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 these is also the one that will be most familiar to any fan of Middle Earth, the Shire. Friendly, idyllic home of the friendly Hobbits. Also probably the largest settled land in Eriador. The Hobbits not having an army we have no figures given that we could use as a basis to estimate the total population, as we have for Gondor and Rohan. What we do know 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 answer the call to fight the Ruffians in '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. 

One partial solution may come from assuming that although the Shire was itself large 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. A population that for centuries until the rise of Sauron was spread over Lindon and eastern Eriador. This population would have decreased dramatically 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. Taken 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 at 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. Tolkien makes references to Bree having "a hundred stone house 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 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 resuced 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 400 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 a 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 low thousands, but again an exact figure is impossible to give.


Unknown said...

Tolkien really was a genius, deserved the Nobel. Alan Lee made ​​magnificent illustrations of his books. Namárië

Anonymous said...

Awesome! One of the best estimations I have been able to find. Looking forward to the third part :)

BefuddledBumpkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Wigmore said...

Karen Wynn Fonstad (1991), The Atlas of Middle-earth, revised edn (London: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 69

Karen is the foremost geographer of Middle Earth. Even the figures you give would suggest a size somewhere in the region of 15-20 thousand miles. Where would you get 8,000 from?

Unknown said...

so what would the population of gondor be? And Mordor?

Stephen Wigmore said...

I cover the population of Gondor in this article:

I haven't investigated the population of Mordor. I don't think there's enough scraps of information to produce more than a vague guess. Hundreds of thousands of slaves and hundreds of thousands of orcs and other creatures at its height certainly.

BefuddledBumpkin said...

Yeah, you are right, I actually got 18,000 sq miles. Frigged my math up- sorry! I must have been intoxicated.

BefuddledBumpkin said...

Yeah, I was using Karen's data as well, and somehow I came up with that. I truly am a befuddled bumpkin.

Steve777 said...

Regarding the Rangers: if we assume that the 30 Rangers mustered in haste to travel South was about 10% of all active Rangers, the total number of Rangers would be about 300. Multiply by 4 to take account of wives, children and the elderly or otherwise unfit for service, you have about 1,200 in Ranger families. These are the warrior elite of their society, possibly comprising about 10% of the population, maybe fewer. I think that a population of 10,000 to 15,000 Numenoreans would be credible.

Stephen Wigmore said...

Thanks for the comment. I would expect that the Rangers constituted a much higher proportion of the Dunedain population, given that they seemed to have no industry, cities or economy outside 'Ranging' (and presumably smithing, etc, needed to support it).

Hence I think the best guess would be to assume the Rangers would make up at least 5% of the population. That would mean their families form 20% of the population and still leave a much larger group supporting them. That would give a population figure of more like 4,000 - 6,000, which I consider much more likely.

A higher population starts to raise the questions of where were all these people? Since even Lake-town (probably less than a thousand people) gets marked on the map. In Eriador terms ten to fifteen thousand people is a relatively large and notable town (larger than Bree).

Anonymous said...

Love your articles. Two things I don't really agree with are the populations of Lindon and Ered Luin. If Lindon had 60,000 elves and let's say, that even 10-15% were able bodied fighters...that's 6-8000 elves of sindarin and noldorin blood. It would be a pretty formidable force for the third age. I feel there were only 10,00 elves at most in Lindon. I believe that the dwarves were in a similar range of 10-15,000. Even before dwarves of erebor swelled their numbers they were not a large group of people as most of them migrated eastward to khazad-dum in the second age. And many of them would have went back to Erebor after smaug was defeated. These are just my opinions. Thank you for writing these and putting things into perspective.

Stephen Wigmore said...

Thanks for commenting. My numbers for Lindon and the Blue Mountains are both highly speculative so you may be right that my numbers are somewhat too high. I think your numbers are probably too low though as given.

Lindon was a large area of which the Havens were merely the main ports. I imagine the Elves being spread, wandering throughout Lindon, filling it with Elven-song, rather than just being concentrated in the havens. I think the refusal of the Elves there at the end of the 3rd age to get involved was as much a choice as a necessity of numbers. They were tired and actively withdrawing from Middle Earth. Also we have little means of gauging what force Lindon could have put forward at need, because the fighting in LOTR never got anywhere near Lindon. That said my figure is possibly too high. Perhaps 30-40,000 may be a better estimate by the end of hte 3rd age.

As for the Dwarves, I could well believe perhaps only 15,000 remained there by the point of LOTR, as I say, many left for Erebor after the death of Smaug. Before that though there seem to be a relatively large mixed Dwarvish population there. It is true that at the start of the 2nd age most dwarves left the mountains for Moria. But equally after the fall of Moria, the Grey Mountains and Erebor many came back to the Ered Luin.

I have moderately edited the passage to take into account your points. Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

One thing I think your estimates haven't taken into account is the low reproductive rates of Elves and Dwarves (and to a lesser extent the Dúnedain). We know that Elves and Númenoreans had few children (possibly due to their long lifespan), and Dwarves even less so due to the low proportion of Dwarf women (only 1/3 of the population) and the fact that not all Dwarves took wives.

Stephen Wigmore said...

I'm not sure what you mean as these are spot estimates. I don't calculate them using population growth models. You may think my reference to "high tens of thousands" of Dwarves in the Ered Luin at their height, but this does not refer to one settlement but, I except, a whole network of Dwarvish settlements of possibly all three western Dwarvish houses of which Thorin's halls would have only been the largest.

Rasmus Nilsson said...

Hey! Great job, really interesting to read. Do you have any speculations/ ideas about the population in other parts of Eriador? I'm mainly thinking about the large areas that formerly were a part of Arnor, Minhiriath, Cardolan, Rhudaur, and also Angmar. Although large parts were uninhabited there must have been some smaller communities there since the area is so vast. However, I guess there isn't much information to go on.

Stephen Wigmore said...

That's a very good question. I agree that there must have been some people here and there, but we have too little information to even make the vaguest estimates.

I think Arnor was basically uninhabited apart from the communities mentioned. There would've been a few 'wandering companies' of Elves travelling here and there, the occasional troll coming down from the far north, a hobbit tramp, or small travelling family somewhere in the wild, and maybe the very occasional man. But that's all.

In Cardolan there were the Barrow Wights and Tom Bombadil. Tharbad was deserted but there were probably some small communities of men leaving around and near where Tharbad was. But we're talking scattered hamlets or very small villages. The former lands of Angmar may have still been inhabited by small groups of evil men, and also of course by Trolls, Orcs and even a few darker creatures, other barrow wights perhaps?

Dunland and the lands around it in the south were obviously inhabited by a significant population. They contributed a force to Saruman's army, and while they seem to have had no formal government or leadership, they must have had many villages, farms and communities, numbering at least several thousand living in the land around the bottom western slopes of the Misty Mountains.

Apart from Dunland, and possibly the Orcs of the Mountains, whatever other communities there were must have been very small, because anything larger would've been notable on the map in such an empty wilderness. If Bree with its few thousand people was considered an important centre in Eriador, then it's unlikely any larger communities existed that were uncommented on.

Anonymous said...

how large would hobbits military get if the made one?

Post a Comment