This article is about the mythical demon, for King Canute's steward of England see Orc (steward).
Missing image
A typical fantasy Orc.

Orc (sometimes spelled Ork) comes from the Latin word Orcus, a title of the god Pluto, the king of the underworld. It was later used to refer to the underworld itself. The word appears later in the germanic languages without its Latin ending, in the more familiar form of "Orc". It was then revived by J. R. R. Tolkien in his fictional stories of Middle-earth as the name of a race of creatures that are often used by evil forces as soldiers.


Sources of the name "orc"

In Beowulf, ll: 112,the zombie-like Grendel's race is described as Orc-nas, which seems to mean "corpses of Orcus." Orcus, in Roman mythology, was an alternative name for Pluto, Hades, or Dis Pater, god of the land of the dead. The name "Orcus" seems to have been given to his evil and punishing side, as the god who tormented evildoers in the afterlife. Like the name Hades (or the Northern Hel, for that matter), "Orcus" could also mean the land of the dead. Tolkien derived his 'Orcs' from this passage in Beowulf. (See below.)

However, the word "orc" had long existed in English as the name of a type of sea monster. This derives ultimately from Pliny the Elder's description of the orca, modulated through the long tradition of Medieval Bestiaries. According to one medieval source, Charlemagne encountered and destroyed an orc that attacked his ship in the Mediterranean. In Orlando Furioso, an epic by Ludovico Ariosto, the name of "orc" was given to a sea monster that captured the damsel Angelica, and was fought by the hero Rogero riding a hippogriff. This orc was huge, scaly, tusked, pig-nosed, and bristled.

From this usage, the word "orc" made it into English by being used by Michael Drayton in his Polyolbion, an epic poem about Brutus the Trojan and the mythical founders of Britain, and also appears in the epic poem Paradise Lost, by John Milton.

Blake's Orc

Orc (a proper name) is also one of the characters in the complex mythology of William Blake. Unlike the medieval sea beast, or Tolkien's humanoid monster, his Orc is a positive figure, the embodiment of creative passion and energy: see Orc (William Blake)

Tolkien's Orcs

The humanoid, non-maritime race of Orcs are Tolkien's invention. The term "Orc" is usually capitalised in Tolkien's writing, but not necessarily in other sources. In Tolkien's writing, Orcs are described as humanoid, roughly human-sized, ugly, and filthy. Although not dim-witted, they are portrayed as dull and miserable beings, who are only able to destroy, not to create. Orcs are used as soldiers by both the greater and lesser villains of The Lord of the RingsSauron and Saruman.

In The Hobbit, Tolkien used the word "goblin" for Orcs, because he had not yet identified the world of The Hobbit with Middle-earth (which was written about several decades before The Hobbit, in early writings which later became The Silmarillion). Fortunately, Tolkien included some references to his mythology in The Hobbit, which later let him identify the lands of The Hobbit with his Middle-earth. In The Lord of the Rings, "Orc" is used predominantly, and "goblin" mostly in the Hobbits' speech.

Before Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he seems to have decided that Middle earth history ended at the end of the Second Age, and that the fall of Nmenor changed the world into the prehistoric real world.

'...the word is as far as I am concerned actually derived from Old English orc "demon", but only because of its phonetic suitability...' The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 144, dated 1953

For more information on Tolkien's Orcs see: Orc (Middle-earth).

Orcs in other fantasy works

Since the publication of Tolkien's epic novel, The Lord of the Rings, creatures called "orcs" have become a fixture of fantasy fiction and role-playing games. In these derivative sources, orcs and goblins are usually considered distinct races of goblinoids. For some time they were often depicted with pig-like faces, although there is no such description in Tolkien's work. A possible explanation of this is the coincidence with Irish orc (cognate of English pork) that means 'swine'.

Dungeons & Dragons

Missing image
An orc

In Dungeons & Dragons, orcs are almost always villainous, cast as a brutal, bestial, and tribal parody of humans and human society. They also seem to have green skin without exception, in contradiction to Tolkien's Orcs, which had many different skin colours ranging from palish yellow to deep black. Because common fantasy orcs are inherently violent and evil, even game players that wish to play the role of an orc are instead usually encouraged to play a half-orc, the offspring of an orc and a human (very rarely the offspring of an orc and an elf). They worship the god Gruumsh.

Forgotten Realms

In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons, orcs are divided into the orcs of the north (Mountain Orcs) and the orcs of the east (Gray Orcs (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/ex/20030301a)). The gray orcs came to Faern through a portal opened in Mulhorand by an Imaskari wizard. The orcs' invasion caused the Orcgate Wars in which the pious gray orcs called avatars of their deities down to help them, and the Mulhorandi and Untheric people did the same. Led by Re these pantheons and their soldiers eventually broke the gray orcs' armies.

In the north, orcs are known for overbreeding and then spilling out in orc hordes upon the nations thereabouts, including the Silver Marches, Icewind Dale and, in times past, the old elven empires around Cormanthyr. Foremost amongst the orcs of this area is the Broken Arrow tribe headed by King Obould Many-Arrows, enemy of Drizzt Do'Urden.

Earthdawn and Shadowrun

In the fantasy role-playing games Earthdawn and Shadowrun, orks are, in contrast to the common fantasy Orc, neither inherently good nor evil. In Earthdawn they have their place among the other name-giving races: Humans, dwarfs, elves, obsidimen, t'skrang, trolls, and windlings. In Shadowrun, orks are just one race among others on Earth in the years past 2050. They emerged during the Unexplained Genetic Expression in the year 2021 as either young humans changed to orks or ones born as orks from human parents. They are categorized as homo sapiens robustus, and are considered metahumans, like trolls, elves, and dwarfs.

Orks are able to interbreed with humans and fellow metahumans. Despite this, their offspring will be of the race of only one of their parents. No half-breeds exist. They grow much faster than humans, reach maturity at the age of 12, and give birth to a litter of about four children, though six to eight are not uncommon. Their average life-expectancy is about 35 to 40 years. They are physically larger and stronger than humans. Their mental capacities are considered slightly inferior on average to humans, though they are still not as dull as the average troll.


Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 games feature Orcs as well (spelled Orks in Warhammer 40,000). Physiologically, Warhammer Orcs are taller and broader than humans, with short legs and long arms much like an ape. They have massive heads which come directly forward on their necks, giving them a stooping appearance. They have tough thick green skin which is highly resistant to pain.

Warhammer Orcs aren't very smart, but can be cunning at times. They are extremely warlike and the whole society is geared towards constant warfare. This constant need to fight is the expression of Orc culture, a fact that keeps the Orcs from forming anything but temporary alliances with each other. In combat they can transform even the most common object into a lethal killing instrument. Orcs tend to ally with Goblins (called Gretchin in Warhammer 40,000) and Snotlings, but their alliance is more of a matter of the Orcs bullying their smaller Goblinoid (Orkoid in Warhammer 40,000) cousins into being everything from servants, to Human (Goblin) shields, to an emergency food source. They worship a pair of gods known as Gork and Mork.

For more information on Warhammer Orcs, see: Orc (Warhammer).


In the Warcraft computer game series, the Orcs were a savage but noble race from the planet Draenor who were corrupted by a demonic force known as the Burning Legion. Under the Legion's influence, the Orcish Horde slaughtered the Draenei, another race native to Draenor, and then were led to the world of Azeroth. After two devastating wars, the Orcs were finally defeated on Azeroth and rounded up into internment camps. They remained there until a young Orc named Thrall, who was raised by humans, rallied them together, finally freed the Horde from their demonic taint, and helped return them to their shamanistic roots.

Warcraft Orcs resemble prodigiously muscled green humans with broad noses and distinctive tusked mouths. Male orcs are a significant size larger than humans, around seven feet tall when standing straight. Females are slightly larger than a human female, and while much more slender than their male counterparts, they are nonetheless well-muscled. Both are characterized by wearing scant armor with horned helmets and using axes as weapons. Warcraft is one of the few settings in which Orcs are not inherently evil, and can even be heroic, at least in the latest games in the series.

For more information on Warcraft Orcs, see: Orc (Warcraft).


In the Hrn universal fantasy role-playing setting (and the distinct subsequently developed game system) created by N. Robin Crossby and published by Columbia Games, orcs are called Gargun. While loosely derived from the Tolkien mythos, they have a distinct morphology and life-cycle similar to the naked mole rat. There are five distinct species of Gargun, none of whom can interbreed. They are squat, hairy, nasty, brutish, and short creatures. Some species are subterranean, while others can be found above ground in roving bands. One of the larger species is the Gargu-Khanu. Gargu-Khanu are often found in mixed-species colonies where they are overlords of the smaller vassal species, controlling access to the singular breeding queen of the other species as well as their own.

The Killing Spirit

The Killing Spirit, a fantasy novel written by Sean-Michael Argo, engages the race of orcs from their own perspective. The orcs are presented as being the creations of a race of gods, called the Sheul. While similar to the Tolkien mythos, the orcs are divided into two groups. One being swarthy and stooped, living in clans on the coasts and mainland. The other orcs being tall and proud tribal warriors of dark forests and frozen mountains. The orcish women live in communal huts and choose mates based on perceived 'supremacy'. Unlike other fantasy settings, the orcs of this setting are portrayed as being highly intelligent and able to use magic, though have a brutish language that combines with their violent tendencies to create the illusion of simplicity. A unique element is that they are able to use magic to transform themselves into eldritch berzerkers, which they call the Gor-Angir, or 'the killing spirit'.

Final Fantasy XI

In the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI, the Orcs are a tribe of Beastmen. During the Age of Darkness, the Orcs were constructed by the god Promathia to constantly battle with the human(oid)s of Vana D'iel. The Orcs have two large strongholds near the city of San d'Oria; the strongholds are Davoi Monastery and Fort Ghelsba. The Orcs frequently launch small missions out of their strongholds, and they practically controll Jugner Forest and Ronfaure.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

These sophisticated barbarian beast peoples of the Wrothgarian and Dragontail Mountains are noted for their unshakeable courage in war and their unflinching endurance of hardships. In the past, Orcs have been widely feared and hated by the other nations and races of Tamriel, but they have slowly won acceptance in the Empire, in particular for their distinguished service in the Emperor's Legions. Orcish armorers are prized for their craftsmanship, and Orc warriors in heavy armor are among the finest front-line troops in the Empire. Most Imperial citizens regard Orc society as rough and cruel, but there is much to admire in their fierce tribal loyalties and generous equality of rank and respect among the sexes.


In Utopia, the web-based tactic game, Orcs are one of the 8 races. In Utopia, Orcs are known for good offensive abilities and weak capabilities in the art of magic and thievery. They are a destructive and evil race by description. In the real game, there are no good or evil races. There is no visual description of Orcs in Utopia because of the non-visual, text based nature of the game.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

In Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, orcs are descended from early humans, although they were popularly considered a monstrous race before the Industrial Revolution. They generally look like savage parodies of humans. Orcs are strong and hearty but live short life spans. Before the Industrial Revolution, they were nomads who lived off the land and occassionally off of people unlucky enough to travel near them. As time passes, more orcs move to cities, where their strength and stamina make them ideal factory workers. Although they are considered intellectually inferior, their lack of brain power may be the result of their poor upbringing and educational opportunities; people of orcish descent who receive the opportunity to reach their full potential prove to be as able-minded as humans.


In project Ro (Ragnarok Online) orcs are an evil, hostile race who attack players, with the exception of the Zenorc who is not hostile but a thief. They are in various shades of green to gray and are bigger than humans. They are weak to fire, and Orc Zombies and Orc Skeletons are weak to fire and holy property. They are found near the town of Geffen and in Orc Dungeon. There are several types of orcs, Orc Archer, Orc Warrior, High Orc, Orc Lord, Orc Lady, Orc Hero, Orc Zombie, Orc Skeleton, and Zenorc. Many Players in ProjectRO collect Orchish Vouchers to make The Helmet of the Orc Hero, the hardest helm to make in the entire game

See also

External link

es:Orco fi:rkki fr:Orc gl:Orco hu:Ork it:Orco ja:オーク (架空の生物) nl:Ork no:Ork pl:Ork sv:Orch


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