Some may dismiss any idea of orcish "culture" as a lust for battle, a thirst for blood, and an overwhelming urge to see their enemies driven before them while grooving to the lamentations of their women. And while attributing these traits to the orcs wouldn't be entirely erroneous, it most certainly tells less than half the story of a race that conceals more complexity and nuance than most would think to give them proper credit for. A problem that they share in common with the Argonians, or the Khajiit.
In fact, these honor bound warrior souls are proudly steeped in tradition the likes of which might be secretly envied by even the Nords. To evidence this, keep scrolling to tag along with us as we put orcish society under the microscope and see what it's all about. Here are ten cool little factoids you likely didn't know when it comes to one of the mightiest races featured in The Elder Scrolls, the orcs.
10 They'd Rather Die Than Grow Old
Orcs place a great deal of important on pulling their weight and contributing to their tribe or stronghold. As such, you're not likely to find any of them sprouting grey hair and going into retirement. They consider living past their physical usefulness to be shameful, and as such, they simply elect not to do it.
Instead, an Orc approaching old age will venture into the wilds to seek an honorable death. In fact, a certain random encounter occurring in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim demonstrates just that. The player can encounter an old orc that is seeking his honorable death while traveling, and if so inclined, can elect to provide it to him. Or try, at least.
9 Orcs Abide By The Code of Malacath
Given that the Orcs are functionally outcasts, generally being disliked if not outright reviled by the other, more "civilized" races, it makes sense that they worship a Daedric deity often labeled as the "Prince of Outcasts." As such, they abide by his harsh, but honorable, code of ethics in conducting themselves.
The Code of Malacath is a collection of unwritten laws that are quite simple, straightforward, and honorable to a fault. Orcs are not to kill or steal from one another, nor are they to attack one another without reason or provocation. They're to fight with honor, and it also details how to deal with those who break these laws, but we'll touch on that later in the list.
8 They Are Descended From Elves
If you were to tell an elf that they were distant cousins to the orcs, they'd likely take no shortage of offense at the mere prospect of it. But it is nonetheless true. The orcs are, after all, in their proper name, called the "Orsimer," just as the wood elves are "Bosmer," the high elves are "Altmer," and so on. The affix of "Mer" denotes elven lineage, and just as their cousins are, the orcs are descended from the Aldmer.
They are, for certain, the furthest removed from their original and fair-featured ancestors, to such a point that their elven cousins regard such a connection as impossible. Indeed, they're viewed as little more than beasts, and no closer to elves than goblins are to men. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
7 Only Stronghold Chiefs Are Allowed To Marry
Although orcish society seems surprisingly more egalitarian than most other cultures of Tamriel, each orc is bound to a specific role and purpose within their tribe or stronghold. And a position of relative privilege exists in the role of chieftain, though it is a dangerous one that is hard earned. A chief is only replaced in death, usually administered by a challenger.
As a result, the chief is undoubtedly the strongest within the stronghold, which is why the orcs reserve the right of taking wives specifically for this particular orc. The chief must be strong to claim this position, and as such, it is presumed that he will produce strong offspring.
6 They Earned The Empire's Respect
The orcs' half-earned reputation for savagery and, at best, poor reception by the other races meant that they needed to toil towards the end of earning any sort of recognition or legitimacy as a society. One orc, however, is responsible for a great deal of progress towards that end.
King Gortwog gro-Nagorm reestablished the orc kingdom of Orsinium, and had an uncanny talent for diplomacy that was rare among his people. He utilized this gift to great effect, winning the kingdom's recognition by Emperor Uriel Septim VII, and it would prosper with the events of the Warp in the West. Orcs would then be integrated into Imperial society more than they'd ever been.
5 Orcs Have Terrible Luck Establishing Homelands
The orcs are a fractious, and almost nomadic people, but this is not entirely by choice in the modern eras. There has been more than one incarnation of their homeland, the kingdom of Orsinium, and for some reason or another, it always seems to come to a bloody and ill-fated end.
The Bretons in particular seem to have an affinity for battling the orcs, having been involved in doing so on at least three separate occasions, besieging and summarily sacking Orsinium no matter where it had been established. This occurred once in the first era, again in the second, and most recently in the fourth era.
4 Criminals Pay A "Blood Price" Over Imprisonment
The orcish way of punishing criminal offense is peculiar and unique, though no doubt viewed as entirely barbaric by their neighbors. Offenders that have broken the Code of Malacath within the strongholds are not subjected to imprisonment, but instead forced to pay a "blood price" for their transgressions.
This manifests, as one might guess, in said criminal spilling blood until the other party feels that their debt is recompensed. However brutal this might sound in theory, depending on your point of view, it might actually be preferable to losing lengthy spans of life to hard labor or the confines of a dank dungeon.
3 It's Difficult To Gain Their Trust
The orcs are not trusting of outsiders, and given their history concerning politics and their general relationship with the other races, it's incredibly difficult to fault them for as much. The orcs have historically been spurned and warred against by practically every race that claims itself more civilized than they are.
However, while an outsider can rarely, if ever gain their true acceptance, they can establish a relationship with them, being allowed to come and go from their strongholds at their leisure. At this point they are known as "blood-kin," a hard earned status that usually involves the execution of some dangerous task or favor on their behalf, a feat that the Dovahkiin can actually accomplish in Skyrim.
2 They're Extremely Skilled Craftsmen
It may be a great deal more accurate to say "craftswomen," as it were. The orcs pride themselves on the quality of their arms and armor, wrought almost exclusively from a durable material known as orichalcum. They're made with a "function over form" ethic, and while they lack the artistic flourish of the fancier races' crafts, they're among the strongest known in Tamriel.
Orc women, in particular, have an affinity for the forge. More often than not, it is they who end up being totally responsible for passing down the art of this all-important craft through a given tribe's generations, ensuring they are continuously furnished with their famously heavy armor.
1 They're Religiously Divided
King Gortwog gro-Nagorm accomplished a great deal for the orcish people politically, but for all his contributions to the betterment of orcish society, it wasn't without its caveats. The orcish religion revolves around the worship of Malacath, the Daedric prince that emerged as the remains of the former entity known as Trinimac, after Boethiah ate them. Or so the story goes.
However, it was Gortwog's belief that the former entity, Trinimac, still yet lived, and that Malacath was but a deception. This created a divide in orcish spirituality, with some embracing Gortwog's controversial new stance, while some others remained strong in the original faith.