In previous posts in this series I looked at all the available evidence from Tolkien's many writings to calculate population estimates for Elves, Men, Dwarves, Ents and Orcs in Beleriand in Tolkien's 1st Age, the time of the Silmarillion. In this next pair of articles I will continue using the same method, to attempt 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 will use what sparse figures we are given in Tolkien's writings, relative statements of size, contextual statements about the size and organisation of settlements and cities and the most relevant possibly parallels to real world civilisations to calculate the most accurate possible estimates for the populations of the various countries described in Lord of the Rings. From the Mannish kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan, to the Hobbit Shire, Elvish Lorien and Rivendell and the Dwarvish Kingdom under the Mountain, and 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 will 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, before looking at the numerous other smaller settlements of Men, Elves, Hobbits, Orcs and others in part 2. I hope you enjoy. 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 given in terms of 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's also suggested that this happened a couple of hundred years previously and the population of Rohirrim had increased since then. This implies that the total of Riders could, in extremis, just prior to LotR 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 last 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 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. That said the infantry would almost certainly have outnumbered the number of '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 probable numbered around 20,000, giving a total possible force of around 35,000.
The next question we have is what proportion this makes of Rohan's total population. Riders are perceived as not quite equivalent to the Knights of the early medieval period, around the time of William the Conqueror, then certainly relatively close. 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 as 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 severely 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 though it was some nationally conscripted citizen militia, was actually made up of those more well-off free-men 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 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 have 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.
Rohan. I would say that the most accurate we could say 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 and apparently represented a tithe of the troops these provinces had available. That gives obviously a total figure of 30,000. 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 45,000 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 Arnor and Minas Ithil. Minas Tirith, originally Arnor, 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 eve 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 of 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 30,000 provincial troops would represent perhaps 1/8 of the male population of fighting age, the 10,000 standing troops perhaps 1/14 of the supporting population. This gives the following calculations. 30,000 x 8 + 15,000 x 14 = 450,000 'adult' males, 450,000 x 2 = 900,000 adults and 900,000 x 4/3 = 1.2 million people. This figure probably broadly accurate, though it obviously varies considerably depending on what figures you think suitable for the multipliers. I think a figure of 1-2 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 40,000/0.02 = 2 million or 1.6-2.6 million, agreeing with our range of 1-2 million.
That completes part 1. In the 2nd part I will 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.