Armies and Hosts of Middle-earth warfare
J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earthmuch of the history of the three ages of his legendariumare concerned with wars and the battles and armies of those wars. Tolkien, as a writer, adopts various modes in the books from the very conversational raconteur of " The Hobbit" to the medieval, or biblical-like, historian of " The Silmarillion" to the novelist of " The Lord of the Rings" and even to the epic poet of " The Lays of Beleriand". The different modes present different perspectives and narrative distances. In some the action is far off, in others the action is very near. When far off much detail of a battle is left somewhat vague or deliberately compressed to create a feeling of distance in time or a panorama in space. When near, precise and great detail of the fight or battle is recounted. Yet over three invented ages and numerous wars and battles the clarity of the narrative, regardless of its distances, is apparent to the reader, although not necessarily explicit in the description of each event such as one can find in a military history text. An examination of the order of battleas it appears within the " in-universe" texts and as it is present across the "ex-universe" literary history of the texts can be seen in the charts and subsections that follow.
Armies of Middle-earth, hierarchy and organization
The charts below show the general hierarchical terms used by Tolkien to describe military formations and organization, and how these relate to specific or estimated strengths in battles throughout the history of Middle-earth. These terms are used with a remarkable general consistency over the time of Tolkien's writings from 1917–1972, as well as an in-universe consistency over the three ages of Middle-earth.
There are certainly times when some of these words: "host", "army", "company", "band" are used outside of this context. For example: "host" can refer to the whole of a people which includes males, females and children, not just the warriors, or "the war-high", [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "History of Middle-earth", Vol. II, (1984), p.70. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "History of Middle-earth", Vol. X, (1993), p.115, "But the hosts... all these great companies, both of the full-grown and war-high and many others...".] to use Tolkien's own phrase. At times, "army" can mean a singular fighting force of no set size, as can "company", or "host". Within the context of most battle, or war, descriptions these terms are generally consistent throughout the canon. ["
Mythlore", Number 62, Volume 16, No.4, ISSN: 0146-9339, 'Orc Hosts, Armies and Legions, A Demographic Study', 1990, p.12, "At this point it will be helpful to show a plausible, overall order of battle, or Table of Organization to support these conclusions..." there follows a list of terms and estimates that generally coincides with those used here. The article is the second part of a two article study of Middle-earth demographics and the strength estimates as well as the organizational breakdowns shown here are drawn from it.] More modern military terms such as "battalion" and "regiment" see occasional use, but are not widespread.
While estimates of numbers can be often supported textually by simple extension of textually cited numbers, they are only estimates when there is not a specific number stated by Tolkien. However, it can be said with some certainty that a description of strength using the "Names", such as: "Name"-"host" (e.g. Great-host) as a number of the "Name"-"armies" (e.g. Orc-armies), is supported textually across the board in the canon, as the selected, but by no means only, references demonstrate.
It is important to consider the context in which these terms appear in the stories since, as a writer of fiction, Tolkien's primary purpose is to engage and entertain the reader while not being tied to a set terminology the way a military historian must be. Tolkien sometimes adopts just that stance going into great detail about tactical movements, weapons and formations as he does in "The Battles of the Fords of Isen", or "Cirion and Eorl". [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "
Unfinished Tales", (1980)] He can apply the same attention to detail to the drill of a shield-wall formation as to the intricacies of family relationships of the Sackville-Baggins.
Orc-hosts, Orc-armies, Orc-legions, Auxiliaries and Allies
Hosts and Armies of Elves, Men and Dwarves
Armies and Hosts through the three ages of Middle-earth
In the subsections that follow, the hierarchy and organization described above is shown and applied to an exemplar war from each of the three ages of Tolkien's fictional
legendariumof Middle-earth. They demonstrate that there is little variation or change to the structure of Armies and Hosts through the fictional and literary history of Tolkien's Middle-earth canon.
War of Wrath in the First Age
At the end of the First age,
Morgothis defeated in a final campaign called the War of Wrathby the host of the Valar made up of the Elves of Valinorled by Eönwë, the Herald of Manwë. This host of the Valar, or host of Valinor, is described as a host and contains the armies [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "History of Middle-earth", Vol. V, (1987), p. 328, "march of the host...in his armies..."indicates that the host is made up of two or more armies.] of Elvenwarriors of the Vanyaras well as those of the Noldorthat remained behind in Aman. Ingwion, the son of the High-king of all Elves, Ingwë, leads the Vanyarand Finarfin, son of Finwëand king of the Noldor in Valinor, leads the Noldor. The size of the host of the Valar is ascertained by relative statements by Elrond, who was present, and a similar statement in " The Silmarillion", "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p.293] in which it is described as the only host greater than that of the great host of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
As shown in the following section, the great host of the Last Alliance is composed of other hosts which are composed of armies. Since the host of the Valar is greater than the host of the Last Alliance, it too would be composed of hosts and there is evidence that this is so. In "March of the Elves of Kôr" [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. II, p. 278] the encampment in the Land of Willows of the "first host" is noted indicating, at least, a second host. Furthermore, the outline suggests that this host is that of the Noldor, or
Noldoli. At minimum, a host of Noldor and a host of Vanyar whose combined strength exceeds the great host of the Last Alliance which is estimated below at 105,000 to 140,000. [Me-ref|FotR|"The Council of Elrond", p.256, "I remember well the splendour of their banners ... It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrimwas broken...". Also: J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p. 293, "...none greater has been mustered since the host of the Valar went against Thangorodrim."]
It is possible to develop a general proportional picture of the host of the Valar. In "Quendi and Eldar" [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. XI, p.381 and p.412.] the proportions of the three original clans are given and adjusted for the divisions during the migration march from Middle-earth to Aman. The proportional factors given by Tolkien are: 14 for the
Minyar(Vanyar) in Aman; 28 for the Tatyar(Noldor) in Aman; and 26 Nelyar(Sindar and Nandor) remaining in Middle-earth. It is told most of the Noldor return in the rebellion but that first a "tithe", or 10%, refuse to follow Fëanorand then later Finarfinwith "many of his people" turned back. [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p.84, p.88] and that Fingolfinhas the greater of the two hosts, including Finarfin and it remains greater than the Fëanorians even after Finarfin leaves and Helcaraxëis crossed. Further, it is stated that the Elves of Beleriandoutnumber the returning Noldor so that the factor for the returning Noldor must be considerably less than the factor of 26 for the Sindarand Nandor. Finarfin needs a factor of at least 6 or 7 to allow a noticeable difference between the Noldor and Sindar, or 19 or 20 Noldor to 26 Sindar. This would leave 6 to 7 Noldor in Aman and 14 Vanyar, about 2 to 1. This suggests that the host of the Valar is composed of a host of Noldor and a host of Vanyar that is twice as large, or two hosts of Vanyar. [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. IV, p.154, "the captain of their host was Fionwë son of Manwë. Beneath his banner his white banner marched also the host of the Quendi, the Light-elves, the folk of Ingwë..." i.e: the Vanyar. Also, Vol. V p.326; "The Silmarillion, p.251, "... marched the Vanyar...". Mythlore", Number 51, Volume 14, No.1, "The Kindreds, Houses and Population of the Elves During the First Age", 1987; ISSN:0146-9339, p. 37, chart shows a ratio of: 28 to 6, Vanyar to Noldor in Aman, 450 First Age.]
Having used the hierarchy established in the subsection of the War of the Last Alliance to show the structure of the forces in the War of Wrath, the numbers for these structures demonstrated in subsection The War of the Ring below can be applied and general estimates shown in the list for the Host of the Valar and the Hosts of Morgoth.Host of the Valar:
*Maiar – at least 1, Eönwë, in earlier accounts some Valar were present, in others the sons of the Valar. Probably more Maiar.
*Elves – 100,000–150,000, about two thirds are Vanyar [ This estimate represents the descriptions of this host as the greatest host of Elves, or Elves and Men in Middle-earth. There is a description of the host of Númenor led by Ar-Pharazôn against Sauron that states the Host of Númenor was the greatest of host ever to march in Middle-earth which presumably includes those of Sauron and Morgoth. And his invasion of Aman, "greatest armament that the world had seen".]
*Eagles and "all the great birds of heaven"; [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p.252] "a myriad of birds"; [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. IV, p.160] a
myriadcan mean, literally, 10,000. ["Online Etymology Dictionary","myriad" - 1555, from M.Fr. myriade, from L.L. myrias (gen. myriadis) "ten thousand," from Gk. myrias (gen. myriados) "ten thousand," from myrios "innumerable, countless," of unknown origin. Specific use is usually in translations from Gk. or Latin.]
Hosts of Morgoth:
*Orc-hosts – 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 [prior to the War of Wrath, the largest force fielded by Morgoth is in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the Fifth Battle, that force can be estimated at least 300,000 from the texts and using the system outlined above, it is possible that an estimate for that force could be 500,000, or somewhat more.]
Balrogs – Probably 5 (or around 1,000 in first narrations) [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. V, p.137.] [Morgoth's Ring, Section 2 (AAm*): note 50: "In the margin my father wrote: 'There should not be supposed more than say 3 or at most 7 ever existed.'" While the margin note is an interesting aspect of Tolkien's methodology of writing, as a margin note it is not definitive nor it does not change what is said in the canonical works "Fall of Gondolin" and "Lost Road" about the War of Wrath, althought these works where very primitive in the conception of the real power and nature of a Balrog, thus when the power and nature of the Balrog's change and they became maiar in Tolkien's mind, they number went from thousands to just a few.]
*Dragons – "the dragon-host"; [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p.252] ; "dreadful fleet"; [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol.V, p.329] "fleet...a hundred thunders winged with steel", possibly indicates 100 winged dragons, "the dragon-horde" [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. IV, p.160]
*Hosts of Easterling Men – 50,000–100,000 [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. XI, p. 60,"... hosts of Men out of the further East were journeying towards Beleriand..."; p.70, "... summoned yet more ... out of the East." These statements of the initial waves of the Easterling men are indicative of a vast migration.]
Wolvesand other beastsFact|date=April 2008
The War of the Last Alliance in the Second Age
This war that ends the
Second Ageexemplifies the effect that Tolkien employs to create a grand panoramic distance from the event. However, he continues to use the same hierarchical organization and terms. This can be seen in the various descriptions of the Great Host of the Last Alliance. [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p. 293, "Therefore they made that League which is called the Last Alliance...gathering a great host of Elves and Men..."]
Sauron attacked Gondor in S.A. 3429. In response,
Elendil, formed an alliance with Gil-galad. Over 2 years they gathered their armies. [ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, " History of Middle-earth" Vol. V, (1987), "Fall of Númenor", p.29, "...he (Elendil) made league with Gil-galad...And their armies were joined...the host of Beleriand..."] Their great host [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The Silmarillion", (1977), p. 293, describes this force as a 'great host' before it reaches Imladris, Rivendell, or crosses the mountains to join with the other forces in the east, indicating it is composed of more than two armies. Also, it is here described superlatively so: "none greater has been mustered..." since the War of Wrath. ] then marched to Rivendell. [J.R.R. Tolkien "Lord of the Rings", "The Return of the King" (2nd edition 1966). Appendix B, p.365.] Then they went over the Misty Mountainsand were joined by the army of the Dwarves of Moria. [ It is told that few Dwarves fought in the war upon either side, but that Durin's Folkfought on the side of the Alliance. " The Silmarillion", in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age] The Alliance host crossed over the river Anduinmeeting the armies [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, " Unfinished Tales", (1980), p.258, Oropher raises a 'host' consisting of his "great army" and the "lesser army of Malgalad" as a part of the 'great host' of the Alliance.] of the SilvanElves of Lórienand Greenwood the Greatin the host of Oropher. ["Unfinished Tales", p.258, "...the host of Silvan Elves..."] The Last Alliance marched south down the east bank of Anduin and join the army of Gondor, finally meeting Sauron's forces before Mordor.
It can be seen that the Host of the Alliance is made up of the great host of Gil-galad and
Elendil: containing the armies of Elves of the Noldorof Forlindonand the Sindarof Harlindon[J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, " Unfinished Tales", (1980), p.252,"...the Elves of Harlindon...largely of Sindarin origin..." this would account for the additional army making it a great host] and the army of the Men of Arnor; and the host of Silvan Elves: containing the greater army of Greenwood and the army of Lórien; an army of Dwarves from Moria and the army of Men of Gondor. Altogether, this great host contains 7 armies. Using a median strength of 15,000 to 20,000 for each army taken from the chart above of "Hosts and Armies of Elves, Men and Dwarves", then an estimated overall strength of the Great Host of the Alliance adds up to 105,000 to 140,000.
The War of the Ring
War of the Ring, the Siege of Gondor and the Battle of Pelennor Fieldsare good examples of a mix of precise military detail and panoramic narrative. The catalogue of companies from the outlying provinces that come to Gondor's aid is numbered at less than 3000, with company sizes ranging from a stated 100 to 700 men in precise detail. [ J.R.R. Tolkien "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), pp.43-44] The numbers of the original garrison of Minas Tirithand the forward garrison of Osgiliathand Faramir's company of Ithilienare not specified. However, it is described panoramically that, following his defeat at Osgiliath, Faramir is outnumbered by ten times and that he loses one third of his men. [ J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966) p. 94] The muster of Rohan adds another 6,000 horsemen to the total of the defence of Minas Tirith. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966) p.76 & p.106: "You have a score of scores counted ten times and five.". K.W.Fonstad, "The Atlas of Middle-earth", Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1981, ISBN 0-395-28665-4p.151] There are no specific totals given for the forces of Mordor, but there are comparisons to stated numbers that imply totals within the panoramic narrative. When the army of the West comes to the Morannonit is less than 6,000 strong and is outnumbered "ten times and more than ten times" [ J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966), p. 167.] by a "great host" out of the Morannon, Orcs from the hills flanking the Morannon, and an army of Easterlings, or some 60,000 to 75,000. This force is later called "hosts", indicating at least 2 hosts, each 30,000–40,000 strong.
Morgul-host, [K.W.Fonstad, "The Atlas of Middle-earth", Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1981, ISBN 0-395-28665-4p.151, Fonstad gives an estimate of 45,000 for the Morgul-host, shown to be a very low estimate in "Mythlore" 'Orc Hosts, Armies and Legions', p15.] led by the Witch-king, is described as the greatest army to "issue from that vale since Isildur, no host so fell and strong in arms...yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth..." and it has a "great cavalry of horsemen" in advance of it. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966) p.315] At the Pelennor Fields, the Haradrim, consisting of footmen, horsemen and mûmakil, are said to "thrice" outnumber the 6,000 Riders of Rohan, a possibility that the army consists of more than 18,000. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966) p.121] These regiments of Haradrim are said to have joined the Morgul-host at Osgiliath. [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), p.90.] At the same time, infantry from the city sally against "the legions of Morgul that were still gathered there in strength", or at least 2 legions and there arrives the Morgul-host reserves composed of forces from the Easterlings, Khand, Southrons, and Far Harad. Additionally, north of the city near Cair Andros, another host of Orcs and Men out of the East [ J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), p. 159; J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "History of Middle-earth", Vol.VIII, (1990), p. 415, " The host of Orcs and Easterlings had turned back out of Anórien...".] advancing from the Morannon [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), p. 374, "An army from the Morannon takes Cair Andros and passes into Anórien.".] cuts the road north to Rohan. This host of Mordor blocking the road to Minas Tirith is "very many, more than Horse-men (of Rohan)". according to Ghân-buri-Ghân. Further north, forces from Dol Guldurattack Thranduiland thrice assault Lórien, and Eastern Rohan is attacked from the north [ J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), pp.374–376.] by a force elsewhere described as an Orc-host, [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. VIII, (1990), p.355; p. 361, "crossing of host to the Wold of Rohan..." later destroyed by the Ents,"The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", p. 374; "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. VIII, p. 361.] a host of Easterlings attacks Dalein the far north.
At least 5 distinct hosts from Mordor can be identified: 2 hosts of the Great Host at the Morannon; the Morgul-host (which later in the battle is called "hosts" [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King" (2nd edition, 1966) p. 123] and therefore contains at least 2 hosts [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "The History of Middle-earth", Vol. VIII, (1990), p.277, as a title this is: Hosts of the Morghul; again indicating more than one host.] ); the host near Cair Andros. According to
Gandalf, Sauronused more than half his strength for the assault on Gondor. [J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "Unfinished Tales", (1980), p.330.] [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King", (2nd edition, 1966), p. 154, "...the first great assault.The next will be greater." Gandalf indicates that the Great Host of the Morannon is larger than the Morgul-host and that the Morannon-host is intended for the assault on Gondor and included in the "more than half his strength" mentioned above.] This leaves something less than that for the 4 forces elsewhere. 2 of these are distinctly identified as hosts: the Host of Easterling allies at Dale; the Orc-host invading East Rohan from the north while another host, at least, is implied by the attacks, 3 on Lórien and 1 on Thranduil, out of Dol Guldur. Taking median a total for any host of a strength of 40,000, a general minimum estimate for the 8 to 9 hosts (16 to 18 armies) of Sauron in the War of the Ring is therefore about 320,000–360,000. All arms, which includes the fleet and crews out of Umbar, would add somewhat to the total. [ J.R.R.Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, "History of Middle-earth" Vol. VIII, "The War of the Ring", 1990, p. 263, "..Southron fleets come up the Great River and send a host into Lebennin..."; p.420, "...the fleets of Umbar, fifty great ships and many smaller vessels beyond count."] As a clear example of how context should be considered, in the "Tale of the Years", the force that Aragornleads to the Gates of Mordor is called the "Host of the West" and it doesn't have the strength estimate found above in the charts. But, in this context, the word "Host" is used as a general description of a disparate group of warriors for whom specific numbers have preceded the use of the word elsewhere in the book . "Host of the West", as a title, indicates it is an encompassing phrase. In earlier chapters in " The Return of the King", Tolkien consistently calls it an "army" initially, even ironically mentioning that several thousands were, "scarce as many as the vanguard of its army in the days of its power". There is no confusion about its size when later it is called a "host" because context has already clarified it in this case.Fact|date=April 2008
List of Middle-earth weapons
War of the Ring
War of Wrath
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