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Do orcs get paid at all? Saruman employed "tens of thousands" of orcs to assault Helm's Deep. Mordor has a ton too. We can see throughout Tolkien's books that orcs covet things, which would in my mind create a desire for money, or at least some compensation. I also realize that orcs are a very convenient evil that our heroes must fight and Tolkien fantasy is rather straightforward with good and evil, so there may not be any desire in orc's heart but to kill men. However, Tolkien being the thorough world builder he is, I suspect he may have written about it or mentioned it somewhere.

So, does Tolkien provide any evidence for how orcs might be compensated for their duties, if at all?

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    Related: Are there businesses in Mordor?. – Möoz May 27 '15 at 4:03
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    in fact, the related question basically asserts "orcs get paid" but doesn't really cite a reference for it... – KutuluMike May 27 '15 at 4:06
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    I think man-flesh is the currency of the realm. – Major Stackings May 27 '15 at 5:39
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    It would appear that they got to keep spoils of defeated enemies, looking at The Return of the King: "It was Gorbag started it, trying to pinch that pretty shirt." – Mithrandir May 27 '15 at 8:21
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    Yes. It's explicitly stated in the scene at the end of TTT, where Sam overhears the two Orc captains discussing what to do with Frodo. Don't have the exact quote handy, but one says that the other will slip off and get all the pay and praise in Lugburz. So at least the upper echelons of the orc hierarchy got paid, though at least some at the lowest levels were 'snaga' - slaves. – jamesqf May 27 '15 at 17:48
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Yes - not necessarily a regular paycheck, but they get financial incentives for good performance.

When Merry and Pippin are captives, the Orcs argue about what to do with them. One Orc from Mordor suggests bringing the hobbits to a winged Nazgul nearby, and another Orc, from Isengard, gets suspicious, and says:

"Maybe! Then you'll fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugburz..."
-The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 3: "The Uruk-Hai"

"Lugburz" is Barad-Dur, also known as the Dark Tower, also known as the Tower of Sauron - the big black thing with the fiery eye on top in the movies. The implication is obviously that Sauron pays his servants for a job well done.

I have no idea what Orcs would do with the money they earn - the answers to my question about whether there are businesses in Mordor seem to suggest that there is no evidence of any businesses, and outside Mordor, Orcs tend to take whatever they want without paying for it; money is useless if you have nowhere to spend it.

But clearly, this passage makes it plain to see that Orcs do get financial incentives for doing important tasks, and they obviously appreciate these incentives for some reason.

We also learn that, generally speaking, Orcs are fond of objects of value. Just after Sam and Frodo enter Mordor, Frodo has his fateful encounter with Shelob's, and is carried off, unconscious, by Orcs. While trying to rescue his master, Sam overhears two Orc captains, Shagrat and Gorbag, expressing their displeasure with Sauron's regime.

"I’d like to try somewhere where there’s none of ’em ["'em" refers to Shelob, the Nazgul, Sauron, and other "bosses"]. But the war’s on now, and when that’s over things may be easier."
"It’s going well, they say."
"They would. grunted Gorbag. 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 Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book IV, Chapter 10: "The Choices of Master Samwise"

So, left to their own devices, Orcs are inclined to make their living by stealing, looting, plundering, and the like; they also resent being subordinate to other authorities, especially when things go badly for said authorities. Before Shagrat and Gorbag came into Sauron's employ, they used to steal themselves a living, and in their idle moments under Sauron's regime, they dreamed of returning to their old ways, free from the interference of higher authorities. It is also worth noting that these two old friends end up killing each other shortly after this conversation takes place, or at least trying to do so.

It appears that Orcs crave riches, but are inherently prone to infighting and discord. Sauron seems to have taken advantage of these traits by maintaining order through a combination of offering incentives for good conduct and instilling the fear of horrific punishments for those who defy his will.


Note: As Shamshiel points out in his own answer, from an Orc's perspective, being paid too much is not necessarily a good thing, if there are other Orcs around. Orcs tend to use any excuse they can find to kill each other (at one point, an Orc is tired and kills another Orc who won't let him go to bed), so getting lots of nice stuff would probably mean you are going to be murdered and robbed in the very near future.

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    So Tolkien doesn't explicitly mention the inner workings on the orc army economy, I'm guessing – Premier Bromanov May 27 '15 at 20:05
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    @TomSterkenburg - I'm almost done reading the third and final book of the LotR trilogy, and so far I haven't come across much along those lines. All I know is that it involves lots of whipping and occasional rewards. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 20:08
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    Hmm...I'll have to think this over then. Shamshiel makes excellent points as well. – Premier Bromanov May 27 '15 at 20:15
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    @WadCheber: I think my answer is wrong and yours is right. :) I simply forgot the passage you quoted. I could add to your answer more information about how Sauron rewarded and punished based on the experience of early Men who followed Sauron, if you think we can take them to be illustrative (vis a vis Orcs.) – Shamshiel May 27 '15 at 23:27
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    @Trollwut - I never said they got cash. They got a financial incentive of some kind - presumably loot, i.e., booty, plunder, stolen stuff. – Wad Cheber May 28 '15 at 18:04
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I don't believe there are any references to Orcs receiving a stipend from eihter Sauron or Saruman. But there isn't anything particularly problematic about this: soldiers in the real world haven't always historically been paid, and on top of that, Sauron (and presumably Saruman) was not considered merely a great King, or a leader, or a boss, but a god. It's probably a little much to expect that anyone would demand a bill from God for their work!

Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.

(Letters)

Again, remember that even historical armies haven't always been paid - and I don't mean that they were simply not paid, but that there was no expectation of being paid for performing your civic/divine/etc duty.

Certainly Orcs are provided with what supplies they need - the logistics don't work otherwise. But probably the only compensation they could hope for was whatever loot they ran across that Sauron wasn't interested in. Following the 'divine' direction of Sauron was probably also a more reliable way to get fed than the chaotic infighting that appears to be a constant in 'independent' Orc life.

And most likely, Orcs who accumulated too many nice things didn't live very long in the presence of other Orcs.

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    You may want to mention looting – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 27 '15 at 17:39
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    I know of at least one reference to Orcs being paid for their services. See my answer. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 18:00
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    But in the only real glimpses of Orcish attitude we get , the orcs seem to look on Sauron as a boss - and a fallible one, at that. They seem to be serving out of fear and desire for loot. And, it must be admitted, a bit of self interest. One of the captains puts it thus: "But don't forget: the enemies don't love us any more than they love Him, and if they get topsides on Him, we're done too. " – jamesqf May 27 '15 at 18:00
  • @jamesqf - yes, when Frodo and Sam are hiking through Mordor, they are relieved to see that Orcs are often too busy fighting amongst themselves to notice the hobbits in their midst, but wary of the fact that the Orcs hate everyone else more than they hate each other, and if they noticed the hobbits, they would instantly set aside their differences and murder the halflings. Their attitude towards Sauron is based on fear, not love or true respect. They follow his orders because they fear what he will do to them if they disobey, not because they are loyal to him. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 18:10
  • I think you included a detail which I omitted - that an Orc with lots of nice stuff doesn't live very long. :). At one point, Sam and Frodo are being hunted by a tracker Orc and a soldier Orc. The tracker ends up shooting an arrow into the soldier's eye because he wants to go home but the soldier won't let him. If "I'm bored, and I want to take a nap" is sufficient cause for him to kill his comrade, imagine what else they'll kill each other over. – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 23:34

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