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Who are the armies in the Battle of Five Armies anyway?


In his review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, David Bratman makes the astute observation that the title of the film goes unexplained. Unless the extended edition changes this when it’s released – presumably in November 2015 – viewers will have to decide for themselves which groups Peter Jackson considered one of the five armies.1

Tolkien, in contrast, makes it quite clear in the book (The Annotated Hobbit, ed. Douglas A. Anderson, p. 339):

So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.

There we have it. The five armies refer to the Goblins, Wolves, Elves, Men and Dwarves. Case closed? Well, not quite.

What about the Eagles who turn the tide? Considering their appearance represents the great eucatastrophic moment of the battle surely they deserve to be counted amongst the five? Apparently not. And what of Beorn? Although he arrives alone at the last hour, he plays a key role in retrieving the injured Thorin and killing Bolg of the North.

Our other belligerents play less of a role in the battle, but don’t fit into any of the five groups. There’s Gandalf the Wizard and of course Bilbo the Hobbit. And we mustn’t forget the Bats (and the Ravens?) too.

The manuscripts published in John D. Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit (2007) reveal that Tolkien’s conception for the ending of the story changed dramatically in the course of writing the book. Under his initial plan (see Plot Notes B, p. 366), the climactic battle of the story would not have involved dwarves at all, and would have taken place in – what we know as – the Anduin vale as Bilbo travels home from the Lonely Mountain after he (yes, Bilbo) killed Smaug. Here the Goblins and Wargs would have battled the Wood-elves, the Men of the woods and the south, and Beorn leading a host of bears.

Tolkien abandoned what Rateliff refers to as the ‘Battle of Anduin Vale’ and moved the climactic battle to the Lonely Mountain. This may have occurred when Tolkien jotted down Plot Notes F (p. 629) as this is the first time dwarves are mentioned as participants (and it is also where the name ‘Battle of Five Armies’ first appears):

1 2 3 4 5
woodelves Dwarves eagles men bears goblins wolves
6 7

These jottings suggest that at this point the five armies referred only to those groups fighting the forces of evil, and that there would be a combined total of seven armies. It was only in writing the final chapters that the tale familiar to us emerges (the Third Phase manuscript, p. 670):

So began the battle in a fashion none had expected. And it was called after the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. For upon one side were the Goblins and the Wolves and upon the other were men[,] elves and dwarves.

Personally I wish Beorn’s troop of bears had made it into the final story!

For more information see John D. Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit (2007), pp. 713-9. The book is a fascinating read as a whole and is highly recommended. A shorter version, focusing more on Tolkien’s manuscripts and less on Rateliff’s commentaries, will be published next month on 15 January as Brief History of The Hobbit.



  1. Although if the extended edition does identify the five armies at all, one would hope that it does so more tactfully than the 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit (where curiously the Eagles are identified as an army, while the Wolves are not).

UPDATE 28/12/2015: Although the extended edition itself did not clarify who the five armies were, a behind-the-scenes documentary did. According to “Beneath the Thunder: Forging a Battle of Five Armies” on The Appendices Part 12, the five armies refer to Men, Elves, Dwarves, the Orcs of Dol Guldur, and the Orcs of Mount Gundabad.


About the Author: Daniel Helen

Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society’s digital operations, including this website.

  • filiz

    I do not agree with you partly. The Eagles didn’t come for treasure as dwarves, elves, men or orcs did. They only came for help, for the future of the Middle-Earth. It was not their “treasure” war. They wanted to stay againist to darkness. Maybe it could be a reason for why they called 5 armies 🙂
    If we could think like you do we must add Gangalf the Grey and Radagast. They fought with them and we could surely call them an army 🙂

    • That’s an interesting idea – that the five included only those who were part of the battle from the beginning. Textually that makes sense as Tolkien describes the armies and calls it the “Battle of Five Armies” before he reveals the appearance of the Eagles.

      Radagast wasn’t part of the battle in the book, of course, although Beorn does seem to know him.

      • filiz

        And also Galadriel fought with them to protect Gandalf, Saruman, and the Elvish King. These names are not part of the battle in the book but we could see a lot of things that is not in the book.

      • I had always assumed that Tolkien choose the number five, because of the armies who were on the field at the start of the battle, Goblins, Wolves, Elves, Men and Dwarves.
        Gandalf and Bilbo as individuals in this case, would not count as armies.

    • Dan DiBenedetto

      He was only referring and suggesting this due to the fact that the film that was released in the ’70’s included the Eagles as an army. Also, as he mentioned it is not clear in plain ole’ black and white that in Peter Jackson’s adaptation, there was not a “5th” army until the Eagles turned the tide in the end.(and he mentioned we have to wait until the extended release comes out to maybe explain this in detail) Yes, they could careless about the gold. And I’m making a “HUGE”(insert sarcasm here) assumption, neither did the Wargs (wolves) or bats. Simply put- just because they weren’t fighting for the entire hoard of gold, a promised paymentreward, owed prized jewels etc. Does not mean they (Eagles) can not be ruled out as the 5th army. And I now just realized I rambled way too much agaisnt your opinion!

    • jack shap

      If you asked me I would count goblins and orcs as two seperate armies, but when tolkien wrote the hobbit, he had not yet made the distinction between the two creatures and used both words interchangeably. It wasn’t until lord of the rings did he specifty that they were different creatures, like a wolf compared to a dog.

  • Bregolas

    Yes it seems that the Wargs were pretty much left out of the film. Perhaps PJ counted the Orcs as two Armies. Gungabad and Dolguldur.

    • Chris Lawson

      Yes, absolutely agree – the Gundabad orcs are quite clearly referred to as “another army” in the film. The wargs in the film are nothing more than mounts for the orcs.

      • Bregolas

        My biggest dislike. I cannot fathom why PJ didn’t simply have Azog and his Army (with their Wargs) and the remaining Goblins from Goblin town join forces. This along with the lost opportunity to use the bats (birds in the book) to shade out the Sun making the dark forces able to tolerate daylight. Imagine the impact if at the last minutes of battle had The Eagles fly in and break up the bat cloud allowing the Sun to help weaken the Orcs/Goblins and turn all of those rather stupidly huge Trolls to stone. Would have been Epic. I also wanted Beorn to kill Azog…. Oh well.

        • jack shap

          in the book, if i recall correctly, the goblins from the goblin town where the only goblins ever mentioned through out the entire book. Before tolkein wrote the lord of the rings, he used the words goblin and orc interchangeibly. While “Azog the great goblin” is a really cool character, he was only mention at the battle outside Moria, where he killed Nain, then was in turn decapitated by Dain Ironfoot. He had a minor roll and was only mentioned in one paragraph, he wouldn’t even be alive during the battle of the five armies.

      • jack shap

        like horses for men, i wouldn’t go as far as to say they were a seperate army

    • jack shap

      Although i didn’t agree with many of Peter Jacksons changes to the book, I do like that he clarified this. I mean this does make sense, The elves from Mirkwood= 1 army. THe dwarves from the iron hillls= 1 army, the men of lake town=1 army, the orcs of gungabad= 1 army and the orcs from dol guldor= 1 army. Its like saying Brittish, American and Russian army versus the german and Japanese army in world war two.

  • Shadow Faststart

    And will someone please tell me why in the Hobbit movies do the trolls encountered at the beginning of the story turn to stone in sunlight, yet the trolls used during the battle of five armies don’t turn to stone!

      • Frank and beans

        Who ever made this vid clearly did not read any of the books.

        • Tyga Ny


        • Frank Carlson

          The guy who made the video is BrotherhoodWorkshop, and he has read the books. He made a ‘The Hobbit in 72 Seconds’ video which was based on the book.

    • jack shap

      I dont know for sure but in the movie those trolls were troll-men, half man half troll and they only where there because Peter Jackson wanted to go out with a huge bang for his final movie in middle earth. The troll men are cannon to middle earth as Tolkien mentioned them in the battle of pelenor fields. All trolls turn to stone when sun touches them and peter jackson even made it evident in his first hobbit film, besides they had weird shaped limbs and where more flesh colored. I’m not stating facts, this is just what i think.

    • Tyga Ny

      There are different types of trolls. Some turn to stone, but they are all sensitive to light. Some are regular dumb and some are just plain stupid where they can’t even talk, those are usually used in the armies as they are not as light sensitive and they do whatever they are told. There are some who are intelligent and not light sensitive but that comes from black magic and they died out at the end of lord of the rings.

  • food

    Radagast was not part of the battle in the book, of course, does Beorn, Although seem to know him. It is an excellent blog very good very good information good job

  • Alan Morrison

    I thought it was the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and then the 2 different armies of orcs. There were the ones that came from the tunnels and then the ones that came from the North

    But my hope was that the 5th army would be the undead… since the “Necromancer” aspect would have made much more of an impact, rather than a 2nd orc army

  • jack shap

    I think i should clarify the whole debate over the actual number of armies. Before tolkien wrote the lord of the rings, goblins and orcs where synonyms, so i think he grouped the wargs as there own army. Logically speaking, you wouldn’t call the riders of rohan’s horses an army would you? There actual armies there where the Gungabad orcs(1), the Goblins from the Misty Mountians(2), the woodelves of Mirkwood(3), the men from lake town(4) and the dwarves from the Iron Hills(5). There was also a bear-changer, an Istari Wizard, a hobbit and animals like wargs, bats and eagles but i wouldn’t classify them as an army since they politcally organized. If wargs spoke and wore armor and carried swords then i would change my mind. It’s not exactly true to tolkiens earlier writting, but as he developed middle earth, he clarified things better and this fits into that clarification. Hope that helped

    • Andy Gn

      The Five are from the Elves, Men, Dwarves, Valar against Morgoth from the First age, following ages in the movie.

    • Frank Carlson

      The Wargs actually do speak in the book, when they have the dwarves cornered on the trees. Gandalf can understand them.

  • Net Verse

    (1) you have the Dwarfs and the Hobbit in the Mountain [Thorin’s tiny army]; (2) the people of the lake-town show up [Bard’s army]; (3) the Elves show up [Elfin army]; (4) Thorin’s cousin shows up to assist [ Dáin’s army]; (5) Trolls and their evil counter parts, could be classified as the EVIL Army, or divided into more than one if you really want to nit pick. (6) The Bird creatures with the bear changelings came to help, another army. Now, I would say it is logical that Thorin and Dáin are one Army, being that they are blood relatives. There you have it, your five armies; the four good armies against the one evil army. Dwarfs, lake-town people, Elves, Birds w/ changelings, and the evil creatures, all make up five groups.Logic dictates all this.People are always trying to make something more complicated than what it really is.

  • Tyga Ny

    I wouldn’t classify the eagles as an Army. Army definition: “an organized military force equipped for fighting on land”.

  • Clive

    Not goblins. Orcs. There is no reference of the word ”goblin” in the Tolkien universe.

    • I’m afraid that’s just not true. “Goblin” is used throughout The Hobbit and occasionally in The Lord of the Rings.

  • Leo Turner

    I have heard it as this the orcs and the wargs combined, the wood elves, the men of lake town, the dwarves of the iron hills, and the company of dwarves.

  • Leo Turner

    by the way, goblins and orcs are the same race, different cultures