Morgoth (meaning - The Black Enemy) was originally known as Melkor. In the beginning he was the greatest of the Ainur, until he rebelled against Ilúvatar and tried to become Lord of Middle Earth. He was the greatest enemy in the history of Middle Earth and most of The Silmarillion describes the wars and evil he caused.
In the early days of the world, he fought against the Valar, who finally defeated him. After a long time had passed, elves from the far east came to live with the Valar. The peace they enjoyed was broken when Melkor stole the Silmarils, greatest of all jewels made by Feanor, and then fled to the north where he had made his fortress (called Angband). Feanor then named him Morgoth and he & his sons swore to pursue Morgoth until they had reclaimed the jewels. This oath and the actions of Morgoth led to much evil and sorrow in Middle Earth and many great wars followed.
For a long time elves and men fought wars against Morgoth and his armies. Most of the time, Morgoth himself didn't take part in the wars but instead, sent his armies out before him. One exception was in the 4th great battle of the 1st age. In that battle, the High king of the elves, Fingolfin, rode to the gates of Angband and challenged Morgoth to single combat. Although Morgoth defeated Fingolfin, he had been afraid to come out and face the king. Finally, at the end of the 1st age, the Valar came to the aid of men and elves and defeated Morgoth, forever banishing him to the dark regions beyond the world.
Many of the Ainur followed Morgoth including the spirits of fire called balrogs. The greatest of the Ainur to follow him was his Lieutenant Sauron who himself became a dark lord in the 2nd and 3rd ages of Middle Earth. Some of Morgoth's other minions also survived to cause trouble later in Middle Earth. These included such creatures as Orcs, Trolls and Dragons.
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