I am a particularly bad Tolkien geek, up from even your average Silmarillion waving nerd. I am the final level of evolution, Elite Four, Mewtwo crossed with Luke Skywalker crossed with Captain America, of the Tolkien, Middle Earth nerd world. I know backwards Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, the Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales, and the Entire History of Middle Earth 12 part series. I read the Lost Tales for light bedtime reading. Now that's all a long way of saying that if you're not of this particular nerdy background then I apologise because this article is going to very quickly involve a lot of names that sound like complete nonsense to you.
Now, if after that statement you're still with me, let's get on. One of the other things I love doing is playing around with numbers. I was a mediocre mathematician, mainly due to a failure to comes to grips with abstract algebra well, but I do love playing around with actual numbers. This brings these two together. Basically in this article I am going to look at all the evidence we're given in Tolkien's writings about the 1st Age, around 6500 years before the Lord of the Rings, to work out population estimates for Elves, Men and others in Beleriand, and Elves across Middle Earth.
One of the wonderful things about Tolkien's writings is the sheer range and depth of his description. Tolkien brought a scholar's precision and detail to creating and writing about his imaginary world but also a imaginative, creative mind and a romantic heart, to an extent that still captivates millions. Every scrap of his work is rich with detail on not only the races he invented but also the geography, the plant life, the landscape, languages, names, history, myth, legend, metaphysics, everything. He consulted British field army manuals on forced marches to make sure his characters never travelled further in a day than actually physically possible. In LotR all the references given to the size of the moon in the sky accurately match how the phases of the moon would in real life change over the time described as passing in the book.
But although he became famous from the Lord of the Rings his true passion was for the story of the Elder Days of Middle Earth and the epic doomed struggle between the Elves and Morgoth, the original Dark Lord. He worked on it for 50 years and never completed it but just kept re-writing and developing it through a multitude of different perspectives, genres and styles. We're lucky that after he died his son, Christopher Tolkien, put the most developed parts together and published it as the Silmarillion we have today, and later all the other partial manuscripts and fragments in various other books, mainly the vast 'History of Middle Earth' series. As a historian I love this as well, because the vast collection of fragments and drafts and different thoughts and perspectives make up the closest, for an imaginary world, we could ever possibly get to the rich collection of different subjective views and partial records that as historians we use to piece together a picture of a real historical era.
But one feature of Tolkien's writing is that he almost never gives any numbers for populations or armies or groups above a few people, e.g. the 9 riders or 7 sons of Feanor etc. I think this was in keeping with the romantic, magical tone of Tolkien's works. He wanted to paint a picture, to show rather than tell. Actual numbers bring a too sharp, bean counting tone of realism and take you away from the individuals stories and their emotional impact. But he did give a couple and this article will use these sparse numbers as a window into his world and extrapolate from them by attempting to consider what are the most reasonable assumptions. This is possible because although we have almost no actual numbers we do have more relative references, where one group are described as twice the size of another or some such. Also using parallels to information about real-world historical populations and contextual information from the books themselves. For example, references to medieval styles armies, Hosts and major battles won't refer to a few hundred people, or tens of millions. One final principle is that, as far as even vaguely possible, I will attempt to connect numbers given with other numbers given here, so I'm calculating all these numbers from at least something rather than just purely making up a number that sounds plausible.
Now, our window into the world of numbers we need is given by the one single large scale figure we are given for Elves in the 1st Age. That is the long-standing figure that "The army of Turgon issued forth from Gondolin, ten thousand strong", to the Battle of Un-numbered Tears. From this one figure we will now do a lot of magic and come up with Population Figures for all the Kingdoms and populations of the Eldar. The first thing is to estimate the population of Gondolin. What proportion did Turgon's 10,000 make of Gondolin's population, or in my jargon, what is population multiplier (PM) to turn this figure into Gondolin's total population?
Firstly, I assume this 10,000 did not represent all Gondolin's possible soldiers. Unlike Hithlum that seemed to send every last possible warrior to the Battle, and was left defenceless when they were all lost, Gondolin was not so committed to fighting the War or the Battle, and hence it seems reasonable to assume that Turgon would have left some soldiers behind. On the other hand, he knew how important this battle was, and hence presumably took most of his warriors. The very early text 'The Fall of Gondolin', which was both the first text on Middle earth Tolkien ever wrote back in 1917, and strangely, the only full description of Gondolin or its fall he ever wrote, describes 12 companies of soldiers, of whom 8 went to the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. This would correspond to a figure of 12/8 x 10,000 = 15,000 troops in total. From this figure we estimate Gondolin's population. Gondolin was effectively a city state, with the central city of perhaps five square miles surrounded by a developed area of intensive farmland of about 150 square miles. It had enough people to measure as a Kingdom by Elven standards but not endless hordes given the space constraint. It was also seemingly more peaceful and cultured and less dedicated to the military than the march Kingdoms of Hithlum or the Feanorians that were seemingly almost solely devoted to the war. All this has made me settle on a PM of 10. That is Gondolin's soldiers constituted 10% of the population, or about 20% of the male population or about 25% of the adult male population. This gives a total population of 150,000 for Gondolin.
This figure seems about right. Compared to medieval European populations the Eldar would be both a lot less populous, and also much more urbanised, developed and specialised with their magic providing the advantage that technology gives our modern society. I think the best comparison is with the the Ancient Greek city states where a state such as Athens could field around 20,000 soldiers and sailors out of a population of around 250,000. Urbanised and with a civilian army and navy made up of a high proportion of the population compared to any modern or medieval society, but still a minority of the total male population. However this is just a best estimate, reasonable PM's of 8-12 or so give figures ranging between around 100-200 thousand, but I think around 150,000 is the most reasonable estimate.
The next trick is to go from this figure of 150,000 for Gondolin to a total figure for the Noldor population. This is possible because we are told that Gondolin's population was made up of "a third part of the Noldor of Fingolfin's following, and a yet greater host of the Sindar". Taking this in terms of 1/6ths of Fingolfin's people we have 2/6 of Noldor and "a greater host of Sindar". I reckon this would be about 3/6 of Fingolfin's people. To me "and a greater host" sounds like more, but not 2 or 3 times as many. If so Tolkien could have said, as he has elsewhere, also Gondolin was also imagined to have been one of the most predominately 'Noldorin' in culture of the mixed kingdoms in Beleriand, and hence it would not fit if the Noldor were vastly outnumbered by the Sindar. Assuming then that the population of Gondolin was equivilent to 5/6 of Fingolfin's folk, 1/6 of Fingolfin's folk would be about 30,000 Elves and Fingolfin's folk would number 180,000.
From Fingolfin's folk we can now estimate the total of Noldor. They were divided between Fingolfin's folk, Feanor's and Finarfin's. Fingolfin's people was the largest but Finarfin's was also large, Tolkien stated in more than one place that Narogothrond was the largest Elven Kingdom left after the Dagor Bragollach. Feanor's folk appeared to be relatively small in number, but containing a lot of the younger, brasher, more foolhardy Elves that would have been attracted to Feanor's assertive, aggressive style, and hence military able to punch more above its weight. I take as estimates that Fingolfin's folk constituted 1/2 of the Noldor, and Finarfin and Feanor's sons 1/4 each. Certainly Fingolfin's folk must have been between 40-60%, given the fact they were the largest group, but also the two other groups were of similar size. Taking 50% then that gives us a total Noldor population estimate of 360,000 Noldor, with 180,000 following Fingolfin, 90,000 Finarfin's sons and 90,000 Feanor's.
From this we can take a rough estimate of total Elvish population in Beleriand. We just need to guess what the proportion of Noldor compared to Sindar were. This is pretty rough unfortunately. Tolkien consistently maintained that the Sindar outnumbered the Noldor by some unspecified amount. This conception changed at times from being roughly similar, to some remarks that the Noldor were as Lords and Kings,a small aristocratic minority ruling over Kingdom's of overwhelmingly Sindar, more like the Norman minority among the Anglo-Saxon population in Medieval England. The general sense of the texts though is that the Sindar considerably outnumbered the Noldor, but not by some bizarre factor. The references seemed to indicate that Noldor and Sindar met on relatively equal terms, and when we look at the different Kingdoms and relative cultural impact of the Noldor they must have been a relatively large minority given that there was no military domination or Educational apartheid to explain these differences as, say, in historical Norman England. Given these factors I take a PM of about 3, possibly 4. That gives a Sindar population of about 1( to 1.4) million and a total Elvish population of 1.4-1.8 million depending. Now I think you could make a reasonable argument for a figures anywhere between 1-2 million, but I think roughly the middle of that range is most likely with all the evidence we are given.
I think we can do even better than that though in working out rough population figures for each Elvish Kingdom, starting the Noldor. We've already done Gondolin with a population of around 150,000, made up of 60,000 Noldor and 90,000 Sindar (2/5 and 3/5 respectively). The Kingdom of Hithlum had the other 2/3 of Fingolfin's folk and the rest of the Northern Sindar. That means around 120,000 Noldor. The Sindar population can only be guessed at. Hithlum was colder and less fertile than Nevrast from where the Gondolin Sindar came and would hence have had fewer people. Balancing that many Sindar are said to have been attracted by the valour and nobility of the Noldor Kings and their cause. I think a fair estimate would be some 60,000-80,000 Sindar for a total population of around 180-200 thousand. In Nargothrond the Noldor population was the 90,000 following Finarfin's sons, particularly Finrond. We are told that Nargothrond was the largest Noldor Kingdom, at least after the Dagor Bragollach when Hithlum and Feanor's Sons took large losses. It was a large Kingdom in Beleriand proper, warmer and more hospitable and hence could be expected to have a sizable population of native Sindar. Especially since Finrond was part Teleri himself and hence closer to the Sindar than other Noldor princes. I assume a Sindar population roughly equivalent to that of Hithlum and Nevrast combined, some 150-170 thousand, giving a total population of around 250,000. It is not higher because although it is described as the largest Kingdom, it is still described as a largely wild and empty country, without the dense rural or urban centres to account for what we would consider a sizable population.
The other Noldorin Kingdom was that of Feanor's Sons in the East. These areas seemed to have been organised less as a formal Kingdom and more as a series of military districts or fiefs, each commanded by one or a pair of Feanor's sons with Maedhros having some kind of loose overlordship. That said we also already have an estimate of the Noldor population of this Kingdom, the 90,000 following Feanor's sons. These would have been joined by various Sindar, but probably not that many. Although feanor's sons controlled a large area, it was mostly uninhabited before they got there, and of all the Noldor they were least friendly with the Sindar. That said quite a few Sindar are said to have joined with at least Maedhros at least, again in recognition of his outstanding valour and personal nobility. Hence looking relative to the other population figures we've taken I don't think we can do better than to assume a population of Sindar equal to the number of Sindar in Hithlum (an area of similar size, climate and circumstances). In other words, 70,000 Sindar for a total of roughly 160,000 Elves.
Of the purely Sindarin realms, we start with the Falathrim of the Havens on the west coast, led by Cirdan. The havens consisted of two towns and the surrounding area. These towns are described as being reasonable stone towns, prosperous and active, but not as big as the great cities of the Noldor or Thingol. Considering average sizes for similar Medieval cities I take a figure for, say, 30,000 for each haven with a few thousand more in the surrounding areas, giving a figure of around 80,000 in total. On the other side of Beleriand, Ossirand was the land of the Laiquendi. These are described as a secretive woodland people who lived a quiet dispersed life, without towns or cities. Given that description we're not looking at a large population. However they did cover a large area and constituted a distinct population able to even field "armies" at need. That said I assume they had roughly the same population as the Havens, around 80,000 just dispersed over a much larger area. The final Elven Kingdom would have been the largest, that of Thingol in Doriath. This was where most of the Sindar lived, and given the fact they are described as outnumbering the Noldor by quite a distance, and the fact many of Beleriand's Sindar retreated to Doriah after Morgoth's return, and description of Menegroth as a great city and other things we must assume a relatively large population. In an attempt to connect numbers to other numbers we have here I take as a guess that roughly half the Sindar population lived in Doriath and half remained outside scattered among the other Kingdoms. Given the numbers we have already taken for the various Sindar populations that gives us a figure of around 550,000, which seems about right compared to our other figures, with say around 100,000 living in Menegroth and the rest scattered throughout the forest.
Taking all these figures together we have a total Elven population in Beleriand of around 1.5 million, made up of around 1.1 million Sindar and some 360,000 Noldor. This figure gels nicely with my previous estimate based on assumptions for the general proportion of Noldor to Sindar. It also means a population of about 500,000 in Northern Beleriand and about 1 million in Beleriand proper.
That finishes off discussion of Beleriand. But we can go a bit further, and use relative figures to estimate elven population of the entirety of Middle Earth at this point. This can be done using information in Quendi and Eldar, from "The War of the Jewels", one of the HoME books. The Elves were originally divided intro three kindreds, the Minyar, The Tatyar and the Nelyar, which basically translate as First, Second and Third. The original elven population was 144 individuals, divided between each kindred 14, 56, 74 respectively and it is stated that these proportions held roughly true into later in Elven history. We are even given further breakdown using this basis of the proportion from each group that became Eldar, taking the road into the west, and those who remained behind as Avari, as well as for the Teleri those who made it to Aman and those who stayed behind as Sindar and Nandor. Basically all the Minyar became the Vanyar, half the Tatyar became the Noldor and 2/3 of the Nelyar became Teleri, of whom about half made it to Aman. All in all this gives us proportions as follows. Out of 144 Elves: 14 became Vanyar, 28 Noldor, 28 Tatyar Avari, 28 Nelyar Avari, 20 Teleri, 26 Sindar & Nandor. We can now use these proportions to work out figures for each population at roughly the point our snapshot is being taken (around Year 400, 1st Age of the Sun).
First thing is to work out the total population of Noldor. we have 360,000 for the Noldor in Beleriand. But the Silmarillion tells us that "a tithe" of the Noldor never left Aman, and that also after the Doom of Mandos Finarfin and other Elves turned back. Assuming Finarfin an another tithe turned back that means 80% of the Noldor came to Middle Earth, and 20% remained in Aman. That figure gives 10/8 x 360,000 = 450,000 Noldor in total. We can know calculate the Vanyar figure as 14/28 x 450,000 = 225,000, and the figure for Teleri in Aman as 20/28 x 450,000 = 320,000.
This is where it gets a bit more tricky though. If we assume these proportions can be carried straight across to the Avari and Sindar we hit a contradiction. 28/144 Noldor, 28/144 Sindar & Nandor. If we assume the same rate of population growth and assume, say, 8/144 Nandor then the Noldor should have outnumbered the Sinar by a proportion of 22 to 18, (knocking off the 20% who stayed in Aman) whereas it is repeatedly stated that the Sindar considerably outnumbered the Noldor, e.g. "though the Sindar were not numerous they far outnumbered the hosts of Fëanor and Fingolfin" from War of the Jewels. We can get round this by assuming that population growth was different in Aman to those left in Middle Earth. We can take some principles to make the numbers vaguely fit. Firstly, to assume that population growth in Valinor was slower, generations following 50 years of the Trees rather than 50 years of the Sun as Tolkien stated for Elves in Middle Earth. This itself makes sense for other reasons, particularly to explain the fact that although the Eldar were in Aman for the equivalent to thousands of years of the Sun, and were meant to have children at about 100 years old, Finwe's family only had 4 generations over that entire period. Secondly, we can assume that population growth among the Avari was also slower, justified by the fact that whereas the Eldar built civilisations the Avari are said to have become a scattered woodland folk, who faded and diminished in the face of harassment by Orcs and other evil creatures in the later ages. We can hence assume they could not have supported as large populations as the Eldar.
Given these points I make a few assumptions to come up with reasonable figures. I assume that the Avari population expanded at a rate 50% slower than that of the Eldar in Aman. That gives figures of 450000/1.5 = 300,000 for the Tatyar Avari and the same for the Nelyar Avari (see original proportion figures). This gives a total of some 600,000 Avari scattered over the East of Middle Earth. For the Sindar we take our previous population figure of about 1.1 million and for the Nandor I assume the grew at a rate 50% slower than the Sindar, and subtract the 80,000 Laiquendi that ended up in Beleriand, giving a figure of around 250,000.
Taken together this gives the figure for the total global Elven population of just less than 3 million, with a little less than 2 million Nelyar, 225 Minyar and 750,000 Nelyar. With about two and a third million Eldar and 2/3 of a million Avari, or, by geography, around 630,000 in Aman, just under 1.5 million in Beleriand and 850,000 in the lands to the East (as of Yr 400 1st Age).
That finishes my tramp through the populations of Elves in the Elder Days. I give tables below for the breakdown of Elves by realm in Beleriand and for the Global population. In the 2nd part of this series, I will attempt to work out similar estimates for the other free creatures of Beleriand, Men, Dwarves and Ents, and finally, once this is done, attempt to use these figures to work our estimates for the number of troops from the groups at the climatic Battle of Un-numbered Tears. The final great battle between the Eldar and the Morgoth, when the Eldar went down into terrible defeat. So, if you've made it this far, join me next time.
|Gondolin||Hithlum||Narogothrond||Falathrim||Sons of Feanor||Doriath||Laiquendi||Total|
|Noldor in Beleriand||360,000||Bugger||Vanyar||225,000||Bugger||Nelyar||1,650,000|
|Noldor in Aman||90,000||Teleri||320,000|
|Total Noldor||450,000||Total Elves||2,945,000||Sindar||1,100,000|
N.B. Please note, quite obviously the map is not mine. I have no idea who originally drew it though. If anyone does let me know and I'll cite the creator.