Sunday 9 October 2016

Populations of Middle Earth - How many fought at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears?

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, or Nirneath Arnoediad, was the climactic and most detailed battle of Tolkien's First Age of Middle Earth, that saw the hopes of Elves, Men and Dwarves go down in flame and death against the might of the armies and monsters of the Dark Lord Morgoth. It contains some of the most evocative images of Tolkien's First Age. Probably my favourite is Fingon's great cry of hope when his brother Turgon came unlooked for with ten thousand more Eldarin warriors - "'Utulie'n aure! Aiya Eldalie ar Atanatari, utulie'n aure! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!"

But how many warriors fought in the battle overall? And how many enemies did they face.

Giving good estimates for the Union of Maedhros is particularly difficult because the armies facing Morgoth's hordes included contingents from almost every community in Beleriand including Noldor Elves, Sindar Elves, Men and Dwarves. This article uses my detailed estimates worked out in my previous articles on the populations of Beleriand to derive estimates for the numbers at the battle. Our window into this is the ancient and often repeated figure that "the army of Turgon issued forth from Gondolin, ten thousand strong" to the battle. This was the crucial starting point I used to calculate the Elvish populations of Beleriand, particularly the Noldor, with some confidence. Calculations for the population of Edain come from extrapolations from the information Tolkien gives in Peoples of Middle Earth on the initial numbers that entered Beleriand, and I am also pretty confident of these.

We can estimate the numbers of soldiers in each contingent by comparing their population to Gondolin's, and in some cases, adjusting for losses taken before the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, particularly in the Dagor Bragollach. Other clues come from the degree to which each realm seems to have committed to the Battle. After the defeat Hithlum was basically depopulated but the Falas, for example, and Brethil, continued to exist and operate, so we can presume they committed a smaller proportion of their pre-existing population to the battle since there were more left afterwards. To take account of the heavy losses taken in the Dagor Bragollach I estimate that the armed strength of the Elves and Men of Hithlum, and of Estolad, and the Elves following the Sons of Feanor, was reduced by 1/3 to 2/5th compared to its height just before the Dagor Bragollach. The Elves of the Falas, the Men of Brethil and the Dwarves of Belegost, on the other hand, were removed from the immediate impact of the 4th Battle so wouldn't have taken losses on the same scale.

The population of Gondolin originated with 1/3 of Fingolfin's people and "a greater host of Sindar". The population of Hithlum came from the other 2/3 of Fingolfin's people, the Sindar who lived around Mithrim, and other Sindar who were inspired to join the Noldor in their brave struggle. Thus it seems that Fingolfin and later Fingon in Hithlum must've initially had a larger population than Gondolin to draw from but not many times larger. On the other hand Hithlum had lost many of its warriors in the years from 455-472 FA in the assaults of Morgoth, but again in the other direction it seems to have committed a higher proportion of its people to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Gondolin carried on after the battle without too great a devastation, whereas Hithlum was almost depopulated and its remaining people left defenceless. These combined would suggest that the Elves of Hithlum should've numbered more than Turgon's host but not dramatically more, perhaps 15-20 thousand strong.

In my previous article I estimated a population of the Falas of around 70,000 elves spread between the two havens and the surrounding lands, based on two sizeable towns with a surrounding population nearby. Cirdan's people were mostly mariners not soldiers, and the Falas carried on resisting Morgoth after the battle despite losing almost all the soldiers it sent to join Fingon's host. From this we can presume it too committed a much lower proportion of its population. It seems to have been a much more secondary contingent to the main host of Elves and Men, of both Hithlum and Gondolin, so I estimate a force of around 5,000 Falathrim Elves.

The Men of Hithlum suffered a similar level of devastation in the battle to the elves of Hithlum. Hador's folk were the largest tribe of the Edain and had been bolstered by taking in refugees from Beor's folk. On the other hand they had also suffered heavy losses in the Dagor Bragollach and the years since. I estimated Hador's folk would've numbered around 70,000 before the fourth battle, of whom around 20,000 would've been Men of fighting age, but many of their warriors had already been lost. By the Unnumbered Tears I reckon they would've been able to contribute about another 10,000 warriors to Fingon's Host. The Haladin were many fewer than the house of Hador and their own heavy losses had a much less devastating effect than those of Hador's folk. From this I estimate a much smaller contingent of perhaps 4,000 men. Including, finally, "a small company" from Nargothrond of perhaps a couple of hundred Elves, this puts Fingon's western host at about 33,000 Elves and Men in total, to which Turgon added another 10,000 Eldarin warriors.

In the East I think Maedhros' Host would've looked relatively similar in scale. After the disaster of the Bragollach the individual Lordships of the seven sons were shattered, as well as presumably the community of Men in Estolad. What remained were Maedhros and Maglor with forces of Elves and Men rallied on Himring, while Caranthir and Amrod gathered the rest of the surviving eastern forces around Amon Ereb to the south. Working from my previous estimates for the following of the Sons of Feanor and the Men of Estolad and reducing it by 40% to account for heavy losses suggests a mixed population of Men and Elves of around 100,000 remaining scattered across the East. This is the Noldor following Feanor's Sons, the Sindar of North-East, and the Men of Estolad. Adjusting for women, children and the elderly (among Men) I'd suggest that Himring and Amon Ereb could raise around another 20,000 warriors for the Unnumbered Tears.

To these must be added the Easterlings and the Dwarves of Belegost. The Dwarves of Belegost contributed a powerful force, but this was not their war, and I think they would have sent an expeditionary army of seasoned and equipped warriors, rather than a muster of their whole strength. The army of the Dwarves is also not referred to in terms that suggest it was the same scale as the main hosts of Elves of Fingon or Maedhros or even Turgon. As such I'd estimate a Dwarven contingent of about 5,000 under their King Azaghal. The Easterlings, I think, have to be considered to be similar in size to the houses of the Edain at that point. This would mean they come over the mountains in much larger numbers than the Edain did, but obviously had no time to multiply naturally. If we assume the combined peoples of Bor and Ulfang were together of similar size to the House of Hador, then we can deduce that they together would've contributed somewhat more than 10,000 men, perhaps several thousand in each house.

These admittedly vague considerations would suggest an overall force for the Host of Maedhros of more than 35,000 Elves, Men and Dwarves. This, added to Fingon's Host of around 33,000 Elves and Men, and Turgon's Host of 10,000 Elves would suggest the Union of Maedhros combined would've numbered around 80,000 troops at the start,  most of whom would die over the next 3 days of Battle. This would put the total Host of the Free Peoples at about the same size as the British-Allied Army at the Battle of Waterloo, and gives some sense of scale. The Battle was also  large in scale geographically, fought across a distance of 50 miles of the plain over three days, from the Gates of Angband to the Fens of Serech, and involving a considerable degree of manoeuvre by the different hosts.

But what about their opponents?

The Silmarillion describes three hosts of Morgoth that took part in the battle. The first 'Diversionary' host, the second 'Main' host and the 'Last' host released against Maedhros. We have no concrete numbers, apart from the statement that, after Maedhros' host was scattered and Glaurang driven back to Angband, the remnant of the western host of "Fingon and Turgon were assailed by a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them". We can only compare the hosts of Morgoth by the effect they had on the Good armies. The initial host numbered perhaps around 50,000-60,000, enough to seem a threat to Fingon but not enough to defeat him. The Main host was presumably much larger, probably more than a hundred thousand orcs. The final host was seemingly smaller again, but contained a greater mix of Morgoth's most devastating creatures reserved until the end - Balrogs, Dragons and Wolfriders. This force was perhaps another 60,000, and finally, further strength of evil Easterlings hidden in the hills descended on Maedhros as well, maybe as many as 20,000. That would put Morgoth's total force at well over 200,000 and possibly considerably higher. A quarter of a million, or even up towards 300,000, would be a sensible figure for the total of Morgoth's forces engaged at one point or another.

Casualties were huge, the losses of Morgoth's orcs and creatures were enormous, probably at least 100,000, but perhaps as many remained and had the victory [this estimate updated thanks to a comment below]. The losses of the Elves, Men and Dwarves were terrible. Almost all of Fingon's host, and most of Maedhros' and Turgon's were destroyed. Of all the armies, Turgon's host and the Dwarves of Belegost probably suffered the lighter casualties, but still severe. Perhaps at most ten thousand of each of the eastern and western armies survived, suggesting there were over 60,000 dead across three days among the Eldar, Edain and Naugrim, a slaughter on the scale of the Battle of Waterloo or the opening days of the Somme.  Tolkien describes what happened afterwards to the bodies of the fallen:

"By the command of Morgoth the Orcs with great labour gathered all the bodies of those who had fallen in the great battle, and all their harness and weapons, and piled them in a great mound in the midst of Anfauglith; and it was like a hill that could be seen from afar. Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-enNirnaeth, the Hill of Tears. But grass came there and grew again long and green upon that hill, alone in all the desert that Morgoth made; and no creature of Morgoth trod thereafter upon the earth beneath which the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled into rust."


Anonymous said...

I applaud this article. Thank you good sir for your diligence. As a Tolkien fan of many many years, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Kudos. Mae Govanen.

Nasser said...

Hi Stephen, great work on the calculations in your posts and beautifully explained. You've done a very thorough job! Can I ask if you have any estimates of numbers for The Last Alliance? It's one I'm very curious about

Stephen Wigmore said...

Hello there, thank you for your kind comments. I haven't done estimate for the Last Alliance, partly because we have even less concrete data for the 2nd Age than we do for the 1st. I suspect we would be looking at something on a similar scale, albeit probably slightly smaller.

Roy said...

Nice article, but I cannot be aggree with the numbers of casualties in the Morgoth's side. The line of Angband's army was broken only once: the first day, by the Gwindor attack. But Gwindor's vanguard was annihilated inside Angband. The line of Morgoth's army was not broken anymore, even when Maedhros attack them from back. We know that in Ancient World the 90% of casualties came from the break of the line and the fly of a broken army. In counterpart, Maedhros army fall down when Ulfang's men treason him and attack from the rearguard, Dor-lómin's men were annihilated and Fingon's elves were severely damaged but keep the formation with Turgon's Gondolindrim. So, probably 2/3 of Fingon's army were killed, and probably Maedhros keep 1/3 of his army after the treason of Ulfang and the retirement of Belegost contingent. If we asume that Morgoth's army only broke once and did get attacked by rearguard for only brief moments, their total casualties cannot exceed 1/3 of the total.

Stephen Wigmore said...

Thanks for the comment Roy. You make an interesting point. It's hard to say what the size of Morgoth's hosts was, even to a vague degree of accuracy, but I think the estimates of First 50k; Main 100k; Last 50k; Easterlings 20k are reasonable. You're right that the initial host was broken and destroyed, but this never happened in its entirety to the Main or Last hosts.

That said, the Unnumbered tears is clearly a far larger battle than any ancient battle we're familiar with, including 300k soldiers in total, over 3 days and some 50 miles of terrain. I think it would be better to look at it as a connected series of armies and battles, with parts of Morgoth's forces, and the Eldar and Edain being broken at different points. Also, whereas we can imagine the Eldar and Edain as fighting in disciplined formations, I get the impression the Orcs often fought in a pretty reckless and undisciplined way, driven by bloodlust. For example, near the end of the battle when they "bridged the stream with their dead", which doesn't sound like they take only minor casualties unless fleeing.

In recognition of your point though I've adjusted down my estimate of the casualties of Morgoth's troops to, at least 100k. Best Wishes.

Anonymous said...

So grateful for people like you that have really done their research and elaborate on them. It’s added to my experience with Tolkien, thank you.

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