In this chapter we explore the fiercely independent Dark Elves of Morrowind. Their culture differs greatly from the other provinces on Tamriel, and their impact on Elder Scrolls lore, is undeniable.
– Script –
It is a land whose ancient history is as dark and shrouded as it’s ash filled skies. Morrowind is the province in the northeast corner of Tamriel, but if you were to journey there, you would have a hard time believing you were still in Tamriel. The familiar plant and wildlife of the other provinces is exchanged for the bizarre and twisted life forms that can survive the unrelenting ash storms sent forth from the mighty volcano that dominates the island of Vvardenfell. Yes, Morrowind is an unforgiving place, and even if you were determined enough to endure the choking ash fall from Red Mountain, you’d still have to survive it’s inhabitants.
Appearance & Battle Prowess
Dark Elves, also known as “Dunmer” in the language of the Altmer, are the red-eyed peoples of Morrowind. Their ash colored skin compliments their environment perfectly, and it is this characteristic that the Iends them the name “Dark Elves”.
Both male and female Dunmer have a height similar to most of the human races. This means they are slightly taller than their Wood Elf cousins, but shorter than the lofty High Elves.Dark Elves tend to live very long lives, even for elves. A Dunmer living to the ripe old age of 300 is not unheard of. This makes the Dark Elves of Morrowind the most longed-lived mortals on Tamriel.
On the battlefield, Dunmer are noted for their balanced integration of sword, bow, and magic. As an elven race, the Dark Elves boast powerful intellects and agile physiques. Like their elven counterparts, the Dunmer grasp the arcane arts with ease, but beyond that they have a special gift for the destruction school of magic. Almost every Dark Elf you’ll come across can melt your face off if provoked. Their people produce some of the most skilled spell-swords in all of Tamriel.
When dealing with the other races of Tamriel, Dark Elves take elven arrogance to the extreme. High Elves might regard the younger races of man and beast as foolish children, but in Dunmer culture, elven supremacy has reached incredible heights. As a society, the Dark Elves view humans as no better than beasts, fit only for servitude. Slavery is a very real reality in Morrowind, and the Great Houses that govern the land- such as House Telvanni, have been practicing slavery for centuries. They are particularly fond of Khajiit and Argonian slaves who do well in their harsh environments.
Needless to say, the Dark Elves are not popular with the other races of Tamriel, and I think they rather like it that way. There’s is a nation that is fiercely independent. Dunmer distrust the other races, and thus, are treated distrustfully. Dark Elves are often seen as proud, clannish, ruthless, and even cruel. That’s what outsiders think anyway. As a culture, the Dark Elves greatly value loyalty and family.
According to the Dark Elves, the spirits of their dead relatives remain here on Nirn in the afterlife. They believe these spirits guide their future with an invisible hand. Strong warriors spirits are thought to preserve the honor and wisdom of the entire race, even from beyond the grave. The Dunmer honor their ancestral spirits by building family shrines, and offering up gifts as sacrifices. The oldest of the great ancestor spirits are thought to be the Daedra, who pull at the strings of fate with ease. Historically speaking, the Dunmer have resisted worshipping the Aedra altogether. Instead of following the Nine Divines, the Dark Elves choose to worship the Daedra, and the teachings of the Tribunal Temple. Where the rest of the Empire actively shuns and discriminates Daedra worshipers, Morrowind welcomes such practices with open arms. After all, without Daedric influences- we would not have Dark Elves on Tamriel.
A Brief History
The story of how the Dunmer came to reside in Morrowind is one of revelation and rebirth. You see, before they were the Dark Elves we see before us today, they were no different from the High Elves of the Summerset Isles, contently worshipping the Aedra. That was until the Daedric Prince of Plots, Boethiah, did what Daedra do best- enact change. Boethiah’s influence sparked a revolution amongst some of the Elves of Summerset. The result was a great exodus to the east- to Morrowind, which lead to the birth of a new culture on Tamriel. Although these exiled elves were physically indistinguishable from the Altmer of Summerset, they were given the name Chimer.
To make a long and bloody story short, when the Chimer reached Morrowind they discovered it was already home to race of Elves who called themselves the Dwemer, and although their two societies managed to coexist at first- cultures have a way of rubbing together… the result is often… quite violent. The Battle of Red Mountain was a great battle fought between the Dwemer and Chimer to decide the fate of Morrowind. It is probably one of the most significant battles ever fought on Tamrielic soil, yet, thanks to conflicting reports, history has forgotten what actually took place. All we know for certain is that that battle ended with the disappearance of the Dwemer race. An entire race gone, in the blink of eye, and out of the ashes came the Chimer- but they different. When the ash settled, the elves who remained were no longer the golden-skinned elves who left Summerset all those years ago. Their eyes were piercing red, their skin grey. Henceforth, Tamriel called them Dark Elves.
What caused the disappearance of an entire race, and the transformation of another? What force is powerful enough to change the course of history itself? Some will tell you that only the Elder Scrolls themselves wield such power. They’d be wrong in this case. We learned previously about a god named Lorkhan, who convinced the Aedra to help in the creation of Tamriel and Mundus. Lorkhan’s heart, the heart of a god, has resided here on Tamriel ever since, simply waiting to be found. Vivec, Sotha Sil, Almalexia. Three legendary Chimer, referred to as the “Tribunal”, found themselves in the possession of this ancient artifact, and with it they are thought to have ended the Dwemer in one foul swoop. The Chimer people saw their new heroes, this Tribunal, as their saviors. They prayed to the Daedra during their struggle with the Dwemer, but they did not answer. The Tribunal did.
And so it was, the Chimer saw the Tribunal as gods amongst mortals. Their new gods. Looking down on Chimer with disgust the Daedric Prince Azura cursed the Chimer. Henceforth, the Chimer would walk Tamriel transformed as Dark Elves.
While most of the local governance of the province continued through the Great Houses, the Dark Elves came to worship the Tribunal, following their teachings religiously. For thousands of years, the Tribunal used their power and leadership to protect the Dunmer from foreign invasion.
When the Daedric Prince, Molag Bal sought to make Tamriel burn in the Second Era, the Tribunal was ready to face the threat head on. Being more attuned to the magical forces on Nirn, the Tribunal had an important part to play. In an effort to avert the crisis the Dark Elves reluctantly gave up their Argonian slaves, and pledged their blades to the Ebonheart Pact, where they used their natural abilities to serve as skillful sorcerers. After the crisis was averted, the Dark Elves fell back into their old traditions.
Then came the dawning of the Third Era, when a man by the name of Tiber Septim came riding in with his Imperial Legions. Do to inner conflicts at the time, the Tribunal elected to sign a treaty with Tiber Septim’s Empire that made Morrowind an autonomous province, free to practice religion and tradition. Although this treaty still allowed the Dunmer to deal in human trafficking, Tiber Septim agreed to the terms. After all, he was wise military strategist. Tiber Septim knew trying to free slaves would disrupt long standing Dunmer tradition, so instead of facing the powerful Tribunal, he settled with an armistice.
The centuries following Tiber Septim’s reign were not good for the Dark Elves. At the closing of the Third Era, their sacred Tribunal were overthrown by Daedric influences. Morrowind’s greatest weapon, the Heart of Lorkhan, was destroyed. Suddenly their way of life was in peril, and to make matters worse, another Daedric Prince was on the move against them. During the chaos of the Oblivion Crisis Mehrunes Dagon did not spare the Dark Elves. As wave after wave of Daedra came pouring in through the Great Oblivion Gates, the Dunmer suffered greatly, but ultimately won the day. Morrowind would live to see another sunrise.
After fighting for their lives in crisis after crisis the Dark Elves thought they had escaped with their lives. They were gravely mistaken. While the Dark Elves were still licking their wounds in Morrowind, something was stirring in the swamps of Black Marsh. Suddenly and without warning the full military might of Argonia came crashing down on the Houses of Morrowind. While the Dark Elves barely had warriors to spare, the Argonians managed to emerge from the Oblivion Crisis stronger than ever. As it turns out, the Hist had warned the Argonians of the coming Crisis, and when Mehrunes Dagon opened his gates to invade Black Marsh, it was not the Daedra that came pouring out, but the Argonians that went running in to greet him.
Finding themselves at full strength by the end of the Oblivion Crisis, the Argonians turned their attention to the people on Tamriel that had been kidnapping their kin for a millenia, and even after they served together as comrades in the Ebonheart Pact. Already broken by the lose of their Tribunal, the Dunmer of Morrowind had no defense, and they crumbled under the wrath of the Argonian liberators.
Thoroughly defeated, and exiled from their homeland, the Dark Elves fled to places around Tamriel. Of course, Morrowind wasn’t really their home to begin with was it? Before the Dunmer, Morrowind belonged to the Dwemer, the most technologically sophisticated race to ever walk Tamriel- but that dear viewer, is a story for another day.