The beloved Elder Scrolls series has been around for over 20 years now, spanning past its humble high fantasy origins and turning into an entire universe of its own. ES is built around swords, magic and a sense of alien wonder. From the early days of Arena to the success of Morrowind and the booming popularity of Skyrim, everyone's favorite open-world fantasy RPG series is widely considered one of the best video game franchises in the world. Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim all won Game of the Year awards from multiple publications. As any player or fan will also know, the series boasts one of the deepest and most complex bodies of lore this side of Warhammer 40k.
Everyone who has traveled Tamriel as the Nerevarine, the Hero of Kvatch, or the Dragonborn knows your character starts off as a weak scrub that can be killed by large insects, but after you grind and level up, by the end of the game you can eventually kill everything in one hit, become the leader of major factions, and basically have the powers of a god. Like many fictional worlds, endless debates emerge over who is the strongest hero. But in addition to overpowered protagonists, the award-winning series by Bethesda also has some of the most powerful villains in any fictional universe. From evil wizards and ancient vampires to mortals who turns themselves into demigods, to outright otherworldly deities, Elder Scrolls villains are a force to be reckoned with.
With that being said, here are the 15 most powerful antagonists in the Elder Scrolls universe.
15 Jagar Tharn
Jagar Tharn was the Imperial Battlemage and the main antagonist of The Elder Scrolls I: Arena, the first game in the Elder Scrolls series. Tharn was a powerful sorcerer that famously stole the Staff of Chaos, betrayed Emperor Uriel Septim VII, and secretly imprisoned him in a realm of Oblivion. He then used Illusion magic to take his place for an entire decade. The Tharns were a prominent Cyrodilic family in the Empire, known for their shrewd political machinations and ruthless subjugation of dissent against the Emperor. This enabled Jagar Tharn to get close to the Septim family, obtain the coveted and powerful Imperial Battlemage position, and become the Emperor’s closest adviser before overthrowing him.
Tharn possessed extremely powerful necromantic magic, commanding armies of the undead. He even stored his life force in the Jewel of Fire, which made him immortal so long as it wasn’t destroyed. Though he is ultimately defeated during the events of Arena, Tharn went down in history as one of the most nefarious and insane villains to ever walk Tamriel. His legacy and the collective trauma of his deeds lived on for many years; Uriel Septim VII no longer ruled the Empire with his previous war-like ways, and paranoid rumors that the Emperor’s heirs had been replaced by Tharn’s doppelgangers lasted for decades.
Frequently compared to an “Elven Nazi Germany” by fans, the Thalmor lead the militarist government of the Third Aldmeri Dominion, a regime based on racial supremacy of Mer (Elven) races over Men (humans). The Dominion, under the leadership of the Thalmor, defeated the Empire and forced them to sign the humiliating White-Gold Concordat, which outlawed Talos worship, disbanded the Blades, and gave them actual authority to enforce the Concordat within the Empire’s borders. Oh, and also to cede most of Hammerfell to the Dominion.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Thalmor Justiciars are powerful Altmer wizards who are seen patrolling around Skyrim, hunting down “heretics,” and present a severe threat to the player in combat. By the beginning of the game, the Aldmeri Dominion control several former Imperial provinces, including the Summerset Isles, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. Reportedly, they used powerful magic to win the loyalty of the cat-like Khajiit by restoring the twin moons of Nirn, the basis for the Khajiit religion (or at least, they look credit for it). Questions still remain about the role the Aldmeri Dominion will play in future Elder Scrolls games.
13 Lord Harkon
An ancient Nordic pure-blood vampire, Lord Harkon is the player’s main enemy in the Dawnguard DLC. He is the leader of the Volkihar vampires and the progenitor of the Volkihar clan. His plan during the story of Dawnguard is to block out the sun using the power of an artifact known as Auriel’s Bow, thus allowing vampires to roam Nirn free. He even stole not one, but two Elder Scrolls for this purpose.
Harkon is one of a very few characters capable of transforming into a Vampire Lord; a humanoid bat-like creature with wings and deadly claws. Harkon’s vampirism and that of his clan were a gift from the Daedric Prince Molag Bal himself. He once ruled as a powerful mortal king, but over time he grew afraid of his own mortality. Harkon made a pact with Malog Bal for immortality and sacrificed a thousand of his subjects to him. In return, the Daedric Prince made him and his family pure-blooded vampires.
Remarkably, Harkon must be killed no matter if you side with the Volkihar vampires or the Dawnguard in the DLC, as even the other vampires think blocking the sun is a bad idea, and secretly want him dead. You must fight him in his Vampire Lord form, and he summons gargoyles and skeletons to aid him. When greatly wounded, he surrounds himself with a shield of Blood Magic and quickly heals. He would be invincible if not for Auriel’s Bow, which allows the player to break the shield and force him back into the fight.
Harkon is one of the most unfeeling villains in the Elder Scrolls series. He seems to care little about his own daughter or wife, viewing them as only a means to achieve his goal of blotting out the sun forever. Part of his plan is to sacrifice his daughter, Serana, to use her blood to fulfill the prophecy. His immortality has convinced him that ties between people, and even family, are fleeting and of no consequence, while power takes precedence over all. He views humans as prey, lycanthropes as filthy beasts, and those who contracted vampirism through disease as lesser beings.
Mannimarco is an Altmer lich, also known as “The King of Worms,” and his name is synonymous with necromancy. He is the head of the Order of the Black Worm and is known to history as the most powerful necromancer in Tamriel. He appears in multiple games, including Daggerfall and Oblivion, and the MMO Elder Scrolls Online.
Mannimarco was once a promising young mage and fellow student in the mysterious Psijic Order along with the famous Vanus Galerion. Unlike his counterpart Galerion, who felt that magic should be available for everyone to practice, Mannimarco wanted to use necromancy and forbidden experiments to become ever more powerful. He was soon kicked out of the Order and exiled to the mainland.
Galerion went on to found the Mage’s Guild, the faction of choice for magic-oriented players in most of the series. Mannimarco went on to found a necromantic cult called the Order of the Black Worm, which is just as terrifying as its name. In the Third Era, the two former schoolmates became mortal enemies when the Mages Guild banned the practice of necromancy, and the Order of the Black Worm responded by launching an all-out attack on the Guild.
Mannimarco is a walking, immortal corpse with acid for blood, and has a nasty habit of killing powerful wizards and trapping their souls, and reanimating their corpses as thralls for his studies. He was known to have done this to several heads of the Mages Guild. He intends to take Molag Bal’s place as the Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement, become a god, and destroy the Mage’s Guild. Mannimacro ascended to some form of godhood as part of the canon and appears to be immortal, explaining how he was able to appear in separate games set centuries apart.
11 Mankar Camoran
Mankar Camoran is the leader of the Mythic Dawn cult in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the main antagonist for most of the game. The Mythic Dawn, in case you didn’t know, are worshippers of the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon who begin the game by assassinating Emperor Uriel Septim VII in a plot to destroy the world. Believing the mortal world of Nirn to be nothing more than another plane of Oblivion, he and his followers weakened the barrier between Nirn and Oblivion, allowing Oblivion Gates to open all around the land. This let in Daedra, destroying whole cities and probably killing quite a lot of people. Their goal was to achieve immortality by letting Mehrunes Dagon take over the mortal plane.
In game, Camoran is a powerful mage with an impressive set of stats, including huge magicka bonuses, resistance to disease, frost, magic and shock, he reflects a great deal of damage and it is impossible to sneak around him. He has his own custom birth sign in the game mechanics. In Oblivion, he is a semi-god commanding an army of cultists, and at one point creates his own plane of Oblivion, which he called Paradise.
As the man who almost single-handedly put an end to the Septim dynasty, the first ruling family of the Empire, and thus ended the Third Era and the “golden age” of the Elder Scrolls universe, Camoran had an immeasurable effect on the history of the series.
Miraak shows up in the Dragonborn DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a dark mirror of the player character, He is called the First Dragonborn, and rules over the island of Solstheim, where he brainwashes the populace into building a huge temple for him (he also makes them mindlessly chant his name - what a great power!). He also sends those annoying bone-masked cultists out to kill you throughout the game until you complete Dragonborn. By the time you meet him, he is the Champion of the Lovecraftian monster Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of knowledge and memory.
Miraak is immortal, having disappeared into the realms of Oblivion ever since the time of the ancient Dragons. He also wears a distinctive Dragon Priest mask, which was given to him by the Dragons themselves. Being Dragonborn, Miraak has the ability to absorb the souls and knowledge of dragons that he (or the player) slay in combat. Historically, he turned on his Dragon lords and killed a great many of them, absorbing their power. When in battle with the player, he uses strong destruction spells and Dragon Shouts to counter your own. Miraak also appears to have strong psychic powers; when you ask people in the game if they have heard of Miraak, they act as if they have heard the name but cannot recall. Plus, he can actually ride a dragon in-game, and that’s got to count for something.
9 Sotha Sil
Sotha Sil was one of the three members of the Tribunal, alongside his fellow Dunmer demigods Almalexia and Vivec. Using the powers of the Heart of Lorkhan, the three would make an annual journey to Red Mountain in Morrowind to conduct a godhood ritual. Sotha Sil was the wizard-mystic god of the Dunmer, or dark elves. Sotha Sil, like his fellow Tribunal members, was a mortal who used the Heart of Lorkhan and Kagrenac’s Tools to give himself divine powers and become a god. He was worshiped as such by the Tribunal Temple until the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
While generally the least-known of the three, he was known as the father of crafts and sorcery and was associated with tinkering and clockwork. He built himself a massive underground complex aptly known as Clockwork City, from which he began to “forge the future” and even “reshape the world.” Sil became obsessed with building the city, supposedly even to the point of not noticing the loss of his godhood. Sotha Sil was also able to travel into the realms of Oblivion at will, even making a deal with no less than eight of the Daedric Princes. He was knowledgeable enough to teach magic to the Psijic Order. In one incident, Sotha Sil and Almalexia were even able to banish Mehrunes Dagon, the Daedric Prince of Destruction, back to Oblivion.
Even to dedicated players and lore-hounds of the Elder Scrolls series, Sotha Sil remains largely a mystery. However, he is without question one of the most powerful beings to ever live in-universe.
Almalexia was another member of Morrowind’s trio of god-kings, the Tribunal, who appears in the Morrowind DLC of the same name. Like the other two, Almalexia is immortal and possesses god-like power, though as part of the plot of Tribunal she has been driven mad by the decline and eventual loss of her power through the actions of Dagoth Ur. She was worshiped as the Warrior-Goddess and adoptive mother of the Dunmer. Supposedly, at her peak, her acts of amazing power and mercy were countless.
Even in the weakened state that you meet her in, Almalexia is a formidable opponent. She manipulates the player into furthering her own goals, and even murders her fellow Tribunal member Sotha Sil after going off the deep end. She also unleashed his mechanical minions on Mournhold simply to cause havoc. In battle, Almalexia has some of the most impressive stats of any NPC in the Elder Scrolls series, having 100% resistance to disease, fire, normal weapons, paralysis and poison, and 50% resistance to frost damage, magicka, and shock.
By now, you’ve probably learned that the Tribunal are not meant to be heroes. In fact, they are some of the evilest people in the series, Vivec arguably the evilest and powerful of all. The de-facto head of the three Chimer who would become the Tribunal using the powers of Kagrenac’s Tools and the Heart of Lorkhan, Vivec was the leading member of the Tribunal, the false gods of Morrowind, styling himself the “Guardian God-King” and “warrior-poet” of the Dunmer.
Venerated as a deity, Vivec lived thousands of years, even rewriting time on multiple occasions. Even in his greatly weakened state, he’s also the only member of the Tribunal left maintaining the Ghostgate around Dagoth Ur’s territory on Red Mountain. He famously stopped an asteroid from destroying the island of Vvardenfell in Morrowind and left it hovering above the city of Vivec, which is named after him, using only the power. As the story goes, when Vivec saw it falling from the sky, he merely outstretched his hand and froze it in place. Instead of destroying it, Vivec decided to keep it floating above the city forever. His reasoning? If they ever stopped worshipping and loving him, the meteor would fall on them and destroy them all. Charming guy, that Vivec.
Oh, and let’s not forget some deep lore hints that he betrayed and murdered your character in a past life to gain his power.
6 Dagoth Ur
Ask any Elder Scrolls fan about their favorite villain, and it’s a safe bet a lot of them will name-drop Dagoth Ur. Not only is he the main antagonist of Morrowind, the most popular game among fans, but he is also the most powerful (and most sympathetic and eloquent) of any of the villains in the series. Dagoth Ur is the immortal leader of the disgraced House Dagoth, also called the Sixth House, who dwells beneath Red Mountain. His personal army consists of his “sleepers,” Dunmer corrupted by the power of the Heart of Lorkhan, as well as his powerful brother the Ash Vampires, and creatures infected by the Corprus disease, which he himself created. He is responsible for the blight storms which plague gameplay until the completion of the main quest.
Unlike the members of the Tribunal, Dagoth Ur managed to tap into the Heart of Lorkhan without the use of Kagrenac’s Tools, making him immortal and giving him the powers of a god. Dagoth Ur has an infinite health car that regenerates every time you hit him, and mechanically there is no character in the game that can kill Dagoth Ur. The player can only defeat Dagoth Ur by fulfilling every part of the Nerevarine prophecy and using Kagrenac’s Tools to severe the power of the Heart of Lorkhan from the mortal plane. He is resistant to fire, frost, and shock magic, and uses several attacks to boost his strength and speed. Even if you reach level 100 in-game, the fight with Dagoth is still a challenge.
5 Molag Bal
Molag Bal is the Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement. Though the daedra are supposed to exist beyond mortal concepts like “good” and “evil,” Molag Bal is the daedra most often associated with evil. His main goals are enslaving the souls of mortals and sowing discord in other planes. Legend has it that Molag Bal became the father of the first vampire by raping a Nedic virgin, who then massacred an entire village with her powers. As such, he earned the nickname the “King of Rape,” and all vampires can be considered his offspring. He is associated with slavery, domination, and corruption.
Molag Bal serves as the main antagonist of the Elder Scrolls Online but has appeared in many other games, always as a force of pure evil. He can summon daedric titans, deadroths, and other monsters from Oblivion to assist him in battle. It’s rumored he may have helped Jagar Tharn seize the Imperial throne in Arena. Molag Bal is by far the most malevolent of the sixteen Daedric Princes, and the closest the series has to a Satan or devil figure.
4 Mehrunes Dagon
Mehrunes Dagon is the primary antagonist of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and the Daedric Prince of revolution, destruction, and change. His plane of Oblivion, the Deadlands, resembles the typical depiction of hell. He is associated with natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and fires. Fitting his Satanic appearance, his goal is to conquer the mortal world and create a literal hell on earth, and he has made several attempts to do this. Next to Molag Bal, he is considered the second most evil Daedric Prince.
Dagon is despised even by the other daedra for breaking the pact between the Aedra and the other Daedric Princes by trying to break the barriers to the mortal world during the events of Oblivion’s main questline. They saw his violation of the pace as damaging their credibility. He has a personal army of demonic creatures known as Dremora, which appears as enemies frequently in the series. Through his servant Mankar Camoran, Mehrunes Dagon was responsible for assassinating the Emperor and bringing an end to the Septim dynasty, the first ruling family of the Empire, and ending the Third Era of the Elder Scrolls universe.
3 Hermaeus Mora
Hermaeus Mora is the Daedric Prince of Fate and Knowledge. Like with most of the Daedric Princes, to mortals he seems to have the powers of a god; time means nothing to Hermaeus Mora; past, present, and future are all the same to him. He has ties to the aedra known as Akatosh, which gives him more power over time than the lesser daedra. His realm of Apocrypha appears as an endless library of forbidden knowledge. He is able to steal the souls of mortals, which he does by piercing them with his Lovecraftian tentacles.
Hermaeus Mora is omnipresent, can warp reality on a whim, and can even affect the laws of physics. For that reason, he is perhaps the most powerful Daedric Prince on this list.
Alduin is the main antagonist of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Nordic God of Destruction. Legend says Alduin is the eldest son of the most prominent god in the series, Akatosh, and acts as an evil counterpart to his “father.” Alduin believes that dragons (or Dovah) are superior to humans, and seeks to restore dragon rule of the world through reviving his long-dead brethren, and eventually to conquer Tamriel and end the world. He used to rule the mortal world and was only defeated in ancient times by the use of an Elder Scroll to send him forward in time.
A monstrous black dragon, Alduin regains his strength by devouring the souls of mortals in the realm of Sovngarde, which is where you have to slay him while he is still weakened. He is invincible throughout the game, except at the very end when the player knows the Dragonrend shout. This Dragon Shout forces him to land and makes him mortal. Even after his defeat, it is implied through dialogue that Alduin is not truly defeated, because the dragon is destined to one day end the world.
Jyggalag was the Daedric Prince of Order and the most powerful of all the daedra. As the ruler of logical order and deduction, he was able to see every detail of every action that has ever taken place in the mortal realm of Mundus or any of the realms of Oblivion long before they actually happened. He is the main antagonist of the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion. In ancient times long before recorded history, Jyggalag’s realm extended across all of Oblivion. many in-game references name Jyggalag as the most powerful of any of the daedra. The other Daedric Princes grew so jealous and fearful of his power that they cursed him to become the infamous Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, with a personality the exact opposite as Jyggalag. As Sheogorath, he would bring chaos and insanity instead of order and logic.
It took the combined efforts and powers of fifteen god-like beings to bring Jyggalag down, and even then they could only curse him, not destroy him. If we define power as the ability to exert influence, no single being in the Elder Scrolls series beats Jyggalag, whose will of perfect order and logic dominated both Mundus and Oblivion for countless eons. While all the Daedric Princes have near-infinite power within their own realms, Jyggalag was able to impose his rule upon others. Had the others not stopped him, it’s possible he could have come to rule over all the planes of existence.
He commands his own army of lesser daedra called the Knights of Order, which are spawned by his Priests of Order. In his true form, Jyggalag knows and sees everything that will be done in the past, present, and future, can predict with 100% mathematical accuracy every action before the actor in questions even thinks of it and possesses the strength and army to bend all others to his will.
For this reason, Jyggalag ranks as the most powerful villain in all of Elder Scrolls.
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