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  • Updated 10 October 2015
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War of the Great Jewels

The battles for the Silmarils

Before Melkor escaped Aman for Middle-earth, he stole the Silmarils from the vaults of Fëanor at Formenos. Installing himself as the Dark Lord in the North, he embedded the Great Jewels in his Iron Crown, while Fëanor led his people back into Middle-earth in pursuit of the thief of his masterworks. So began a centuries-long war between the Eldar and Melkor (or Morgoth, 'Black Foe of the World', as Fëanor renamed him).

At first the War seemed to sway in favour of the Eldar. Despite the early loss of Fëanor himself, they won significant victories and set up the Siege of Angband that held Morgoth at bay for nearly four hundred years. During this time, however, Morgoth built up his forces to an overwhelming level, and in the Dagor Bragollach of I 455 he broke the siege and wiped away the defenders in the North.

Shortly afterward, Beren and Lúthien were able to make their way into Angband and recover one of the Silmarils from Morgoth's crown. This act would open new fronts in the War, as the Oath of Fëanor drove his Sons to challenge all who held one of the Great Jewels, even among their fellow Elves.

The immediate effect of the capture of a Silmaril was to drive the Elves into action. Seeing Morgoth as vulnerable, Fëanor's eldest son Maedhros gathered allies from among the Eldar and the Edain to launch an immense counterattack against Angband. The great battle that followed came close to succeeding, but through treachery and deceit Morgoth broke the forces of the Elves, so that the battle became known as Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.

In the years that followed, the Sons of Fëanor challenged the holders of the recovered Silmaril, bringing about the downfall of the ancient kingdom of Doriath, and attacking the survivors at the Mouths of Sirion. Nonetheless the Silmaril eluded them: it was carried across the Great Sea by Eärendil, who stood before the Valar and begged for their aid against Morgoth.

The Valar heard Eärendil's plea, and the War of the Great Jewels came to close in the War of Wrath, in which unstoppable forces out of the West marched against Morgoth. The Dark Lord was defeated and cast out of the World, and the remaining Silmarils were taken from his Iron Crown. At this time only two of the seven Sons of Fëanor survived, but laying hands on the hallowed Jewels of their father they found that, because of their evil acts in pursuit of them, they could no longer hold the Silmarils without being burned. In despair Maedhros threw himself into a fiery pit with one of the Jewels, while his brother, the singer Maglor, cast the other remaining Silmaril into the sea and wandered the World lamenting his loss.

Thus the War of the Great Jewels ended with all three of the Silmarils lost to Middle-earth. One was held by Eärendil, still visible shining in the distant skies of the West, while the other two were consigned forever to the depths of the Earth and of the Sea.

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