When it comes to dragons, they say bigger is better, but who’s the most massive monster in the fantasy genre? Two names that immediately come to mind are Smaug, the last “great” dragon of Middle-earth, and Balerion the Black Dread, the personal mount of Aegon the Conqueror.
Introduced in The Hobbit fantasy movies, Smaug was a greedy fire drake who was drawn to the Lonely Mountain by the vast wealth of the Dwarves of Erebor. For nearly two centuries, Smaug sat upon his treasure horde until he met his end at the pointy end of Bard the Bowman’s arrow.
Balerion, named after an ancient god of the Valyrian people, was a living siege engine used by Aegon to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. A colossal ebony dragon, his flames burned black, and he was capable of wiping out entire armies all by himself. Clearly, these are two impressive specimens, but who’s bigger, Smaug or Balerion?
Who’s bigger, Smaug or Balerion?
On paper working out who’s bigger, Smaug or Balerion should be pretty simple. You just look up their lengths (or wingspans) and compare the results. Unfortunately, no Lord of the Rings characters bothered to bring their tape measure to the Lonely Mountain, so we don’t know Smaug’s exact dimensions.
Similarly, none of the Game of Thrones characters even saw Balerion, which makes measuring the monster difficult. Still, we’re not going to put off be from cracking this puzzle, and both fantasy series gave us more than enough clues to get to the bottom of this mystery. Let’s start with Smaug.
So the In The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad, Smaug is recorded as being about 20 meters long. Now that would make Smaug pretty small. He’d comfortably fit on a football pitch (120 metres) with room to spare. The Smaug we see in the Lord of the Rings movies is clearly much bigger than that.
According to the artists at Weta Digital (via FX Guide), in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, Smaug is 130 metres long, which is pretty massive. It would make the dragon just a smidge shorter than two jumbo jets (152 metres). Interestingly this would make the movie Smaug longer than most versions of Godzilla are tall.
So if we take Weta’s dimensions as accurate, we just need to work out how big Balerion is. The book gives some lovely prose about his shadow blotting out of the sun and his mouth being big enough to swallow mammoths whole, but that’s not a useful guide.
In the TV series, we’ve seen Balerion’s skull, and he’s a pretty big boy, but you can tell from a glance that he’s a fair bit smaller than Smaug. Indeed several sources who are smarter than me used the skull and the height of actors around the skull to guesstimate the dragon’s length.
Most estimates put Balerion at 76 metres long, slightly longer than one jumbo jet (70 meters). Yet I can’t help but feel a bit dissatisfied with this answer. Several sources claim that Balerion was the bigger of the two, and I couldn’t work out why. So what’s going on?
Well, it turns out that for his big screen debut, Smaug was sized up to be more impressive. In the books, Smaug is a fair bit smaller. Again Tolkien never really gave any specific dimensions for the book Smaug, but he did give us one clue. In an illustration by Tolkien, we can see how big the author considered Smaug, and while he’s not tiny, he’s not a Godzilla-sized being.
This drawing informed Fonstad’s estimation of 20 metres, but Tolkien himself said he drew Bilbo too big compared to the dragon. Thankfully there’s another clue in the text Smaug is described as being unable to squeeze his whole head and jaws into a passage “five feet high, and three may walk abreast”. Some clever Redditors used this passage to estimate Smaug’s length at a minimum of 96 metres which is still a whole lot bigger than Balerion.
So why do people think Balerion is bigger? Well, they’ve probably used Fonstad’s original and incorrect estimation. So sorry, Game of Thrones fans, Smaug wins this one. If you love fantastical creatures beyond imagining, check out our guide to the best monster movies.