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Skyrim Civil War

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"When the sons of Skyrim would spill their own blood."
Esbern on the prophecy to unfold[src]

The Skyrim Civil War (called the Stormcloak Rebellion[citation needed] by the Empire and the Great Uprising[citation needed] by the Stormcloaks, and frequently shortened to simply the Civil War[3]) is an ongoing civil war in the province of Skyrim. It began several years prior to the death of High King Torygg[4][5], but worsened after he was slain in a duel by the Jarl of Windhelm, Ulfric Stormcloak.[6][7] According to Igmund, the Jarl of Markarth, the war "truly started" after Ulfric and his millitia (who would later become the Stormcloaks) were imprisoned, this was also the founding day of the Stormcloaks.[8]


The Stormcloaks believe that the Empire betrayed Skyrim by signing the White-Gold Concordat with the Aldmeri Dominion at the end of the Great War. The Concordat binds the Empire to several Thalmor demands, including the outlawing of Talos worship. The Stormcloaks feel that the Thalmor have far too much influence over the Empire. The Imperial Legion see the Stormcloaks as traitors—partly due to their desire to secede from the Empire and partly because of Ulfric's killing of High King Torygg—and seek to crush the rebellion and prevent it from gaining a stronger foothold in Skyrim.

The Stormcloaks in turn view the Empire as corrupted by the Aldmeri Dominion and a threat to their Nordic way of life. When Jarls such as Balgruuf the Greater were gifted with chests of gold in an attempt to compensate for the Nords lost in the Great War, and Skyrim not being allowed to keep fighting.(It should be noted that it is also possible that the Empire gifting these chests of gold was an attempt to make the Jarls accept the Concordat)[9] Other Skyrim nobles were forced to swear oaths of abandoning Talos to the Empire in order to retain their stations.[10] The Stormcloaks view the Nord Imperial supporters as bought by the Empire and traitors to Skyrim.[11][12]

As the war between the Stormcloaks and the Imperial Legion progresses in Skyrim, the Dragonborn can choose a side and end the war.[13]


The Stormcloak uprising was initiated by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak of Eastmarch after the Markarth Incident[8], and aims to remove the Imperial Legion from Skyrim's territories and turn the province into an independent kingdom. The rebels' stated goals include lifting the ban on Talos worship across Skyrim, expelling or executing all the Thalmor Justiciars[14] who have been granted the authority by the Empire to enforce the White-Gold Concordat within the province, crown Ulfric Stormcloak the High King of Skyrim[15], and to independently prepare Skyrim for a future war with the Aldmeri Dominion[15][14]. Besides stemming from deep discontentment with the ban on Talos worship among much of the Nord population, a secondary motivation behind the Stormcloak uprising is the belief that the Mede Dynasty and the Empire of Cyrodiil have become a puppet state of the Thalmor in all but name, and no longer has the legitimacy to rule over Skyrim. The Stormcloaks claim to hold fast to old Nord customs and values and recruit from those who share their principles. They consider themselves the "true sons and daughters of Skyrim" since they are the only force in Skyrim who have not capitulated to the Aldmeri Dominion and are openly revolting against their influence.[14] The Stormcloaks see the Empire's Thalmor influenced laws as a threat to their Nordic way of life.[6] They believe once they've consolidated their control over Skyrim, they can set to reforming the autonomous kingdom into a strong and fearless nation capable of finishing the war with Aldmeri Dominion and not be hindered by the Empire's detrimental policies.[16]

The Battle for Solitude

The Stormcloaks engaging in the final assault on Solitude

The Stormcloak rebellion represents a large enough portion of Skyrim's population to have triggered a civil war. Some Nords, notably Jarl Laila Law-Giver of Riften, do not entirely trust or support Ulfric but back the Stormcloaks as they share the common goal of independence from the Empire, while others feel the civil war bleeds Skyrim dry and will leave the Thalmor as the sole beneficiaries. After the White-Gold Concordat was ratified and the worship of Talos became outlawed, some of Skyrim's populace began to view Imperial rule as the illegal occupation of their lands, and many Nord men and women would volunteer to take up arms against the Empire under the banner of Ulfric Stormcloak while other Nords choose to join the Imperial Legion, as the Nords had done for centuries.

The name "Stormcloaks" was invented by the Empire in an attempt to belittle the uprising, by implying that its supporters are Ulfric's personal lackeys in his bid for power. However, the rebels have since defiantly taken the name and made it their own, to honor the common cause of Skyrim's independence they are fighting for.[17]

Their base of operations is the Palace of the Kings in the city of Windhelm, with Galmar Stone-Fist serving as their field commander.

Imperial LegionEdit


The Imperial Legion preparing for the final assault on Windhelm.

The Imperial Legion is the military arm of the Empire, which, prior to its Great War with the Aldmeri Dominion, ruled over most of Tamriel. The Legion is attempting to quell the rebellion led by Ulfric Stormcloak, with the goal of keeping Skyrim in the Empire.

The Imperial Legion believes that as a province of the Empire, Skyrim must abide by its laws and customs, including the terms of the White-Gold Concordat.[6] Though most do not approve of the White-Gold Concordat, they nevertheless allow the Thalmor to uphold it in order to preserve the peace between the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion.[18][19][20] If any legionaries are believers of Talos, such as Legate Rikke or Hadvar who are implied to be believers, they keep their religion to themselves and pray to Talos discreetly and out of earshot. Though the Empire has appeased the Aldmeri Dominion's demands, Vittoria Vici, the cousin of Emperor Titus Mede II, claims that the Empire has little love for the Dominion.[21] Even so, high ranking Imperials do acknowledge that Ulfric is not wrong that the Thalmor holds tremendous influence over the Empire. Even General Tullius is aware of the Thalmor's ability to dictate demands to the Empire. Some Imperial loyal Jarls and tycoons recognize the power of the Thalmor and seeks to ingratiate themselves with them if it serves their interests.[22]

The majority of Skyrim's more affluent populace are supportive of the Empire, as they feel Ulfric's speeches amount to political posturing and that his underlying motive is to become Skyrim's new High King. Furthermore, some of the Imperial supporters cling to the prosperous trade they've had with the Empire[23], while others simply believe they have a better chance of defending against the Aldmeri Dominion if they are united with the Empire[24].

General Tullius is the military governor of Skyrim and the commander of the Legion in the province. He leads the Imperial war effort.[6] Tullius has only been around for a few months, but has really turned things around for the Empire.[3] A noteworthy event is him directing the ambush, and capturing, of Ulfric Stormcloak and his top lieutenants at Darkwater Crossing.[3] In Skyrim, the Legion is headquartered at Castle Dour in the city of Solitude[6], with Legate Rikke serving as their field commander[25].

Initial territoriesEdit

Initially, both the Empire and the Stormcloak Rebellion control four Holds. The Empire controls Falkreath, Haafingar, Hjaalmarch, and the Reach, while the Stormcloaks control Eastmarch, the Pale, the Rift and Winterhold. Balgruuf the Greater, Jarl of the central Whiterun Hold, remains uneasily neutral, but he will eventually side with the Empire once the war is joined, regardless of which side the Dragonborn chooses.

Major battlesEdit

If the Dragonborn sides with the Imperials:Edit

If the Dragonborn sides with the Stormcloaks:Edit

(Note that depending on choices made during Season Unending, Fort Dunstad, Fort Greenwall, and Fort Kastav will have to be conquered in place of the previously mentioned three.)

Events occuring prior to 4E 201Edit

  • Several years prior to 4E 201, there were clashes between the Imperial Legion and Stormcloaks in Eastmarch Hold, the outcome of this skirmish is unknown.[4] However, due to Solaf being a survivor, it is possible that the Stormcloaks won.
  • Like the skirmish mentioned above, another record exists of fighting prior to 4E 201. Many years ago the daughter of Vulwulf Snow-Shod joined the Stormcloaks as a battle maiden.[5] Lilija, however, was killed by the Imperials, implying that the Stormcloaks lost this skirmish. There are conflicting accounts by both her parents as to how she died. Vulwulf, her father, claims that she was "killed like a dog and left to rot in the mud", while her mother, Nura Snow-Shod, claims that she was "never found" because the "Imperials burned all the dead".

Outcome of the Civil WarEdit

While there hasn't been a confirmed victor of the Civil War yet, here are some points to consider during the course of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as evidence of each sides' strengths:

  • During Season Unending, regardless of who the Dragonborn sided with, General Tullius states that the Imperial Legion is driving the Stormcloaks back well enough, though they are already overstretched.
  • Galmar Stone-Fist states in a conversation with Ulfric Stormcloak that "our men are getting massacred out there, damn Imperials". This, alongside with the previous statement shows that the Legion is not only able to push the Stormcloaks back, but they are doing so effectively.
    • At the same time, however, Ulfric states that the tactics that he uses are working and has won them allies and that Galmar will just have to be patient in order to achieve total victory.
  • At the intro of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim we learn that Ulfric Stormcloak and his top lieutenants were captured at Darkwater Crossing[3], which is deep inside Stormcloak territory. However, there's no mention of the Legion suffering any casualties while going there to set up an ambush, nor when they returned to Helgen to execute the Stormcloaks. Giving that Ralof states that they were outnumbered ten to one, that would mean that at least 70 Imperial Soldiers were able to capture Ulfric without a problem, since Ulfric told his men not to fight.[3]
  • During the Skyrim Civil War though, Thane Bryling comments that "General Tullius is underestimating the Stormcloaks. Too often the general has lost good soldiers because he did not take Ulfric and his men seriously." She also notes that Solitude, the Empire's headquarters in Skyrim, has diminished its coffers and security of its outlying towns as a result of the war.[26]
  • The Legion of Skyrim mostly consists of locally recruited scouts and skirmishers.[27][28] We know that this Legion is able to massacre the Stormcloaks and drive them back.[14][29]
    • Yet the Stormcloaks seem to give as good as they take as Irnskar Ironhand tells Thane Bryling that "Possession of the holds change on an almost daily basis."[30] Furthermore, the Imperials suffer from low morale and vulnerable supply lines.[31] The Stormcloaks seems to have better mobility and control of logistics as they've been known to "stalk every road" and denied Imperial Holds of effective trade.[8]
  • A Cyrodiilic Imperial army is assembling at Pale Pass and waiting for it to clear in order to advance into Skyrim[32], when this Legion arrives it would greatly boost the strength of the Imperials in Skyrim.
  • Whiterun will support the Imperial side in the Civil War when the Stormcloaks come to invade it[33][34], if the Legion is able to hold onto Whiterun this would greatly increase their strength.
  • Ulfric Stormcloak, if killed during the Civil War questline, states that it's the Stormcloaks' "doomed struggle against fate" to fight in the civil war, implying that they would lose. He states the following: "Skyrim was betrayed, the blood of her sons spilled in doomed struggle against fate."


  • Low leveled characters may find it beneficial to ignore the Civil War, as it allows unrestricted access to every Imperial and Stormcloak encampment in Skyrim without consequence. As none of the items are marked as "Steal", this allows the Dragonborn to receive decent armor and weaponry very early on.
  • The Dragonborn sometimes will encounter an Imperial citizen on the roads who is heading to Windhelm to join the Stormcloak uprising, stating that "The Empire is in shambles," and that "Ulfric has the right of it." Contrarily, they can also encounter a Dunmer citizen heading to Solitude to join the Legion, stating that "A united Empire is best for everyone," or "I was born and raised in Skyrim, but the Nords treat us like dirt."
    • ​The Dunmer farmer going to join the Legion can later be found in the Blue Palace in Solitude, however the Imperial going to join the Stormcloaks is never seen in the Palace of the Kings in Windhelm, or anywhere in Eastmarch.
  • Depending on the order in which they are completed, the Civil War can have an impact on the Main Quest, and vice versa. In the main quest, "Season Unending" is a meeting between five factions (the Stormcloaks, the Legion, the Blades, the Thalmor and the Greybeards) to negotiate a truce, which temporarily pauses the Civil War.
    • If the Civil War is completed before Season Unending, the peace conference will not be held, and the later quest will not occur.
    • If Season Unending is completed before the Civil War ends, it will change territories under the control of both the Imperials and the Stormcloaks.
    • If Season Unending is completed before the Civil War ends, the LDB won't be able to continue until after Alduin has been slain.
  • A bounty may be cleared when the relevant Hold is liberated or reunified during the Civil War.
  • When the Thalmor Dossier on Ulfric Stormcloak is found, it states that if either side wins the Civil War it would negatively affect the Thalmor's goals; they claim that an ideal situation would be a long war in which neither side truly "wins."
  • Even though they play a major part in the tension between the Stormcloaks and the Imperial Legion, the Thalmor play no major part in the war itself.
    • Despite this, there is a random encounter where Thalmor Justiciars are fighting Stormcloak Soldiers.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard quest Awakening, the Dragonborn may ask the vampire Serana how long she's been sealed in Dimhollow Crypt. As she will have no idea, she will ask "Who is Skyrim's High King?" after. By this point, the Dragonborn can either refer to the Civil War as "a matter of debate", or voice their support for either Ulfric Stormcloak or Elisif the Fair. Obviously, she will not recognize either Jarl due to the amount of time she's been sealed, hiding from her father under her mother's instruction.

See alsoEdit



  1. (called the Stormcloak Rebellion[citation needed] by the Empire and the Great Uprising[citation needed] by the Stormcloaks)
  2. Intro of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Dialogue with Hadvar
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dialogue with Solaf
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dialogue with Vulwulf Snow-Shod
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Loading Screens (Skyrim)
  7. Dialogue with Elisif the Fair
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Dialogue with Igmund
  9. Dialogue between Balgruuf the Greater, Irileth and Proventus Avenicci
  10. Dialogue of Raerek during Compelling Tribute (Stormcloaks)
  11. Nords Arise!
  12. Dialogue of Gerdur
  13. Civil War Questline in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Dialogue with Galmar Stone-Fist
  15. 15.0 15.1 Dialogue with Ulfric Stormcloak
  16. Dialogue between Ulfric Stormcloak and Galmar Stone-Fist in the Palace of the Kings
  17. Dialogue with Stormcloak Commanders
  18. The Talos Mistake
  19. Dialogue with Thalmor Justiciars
  20. Dialogue with Ondolemar
  21. Dialogue with Vittoria Vici
  22. General Tullius (Skyrim), Erikur, Maven Black-Briar, Siddgeir's Dialogue during Diplomatic Immunity
  23. Dialogue with Balgruuf the Greater
  24. Dialogue between Legate Rikke and Ulfric Stormcloak during the Battle for Solitude
  25. Dialogue with Imperial Legates
  26. Dialogue with Thane Bryling
  27. Manual of Armor
  28. Dialogue with Beirand
  29. Dialogue with General Tullius
  30. Dialgue between Bryling and Irnskar Ironhand
  31. Imperial Missive (Fort Neugrad)
  32. Stormcloak Missive (1)
  33. Battle for Whiterun (Imperial)
  34. Battle for Whiterun (Stormcloaks)

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