The title was created following the final destruction of Arthedain in T.A. 1974 by the Witch-king of Angmar. The heir to the throne of Arthedain, Aranarth son of Arvedui, in T.A. 1976 chose not to claim the kingship and instead ruled the remnants of his people as Chieftain. The Chieftains were raised in Rivendell, where the heirlooms of the House of Isildur were also kept.
They were descendants of Isildur through the kings of Arthedain and Anárion through Fíriel; as such they regarded themselves as the legitimate heirs to both Arnor and Gondor. The Chieftains continued to take the kingly prefix of ar(a)-, to signify their royal heritage and their right to rule Arnor. When the line of Anárion failed, the Chieftains considered themselves the heirs of Anárion through their ancestor Fíriel; none of the Chieftains ever forgot Arvedui's claim to the throne.
The people of Arthedain became known as the Rangers of the North, a wandering people quite content with living in secret. Due to the destruction of Angmar, and the Watchful Peace, which followed after Wizard Gandalf drove Sauron out of Dol Guldur, there was little evil in Eriador and attacks by the enemy were few and far between.
It is notable that most of the Chieftains lived out their full life-span and their longevity did not decrease as much as that of the Dúnedain of the South.
The 16 Chieftains of the Dúnedain were:
- Aranarth, T.A. 1975–2106, son of King Arvedui of Arthedain.
- Arahael, T.A. 2106–2177.
- Aranuir, T.A. 2177–2247.
- Aravir, T.A. 2247–2319.
- Aragorn I, T.A. 2319–2327†.
- Araglas, T.A. 2327–2455.
- Arahad I, T.A. 2455–2523.
- Aragost, T.A. 2523–2588.
- Aravorn, T.A. 2588–2654.
- Arahad II, T.A. 2654–2719.
- Arassuil, T.A. 2719–2784.
- Arathorn I, T.A. 2784–2848†.
- Argonui, T.A. 2848–2912.
- Arador, T.A. 2912–2930†.
- Arathorn II, T.A. 2930–2933†.
- Aragorn II, T.A. 2933–3019, first High King of the Reunited Kingdom.
- † = premature death