Cities of Tamriel: Orsinium

Originally published to /r/teslore on

Orsinium has existed in some form or another since history was first written in the Iliac region. The Breton histories refer to Orsinium and the monsters that issue forth from it as a part of common life, and the Redguards of Hammerfell have been plagued by the boar-folk menace since their arrival to the sandy Tamrielic shores. The Orcish tenacity in clinging to their mountain holdfast is remarkable.

After the Orcs were transformed from Aldmer to their current form by Boethiah, the bands of green-skinned warriors spread north to Skyrim, Hammerfell, and High Rock. Smaller numbers also traveled to Resdayn (now Morrowind) and to Valenwood, where they found sanctuary with the Bosmer. The majority chose to settle in Tamriel’s northwest, away from settlements of the Velothi (who were responsible for their current state), and the Aldmer, who refused to accept their presence. Boethiah’s Transformation had severe consequences for the Orcs, reducing the once-proud and cultured warriors into a barbaric, nigh-animalistic state. Though they settled in the Wrothgarian Mountains in what would come to be known as Orsinium, Pariah-Town, the location was anything but that for years to come.

Though records discussing the Wrothgarian Orcs in the late Merethic Era are scant, it is presumed that small raids between the boar-mer and the indigineous population were a constant facet of life in the hills. Orsinium’s first major presence in the historical record occurred after the arrival of the Ra Ga’Da. The Yoku warriors drove the Orcs out of Hammerfell, and in doing so the Orcs found an enemy worthy of their continued aggression. The known Redguard penchant for swordsmanship and war-craft meant that violence between the two peoples was a foregone conclusion. The Redguards deemed the Orcish threat so menacing that they chased the Orcs from Hammerfell and forged an alliance with their neighbors to the north, the Bretons, and laid seige to Orsinium. This seige took thirty years of sustained conflict, and finally ended with the Orcish settlement burned to the ground. The cost to the humans was enormous, however, and the dead included renowned swordmaster Gaiden Shinji. His quote, “the best techniques are passed on by the survivors,” applies readily to the Orcs, who have survived constant aggression and continuously strengthened themselves for millenia.

Although physical descriptions of Orsinium at the time of its burning are lacking, given the predilection for violence by and against the Orcs and the fact that the settlement withstood a thirty-year seige, we can draw the conclusion that it is primarily a functional construct with very little superfluous form. I do not believe it would be far amiss to imagine it as nothing more than a massive warren of piled rock and stone hewn out of the Wrothgarian mountains. The “First Seige of Orsinium” was an extraordinarily long and vicious instance in a war that would last for millenia, as humans and Orcs fought back and forth in a series of small raids and disputes. Orcs would attack farms and villages, and the area around Orsinium soon became very sparesly populated, and in return Bretons and Redguards would kill Orcs on sight (a custom popular throughout Tamriel, in fact) and periodically destroy Orsinium. As Orsinium was in a constant state of either construction or destruction, the Orcs inhabiting it forsook any long-term projects in favor of projects that could be rapidly completed and then expanded as time and luck allowed. This only served to add to the alien and barbaric appearance of the settlement when seen by humans, further strengthening their opinions of the Orcs as uncivilized and bestial creatures.

The continuous strife between the two populations, coupled with the Orcs’ hideous appearance and known alienness from human stock, naturally led to fantastical tales concerning the Orcs. Mothers would use the Orcs as bogeymen to scare their children into line: “If you don’t go to bed, the Orcs will come for you!”, for instance, or “If you eat too many sweets, how will you outrun the Orcs?”. Folk legends of the City of Stone and Flame described Orsinium as a hell on earth, and just over that hill. Inhabited by green-skinned, tusked horrors speaking a harsh language and inflicting violence on all, Orsinium was a source of worry for civilians at risk of attack, and valor for men-at-arms who would venture into the mountains to test their mettle. “Seeking Orsinium” even came to refer to a foolhardy adventure fraught with peril, when undertaken by young men, and an honorable way to find death for old men.

The Second Era’s Interregnum and Trilliance War saw an alliance of necessity between the Breton and Redguard people and the Orcs. Though by no means were hostilities between the humans and the boar-mer ended, Emeric was able to persuade both the Redguard leadership and the Orsinium Chieftain that unless they stood together against the triple threat of the Aldmeri Dominion (hated by all three of the Covenant’s members), the Ebonheart Pact, and the Planemeld, they would surely succumb. The Pact’s miraculous combination of three ancient enemies offered an example to the northwestern provinces and reinforced Emeric’s message of the need to unite in common cause. As much as the Bretons and Redguards hated the Orcs, who returned the feeling with interest, they were even more wary of the other powers on the continent. And so, with hostile powers to the south and east and Daedra appearing all around, the Orcs were for the first time removed from status as Public Enemy Number One. After the resolution of the Planemeld and the subsequent collapse of the Ebonheart Pact, the Covenant too fell apart and human and Orc resumed slaughtering each other with all the enthusiasm they’d kept at bay for the intervening time.

Orsinium’s cycle of building and burning continued throughout the Second and Third Eras, though the Septimate Empire periodically considered officially acknowledging both the Orcs and Orsinium. Although this course of action would not have fully halted the eternal conflict, as evidenced by the regularly-occurring small wars under the Empire, it would have provided an opportunity for the cycle to be reduced and, perhaps in the future, eliminated.

Finally, in 3E399, Gortwog gro-Nagorm succeeded in winning the title to Orsinium’s land from a Breton noble, Lord Bowyn, by besting him in a duel. (Scholars debate why Lord Bowyn chose to engage in single combat with an Orc, but most agree that it was a lost cause from the outset.) Under Gortwog’s direction, Orsinium saw its first permanent construction in uncounted years, and the settlement even began to hold permanent decoration, including large statues of Malacath and Orcish heroes. The Orcs wasted no time in fortifying Orsinium even more, and it rapidly became a fortress of iron and orichalc and barbaric splendor. Gortwog entertained negotiations with Emperor Uriel Septim VII’s agent, and when Numidium was discovered and reactivated, managed to secure control of the Totem, and thus the monstrous golem itself. The Warp in the West saw vast desolation across the Iliac Bay region, but “two days” later, according to standard Imperial time, the region was restored as shards of time with various victors snapped into place. High Rock’s political map was decimated, with only a few kingdoms emerging triumphant and expanded. Among them was the mountain fastness of Orsinium, standing strong and self-possessed. In light of the events of the Miracle of Peace, the Orcs gained increased acceptance among the Empire’s populace and even, as testified by mage-murders under the Order of the Black Worm, protection under Arkay resulting in the blackening of their souls.

Orsinium continued to grow in the years following Gortwog’s reign, and approached standards of living comparable to an overly large village by human standards. As Orcs spread out across Tamriel, finding positions in the Imperial Legion, the foundries of various cities, and even unusual roles as cooks and librarians, the eras of unbridled hostility between Orc and Tamrielic seemed to be at an end. However, in a vicious and truly devastating surprise assault, High Rock and Hammerfell threw their combined forces against Orsinium and so viciously razed it that the remaining populace were escorted from the Orsinium Territory by the Imperial Legion. The Orcs resettled in the mountains between Skyrim and Hammerfell, somewhere in between the border passes of Falkreath (Skyrim) and Dragonstar (Hammerfell) and Markarth (Skyrim) and Elinhir (Hammerfell). There, Nova Orsinium has been under relatively uninterrupted construction for the past century, in part aided by the fact that only the Orcs and the Legionnaires knew exactly where it was. Although Hammerfell and High Rock escaped official sanctions for the atrocity committed, the Empire has by and large turned a blind eye to human disappearances in the “geologically unstable and avalanche-prone” mountains near Nova Orsinium.


Reports out of Wayrest indicate that there are still bands of feral Orcs roaming the Wrothgarian Mountains, though the ruins of Orsinium are desolate and uninhabited. I have contacted Orsinium’s embassy in the Capital for their blessing and a guard force to launch an archaeological expedition in Orsinium, in hopes that we may glean a more complete understanding of one of Tamriel’s oldest conflicts.