There have been so many elvish kings, and they’re all so different, and there are so many different ways to judge success. So, what I’ve done is listed them all below (yeah, all of them), so you can judge yourself (though I’ve starred my personal favorites.)
Amdir (King of Lorien)
Reign: A little over 2,000 years. Created his own dynasty, and died in 3434SA at the Battle of Dagorlad.
Accomplishments: Traveled from Lindon to Lorien in order to establish a Sindarin dynasty in the Silvan community there.
Narrative Bias: Not much information.
Amroth (King of Lorien)
Reign: 1,988 years (3434SA - 1981TA, when he drowns.)
Accomplishments: ? He doesn’t seem to have been a great king, since he abandons his people in order to move west and marry his love. But he drowns on the way, leaving them leaderless during a time of panic…
Reign: About 147 Valian years (about 1,396 solar years.), from when his people got to Beleriand, to his death in the First Battle of Beleriand.
Accomplishments: Led his people from east of the Misty Mountains all the way to Beleriand, and established a realm in Ossiriand.
Feanor (High King of the Noldor)
Reign: 2 Valian years (which is about 19 solar years), from his father’s death to his own death in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath
Accomplishments: As a king, not too many accomplishments. Unless you count attacking the Teleri, leading your people into a doomed exile, stranding your brother and half your people on the wrong side of the ocean, and then dying soon after arriving in Middle Earth because you thought you could take on a pack of balrogs by yourself.
Narrative Bias: Feanor’s kind of more an antagonist than a hero…
Finarfin (High King of the Noldor in Valinor)
Reign: Practically forever (started in 1495YT when his father died and his brother left Valinor in exile, still ruling today.)
Accomplishments: He led his people during the War of Wrath.
Narrative Bias: We really don’t know anything about Finarfin as a king, as the story follows the exiles.
Fingolfin (High King of the Noldor)
Reign: 451 years (5FA, when he arrives in Middle Earth and realizes Feanor is dead, - 456 FA, when he dies in the Dagor Bragollach.)
Accomplishments: Pretty much maintained peace with the sons of Feanor, led his people through the most peaceful years of the First Age, including the Dagor Aglareb and the Dagor Bragollach.
Fingon (High King of the Noldor)
Reign: About 17 years (456FA, when his father dies, - 472, when he dies in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.)
Accomplishments: Defends his land from Morgoth’s invasion, then plans a joint attack with the sons of Feanor (which tragically backfires.)
Finrod Felagund (King of Nargothrond)
Reign: 413 years (52FA, when he established his kingdom, - 465FA, when he died on Beren and Luthien’s quest.)
Accomplishments: Established the hidden realm of Nargothrond and kept it safe, as well as leading his people in the Dagor Bragollach.
Narrative Bias: Everybody loves Finrod.
Finwe (High King of the Noldor)
Reign: 393 Valian years, which is about 3,733 solar years (1102YT, after returning from Valinor, - 1495YT, when he’s killed by Morgoth.)
Accomplishments: Led his people from Cuivienen west to Valinor, where they built their city of Tirion.
Narrative Bias: His role as a father is more important to the story than his role as a king.
Gil-Galad (High King of the Noldor, King of Lindon)*
Reign: 3,521 years (510FA, when Turgon died, - 3441SA, when he died during the War of the Last Alliance.)
Accomplishments: Led his people (mainly refugees) through the end of the First Age, including the War of Wrath and the sinking of Beleriand, to form a new kingdom in Lindon. Also led his people through the War Between the Elves and Sauron, kept Lindon safe, befriended the Numenoreans, and formed the Last Alliance with Elendil, leading the elves through the War of the Last Alliance before being killed by Sauron.
Ingwe (High King of the Elves, King of the Vanyar)*
Reign: By the time the Third Age ends? Over 11,000 years. Became king in the very beginning.
Accomplishments: Led his people from Cuivienen west to Valinor, where they eventually settled among the Valar.
Narrative Bias: Very little information on him.
Olwe (King of the Teleri)*
Reign: 11,000+ years. Became king when Thingol went missing.
Accomplishments: Led his people across the ocean to Valinor, where they built their city of Alqualonde. Survived the Kinslaying at Alqualonde.
Narrative Bias: Not much information on him as king.
Orodreth (King of Nargothrond)
Reign: 30 years (465FA, when Finrod dies, - 495FA, when he dies during the Battle of Tumhalad.)
Accomplishments: He wasn’t a strong ruler, and let Turin sway him into making decisions that ultimately led to the destruction of Nargothrond.
Oropher (King of the Woodland Realm)
Reign: Probably around 2,500 years. Created his own dynasty, then died in 3434 at the Battle of Dagorlad.
Accomplishments: Established a Sindarin dynasty among the Silvan elves of Mirkwood. Then led his people during the War of the Last Alliance, but died because he couldn’t take orders from Gil-galad.
Narrative Bias: Not much information on him, aside from his death.
Thingol (King of the Teleri, King of Doriath)
Reign: About 3,800 years (to his death in 510FA.)
Accomplishments: Led his people from Cuivienen to Beleriand. Then established a new kingdom in Doriath, where he ruled throughout the First Age. Doriath was kept safe, though Thingol only led his people into one battle (the First Battle of Beleriand.)
Narrative Bias: Thingol is a… complicated character. Plenty of negative attention to balance out the accomplishments.
Thranduil (King of the Woodland Realm)*
Reign: As of the end of the Third Age, 3,026 years (starting in 3434SA, when his father dies in the Battle of Dagorlad.)
Accomplishments: Led his people through the rest of the War of the Last Alliance, then kept his people safe throughout the Third Age, when Sauron’s presence in Dol Guldur had horrible effects on the forest. Also fought in the Battle of Five Armies and the Battle Under Trees.
Narrative Bias: He’s sort of an antagonist in The Hobbit.
Turgon (High King of the Noldor, King of Gondolin)
Reign: 384 years as King of Gondolin (126FA, when he established the kingdom, - 510, when he died in the Fall of Gondolin), and 38 years as High King of the Noldor (starting in 472, when Fingon died.)
Accomplishments: Established the hidden kingdom of Gondolin, which he kept safe for 384 years. He also led his people in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and tried to get help from the Valar.
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, LOTR Appendices, The Hobbit, The Unfinished Tales (“The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”)
For the most part, I read mostly about the Greenwood elves, then occasionally the other commonly known elves from LOTR, those are the ones I know best and have the most fic available for them. But, the deeper down this rabbit hole I go, the more I quietly grow a fondness for a lot of the First Age elves (look, I have a Maedhros problem and I don’t think I’m alone in this) and I have started sneaking in some fic recs for them. Not a lot! I’m not that deep into the Silmarillion fandom yet! But there are some that I can’t resist! So, this is a mix of less commonly focused on Elves and Silm fandom and First Age/Second Age era stuff.
Answering your question requires a bit of a history lesson, so let’s get started! The earliest elves spoke Primitive Quendian, which eventually evolved into Common Eldarin (after the Avari split off.) Then, while the three groups of elves (the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri) traveled west towards Valinor, Common Eldarin split into two different languages. The Vanyar and the Noldor developed the Quenya language, while the Teleri spoke Common Telerin. This langage split continued when the elves eventually made it to Valinor. Meanwhile, some Telerin elves remained in Beleriand (the Sindar.) Because of their separation from the Teleri in Valinor, their language developed further and became the Sindarin language. So, before the Noldor left Valinor in exile, the two languages were very clearly split: the Noldor and Vanyar in Valinor spoke Quenya, and the Sindarin elves in Beleriand spoke Sindarin.
Then the Noldor returned to Middle Earth, and things got a little more complicated. The Noldor were a bunch of linguistic nerds, so they learned Sindarin pretty quickly. But apparently the Sindar had more trouble learning Quenya, so not all of them spoke that language. Then, when Thingol learned about the Kinslaying in Alqualonde, he was so angry at the Noldor that he forbade the use of the Quenya language in Beleriand. From that point on, the Noldor mostly just spoke Sindarin (though I’d imagine they would still speak Quenya when at home, among other Noldorin elves.) Because of this, when men arrived in Beleriand they really only learned Sindarin.
During the Second Age, Sindarin really becomes the more common of the two languages. Many of the Noldor returned to Valinor after the War of Wrath, and those who remained behind mostly lived among the Sindar, so Sindarin was spoken much more than Quenya. Also, while the Numenoreans sometimes used Quenya names, they (at least during the earlier part of the Second Age) mainly spoke Sindarin as well. And, with the creation of the Sindarin dynasties in Lorien and Greenwood/Mirkwood, Sindarin starts replacing the Silvan languages previously spoken there.
By the time we get to the late Third Age, it seems that Quenya is used almost entirely by scholars (or in more formal/ceremonial settings among the High Elves, such as greetings or old songs.) Sindarin is spoken in Lorien and Mirkwood, and a Sindarin dialect is spoken in Gondor. It’s probable that Rivendell and Lorien had more Quenya speakers than the other elvish communities, but it still seems that they spoke Sindarin more often than not.
In the movies, you’ll hear both Quenya and Sindarin spoken. Sindarin is used for the majority of the “regular” dialogue, with Quenya mainly being used for “spells.”
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 12 (“The Shibboleth of Feanor”), The Unfinished Tales (“The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”), LOTR
I suspect elves are born with some sort of innate talent for swimming (it would be just their luck, right?) There are, in fact, several instances of elves drowning, but always under special circumstances (read: storms at sea):
Many of the Noldor drowned after the First Kinslaying at Alqualonde. When they tried to sail away in the stolen ships, Tolkien says that “Uinen wept for the mariners of the Teleri; and the sea rose in wrath against the slayers, so that many of the ships were wrecked and those in them drowned.”
All of Voronwe’s shipmates drowned in a storm while trying to reach Valinor. He only survived because “there came a wave, greater and yet calmer than all the others, and it took me and lifted me from the ship, and bore me high upon its shoulders, and rolling to the land it cast me upon the turf and then drained away, pouring back over the cliff in a great waterfall.” (This was in fact Ulmo saving Voronwe so that he could lead Tuor to Gondolin.)
Finally, Amroth drowned in the Third Age trying to swim back to shore during a storm, which Tolkien described: “The mariners with their Elvish sight for a long time could see him battling with the waves, until the rising sun gleamed through the clouds and far off lit his bright hair like a spark of gold. No eyes of Elves or Men ever saw him again in Middle- earth.”
So it’s clear that elves could drown, but at least as far as Tolkien mentioned it was never for a lack of being able to swim, but rather because the conditions were too rough.
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales (“Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin” and “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”)
Finarfin? A coward? Absolutely not! I agree with you that returning to Valinor took a great deal of courage on Finarfin’s part. I mean, anyone who’s ever turned themselves in for something (even something as simple as, say, stealing the last cookie, or breaking that vase), knows that what Finarfin did was very brave.
And keep in mind that Finarfin’s wife was of the Teleri, and that he’d lived in Alqualonde for years, raised his children there (who, by the way, did not turn back - and the decision to return home while your children leave without, perhaps never to return, could not be made lightly.) After the First Kinslaying, and hearing the Doom of Mandos, I think it was more a complete loss of motivation that made Finarfin turn back, more than any sort of fear. And this is definitely how Tolkien describes the event:
But in that hour Finarfin forsook the march, and turned back, being filled with grief, and with bitterness against the House of Feanor, because of his kinship with Olwe of Alqualonde; and many of his people went with him, retracing their steps in sorrow, until they beheld once more the far beam of the Mindon upon Tuna still shining in the night, and so came at last to Valinor… But his sons were not with him, for they would not forsake the sons of Fingolfin; and all Fingolfin’s folk went forward still, feeling the constraint of their kinship and the will of Feanor, and fearing to face the doom of the Valar, since not all of them had been guiltless of the Kinslaying at Alqualonde.
The language Tolkien uses here is telling - Finarfin and his people feel grief, bitterness, and sorrow, while Fingolfin and his people feel constrained and afraid. If I were to label either of these groups as cowards (which I wouldn’t do anyway), it would have to be Fingolfin’s people.
Finarfin is so important, and so interesting in so many ways (he’s definitely on my ever-growing list of characters I wish Tolkien had written way more about.) But, basically, Tolkien’s stories are filled with characters who agreed to quests that they didn’t really understand (Frodo going to Mount Doom, Bilbo to Erebor, the Noldor to Angband, etc.), and yet kept going even when it was clear they were in for way more than they’d signed up for. Finarfin is one of the very few characters (perhaps the only character?) who ever started a quest, learned more about it, and decided to return home. Call him a coward if you want (I strongly disagree with you, but whatever), but you have to admit he’s probably one of Tolkien’s smarter characters.
Earwen and Anaire are one of the most famous female friendships in Middle Earth, though Tolkien really didn’t write much about them. They were sisters-in-law (basically), each married to one of the sons of Indis.
Earwen was the wife of Finarfin, Finwe’s youngest son. She was also the daughter of Olwe, the King of the Teleri of Alqualonde (which is how she earned her nick-name, the Swan-maiden of Alqualonde.) She had brothers, who we know nothing about, and was most likely born in Alqualonde. Her marriage to Finarfin was the crowning example of the friendly relations between the Noldor and the Teleri (before the Kinslaying.) And you see in their relationship a true emphasis on multi-culturalism. Of their four children (Finrod, Angrod, Aegnor, and Galadriel), two of them had Quenya names, and two had Telerin names. It’s also said that Finarfin spent most of his time in Alqualonde, and that he and his children spoke the Telerin language. So you definitely get the feeling that Earwen had a great love for her culture - a love strong enough to insist on keeping it alive in her marriage, even though she married a prince of the Noldor.
Compared to Earwen, we know almost nothing about Anaire, the wife of Fingolfin, other than that she was Noldorin. Which means her marriage didn’t bring about the same cultural challenges as Earwen’s did, but Anaire did have to deal with much more of the Finwean drama between her husband and Feanor. With all the politics going on in Tirion, it’s not hard to imagine that Anaire might have spent some time in Alqualonde to escape it all, and of course she’d have to visit her husband’s family there (this is how I imagine her friendship with Earwen began, by the way.)
Their friendship becomes important after the First Kinslaying at Alqualonde. Feanor led the Noldor in an attack of the Telerin city in order to steal their ships. It pretty much destroyed the relationship between the Teleri and the Noldor. But apparently Earwen and Anaire’s friendship was strong to survive that. In fact, their relationship was strong enough for Anaire to let her husband and children leave Valinor without her. For it’s said that
Fingolfin’s wife Anaire refused to leave Aman, largely because of her friendship with Earwen wife of Arafinwe (though she was a Noldo and not one of the Teleri. But all her children went with their father.
After the exiles left, it’s likely that Earwen and Anaire’s friendship only grew, as they were not united in their common loss - all of their children had left for Middle Earth (and all but Galadriel would die before the end of the First Age.) They were also probably influential in repairing the Noldor/Teleri relationship after the Kinslaying (not to mention that Finarfin became the High King of the Noldor in Valinor, which meant that Earwen became queen of a people she was probably still holding some resentment towards - I’m sure that Anaire’s political experience came in handy at that point.)
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Histories of Middle Earth (“The Shibboleth of Feanor”)
I don’t write too much about him, so you all may not know this, but Fingon is one of my absolute favorite characters. He’s my favorite in The Silmarillion (which made reading the Nirnaeth Arnoediad for the first time extra fun, let me tell you), so if given the chance, I could easily ramble on about him for ages. So, in the interest of keeping this post at a sort of reasonable length, I’m just going to share my favorite Fingon quote, and then give you more of a timeline-style rundown of his life.
In an older version of The Silmarillion, Tolkien described Fingon so beautifully, so here you go:
His valor was as a fire and yet as steadfast as the hills of stone; wise he was and skilled in voice and hand; truth and justice he loved and bore good will to all, both Elves and Men, hating Morgoth only; he sought not his own, neither power nor glory, and death was his reward.
So, with that, let’s move on to the timeline:
Years of the Trees: Fingon is born in Tirion (Valinor), the son of Fingolfin and Anaire at some point during the Years of the Trees. He and Maedhros have a close relationship.
1495YT: When Feanor leads the Noldor into exile, Fingon is eager to follow (largely influenced by his desire to go with Maedhros as well as a thirst for adventure), and he’s several times mentioned as hurrying Fingolfin along.
1495YT: Fingon takes part in the Kinslaying at Alqualonde. Tolkien describes his involvement as “the vanguard of the Noldor were succored by Fingon with the foremost of the host of Fingolfin, who coming up found a battle joined and their own kin falling, and rushed in before they knew rightly the cause of the quarrel.”
1497YT: When Feanor burns the ships at Losgar, Fingon follows his father with the rest of his people across the Helcaraxe to Middle Earth.
5 First Age: When Fingon arrives and learns of Maedhros’s captivity, he goes off on his own to Thangorodrim to rescue his cousin. He was successful, and became famous for his bravery. When the two return, Maedhros declares Fingolfin the High King of the Noldor, and takes his brothers to live in the eastern part of Beleriand. Throughout the First Age, Fingon and Maedhros are described as sending messages and gifts to each other.
260FA: Fingon ruled Dor-lomin in the northwest, and led armies in a few battles and the Siege of Angband. Most notably, he encountered and chased off a young Glaurung (the first dragon.)
416FA: Fingon gave Dor-lomin to the House of Hador to live in (it’s assumed that he and his people stayed more in Hithlum, where his father ruled.)
456FA: After the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) Fingolfin duels Morgoth and dies, leaving Fingon as High King of the Noldor.
472FA: Fingon and Maedhros work together to plan a great assault on Morgoth’s forces in Angband, creating the Union of Maedhros (the largest alliance in Middle Earth at that time.) Fingon led the western half of the army. However, their plans were defeated by betrayal and an overwhelming force on Morgoth’s side. In the disastrous battle that followed (called the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Unnumbered Tears), most of Fingon and Maedhros’s armies are destroyed, and Fingon was killed by Gothmog, the lord of the balrogs (”At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood.”)
It’s also worth noting that, in The Silmarillion, Fingon is said to be Gil-galad’s father. But if you check out this post, you’ll see that other versions assign a different parentage to Gil-galad, so it’s kind of a gray area.
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 11 (”The Later Quenta Silmarillion”), vol. 12 (”The Shibboleth of Feanor”)
I feel about as bad for the Teleri/Sindar as I do for the Noldor, generally. I think we’d do them a disservice if we remembered them only as victims, because in reality the Sindar (I’m focusing on them because, after Alqualonde, we don’t hear much about the Teleri) had much more agency than that.
When Morgoth stole the silmarils and returned to Middle Earth, the first thing he did was attack the Sindar living in Beleriand. In fact, because they were having such trouble with Morgoth’s armies, the Sindar’s first belief on seeing the return of the Noldor was that their cousins had been sent back to Middle Earth to save them. Of course, this turned out to be very wrong, but the point is the Sindar were going to have problems with Morgoth whether the Noldor had come to Middle Earth or not. And they didn’t ally themselves with the Noldor nearly as much as they could have. Thingol largely wanted nothing to do with them, and once he learned about the Kinslaying at Alqualonde he refused to help the Noldor in their war with Morgoth. Had the Sindar truly allied themselves with the Noldor, and had the elves attacked Morgoth in their full force, the First Age might have gone differently (unlikely, but the point remains that the Sindar of Doriath weren’t helping themselves by staying isolated.)
The Kinsalyings of Doriath and the Havens of Sirion were tragedies, and you’re not going to hear me say that it was anyone’s fault but the Noldor. But we still cannot forget that the Sindar had options. They could have handed the silmaril over to the Feanorians (again, I’m not blaming them for the violence that followed, just trying to reiterate that the Sindar were an active part of their own history.)
And in the later ages we see the Sindar themselves cause trouble for other Telerin elves (the Silvan elves of Mirkwood and Lorien.) Unfortunately Tolkien wrote almost nothing about this relationship, so we really don’t know how the Sindarin dynasties came to rule over the Silvan elves, or what that relationship was like. It might be that the Silvan elves warmly welcomed the Sindarin rulers, in which case they likely sided with their kings in the inter-elf conflicts during the War of the Last Alliance. Or it could be that the Silvan elves were reluctant subjects of their Sindarin kings, in which case you have to wonder why they followed them in the first place… Finally, every elf group considered every other elf group to be inferior. Seriously, they’re ridiculous (take a look at the Elvish Cross-Cultural Relations series for more information.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I definitely feel bad for all the tragedies the Sindar, Teleri, and Silvan elves have faced in their history. Just as I feel bad for all the tragedies the Noldorin elves faced. But I also remember that these were all fully-fledged cultures with their own goals, motivations, and decisions. There is no “victim group” that had no option but to accept the suffering forced upon them by others.
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales (“The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”)
Oh, yeah, elves could definitely die and be killed in Valinor. The first elf to die there was Miriel, Feanor’s mother. After giving birth to Feanor she was so exhausted that she literally just laid down and died. And part of the confusion and drama that followed her death was simply that, it being the first death in Valinor, nobody really knew how to respond. But, while her death was a tragedy, she wasn’t actually killed by somebody else. So the first “killed” elf comes later.
After Morgoth and Ungoliant killed the Two Trees, the Valar asked Feanor to give up his silmarils in order to revive them. But Feanor refused, saying:
It may be that I can unlock my jewels, but never again shall I make their like; and if I must break them, I shall break my heart, and I shall be slain; first of all the Eldar in Aman.
His “first of all the Eldar in Aman” was a reference to the first slain - or killed - of the elves in Valinor. Which is why Mandos’s response (“Not the first”) is such strong foreshadowing. You see, what Mandos knows that the others don’t yet is that another elf has been killed while they were speaking - Feanor’s father, Finwe (who was killed by Morgoth when he came to steal the silmarils.)
So together Feanor’s parents were the first elves to die and be killed in Valinor. And then, after that, Feanor led the Noldor in the Kinslaying of Alqualonde, in which a presumably large number of Telerin elves were killed.
And, as far as I know, that’s it. It’s perfectly possible that other elves died (perhaps of hearbreak?) or were killed afterwards, but if that ever happened Tolkien didn’t write about it. I think it’s more likely that things were much more peaceful in Valinor after Feanor and the Noldor left.
To be honest, aside from what you’ve already mentioned, Tolkien doesn’t tell us too much about the more “magical” powers of music. It’s true that Finrod and Luthien were able to sing songs of power that were capable of challenging even Sauron and Morgoth, and it’s true that Tolkien mentioned in the LotR appendices that elvish minstrels could “make the things of which they sing appear before the eyes of those that listen.” And, of course, it’s true that the beginning of the universe came through music.
But, with specific relation to Maglor, we have very little information. And there’s no information on Maglor’s music having any “magical” effects or power. But, here’s what we do know:
Maglor was considered to be one of the greatest elvish singers of all time (second probably only to Daeron of Doriath.)
He famously wrote the song “Noldolante”, or “Fall of the Noldor”, which tells the story of Feanor’s revolt against the Valar, and the Kinslaying at Alqualonde.
Maglor’s names offer us a few clues. His father-name Kanafinwe/Canafinwe means “strong-voiced”, and the root word, kana/cana means “commander”. His mother-name, Makalaure, means “gold-cleaver” or “forging gold”, and was believed to be a reference to his great skill with a harp, which made a golden sound.
Finally, though it’s a bit of a stretch, I think it’s interesting that, in the Lay of Leithian, Tolkien says of Maglor: “who like the sea with deep voice sings yet mournfully.” I think this is interesting since we’re told in The Silmarillion that elves are drawn to the sea because they can hear the remnants of the Music of the Ainur in the water. If you squint at it, this could be a reference to there being some “magical” power in Maglor’s singing.
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, LOTR Appendices, The Histories of Middle Earth vol. 3 (“The Lay of Leithian”), 12 (“The Shibboleth of Feanor”)
Alright, here are the 10 most epic battles of Middle Earth’s history (in my humble opinion, that is, and listed in chronological order):
The First Kinslaying at Alqualonde (1495 YT) This battle was epic mainly because it was the first battle - the first time elves had ever acted in violence towards each other. It was very confused event (many of the Noldor didn’t know what had started the fight), and the Teleri weren’t very well armed. But in the end “the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in AlqualondÎ were wickedly slain. For the Noldor were become fierce and desperate.” The Noldor paid for this battle, both through an unnatural storm at sea, and by a curse laid on them by the Valar.
The Dagor Bragollach (455 FA) Also known as the Battle of Sudden Flame. This battle between Morgoth and the Noldor began with a great wildfire that burned much of the northern landscape of Beleriand. And then Morgoth sent out the real monsters: “In the front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his train were Balrogs, and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as the Noldor had never before seen or imagined.” This battle ended the centuries of relative peace in Beleriand, and was a turning point in the war.
The Nirnaeth Arnoediad (472 FA) Also known as the Unnumbered Tears, this battle was a (horribly failed) attempt on the Noldor’s part to counter Morgoth’s gains in the Dagor Braggolach. Several of our heroes meet their (incredibly heroic) ends in this battle, and it’s a definite low point in the war of the First Age. Most tragically, in the long run, “Great was the triumph of Morgoth, and his design was accomplished in a manner after his own heart; for Men took the lives of Men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those that should have been united against him.”
The War of Wrath (545-587 FA) This was the climactic conclusion to the wars of the First Age - when the Valar sent the great Host of the West to defeat Morgoth once and for all. Tolkien describes the battle itself, though, as such: “The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named the Great Battle, and the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count, so that Anfauglith could not contain it; and all the North was aflame with war. But it availed him not.” This battle was so epic, by the way, that by the time it was all over, the entire region of Beleriand literally sank beneath the sea.
The War of the Elves and Sauron (1693 SA) It was in this battle that Sauron began his crusade for power by invading and destroying the elvish realm of Eregion, and torturing their leader for information on the elvish rings of power. Then, when Elrond arrived with reinforcements from Lindon, it’s said that Sauron, “in black anger turned back to battle; and bearing as a banner Celebrimbor’s body hung upon a pole, shot through with Orc-arrows, he turned upon the forces of Elrond.” It took a siege, as well as help from Moria and Numenor, to push Sauron out of Eriador, but “From that time war never ceased between Sauron and the Elves.”
The War of the Last Alliance (3429-3441 SA) This was actually a longer war made up of individual battles (see this post for more info), but the conclusion of the war was epic enough all on it’s own to make this list - the defeat of Sauron, along with the deaths of Gil-galad and Elendil, all within the context of “The Last Alliance of Elves and Men”, which Elrond recalled thousands of years later: “It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled.”
The Battle of the Field of Celebrant (2510 TA) In this battle Eorl (who went on to become the first king of Rohan) led his people to the aid of Gondor’s army in their battle against the Balchoth of the east: “All hope was lost when, unlooked for, the Riders came out of the North and broke upon the rear of the enemy. Then the fortunes of battle were reversed, and the enemy was driven with slaughter over Limlight. Eorl led his men in pursuit, and so great was the fear that went before the horsemen of the North that the invaders of the Wold were also thrown into panic.” It’s no wonder that Cirion gave Eorl and his people the land of Calenardhon/Rohan in gratitude.
The Battle of Azanulbizar (2799 TA) This was the bloody conclusion to the nine year War of the Dwarves and Orcs, a war fueled by wrath and a desire for revenge on the part of the dwarves. The battle is plenty epic - heroes rise and fall on the doorsteps of Moria - but I think the most convincing claim to its epicness is that at the mere memory of the battle "the Orcs still shudder and the Dwarves weep"
The Battle of Five Armies (2941 TA) I think the name alone should tell you why the Battle of Five Armies made this list. And despite the fact that it doesn’t really take place within any sort of larger war or conflict, it’s still plenty epic on it’s own, including such moments as this: “Panic came upon the Goblins; and even as they turned to meet this new attack, the elves charged again with renewed numbers. Already many of the goblins were flying back down the river to escape from the trap: and many of their own wolves were turning upon them and rending the dead and the wounded.”
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (3019 TA) The greatest battle of the War of the Ring, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was absolutely epic. From Gondor’s valiant defense of Minas Tirith, to Denethor’s tragic deterioration, Aragorn’s timely arrival, and - most epically of all - the grand entrance of the Rohirrim (in a moment reminiscent of #6): “The hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.”
A few last notes about this list: it shows a clear (and probably unfair) bias towards the battles of the Third Age. I attribute this mainly to the fact that we just have a much more detailed account of the events of the Third Age - and detailed battles are always more epic. Also: what is epic, exactly? It’s incredibly subjective, so feel free to disagree with me. Finally, you’ll notice that I completely skipped all of the battles between Morgoth and the Valar, since we don’t have any details on them at all, and it simply wouldn’t be fair to compare “regular” battles to the clashes of the gods, now, would it?
SOURCES: The Silmarillion, LOTR, LOTR Appendices, The Unfinished Tales