Thoughts on the Population of Gondor and Arnor
Gunnar Brolin: Glasmålarvägen 6, 122 31 Enskede, Sweden
The reader of The Lord of the Rings is presented with a rather curious demographic picture of northwestern Middle-earth. The Shire, for example, is filled with a large (one might even say “swarming”) number of contented hobbit farmers. A few days travel away is the town of Bree with its outlying villages. By contrast, the rest of Eriador appears desolate (at least north of Dunland).
Frodo and Sam travel through a deserted Forithilien. Harondor, too, is named “a desert land” on Tolkien’s maps, and the great steppes of Rhovanion seem devoid of habitation at this time. Signs of villages or small towns — or any population at all — are absent from Gandalf and Pippin’s ride through Anórien until they reach the Pelennor fields.
The overall picture we are given is of quite a small human population concentrated in a few selected spots. But if we assume that the humans of the Third Age had the same instincts and habits as those of our own — and fi we allow the authors of The Red Book of Westmarch some poetic license — and instead attempt to deduce the population of Gondor and Arnor on the basis of European analogies, we may arrive at slightly different numbers.
A Method of Comparison
An exact comparison is hindered by the fact that, whereas the Dúnadan realms in Endor display extreme demographic stability, European society (despite the fall of the Roman Empire) actually underwent an increase in population beginning in late Antiquity. A low nativity, just barely equaling the mortality, if anything seems to have led to a decline in population throughout the three millennia of the Third Age. By contrast, the population of Europe rose by at least one fifth during the first millennium of the Common Era, tripled in the face of the Black Death between 1000 and 1500 AD1 and probably quadrupled over the two thousand years between 1000 BC and 1000 AD.
The nearly non-existent growth of the Dúnadan realms may be explained to some extent by die conspicuous absence of any references in The Lord of the Kings to developments in subsistence techniques. Population growth is in many ways connected to the growth of technology which, prior to the Industrial Revolution, was usually focused in one way or another on the agricultural sector — better technology meant a larger yield and more mouths to be fed. The apparent absence of such developments as late as the Fourth Age limited the possibilities for feeding a larger population.
That population levels will oscillate around the productive capacity of land is doubly true for peripheral territories of the Dúnadan realms, where less advanced agricultural methods further limit the number of inhabitants which can be supported. Although both social and natural causes may contribute to long periods of demographic stability for such regions, famine (or at least scarcity of food) may result whenever the population rises in excess of its natural limits. Death by starvation or undernourishment claims a portion of this excess population, while others emigrate for richer areas. The level of agricultural productivity also limits family size — since a farm cannot support more than a certain number of people, there is a tendency to have fewer children. This tendency is also a result of the obstacles existing for younger generations to establish their own households, which makes for late marriages and therefore fewer progeny.
Perhaps the best method for arriving at a believable population estimate would be to multiply the size of the region in question by a corresponding population density, which may in turn be reached at by comparison with Europe in the Roman (200 AD) and Medieval periods (1300 AD)2. Roman Europe had an average density of 10 inhabitants per square kilometer (25 per square mile), the highest being in the Italian peninsula with some 20— 25 inhabitants per square kilometer3. In the Medieval period the average density was 220 inhabitants per square kilometer with the highest in Italy and Belgium, both coming close to 40 inhabitants per square kilometer.
Gondor probably had its largest population around TA 1400. Up to at least the reign of Atanatar Alcarin, the population must have been growing, and not only due to conquest. The Kin-strife (1432−1448) must have had some effect on the population, but the big fall was the Plague which hit Gondor in 1636. Due to several reasons rather difficult to explain, the transformation of Gondor from an expansive mercantile culture under the Ship-kings to a feudalistic society under the Stewards led to a decrease in the level of population which could be supported.
|Gondor in T.A. 1400||Density||Size||Population|
|The Anduin Valley||30||16,000||5,000,000|
|Harondor, inhabitable area||10||40,000||400,000|
|Umbar, the peninsula||30||20,000||600,000|
|Umbar, habitable area along coast||5||20,000||100,000|
|Calenardhon, mostly steppe||2||160,000||300,000|
|Enedwaith (southern Eriador)||2 – 5||180,000||500,000|
The central Anduin Valley, with the provinces of Anórien, Ithilien and Lebennin, must have had the highest population density in Gondor and probably in most of Endor. Putting it at 30 inhabitants per square kilometer in 1400 seems to be a fair estimation. This region is nearly square (each side being about 400 kilometers/250 miles long), containing a total area of some 160,000 square kilometers and a population of some 5,000,000 inhabitants.
The second most densely inhabited region in Gondor would be Belfalas (Dor-en-Ernil), with some 20 inhabitants per square kilometer and a size of about 50,000 square kilometers and a population of 1,000,000 persons. Further out from the central area the density will be even lower at 10 or 5 persons per square kilometer. The following table gives a population which is believable.
The numbers above describe Gondor as it was when it was at its greatest extent. In the days of Isildur and Anárion, the realm was smaller both in size and in population, even if the Anduin Valley still possessed one of the highest population densities of those parts of Endor. The kings probably only exercised substantive control over Ithilien, Anórien, Lebennin and Belfalas. With an estimated density of 20 per square kilometer in the first three and 15 in the last, the total population would be around 3.5 to 4 million people. Peripheral territories like Anfalas, Harondor and Enedwaith would probably have a density not much lower than in the 1400s (around 5 to 8 inhabitants per square kilometer).
At the other end of the Third Age, Gondor would also be smaller than in the 1400s. The loss of Umbar, Harondor, Calenardhon and Enedwaith, and the near emptying of Ithilien due to Sauron’s control of Minas Morgul (Minas Ithil), combined with the primary cause of demographic decline — the plague of 1636 — to leave the three central provinces with probably around 3,000,000 inhabitants4. Around half of the population in the Anduin Valley (and about one third in more distant areas like Anfalas) died of the Plague, and subsequent opportunities for recuperation and growth were kept at a very low level by constant border warfare and raiding from the Corsairs of Umbar. Belfalas and the territories west of it would have slightly less than in 1450, giving a total population of around 5,000,000 inhabitants in all of Gondor at the time of the War of the Ring.
The population of Arnor is much harder to evaluate, because less is known of the land as such and of the Dúnadan realm that occupied it. The mouth of the Gwathló, the northern end of Ered Luin and the sources of the Bruinen form a triangle of land whose corners give us a total area of about 450,000 square kilometers. Besides Annúminas, Fornost, Tharbad and Bree, no human towns are known. The area is probably rural in character with a correspondingly low population density. If there are any areas with a higher density, they would be the lower river valleys of the Gwathló, the Baranduin and the Lhûn, and the area around Lake Evendim. In general, the population density will decrease as one moves eastwards.
Arnor reached the height of its population much earlier than Gondor (probably around the beginning of the Third Age or in the coming few hundred years). Since the land is very rural in character, the highest density will probably not be much above 15 inhabitants per square kilometer with an average around 10. This will give a total population of around 5,000,000 people5. Since wealth in a pre-industrial society is very much dependent upon the extent of available agricultural labor, Elendil’s choice to leave Gondor to his sons, or Isildur’s decision to go north when he succeeded his father and left his nephew to rule the south, may reflect the perceived strength of this agricultural base.
The population of Arnor was probably quite stable until the division of the realm in TA 861, after which time we must factor in a situation of endemic warfare between the contending royal lines, which precipitated a slow decline in population. Since the area around Lake Evendim and the valley of the Lhûn comprised the central part of the old realm, Arthedain was the largest of the three successor realms. The kings of Cardolan controlled the second-largest territory between the valleys of the Baranduin and the Gwathló, while Rhudaur would be the smallest. A fair estimation would probably be that Arthedain controlled about half (approximately 2.5 million), Cardolan a third (about 1.6 million), and Rhudaur one sixth of the old population of Eriador (some 0.8 million). As Gondor reached its zenith during the 15th century, the population of Arnor may have fallen one quarter to one third of its highest (or around 3.5 million throughout Eriador).
Even though the several wars between the three successor kingdoms would have had a detrimental effect on the population of Arnor, the rise of Angmar must have been the chief cause of its decline. Rhudaur was subdued at an early stage; as a result, probably all remaining Dúnedain and a large number of other people fled or were killed. The collapse of Cardolan followed with the Witch-king’s invasion in 1409, which restricted the size of the population to an even lower ebb. Arthedain alone must have been heavily bled by constant raiding from Angmar and its allies in now-occupied Rhudaur. Even if it wasn’t as severe as in Gondor the Great Plague was probably responsible for the death of between one quarter to one fifth of the population. A general worsening of the climate further reduced the productive capacity of the land.
In 1409, Arthedain could have had a population of slightly less than 2,000,000, while Cardolan could not have been more than half of that. When Arthedain finally fell to the onslaught by Angmar in 1975, its population could have been about 1.0 — 1.5 million, with the territory of former Cardolan supporting a population of only 0.6 — 0.8 million and former Rhudaur about 0.3−0.4 million. All of Eriador would probably have had a population of some 2 — 2.5 million inhabitants (or around 5 persons per square kilometer).
After the fall of Arthedain and the following collapse of Angmar, there was relative peace in Eriador (with the minor problem of Trolls living in the Ettenmoors and Orcs raiding from the Misty Mountains). The population may therefore have risen from the nadir of 1975, although the absence of any realm organized to protect the people and encourage agricultural development would have lowered the rate of population growth. It can’t have reached the same level by the end of the Third Age that it possessed at the beginning. An estimation of around 3.5 — 4 million inhabitants is probably fair, or the same amount as when the attacks from Angmar began.
Few towns or cities are mentioned in The Lord of the Rings. Of the four major settlements in Eriador outside the Shire — Fornost, Annúminas, Bree, and Tharbad — only two were not deserted by the end of the Third Age. Another five within the borders of Gondor (including Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul), and the towns of Umbar and Edoras leave us with a total of ten major settlements in the entirety of northwestern Endor (this area would have had a population of nearly 13,000,000 people in the 15th century TA).
Although the number of cities and towns of medieval Europe was comparable to that of modern Europe, their relative size was much smaller. During the 13th century, there were only about ten cities with a population of more than 20,000 inhabitants, and at least half of these were concentrated in Italy — Venice, Milan, Florence (perhaps), Rome, Naples and Palermo; outside the Italian peninsula Paris, Barcelona and Constantinople could have reached a comparable size. The vast majority of settlements were much smaller (in the range of perhaps 1,0004,000 inhabitants) and functioned as market centers for the surrounding countryside. Such market-towns came into existence at natural meeting points like river-crossings, landings, harbors and crossroads.
The degree of urbanization was therefore much lower than today. It is not uncommon for the industrialized countries of western Europe of today to be almost wholly urban in character (as high as 90 – 95%). But the agrarian society of late antiquity or the middle ages could not have risen above one urban settlement out of every ten or twelve (a degree of about 8 — 10%). Italy and medieval Flanders could have had a higher level, from one in eight to one in six (12 – 17%), but eastern Europe could have had a degree as low as one in twenty (5%) or even less.
Were we to apply these same percentages to Endor, we would find a rather high degree of urbanization. On the assumption that there must have existed a large number of small towns never worth mentioning, Gondor in the 15th century TA could have had close to a million town-dwellers alone (and these all living far from the few cities we know by name). In Lebennin, for instance, we hear of only one city — Pelargir — but if the province could have supported a total population of 1.8 million in 1400 (of which some 200,000 – 250,000 could have lived in an urban setting), then even were we to assume a population of 40,000 – 50,000 for Pelargir, we would still have 150,000 – 200,000 to settle in other urban communities. With an average size of 4,000— 5,000 inhabitants (which probably is far too large), we would have some 30 — 50 smaller towns scattered across the countryside. Considering the size of the province, these would probably be around a day’s walk between each other (which would be comparable to medieval Italy). By contrast, if Anfalas had a population of 1 million people, the degree of urbanization would be lower (with some 50,000 – 70,000 living in towns). Assuming a smaller-sized town of 2,000 – 3,000 inhabitants, we would still find at least 25— 35 towns in the territory.
The degree of urbanization in rural Eriador probably never rose to the same level as the Anduin Valley. Still, Arnor is assumed to have had a population of 5 million at its height, then at least 300,000 – 400,000 may have lived in towns (which means that there must be not less than 100 towns in the three realms combined). Because it isn’t common to have a wholly deserted town in an agricultural area — a small number of people would still be living there — and because it is difficult to distinguish these small towns from larger neighboring villages, we can assume most of these towns would still be standing at the end of the Third Age, even if they were of a smaller size than at the time of their origin.
The population of China also tripled in the same time span, despite the Mongolian invasion of the 13th and 14th centuries (which probably caused more deaths than the Black Death in Europe). ↩
(i.e., before the Black Death) “Europe” here excludes Scandinavia and the former Soviet republics, due to the very low population density in these areas. All measures arc given according to the metric system. A square mile is about 2.5 square kilometers. ↩
Umbar is a special case, since the area immediately around the town (the peninsula) must be a highly developed arable area on a par with central Gondor when it comes to density. The land outside the peninsula is arid or even desert and has a very low density estimated at about 5 per square kilometer along the coast (north of the Cuiviërant) and around 1 or even lower in the interior. ↩
The Black Death is usually credited for a dramatic drop in the population of Europe. The same level couldn’t have been reached again for some two hundred years. J.R.R. Tolkien probably worked with the same assumption concerning the effects of the Great Plague in 1636. However, Europe would have recovered from the effects of the Black Death in one or two generations. The real reason why it took so long to recover was that the Black Death was only the first in a long row of plagues returning to different areas of Europe every 10 – 20 years, thus cutting the growth. In Endor, the population growth must be much lower in general and one single plague will then be more dramatic and have more farther-reaching effects. Still, the effects seem to be too large. ↩
The South-kingdom will at the same time have less than 4,000,000 (see above). ↩
Right-click and choose "Save link target as" for the .markdown files.