The land called Summerset is the birthplace of civilization and magic as we know it in Tamriel. Located off the coast of the mainland, the Summerset Isles were made famous by the High Elves whose story reaches back to the dawn of time. Simply put? They were the first. The first farmers, the first scholars, the first mages, the first artists.
The Crystal Tower stands proudly in the Summerset Isles, as one of the largest monuments on Nirn. It was not built in honor of Kings or Emperors. Rather, it was built in honor of the early Aldmer ancestors, who worked and bleed so that Tamriel may know a future as rich as it is today.
Thanks to their contributions, the citizens of Tamriel speak a common tongue, and know the art of putting quill to parchment. It is safe to say that Tamriel, as we know today, would be a lesser place if it weren’t for the Altmer.
The young race of Men call them High Elves, because these Elves think themselves better than the other mortal races. They’re right. They are better.
They drink the finest wines, wear the finest clothes, and surround themselves with riches and treasures unimaginable; but for an Altmer this is not enough. A glass of wine, no matter how savory, or an enchanted blade, no matter how deadly- is never deemed worthy of their standards. In understanding why this is, we will get to know the Altmer as a people.
A High Elf can live for over a thousand years, and during all that time she strives for perfection. A long lifespan ensures that the Altmer aren’t amongst the best in Tamriel, they are the best, at nearly everything they do. In order to illustrate this one only needs look at their culture that stands as a shining example to the lesser races. Historians, both Men and Mer, agree that High Elven culture is the most civilized in all the world.
Intelligence is the most prized characteristic a High Elf can possess. While the inexperienced races of Men and Beast give leadership roles to the best killers amongst them, the leaders of High Elf society are scholars and thinkers. This race of intellectuals have unlocked the very secrets of Nirn through their study of the arcane.
They believe that everything that occupies Nirn is magic, right down to the plants growing in the ground. This practice has given birth to the study of alchemy.
As Highborn, Elder blood courses their veins, and as a consequence no mortal race matches their raw magical ability. The Bretons may have built themselves a reputation on Tamriel as talented mystics, but a studied High Elf makes any mage look like a conjurer of cheap tricks. Their Divine given advantages don’t stop there…
The Altmer are among the tallest humanoids residing in Tamriel. Golden skin, slender frames, and sharp features proves that these High Elves are what they say they are, the purest example of the ancient Elves that left Aldmeris all those millennia ago.
Society & Culture
Altmer themselves are formal which can make them seem cold and even pompous. While humans focus more on individual appearance, Elves value the stature and presence of an individual far more. Elves have a very high regard for proper order and uniformed styles. The races of Men usually don’t take the time to try and understand Altmeri society, and because of this lack of understanding, they jump to conclusions that often result in false prejudice.
From the outside looking in it is easy to dismiss the High Elves as arrogant. All it takes is one interaction with one member of their race, and a person can develop an early bias that they will carry with them for all time. To best illustrate this we look to a story of a First Era human ambassador, who had the rare privilege of visiting the Summerset Isles.
Eric of Guis, an ambassador of the Second Empire, spoke about how he could not understand the Elven pursuit for perfection.
“They surround themselves with riches and treasures, the works of great artists and the finest of everything, but have no real appreciation for any of these things” ~Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st Edition
What Eric of Guis wouldn’t or couldn’t understand is the fact that while he might look at a work of art and say it is perfect, a High Elf, who has practiced his craft for over a thousands years can see imperfections in brushstrokes far beyond what a short lived man could ever hope to detect.
Is this arrogance? Or is it simply the advantage a long lived race has over the childish race of Men, whose feelings are too easily hurt.
In the pursuit for uniform perfection and beauty, the High Elves make up the greatest artists and writers the Nine Provinces have ever seen. Everything, right down to their armor, speaks of a culture too rich for its own good. In Elven society everything is a blank canvas which can speak to the vast history of its people.
A Brief History
The Aldmer, the precursor to all Tamrielic Elves, began their story in the lost land of Aldmeris- in an age, shrouded in the mists of time. We may never know why the ancient Aldmer decided to leave their home behind them, but eons ago they arrived in the Summerset Isles, and Tamriel would never be the same.
The Tamriel these Elves discovered was very alien to the Tamriel we know today. In their ancient tapestries the early Aldmer settlers depict the Summerset Isles as an untamed land full of now extinct creatures like men made of stone and giants taller than trees. Judging by these ancient records we can assume that the early Aldmer must have been warriors of superior skill and tactics in order to defeat the many savage civilizations that called Summerset home before them.
Like the Khajiit of Elsweyr, who the Elves of Summerset have not yet met, their civilization was very advanced for its time. Early Aldmer society was built around agriculture and the equal treatment of its people. Note that that equality only extends to “their people”. Even early on in the evolution of their society, the Elves kept slaves in the form of goblins, who the Aldmer used to perform the jobs beneath their pedigree.
Gradually over a long period of time, their society grew too big for its own good. A hierarchy of classes began to form, which is still largely enforced in Summerset to this day. At the top are the Wise, teachers and priests, followed by the Artists, Princes, and Warriors. Lastly are the Landowners, Merchants, and Workers.
The religion of the people also changed because of this massive shift in society. As highborn children of the god-like Aedra the Aldmer worship their ancestors, but no longer did the Aldmer worship their own individual ancestors. Slowly over time the Aldmer formed a religion that revolved around the most powerful and well-known Aedra.
Akatosh, Mara, and Stendarr; all of whom are now worshipped as the Divines by Man, Elf, and Beast. Altmeri religion forms the foundation for most of the other religious practices on mainland Tamriel, and thusly, has been the single greatest legacy passed down to the young races of Men.
Although it was slow and very gradual, over the course of thousands of years, the Aldmer were changing. An odd thing for a culture who prized stasis and unified order. A group of elders rebelled against this trend. Calling themselves the Psijics, and keeper of the Old Ways, they departed from the Aldmer to settle in Arteaum, far away from what they called “the corruption of Elven society”.
The Psijics went on to do great things, and produce many amazing people including Vanus Galerion, founder of the Mages Guild. The same Mages Guild that made magic easily accessible to the common man. The Psijics would go on to serve as advisors to both Men and Elves, and their wisdom has proven to be a valuable insight to Man and Mer alike. Their exodus from the Summerset Isles marks the first real record of Elves splitting off from the original Aldmer that left Aldmeris. The first of many an exodus.
It was about this time in the Merethic Era when Topal the Pilot, the famous Aldmer explorer, set out to map the mysterious mainland of Tamriel. His expeditions spoke of a Tamriel untouched and untamed. To the West, deserts as far as the eye can see. To the North, Mountains whose roots run deep and peaks reach high. In the East, a marsh home to a race of reptilians who walk like men. To the south, exotic jungles teeming with intelligent beasts like the Khajiit.Tamriel, wildly beautiful in its own seductive way. It was land where even the lowliest among them could live as kings, given the determination.
With talks of this exciting “new world” on everyone lips, many Elves left Summerset to make a new life outside of the rigid Aldmer hierarchy. Some migrated to Valenwood and became the Bosmer, others to Morrowind and became the Dunmer. And yet others settled in Skyrim, High Rock, and Cyrodiil; each new branch opening a new chapter of Elven history, each with their own cultures, societies, and even religions. The Aldmer of lost Aldmeris took Tamriel by storm, and the Elves who elected to remain in Summerset became the “Altmer””, a slight deviation from the original name “Aldmer”.
An age came and went, and the Elves of Tamriel grew more and more defined by the lands they occupied. The Bosmer of Valenwood, now much shorter and agile, ushered in the First Era of recorded history with their First Cameron Dynasty.
As the First Era passed by them, it seemed the problems of mainland Tamriel were little more than amusing stories to the long-lived Elves in Summerset. The Isles of the highborn remain completely apart from the shores of the mainland, and as such, it served as a perfect buffer from many conflicts. The rise and fall of Empires, the battles between Man and Mer, none of these touched the Altmer. They had problems of their own…
The Sloads of Thras, physically unable to fight due to their massive girth, used necromantic magic and infernal machines to attack the Altmer throughout the First Era. Rumors say that the Sload were one of the original inhabitants of Summerset, and though they never succeeded in reclaiming Summerset, they visited horrors upon the land which are still remembered today.
To this day, it is on the seas that the High Elves excel in combat. There are villages in the central valleys of Summerset that have never seen battle, but along the coasts it is a much different story. The Maormer were a group of Elven exiles who relentlessly attacked the coasts of Summerset in an effort to conquer the High Elves. Though they never succeeded, they painted the coasts of Summerset crimson throughout the First and Second Eras.
Though isolated from mainland Tamriel the High Elves most certainly had problems of their own, but none of these threats came anywhere close to the Daedric threat stirring at the heart of Cyrodiil in the later years of the Second Era. In this, Tamriel’s darkest hour, Queen Ayreen of the High Elves realized just how dangerous the younger races became if left to their own devices. Molag Bal’s dark anchors mock the long dead Ayleids and the White Gold Tower which they constructed to honor the Aedra.
Knowing this human blunder could not stand, the High Elves of Summerset called upon their cousins in Valenwood, and the Khajiit of Elsweyr. Together they conceived the first Aldmeri Dominion.
The races of Men had inherited Cyrodiil after the Ayleids, and look at what they did to it. In their quest to put an Elven Emperor back on the Ruby Throne, the High Elves lead the Aldmeri Dominion the only way they knew how, as talented sorcerers and wise tacticians. With their talented mages and gifted healers strengthening the ranks of every detachment, the Aldmeri Dominion enforced Elven interests in Cyrodiil throughout the faction wars.
Thus, the Dominion thrived, that was until the coming of Tiber Septim.
It is now the dawn of Third Era and Summerset is broken. General Talos and his legions were enough to deal with, but the Altmer were forced to look in horror as Man employed the help of an old Dwemer relic known as Numidium. With this ancient Elven device the Empire’s legions swept over Summerset like a plague, and before long the Elder race was made to answer to the juvenile race of mortals, who had the impudence to impose their rule on a people far superior to theirs.
The High Elves recall the Tiber Wars with great shame and horror. Even Tiber Septim himself acknowledged the fact that the Imperial Navy stood no chance against the far superior Elven Navy. It wasn’t until the acquisition of the Numidium that the Empire actually stood a chance, and even then the High Elves fought tooth and nail to defend Summerset from the Imperials.
Tiber Septim’s victory over Summerset did more to harm the High Elves than any conquest ever waged on Tamrielic soil. The pride of its people, Summerset’s most important asset, was broken. For thousands of years, the Altmer have believed in their superiority to all other races and cultures in Tamriel, and for much of this time, they were right. But after the incorporation of Summerset into the Empire, doubts began to creep in.
The High Elves, perhaps for the first time in history, were second guessing what it meant to be Altmer. Some positive changes that came out of this was the acceptance of new cultures and races into their lands. On the other hand it is said to have helped paved the way for the second coming of the Thalmor.
The High Elves have been reluctantly serving under the Septim Empire for centuries, and although they secured the highest seats on the Elder Council, they still had to answer to a human Emperor.
The Oblivion Crisis hit the Empire hard, and it did not spare the Summerset Isles. During this time of strife and chaos a new incarnation of the Thalmor arose in the Summerset Isles, reportedly claiming to have saved the Altmeri people from Mehrunes Dagon and his Daedra host.
The Empire of Man had run its course, its failure to protect Summerset during the Oblivion Crisis had proved that. In the Fourth Era year 22, the Thalmor seized control of Summerset and renamed the land after the early reign of the King of Alinor. The High Elves were restored as an independent nation, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of depravity brought on by its former human masters.
Soon the Bosmer joined them, and later the Khajiit. The Aldmeri Dominion was reborn, but the liberation of its own territory was not enough. The Thalmor wish nothing more than to see the Elves restored to their former glory as the rightful rulers of Tamriel. It was Elves that erected the White Gold Tower. It was Elves that settled the land and bent it to their will in ancient times. And it would be Elves who would endeavour to do so again.
The Great War served as a message to the world. No longer would Elves sit on the sidelines of a history they wrote. As Dominion forces closed in on the White Gold Tower after fours years of bloody war, Tidus Mede II was forced to sign the White-Gold Concordat, essentially giving into the demands of the Thalmor.
No longer would the warmonger Tiber Septim be worshipped as a god. The Aedra belonged to the Aldmer, and they would rather die than see a Man be honored as a deity. With the Imperials forced to accept these terms the Thalmor sowed their own seeds of doubt into the minds of every Man, much like Man had done to the Elves centuries prior.
The effect this legislation had on the greater Empire would be just as catastrophic as the Numidium was on the Altmer centuries ago. Hammerfell rebelled and seceded from the Empire. Skyrim broke out into civil war, rendering it useless to an Empire already crumbling from within.
The mortal races, and their seemingly endless struggle for dominance over Tamriel, has left the land soaked in the blood, with much more blood yet to be spilled. And here we stand, at the crossroads of history. Man vs Elf. Atmora vs Aldmeris. Lorkhan vs Trinimac. Daedra vs Aedra. Think on this. In essence, they are all the same battle. Order vs Chaos. Stasis vs Change.
The Aedra may have created Tamriel and make up its fabric, but the chaotic law of the Daedra rules here. We have visited with guilds what worship this chaos, such as the Dark Brotherhood, whose roots run deep in Black Marsh.
The Argonians, the bizarre reptilian race whom were raided for centuries by the Dark Elves of Morrowind, who in turn supplanted the technologically advanced Dwemer, whose inventions are marveled at even today.
Then we turned our eyes to the north, to the throat of the world itself, where the Nords carved out a life for themselves at the expense of the Snow Elves. Skyrim, a land where the mighty Dragons once roamed free, and whose legacy now serves as the sigil for the Imperial Empire, who broke the chains of old Ayleid masters.
Next we journeyed to High Rock and Hammerfell. Lands divided by more than just race.
Then to Valenwood, whose sacred wildlife lies untouched by the industries of Man and Elf.
And Elsweyr, whose people are as diverse as the personalities they personify.
And finally, the Summerset Isles. Where many claim the story of Tamriel truly began.
We’ve explored the Nine Provinces, and the many races that inhabit it, and yet- there are many stories still untold. To say we’ve only just scratched the surface would be an understatement. On November 8th a new page will be turned as the Elder Scrolls Lore Series enters its second season. We will turn our gaze to those events and people that have radically shaped Tamriel, for better or for worse.
At this time I’d like to thank everyone watching for their tremendous and unwavering support of this series. Each time you tune in to an episode of Elder Scrolls Lore, you help keep the story going. Every time you guys ‘like’ or ‘share’ these videos with friends it ensures we get to come back another week and immerse ourselves in Tamriel’s incredibly rich lore and deep backstory. Kyle and I would want to give a special shoutout to anyone who has donated over the course of this series, whether it be time or money. Over the past 8 months we’ve been able to buy equipment for the show that would have impossible otherwise. If you’re feeling up to it, go back and watch the first installment of this series to see how far we’ve come thanks to our fans showering us in Septims every week. Lastly we’d like to thank Skyrim’s incredible modding community, which we will no doubt dip into even more come season 2.
Because of the tremendous response Elder Scrolls Lore has given us, we made it our goal to try and bring lore to the channel, not every other week like we are doing now, but each and every week. With that, I’d like to proudly announce a new lore series coming to the channel this November. Check it out…