We've talked about their politics and their ancestors, but humanity itself has not really been described in detail -- and it deserves to be. The humans of Azeroth derive from the ancient servitors of the Titans, and their origins lie in the frozen continent of Northrend (indeed, before it was a continent of its own), but they've developed over time into a brash, persevering people of their own who rose to master the Eastern Kingdoms and who had endured two hideous wars with alien invaders, the plague of undeath that shattered their strongest kingdom, and times of chaos and uncertainty. It is humanity that holds the Alliance together today, serving to unite disparate peoples in a collective that grows more cohesive in the face of growing Horde expansionism.
The ultimate drive to exist that has kept humanity going past world-shaking calamities must be respected. When war and strife come, humans have risen to the challenge. Although one of the shortest-lived of Azeroth's native races and possessed of one of the youngest cultures, human have risen on the strength of their determination.
Abandoned, unwanted, undaunted
Human origins begin with the vrykul, a race of servitors hewn from stone and crafted from iron by the Titans during their original creation of Azeroth. The vrykul (like the Earthen and Mechagnomes who also served the Titans) were affected by the Old God's Curse of Flesh and became giant humanoids, larger even than tauren, but smaller than they had been when they were still made of iron.
However, the Curse did not end with this change. Over time, it continued to affect the giants, who retreated into slumber to halt its progress. Under their King Ymiron, many vrykul parents exposed their offspring, killing them via abandonment. While their parent race was swearing to abandon their worship of their Titan creators, however, some vrykul found they could not abandon their offspring to their fate.
The modern existence of the human race owes itself to these ancient vrykul who accepted that they would never see their people again, who took these stunted, deformed, frail children far from their place of birth and landed with them on what today is known as Tyr's Hand. As these children came to adulthood, they had only a few fragmentary legends of their forebears to guide them, and so the place took its name from the legends of a great hero, an inspiration to the humans who survived this dark period and all who came after them.
Humans were a minor force at best in the world before the great Sundering, between troll and night elf empires. The destruction of the War of Ancients and the Well of Eternity tore ancient Kalimdor into three parts: the continent of Northrend (where humanity was born), Kalimdor (where the night elves and tauren survived in numbers) and what today we call the Eastern Kingdoms. While trolls foundered and high elves came to stagnate, while dwaves and gnomes kept to themselves in their hidden kingdoms, humanity began its ascent during this time.
Beset by enemies and dangers
The trolls who inhabited the same northern areas of the great eastern continent were already at war with the high elves when they noticed the steadily expanding humans. As humanity was primitive in comparison to the ancient culture of the trolls of Zul'Aman, it was expected that they'd fall easily. Instead, the forest trolls learned to their sorrow that humanity had developed a fierce warrior ethos during its time of isolation. Having practiced self-slaughter, they were not at all reluctant to branch out and murder trolls as well. In fact, without the troll aggression of the time, humans might never have learned magic or become a unified society at all.
The first consequence of the war with the trolls was that the Arathi tribe of humans began a campaign to unify all human peoples under one banner. This didn't always mean conquest, as many came under the Arathi aegis because of their offer of brotherhood and equality to all humans, but some were indeed subdued by force. Even these tribes were offered the chance to become full citizens of the growing Arathor nation. The great city of Strom, sadly neglected today as Stromgarde, was the first human capital city. From its walls, Thoradin ruled.
The Troll Wars and the origin of the Seven Kingdoms
While they were a powerful nation united under a strong king, the Arathor were not ready to destroy the trolls and indeed had no real plans to do so. They were satisfied with being able to hold their enemies at bay, when the high elves of Quel'thalas came calling. The high elves needed help to defeat the trolls once and for all, and they offered a powerful bribe to gain Thoradin's aid -- namely, that they would teach the humans powerful arcane magic.
Thoradin agreed, and those human students unleashed their magic alongside their fellows in the greatest of the Troll Wars, quickly outpacing the expectations of their elven tutors and pushing the trolls back to a few ancient strongholds, effectively removing them from history for centuries. The fallout from these wars reverberates to the present day. Dalaran was founded by human magi from Arathor who left Strom to found their own city, and their example caused others to do the same. Gilneas, Kul Tiras, and even Lordaeron itself were likewise founded by men and women who left Strom to forge their own futures in the new lands opened up by the troll defeat.
In time, even the royal line of King Thoradin left as well. But rather than heading north, they went south to found what today is known as the Kingdom of Stormwind. Those descendants would not make up the royal line of Stormwind, however, instead becoming important warriors and advisers. Their last descendant was Anduin Lothar, the Lion of Azeroth, and it was to his line that the high elves of Quel'thalas owed a boon in return for Thoradin's help against the trolls. That boon would be called into account.
After the troll wars and the dispersal of the empire of Arathor, humanity had spread across the entire continent and had settled several powerful nations. These nations became known as the Seven Nations or Seven Kingdoms, and included Alterac, Stromgarde, Gilneas, Dalaran, Lordaeron, Kul Tiras and Azeroth or Stormwind. While never unified during this period of centuries, each of these nations recognized its common origin and shared history, behaving more like squabbling sibling nations than rivals or enemies. It was effectively humanity's golden age.
It was not to last.
Next week, humanity abides. War, chaos, invasion, the destruction of cities, the betrayal of a Guardian, and more befalls the world.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.