Wednesday 6 February 2013

Populations of Middle Earth: Lands of 'The Hobbit'

In this final article of my series on Populations of Middle Earth, I look at the lands and peoples described in The Hobbit. The first half of this has, entirely by coincidence  recently been made into a major movie 'The Hobbit: There and Back Again', with Richard Armitage (on the left, for the ladies). We start in Eriador, in the Shire, home of the Hobbits, and will move east along the route taken by Bilbo and the Dwarves. (If you've already read my article on Eriador, then please skip to the sections after the map below. Alternatively if you haven't read The Hobbit and want to avoid all spoilers about the 2nd and 3rd film then only read above the map).

Probably the largest of the populations we encounter in the Hobbit is the one that will be most familiar to any fan of Middle Earth, and where both the Hobbit and LotR begin: 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 military figures to use as a basis to estimate the total population, as we have for Gondor and Rohan (here).  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 in LotR.  We have numerous references to groups of "hundreds" of Hobbits: at Bilbo's party, with the implication this was a sizable 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 description of the Shire as a place seemingly 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 1,400 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 we 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 50,000-150,000 Hobbits.

After leaving the Shire, Bilbo and the Dwarves travel through large areas of empty wilderness. But they eventually reach the beautiful Elvish settlement of Rivendell, where the House of Elrond stood. Rivendell, or Imladris existed from year 1700 of the 2nd age through to 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 bely the small size described for it, and 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 400 at most.

From Rivendell, the Dwarves pass through the Misty Mountains where they are captured by the Goblins. Orcs infested the Misty Mountains at the time of The Hobbit and later LotR, especially Moria to the south and Mt Gundobad in the north. Goblin-town, into which Bilbo stumbled, and which constituted a series of tunnels and caverns running through to the far side of the mountains, seemed to be occupied by at least several hundred to a few thousand goblins. Estimates for the wider hordes of goblins, wargs and great spiders are impossible to any accuracy. There were around 2,000 Elves, Men and Dwarves at the Battle of Five Armies, and these were severely outnumbered by the goblins and wargs, which probably numbered somewhere between 5,000-15,000, with a media estimate of about 10,000. These would have been a substantial portion of the northern goblins whose total population could have been around 30,000. (And further south Moria alone seemed to be home to thousands more.) 

After Bilbo and the Dwarves escape from the Misty Mountains they are rescued by an Eyrie of giant Eagles (whose number is not known exactly but was presumably somewhere in the low tens) and ended up staying with Beorn the shapeshifter in the Anduin valley.  Beorn was the last of his race, but he wasn't the only inhabitant of the Anduin valleys. There were a race of hardy woodmen living in homesteads scattered around the west Anduin valley and the fringes of Mirkwood. In between the time of the Hobbit and LotR Beorn became their leader and they flourished.  They are referred to as "keeping open the high pass" and driving back the Orcs.  There could not have been many of them, given they lived in scattered farmsteads as Beorn is described in the Hobbit, with apparently no large villages or towns, certainly none are described or named, and the depredations of the orcs would have kept numbers down.  But there must have been quite a few to fight off the Orcs of the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood and keep open a relatively sizeable area. The male population must have numbered somewhere in the thousands, possibly the total population numbering up to the low tens of thousands: 20,000 would probably be a good estimate.

After staying with Beorn, Bilbo and the Dwarves passed through Mirkwood and were captured by Elves from Thrandruil's Kingdom.  Thrandruil's kingdom was made up of Silvan Elves with a small nobility of Sindar descent from Beleriand.  It was founded by Thrandruil's father at the start of the 2nd Age, and his son was the famous Legolas, who went with the Fellowship and was played in the movies by Orlando Bloom (girls may remember). At first it had covered the entire northern half of the forest but later as Sauron's power grew the forest became evil and the Elves retreated north.  The main, possibly only, town or city was Thandruil's under-ground capital, cut into the rocks beneath the hills in north-east Mirkwood.  

Once again we go to military descriptions to get our best estimates of the size of the population of Silvan Elves.  In the 2nd Age they are described as populous and contributing a sizeable army to the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, but by the end of the 3rd Age they had diminished.  Thandruil brought a force of at least 1000 spearmen plus hundreds of archers and hundreds of swordsmen to the Battle of Five Armies, say around 1,500 Elves. There is good reason to think this wasn't all the troops his Kingdom had, more of an expeditionary force sent to investigate the Mountain and the death of the dragon. I think this sense is reinforced by the later success of Thandruil's forces during LotR and the fact they had been holding back Sauron's evil for centuries, though this would partially have been due to Elven magic rather than sheer force of arms. During LotR they successfully defeated an army from Dol Guldor that came north and gave battle under the trees and then with Lorien advanced forward and destroyed Dol Guldor. The armies Sauron sent forward in LotR were big, and it would have taken some serious force to beat it. Thandruil must have had at least a few thousand troops he could call on if things got bad. That would give the following estimate for the total population.  3,000 troops, a total adult male population of 3,000 x 4 = 12,000 (not all male Elves were warriors) and a total population of 12,000 x 2.5 (women, children) = 30,000 Elves.   

After escaping from Thandruil's dungeons Bilbo and the Dwarves reached Lake-Town, the remnant of the once larger city of Esgaroth, and then the ruins of Dale. Dale was the city of men that had been destroyed, along with the Kingdom under the Mountain by Smaug (as well as presumably Esgaroth itself). We can actually make surprisingly accurate estimates of the size of Lake-town at the time of the Hobbit thanks to the description Tolkien gave and the official illustrations.  And it's surprisingly small, perhaps only 200 x 300 metres with a central pool reducing that area even further.  Even if we take a reasonably more generous estimate for the physical size, and assume that it was quite densely and efficiently populated, using population density figures for modern cities gives a population estimate of around 400-700 people.

After leaving Lake-town Bilbo and companions finally arrive at the Lonely Mountain after passing through the ruins of Dale.  Smaug ends up getting it in the neck with an arrow and Elves and Men turn up seeking a share of the treasure.  Thorin refuses and sends for help from his kinsmen in the Iron Hills, the nearest Dwarven realm. The Iron Hills were ruled by Dain II, who sent 500 stout, armed Dwarves to help Thorin. The Iron Hills had been occupied by Dwarves since the 2nd Age, and were the only Dwarvish realm left in the East after the destruction of Moria, the Grey Mountains and Erebor. Again when considering this force of 500 warriors, I take it to be very much an expeditionary force sent out by Dain II to scout out the situation, rather than a muster of the total population. The level of organisation and standard equipment, and the suspiciously round number all point to this fact. So again we can make some reasonable assumptions.  Faced with a kinsman in danger, plus the important of the Mountain, Dain would have sent a significant portion, but not by any means all his forces. We can hence again assume there would have been a few thousand Dwarves potentially under arms in the Iron Hills, perhaps three times that number of Male Dwarves in total, half that number again of Dwarf women (there were twice as many dwarf men as women) and a relatively small number of children. Perhaps 500 x 4 =2,000 Dwarves under arms.  2,000 x 3 = 6,000 adult males. 6,000 x 2 = 12,000 Dwarves in total, or a likely range of 10,000-15,000.

The quest of the Hobbit ends with the Battle of Five Armies, after which both Dale and the Kingdom under the Mountain were re-founded. Dale was, of course, abandoned at the time of the Hobbit. But we hear that by the time of LotR 70 years later it is a thriving mini-kingdom that plays a role defeating one of Sauron's armies in the War of the Ring. We can only assume that Dale's population would have come partly from Lake-Town, which it may have taken sovereignty over, partly from the woodmen of Anduin and partly from wider Rhovanian.  As we have seen from the discussion of the Elven-King, Wilderland Kingdoms could be very small. In a few generations Dale would have expanded rapidly, with immigrants, increased prosperity, alliance with the re-founded King under the Mountain, and fame from the death of Smaug.  But it still could not have numbered more than a few tens of thousands at most, just due to the lack of Men in the surrounding lands to populate it so quickly. Perhaps 20,000-40,000 people.

As for Erebor itself, it too was restored and became the centre of Durin's folk in Middle Earth. It was also described as thriving come the time of LotR 70 years later. But where did all these Dwarves come from?  Due to the slow rate of Dwarven population increase the population cannot have come from natural increase.  Almost all of it would have come from a massive immigration of Durin's Folk: largely from the Blue Mountains in the far west, but also from various scattered homes to which the Dwarves had wandered after the initial loss of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, as well as possibly a significant contingent from Dain's original realm in the Iron Hills. The total population of Erebor by the time of LotR is cannot be stated with any accuracy.  But given our figure for the population of the Iron Hills; the expectation that a significantly larger population of Dwarves would have gathered in the safer and main dwellings of Durin's folk in the far west; our estimates for the other main populations of Wilderland; and the pull of the fame of the Kingdom under the Mountain and the quest, including the recovery of the Arkenstone; then I think we can reasonably assume a figure considerably higher than our estimate for the Iron Hills above.  Perhaps 30,000, but certainly in the range of 20,000-40,000.