Easterlings

In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, "Easterling" and "Easterlings" were generic terms for Men who lived in the east of Middle-earth, who mostly fought under Morgoth and Sauron.

The Easterlings were short and muscular; they were dark of skin, eye, and hair. In the First Age there were also sallow-skinned Easterlings.

First Age

During the First Age, the term was applied to the "Swarthy Men" who came from the east and went into Beleriand in Me-date|YS|463, much later than the Edain. They were of different tribes, which were sometimes on the edge of strife. Some were of the same ethnic stock as the Forodwaith and later men of Lossoth, but all were dark-skinned and broad. The most powerful of their chieftains were Bór and Ulfang, and the Sons of Fëanor made alliance with them.

The people of Bór proved to be faithful, but were completely destroyed during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, fighting on the side of the Eldar and Edain. But the followers of Ulfang and his son Uldor, the Accursed, were already in secret allegiance with Morgoth before their coming, and betrayed the Elves and Men of the West to their defeat during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in what was later known as the "Treachery of Men".

However, Ulfang's Easterlings were also betrayed by their lord Morgoth, who had promised them vast lands, and they were locked in Hithlum. After the War of Wrath, those that survived fled back over the Ered Luin to Eriador and beyond.

Third Age

During the Third Age, the term was applied to those Men living beyond the Sea of Rhûn, who were allied with Sauron and frequently attacked Gondor.

The first Easterling attacks were in the late fifth century of the Third Age and were repelled by King Ostoher and his son Rómendacil I. Later King Turambar fought wars of conquest against the Easterlings, extending Gondor's borders to the Sea of Rhûn. In 1248 the Regent of Gondor, Minalcar, led out a great force and attacked and destroyed many Easterling settlements, ensuring peace for Gondor in the east until T.A. 1800.

Wainriders

The "Wainriders" were a confederation of Easterling tribes who were united by their hate of Gondor, fuelled by Sauron. Following the Great Plague which weakened Gondor, they started their raids in 1851 of the Third Age and attacked in full force five years later, defeating the Gondorian army and killing King Narmacil II. They rode in great wagons and chariots (which gave them their name), and raided the lands of Rhovanion, destroying or enslaving its people. Gondor gradually lost all of its possessions east of Anduin, save Ithilien, to them. The thirtieth king of Gondor, Calimehtar son of Narmacil, defeated the Wainriders in battle on the Dagorlad, buying some rest for his land.

However the Wainriders struck back in 1944, allying themselves with the Haradrim of Near Harad and the Variags of Khand. They managed to kill King Ondoher and both his sons, but instead of riding on to Minas Anor and taking the city, they paused to celebrate. Meanwhile, general Eärnil of Gondor's southern army had defeated the Haradrim and rode north to defend his king. He came too late to rescue Ondoher, but managed to surprise and totally defeat the Wainriders in the Battle of the Camp. Eärnil was crowned king a year later. After this defeat the might of the Wainriders was broken, and their confederation collapsed. It later turned out that their attacks were staged by Sauron to allow him to reclaim Mordor while Gondor's watch was diverted.

Balchoth

The "Balchoth" (Sindarin for "cruel people") were a fierce group of Easterlings, who attacked Gondor while under orders of Dol Guldur. In 2510 they overran the plains of Calenardhon and almost destroyed the army of the Ruling Steward Cirion, but were defeated by the Éothéod under Eorl the Young at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. Like the Wainriders they rode in chariots and wagons, and they may have been descendants of this people.

Variags of Khand

The "Variags" were from Khand, and they first appeared in the north-west of Middle-earth in 1944 of the Third Age, fighting alongside the Wainriders. They were also present during the battle of the Pelennor Fields, over a thousand years later. Little was known about them.

In the real world, "Variags" is another name for the Varangians, a Viking people who had contact with Russia and Constantinople, described in one Byzantine chronicle as "axe-wielding barbarians". Thus some readers think that the Variags (whose physical features are not described, although axes are mentioned in reference to the tribes of the east) must look Nordic. Games Workshop, however, interprets Variags as similar to Mongols, but with chariots and Sashimonos, in its popular "The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game".

"Easterlings with axes"

During the War of the Ring itself, Easterlings are described as perhaps belonging to more than one culture, plus the Variags of Khand. One group is described as a "new" kind of Easterling that the men of Gondor had previously not encountered; fierce bearded men with axes.

In Adaptations

Easterlings are not featured greatly in "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy. They can be seen marching when Frodo and Sam come to the Black Gate in ' and in a few quick scenes in ' (they can be spotted both on foot and horseback among the Mordor forces that penetrate Minas Tirith). Gandalf does not mention them when he tells Pippin of men allied with Sauron. On screen, the Easterlings wear scale armour often covering the middle of the chest with a neck plate and a helmet with horn-like crests, and are armed with long pikes, scimitars and rectangular metal shields. Their armour is inscribed with a script which resembles Tengwar. In early design concepts, the Easterlings wore turbans and their helmets bore crescent moons, but director Peter Jackson requested that references to real-world cultures be avoided. ['Design Galleries: Easterlings', "The Two Towers: Extended Edition" DVD, Disc 3.]

The real-time strategy game "", chiefly based on the film trilogy though also taking material from the book, features playable Easterling units. Also, one of the playable maps is Rhûn, complete with Easterling buildings. The buildings' architecture suggests both Asian and Nordic influence and the Easterling helmet crests resemble those of "samurai".

Though the Variags are not a unit in the game, they are mentioned in a caption for the create-a-hero function in the game, and it is possible to create a corrupted man with barbarian-like armour and clothing that differs from that of the Easterlings or Haradrim, and is most likely that of a Variag.

In The Two Towers (MUD), both Easterling and Variag are both playable races. Variag players start in an encampment called Asubuhi (the Swahili language word for 'morning') which is a creation of fan fiction with no direct reference in Tolkien's works. Easterling players start at wagons outside of the town of Tavorus, also a creation of fan fiction.

References


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