After Ysgramor and his followers settled in Skyrim during the Merethic Era, they brought the religion of Atmora with them. Known as the Dragon Cult, the followers of this religion worshipped numerous animal totems, namely the hawk, wolf, snake, moth, owl, whale, bear, fox and, most importantly, the Dragon, as avatars of the gods. It is believed these totems were in fact early Atmoran interpretations of the Divines.
The Atmorans regarded the Dragon as head of their pantheon, and considering Dragons existed in vast numbers across Tamriel and Atmora, it would eventually change into outright worship of living Dragons, Alduin being chief among them.
The Dragons themselves were only too happy to encourage this practice. They believed that as children of Akatosh, they were naturally superior to both man and mer. The fact that they held immense power over mortals led them to the conclusion that power equals truth. This gave them the justification that their rule over mortals was only natural.
Dragons embraced their role as god-kings over men, but rather than deal with the actual ruling itself, they granted small amounts of power to Dragon Priests in exchange for absolute obedience. In turn, the priests ruled men as equals to kings. The priests set down laws and codes of living that kept peace between Dragons and men, but to do so they demanded tribute. Their system of rule was corrupted, however, and the priests began to rule with an iron fist, making slaves of the rest of the population.
Alduin's peers considered him the most acclaimed creation of Akatosh. Alduin basked in arrogance at these accolades. In favor of conquering Mundus for himself and his fellow Dragons, he forsook his "proper role" as World-Eater.
Eventually, man rebelled against the great cruelty of Alduin and the Dragons and the Dragon War began. At first, mankind was woefully outmatched, and was easily defeated by the Dragons and their Voice.
Kyne intervened and sent Paarthurnax to assist mankind. Paarthurnax, originally the first lieutenant and brother of Alduin, betrayed his kin and taught the power of the Voice to mankind, creating the first Tongues. Several other Dragons sided with Paarthurnax.
Mankind created a shout, known as Dragonrend, built on the hatred of the Dragons' tyranny and oppression. It forces the concept of mortality onto the Dragon, something that is impossible for it to understand, and temporarily forces it to land.
The war reached its climax when the ancient Nord heroes, Hakon One-Eye, Felldir the Old and Gormlaith Golden-Hilt, fought Alduin at a battle at the summit of the Throat of the World. After Gormlaith was killed and Hakon severely wounded, Felldir used an Elder Scroll to banish Alduin from the flow of Time, creating the Time Wound. This victory, however, was only temporary, as he would re-emerge in the Fourth Era and begin the Dragon Crisis.
The surviving Dragon Priests were overthrown, and the survivors of the Dragon Cult scattered and hid in various places throughout Skyrim. They entombed the remains of the Dragons that died during the war within Dragon mounds, with the belief that Alduin would one day return and resurrect the faithful. However, other sects within the cult believed only those who ascended to the priesthood would be granted a second life.
One of the last remnants of the Dragon Cult, lead by Rahgot, was found by Skorm Snow-Strider in the secluded monastery of Forelhost high in the Jerall Mountains in 1E 139. After weeks of battle, the fort was breached, but Skorm and his fellow soldiers found all of the cultists within dead from mass suicide.
- An earlier rebellion by the First Dragonborn and Dragon Priest Miraak failed, ending with the destruction of his temple and his near death, only being saved by Hermaeus Mora's act of pulling him into Apocrypha.