In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, the First Age, or First Age of the Children of Ilúvatar is the heroic period in which most of Tolkien's early legends are set. Versions of these stories were later published in The Silmarillion, and tales from this period lend a deep sense of time and history to the later period in which the action of The Lord of the Rings takes place.
As explained in The Silmarillion, the First Age ended with the final overthrow of Morgoth by the combined armies of Valinor and Beleriand. It covered a long period of Valian Years, followed by approximately 590 Years of the Sun. Depending on the choice of conversion factors (among many that Tolkien used at different times), this translates to a period anywhere from 4,902 to 65,390 sun years. The greater number is supported by the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings and later writings, the lesser by earlier writings. The First Age was also known as the Elder Days, although this term was (starting with the Fourth Age) also applied to the first three Ages combined.
A common misconception is that the First Age started only with the Years of the Sun, and it is sometimes referred to as the "First Age of the Sun", beginning with the first rising of the Sun and continuing until Morgoth's defeat. This interpretation is not supported by any of Tolkien's writings, and contradicts references to the First Age being the longest age by far.
Tolkien describes primarily the events that occurred in Beleriand, or in his words, "the last six centuries of the First Age." These centred on a series of wars waged by the Sindar, the Noldor and the Three Houses of the Edain against the armies of Angband and the evil Men from the East. The wars had actually begun during the Years of the Trees, but continued after the arrival of the Noldor in Beleriand. There had been Elves in Beleriand for uncounted millennia, and they warred with Morgoth after his return; but the Noldor, particularly the Sons of Fëanor, had come with the express purpose of defeating Morgoth.
The chief battles of the First Age are:
- The First Battle of Beleriand, otherwise unnamed, was fought before the return of the Noldor between the Sindar and the forces of Morgoth. Denethor, king of the Laiquendi, was killed during the battle, causing the Laiquendi to forsake war with Morgoth, and the Girdle of Melian was established to protect Doriath thereafter. The cities of the Falas would remain under siege until the Dagor-nuin-Giliath.
- The Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle under the Stars, so named because it was fought before the rising of the Sun) was fought soon after the arrival of the Noldor. Morgoth sent a raiding party from Angband to attack the Noldor encampment in Hithlum, but the Elves drove it back. Fëanor was killed.
- The Dagor Aglareb (Glorious Battle) was fought about 60 years after the return of the Noldor. Morgoth again attacked the Noldor, and again with no success. The Noldor became so bold as to besiege Angband. However, the Siege was of limited effectiveness, because the northern side of Angband was on the north side of the Ered Engrin, and was unapproachable.
- The Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) began when Morgoth poured rivers of fire out of Angband, ruining the besieging Noldorin armies. The Noldor eventually mustered a defence, but their losses were severe. For instance, the green plain of Ard-galen had been permanently laid waste by the rivers of fire, and was now called Anfauglith, the Choking Dust; and the highlands of Dorthonion, which had been inhabited by Edain, were made inhospitable.
- The Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Unnumbered Tears) was the first battle to be initiated by the Noldor. They massed an army composed of Elves, Edain, and the houses of Bór and Ulfang allied to the Sons of Fëanor. The Elves and their allies advanced very close to Angband, but Morgoth's trickery had upset their battle plan, and Ulfang proved treacherous. The name "Unnumbered Tears" comes from the fact that the Elves' last hope of victory was destroyed. The land of Hithlum was lost, the Sons of Fëanor were largely scattered, and the peoples of Beleriand had been decimated. Morgoth's Orcs made a heap of the Elven and Mannish dead in the centre of Anfauglith.
- The War of Wrath took place after Eärendil sailed to Valinor and persuaded the Valar to help those whom they had forsaken. The Valar gathered an army of Maiar, Vanyar, and those Noldor who had stayed in Valinor. The Teleri refused their aid, due to an old offence dealt them by the Noldor of Beleriand, but consented to ferry the armies of the Valar in their famous ships. This battle marked the first appearance of the winged dragons, most notably Ancalagon the Black, but the Valar eventually won. Morgoth was captured, and cast out of Arda, but his lands, as well as most of Beleriand, had been destroyed and sunk under the sea in the heat of battle.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 0-395-08256-0 Appendix B: The Tale of Years
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1994), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The War of the Jewels, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-71041-3, pages 342-343
- As for example in The Encyclopedia of Arda Archived 2006-10-20 at the Wayback Machine and books by David Day, such as Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1996), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Peoples of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, The Tale of Years of the Second Age, p. 172: "The First Age was the longest.", ISBN 0-395-82760-4