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Lord of the Rings - the Military of Gondor
By Rider, 8 November 2007; Revised
Category: History and Fiction
Gondor, a kingdom in the lands J.R.R. Tolkien created, was a strong state that was struggling for power. The populace of Gondor was used to being in war and they had developed strong and advanced systems of gathering military forces.
Infantry had always played a large role in the conquests of Gondor and it is wise to assume that most of the military forces were in infantry. The Gondorians were, in the beginning of the Third Age of the Sun, guarding the passes to Mordor to prevent evil returning (after the War of the Last Alliance when Sauron was thought defeated). The lands of Mordor were surrounded by Ered Lithui (Ash Mountains) and Ephel Duath (Mountains of Shadow) – these two ranges made up for the northern and western borders and were bordering the Kingdom of Gondor. The places where Gondorians built their fortresses were in the Ered Lithui at Carchost and Narchost besides the Morannon (the Black Gates) and then in the Ephel Duath at Durthang and the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Also, downwards from the Pass was the city of Minas Ithil which was a strong city and this was also in the hands of the Kings. However, as time passed and troubles stirred, the guards failed and left their posts. This may be related to the need of men in other areas to repel invasions of hostile forces.
The infantry seems to have been standardized to some degree while they came from Gondor proper and not from the vassalized areas. Most of the soldiers during the reign of the Kings seem to have used the black and white flag of the Kings on their armour.
The infantry was deployed in two separate armies – Army of the South and Army of the North. These two must have been through several combats and the membership constantly being resupplied. The Army of the South guarded Proros and South Ithilien along with possibly commencing some raids to Harondor (South Gondor). The Army of the North seems to have been guarding the North Ithilien and Dagorlad (where it was once annihilated in a battle with the Wainriders) and the passes upwards at Calernadhon (before the Kingdom of Rohan was established).
The cavalry seems to never have made up large parts of the armies but by what is told in the books it would be safe to assume that the larger portions of cavalry came from Dol Amroth and Lebennin (and possibly Calernadhon) where there were large empty areas that were suitable for horses. The cavalry of Gondor, while not numbering many, still seems to have been quite exceptional in skills and dreadful to the enemies.
By the descriptions of the battles against the Wainriders it would also be safe to assume that the cavalry made up the usual vanguards and rearguards of the army while marching.
Larger portions of the army seem to have come from southern fiefs – Lamedon, Lebennin, Lossarnach, Anfalas, Belfalas, Anorien and Dor-er-Ernil. The most powerful ally of the Gondorians were the Rohirrim and they served alongside Gondor in many wars.
The men from Dor-er-Ernil were great warriors and it was thought that they descended from Elves. These were led by the Prince of Dol Amroth with his white swanship on a red background. The men of Dol Amroth also had the title of Swan Knight which was used when speaking of the mounted knights. These people were most likely excellent cavalrymen and one of the best warriors in all of Gondor.
Lossarnach was a smaller area but it was famous for it’s axemen who marched alongside their leader. These axemen were described in the ’Return of the King’ as fully armoured and carrying large battleaxes.
Lebennin encompassed a large area around between the sea and the Ered Nimrais (the White Mountains). The men from this area were mostly responsible with fighting against the Haradrim and Men of Umbar. Lebennin seems to have had a large populace and therefore it would be logical that there were also many men from Lebennin in the armies of Gondor.
Lamedon and Morthond made up for a large area and from these places, the best archers of Gondor came, the Blackroot Valley bowmen, and they also served in the wars against Sauron. The southern fiefs namely such as Andrast, Anfalas and Pinnath Gelin also had some smaller warbands.
The lands of Ithilien were densely populated and after Sauron retook these lands, Gondorians formed units of Rangers (actually, they were formed already when the bands of Orcs started visiting Ithilien, in the twenty-ninth century of the Third Age) which were scouting and warring with Sauron in Ithilien. These Rangers excelled in the use of the bow and they used to great effect the remaining forests. The Rangers also had hideouts throughout Ithilien and these were secret and known to few. The most well known hideout was at Henneth Annûn.
The fleet of Gondor was never large but it was large enough to war with the Men of Umbar and to prevent landings. Also, the fleet seems to have used fewer ships of larger drought rather than more ships of lesser drought. The fleet was mainly situated in Pelargir and Umbar (when it was in the hands of Gondor).
In the Third Age (around 1975), there was one situation where the Gondorians sent help to Arnor against the Witch-King of Angmar. The men of Gondor sent only a small force, not much larger than a vanguard of the army and with few ships but still the harbours of north were filled with men and ships and the drought of the ships was such that they barely made it into the harbours at the Grey Havens and Lindon. And also the number of men amazed the Arnorians and Elves and especially they were awed at the cavalry for their horses were of excellent breed.
If I were to think of a similar force from our history, my mind would be set upon the Eastern Roman Empire for several reasons. Firstly, while the Gondorians didn’t have a large cavalry, it was one of the best of their times and the same applies to the Roman Kataphraktoi and Klibinarii who were prized forces of all armies. Yet, their numbers were never large.
Secondly, the infantry of the Kingdom of Gondor was in a very good state and it was strong and poweful. The same applies to Roman infantry of most periods (before the larger use of mercenaries in the 14th and 15th century).
Thirdly, the systems of fiefs and thema are quite similar in concept. Fourthly, not only are the main armies but also the fleets quite similar – while the Roman Empire in the East didn’t build much ships, their ships were of a good quality and they experimented with larger and larger types.