Sometimes called Dark Elves by outsiders, this proud—if suspicious—race prefers the name Dunmer. Out of the races of mer, and even man, the Dark Elves are the most distinguishable next to the Orcs. With a fiery crimson color engulfing their entire eyes and ashen skin covering their bodies, the Dunmer stand out in pure outlandish features and the fact that these features remind any who know of their dark past. Fittingly, they live in a land that pairs well with their characteristics. Morrowind is a land of ash, wastes and lava alongside strange vegetation and creatures. Situated in northeastern Tamriel and separated from its neighbors by the Velothi and Valus mountain ranges, along with the northern swamps of Black Marsh, Morrowind is its own little world.
Any who played The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind can remember one term the native Dunmer of the province loved to call foreigners: outlanders. The Dark Elves even call kin born outside of Morrowind outlanders and are regarded with distrust and contempt. When describing the atmosphere of Morrowind compared to other Elder Scrolls games, Todd Howard used the quote, “a foreigner in a foreign land.” A race of dark skinned elves, giant mushrooms, alien-like monsters, ancient steam-powered ruins, giant bug transportation, and buildings made out of the corpses of giant crabs does make one feel wonderment and being a stranger compared to the culture around them.
How did this race settle in these harsh lands? How is the history of the Dark Elves painted on their skin and eyes, and forged them into an independent and fierce race? All of this and more will be revealed herein on one of Tamriel’s most beloved and played races.
A History of Betrayal
At the dawn of the First Era, the Aldmer, ancestors of the High Elves, ruled southern Tamriel. From the heart of the Imperial City they reigned until the rise of man. But before then, a group of Aldmer chose to worship the Daedric Princes rather than the Aldmeri version of the Eight Divines. This schism was not bloody but was decisive. The Prophet Veloth received a vision from the Daedric Prince Boethiah, god of plots, to take an exodus to modern day Morrowind. With the daedra worshippers in tow, Veloth led them across the mountains that would later be named after him: the Velothi Mountains. Although not distinct from their Aldmer kin at all, they received a new name. The Chimer or “Changed Folk.”
When they crossed the threshold, the Chimer found a strange land with an even more curious race already inhabiting it. The Dwemer were the most technologically advanced race in all of Tamrielic history and the most agnostic in religious matters. The isle of Vvardenfell was dominated by the Dwemer, calling their land Dwemereth. The Chimer settled alongside them, but due to religious differences and the fact that the lands of Morrowind were promised for the Chimer by Boethiah, the two mer races clashed.
Details are fuzzy with these conflicts, but the unique gold-bronze weapons and technology of the Dwemer fought against Chimer magic and daedric faith on and off in these early years. By this time, mer dominance on the continent was beginning to wane with the rise of the First Nordic Empire in Skyrim and Saint Alessia rebelling against the Ayleids in Cyrodiil. 1E 240 marked the year Dwemereth and Chimeri lands were conquered by the Nords.
The hostilities between the Dwemer and Chimer ceased under Nordic rule and suppression. The two former enemies endured this lifestyle for nearly two hundred years before they joined together to repel their common enemy. Two prominent figures that made this happen took the reins of rebellion in 1E 401. The Chimer Indoril Nerevar and the Dwemer Dumac Dwarfking fought together with their respective people behind their backs against the Nords. For fifteen years they rebelled until 1E 416, overthrowing Nordic rule at the First Battle of Red Mountain, the Dwemer capital on Vvardenfell.
Nerevar and Dumac created the nation of Resdayn, the Dwemer and Chimer living together in a prosperous union. This prosperity was spearheaded by the leaders of Resdayn: the First Council. It comprised of Dumac and Nerevar, the latter of which had four trusted advisors of two Great Chimer Houses. Voryn of House Dagoth, and three of House Indoril: Sotha Sil, Vivec and Almalexia, the last being Nerevar’s wife.
One day, in 1E 688, Voryn brings news of the Dwemer discovering the heart of the dead god Lorkhan. Kagrenac, the tonal architect of the Dwemer, heads the project to use the Heart of Lorkhan and put it into a golem named Numidium to create a god. The Chimer people are outraged by this heresy as the Dwemer think the Chimer should keep to themselves. Once again, the two mer races are divided by their beliefs. Nerevar and Dumac try to negotiate peacefully over the Heart but to no avail.
Resdayn splits between its two races and becomes swallowed by war. Only House Dagoth sides with the secular Dwemer out of the Great Houses. The Dagoth-Dwemer forces are favored in the war until Nerevar rallies his people. The war’s climax comes about at the Second Battle of Red Mountain, the first being against the Nords two hundred years before.
Deep within the Dwemer fortress, the face of the Chimer changed into the Dunmer as the Dwemer mysteriously vanished off the face of Nirn. There are two main theories on the conclusion of the Second Battle of Red Mountain and how the Tribunal of Morrowind rose to power. Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Vivec stood with Nerevar against Dagoth Voryn, who was driven mad by the Heart of Lorkhan. The Tribunal says that Nerevar fell in battle against Voryn. But they somehow, and without much detail, attained godhood. And this is where the second and more widely believed theory comes into play. This theory states that the Tribunal struck down Nerevar since he wanted to destroy the Heart of Lorkhan and they craved its power. In their hubris, the Tribunal then sealed Dagoth Voryn and the Heart inside Red Mountain, tapping into the Heart annually to sustain their god-like powers. The Daedric Prince Azura cast the curse on the Chimer, making their skin ashen and eyes crimson. The Changed Folk had changed once again.
Now on the same level as the Daedric Princes, the Tribunal asserted their triumvirate as a theocracy over the newly named Morrowind. They replaced the Daedric Princes in worship and Nerevar as political leaders. With Boethiah’s promised land finally freed of the Dwemer’s heretical science and technology, the Dunmer revere the Tribunal. This ruling body has gained two nicknames, Almsivi—a combined name for Almalexia, Sotha Sil and Vivec—and the Three Thieves of Morrowind, curiously coined by Mannimarco the God of Worms.
Mimicking the days of Resdayn, Morrowind was thriving under the rule of the Tribunal and the council of the five Great Houses. Between 1E 700 and 1E 2840, the spotlight on Tamriel shifted to the other provinces began bloody conflicts. One for Morrowind and the Tribunal to note would be the rise of the Reman Dynasty and the Second Empire. For the first time in 2287 years, the borders of Mother Morrowind were threatened by the Akaviri. Although the Dunmer aided the newly born Empire against invaders from Akavir in 1E 2703, their relations would soon change.
It was this Cyrodilic Empire that came for their land in 1E 2840, threatened by a force of man for the first time since the Nords invaded in 1E 240—twenty four centuries of Morrowind being left alone by man. By this time, Reman II had conquered all of Tamriel under his rule. Everyone but the daedra-worshipping Dark Elves. With the acquisition of Black Marsh as a province, Reman II turned his eyes to the last corner of Tamriel.
The Dunmer and Tribunal of Morrowind proved to be strong adversaries. The war between Morrowind and the Second Empire was named the Four-Score War for lasting eighty years. Even the immortal and god-like Tribunal was being run ragged, and Reman II died before seeing the conclusion of his last war. In retrospect, it may have been good he did not witness the end. His son, Reman III inherited his father’s war. Right as the Imperials took a Dunmer fort, a peace treaty was proposed, and an exhausted Tribunal was happy to move to the table for negotiations.
A twist of fate would see Morrowind free, however. The advisor for Reman III, the Akaviri Potenate Versidue-Shaie, betrayed the Emperor by killing him and his sole heir. In 1E 2920, the Potenate declared his rule over the Second Empire and also decreed the start of the Second Era.
In the smoky catacombs beneath the city where Sotha Sil forged the future with his arcane clockwork apparatus, something unforeseen happened. An oily bubble seeped from a long trusted gear and popped. Immediately, the wizard’s attention was drawn to it and to the chain that tiny action triggered. A pipe shifted half an inch to the left. A tread skipped. A coil rewound itself and began spinning in a counter direction. A piston that had been thrusting left-right, left-right, for millennia suddenly began shifting right-left. Nothing broke, but everything changed.
‘It cannot be fixed now,’ said the sorcerer quietly.
He looked up through a crick in the ceiling into the night sky. It was midnight. The second era, the age of chaos, had begun.
—2920, Last Year of the First Era: Evening Star.
The Second Era witnessed much in-fighting and bloodshed. Many people in the Empire opposed the snake-like Akaviri to rule over Tamriel. Versidue-Shaie changed his focus to suppressing rebellions and revolt from dealing with the Morrowind peace talks. The Akaviri Potenate, although ambitious, had his hands full with the Empire he just usurped and left the Dark Elf homeland alone.
This means when the Interregnum came crashing down after the second Potenate’s death in 2E 430, Morrowind emerged from the chaos relatively unscathed. This is due to the sheer fact that Morrowind was not part of the Second Empire and thus was unaffected by its downfall. Of course with this unrest throughout the continent, Morrowind couldn’t have another streak of numerous centuries of peace.
Only now do we get to the time of The Elder Scrolls Online. The Dunmer have entered into a peculiar alliance with their former Nord enemies and free Argonians. This alliance was named the Ebonheart Pact, after the city on mainland Morrowind or the fort on Vvardenfell. From a Dark Elf standpoint, they see this Pact as a necessity and one they have to endure in order to stand up to the Aldmeri Dominion, Daggerfall Covenant and the Imperials.
The last of the listed factions above holds great importance to the people of Morrowind. The Imperials are playing a dangerous game, one with Mannimarco himself, the infamous necromancer. The high elf himself has an even darker shadow behind him: the Daedric Prince Molag Bal. Boethiah, the ancestor of the Dunmer, is a grave enemy to Molag Bal. Thus the religion of the Dark Elves has Molag Bal as an enemy. To Morrowind, the war against Cyrodiil is not just one to preserve their self-rule, but to test themselves against a religious archenemy.
After The Elder Scrolls Online, the rise of Tiber Septim inevitably comes. The ingenious general unites all of Tamriel, one province at a time. But just like the Reman Dynasty, he comes to Morrowind; but unlike Reman II the Dark Elves aren’t the last targets.
This time though, the Dark Elves do not fight for eighty years. The Tribunal’s power is on the wane. Dagoth Ur, formerly Dagoth Voryn, will reemerge and begin meddling with the Heart of Lorkhan deep within Red Mountain. Not only that, but the five Great Houses of Morrowind—a major chain in leadership just below the Tribunal—are divided.
Only House Hlaalu wants to welcome the Imperials and their business. House Telvanni takes a neutral stance; Houses Redoran, Indoril and Dres are the only ones to resist the incursion of Tiber’s armies. With the Tribunal dealing with Dagoth Ur, the Imperials push as far as sacking the capital of Mournhold before Almsivi come to the negotiation tables. Tiber Septim does not suppress the Dunmer like the First Nordic Empire did an era before. After all, he is one living god against three. The main reason for the end of the war is the greater problem of Dagoth Ur interrupting the Tribunal from gaining access to the Heart.
For the first time in Morrowind’s history, they are within an Empire based in Cyrodiil. The Dunmer are the longest holdouts but they bend knee to Tiber Septim not on the battlefield but at the negotiation table. It only takes them 3816 years to come under the fold of a Cyrodilic Empire.
Under the terms of the treaty, Morrowind’s deep-seated traditions are left intact but the status quo changes dramatically for the Dunmer. Outlanders and Imperial businesses take hold of Morrowind, planting seeds of contempt in the natives through economic means.
Up until this point, House Indoril is the strongest of the Great Houses. House Indoril’s transition into the Third Era will be a bloody one. House Hlaalu, seeing an opening to gain power, launches a campaign of assassinations and coups against Indoril. The biggest change in power is between these two Houses, Hlaalu becoming best friends with the Third Empire and using underhanded tactics.
Third Era & Beyond
“You are too young to remember the Nerevarine. He defeated Dagoth Ur and saved us all from the Blight.”—Neloth of House Telvanni
What will come for the Dunmer people in Tamriel’s Third Era is prophetic irony. A prisoner born on a certain day to uncertain parents is sent to Morrowind. This prisoner, ignorant of his role at first, comes to realize he is the Nerevarine—the reincarnation of the Chimeri hero, Indoril Nerevar. Just as Azura prophesized, the Nerevarine comes to right the wrongs of the Tribunal by stopping a mysterious Blight and killing Dagoth Ur. The Nerevarine also destroys Kagrenac’s Tools—the very ones that hold the Heart of Lorkhan in place for the Tribunal to use the ancient relic. When this happens, the Heart vanishes from Nirn.
That same year, 3E 427, Almalexia goes mad at the loss of her divine power. Sotha Sil loses his life by her hand, by this point Vivec is gone and only the Nerevarine stands in her way. Azura has a knack for making a good story. The Nerevarine, the reincarnation of Almalexia’s husband, is the one who slays her.
With the Nerevarine’s task complete, rumors spread that he goes on to explore Akavir rather than take advantage of the power vacuum, leaving Morrowind to forge its own way without the guidance of the Tribunal or any ancient leaders.
Morrowind sees abandonment by the Imperials running back to defend their homes in Cyrodiil during the Oblivion Crisis. Left to fight for themselves, the Dunmer rally their native forces to fight back Mehrunes Dagon. They manage to hold their ground but fortune would not let them relax. The eruption of Red Mountain during the Red Year brings mass devastation over Vvardenfell and the rest of Morrowind. Ash destroys much life and many cities. In their most dire tragedy, the Empire has left them, and the recently seceded Argonians storm in, the Oblivion Crisis having the opposite effect on them.
House Redoran takes the reins to defend Mother Morrowind. Mournhold crushes under the Saxhleel’s might. But Redoran holds fast and stops the onslaught from advancing farther north. With the capital in shambles, the city of Blacklight transforms into the new capital of Morrowind within Redoran’s district. Even so, the Red Year and Argonian Invasion disperse the Dark Elves from Morrowind. In 4E 20 all nine Jarls of Skyrim convene not for a Moot, but to give the isle of Solstheim over to Morrowind to have refuge. Mercy comes from a surprising source: Morrowind’s first conquerors.
“We, the Jarls of Skyrim, hereby decree this site as monument to the struggle of those who fled their native home of Morrowind in the time following the Red Year.”
–Decree of Monument, 4E 20
Politics, Religion and the Great Houses
The fall of the Tribunal, like many other things throughout history, see the rise of a new force: the Good Daedra. Technically, they had never gone away but were replaced by their mortal symbols—the Tribunal. As such they are called the Anticipations.
Vivec, Almalexia and Sotha Sil each stand for one of the Anticipations. Vivec is the male to Mephala’s female, the Prince of plots and secrets. Through Mephala are the Great Houses made along with the Morag Tong assassin guild used by the Houses. Almalexia represents Boethiah, the one who led the Dunmer to Morrowind. Sotha Sil symbolizes Azura in magic and fate, especially the latter via Azura’s curse transforming the Chimer to the Dunmer.
When the Tribunal is ultimately undone early in the 4th era, the worship of the Good Daedra reemerges as the Reclamations. Ever since 1E 700 a nomadic sect of Dunmer known as Ashlanders had adamantly refused to worship the Tribunal and revere the Daedric Princes proper. After the Red Year and the Argonian Invasion, the new Dunmer Temple commemorates these Ashlanders as the true believers. However, while there are good groups of Daedra there are also Bad Daedra. Sometimes called Rebel Daedra for not recognizing the Tribunal, their worship in Morrowind is outlawed. Similar to the Tribunal representing the Good Daedra, there are physical manifestations of the Bad Daedra as well. These Daedric Princes are also collectively known as the House of Troubles.
The Bad Daedra are comprised by Molag Bal, Mehrunes Dagon, Malacath and Sheogorath. So far, two of these four Princes have attempted or will attempt to invade Nirn. Molag Bal is called the King of Rape in Morrowind, meddling with the gene pool and Dunmer purity, and is also the mortal enemy of Boethiah, one of the Anticipations. As stated earlier, when Molag Bal invades in the events of the Elder Scrolls Online, it’s a holy war and a test of faith to the Dunmer when going up against him and the Imperials he now influences. This Daedric Prince even seduces Vivec sometime in the Second Era and the product of their union is the monsters that roam the Molag Amur region on Vvardenfell.
Malacath is the vengeful god of the Orcs and tests the Dunmer for physical weakness. The Nords, Orcs and any foreign foe can be a test that Malacath throws at Morrowind. Mehrunes Dagon represents destruction through weather and nature and tests the Dunmer for determination to persevere. The Red Year is a prime example of a test Mehrunes Dagon sends to Morrowind. Sheogorath’s fickle personality tests the Dunmer for mental weakness and represents paranoia and fear, especially of outsiders. Sheogorath can aid or hinder any who summon him or just happen to stumble across him. He also tests the Dark Elves for alertness and caution.
Even though the Rebel Daedra are aptly named the House of Troubles, they are not the only House in Morrowind. There are the five Great Houses that rule on a local level below the Tribunal and have their own lands. The prominently known Houses, and ones predicted to be in The Elder Scrolls Online, are Indoril, Hlaalu, Dres, Telvanni, and Redoran. Their capacities in the game are unknown and not available to join—at launch. Their current states, in terms of both character and strength in Morrowind, may be very different from what we see in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
For most of Morrowind’s history the Five Great Houses stay rather static until the Third and Fourth Eras. House Indoril is a staunch conservative and ties itself closely with the Temple, the Tribunal having stemmed from it. They control the land of central Morrowind around the city of Mournhold. Indoril is the prominent House in the Dunmer land until Tiber Septim engulfs Morrowind into his Empire.
Unlike most of the other Great Houses and most Dunmer, Hlaalu is expansionist and cosmopolitan, their seat of power is Narsis in southwestern Morrowind. As stated earlier, the eventual fall of House Indoril gives way to House Hlaalu’s growth. Even before this rise, when we encounter the house in The Elder Scrolls Online, House Hlaalu is renowned for their business acumen and penchant for commerce.
House Dres enjoys the slave trade throughout the eras on the southeastern portion of Morrowind. They use slaves, mostly Argonians, to work on vast plantations. House Dres keeps Morrowind fed with crops, and slaves serve masters the food. In Tear, their district capital, there are infamous slave pens that hold thousands of captives. It can be predicted that they will receive much anger from the Argonians, their allies in the Ebonheart Pact.
The eccentric House Telvanni resides on the northeastern peninsula and Port Telvannis is their capital. The Telvanni are very educated to the pursuit of magic and the arcane, so much that they are neutral in almost all affairs. They also partake in the sport of in-fighting subterfuge and power struggles, exuding an atmosphere of selfishness. In the Elder Scrolls Online, they are against the Ebonheart Pact and refuse to join it. How this plays out in-game is currently unknown.
The final of the Five Great Houses is Redoran. Valuing discipline and swordsmanship, their district is rightly placed in the northwestern corner of Morrowind, bordering Skyrim with their district capital of Blacklight. They always have Morrowind in the forefront of their minds, and more than likely possess this mindset in The Elder Scrolls Online.
The Dunmer and the Ebonheart Pact
The Dark Elves maybe a suspicious and treacherous lot—they have a government sanctioned assassin guild by the Eight—but they are cunning and have a fire for independence. Morrowind, up until Tiber Septim’s Wars, is the holdout against Cyrodilic rule and obviously wants to keep it that way by joining with the Nords and Argonians. They have political divides, but all of them want to preserve their freedom and traditions from the Imperials and the other two alliances. So much that they ally with former conquerors and a lesser beastman race. With Almalexia spearheading the operations against Molag Bal, the Dunmer will fight for something they have always fought for: autonomy. She and her kin will make sure that Mother Morrowind not bend the knee to any foreign invaders, be they mortal or daedra.