Elder Scrolls Lore Report - The Markarth Incident

Sometime in the Merethic Era, the Dwemer built a massive fortress deep within the Druadach Mountain region, calling it Nchuand-Zel, or Radiant City in Dwemeris. In the Merethic Era, it encompassed most of what is now modern day Markarth, though in present times, it has come to refer exclusively to Understone Keep and the excavation of the deeper ruins beneath the city.

Markarth, which in Reach language means Above the Karth, is one of the nine major cities in Skyrim, within the river valley known as the Reach. Colloquially referred to as the City of Stone, it is most famous for, of course, being build within and atop Dwarven ruins, but also through a large stone crag, intricately designed around the cliff face and waterfalls.




A prominent mining town, most of Skyrim’s silver is found within the mines beneath the city. The city is often a source of dispute among the Nords who control it and the Reachmen who believe it belongs to them. The origin of this dispute goes back decades, even centuries, back to the Witchmen of High Rock and their erstwhile descendants, the Forsworn, but in more modern times, it was flared again by Ulfric Stormcloak, when he pillaged the city during what became known as the Markarth Incident.

When Ulfric Stormcloak returned to Windhelm after his capture at the hands of the Thalmor, he came home to a broken and scattered empire. One group who took advantage of this discord were the Reachmen, who used the chaos of the Great War to take back Markarth. Desperate for aid, the local authorities accepted assistance from Ulfric and his militia, under the promise that they could freely worship Talos – a promise the Jarl Igmund later would call “foolish” and that he had hoped the Thalmor would never learn of it. This, however, was folly as it is later discovered that, after the Great War, Ulfric Stormcloak had become an asset for the Thalmor, albeit an unwilling one.




So, militia in tow, Ulfric Stormcloak led his men into the Reach and led them to victory against the Reachmen, taking back Markarth with steel and his thu’um. This came to be known as the Markarth Incident and led to Ulfric being known as the Bear of Markarth. To some, Ulfric became the hero who thwarted the Forsworn Uprising. When the Empire abandoned Skyrim, the natives of the Reach rebelled and took back Markarth, but it was Ulfric Stormcloak who was there to retake it from the Forsworn. Skalds all over the land heralded Ulfric as a great warrior and a hero of the people, but the truth is far worse.

In 4E 174 to 176, the Forsworn did rule over Markarth and the Reach and took great pains to be recognized as a legitimate kingdom by the Empire, though they did so during a time the Empire could not afford a delegate representation from the Legion to confirm their legality nor could they send a detachment to maintain order, leading to how the Forsworn were able to take Markarth in the first place.




Ulfric Stormcloak led his own men to take back Markarth without Imperial assistance, but what is often missing from the stories is that the Forsworn were actually quite peaceful and fair to all during their rule. The only ones who received harsh treatment were the wealthy Nords who had done the same to the Reachmen, and even then, those Nords were treated far more fair than they may have deserved.

So what does this mean for the Markarth Incident? Simple, really. When Ulfric and his men entered Markarth, they had expected chaos and bedlam to ensue immediately, which, understandably, it did. After sieging the gate, a bloodbath ensued and Ulfric’s men were victorious. It was war and war never changes. However, it was what happened after that were nothing short of war crimes. Every official who had ever supported the Forsworn, regardless of who they were, was put to the sword, even after the Forsworn had surrendered. The women and children were tortured to give up names of any Forsworn warrior, whether they had participated in the fighting or not. Bad though this was, Ulfric took it just one step further. Anyone in the city who had not taken arms against their neighbors and fought with Ulfric and his men was executed, regardless of whether they could even fight or not. Elders, mothers, children. Everyone was killed. Ulfric was heard shouting “You are with us or you are against Skyrim!” as he ordered the deaths of shopkeepers, elderly men, women, and children who had failed to answer his call.




When the Empire came rushing to Markarth, it was fitting, then, that Ulfric demand the Empire allow free and open worship of Talos before letting the Legion enter the city. With chaos in the streets and a daily rising death toll, the Empire had no choice but to accept. They risked shattering the fragile peace with the Aldmeri Dominion, the elves who believe that Talos, no matter how mighty, is a man and cannot be divine. So they said yes to the Bear of Markarth, but everyone knows now that, facing the Bear, against Ulfric Stormcloak, “no” is not an acceptable answer if you want to live.












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Fimvul is the current master of the Skyforge Library. Interested in the Elder Scrolls from a young age, he has been diving headfirst into the richer aspects of the lore of the series for over a decade. With years of experience and research under his belt, he hopes to enlighten his readers with the wondrous mystery that surrounds the Elder Scrolls universe.


  • Great work Fimvul. Even if you agree with Ulfric that Nords should be able to rule themselves, and in Talos this....yeah this was a whole lotta war crime

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