J.R.R. Tolkien > The Silmarillion

Sindarin name for the fourth battle of Beleriand, meaning "Battle of Sudden Flame". It began one winter night about 455 years after the first rising of the sun, when Morgoth suddenly sent rivers of flame from the gates of Angband, consuming everything in their path. This burned away the once-green plain of Ard-Galen between the gates of Thangorodrim and northern Beleriand, turning it into a desolate wasteland, which was afterwards known as Anfauglith, or the Gasping Dust. Behind the flames came armies of orcs led by balrogs, and Glaurung, the first of Morgoth's dragons. The highlands of Dorthonion, the domain of Finrod Felagund's brothers Angrod and Aegnor, were overrun by Morgoth's hordes, and they were lost. Maglor's Gap was also conquered, giving Morgoth an entrance into Beleriand itself.

Maedhros' fortress at Himring held up to the assault, as did Finrod's fortress of Minas Tirith for a time, and Fingolfin's mountain strongholds in the Ered Wethrin, but the siege of Angband was broken at the time, and the sons of Fëanor were scattered. Eventually Sauron came to Minas Tirith and defeated Finrod's brother Orodreth, and under his dominion it became known as Tol-in-Gaurhoth, or Isle of Werewolves. Finrod thus found himself surrounded in that region, cut off from any aid, and would have perished were it not for the timely intervention of Barahir (the father of Beren), and to Barahir and his descendants he pledged eternal loyalty in return for saving his life.

While battles raged the high king of the Noldor Fingolfin, filled with rage and desperation, rode in wrath to the gates of Angband and challenged Morgoth to single combat. The battle raged long and hard, and though Fingolfin wounded Morgoth seven times with wounds that would never heal, Fingolfin was eventually crushed by the Hammer of the Underworld Grond, but his body was rescued by Thorondor the king of the Eagles and brought to a peak in the encircling mountains around Gondolin, where his son Turgon built a tomb. Fingon, his elder son, succeeded the kingship of the Noldor.

War never wholly ceased in Beleriand after that, but the Dagor Bragollach is said to have ended the spring of the following year, when the onslaught was lessened.

The Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) was a battle in JRR Tolkien's Silmarillion. The battle was fought between the Elves, primarily the Noldor, and Morgoth. Although it is described as a "battle" in the text, in modern terms it might be termed a "campaign", since it seems to have lasted a few months to a year. Like much in The Silmarillion or The Lord of the Rings, it can be read as either mythology or history, and makes sense as either one.

At the time that the Battle of Sudden Flame begin, the wars in Beleriand had been going on for 450 years (or so), and would continue for another 100. Although it occurs fairly late in that scale of time, it occurs fairly early in the book, because most of the dramatic action in The Silmarillion happens after this battle has been fought. Before the battle is fought, the elves of Beleriand, led by the Noldor, had been the dominant force, besieging Angband and growing more wealthy and sophisticated. The battle was called "sudden flame" because it was launched with walls of fire, followed by dragons and more conventional forces. Even though this is put forward in a mythological context, it is historically not hard to imagine: a political alliance that was once the leading power being caught unaware by an enemy that had grown stronger and more technologically sophisticated is a believable scenario.

Due to the bravery and strength of the Noldor and their allies, the battle did not succeed in totally destroying them. What it did do is destroy their cohesion as a military and political alliance. Although Morgoth was not able to destroy every elvish fortress or kingdom, he was able to break open enough that his forces could raid and threaten at will. Any resistance to Morgoth after this point was uncoordinated, up until the time of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Part of this has to do with the fact that the High King and commander of the Noldor, Fingolfin, raced to the doors of Angband to challenge Morgoth to single combat, a battle he inevitably lost. Fingolfin was a strong leader who seemed to have no rivals amongst the elves, and his death seems to have left the various members of the alliance with no one to follow. And his death, while again mythologized (single combat with the devil is not a feature of most modern wars) is also in some ways a very historically realistic scenario. Fingolfin attacked in a fit of "madness", while it is possible that if he had decided to fight conservatively and try to constrain the losses, the battle might have not ended so badly. Wildly counterattacking instead of going to the effort to make a tedious defense is a military mistake that has been made.

Morgoth's inability to follow up on his victory and totally destroy the Noldor is again something that makes sense both mythologically and historically. Mythologically, he does not do so because even though he was originally angelic in nature, he has fallen and "alone of the Valar knows fear", especially after Fingolfin wounded him. In military terms, the tenacity of the resistance made him believe his opponents had an ability to resist along with a will to resist, and so he settled for scattering them and breaking the siege, rather than an all out military campaign to destroy them.

This description of the battle analyses it from one perspective, but for a full understanding of how it is one more piece of the subtle tragedy that Tolkien is weaving, the Silmarillion must be read, preferably multiple times.

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