Orsinium and the Orcs
After the Warp in the West
The Orsimer have appeared in all games. Initially (Arena and Daggerfall) they were merely NPC monsters, and it was not until Morrowind that they became a playable race. Although their initial monster status can be ascribed to the common view that it wasn’t until Morrowind’s development that lore really began to take place, I believe that this reflects very well with the established lore of Tamriel.
Orcs, despite their roots as Aldmer and having never lost sentience, have been viewed as monsters from the first day of their changed form. They and their god Malacath, whom I discussed previously, are outcast from their communities and seen as disgusting, bestial, and unwanted. The Orsimer have animalistic qualities (green skin, bone ridges, the massive mandible tusks, and their behavior inherited from the Trinimac-to-Malacath transformation) and are arguably the most barbaric of the Ten Races. From the Merethic Era onwards, they have been reviled, spurned, feared, and fought by all they met.
It is little wonder, then, that the Eternal Champion and the Blades Agent should also see Orcs as beasts. No better than goblins or ogres, Orcs are merely stronger than goblins and more clever than ogres. They roam Tamriel and attack fiercely on sight, for millennia of conflict has left a mutual distrust. The Orcs attack to defend themselves from Tamriel, and Tamriel attacks to defend themselves from the Orcs.
Although the Orcish talent at metalworking has been known for some time by the events of Daggerfall, it is seen in the same regard as a hound’s hunting ability. The animal over here can track and kill things, and the animal over there can bash metal and make it come out strong. Both may be used, but neither is trusted in the house.
By the time the Blades Agent ventured forth to the Iliac Bay, a leader had risen among the Orcs. Gortwog gro-Nagorm unified his people and managed to reforge Orsinium (Aldmeri word for Pariah Town). Gortwog was contending with the kingdoms of High Rock and Hammerfell to have Orsinium become a kingdom in its own right, and managed to meet with the Agent and, when the Warp occurred, was one of the parties to gain control of the fearsome Numidium.
The actual events of the Warp are, of course, unknowable. Over the course of two days, as far as the rest of Tamriel was concerned, Daggerfall, Sentinel, Wayrest, and Orsinium ALL managed to seize the Numidium, conquer their surroundings and possibly even each other, and come out on top.
Dragon Breaks make bad acid look calm and rational.
Regardless, after the dust had settled both in time and in space, Orsinium was now a strong, independent entity. It was able to show that the Orcs were not monsters but mer (though they are alone in the Elvish community in that they forsake their Aldmeri name Orsimer in favor of the human word Orc - likely because the elves cast them out as inferiors, while men merely fought them as equals), and Gortwog began requesting a grant from the Empire for his territory to be recognized as a province in its own right.
With the events following the Warp, the Orcs achieved recognition as a civilization and not as animals. Though the rampant hostility would never vanish entirely, Gortwog was able to set about diminishing it.
Shortly after the Warp, the Nerevarine encountered Orcs in Morrowind. Following in the footsteps of their kin to the west, these Orcs were civilizing themselves and were treated as such by the Dunmer (still poorly, but they were not put down on sight). Cyrodiil’s Champion encountered even more integration of Orcs into society, as their innate metalworking skill made them prized to the Legion, and thus the Empire.
By the time the Dovahkiin arose, Orcs had made a name for themselves over the course of two hundred years, and managed to reach a middle level of social integration. Though they were no longer the feared monsters of the night, they were not welcomed with open arms either. Many Orcs chose to remain isolated in Strongholds, four of which dot Skyrim’s countryside. Those who live in the cities form the next large group of the population. They are almost always smiths or smelters. It is common practice for Orcs to enlist in the legion, and their armor is highly prized.
A small number of Orcs have managed to become successful members of society. The famed High Rock chef known only as the Gourmet was revealed to be a wandering Orc. Gortwog was a successful politician. There are rumors that the Nerevarine, Champion, and Dragonborn were all Orcs, but every race claims that one of their own was these legendary, mysterious heroes.
In any case, it is indisputably seen that Gortwog’s visionary push to create Orsinium and reshape the common view of the Orcs succeeded in transforming them in Tamriel’s eyes from beasts and monsters into members of society. He certainly did not take away their tusks, but he did change their appearance.
As all the races of Tamriel can show, not just the Orcs, civilization isn’t about actions, behavior or achievement. The self-possessed Altmer can be just as vicious and violent, the Dunmer are even more xenophobic, the Argonians as hostile to interlopers. Civilization is about clothes, metaphorically and literally. That is the gift of Gortwog.