The Code of Malacath is a set of unwritten rules passed through the Orcish community. It serves as their equivalent to the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments and comprises the basis of their law and morality.
The Code is never explicitly stated, although a book in Skyrim describes it to some extent. (paraphrasing below)
Don’t steal. Don’t kill needlessly.
The Orcs also talk about how there are no jails in a Stronghold, and offenders pay in blood or gold. The Orcs like money just as much as everyone else, and accept payment of bounties as retributive justice. However, should an offender be unable or unwilling to cough up the coin, they bleed until the offended is satisfied, or run away and are exiled.
That’s more or less all we know of the Code from in-game and lore references, as far as I have found. What follows is extrapolation.
Malacath’s Codes are tailored specifically to the Orc’s way of life and, possibly, remnants of Trinimac’s station. I believe that some of the codes are:
- No theft
- No cowardly murder
- Death in combat is glory
- Only the most strong may thrive
- Isolation is safety
- Courage, Duty, Honor, Loyalty
- Fight with valor
- Mercy is for the weak
- Cold iron, hot blood
and so forth. I am pulling from dialogue and general “feel” of Orcish culture for these, and am mixing general guidelines and “mottoes”, if you will, of the Orcish people.
This one is fairly self-explanatory. The Orcs are a highly tribal culture, and acts of pure selfishness hurt the tribe. This is to be avoided. Therefore, theft is condemned. Property is well defined, and if status is vague, the item in question is considered as belonging to the Chief until he says otherwise. The tribe must survive, even to individual detriment.
No cowardly murder
Similar to the theft rule, murder is forbidden. It damages the tribe. Killing in combat is of course exempt, as combat is a challenge and the better Orc wins (see below). “Cowardly” killings include backstabbing, using magic, or poisoning the other. There are probably more, and it’s most likely a subjective rule than a list of criteria.
Death in combat is glory
Much like the Nords, the Orcs have a warrior culture and it is shown (through Skyrim’s Old Orc) that they would rather die fighting than in bed. Malacath prizes fighters, and would rather one of his own lose a fight than die without fighting.
Only the most strong may thrive
Seen in the Strongholds’ marriage practices. Only the Chief takes wives and bears children. The strongest of his sons becomes Chief, and the cycle continues. Wives are likely taken from other Strongholds to offset inbreeding. Orcs outside the Strongholds are likely exempt from this marriage rule, but they still compete fiercely. This can be seen in their dedication and work ethic, be they mining, smithing, or even cooking. The Gourmet wasn’t satisfied being anything less.
Isolation is safety
Born from three eras of being hunted and killed by all, especially Bretons and Redguards. Seen in the Strongholds’ xenophobia to non-Orcs. They are not fanatical about it, however, as non-Orcs may be granted Blood-kin status, but they must first earn it.
Courage, Duty, Honor, Loyalty: prized virtues
Fight with valor: again, warrior culture. Orcs are fierce warriors and weakness will not be tolerated. One with the Berserker Rage ability.
Mercy is for the weak
Orcs do not have jails where prisoners may wait and think on their misdeeds. They must sacrifice, in means or health. Orcs do not take prisoners in battle nor lessen their ferocity for seemingly less potent victims. This can be seen in their behavior in raids described by Bretons, though one must filter out some bias.
Cold iron, hot blood
This one is just a motto made from dialogue (with Borgakh the Steel Heart, if I remember correctly). Orcs love their weaponry (they are naturally talented smiths) and fighting. This seems like an apt summary of their behavior.
All of these are forms of warrior codes, as befitting both the Knight of Auri-El and the Exile. The remnants of Trinimac of which I spoke above is a hypothesis I first saw on /r/TESLore and have since extrapolated.
The Altmer and the Orsimer both practice selective breeding. Before the change, Orsimer were as dedicated to hating Mundus and returning to Aetherius as were the Altmer. Trinimac was the Strong Knight of Auri-El, and hated Mundus just as much as Auri-El did. It stands to reason, then, that this would only be intensified by the transformation to Malacath, for this was a second insult. Trinimac was originally a pure spirit, defiled to a mere Aedra by Lorkhan, and then defiled and corrupted further by one of Lorkhan’s fellow Padomaic sprits, the Daedra Prince Boethiah. The Orcs would see the Daedra as cowards, refusing to enter into a fight (the creation of Mundus and subsequent struggles) and standing watch on the fringes. Malacath is the result of two defilements of Mundus, one of which came at the hands of a Coward Prince who did not defeat Trinimac in honorable combat.
The selective breeding of the Orsimer represents their resistance to subgradients, trying to maintain stasis in themselves by keeping only the strongest alive. They refuse to allow themselves to degenerate further, and though they may not climb back to Aetherius as readily as their Altmer cousins may try, they will not sink further into the mud that has already stained them.
This attitude is not found consciously in any of the Orcs, as they are by far the most man-kin of the mer-folk and are seen by themselves, men, and mer as more aligned with man than elf. However, the practices I describe in Malacath’s Codes are likely inspired by or drawn from their pre-transformation existence as Aldmer sundered from their former divine state.