In Tamriel, there are 3 main ‘races’ of people: Man, Mer, and Beast. Man, of course, is the most dominant, populous, but also the most violent. The beast folk, while portrayed as brutish, mostly keep to themselves (save for the Khajit merchants). The Mer, on the other hand, is one of Tamriel’s most beautiful, long-lived, and powerful races. So why aren’t they at the top of the social hierarchy?
We take a brief look at the enigmatic Mer, from the proud High Elf Altmers of the Summerset Isles, the nature-loving Wood Elf Bosmers of Valenwood, the mysterious Dark Elf Dunmers of Morrowind, and the proud Orcish Orsimer of Orsinium.
The Origin of the Mer
The mer are a proud race, mostly because of their purported lineage: The different mer people strongly believe that their people can trace their heritage directly back to the Aedra, the Elder Scroll’s version of Gods and Goddesses. The mer believe that their ancestors were once Aedra who were unfortunately tricked by Lorkhan, the God responsible for the existence of Nirn itself, to giving up their immortality.
Unlike the other mortal races of Tamriel, the Mer treat life as a punishment, meant to test their character in the hopes of regaining their immortality. Much of the mers perceived arrogance is derived from this internal struggle of knowing that their people was once one of the most powerful entities in the world.
Physiologically, the Mer people are similar to Humans, although are much more long lived: a typical Mer can live up to a thousand years, albeit rarely because of war and sickness. Of all the mer races, the Altmer live the longest, mostly because they avoid armed conflict the most, have the most developed dwellings, and have the hardiest immune systems (making them strongly resistant to most, if not all, diseases and poison) amongst all the other races of Tamriel, even amongst fellow mers.
Many believe that the Altmers are the closest in terms of physiology and culture to the proto-mer people that lived in Aldmeris (evident in the similarities of their names), while the other mer people, save for the Orsimer, are derived directly from their bloodline.
Unlike the Khajit or the Argonians, the Mer people resemble Men the most, albeit with a few key differences: Mer people tend to be leaner, with less muscle, and have a wider variety of skin tones. Mer people also have pointy ears. The most obvious difference, however, is the height: Mers, particularly Altmers, are much taller than most men, with female mers being a few inches taller than even the common Nord.
Because of their natural affinity to magic and nature, mer people rely heavily on spells and other magical means when it comes to conflict. Although they are powerful magic users, mers tend to be less expansionist than men, preferring to stay within their own circles instead of going out and conquering other people.
The mer are not actually natives of Tamriel; rather, they originally hail from the continent of Aldmeris (also known as Old Ehlnofey), a mythical land whose existence is actually up for debate. Legend has it that after an unspecified catastrophe struck Aldmeris (known as the Doom Oblivious), the native mers evacuated the continent and sailed for Tamriel, eventually landing in Auridon in the Summerset Isles, where they rebuilt their civilization and started splintering into various sub-races.
The Mer People of Tamriel
Despite some racial tensions between mer and men, many of the mer people have successfully integrated themselves with the Cyrodilic Empire. These are the extant mer people of Tamriel:
Also known as High Elves, the Altmer are the direct descendants of the proto-mers that inhabited Aldmeris. Altmer means “cultured one” or “high one” in the Aldmeri language. Proud to the point of arrogance, the Altmer consider themselves to be the most civilized race in all of Tamriel. Through a very conscious and deliberate program of selective breeding, the Altmer’s are genetically closest to the ancient Aldmeri Mers. However, rumor has it that the Altmer also practice infanticide in order to keep their bloodlines as pure as possible.
Physiologically, the Altmers as a race are the fairest, tallest, and the most attuned to magic, making them perhaps one of the most powerful people in the entire continent. However, due to their lack of numbers (caused by their obsession with keeping their blood pure of Tamrielic influence), they have yet to be successful in defeating the Cyrodilic Empire, instead relying on the Aldmeri Dominion, the union of mer peoples from the summerset Isles, Valenwood, and Elseweyr, for their military purposes.
The Bosmer, more commonly known as the Wood Elves, are one of the mer people and the primary people of Valenwood. Bosmers are the most nature-attuned amongst both man and mer, preferring simple living in harmony with the land around them and fostering almost-symbiotic relationships with the animals of the wild. In the Elder Scrolls games, the quest in Skyrim “blood extraction” relies on the player getting a sample of Bosmer blood (If you’re wondering where to find Wood Elf in Skyrim, simply go to Pinepeak Cavern in Ivarstead).
Bosmers prefer the vast plains and forests of Valenwood, making them the best woodsmen and archers of all the 9 Imperial provinces. Their unique relationship with animals gives them an innate ability to command wild creatures to do their bidding. Masters of stealth and light of foot, they make excellent scouts, or even, roguish thieves.
Considered to be on the most aggressive, cutthroat, and sinister sub-race of the mer people, the Dunmer, or Dark Elves, are an isolationist mer people that live in Morrowind, specifically on the volcanic island of Vvardenfell. They are the arch-nemesis of the Nords, with both races actively engaged in armed sorties against each other. Unlike the other mer people (and in fact, unlike the other races in Tamriel), the Dunmer worship the Daedra and reject the Aedra. The term “dark” describes both the ashen color of their skin, and their general sinister demeanor.
One of the largest mer ethnicities in Tamriel, the Orsimer, or Orcs, are despised both by the men of Tamriel and the other Mer people. In fact, many mer from the Altmer and Bosmer and even the Dunmer don’t consider the Orcs as their distant cousins. However, genealogically speaking, they are.
The Orsimer was born out of the Daedric Prince Boethia’s consumption of the Trinimac, a leader of a proto-race of mer people descended from the Aldmer. With Boethia’s consumption, Trinimac was reborn into the Daedric Prince Malacath, converting his followers into the same twisted and corrupted form as himself. Despite being viewed as brutish and evil, the Orcs follow strict codes of honor, formalized in the “Code of Malacath”, a set of loose laws that reflect the Orcs natural sense of honor, such as not killing, stealing, or attacking people without good reason.