Tarma Tar-Calion: A Historical Note on the Haven of Umbar

Chris Seeman PO Box 1213 Novato, CA 94948 USA

Despite the central role it plays in the history of Middle-earth, J.R.R. Tolkien had precious little to say about the layout and topography of Umbar, that most infamous haven where Ar-Pharazôn, last king of Númenor, humbled the might of Sauron in the year 3261 of the Second Age. One of the few features of Umbar which Tolkien does relate to us pertains (not surprisingly) to this very event. It is stated in Appendix A” of The Lord of the Rings that the followers of Elendil raised a monument commemorating Sauron’s humiliation before the power of Númenor. This brief essay analyzes Tolkien’s reference to this memorial, and then examines how subsequent Iron Crown authors have dealt with this text. It concludes with an interpretation of the monument’s historical significance for those who erected it.

The Text

Any sound evaluation of Ar-Pharazôn’s monument must begin with a close reading of the primary source. The thirteen-line para graph in which the reference to the monument appears is given with quotation marks, indicating that Tolkien intended it to be an actual extract from a longer annal or tale” (RotK: 313). The fact that this passage is separated from the preceding (extracted) and following (summarized) text suggests that Tolkien conceived of it as deriving from a source document distinct or separate from the extract it follows (which we shall argue shortly). We quote the passage in full:

The loss of Umbar was grievous to Gondor, not only because the realm was diminished in the south and its hold upon the Men of the Harad was loosened, but because it was there that Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, last King of Númenor, had landed and humbled the might of Sauron. Though great evil had come after, even the followers of Elendil remembered with pride the coming of the great host of Ar-Pharazôn out of the deeps of the Sea; and on the highest hill of the headland above the Haven they had set a great white pillar as a monument. It was crowned with a globe of crystal that took the rays of the Sun and of the Moon and shone like a bright star that could be seen in clear weather even on the coasts of Gondor or far out upon the western sea. So it stood, until after the second arising of Sauron, which now approached, Umbar fell under the domination of his servants, and the memorial of his humiliation was thrown down (RotK: 327 – 328).”

Before considering the content of our pas sage, we need to contextualize what it says by imagining what kind of annal or tale” Tolkien was quoting it from: where, when and why was it written, and by whom?

To begin with, there are two events which imply a temporal location for the source: the final loss of Umbar to Sauron’s servants,” and Sauron’s second arising, which now approached“1. Tolkien never gives an exact date for Gondor’s loss of Umbar to its enemies, though the year 1940 would be a fair guess2. As for the second arising of Sauron, this may refer to his open declaration and return to Mordor in 2951, although the text seems to imply that the loss of Umbar takes place after Sauron’s arising.”

This discrepancy may be resolved by assuming that the final revelation of Sauron in 2951 would have led the Dúnedain of Gondor to reconsider their own history, and to read back,” as it were, Sauron’s invisible hand in past events. This would imply that our passage could not have been composed before 2951.

It is instructive to note that the extracted materials which precede our passage in the Annals” make reference to the reign of Elessar, but that the present passage does not. Considered on purely thematic grounds, our passage does not speak about final restoration under Elessar, but only of final loss in the shadow of Sauron’s definitive arising3. This suggests that the source of our passage was written before the War of the Ring (2951 — 3018, a brief period of sixty-seven years).

I believe that our passage was composed during the rule of the Steward Ecthelion (2959 – 2980), perhaps by Aragorn himself. As supporting evidence I cite a later passage from the Annals:”

Thorongil (Aragorn) often counselled Ecthelion that the strength of the rebels in Umbar was a great peril to Gondor, and a threat to the fiefs of the south that would prove deadly, if Sauron moved to open war. At last he got leave of the Steward and gathered a small fleet, and he came to Umbar unlooked-for by night, and there burned a great part of the ships of the Corsairs. He himself overthrew the Captain of the Haven in battle upon the quays, and then he with drew his fleet with small loss (RotK: 335).”

Numerous similarities in the theme, con tent, and perspective may be readily seen when comparing these passages, the most important being their common recognition of the threat posed by Umbar to Gondor as a result of Sauron’s influence. The designation of the Corsairs as rebels” is quite telling, since it implies a continued Dúnadan claim upon Umbar (on the basis of Sauron’s subjection to the king of Númenor, of which the monument was a symbol). Moreover, the identification of Umbar’s Haven” (again, common to both passages) is rarely mentioned in Tolkien’s other references to Umbar.

It is quite possible, then, that our passage was composed in the context of Aragorn’s counseling” of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith some twenty or more years before the War of the Ring. It testifies to a connection between the monument and Gondor’s containment of the potentially hostile Haradrim. It also construes violence against the pillar as a rebellion against Dúnadan authority, citing its basis in Sauron’s defeat by Ar-Pharazôn. This suggests that the monument was not merely” a memorial of past victories, but that it served a concrete political function in its own time.

Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs (1982)

Brenda Gates Spielman’s treatment of the monument in the original Umbar module adheres fairly closely to Tolkien’s text, but with the significant difference that it has become a tower:

in T.A. 933 Eärnil I, nephew of Falastur, defeated Umbar and made it a fortress of Gondor. The Faithful built on the highest hill above the Haven, a monument to commemorate Sauron’s defeat, a great white tower topped by a globe of crystal which shone like a star under the light of the sun or the moon so that it could be seen on the coasts of Gondor and far out in the western sea … as Sauron rose again in power the Men of Harad fell fully under his sway. They retook Umbar and destroyed the monument built to his defeat (Spielman, 1982: 10; my emphasis).

The location of this tower is never explicitly indicated anywhere in the module, though the cover art and maps imply, contra Tolkien, that it is situated on a solitary hill in the middle of Umbar’s harbor, rather than on the highest hill of the headland” as Tolkien clearly states.

What is surprising about this treatment is that Spielman never makes anything out of this tower in the module, thus raising the question of why she bothered to alter Tolkien’s text in the first place. A comparative survey of the vocabulary of our primary passage quickly reveals that Tolkien never refers to a tower as a pillar,” nor does he ever refer to a tower as having been set” up4. It seems highly dubious, therefore, to interpret Tolkien this way without severe justification.

Despite this odd misconstrual of Tolkien’s intention, Spielman nevertheless faithfully adheres to Tolkien’s claim that the monument was set up by the followers of Elendil.” She recognizes that this could not have been done before Eärnil’s investment of the haven of Umbar in 933: The city extends only to the Second Wall in T.A. 935. The monument to Sauron’s defeat by Ar-Pharazôn is only in the planning stages (Spielman, 1982: 49; cf. 11).” She does not offer any dates for its completion5.

It seems to me more likely, however, that if (as the primary passage might be construed to suggest) the rise and fall of the monument corresponded to Gondor’s political control (or lack thereof) over Haradwaith, that it would have been erected in 1050 by Hyarmendacil, symbolizing his utter defeat of the Haradrim and their Sauronically-inspired masters. Moreover, we know from the Annals” that during the reign of Hyarmendacil: the kings of the Harad did homage to Gondor, and their sons lived as hostages in the court of its King (RotK: 325).” As we shall argue later on, the monument to Ar-Pharazôn would provide the necessary symbolic focus for instituting these novel (and enduring) political relations.

The Northwestern Middle-earth Gazetteer (1993)

Mark Rabuck’s synthesis of information about the realms of northwestern Middle-earth includes a section on Umbar, which con tains a significant deviation from both Tolkien and Spielman’s texts. He writes: A great monument raised by the Númenórean King Ar-Pharazôn to commemorate his victory over Sauron guards the entrance to the harbor (Rabuck, 1993: 91).”

Rabuck, then, incorporates the implicit error of the original 1982 Umbar module map, and then contradicts Tolkien’s explicit statement that: Though great evil had come after, even the followers of Elendil remembered with pride the coming of the great host of Ar-Pharazôn out of the deeps of the Sea; and on the highest hill of the headland above the Haven they had set a great white pillar as a monument (RotK: 327; my emphasis).” It is grammatically impossible that the they” who set up the pillar were the great host of Ar-Pharazôn,” both for the obvious reason that the followers of Elendil” is the subject of the sentence and because a professor of English would not have been so sloppy in his language to use a third-person plural verb for a singular subject6.

It might be objected that the followers of Elendil, who were themselves persecuted by Ar-Pharazôn, could not possibly conceive of raising a monument to his glory. Yet Tolkien explicitly recognizes this factor when he writes Though great evil had come after, even the followers of Elendil remembered with pride the coming of the great host of Ar-Pharazôn out of the deeps of the Sea (ibid; my emphasis).” In any case, the accent falls less on the person of Ar-Pharazôn than on the defeat of Sauron by Númenor.

Why Bother?

Why should we worry ourselves over such details? To begin with, one may have occasion to wonder at why so straightforward a passage from Tolkien need be convoluted or neglected by game designers who profess the Iron Crown slogan of meeting the high standards associated with the Tolkien legacy.” Of course, mere’s nothing high” about any of this: the monument wasn’t a tower, it wasn’t in the middle of Umbar’s harbor, and Ar-Pharazôn didn’t build it. Perhaps we would feel greater clemency if there were a welter of details about Umbar to juggle; but, in actuality, the hard facts we know about Umbar can be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

There is a more important reason why details about the monument matter. As we have attempted to make apparent through our interpretation of the passage, we believe that this pillar may in fact prove to be absolutely central for understanding the character of political relations between Umbar and Gondor throughout the Third Age, as well as for understanding how those relations were perceived and symbolized by the parties involved7.

Hyarmendacil’s Pillar: A Reconstruction

Having established what can be known with certainty about the monument on the basis of Tolkien’s references, we move on to the crucial step for game design: developing a plausible interpretation through the use of historical imagination. What follows is a reconstruction that focuses on the questions of when the pillar was raised and from where its crystal originated.

When Ar-Pharazôn came to Umbar to challenge the might of Sauron, he brought with him a globe of crystal upon which he purposed to constrain his opponent to swear an oath of fealty8. For seven days he journeyed with banner and trumpet, and he came to a hill, and he went up and set there his pavilion and his throne; and he sat him down in the midst of the land… Then he sent forth heralds, and he commanded Sauron to come before him and swear to him fealty (Sil: 270).” Ar-Pharazôn caused the crystal globe to be set in the ground before his throne.

Ar-Pharazôn’s challenge to Sauron had been over the latter’s claim to the title King of Men,” and in swearing fealty to the king of Númenor (however falsely), Sauron ceded to him that prerogative of rule. After Akallabêth, the fragile power of Umbar’s Temple (which had become the institution that integrated the form of slave-domination over the men of the Harad) began to crumble, and the weakened military power of the lords of Umbar led to rebellion among the Haradrim, who sought to reassert their independence from the Númenórean yoke.

The contradiction inherent in these wars of liberation” was that the royal tradition of independence to which the Haradan leaders appealed was itself a creation of Númenórean patronage and hegemony. The Dúnedain had originally taught the men of Harad agriculture, forging technology, and administrative skills — all necessary ingredients for kingdoms — and then actually assisted the most powerful of the Haradrim to establish such kingdoms by integrating them into a tributary system.

The client-kings of Haradwaith received Númenórean military support for their royal claims over their own people, and they in turn saw to the collection of tribute for their foreign masters. Independent” Haradan kingdoms could not exist without Númenórean power to back them up. Some kind of political-military arrangement therefore had to be established in the wake of the loss of Númenor itself. Oaths of alliance and protection were sworn between the lords of Umbar and the kings of Harad at the hill of the crystal, be cause of the awe in which it was held in the memory of both.

It was on the basis of these oaths that the lords of Umbar were able to maintain Haradan support against the Gondorian investment of Umbar by King Eärnil and his successors for over a century of protracted war. When Ciryaher utterly destroyed this alliance in 1050 and became Hyarmendacil, he had to co-opt the central symbol of that alliance in order to ensure that all future political relations would be controlled by Gondor. Therefore, he ordered the globe removed from its hill in the midst of the land” and brought to Umbar, where he caused it to be set atop a pillar commemorating Sauron’s (and, now, Haradwaith’s) submission to Dúnadan power.

It was Hyarmendacil who resumed the Númenórean tradition of patronage towards the kingdoms of the Harad as a guarantee of tribute. This he did by holding the sons of these kings hostage” in the court of Osgiliath, and by forcing their fathers to swear allegiance and friendship to the line of Anárion before the pillar. The tributary system of homage” to Númenor was thereby re-established by recourse to a sacred relic of that system.

It was only later (around the year 1940), that Sauron’s power over the Haradrim kingdoms had grown great enough to create new forms of internal political stability (probably cultically-based). Only then could the Haradan kings afford to destroy the old symbol of their legitimacy in Umbar, by assisting in its over throw. It was this decisive act which led the kings of Gondor and Arnor to realize for the first time that a single will and power sought the destruction of the survivors of Númenor.”


  1. To use these temporal markers for the purpose of dating the source document assumes that they are not later additions to an earlier source, which cannot ultimately be determined with certainty. Tolkien denotes insertions of a later date” by the inclusion of brackets (RotK: 313). It is not entirely clear, however, whether these brackets refer to the condition of the sources themselves, or to their incorporation into The Annals of the Kings and Rulers” by their Fourth Age compilers. 

  2. Tolkien writes: In that war [Telumehtar’s conquest of Umbar in 1810] … Umbar was again held for a while by the kings… But in the new evils that soon befell Gondor Umbar was again lost, and fell into the hands of the Men of the Harad (RotK: 329).” If the Men of the Harad are to be identified with the servants” in our source passage, then the new evils” of which the present text speaks would seem to refer to the Wainrider invasions of 1851 – 1944. I choose 1940 as the most likely candidate for the Haradan conquest of Umbar be cause of a rather interesting correspondence of events, which may well allude to the overthrow of the monument mentioned in our primary passage:
    It was in the reign of Araphant in the North and Ondoher son of Calimehtar in the South that the two kingdoms again took counsel together after long silence and estrangement. For at last they perceived that some single power and will was directing assault from many quarters upon the survivors of Númenor. It was at that time that Arvedui heir of Araphant wedded Fíriel daughter of Ondoher (1940). But neither kingdom was able to send help to the other; for Angmar renewed its attack upon Arthedain at the same time as the Wainriders reappeared in great force (RotK: 329; my emphasis).
    The realms-in-exile had been subject to hostility ever since their foundation, so the mere fact of coinciding assaults from enemies would not be sufficient to recognize the peculiar emphasis of this insight. Rather, something else must have happened in 1940 (or immediately before it) that triggered sudden recognition of the relationship between the unity of the attacks and their focus upon the Dúnedain precisely as survivors of Númenor. The casting down of the memorial of Sauron’s humiliation by Númenor is the perfect occasion for such a realization. 

  3. One might have expected Elessar to have attempted to restore the downfallen monument if, as Tolkien states, it was viewed as a symbol of Sauron’s defeat. Hence, if our source had come from after the War of the Ring, we would have expected some kind of reference to Elessar’s complete subdual” of Umbar (RotK: 327). 

  4. I would refer the reader to Richard E. Blackwelder’s Tolkien Thesaurus (1990), which provides quick reference to the vocabulary patterns used by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. On the non-relation of pillar” and setting up” to towers, see Pp. 176, 205, 245. It should be stated that comparative linguistic evidence from Tolkien’s writings does not prove” an argument of this sort either way, but it should drive home the point that the burden of plausibility falls rather with the person who would offer an interpretation of a passage from Tolkien which openly contradicts its literal sense. 

  5. Another very interesting question that Spielman neglects is the matter of where Eärnil obtained this (according to her estimate) nearly sixty-foot-wide crystal globe, and the accompanying question of how he managed to get it there. 

  6. A brief examination of Tolkien’s consistent grammatical distinction between the words host” and hosts” makes this point apparent (Blackwelder, 1990: 123). 

  7. A prime example of this would be the explanation of the origins and causes of the war that led to Umbar’s conquest by Eärnil. All we really know about the self-understanding of the Ship-kings is that one of them commissioned the construction of a monument to Sauron’s defeat sometime after Umbar was taken. The fact that the wife of Gondor’s first Ship-king was a Black Númenórean (probably from Umbar) is a further clue that is rarely factored into evaluations of the war (cf. OH 3: 13 – 18). 

  8. This is conceived of as a direct parallel to the Stone of Erech, which Isildur had brought with him from Númenor and upon which the Oathbreakers gave their pledge of military alliance with the Dúnedain against Sauron:
    upon the top[of the hill] stood a black stone, round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground. Unearthly it looked, as though it had fallen from the sky, as some believed; but those who remembered still the lore of Westernesse told that it had been brought out of the ruin of Númenor and there set by Isildur at his landing (RotK: 62). 


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