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Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls series of RPGs has been going for a long time, but it was with The Elder Scrolls lll: Morrowind when it took the structure we all know and love today. Releasing in 2002 for PC and the original Xbox, Morrowind was the first in the series to fully embrace the third dimension. It gave players a vastly superior sense of freedom and adventure than did previous entries.
The game was also the first in the series to win The Game of the Year award in 2005, by which time two expansion packs — Tribunal and Bloodmoon — had been released. Morrowind saw a huge visual and mechanical upgrade when compared to its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls ll: Daggerfall, but perhaps the biggest development came in the form of its lore.
As a setting, Morrowind represents one of the most interesting and historically dense regions of Tamriel. Not only is it featured as the focal point of the third game in the series, but It’s also the associated region within a stand-alone expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online. Detailed below are the key events occurring in the region of Morrowind between the 1st and 4th modern historical eras of Aurbis (the Elder Scrolls universe).
The lore detailed below contains a deluge of names to remember so, before we begin, here is a key you’ll find useful. Familiarize yourself with these names and their attributions first to get the most out of this overview.
Era: A denotation of time encompassing a seminal series of events within the world.
Nirn: The planet in which The Elder Scrolls video games take place
Tamriel: The largest continent of Nirn
Morrowind: A large landmass north-east of the map of Tamriel
The Altmer: A race of light-skinned Elves originating from the Summerset Isles. They are also known as ‘High Elves’.
The Chimer: Descendants of the Altmer known for their golden skin.
The Dunmer: The transformed form of The Chimer owing to The Tribunal’s activation of The Heart of Lorkhan.
The Dwemer: An ancient, technologically advanced race descending from the early Altmer. They are the original inhabitants of Morrowind.
The Nords: A race of men and women that originate from the province of Skyrim.
The Argonians: A race of reptilian beings that reside in the Black Marsh province geographically below Morrowind.
The Orcs: A race considered of barbarian nature by many of the inhabitants of Tamriel. They are thought to have origninated from Elves long ago.
The Nedes: A race of men and women originating from a variety of different provinces.
The Heart of Lorkhan: A divine artifact hidden within the caverns of Red Mountain: the catalyst for the tumultuous history of Morrowind. Three tools were created by the Dwemer to utilize the heart’s power: Keening, Sunder and Wraithguard respectively.
The Third Empire (Septim Empire): An empire established during the second era by Tiber Septim.
Tiber Septim: Dragonborn and ruler of the third empire, Tiber Septim is famous for being the only leader to unite the entirety of Tamriel.
The Tribunal: A trio of Dunmer leaders which included Sotha Sil, Queen Amalexia, and Lord Vivec.
Nervar: The first king of the Chimer — slane during The Battle of Red Mountain and presumed to have reincarnated as the protagonist of The Elder Scrolls lll: Morrowind.
King Dumac: The king of the Dwemer before their disappearance.
The Deadra: An innately powerful group of entities that inhabit the planes of Oblivion.
Azura: The Deadric Prince of Dusk and Dawn.
The region of Tamriel known as Morrowind—formerly known under the names Dwemereth, Veloth, Dunmereth, and Resdayn — is synonymous with the Dunmer race (dark elves). Descendants of the early Altmer (commonly known as the High Elves), the Dunmer were originally called the Chimer: a lighter-skinned race who undertook a religious pilgrimage to the region under the prophet Veloth.
Upon arriving in Morrowind, the Chimer found that they were not the first to have discovered the land. Among Orcs and Nedes, a race known as the Dwemer — which translates to ‘deep elves’ or, colloquially, ‘Dwarves’ — became the Chimer’s most significant opponent. Disputes over the land, accompanied by fundamental religious disagreement, led the two groups to war for some time.
The two warring races did concede to the need for an alliance, however, following the conquering of the region at the hand of the Nords around 1E 240; the Nords were a formidable opponent, partly on account of their ‘Thu’um’ ability, and so the Chimer joined forces with the Dwemer leading not only to the eventual defeat of the Nords but also to nearly 300 years of peace between the two groups. This coalition was referred to as The First Council, and from it, the Great Houses were founded.
The Great Houses would make up the ruling government of Morrowind between five separate factions: Houses Redoran, Telvanni, Hlaalu, Indoril, and Dres.
A Brewing Conflict
The period of alliance would not last forever. Following the discovery and attempted use of a Godly artifact known as the Heart of Lorkhan on behalf of the Dwemer, tensions rose.
The alliance between the Chimer and Dwemer was in large part forged by a friendship between Dwemer king Dumac and the Chimeri king Nerevar and, following arguments between the two leaders over the dangerous tampering with the Heart of Lorkhan, both factions relinquished their alliance and fought what would be their final conflict.
This fight would come to be known as The War of the First Council, occurring between 1E 688 and 1E 700, and the war culminated in The Battle of Red Mountain.
As well as the presence of the two warring factions, the Nords also joined the fray in an attempt to reclaim the region. In the aftermath of the battle, and in what remains one of the biggest mysteries of Tamriel, the Dwemer vanished from existence. Piles of ash were found where the Dwemer stood, their weapons lying beside them, with one of the most popular theories as to their disappearance being the ultimate usage of the tools associated with the Heart of Lorkhan.
Nerevar’s fate is another aspect of Morrowind’s history laced with mystery. Many suggest he succumbed to his wounds after a final showdown with his old friend Dumac, both kings fatally wounding each other. Other sources claim Nerevar died through the attempt to prevent his then corrupted ally Lord Dagoth from seizing the tools of the Heart of Lorkhan for himself — that he used the last of his strength to wound Dagoth, causing him to flee.
Regardless of the true nature of Nerevar’s demise, the fate of the Chimer then lay in the hands of Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil following The Battle of Red Mountain. These three individuals were Nerevar’s ‘Tribunal’: his most trusted advisors. They rose to the highest ranks of the First Council, and renamed it the Grand Council.
The three ruled the Chimer for many years, and as they did, the allure of the tools of the Heart of Lorkhan grew in Sotha Sil’s mind. Leveraging his plans with the grief Almalexia still felt for Nerevar, he convinced both Almalexia and Vivec to renounce their oaths to Nerevar and to the Daedric Prince Azura.
He convinced them that should they do so, they could become Gods. Each member of the Tribunal struck the Heart with the tools. This rendered them immortal beings.
An Act Not Without Consequence
Following their sacrilegious usage of the tools, the Tribunal gained divine power — a status of living gods. In rejecting the Daedra as the gods of the Chima, the Daedric Prince Azura appeared before them, furious at their sacrilege, and cursed the entire race to an appearance of dark skin and red eyes.
The Chima had become the Dunmer, the enraged Azura prophesying that Nerevar would come again to strip them of their false power.
“You think yourselves gods, but you are blind, and all is darkness.” — Azura
Despite the wrath of Azura, the Tribunal would lead the Dunmer for many years. They were accepted by the vast majority as new deities and worthy leaders. The Tribunal was worshipped by the Dunmer as their new gods, their Tribunal Temple representing the ultimate power of Morrowind. Alongside governance under the Great Houses, the people would enter their most prosperous period.
Although stable as a race, first era Morrowind would face further challenges before the beginning of the second era. A conflict known as The Four-Score War took place between 1E 2840 – 1E 2920 (the last year of the first era): it was a bloody war fought between the Imperial Reman Dynasty and the Tribunal.
The Tribunal ultimately resisted the Empire’s plan to relinquish their independence and, despite 80 years of fighting, an agreement was made for the Dunmer to remain free of Imperial control.
2nd & 3rd Era
The second era saw a furtherly prosperous period for the Dunmer under the Tribunal right up to its end. Where the majority of the world was in disarray, the unwavering and unprecedentedly strong leadership of the Tribunal and the Great Houses cemented the region as one of stability and strength. However, Morrowind’s independence still presented as a splinter in Tiber Septim’s master plan for a unified Tamriel.
Following further smaller conflicts between the Dunmer and the Empire, Tiber Septim and Tribunal leader Vivec met and declared a treaty titled The Treaty of the Armistice; the treaty aimed to assimilate Morrowind into the Empire while allowing for a large degree of autonomy, but it was felt as an act of betrayal on behalf of the Tribunal to many Dunmer.
Further to rising tension amongst the people, there was also the threat of Lord Dagoth’s return following his apparent awakening and recovery from his wounds.
Although the Tribunal and the Great Houses ultimately held their power, the alliance saw a greater imperial presence within Morrowind: six new administrative districts were created, legion soldiers were stationed liberally throughout the region, and Morrowind’s own military presence was substantially diminished.
The third era was a devastating time for the Tribunal. The first half of this time period saw the outbreak of the Arnesian War, a conflict fought between Morrowind and the Black Marsh — an adjoining region of waterways and thick swamps. This was the home of the Argonian race.
The war specifically involved House Dres, who had been accumulating Argonian slaves for generations to sustain agriculture. A slave revolt grew, culminating in the capture and torture of the since martyred Saint Roris. With Roris being a Tribunal loyalist, Morrowind sought war on these grounds and ultimately emerged victorious.
Only the Tip of the Iceberg
Despite its destructive effects, the Arnesian war was insignificant compared to what would follow. The supposed return of Nerevar in the form of the Nerevarine (or the ‘Incarnate’) shook already turbulent times to a period of chaos. This mysterious individual — along with his followers, the Nerevarine Cult — embodied the idea of the reincarnation of Lord Nerevar and, equivalently, a disdain for the Tribunal of whom they considered false Gods.
Around the same time, Dagoth’s return as Dagoth Ur threatened the very fabric of the region: through blocking access to the Heart of Lorkhan, Dagoth Ur jeopardized the cornerstone of the Tribunal’s power and influence. He also inflicted the curse of soul-sickness on Morrowind’s population, poisoning their minds and infecting their dreams.
Many Dunmer were mentally manipulated to swear allegiance to a new sixth house of Dagoth. The Tribunal had erected a ghost fence to contain the growing evil, and Dunmer who ventured beyond and back through were changed — corrupted beyond recognition, shadows of their former selves, and now staunch devotees of Dagoth Ur.
As the strength of the sixth house grew, so did their efforts of sabotage against the increasingly fragile Tribunal leadership. Dagoth Ur had agents steal two of the three sacred tools of the Heart of Lorkhan, but just as damaging were the spreading of rumours that the Tribunal were not who they said they were.
Dissident priests of the Tribunal temple began to doubt the history they had studied for hundreds of years, and fragments of truth about what really happened in the aftermath of the Battle of Red Mountain spread through whispers amongst the citizens.
As quickly as rumors of the Tribunal’s deceit infiltrated their minds, as did those that prophesied the return of Nerevar — a prospect gaining significant support amidst what was a multifactorial mental dissonance amongst the Dunmer people.
The End of an Era
Considering the rapid rise of Dagoth Ur as the Tribunal’s most critical problem, Vivek met with the so-called Nerevarine. After a lengthy discussion, he did indeed determine this mysterious character to embody his old leader Lord Nerevar and, with this realization, bestowed upon him the Gauntlet of Wraithguard: the remaining tool used for activating the Heart of Lorkhan.
The Nerevarine traveled to Red Mountain where he would destroy the Heart of Lorkhan using the gauntlet given to him by Vivek — another seminal moment in Morrowind’s history. The artifact’s destruction put an end to Dagoth Ur’s poisonous grip on the Dunmer people, but whilst simultaneously shattering the remaining power of the Tribunal. They were relieved of their status of gods and became mortal once more.
Already having slowly deteriorated into madness resultant of her fading divinity, (and in her maddening grasp to be the one true God of Morrowind) Almalexia fabricated an attack on Mournhold by Sotha Sil’s mechanical creatures, the Fabricant’s.
In the assessment that he’d gone mad and was a danger, she manipulated the Nerevarine into killing Sotha Sil who had retreated into his clockwork city. He dwelled in the deepest parts of the city in a state of depression and apathy under the weight of the Tribunal’s ruin. Arriving, the Nerevarine came to realize Sotha Sil was already dead — and at the hands of Almalexia.
Almalexia divulged her plan to the Nerevarine at length: how she was the savior of her people and that the Nerevarine was to be her martyr. The two fought fiercely, but the Tribunal queen’s diminished powers ultimately succumbed to the divinity of the incarnate.
With two of the three members of the Tribunal dead, the Heart of Lorkhan destroyed, and the once unstoppable trifecta of the Tribunal all but disintegrated, Azura appeared before the Nerevarine. She declared the deaths of the two fallen false God’s a victory for the people of Morrowind, telling him to embrace his destiny and to go forth with her blessing.
The dark prophecy of Azura had been fulfilled. Vivec disappeared shortly after with no one knowing what truly came of the warrior-poet and so, with all members disbanded, the Tribunal was no more. The Dunmer came to worship the Daedra once more, and the Gods Azura, Boethiah, and Mephala specifically.
The fourth era saw the calamitous eruption of Red Mountain due to the collapse of the Ministry of Truth (a huge suspended meteor that hovered above Vivic’s city) between 4E 4 and 4E 5. The disaster came to be known as ‘The Red Year’.
The lava obliterated the province of Vvardenfell as well as damaging other surrounding areas, and coupled with the upheaval of the Oblivion crisis, the region was suffering under the weight of yet another disastrous sequence of events.
To make matters worse, the Argonians capitalized on the unrest and mounted a devastating attack (as they had done in The Arnesian War). This event was known as The Accession War and occurred in 4E 6. Argonian armies slaughtered thousands as they pushed through Morrowind and overthrew the capital of Mournhold, and while House Rederand’s forces succeeded in pushing the invaders back, significant damage had been done.
The Great Houses were significantly weakened and many Dunmer left Morrowind entirely to seek refuge in comparatively safer regions.
With the Great Houses still functioning but exhausted, and with large areas of the land an uninhabitable wasteland, no one knows what the future holds for the region. But while the Tribunal’s rule was fraught with lies and deception, it remains unequivocal that in that period in history, the Dunmer were their most united and most powerful.