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.


Anonymous said...


Stephen Wigmore said...


Anonymous said...

Hey Stephen,

Great post! I read all your post on the people of middle earth. I found them very interesting especially those on the first era. But i have a question about the one about the elves in Beleriand. You state in you article that the Noldor are divided under the ruling of the three houses in a 25% 50% 25% way. 25% for Feanor's sons 50% for Fingolfin and 25% for Finrod. My understanding when i read the Silmarillion was a little bit different. I imagine that the following of Feanor was smaller then that of Fingolfin and Finrod but not that much smaller.

When you read the chapter about the arrival of the Noldor in the north of Beleriand and Feanor is just killed by the Balrogs they are at the Mithrim lake. Fingolfin marches with his army to that place what causes the people of Feanor to move to the otherside. There is stated that Fingolfins (and Finrods) army sufferd great loses when he got to Beleriand but is still bigger. That indicates to me that his army was bigger is size but not more than two times otherwise there is no meaning in telling it is still bigger that would have spoken for itself.
Olso in the chapter about the Noldor in Beleriand there is stated that in the east the sons of Feanor live with there great amounts of followers. That is an indication that there where many even in comparison to the other kingdoms.

I would like to hear what you think about this opinion.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the only well thought out articles on Middle Earth's population, in terms of quantifiable numbers, I have ever come across and I am glad I did. For people like me, who enjoy and need to have solid facts on just about anything we try to learn about, something as simple as figures of population can give a whole new dimension to what is occurring in the series.

A big example from the Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey, is when Biblo tells of how all the dwarves of Erebor wandered the wilderness. We would have a vague understanding of the concept but not fully grasp it; even with the 'wandering' scene it only painted a small picture. But if we use your calculations than the image is staggering! If Erebor had been 'thriving', as I personally believe it would have, during Smaug's attack than the numbers could easily have been around 25,000-30,000; that's practically the entire population of my hometown municipality.

When you consider that, the thought of an entire kingdom being thrown out of their home becomes far more vivid and tragic.

Back to my original point, I personally think that this is a well done article on possible population in Middle Earth. In fact I doubt a lot of people will find a more through discussion about the subject.

Good job!!

Anonymous said...

hello... ive read through your articles and was wondering if you ever stated the actual complete population number and if so, point me in the right direction.

Stephen Wigmore said...

The actual population number for what? Sorry. I may have missed a number somewhere.

Do you mean north-west Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age?

Anonymous said...

So adding up the population of north/west Middle-Earth at the end of the Third Age,it's about 2,870,000 (assuming a slight bias to higher estimates), or say in the range of 2.5-3.5 million.

Stephen Wigmore said...

Thanks. I think that's right. And very roughly broken down as follows:

Gondor - 2 million
Rohan - 500k
Shire - 100k
Elves (split between Mirkwood, Lorien, the Havens, Rivendell) - 100k
Dwarves (split between Blue Mountains, Erebor and Iron Hills) - 100k
Scattered Men (Dunedain, Bree, Dale, Long-Lake, Beornings, Dunland) - 100k
Orcs (Misty Mountains, Grey Mountains, Mordor) - 100k

So in total about 3 million Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs, etc (very roughly) in the North-West of Middle Earth.

Beyond these lands we have no idea what the wider population of Middle Earth would've been. But given how out-numbered the free peoples were supposed to have been by the end of the 3rd Age, we can reasonably assume that the vast lands of Harad and Rhun could've potentially been home to many millions of Men, and much smaller populations of Avari Elves and Dwarves.

Anonymous said...

If the hobbits had a army how large and what effect it have on middle earth

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to research it all and sharing it with us.

Stephen Wigmore said...

If my estimate is roughly correct and there were around 100,000 hobbits then they could theoretically raise several thousand armed hobbits if they really, really got organised. This would've been a decent sized army in theory, but hobbits had neither the physical size and strength, nor the history of martial discipline, tactics, weapon-making, training, leadership, aggression, etc to really be a threatening force to anyone.

If threatened however they could put up a surprising fight, as Golfimbul and his band found out, or Sharkey's Ruffians. But they would've mainly fought as light infantry or archers.

CrimzonHorizon said...

On the whole good reasoning but a few beats missed.
1) Not all Hobbits are in the Shire. There is a population in Bree & four dependent villages of Breeland. If human history anything to go by here, there will be hobbits who've left the bounds of the Shire to farm, fish, cut trees, mine, trade down the rivers seek fortune and build a life. Lots of kids a norm in Hobbits to to have many hands on land, so some younger sons would be cut out from inheriting land so would migrate to larger villages/towns to labour/take up trades or go to claim a bit of land just over the river, beyond the hill etc. Farming communities had a lot more people in farmsteads & hamlets (mini-villages), rather than towns so just factoring pop. via your 100 towns/villages a mistake. Yes a 100, 000 in towns/villages, but I reckon another chunk to count all the tiny hamlets & farmstead/homesteads outside of that & shire-fringe beyonders. Also not all Hobbits migrated into Shire either. They colonised from Anduin over several centuries and in different waves from north, one from south. I believe Hobbit communities still exist in lands north and east of shire between Shire & Misty Mountains. They also came through the Rohan Gap and settled in Dunland too, interbreeding prob contributing to shorty nature of Dunlendings, but possible some hobbit villages still exist on fringes of Dunland, Rohan. Also in original heartland where Smeagol born I'm sure Halfling communities still exist along the river. Maybe Hobbits don't need to know weapons making/weaponsmithing when they could buy/trade with Dwarves, Elves & Humans. I believe Michel Delving, once a Great Mine, is now hidden Treasury & Armoury both ...filled with Dwarven made swords and elven-made bows.

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