Baruk khazâd !… so, now what do we do ? (Dwarven Battle Tactics)

Tolkiens’ works give us only a few clues about dwarven battle tactics, as he has written mainly about battles where dwarves joined forces with other races – in which case they might not use their traditional military deployments during battle.

Apart from the legendary khuzdul battle-cry: “Baruk khazâd, khazâd ai-mênu”… meaning “Axes of the dwarves, the dwarves are upon you” (… as if you did not know that already)… let’s see what else we can unearth about the battles of the dwarves…

Stunning illustration “The Battle of Five Armies” by Justin Gerard
If we look a the extraordinary strength of dwarves and their smaller then men size, we can be sure though that their tactics used in battle differed greatly from that of men, ensuring their stature was used to their benefit.

With that in mind, below you can find our ideas on dwarven battle tactics:

Combat Style and Tactics

The Dwarven Shieldwall – A tactic often seen with many cultures where their physical stature was smaller then their oponents. In the shieldwall, a first line of defence is made allowing the troops behind to be shielded dwarves to enjoy a comfortable security.
Directly behind the shieldwall, archers are placed who attack over head, arrows crashing down onto the head, neck and shoulders of the opponents. Between the archers, dwarves with spears are placed. These would target any opponents that charge the shieldwall, piercing the long spears between the front shield, enjoying the protection of the shields while defending it from close combat attackers.

Once the shieldwall breaks down, individual axe warriors, that are behind the line of archers and spear dwarves storm onto the opponent which is now only a few feet away. The aim of the axe warrios is to disable as many opponents as possible in a short period of time, by wounding blows to the legs. . Opponents are incapacitated and then left to bleed to death while the battle continues.

With running melees across a battlefield, those targets which are easy to hit are the most tempting – legs and arms are the most obvious. Against a warrior in a mail shirt, the lower arms, face and neck are the obvious target areas, hence well protected. The lower leg is usually uncovered. This would be a huge advantage for dwarven armies, as they could easily reach the lower legs of their usualy taller oponents.

In addition to axe warrior also warriors that used blades, maces and clubs would be seen behind the line of axe warriors, mainly to protect the axe warriors from flank attacks and to finish off any wounded yet still dangerous enemies.

The Dwarven Boar Snout Charge- Similar to the Shieldwall, but in “arrow-head” shape. The sheer weight and momentum of the charge could drive the wedge through an opposing shield wall, turning the battle and spreading panic through the enemy. Formations of this type require considerable practice and training to achieve effectivness.

Leadership – contrary to most tactics seen with men, it was expected that a dwarven leader would lead from the front. Having achieved his position partly by his skill at warfare, it was expected that the leader would stand in the middle of the front rank, leading the charge and the boar snout. All would depend on his personal fortunes – if he fell, it is likely that his army would withdraw or rout. It seems to have been normal for the leaders of dwarven armies to attempt to seek each other out on the battlefield, attempting to ensure a quick victory by cutting of the head of the army. This might explain the higher number of dwarven uzbads that died in the fields of battle, compared to fewer leaders of men that died.

About The Dwarrow Scholar

The Dwarrow Scholar first experienced the brilliance of Tolkien when he received a copy of The Hobbit from his uncle as a kid, reading it feverishly again and again. Some years on, when he got his very own walk-man (aye forget about tiny phones, this thing was a brick and played cassette tapes) he made his own little audiotape of The Hobbit, so he could listen to it on his bike on his way to school. Between reenacting the Battle of Five armies with 4 of his school friends (still feel sorry for the kid that had to be the Orc) and before the days of the internet, you would find Roy frequently in libraries trying to find all he could about Tolkien and his beloved dwarves. When Roy isn’t delving into Neo-Khuzdul or searching for lost dwarvish treasures on the net he’s enjoying time with his wife and son, re-reading his tormented Tolkien paperbacks, watching a good movie, learning new languages or playing a game of LoTRO or other dwarf related games.
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6 Responses to Baruk khazâd !… so, now what do we do ? (Dwarven Battle Tactics)

  1. Ian says:

    Fascinating stuff! 🙂


  2. aetius451 says:

    This is well thought out, and logical. Tolkien being a anglo-saxofile would incorperate the tactics of Germanic nations into his creation. I am not bashing the Celtic style, that seemed reserved for the Eldar, the lighter hit and run/ambush tactics the welsh used againsts the Saxon/Norman invaders, not to mention the Romans. I applaud the effort bringing to life these most interesting of folk, a people set apart one might say.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Borys says:

    A wee problem with the above is that the most common opponent – orcs, were of the same heigth

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ol'man says:

    I’ve tried to consider these tactics to add a bit of life to the dwarf kin I’ve role played with, and to add an element of tactical acumen I thought dwarves would impart on the battlefield.

    This certainly does it justice. I considered the might of dwarven hand axes, hurled into the air to deter oncoming troops and getting their enemies to cluster. Heavier than most other races could chuck, use that strength and foundation to their advantage.

    The idea of aiming for legs as vulnerable, is sage in mass warfare. From the femoral artery to deliberating the core foundation of sword strength, that erodes the enemies strength.

    I also considered the stature of dwarves when wielding the axe. A human, due to his height, may leave himself somewhat vulnerable with a hard, over head strike, or a horizontal strike, still summoning strength from the shoulder. Dwarves have incredible power, despite their stature, and could summon strength in their blows differently then man, and….have less of an area of vulnerability on their person when raising their arm above their head.

    Fun stuff to consider. Gets the mind working.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tyler Martin says:

    Something that occurred to me through a games workshop discussion was that dwarves being smaller could stand closer together. This would mean that a dense formation of dwarves could functionally out number larger opponents along a collision of forces even though the dwarves were out numbered over all.
    The Hobbit movies got me thinking about the life span of dwarves and the effect that would have on the quality of training. The movies depicted the dwarf army functioning like a well oiled machine which makes sense if the dwarves can spend a much longer time drilling and still have a long active career afterward. Dwarves could spend a good portion of a human lifetime getting ready to fight and still have an even longer period putting their skills into practice.


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