The proud and pompous Altmer, or high elves, have certainly got a bad rap. And at a glance, it's pretty easy to assume that it's well deserved. After all, when they're not busying themselves glowering down their pointy noses at the other, "lesser" races or attempting the banish the worship of their favored deities, you can place a fairly safe bet that they're hatching a scheme to conquer the continent and enslave those inhabitants that they don't exterminate outright. It can't be said that they haven't put in the hours for it.
And while it's tempting to sort of write them off as your average, run-of-the-mill egotistical bad guys at that point, you're only getting one side of the coin. And you're missing out on heaps of complex lore, engaging history, and interesting cultural dynamics that help to explain why so many of them tend to be absolute jerks. Does that pique your interest? We kind of thought it would, so keep scrolling to check out ten often overlooked facts concerning The Elder Scrolls' snobbiest race, the high elves.
10 They Invented The Common Tongue
The common tongue of Tamriel, which facilitates communication between its many disparate races, is based entirely on the spoken and written word of the Altmer. This is a pretty big deal when you consider the diplomatic avenues and cultural intermingling that it has enabled throughout the ages.
In fact, most of the artistic pursuits and scientific endeavors of the other provinces are heavily influenced if not outright based on those of the Altmer. They no doubt see the exploits of their "lesser" contemporaries totally inferior, but the fact that they have such a pronounced impact should speak volumes on their importance.
9 Altmer Have a Very Long Lifespan
Altmer live two to three times as long as your average person, with individuals often living from two hundred to three hundred years. By comparison, the other races must seem awfully fleeting and transient from their perspective, and understandably so.
So when an Altmer critiques the arts and craftsmanship stemming from other races, it's important to realize that in most circumstances they've had a much longer span of time to hone whatever practice they're speaking on, lending quite a bit of weight to their criticism, however self-absorbed it might seem to be.
8 They Practice Eugenics
Maintaining the purity of their bloodline and racial cohesion is an incredibly important aspect of high elven society, for better or for worse. To this end, they practice selective breeding in order to ensure that their elven blood remains strong and prominent within their society.
This can manifest in some brutal practices. The Pocket Guide to the Empire, First Edition: Aldmeri Dominion alleges that the high elves actually slay nine out of ten infants born to their race in pursuit of said bloodline purity. While it's entirely possible that the author entertains a level of bias towards them, it's difficult to imagine such a strong claim made without at least some grain of truth buried within.
7 They Command A Powerful Navy
The Altmer pride themselves on their naval pursuits and the quality of their ships, no doubt a matter of necessity considering their need to defend the island nation they call home. They've had no shortage of practice in order to develop these skills, having battled the likes of the sea elves and the Sload throughout history.
In fact, their naval prowess coupled with their conventional marshal strength might have kept them from being incorporated into the Empire by Tiber Septim during the second era, had he not made use of the Numidium to conquer their holdings.
6 They're Not All Like The Thalmor
The greater majority of high elves encountered over the course of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are affiliated with the Thalmor, a sort of paramilitary group that had risen to power at the time. They're among the most nationalistic and prejudiced of the high elves, believing in elven superiority overall.
However, they aren't necessarily representative of the Altmer as a whole. Although certainly arrogant, the population of the Summerset Isles is varied as most populations, and to identify them all with the Thalmor is erroneous. In fact, particularly in more recent times, there is a significant youth component advocating reform. While certainly a rarity among their people, it's notable enough to merit acknowledgment.
5 The Thalmor Stole Credit For Solving The Oblivion Crisis
As anyone that has played through The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion knows, the turning back of Mehrunes' Daedric horde is largely thanks to the Hero of Kvatch and Martin Septim. However, news seems to travel slowly in Tamriel, and the Thalmor saw the end of the Oblivion crisis as an opportunity for political clout.
When the Daedra halted their invasion of the Summerset Isles, the Thalmor were quick to take credit for their defeat, rallying much of the population to their cause. The few who did raise issues with this claim were largely overridden by the immense popularity this afforded the Thalmor among their own people.
4 They Have Their Own Thieves' Guild
If the Dragonborn pursues the Thieves' Guild questline in Skyrim, expanding their influence will eventually result in a confrontation with the Summerset Shadows, an Altmer-exclusive Thieves' Guild that has recently expanded their operations into the province.
There's precious little to learn concerning their lore and history, but some bits and pieces can be gleaned from their conduct. They're not above what is essentially grave-robbing, and the Shadows are entirely willing to use violent means to accomplish their ends, in stark contrast to the violence-averse methodology of Skyrim's Thieves' Guild.
3 They Settle Their Differences With Duels
The high elves aren't above falling into bickering disagreements with one another. Generally, that's as far as it goes, but as with all peoples, sometimes words aren't enough. At that point, the Altmer settle their affairs with a bout of one-on-one combat.
However, it's definitely nothing akin to a barroom brawl. Altmer duels are intricate, ordered, honorable, and practically ritualized in execution, hinging on a set of established rules. The weaponry is restricted, meaning no fancy, enchanted weapons, and they must be carried out in the presence of a witness who can validate that both combatants maintained proper conduct, and affirm its results.
2 Their Society Is Built On A Classist Hierarchy
Given that we're discussing a race that places extreme value on their own superiority over the others, it is perhaps less than surprising to learn that they further divide their own based on the same merit. The highest rungs are occupied by "The Wise," teachers, scholars, and other fonts of their accumulated knowledge.
Following them, in order, are artists, princes, warriors, landowners, merchants, workers and laborers, and finally, slaves. It is, at the very least, commendable that they value educators and artists above all, though that obviously comes at a cost to the rest of those dwelling within their society.
1 They're The Closest Living Descendants To The Aldmer
The Aldmer were the original elves from which all others can claim their ancestry. It's much more than convenient that the spelling of "Altmer" is only removed from the spelling of "Aldmer" by a singular letter, as the Altmer high elves most resemble them.
This perhaps explains another facet of the Altmer's obsession with maintaining the purity of their bloodlines, as this presents the idea that not only is it done to maintain their magical aptitude and longevity, but to preserve the heritage of their Aldmer ancestors to the highest degree possible.