years before Skyrim starts).

Although forced to acknowledge the freedom of the Argonian people, most Dunmer still see them as a lower class and not as equals. In fact, many Dunmer would hold their pet Guar in higher regard than an Argonian laborer. Dunmer culture holds it as their ancient, divine right to enslave the lesser races, and therefore many Dunmer resent the revoking of slavery - blaming both the Empire and the Argonians for its demise.

Conversely, the Argonians find it difficult to forget that the Dunmer have spent the last three eras raiding their villages and towns for slave labor. Centuries of warfare and rebellion have left families on both sides with a surplus of hate and vengeance to repay. To date, it is only the organization of the Empire that has kept the two provinces from escalating to open warfare.


Disclaimer: The only Elder Scrolls game I've played is Skyrim, and I just started playing it a few weeks ago.

There are 2 sides to this hatred.

On the Elder Scrolls wiki article about the Argonians, if you search the word "Dunmer", it shows up 9 times, with 8 of them near a word related to slavery.

Here are excerpts from the page:

They are also very capable warriors and archers due to their constant use of guerrilla warfare against Warring Tribes or Dunmer slavers.


The Dunmer of neighboring Morrowind have made a practice of raiding the region for slaves, and this is particularly practiced by members of House Telvanni.


Slave traders exploited the Argonians, and "entire tribes of Argonians were dragged in chains" to the Dunmer land. Warlord dynasties were formed by former Imperial officers, who "earned a reputation for tyranny even in those dark times".


The war was used by the Argonians both to exact revenge on the Dunmer for their past enslavement of Argonians, and to conquer territories lost in the Arnesian War.


Centuries of cruel Dunmer slavery has caused the Argonians to rebel many times.


Yet because of the enslavement of most of their peoples by the Dunmer, they came to building small villages with mud huts.


The only clear relations they have are negative, falling on the Dunmer and the Khajiit. The long history of being forced into slavery by the Dunmer,


So, a long history of enslavement by the Dunmer was what caused the Argonians to hate the Dunmer.

The wars started due to rebellions by Argonian slaves - The Arnesian War. In the Fourth Era, the Argonians then started the Accession War, which was another war for reprisal for the enslavement of Argonians.

On the Dunmer side of this conflict, it seems that the Dunmer only have themselves to blame, in addition to angering the Argonians by enslaving them.

The Dunmer, more commonly referred to as Dark Elves, are the dark skinned elves originating from the province of Morrowind. Known to be strong, intelligent, quick, aloof, and reserved; mostly keeping to themselves, the Dunmer are said to be ill-favored by fate. And, although most Dunmer natives of Morrowind harbor a bitter distrust and disdain for other Races, they are just as distrusting and disdainful of other Dunmer.

They are xenophobic to the point where the became outright hatred.

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