While the overall concept of orcs draws on a variety of pre-existing mythology, the main conception of the creatures stems from the fantasy writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, in particular The Lord of the Rings. In Tolkien's works, orcs are a brutish, aggressive, repulsive and generally malevolent species, existing in stark contrast with the benevolent Elvish race and generally serving an evil power. Tolkien's concept of orcs has subsequently been adapted and imported into other works of fantasy fiction as well as role-playing and strategy games (such as Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, and Warcraft), broadening the recognition of the creatures in popular culture.
Earlier references to creatures etymologically or conceptually similar to orcs can be found in Anglo-Saxon sources; including Beowulf and 16th-century Italian folk tales, in particular those of Giambattista Basile.
In popular culture (including fantasy fiction and games), orcs are variously portrayed but tend towards the descriptions originally set down by Tolkien. They are of approximately human shape (with bowed legs and long arms) and of varying size. Orcs are generally ugly and filthy, with prominent fangs and facial features tending toward the grotesque (generally a mixture of the ape-like and pig-like). Their skin is typically a shade of green, grey, black, brown, or sometimes red or sandy tan (Tolkien, in contrast, described some as "sallow", some as "black"—not necessarily a reference to skin colour—and one as "black-skinned").
Orcs are aggressive scavengers and opportunistic carnivores (with a taste for both in-species cannibalism and human flesh). While possessing a low cunning and crude culture of their own, they are generally portrayed as a subject race used as soldiers (or battle fodder) by beings of greater power and intelligence. There are exceptions, as orcs sometimes have cunning leaders of their own species, such as Azog from the Tolkien legendarium. Violent by nature, they will fight ferociously if compelled or directed by a guiding will, but tend towards more chaotic behaviour (including cowardice) if left to their own devices. They often use boars, wolves, wargs, and other unusual beasts for battle transport.
The modern use of the English term orc to denote a race of evil, humanoid creatures has its inception with J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien's earliest Elvish dictionaries include the entry Ork (orq-) "monster", "ogre", "demon", together with orqindi and "ogresse". Tolkien sometimes used the plural form orqui in his early texts.
Tolkien sometimes, particularly in The Hobbit, used the word goblin instead of orc to describe the creatures. He notes that "orc" is "usually translated" as "goblin". In The Lord of the Rings, "goblin" is also used as an alternative to "orc", particularly in chapters describing events from a hobbit's perspective. Thus, the Uruk-hai of Isengard and the Mordor orc-captain Grishnakh are described as both "orcs" and "goblins" in The Lord of the Rings. Later in his life, Tolkien expressed an intention to change the spelling to ork, but the only place where that spelling occurred in his lifetime was in the published version of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in the poem Bombadil Goes Boating: "I'll call the orks on you: that'll send you running!" In The Silmarillion, published posthumously, "orcs" was retained.
Old English glossaries record the word orc corresponding with Latin Orcus (deity of the Underworld), and synonymous with þyrs/ðyrs "ogre" (cognate to Old Norse: þurs), as well as "hell devil". The Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal defines ork in the very closely related Old Dutch language as a verslindend monster ("devouring monster"), and points at a possible origin in the Old Dutch nork "petulant, crabbed, evil person".
The Latin: Orcus is glossed as "Old English: Orc, þyrs, oððe hel-deofol"[a] as given in the first Cleopatra Glossary (10th century), and on this entry Thomas Wright wrote, "Orcus was the name for Pluto, the god of the infernal regions, hence we can easily understand the explanation of hel-deofol. Orc, in Anglo-Saxon, like thyrs, means a spectre, or goblin."[b]
Probably the lone literary example is from Beowulf, and its poet found use of the orc- stem in orcneas, one of the tribes of creatures named alongside elves and ettins (giants) that have been condemned by God:
—Beowulf, Fitt I, vv. 111–14
The compound orcneas is designated "evil spirits" above, but its accurate meaning is uncertain. Klaeber suggested it consisted of orc < L. orcus "the underworld" + neas "corpses" and that the translation "evils spirits" failed to do justice.[c]
The lexicography has been complicated by the Bosworth-Toller dictionary's conjecture that orcneas devolved from the form *orcen possibly meaning "(?) a sea-monster," possibly related to Icelandic: orkn (örkn).
The Oxford English Dictionary refers to orke, used in 1656 in a way that is reminiscent of giants and ogres. It is presumed that 'orke'/'ogre' came into English via continental fairy-tales, especially from the 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault, who borrowed most of his stories and developed his "ogre" from the 16th-century Italian writers Giambattista Basile, Giovanni Francesco Straparola (who has been credited with introducing the literary form of the fairy tale) and Basile, who wrote in the Naples dialect and claimed simply to be passing on oral folktales from his region that he had collected. In at least a dozen or more tales, Basile used huorco, huerco or uerco, the Neapolitan form of orco [Italian] "giant", "monster", to describe a large, hairy, tusked, mannish beast who could speak, that lived away in a dark forest or garden and that might capture and eat humans, or be indifferent or even benevolent—all depending on the tale.[d]
The Italian term orco is derived directly from the Latin Orcus, and is correctly translated into English as "ogre". In early Roman mythology, Orcus was a god of the underworld, and in medieval times, by association with death and the underworld, the term "orcus" also began to see use for other monstrous creatures and incorporated into the medieval bestiary. In particular, the Italian orco implies an anthropomorphic creature with bestial aspects, often demonic, suggestive of the Anglo-Saxon ogre. Because of this, Italian translations of the terms "orc" or "ork", as found in Beowulf, as well as the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and Markus Heitz, remain problematic, and are variously rendered—at the discretion of the translator—as orco (ogre), mezz'orco (half-ogre) or orchetto (small ogre).
The first English use of "orke", in 1656 (forty-one years before Perrault published his Mother Goose tales), comes from Don Zara, a fairy tale by Samuel Holland. It is a pastiche and a parody of fantastical Spanish romances such as Don Quixote and presumably is populated by beasts and monsters in common to them.[e] A monster called Orcus is mentioned in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (Book II, Canto XII, line xlvii).
The word ultimately comes from Latin Orcus, the demonic Roman god of death, who should not be confused with Pluto, the god of the underworld, and has transformed by several stages from the meanings "underworld", "hell", "devil", "evil creature" to "ogre". Tolkien and the lexicons he used attributed the origin of the doubtful Old English orc to "Orcus" and in one of his invented languages, the word for orc also had the form orco.
Words derived from or related to the Italian term orco exist in other countries: in addition to Italian dialectal uerco, huerco, and huorco and the Spanish word güercu, there is also Tyrolean ork, "a house gnome" or "a mountain spirit" that acts as a protector of wildlife.
Tolkien explicitly denied any intended connection between his orcs and the killer whale Orcinus orca and other cetaceans, that are also referred to as orcs. This is a borrowing from Latin orca, as used by Pliny the Elder, that refers to some kind of whale, quite likely Orcinus orca and which also appears in John Milton's poem Paradise Lost during a description of the Great Flood.
The humanoid, non-maritime race of orcs that exists in Middle-earth is the invention of J. R. R. Tolkien, albeit one which he stated in a letter was influenced by George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. The word is usually capitalised in Tolkien's writing, but not necessarily in other works.
Within Tolkien's invented languages, the Elvish words for orc are derived from a root ruk referring to fear and horror, from which is derived an expanded form of the root uruk. A noun *uruku is produced from the extended root. This eventually turns into Quenya urco, plural urqui. A related word *urkō produces Sindarin orch, plural yrch. The Quenya words are said to be less specific in meaning than the Sindarin, meaning 'bogey'. For the specific creatures called yrch by the Sindar, the Quenya word orco, with plurals orcor and orqui, was created.
These orcs had similar names in the other languages of Middle-earth: in Orkish uruk (restricted to the larger soldier-orcs); in the language of the Drúedain gorgûn; in Khuzdul rukhs, plural rakhâs; and in the language of Rohan and in the Common Speech, orc.
In Tolkien's writings, Orcs are of human shape, of varying size. They are depicted as ugly and filthy, with a taste for human flesh. They are fanged, bow-legged and long-armed and some have dark skin as if burned. In a private letter, Tolkien describes them as "squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types." They are portrayed as miserable, crafty, and vicious beings.
They fight ferociously as long as a guiding "will" (such as Morgoth or Sauron) compels or directs them. Tolkien sometimes describes Orcs as mainly being battle fodder.[f] Orcs are used as soldiers by both the greater and lesser villains of The Lord of the Rings, such as Sauron and Saruman.
Orcs eat all manner of flesh, including the flesh of Men. From descriptions and events relating to the Orcs, it seems likely that they indulge in cannibalism: in Chapter II of The Two Towers, Grishnákh, an Orc from Mordor, claims that the Isengard Orcs eat Orc-flesh, but whether that is true, or a canard spoken in malice, is uncertain. What does seem certain is that the Isengard Orcs resented that description. In that chapter Pippin is flung stale bread and an explicitly vague "strip of raw dried flesh... the flesh of he dared not guess what creature" by an Orc after a fight occurred in which the Uruk-hai killed several Orcs.
Orc origins are first described in The Tale of Tinúviel as "foul broodlings of Melkor[g] who fared abroad doing his evil work". In The Fall of Gondolin Tolkien wrote that "all that race were bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not, but their laugh that of the clash of metal, and to nothing were they more fain than to aid in the basest of the purposes of Melko."
In The Silmarillion, Tolkien conceived the Orcs to be Elves who had been enslaved and tortured by Morgoth and broken and twisted into his evil soldiers. In other versions of their origin, including those from Tolkien's notes, the Orcs are depicted as the parodies or false-creations of Morgoth, animated solely by his evil will or perhaps, by his own diffused essence, and made intentionally to mock or spite Eru Ilúvatar's creations—the Eldar and Edain.
See The origin of Orcs for a full list of possible Orc origins proposed by Tolkien.
In The Lord of the Rings, the orcs spoke Black Speech, the language of Mordor. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf recites a poem about the Rings of Power which includes the lines "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" for Frodo at Bag End. Later, in the protection of the elven stronghold of Rivendell, Gandalf himself feels safe enough to recite these lines in the original language, Black Speech: "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatûl".
|Durbatulúk||To rule them all|
|Gimbatul||To find them|
|Thrakatulúk||To bring them all|
|Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul||And in the darkness bind them|
Some of these words contain similar pieces, such as atul, and úk, that are repeated, in Durbatulúk and Tharakutulúk. From this it can be shown that úk at some point in a word means "all" and atul means "them". The language contains many compound words.
Tolkien referred to the Old English origins of the word "orc", observing that "the word is, as far as I am concerned, actually derived from Old English orc 'demon', but only because of its phonetic suitability" and "I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas and the gloss orc = þyrs ('ogre'), heldeofol ('hell-devil')). This is supposed not to be connected with modern English orc, ork, a name applied to various sea-beasts of the dolphin order". Tolkien also observed a connection with the Latin word orcus, noting that "the word used in translation of Q urko, S orch is Orc. But that is because of the similarity of the ancient English word orc, 'evil spirit or bogey', to the Elvish words. There is possibly no connection between them. The English word is now generally supposed to be derived from Latin orcus ". He also stated that, "Orc I derived from Anglo-Saxon, a word meaning demon, usually supposed to be derived from the Latin Orcus – hell. But I doubt this, though the matter is too involved to set out here".
The word orcné, attested in the plural word orcnéas, is a hapax legomenon in the poem Beowulf. It is generally supposed to contain an element -né, cognate to Gothic naus and Old Norse nár, both meaning 'corpse'. The usual Old English word for corpse is líc, but -né appears in nebbed 'corpse bed', and in dryhtné 'dead body of a warrior', where dryht is the name of a military unit that can be vaguely translated as 'band' or 'host'. In, If *orcné is to be glossed as orcus 'corpse', the meaning may be "corpse from Orcus (i.e. the underworld)", or "devil-corpse", understood as some sort of walking dead creature. This etymology is plausible, but it remains conjectural. Orc appears in two other locations in the poem Beowulf, but refers to cups of precious metal found in a treasure-hoard.
The Old English word þyrs, given as a gloss for Latin orcus, is cognate to Old Norse þurs 'giant', 'ogre', both originating from the unattested Common Germanic term thurisaz, which in Norse mythology refers to one of the monstrous descendants of the giant Ymir. But it is to be noted in connection with Tolkien's reference to a gloss orc=þyrs, that while there is an entry in an 11th-century English glossary which implies such an equivalence, [Latin] orcus [Old English] orc þyrs oððe heldeofol, this is in fact a conflation of two glosses in an earlier glossary of the 7th century, found in two different places: [Latin] orcus [Old English] orc and [Latin] orcus [Old English] þyrs oððe heldiubol". The first of these two glosses is in a section devoted to household implements and 'orcus' is, in that place, a corruption of Latin urceus 'jug', 'pitcher', or of orca 'pot', 'jar'. The word 'orc' in the first gloss has the meaning 'cup': it is descended from an early Germanic borrowing from urceus, related to Gothic aurkeis 'cup', both related to Modern English ark 'vessel', 'container'. In the second gloss, the Latin orcus is equated to Old English 'giant', 'hell-devil', but not to any already-existing Old English word 'orc', as Tolkien mistakenly thought.
Orc is a proper name for one of the characters in the complex mythology of William Blake. Unlike the Tolkien's humanoid monster, his Orc is a positive figure, the embodiment of rebellion, and stands opposed to Urizen, the embodiment of tradition.
In Blake's illuminated book America a Prophecy, Orc is described by his mythic opponent, "Albion's Angel" as the "Lover of Wild Rebellion, and transgressor of God's Law". He symbolizes the spirit of rebellion and freedom, which provoked the French Revolution.
In contemporary literature, a series of books written by Stan Nicholls focuses on the conflicts between a group of orcs and humans, but through the unconventional view of the orcs. The trilogy, first printed in the United Kingdom by Victor Gollancz Ltd, has become an international bestseller. It is one of the few series where orcs are featured as the main characters.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Orcs are a race that is close to extinction. They were originally bred (or made) from men and not goblins, as was commonly believed, in order to be used as weapons in a Great War, 'encouraged' by whips and beatings.
To date only one living Orc, called Nutt, has been shown as a primary character, although it has been indicated that there are others that exist in the wilds of far Uberwald. The brutal reputation and legends of Orcs reflects the traditional fantasy concept of soulless killers. Nutt was originally kept ignorant of his species, and believed as others suggested, that he was simply an unusually tall goblin. He is depicted as being a sensitive and intelligent creature, and by extension members of his species are portrayed as the victims of victors' propaganda.
Orcs play an important role in Markus Heitz' Dwarves quartet, The Dwarves, The War of the Dwarves, Revenge of the Dwarves and The Fate of the Dwarves, collectively known as the Dwarves saga.
The ork is a demon of Tyrol alpine folklore. As a dwarf, the ork was a well-behaved kobold/house spirit in wine cellars. He may be connected to the figure Orkise in the medieval poem Virginal, about Dietrich von Bern's battle with a vaguely similar being.
Since the publication of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, orcs have become a fixture of fantasy fiction and role-playing games, where the orcs and goblins are usually considered to be distinct races of goblinoids. They were once often depicted with pig-like faces, although they were never described as such by Tolkien. In the 1980s, another orc archetype was introduced by the table-top miniature war games Warhammer Fantasy Battle, a heavily muscled, green-skinned barbarian with exaggerated tusks, brow, and lower jaw, whose personality is not so much evil as crudely thuggish, often to a comical degree. This style of orc has since become popular in a vast number of fantasy settings and games, including a signature of the Warcraft series of computer games and spin-offs.
Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 games feature Orcs ('Orks' in Warhammer 40,000). The latter setting is unique for featuring Orks in a science fiction environment that are capable of building crude, but functional vehicles, firearms and even spaceships. Anatomically, Warhammer Orcs are no taller than humans, unless when they are standing upright instead of slouching, but are substantially broader, with ape-like short legs and long arms. They have massive heads that come directly forward on their necks, giving them a stooping appearance. They have tough thick green skin that is highly resistant to pain. Warhammer Orcs lack intelligence, but can be cunning at times. They are warlike and their society is geared towards constant warfare. Their constant need to fight is an expression of Orc culture: Orcs do not form alliances except for temporary alliances with each other. In combat they can transform even the most common object into a lethal killing instrument. Orcs tend to ally with Goblins, who are called Gretchin in Warhammer 40,000, and Snotlings, but when allied, the Orcs act as bullies towards their smaller Goblinoid (Orkoid in Warhammer 40,000) cousins, using them as servants, Human (Goblin) shields, or an emergency food source. They worship a pair of gods known as Gork and Mork (other gods were included in earlier editions of the game, but are no longer included), one of which is described as brutally cunning and the other as cunningly brutal, though the orcs themselves do not seem to know which is which. In Warhammer 40,000, orks develop from a fungus-like beginning. They are spread by spores which are emitted constantly during an ork's lifetime and are all expelled when it dies.
Orcs are one of the most important races in the Warcraft computer game series. Originally presented as a race of typically savage monsters, more recent Warcraft games have revised their image into that of "savage but noble" warriors and shamans. Orcs originally hailed from the world of Draenor until the majority of the clans were tricked into serving a force of world-destroying demons, named the Burning Legion. Under the Legion's influence, the Orcish Horde slaughtered their onetime allies the Draenei and then were mystically transported to Azeroth to conquer it in the Legion's name. After two devastating wars, the orcs were finally defeated by the Human Alliance and rounded up into internment camps. They remained there until a young orc who had been raised by humans named Thrall (birth name Go'el), rallied them together and freed the bulk of the Horde from the influence of the demons. Thrall then founded a new Horde on the principles of strength and honor, hoping to reclaim the orcs' noble heritage.
Warcraft orcs are humanoid, but prodigiously muscled, with broad noses and distinctive tusked mouths. There are many tribes of Orc, each one being specialized: Frostwolves serves as cavalry with their dire wolves, while the Shadowmoon clan provides powerful shamans. The Orcs originally had brown skin, but demonic corruption turned it green, and further demonic influence can turn it red. Male Orcs are significantly larger than humans, around 6.5 feet (2.0 m) tall when standing straight, however most male Orcs have a hunched back. Females, which first appeared as playable characters in World of Warcraft, are slightly larger than a human female and while much more slender than their male counterparts, are nonetheless well-muscled. The tusks of female orcs are very small, and are arguably more exaggerated canines than tusks. Orc warriors wear little armor but have horned helmets and carry wielding axes. Warcraft is one of the few settings in which orcs are not inherently evil and, after significant plot developments in the latest Warcraft games, can even be heroic. One could consider the orcs to be unfairly treated by humans and not only misunderstood, but vilified. The humans' enmity and prejudice towards the Orcs can be traced back to the first and second invasions and could be partially justified, as it was orcs under the control of the Burning Legion that invaded. Despite the best efforts of reformist orcs (such as Thrall) to usher in an era of peace between humans and orcs, humankind's suspicions towards the orcs are further exacerbated by the bellicose and expansionist attitudes of parts of orc society, such as the Warsong Clan, who encroach upon the ancestral territories of the Night Elves, the allies of the humans. Thrall's orcs have occasionally formed successful alliances with humans.
Their political standpoint in the Warcraft universe is set as being the leading race of the Horde, an association of races created to promote mutual survival. The trolls, a similar race in the game, partially live in the same area as the orcs and are also scattered around Azeroth, where most live in the wilderness.
In the fantasy series The Harrow, author Philip Mazza includes a race of orcs or the Gulguthra in the ancient tongue. The Gulguthra are members of the Brood, or En' Rauko, an evil race of creatures that occupy a post-apocalypse fantasy world. Early in The Harrow: From Under a Tree, Mazza describes the race of brood through the eyes of two Balor Guild felines, Lil' Man and Chumsey: " . . . The cats were now able to clearly see the worm brood below as they gathered throughout the city: Cu Sith or Black Dogs, great black beasts, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever lived, with eyes that shined white in darkness; Fachens, hideous muscular creatures, man-like in stature, these were monsters known for their despicable acts and a desire to inflict severe pain and suffering on their enemies; Trolls, dim-witted brutish hulks, ugly with a rubbery moss-green hide and quite evil, they fed on anything they come across; Firbolgs, a deformed race of man, possessing surprising strength with bent legs and arms and hunched backs, they were dark-skinned with long hair kept back and thick black beards, and it was said they were remnants of primitive man; Orcs or the Gulguthra in the ancient tongue, large creatures slightly stooped in posture, a low jutting forehead and a snout instead of a nose, and coarse hair covering ray-green skin, with eyes a reddish tint and well developed canine teeth and short pointed ears . . ."
In the fantasy role-playing games Earthdawn and Shadowrun, orks are neither good nor evil. In Earthdawn they have their own place among the other name-giving races: humans, dwarfs, elves, obsidimen, T'skrang, trolls and windlings.
In Shadowrun, the orks are one subspecies of Homo sapiens among others living on post-2011 Earth. They emerged during the Unexplained Genetic Expression in 2021, as either young humans transformed into orks, or babies that were born as orks from human parents. They are categorized as Homo sapiens robustus and are considered to be metahumans, like trolls, elves, and dwarfs. They are able to interbreed with humans and other fellow metahumans. Despite this, their offspring (like the offspring of all inter-racial metahuman matings in Shadowrun) is of the race of only one of their parents. Being an ork is due to the expression of a gene, and thus half-breeds do not exist. They grow much faster than humans, reach maturity at 12, and give birth to a litter of about four children, though six to eight are not uncommon. Their average life-expectancy is about 35 to 40 years. They are physically larger and stronger than humans and their mental capacities are considered slightly inferior, though they are still not as dull as the average troll.
In the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, Orcs were originally portrayed as cowardly warriors who rely on the smaller, less intelligent Goblins when waging warfare. Very few creatures of the Orc type have been printed: most of them appeared in the Fallen Empires and Ice Age expansion sets. While Orcs were reprinted in more recent core sets, they never appeared in any subsequent expansion sets until Coldsnap, which introduced more Orc cards, along with a legendary Orc Shaman: Sek'kuar, Deathkeeper. In the recent set Khans of Tarkir, 7 new Orc cards have been introduced, including a legendary Orc Warrior: Zurgo Helmsmasher. With this new set, they seem to be changing the portrayal of Orcs from cowardly warriors to extremely formidable warriors that are very powerful, but highly reckless in battle.
In Ashan, the orcs are orange, extremely muscular humanoids, that were created by wizards (by fusing demon blood with human flesh) to be used as shock troops against a demon invasion. In Dark Messiah, a player spends a significant amount of time facing members of the Redskull Clan, a group of orcs living on an island that is important to the plot. They are led by a shaman (which is implied by a conversation between two orcs to be a popularly elected position) and make references to worshiping an unnamed fire goddess. In Tribes of the East, the mainland orcs are modelled after the Mongols, are led by a khan and worship a personified Father Sky.
In Hasbro's Heroscape line of game products, Orcs come from the pre-historic planet Grut and are thus known as Grut Orcs. They are blue-skinned, with prominent tusks or horns protruding from their chins or cheeks. They are slightly smaller than humans, except for the elite heavy gruts, which are the size of a normal human. Several Orc champions ride prehistoric animals (including a Tyrannosaurus rex, a Velociraptor  and sabre-tooth tigers, known as Swogs, indicating that the Orcs are accomplished animal tamers.
In Tamriel, orcs are humanoids distantly related to their contemporary elves and are noted for their unshakable courage in battle, and barbaric history. Although now integrated into Imperial culture, Orcs still retain their barbaric nature, with many citizens of Tamriel reluctant to accept them as true members of society. They have large under-teeth that protrude from the bottom jaw out from their mouths. One of the taller races of the Elder Scrolls series, they are, contrary to other renditions, not muscle-bound and war-like, but are still significantly bulkier than most other races. They are distinguishable by their green skin.
The orcs, or Orsimer (meaning 'the Pariah Folk' in the elven language), are a strain of descendants of the original elven race. The Orsimer were followers of the god Trinimac, but transformed from gold-skinned elves to green-skinned orcs when Trinimac was transformed into the Daedric Prince Malacath by Boethiah, the Daedric Prince of deceit and treachery. The Orcs now worship Malacath as their chief god.
Originally a society of marauders prone to pillaging human settlements in the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell, the orcs suffered a series of crushing defeats from the humans throughout the centuries; eventually, relations between orcs and humans improved considerably and the orcs have become respected members of the Empire's society (they get along with humans better than Tamriel's elves do, as the elves are susceptible to attempts at conquering the humans). However, most citizens of Tamriel are reluctant to accept Orcs into society, due to their barbaric history.
Another unique quality about the Orcs in the Elder Scrolls is that they are talented smiths and excellent rank-and-file soldiers, traits that are generally attributed to dwarves. It is said that Orc troops in heavy armor are among the fiercest warriors in Tamriel, and they are known for their Berserker Rage. Though a constant in the Elder Scrolls series is the cultural assimilation of various fantasy races into whichever area they happen to live, there also exist isolated strongholds of Orcs dedicated to preserving the 'old ways' of their cultural heritage.