What happened between Oblivion and Skyrim? Here's a brief history

Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series, but it doesn’t tell you much about its backstory. Not in obvious ways, anyway. After all, how would you rather start a game: with a history lesson, or with dragons setting people on fire?

Above: 'Hello! I am the correct answer!'

Still, if you've spent a hundred hours in Oblivion or Morrowind, it's only natural to wonder what's happened to your old stomping grounds. That information is scattered throughout Skyrim's books and dialogue, but with no frame of reference, piecing all the events and dates together can be daunting. To give you some foundation, here's a summary of what's happened since you last visited Tamriel.

The first thing you need to know is that 200 years have passed since the events of Oblivion. That's the biggest time jump in the Elder Scrolls series so far. For instance, Oblivion took place a mere 34 years after the first Elder Scrolls game, 1994's Arena.

(Conveniently, Tamriel's fourth age started when the Oblivion Crisis ended, so years in Skyrim are counted from the end of the Oblivion. If a history book says something happened in 4E33, that's about 167 years before Skyrim's present day.)

Above: Here, you're going to need this

Over these two centuries, the Empire has started to crumble. When Martin Septim sacrificed himself to end the Oblivion Crisis, it left the 400-year-old Empire without an emperor. The empire's hold over its territories began to slip.

One of these territories was Summerset Isle, home of the Altmer (aka high elves). During the Oblivion Crisis, Daedra poured through the dimensional gates and massacred its inhabitants. Then, just when everything seemed hopeless, the invaders simply disappeared.


A faction called the Thalmor, elven supremacists and all-around jerkbags, claimed credit for the miraculous disappearances. They said they closed the Oblivion gates with subtle magics. In fact, they were so subtle that nobody saw them doing it. A grateful population hailed their new heroes, and by the time people started to wonder if they'd been suckered, the Thalmor had consolidated their power and squashed dissent.

Over in the Imperial heartland of Cyrodiil, things weren't going so well. High Chancellor Ocato, the acting ruler during and after Oblivion, was assassinated before any new emperor was elected. (One Altmer dissident claims the Thalmor were behind it, but no one knows for sure.)

Above: "Wait, what?"

The provinces of Black Marsh and Elswyr, homes of the Argonians and Khajiit, seceded from the Empire. But of all the provinces, Morrowind got it the worst.

Morrowind players probably remember Vivec, ruler of Morrowind and subject of endless volumes of Kim Jong-Il-esque propaganda about how he was a living god who kept the forces of evil at bay by his will alone. Unlike Kim Jong-Il, that turned out to be mostly true.

Visitors to Morrowind probably also remember the Ministry of Truth, a rock floating above the capital that was used as a prison. The Ministry was said to be a meteor that Vivec froze in time before it struck the city. This also turned out to be true.

Above: This doesn't end well

With Vivec having lost his godhood after the events of Morrowind, the Ministry eventually snapped back into time and slammed into Vvardenfell with all the force it originally had. Vivec City was obliterated. The Red Mountain erupted from meteor strike, destroying the island of Vvardenfell. Waves from the impact swamped the rest of Morrowind.

The Argonians, justifiably angry about being enslaved by the Dunmer (aka dark elves) for generations, invaded what was left of Morrowind from the south. Dark-elf refugees filtered into Skyrim, settling in the slums of Nord cities like Windhelm.

After seven years of bloody infighting for the Empire's throne, a Cyrodiilic warlord named Titus Mede had seized power with a mere thousand warriors. His descendants ran things up to the time of Skyrim, and they're responsible for there still being an Empire at all.

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  • GR HollanderCooper - November 30, 2011 4:31 p.m.

    This was fantastic. Thank you.
  • Daedazrael - November 30, 2011 4:36 p.m.

    I'd just like to point out that Titus II is a stone cold badass. He personally led his forces into combat at the Battle of the Red Ring and supposedly wielded Boethiah's Daedric Artifact, Goldbrand.
  • DualWieldingIsNotFeasible - November 30, 2011 4:39 p.m.

    Well, now I can make sense of which wars people keep saying they're still mad about.
  • Soulibon - November 30, 2011 4:40 p.m.

    And it comes full circle.
  • Fenderstat - November 30, 2011 4:41 p.m.

    Those Thalmor are so damn smug! Bethesda have created an enemy so deliscously devious, underhanded and sneaky that I love to hate them. i go out of my way to kill any non essential thalmor and release any prisoners they are escorting. I also strip them naked and leave them in piles along the road, roleplaying a real empire loyalist, one who doesn't hide behind a truce which f*cks them over, much like a murderous zorro. Once I get my hands on a kill essential npc mod i'm making my way to that embassy and slitting that ambassadors throat and leaving it in the middle of solitude for all to see.
  • Fenderstat - November 30, 2011 4:43 p.m.

    Btw Nice one Nevarine. Real hero of morrowind you were!
  • TheRandomFool - November 30, 2011 4:45 p.m.

    You forgot to mention the bit about the Mages' guild disbanding, and the whole "Giant Flying DeathCity of Undead Daedra" deal. Might be a bit important.
  • Manguy17 - November 30, 2011 4:47 p.m.

    Great article, I thought i knew most of it already. But this shed some more light on the situation.
  • FlagrantPilgrim - November 30, 2011 4:48 p.m.

    Awesome article.
  • n8dogg - November 30, 2011 5:03 p.m.

    makes me feel like an ass for being the hero of oblivion.
  • Bakinshake - November 30, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    I hate the thalmor! I was a high elf in oblivion and I still am in skyrim and everyone is pissed at me! Although I do feel like a rebel when i kill them
  • pr0tostar - November 30, 2011 5:15 p.m.

    Thank you for this, Matt! I'm new to TES with Skyrim because friends with opinions I trust wouldn't shut up about it. This gives me a nice roundup of all I've bee.n mission without having to waste a day skimming through wikis lol. Buw ow, now I wanna play Morrowind to see how that Ministry-meteor incident plays out!
  • pr0tostar - November 30, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    Eem, don't mind my dyslexic fit of a comment there, I'm exhausted... lol. Great article, carry on.
  • QuickSticks45 - November 30, 2011 5:21 p.m.

    Now it all makes sense, i've never had the time to sit down and read all of the books but i'm really glad that someone had the balls to go and write out the whole history, thank you
  • TheInvincibleDragon - November 30, 2011 5:25 p.m.

    I never liked the Altmer anyway. they are too freakin' arrogant. Glad to take them down a notch. Other than that, good recap. I was really wanting to know what happened between Oblivion and Skyrim.
  • Stabby_Joe - November 30, 2011 5:31 p.m.

    Then there's the changes to the Dark Brotherhood... AHH! Too many details! How are the writers doing all this?! Great article BTW!
  • D0CCON - November 30, 2011 6:29 p.m.

    I loved this. This is like when I dived into Portal's backstory after being intrigued by it and even manages to add to the complexity of the Civil War (although I've already won it for the Empire in my game). I picked up on a lot of this, but the details were nice. I've made a second character who will join the Stormcloaks and the amazing thing is I can feel just as justified fighting for them as I can fighting for the Empire (although I wished they'd realize they should be taking their anger out on the Thalmor and fighting them, not the Empire).
  • rooster2814 - November 30, 2011 8:01 p.m.

    Great article. Thanks.
  • wampastompa - November 30, 2011 9:24 p.m.

    This is incredibly helpful, trying to keep track of all the different elves is making my head spin
  • Crabhand - November 30, 2011 10:22 p.m.

    This is a really good recap for those who don't go skimming through extra material.

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