Sunday 19 August 2012

Populations of Middle Earth - Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit: Eriador

In part 1 of this series I looked at the two great Kingdoms of men at the time of the Lord of the Rings, Gondor and Rohan. These are the countries we have the only detailed large scale figures given in LOTR, and from these figures for armed forces we can calculate sensible figures for total population. Gondor and Rohan seem to be the two largest countries described in LotR and the Hobbit. Across the rest of the wild lands of Eriador and Rhovanian we have many more settlements, but they are all considerably smaller and scattered across the wide country, almost all probably numbering their populations in tens of thousands rather than hundreds or millions. In this part I cover Eriador. And then in Part 3 Wilderland to the east, as well as the Southern Lands.

Probably the largest of the communities in Eriador is also the most familiar to any fan of Middle Earth: the Shire. Friendly, idyllic home of the friendly Hobbits. The Hobbits not having an army we have no military figures that we could use as a basis to estimate the total population, as I did for Gondor and Rohan. What we do have is the size of the Shire, some idea about roughly how densely it was settled, and various contextual references to the numbers of Hobbits. We have numerous references to groups of "hundreds" of Hobbits: at Bilbo's party, with the implication this was a sizeable part of the local population; and the hundreds of hobbits who quickly rallied to fight the Ruffians in the 'Scouring of the Shire'. We even have a few references to thousands of Hobbits, as in the following passage about Sam's work to repair the Shire - "Hobbits can work like bees when in the mood and the need comes on them. Now there were thousands of willing hands of all ages." We also have the seeming description of the Shire as a place nowhere densely packed with Hobbits and the seeming lack of any major towns or centres of population. All these point to a relatively low figure for the population of the Shire. If 'thousands of willing hands' constituted 10% of the population, as we can perhaps imagine such a popular effort doing, then that would mean a population of 10,000's, perhaps anywhere from 30,000 - 100,000.

There are other clues that point to much larger number of Hobbits. Firstly there is the size of the Shire, a country of 20,000 square miles, about 35% of the size of England. Even taking the English population as far back as Saxon times as a model, that would indicate a population of hundreds of thousands of Hobbits. This seems to conflict with the small numbers of Hobbits described elsewhere, and also the level of political and legal organisation of the Hobbits, who seem to exist with almost zero government of any kind at all, most unlike the larger populations of Rohan and Gondor who have recognisable government structures. The other fact that points to a larger population is the sheer history of the Hobbits. They have been in the Shire for 1400 years by LotR. And although there have been wars and plagues in that time, compared to Europe in the last thousand years they have led a sheltered and peaceful existence in a temperate and fertile land. To be honest their population should have grown massively in that time, which any figure below the hundreds of thousands just does not seem to match up with.&nbsp

One partial solution may come from assuming that although overall the Shire was a big place, that large parts of that area were not heavily populated. From Tolkien's maps and description it does appear that population was concentrated in a central and eastern belt. Also we are given the names of at most a few dozen settlements. Even assuming as many more un-named ones we have at most 50-100 settlements with some population scattered in between. These would have been small by any modern standard. The largest towns of Buckland and Michel Delving would not have numbered more than a few thousand, or they would have required larger scale infrastructure than the Hobbits seemed to have anywhere. Most villages would have numbered no more than hundreds. If we assume that the Shire population was spread across about half of the actual shire area, with large areas of the North-farthing, west-farthing, marish, hills, and other areas almost uninhabited, and divide the Shire up into approximately a hundred settlements (and their hinterland) with on average 1000 population each, then we start to very roughly converge on a median figure of about 100,000 Hobbits. This is a very rough figures, between the tens of thousands suggested by some information and the hundreds of thousands suggested by other information, but it's probably the best we can ever hope to do, with a likely range of perhaps 60,000-140,000 Hobbits.

To the far west of the Shire stood Lindon, an ancient Elf country on the western edge of Middle Earth. Lindon was the last remnant of Beleriand and most of the Eldar from Beleriand dwelt there. It had stood through the 2nd and 3rd age but slowly and continually diminishing. In the 2nd age it was a powerful Kingdom under Gil-Galad and led the opposition to Sauron, with a mixed population of Noldor, Sindar and Nandor elves, mostly refugees from Beleriand. But with the passing of millenia many died in the wars or left Middle Earth to sail into the far West. Lindon waned, after the death of Gil-galad there was no King anymore, and Cirdan was merely Lord of the Havens. But according to the Tale of Years still well into the 3rd Age Lindon sent armies to fight. By the LotR its population had diminished to the point where this was no longer possible anymore. Working from my figures for the population of Beleriand it is possible to calculate a rough ballpark figure for the number of survivors of Beleriand of around 400,000, with perhaps around 250,000 leaving straightaway to return to Valinor and around 150,000 remaining in Middle Earth. We can guess the population of Lindon in the early 2nd age as roughly 150,000, which it itself in the same ballpark as a large Kingdom in Beleriand. We can also surmise that this population would've actually naturally grown in the early 2nd Age, in the peace that marked the early part of the Age. Until war broke out again in 1700 SA the population spread across Lindon, Eregion and Eriador may have grown to perhaps 200,000-300,000. But  this population would have declined dramatically in the War of Sauran and the Elves, the Last Alliance, and through to the end of the 3rd age, with a population of perhaps as little as 30,000-40,000 remaining, a similar size to the Falas in the 1st Age. 

Also in the Blue Mountains that gave the boundary of Eriador we are told there dwelt various groups of Dwarves. Large populations of Dwarves lived at Belegost and Nogrod during the 1st Age. These mansions were apparently devastated after the First Age during the drowning of Beleriand when the River Lune cut through the Blue Mountains, producing the geography we are familiar with in the 2nd and 3rd Age. There are a few scattered references to Belegost but not Nogrod surviving into later ages, but it never apparently amounted to much, and most of its population is recorded as emigrating to Khazadum. Various groups of Durin's folk also dwelt in the Blue Mountains throughout the 3rd Age when first Moria then the Grey Mountains then Erebor were all plundered by evil creatures. Most significantly that is where Thorin dwelt directly before the events of the Hobbit. Taking the figures from the First Age as a starting point and scaling down considerably it is probably most accurate to assume a mixed population of tens of thousands of Dwarves dwelling in various parts of the Blue Mountains. Perhaps at its height reaching the high tens of thousands shortly before the Hobbit but certainly considerably lower than that by the time of the Lord of the Rings due to a large migration to Erebor after the death of Smaug.

Spreading out now through Eriador from the Shire we get to Bree-land. Bree-land was the area around the village of Bree, which included Bree itself and the nearby villages of Staddle, Combe and Archet. Bree had a mixed population of Hobbits and Men and Tolkien makes references to Bree having "a hundred stone houses of the Big People" as well as Hobbit holes and presumably various wooden buildings. From this surprisingly low figure, and from the repeated description of Bree as a village, we can assume it did not have a large population, certainly no more than a few thousand at most. We can also safely assume that Bree was the largest settlement, and so each of the other 3 villages would be some unspecified degree smaller. All in all it would appear that Bree-land would not have a total population much more than 5,000. Certainly less than 10,000 Men and Hobbits.

This leaves us with 3 other settlements in Eriador, one well known, two barely hinted at, but all quite small. The first and most famous is Rivendell, where the House of Elrond stood. Rivendell or Imladris existed from year 1700 of the 2nd age through to the LotR. It has been depicted as of varying sizes from a large house to the size of a small densely packed village. It's importance seems to belay the small size described for it. Not just its importance to the plot either. In the 2nd age and early 3rd age it seems to take an active military role, something that doesn't seem possible for a large house. Even if we assume that a large part of Rivendell's power was in the wisdom and magic of the people who did dwell there, as well as the power of the Elven ring that Elrond wore, it still seems that the population there fluctuated. Rivendell was founded by a force led by Elrond that rescued refugees from Eregion in the 2nd age, and then came under siege from Sauron for more than a year. This group could not have numbered less than a few thousand, and this seems a reasonable guess for Rivendell's population in the 2nd Age. Certainly by the LotR it had diminished in a similar manner to Lindon and probably no more than a few hundred people dwelt there, perhaps 500 at most.

The other two settlements were never mentioned explicitly by Tolkien but can be deduced. Tolkien a number of times described an Eskimo like population living in the far north adapted to the arctic conditions there. These aided Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, but there is no reason to think they didn't survive to the time of LotR and their population probably numbered in the thousands scattered across a vast area in the far north.

The 2nd group is slightly more controversial. Logic dictates that Aragorn and his rangers must have been a part of a larger population, purely to account for their wives and children. Evidence suggests, and Tolkien confirmed this in one of his letters, that actually a larger Dunedein people still existed at the time of LotR, from which the rangers were drawn. This fits with their description as the last Nobility and Knights of the Lost Kingdom of Arnor. Simply put, if they were the last nobility, then you would except there to be a few other non-nobility as well. Tolkien states that they dwelt in the Angle near Rivendell, in the east of Eriador. This would have been a safe and hidden location close to Rivendell. We are never told how many Rangers there are. Halbarad gathers 30 Rangers in haste to travel south to fight in Gondor, which suggests the total number was much higher than that. The way the Rangers are described suggest there can't have been that many of them though, or they would have constituted a recognisable army. A figure in the hundreds is almost certainly accurate, but whether low or high hundreds is impossible to say. This would have been part of a larger Dunedein population probably numbering in the thousands, but again an exact figure is impossible to give.

Monday 6 August 2012

Populations of Middle Earth - Lord of the Rings Part 1

In previous posts in this series I looked at all the available evidence from Tolkien's many writings to calculate population estimates for Elves, and then Men, Dwarves, Ents  and Orcs in Beleriand in Tolkien's 1st Age, the time of the Silmarillion. In this next pair of articles I continue using the same method to calculate population estimates for Middle Earth during the 3rd Age, just prior to the events of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's most famous Epic.

I use what sparse figures we are given in Tolkien's writings, relative and contextual statements about the size and organisation of settlements and cities, and the most relevant parallels to real world civilisations to calculate the beste possible estimates for the populations of the various countries described in Lord of the Rings. I hope to eventually give estimates for the Mannish kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan, to the Hobbit Shire, Elvish Lorien and Rivendell, and the Dwarvish Kingdom under the Mountain. Finally, I will attempt to give a rough total population figure for the entirety of the West of Middle Earth at the end of the 3rd Age, just before it was devastated by the War of the Ring.

In this Part 1 I begin by looking at Rohan and Gondor, the two largest kingdoms of Men, for which we have the most information, and the centre of much of the fighting in Lord of the Rings. In part 2  will go on to look at the numerous other smaller settlements of Men, Elves, Hobbits, Orcs and others. I hope you enjoy it.  If you agree or disagree with my estimates or calculations here I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.


The only figure for Rohan we have is the size of its army.  According to the Unfinished Tales the Muster of Rohirrim was made up of 100 eoreds of 120 riders each, or a total of 12,000, not including the King's guard. It also states that this refers to a couple of hundred years previously to the War of the Ring, and the population of Rohirrim had increased since then.  This implies just prior to LoTR that the total of Riders could, in extremis, have numbered as high as 15,000.  Obviously this would be a theoretical total only. For example, after losses in the war with Saruman, and due to the great need for haste, Theoden only rode with 6,000 riders to Minas Tirith, giving a sense of what was actually practically possible. But still, this 12,000-15,000 is the best figure we have for the whole of Rohan.

In addition to the Riders Rohan also had infantry.  Rohan was largely modelled on an Anglo-Saxon-ish society, with added horses, and it appears this Infantry was conceived as similar to the Fyrd of Anglo-Saxon England that famously fought at Hastings. That is, a territory based part-time defensive militia, as opposed to a mobile professional armed force. This coheres with the references we have to this infantry, which are always of the type of 'Men of the Westfold', or some such, implying they were based in a territory to fight in defence of that territory, rather than being part of some standing army of Rohan in general. We have no figures how many the total 'Fyrd' of all Rohan would have been but the numbers of Infantry referred to seem to be somewhat similar to the number of riders, references are to hundreds and thousands. That said the infantry would almost certainly have outnumbered the Riders, even in as horse-orientated a society as Rohan, due to the considerable cost associated with maintaining horses, and the more part time nature of this force. The complete Rohan 'Fyrd' then probably numbered around 20,000, giving a total possible force of around 35,000. I think this is pretty solid as a theoretical total unless we assume that the Riders and Infantry overlapped depending on the demands of the situation, except for presumably a small professional core. This could reduce the total combined force that could be raised as either Riders or Infantry to perhaps as little as 20,000 in total.

The next question we have is what proportion this makes of Rohan's total population. Riders are perceived as almost but not quite equivalent to the Knights of the early medieval period, around the time of William the Conqueror. That is, professional, trained, well equipped soldiers capable of both tight manouvering and serious fighting. The strong implication is that they're not just any old farmer on an old horse. Interestingly this is also true to a certain extent of the infantry as well.  While definitely less professional and full-time than the Riders, they are, again, not portrayed as random peasants with a scythe in their hands. They fight highly successfully against full sized, equipped and murderous Orcs in both attack and defence, even when outnumbered. They are also obviously at least reasonably well equipped, trained and organised. Actually, this mirrors quite close the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, which although sometimes pictured as a nationally conscripted citizen militia, was actually made up of more well-off freemen who could afford both military gear and time away from their property to go on campaign. This must to some extent have been true of Rohan as well.

This all means that the 35,000 must have constituted only a fraction of the adult male population of Rohan, as one would expect from a low-tech settled, peasant society. I think it would be fair to assume that the infantry would constitute around 1/4 of the supporting adult male population, Riders, more expensive, more professional, would need economic support to sustain them, perhaps 1/8. If we combine these figures we can generate at least a reasonable population estimate for all Rohan.

20,000 infantry x 4 + 15,000 riders x 8 for the adult male population x 3 to take account of women and children. This gives a total of 600,000.  Alternatively we could assume an overlapping force of 20,000 that could largely serve as Riders or Infantry. The calculation is then 20,000 x 8 for adult males and x 3 for women and children = 480,000

The result of this is that the most accurate estimate is probably in the range of 400,000-600,000 people across Rohan.


In LotR we actually see surprisingly little of what appears to have constituted most of Gondor in terms of population, that is, the"populous southern fiefs" to the west of Minas Tirith. This is understandably unhelpful in terms of calculating population figures, but we do have some data to work on. The troops sent to reinforce Minas Tirith from the southern provinces numbered a little under 3,000, but this represented a small part of the their total strength. 200 men from Lossarnach are referred to as "a tithe", while other contingents are referred to as "too few, always less than hope looked for or need asked". A commenter, Ceorl, responding to an earlier version of this article, has correctly pointed out this does not necessarily mean we can multiply the whole total of 3000 by 10 to get a figure of 30,000 for Gondor's total provincial strength. Certainly, it seems unlikely at least that the Prince of Dol Amroth would have been as uninterested as to send only a tithe of its strength to Minas Tirith. But clearly these forces do still represent only a fraction of the total military manpower of the provinces, something demonstrated when thousands more arrive at Pelennor with Aragorn and then after the battle itself. If we multiply Lossanarch's 200 by 10, and the other contingents by smaller figures we get a total plausible strength of perhaps 15,000 for Gondor's provincial levies.  To this we need to add the standing forces of Minas Tirith: the City Guard, the Rangers of Ithilien, the troops guarding the Pelennor wall and the troops at Cair Andros. These standing forces were substantial but not vast, probably numbering a further ten thousand, possibly more. It would also make sense to take into account a contingent for Gondor's Navy, of say 5,000, which still apparently existed in the period leading up to the War. If we take a total for Gondor's strength of 30,000 this would probably be close.

Gondor's armies would probably have constituted a smaller percentage of its population than in Rohan.  Gondor is a more established, more 'civilised' society that Rohan, even at this late stage and hence, as in modern societies outside conscription, probably had a considerably lower proportion of troops to total population than Rohan. This would have varied considerably by area.  Gondor's original population was concentrated on the Anduin valley, between Minas Anor and Minas Ithil.  Minas Tirith, originally Anor, was itself originally founded to guard against attacks from Wild Men to the west! Long before the time of LotR, though, this situation had completely changed. Minas Ithil was taken, Osgiliath (once a great city) abandoned, and all Ithilien depopulated apart from the secretive Rangers and the majority of Gondor's population now lived to the west, shielded from Mordor by Minas Tirith and the standing forces who guarded the Anduin. Gondor's standing armed forces, of, we assume, around ten thousand men, would have been partially supported from Minas Tirith and Anorien and partly from taxes from the other provinces. The provincial levies would have been a slightly different story, being supported from their own territories and only called upon in time of general invasion or warfare.

In many ways Gondor mirrors the medieval Byzantine Empire, both consciously (Tolkien even referred to Minas Tirith as such) and unconsciously, in terms of relative geography, age, level of civilisation, political structure, level of technology etc. Minas Tirith and Osgiliath between them even have great similarities to the ancient city of Constantinople. So, the Byzantine Empire is a good means of taking various parallels to Gondor. One would be the size of Minas Tirith. At its height Osgiliath would probably have had a population around 500,000 (equivalent to Constantinople at its height), but after long centuries of decline, plague and war, by the time of LotR the population of Minas Tirith would quite probably have declined to around 50,000, with the entire Pelennor and near surroundings supporting perhaps 100,000. Taking into account that the city was evacuated of women and children prior to Sauron's attack, the actual population during the siege may have numbered no more than 30,000, which again would map with the population of Constantinople at its fall.

As for the population of Gondor in general, our first guess is that it would be presumably at least twice, if not three or four times that of the much smaller country of Rohan, so in the range of 1-2 million. Looking at the figures for the two types of troops we have for Rohan we can do similar calculations as we did for Rohan. The 20,000 provincial soldiers and sailors would represent perhaps 1/10 of the adult male population, the 10,000 standing troops perhaps 1/15 of the equivalent supporting population. This gives the following calculations. 20,000 x 8 + 10,000 x 15 = 300,000 'adult' males, 600,000 adults and approximately 1 million people in total, including children. This figure is probably broadly accurate, though it obviously varies considerably depending on what multipliers you think suitable. I think a figure of around 1 million is probably as accurate as we can get.

A 3rd and final way of calculating this population involves utilising another parallel with Byzantium thanks to the work of a guy called W.Treadgold. Treadgold worked out that the total number of troops in the Byzantine Empire actually stayed a relatively constant proportion of the total population despite otherwise vast changes, advances, setbacks and the passing of Centuries.  Between 300-1080 AD the size of the army was always between 1.5-2.5% of the total population. Utilising this gives us another estimate for Gondor's population of roughly 30,000/0.02 = 1.5 million or again, 1-2 million. I suspect at the time of LotR, Gondor was comparable to one of Byzantium's more militarised periods, which would lead us towards a lower of these figures, of perhaps slightly over 1 million.

That completes part 1.  In the 2nd and 3rd part I look at the populations for the other settlements of the late 3rd Age including the Shire, Lindon, Rivendell, Lorien, Iron Hills, Mordor and more, and then attempting to give a final rough figure for the population of Middle Earth. I hope to see you there.

Part 2 - The Lands of Eriador