The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire Extra by Bluetiger
The Brief History of Gondor, Its Rise, Zenith, Decline and Fall of Kingship
The history of Gondor proper begins with the arrival of Elendil and his sons, Isildur and Anarion, to Middle-earth after the Downfall of Numenor, in the year 3319 of the Second Age. But to gain a better understanding of this kingdom’s remarkable success in its early days, when it quickly became the principal regional power, we have to go back in time as far as the sixth century of that age, when the first ship bearing the sails of Numenor landed in the Grey Havens. This ship was named Entulessë (Return) and its captain was Numenorean Lord Vëantur, the grand admiral. (In the Numenorean realm, the chief naval officer was named Captain of the King’s Ships). He was received by Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor and Círdan the Shipwright in the Grey Havens. Then, in the land of Eriador, between the Blue Mountains in the west and the Misty Mountains in the east, the admiral met twelve emissaries from the primitive (in comparison with the Numenoreans) tribes of Middle-earth, who came to see their distant Dunedain relatives, returned from the ‘death in the deeps of the sea’ after nearly six hundred years. For the first time in centuries, the Dunedain of Numenor, came into contact with other human cultures.
The Numenoreans descended from the Edain tribes and houses of the First Age, who entered the land of Beleriand in the north-east of Middle-earth, allied themselves with the Elves who were battling Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, there – and remained faithful, for some of the Easterling tribes followed the Edain and also joined the Elves in their efforts against Morgoth, only to turn their cloaks at the most crucial moment, on the offset of Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. There the Easterlings backstabbed the Edain and the Elves, though some of their kin attempted to stop them, and paid greatly for this loyalty, as they were later mostly wiped out by Morgoth in retaliation.
When the Valar dispatched their hosts to Beleriand at the end of the First Age to deal with their traitor brother Morgoth, the land was devastated in the ensuing conflict. The realm was shattered and broken, and soon the Great Sea rushed in to drown what remained of it, so in the end only several scattered isles remained of the mighty Beleriand. Now that Morgoth was defeated, his minions were fleeing to the east, led by his chief lieutenant Sauron. The Easterlings were fleeing as well. Many of their tribes came into Eriador and there chanced upon the Pre-Numenoreans nations related to the Edain. These tribes were primitive herders without any unity, thus Morgoth’s former allies easily conquered them, spreading terror and darkness in the eastern Middle-earth. Thus when admiral Vëantur met the twelve envoys of those Pre-Numenoreans, they were hardly recognisable as having any connection with the ancient Edain. Thousands of years later, the Steward Denethor II of Gondor (who came from an ancient house of Numenorean descent) spoke of those Pre-Numenoreans, when he mentioned that he will burn himself on a pyre, as was the custom of the ‘heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West’.
* Men of Darkness and Men of Shadow were the generic terms for human nations that fell under the influence of the Dark Lords, Morgoth in the First Age, and Sauron in the Second and Third. Among those tribes were the Easterlings, the Haradrim, the Dunlendings (who later allied themselves with Saruman), the Corsairs of Umbar and Sauron’s slaves in the land of Nurn in Mordor. But even some of the Numenoreans were considered Men of Shadow, like those of the King’s Men party who survived the Downfall and lived in the south, notably in the Haven of Umbar, and waged war on Gondor. Three of the Ringwraiths were once princes and lords of Numenor, the stories tell us.
The Valar rewarded the faithful Edain of Beleriand with an isle called Elenna, located closer to Valinor, the Undying Land, than to Middle-earth. There they founded the Kingdom of Numenor, and its rulers came from the dynasty started by Elros Tar-Minyatur, the twin brother of Elrond Half-elven. The sons of Earendil who had the blood of the Edain and of the Eldar in their veins were allowed to choose their fate – that of men, or that of the elves. Elrond chose the Eldar, and joined King Gil-galad in the realm of Lindon, to the east of drowned Beleriand, becoming his vice-regent and banner-bearer. Elros became a great lord among the Edain, and when they sailed westwards, following the bright Star of Earendil which showed them the way, he was their leader. Numenoreans were blessed with life spans several times longer than those of other humans, and members of the Royal House lived longer still due to their partially elven descent. Elros, for example, lived to the age of five hundred, though this was extraordinary even among the Numenoreans who usually lived for between 300 and 350 years (his was the longest lifespan of all Dunedain). As King Tar-Minyatur he ruled Numenor for 410 years, and when he died, his son and heir Vardamir was already 381 years old and soon abdicated in favour of his son Amandil. (Dúnedain – plural form of the word Dúnadan – means ‘Men of the West’ in Sindarin tongue, and was used to describe the people of Numenor. Later it referred to those of Numenorean descent, like Aragorn).
At first, the Numenoreans were great friends of the Elves, who shared their knowledge and lore with them, brining many gifts from Valinor on their ship, and the Valar blessed them with longevity, good health, wisdom, height greater than that of other humans. The Dunedain enjoyed peace and prosperity, far removed from the dangers of Middle-earth. Yet the Valar decided that even they should not come to the Undying Lands, which were not meant to be the dwelling place of the mortals. When the Valar found out about the unrest among the Numenoreans, they sent envoys to the isle, explaining that the Undying Lands will not make men immortal, and that death is not a punishment, but their fate as decreed by Eru Iluvatar, the God whose plans even the Valar do not fully understand. In their early centuries, Numenoreans accepted this Ban of the Valar – that no ship from Numenor shall so far to the west that they could not see the coast of their realm. Instead, they turned towards Middle-earth, and other lands, becoming great sailors and explorers.
The first of those mariners, as it was said a while ago, was Vëantur. In the following decades and centuries, many Numenorean ships landed in Middle-earth. At first, they were benevolent explorers, teachers and traders who shared their lore and knowledge with more primitive nations (now Numenor was the most advanced human civilization Arda has seen thus far). But by the time of the thirteenth king, Tar-Atanamir called the Great, the Numenoreans became greedy and prideful, exacting tribute from Middle-earth tribes, building coastal fortresses and fortifying their havens. Later, they sought to subjugate those nations which they deemed lesser. In The Peoples of Middle-earth, the 12th volume of the monumental book series The History of Middle-earth, a tale entitled Tal-Elmar can be found. It tells of a boy of one of those Pre-Numenorean tribes, who lived in the town of Agar in the Second Age. One day, he saw ships landing on the shore close to the town, was captured by taken before their captain (unbeknownst to the boy, they were Numenoreans) who revealed that his soldiers were about to conquer the land of Agar and kill anyone who would stand in their way.
The reign of Tar-Atanamir the Great was the zenith of Numenorean might and imperial dominance over Middle-earth. At the time of his successor Tar-Ancalimon, the Numenoreans grew so arrogant that they spoke against the Elves and the Valar, rejecting their friendship and believing that should they sail to the Undying Lands, they would become immortal themselves. Two parties were created, the King’s Men who supported the royal policy of hostility towards the Elves and military expansion, and the Faithful who were Elf-friends.
The Faithful had the support of the Lords of Andúnië, whose house was among the most prominent Numenorean noble families. This house was founded by Lord Valandil, whose mother Silmariën was the eldest daughter of Tar-Elendil, the fourth king. At that time Numenor followed agnatic primogeniture. (this was changed by Tar-Aldarion, the sixth king, who wanted his daughter Tar-Ancalimë to be his heiress. She became the first Ruling Queen of Numenor). Silmariën’s younger brother Tar-Meneldur became the fifth monarch instead. But although Tar-Elendil was unwilling to change the law of Numenor, which was highly respected, he sought to, in a way, compensate his daughter by giving her the Ring of Barahir, the famous heirloom that belonged to their house since the First Age, when it was given to Barahir, Beren’s father by King Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond. (I mentioned the Ring of Barahir and its role in the story of Beren and Luthien in my previous standalone essay). And for her son Valandil and his descendants, Tar-Elendil created the Lordship of Andúnië which was among the major ports and cities of Numenor. Its Lords were held in high regard, and sat on the Council of the Sceptre which consisted of lords from the six regions of the isle and the royal heir.
The eighteenth Lord of Andúnië was Amandil, who in his youth was a close friend of Ar-Pharazôn, the last King of Numenor. Pharazôn sailed to Middle-earth to take part in the wars the King’s Men faction was ever waging there and there became a famous general. When he returned after many victories, he was seen as a hero and quickly became popular among the Numenoreans. (He showed his generosity by sharing the wealth he accumulated in Middle-earth, and this certainly helped as well). At that time the king was Tar-Palantir, who rejected the ways of his predecessors and wanted to reform the isle, and regain the friendship of the Valar and the Elves. He accomplished little, though, for the King’s Men (this name now seemed ironic) opposed him. When he died, he left his daughter Míriel as the only heiress. By law she should have inherited the sceptre, but instead, her cousin Pharazôn married her (forcibly) and usurped the royal power for himself.
He kept Amandil on his council, though he was one of the Faithful and now their part was seen as traitors to Numenor who would sell it to the Elves. Ar-Pharazon the Golden, as he was called, sailed to Middle-earth with a vast fleet, and marched his army towards Mordor itself. It seemed that the military might of the Numenoreans was so great that even Sauron’s legions abandoned him, and he came alone to humble himself before the king and bend the knee. Ar-Pharazon took him to Numenor as a hostage, yet soon, Sauron sat on the Royal Council and ruled the isle in all but name, manipulating the king. The Faithful were persecuted, and some were sacrificed in the temple dedicated to Morgoth which Sauron had constructed. Now the Numenoreans were tyrants who conquered and enslaved the peoples of Middle-earth. Amandil, who was dismissed from the council, was horrified when he found out that Sauron convinced the king to invade Valinor itself and there win eternal life and wrestle the dominion of Arda from the Valar. He told his son Elendil to prepare ships, gather what remained of the Faithful and flee from Numenor. Then he boarded his own ship and sailed west, to ask the Valar for help and plead with them to forgive the rebellious Numenoreans. Amandil, the last Lord of Andúnië, was never seen again.
In the end, a Great Armada sailed westwards from Numenor, led by King Ar-Pharazon the Golden. They landed in the Undying Lands, but then the Valar asked Iluvatar himself to intervene. And thus, the mighty Numenor was drowned and is no more. But Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anarion were delivered from the Downfall, and their nine ships landed in Middle-earth. There they settled and sought to preserve what remained of the Numenorean civilization.
Elendil founded the Arnor, the Northern Kingdom of the Dunedain, in the land of Eriador. It already had a considerable Numenorean population, the descendants of colonists who settled there over centuries. One of their havens was Vinyalondë (New Haven) also called Lond Daer. Eriador was close to the elven realm of Lindon, and thus the King’s Men, who hated the elves, built their own havens far in the south. Their principal port was built around the natural haven of Umbar, south of Gondor. The lands that would become Gondor were very fertile, but too close to the elven settlements for the liking of the King’s Men. Thus, its population consisted mainly the Faithful who also founded colonies in Middle-earth during the Second Age, especially after the kings of Numenor have began to persecute them. Yet unlike the King’s Men, they never sought to conquer and oppress the natives. Their chief port city was Pelargir, the Garth of the Royal Ships. When Elendil landed in Middle-earth, those Faithful colonists accepted him as their ruler, the High King of the Two Kingdoms, Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south. But the former King’s Men who survived the Downfall of Numenor in their havens, were still hostile towards the Dunedain realms, and this enmity would never cease.
Isildur and Anarion ruled the realm of Gondor together. Isildur’s city was Minas Ithil (Tower of the Moon) close to the border with Mordor, in the land of Ithilien (of the Moon). Anarion built Ithil’s twin city, Minas Anor (Tower of the Sun), in the land of Anorien. The capital of Gondor was Osgiliath, the city built on both sides of the Great River Anduin. The river was spanned with a great bridge, and in its midst stood the great hall known as the Dome of Stars, where the thrones of Isildur and Anarion stood side by side. The Dome housed one of the palantíri seeing-stones as well. Minas Ithil guarded Osgiliath from the east, and Anor from the west.
Gondor consisted of many regions and fiefdoms, such as: Ithilien, Anorien, Ethir Anduin (the Mouths of Anduin, the Great River’s delta), Lamedon (the valleys through which rivers Ringló and Ciril ran) and its sub-region Ringló Vale, Morthond (the narrow vale of the River Morthond – Blackroot – which flowed south of Erech), Pinnath Gelin (the Green Hills between rivers Morthond and Lefnui), Lebennin (the land of the Fiver Rivers between Anduin and Gilrain, where the port of Pelargir was located), Lossarnach (the fiefdom closest to Minas Tirith in Anorien, known as the Vale of Flowers), Anfalas (also known as Langstrand, the coastal region in the western part of the realm), Belfalas and Dor-en-Ernil, The Land of the Prince, ruled by princes of Numenorean descent. The land which became the Kingdom of Rohan was a Gondorian province as well, and its name was Calenardhon, the Green Province. At the zenith of its territorial expansion Gondor held many other lands as well, and many lesser kings and princes became its tributaries. But the lands listed above were what made Gondor proper.
The Return of the King gives us some information about those fiefdoms when it describes their lords and their levies they have sent to strengthen the defense of Minas Tirith. Forlong, called the Fat, was the Lord of Lossarnach who entered the city with two hundred well-armed soldiers bearing battle-axes. Hirluin came from Pinnath Gelin with three hundred men. Duinhir, Lord of the Blackroot Vale, and his sons Duilin and Derufin brought five hundred bowmen. Dervorin, the son of the Lord of Ringló Vale, arrived with three hundred men, all foot. Golsagil, Lord of Anfalas, entered the city leading a long line of men, but they were herdsmen and hunters and villagers, poorly armed, with the exception of Lord Golsagil household guards. Hillmen from Lamedon arrived without any captain (as Angbor, Lord of Lamedon remained in his land to defend it from the Corsairs) and from Ethir Anduin only hundred sailors came. Other fiefdoms were unable to spare any soldiers to the defence of the capital, as they were themselves threatened by Sauron’s southern allies, the Corsairs of Umbar and the Haradrim. And even those fiefdoms which sent some aid could dispatch only a fraction of their strength (for example, the people of Minas Tirith expected Forlong to come with 2000 soldiers, not 200). But Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, came to the aid of Minas Tirith with a company of knights and seven hundred men-at-arms. Still, the army of Gondor at the end of the Third Age was but a shadow of its former strength. Prince Imrahil noted that the Army of the West with which Aragorn marched against Sauron would be considered only a vanguard of the Gondorian army in the elder days. This host consisted of 6000 men on foot and 1000 horsemen (and was fielded by two kingdoms, Gondor and Rohan).
Elendil the Faithful, the High King of the Two Kingdoms, was considered the first King of Gondor. But because he remained in the north and directly ruled over Arnor from his capital at the city of Annúminas, his sons Isildur and Anarion co-ruled the southern realm. In the year 3429 of the Second Age Sauron decided that his armies are ready to combat the Dunedain, who arrived in Middle-earth after fleeing Numenor in the year 3319. (Sauron, being immortal, survived the Downfall of Numenor and his spirit flew over the waves to Mordor, where he was reunited with the Great Ring). Minas Ithil was sacked and Isildur was forced to flee, sailing down Anduin, and then to Arnor where he joined his father and King Gil-galad. Meanwhile, Anarion’s forces were besieged in Minas Anor and Osgiliath for five years until the army of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves marched east and relieved them. Later Anarion joined the siege of Barad-dûr in Mordor, where he was killed. Elendil and Gil-galad were slain but Sauron was defeated, at last temporarily, and Isildur cut the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s hand.
As Elendil’s heir, Isildur claimed the High Kingship of the Dunedain realms, thus he is numbered as second among the Kings of Gondor. Isildur stayed in Gondor for some time, as evidenced by the scroll describing the properties of the Great Ring. As he explained in the foreword: ‘The Great Ring shall go now to be an heirloom of the North Kingdom; but records of it shall be left in Gondor, where also dwell the heirs of Elendil, lest a time come when the memory of these great matters shall grow dim’. Gandalf later found that scroll in the library of Minas Tirith, and the knowledge he gained from Isildur’s writing confirmed his suspicions that Bilbo’s ring was in fact the One.
Then Isildur left Gondor with his three sons, leaving the governance of the realm in the hands of Isildur’s son Meneldil. Isildur and his sons were killed during the Disaster of the Gladden Fields, where orcs ambushed his party as it was riding north. Isildur’s youngest son Valandil, who was a small child when the Last Alliance war started and was left with his mother at Rivendell was crowned the next King of Arnor when the news of Isildur’s death arrived in the north.
But in Gondor, Meneldil claimed full kingship and royal power, and thus the Dunedain realms were united no more. The fourth king of Gondor was his son Cemendur, who was in turn followed by Eärendil (5th) and then by Earendil’s heir Anardil (6th). At this time Gondor enjoyed peace, as Sauron was gone (only for a time, as it was later revealed, and Gondor’s enemies were weakened after their defeat during the Last Alliance campaign).
The seventh monarch, Ostoher, rebuilt Minas Anor and ever since, the royal court would move there in summer, though Osgiliath was still the capital. It was during his reign that the realm was troubled by invaders – the Easterlings – again. His son Tarostar repelled this invasion, and thus he was known as Rómendacil (Victor of the East) when he succeeded Ostoher as king. After one-and-forty years have passed since his great triumph, he was slain battling another Easterling horde. His son, the eight king Turambar (who was most likely named in honor of the Edain hero of the First Age, Túrin Turambar) avenged his father’s death and in his days, the border of Gondor was pushed further east. Turambar was followed by his son Atanatar I, and then by grandson Siriondil. Of their reigns little is known.
Siriondil’s son was Tarannon who extended Gondor’s dominion on the coasts and developed the Gondorian navy. As king, he assumed the royal name of Falastur (Lord of the Coasts) to commemorate his conquests. It appears that Tarannun Falastur attempted to reconcile the Dunedain of Gondor with the so-called Black Numenoreans, the descendants of colonists from the King’s Men faction in the far south. He married a woman of that nation named Berúthiel. Theirs was a loveless marriage for political reasons, and in the end, sent her back to Umbar as an exile. Aragorn mentions a legend about Queen Berúthiel’s cats the folk of Gondor still remembered at the end of the Third Age. According to that tale, the Queen hated cats, yet they would always follow her. She used nine black cats to spy on the people of Gondor, and one white to spy on the others. Tarannon Falastur, the first of the four Sea-kings (named so because their relied on Gondorian navy, which they greatly expanded, to conquer the lands of the south) died childless and was followed by the son of his brother Tarciryan named Eärnil I, the second Sea-king.
Eärnil repaired the ancient (and already crumbling) haven of Pelargir and besieged the Haven of Umbar, the principal holdout of the Black Numenoreans by land and sea. (It seems that the people of Umbar were not pleased with how Tarannon treated his wife Berúthiel, who was one of them as the war broke out soon after Tarannon’s death). Eärnil managed to conquer Umbar and turned it into major naval port for Gondorian royal fleet, but he was soon lost at sea where a great storm hit his ships close to the shores of Umbar. His heir was Ciryandil, the fourteenth King of Gondor and third of the Ship-kings. Ciryandil’s reign was troubled by wars with the people of Umbar who fled their city when Eärnil took it and hid among the Haradrim tribes in the south. Now they led large hosts of Haradrim warriors again Gondorian soldiers at Umbar. The haven was besieged and the king died fighting the Haradrim in their land of Haradwaith.
Ciryandil’s son Ciryaher waited until a new army was trained in Gondor and only then sailed to Umbar, landing his great hosts and scattering the Haradrim who were besieging the fortress for years. Then he marched into Harad itself, crushed the Haradrim armies and forced their kings and princes to become tributaries of Gondor. Their sons were taken to Gondor where they remained as hostages. Thus Ciryaher became known as Hyarmendacil, Victor of the South. He was the last of the Ship-kings. Hyarmendacil’s reign was the zenith of Gondor’s power. The map placed below shows the vastness of the Southern Kingdom at this time:
Hyarmendacil’s son was Atanatar II Alcarin (the Glorious). His reign was a period of splendour and luxury for Gondor, but it was largely thanks to his father’s efforts. Atanatar cared little about the governance of the realm, indulging in earthly pleasures. This was the zenith of Gondorian power, and the beginning of its decline. For the first time, the watch upon the border with Mordor, which seemed abandoned and defeated, was neglected.
Atanatar II was followed by his son Narmacil, who was similar to his father in this respect that he preferred luxury and pleasures to his royal duty. Thus, he named Prince Minalcar, the energetic son of his younger brother Calmacil, Regent of Gondor. It was Minalcar who led the army against the Easterlings and dealt them a crushing defeat. After this victory, Regent Minalcar was called Rómendacil, Victor of the East. (Which was also the title of Tarostar, the eight king).
When Narmacil died, childless, he was succeeded by his brother Calmacil who became the eighteenth King of Gondor. Calmacil was too old to assume full royal duties, and thus his son Minalcar still served as Regent of Gondor. When he died, Minalcar Rómendacil II was proclaimed nineteenth monarch of the Southern Kingdom. It was him who built the monumental statues of Anarion and Isildur known as the Pillars of Kings at Argonath, under which the Fellowship of the Ring would sail centuries later.
Rómendacil II wanted to strengthen the bonds between his people and the Northmen, who were descendants of those of the Edain of the First Age who never sailed to Numenor. These Northmen settled in the land of Rhovanion, in the Vales of Anduin, and later would found the realms of Rohan and Dale. Rómendacil II allowed many of their warriors to join the Gondorian army, even as high officers (although some Gondorians looked down on them).
He sent his son and heir, prince Valacar as an ambassador to prince Vidugavia of the Northmen, who called himself King of Rhovanion. There Valacar fell in love Vidugavia’s daughter Vidumavi and they were married. (It is worth to mention that King Vidugavia’s descendant Marhwini became the first Lord of the Éothéod, and this people later came to settle in the Gondorian province of Calenardhon, which became known as the Kingdom of Rohan).
Valacar followed his father as King of Gondor, and he was the twentieth monarch of that realm. When he returned to Gondor, his wife went with him, just like their son named Vinitharya in the tongue of the Northmen. Many nobles of Gondor were unwilling to accept such child as the heir to the throne, as they were afraid that by mingling with ‘lesser men’ the longevity and majesty of the monarchs will be diminished. Thus when Valacar died and Vinitharya, bearing the royal name of Eldacar, became the twenty-first ruler of Gondor, the civil war remembered as the Kin-strife began. Eldacar was besieged in Osgiliath, and the rebels under Castamir (grandson of Calimehtar who was the younger brother of the eighteenth king, Calmacil) burned down the city. The great Dome of Stars was broken, and its palantir was lost in the river. Eldacar managed to escape from the burning city and hid among the Northmen in Rhovanion. Meanwhile, Castamir (later remembered as Castamir the Usurper) was crowned in Gondor.
Castamir, the twenty-second king, had the support of the people of the coast and the great Gondorian havens of Pelargir and Umbar, as he was the Captain of Ships (basically grand admiral). Yet soon it became apparent that Castamir was a vain and cruel men – the slaughter he ordered in Osgiliath was seen as ‘beyond the demands of war’, and later he cruelly executed Eldacar’s son Ornendil. He lost popularity among the folk of Minas Anor and other fiefdoms as well, since he cared little about anything but his fleet, and even planned to move the royal capital to Pelargir. After ten years of Castamir’s misrule Eldacar returned, leading a great army of the Northmen and many Gondorians joined him. In the land of Lebennin Castamir’s host met them, and in the bloody battle that ensued, Eldacar reclaimed the kingship and avenged his son by personally slaying the usurper. But Castamir’s sons hid in Pelargir, and later sailed to Umbar which became a lair of corsairs, pirates, outlaws and all enemies of Gondor.
In the aftermath of the civil war, many regions of Gondor were depopulated and thus many Northmen came from Rhovanion to replenish the Southern Kingdom’s population. As it turned out, mingling with ‘lesser men’ did not weaken the Dunedain, and it was concluded that their lifespans became gradually shorter because so many centuries have passed since Numenor, their blessed land, was lost.
Eldacar’s younger son Aldamir became the twenty-third monarch, since Eldacar’s oldest son and heir Ornendil was slain by the Usurper. As king, Aldamir warred with the Haradrim who, influenced by the Corsairs who once again held Umbar, rebelled against the crown. He died in battle in the year 1540 of the Third Age. The twenty-fourth king of Gondor was Vinyarion, Aldamir’s son, who avenged his father and won a great victory against the Haradrim. For this reason he was called Hyarmendacil II, The Victor of the South, just like Ciryaher who was the fifteenth king.
Vinyarion’s son Minardil was slain while visiting the haven of Pelargir. The Corsairs of Umbar found out about this from their spies and unexpectedly attacked the port city. Their leaders were Castamir’s grandsons Angamaitë and Sangahyando. Minardil’s son, the twenty-sixth king Telemnar was still preparing the royal fleet to combat the Corsairs and avenge his father when the Great Plague of 1636, brought by the ‘evil wind from the east’. In Rhovanion, half of the population died and thus in later centuries the realm was unable to defend itself from invaders from the east. Lands as far as Shire were affected. In Gondor, tens of thousands, and perhaps even hundred of thousands, perished. The king and all his children were among them and the capital city of Osgiliath was depopulated and deserted. For the first time since the War of the Last Alliance, the watch over the borders of Gondor was fully abandoned, as the army was decimated.
Telemnar was followed by Tarandor, who was the son of the late king’s younger brother Minastan. It was whim who relocated the capital of the realm from the devastated Osgiliath, which never truly recovered from damage caused by its siege and sack by Castamir the Usurper and now suffered heavily from the plague, to Minas Anor. His son was Telumehtar, who remembered the death of Minardil and the danger posed by the Corsairs, now led by the vengeful pretenders from the line of Castamir.
In the year 1810 Telumehtar stormed Umbar. Castamir’s last descendants were killed and the city was one again part of Gondor, though not for long. After his victory the king named himself Telumehtar Umbardacil, The Victor over Umbar. As long as he lived, the haven remained loyal to the crown, but soon after his death it was captured by the Haradrim.
Umbardacil’s son Narmacil II faced a new threat from the east, a confederacy of tribes known as the Wainriders, who were secretly stirred by Sauron’s envoys. The king rode forth to meet them, and was slain in the Battle of the Plains, where the Wainriders overcame the joint forces of Gondor and the Northmen. Gondorian border was withdrawn to Anduin the Great River and the hills of Emyn Muil. The people of Rhovanion were enslaved but during the reign of Narmacil’s son Calimehtar, they rose in rebellion.
The Wainriders were defeated in the Battle of Dagorlad, where Gondorian army joined the Northmen warriors of Marhwini, Lord of the Éothéod who were the ancestors of Rohirrim horselords. This victory won Gondor over four decades of peace. It was king Calimehtar who built the first White Tower atop Minas Tirith’s seventh level.
Calimehtar’s son Ondoher, the thirty-first king of Gondor, sought to strengthen the bonds between Gondor and the Dunedain kingdom of the north, and thus his daughter Fíriel married prince Arvedui, the heir of king Araphant of Arthedain.
In the north, Arnor remained united for ten generations. Its first king was Elendil, followed by Isildur. Both of them retained the title of the High King of the Two Kingdoms. But after Isildur’s death at Gladden, the son of his brother Anarion, Meneldil of Gondor, declared his realm fully independent. Thus, Isildur’s young son Valandil became the third King of Arnor, but not the third High King of both realms. After Valandil, seven kings from the line of Isildur reigned: Eldacar, Arantar, Tarcil, Tarondor, Valandur, Elendur and Eärendur.
After Eärendur’s death in the year 861 of the Third Age, the realm was divided into three smaller kingdoms, Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur, each ruled by one of his sons. The eldest son, Amlaith, became the first King of Arthedain. After Amlaith, fourteen kings from his line ruled over Arthedain: Beleg, Mallor, Celepharn, Celebrimbor, Malvegil, Argeleb I, Arveleg I, Araphor, Argeleb II, Arvegil, Arveleg II, Araval, Araphant and Arvedui. By the time of king Argeleb I the royal lines of both Cardolan and Rhudaur died out. Cardolan remained an ally of Arthedain, but Rhudaur fell under the control of warlords who supported Angmar, the realm to the north of Arnor where the Witch-king reigned. It was later revealed that this Witch-king was in fact one of the Ringwraiths, dispatched to the north by Sauron with a mission to slowly erode the power of the Northern Kingdom, so it would be unable to aid Gondor when Sauron openly returned to Mordor.
Thus, Argeleb, the seventh king of Arthedain, and all his successors claimed the royal title of the King of Arnor once again and added the royal prefix ‘Ar-‘ to their names. King Ondoher of Gondor realised that there was some dark power secretly manipulating the events, causing plagues and invasions to weaken the Dunedain and Gondor and Arnor have to fight together if they meant to survive. But when Angmar invaded Arthedain, Ondoher was unable to send help as at that very time a grand horde of the Wainriders attacked his own borders. The Wainriders were attacking Gondor’s northern marches while the Haradrim and other tribes harassed the southern border. Thus, the royal army had to be split to meet both enemies. Ondoher assumed the command of the Northern Army and rode forth with his sons Artamir and Faramir. Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth commanded his right wing, while the son of Ondher’s sister Minohtar was Captain of the Right Wing. In the year 1944 the Northern Army was crushed and slaughtered, in the battle remembered as the Disaster of the Morannon. In the end, the king and his sons were slain, just like Minohtar who would have claimed the crown had he lived long enough.
But concurrently, the Southern Army led by general Eärnil, won a great victory, annihilating the Haradrim forces in Ithilien. When he got word about the disaster in the north from Prince Adrahil, he rushed to Morannon, gathered the survivors of the Northern Army and attacked the Wainriders. They were completely unaware of his coming, busy with plundering and celebrating. In the Battle of the Camps, Eärnil’s vanguard was enough to crush the enemy. Their wains and tents were put to torch and even those who managed to slip through the encircling Gondorian army, drowned in the Dead Marshes.
With the realm kingless and with no obvious heirs in sight, it was up to the Steward Pelendur and the Council to determine who was to follow Ondoher. King Arvedui of Arthedain wrote the Steward, pointing out that his wife Fíriel was Ondoher’s only surviving child, and by the right and ancient law of Numenor, she should be crowned Ruling Queen of Gondor, and Arvedui its king. But under Pelendur’s influence, the council responded that in Gondor, only males from the line of Anarion could inherit the throne. Arvedui disagreed, claiming that while it was true that this ancient law of absolute primogeniture was not always followed in Gondor, it nevertheless existed and was known among their Numenorean ancestors as well.
Speaking to the council, Steward Pelendur explained that in his view, in Numenor it was peaceful enough to have women as rulers, but in Gondor, a male king to command the armies was needed. But to Arvedui, they sent no response. It is worth to mention that Aragorn Elessar’s claim to the throne came from the fact that he was a descendant of Arvedui and Fíriel’s son Aranarth, the first Chieftain of the Dunedain.
In the end, the victorious general Eärnil was crowned king Eärnil II. He came from the royal House of Anarion, as his father was Siriondil, son of Calimmacil, son of Arciryas who was the younger brother of Narmacil II, the twenty-ninth monarch. Eärnil was a wise man, thus he sent envoys to Arvedui of Arthedain, explaining that his ascension to the throne was in the best interest of Gondor, but he would not forget the brotherhood of Gondor and Arnor, nor deny help to the Northern Realm. When he heard that the Witch-king of Angmar was marching against Arthedain, to destroy it once and for all, he gathered a great fleet and sent all soldiers he could spare north under the command of his son and heir Eärnur.
Yet when Eärnur landed in the Grey Havens, leading a great host, he found out that he has arrived too late. Arvedui’s capital of Fornost was sacked, and the king was forced to flee and seek shelter among Lossoth, a tribe living on the shores of the Ice-bay of Forochel. There he survived the cruel winter, but when Círdan the Shipwright dispatched a ship to bring the king to the safety of the Grey Havens, a mighty wind came from the north and the ship broke upon ice. All on board, king Arvedui among them, were lost.
Upon hearing this, Eärnur and his soldiers joined forces with Círdan and marched against the Witch-king, who now made his seat in Fornost which he conquered. There, a great battle was fought. Angmar’s army was smashed and the Witch-king fled north, to hide behind the walls of his fortress at Carn Dûm. But Gondorian cavalry led by Eärnur pursued him, and an elven host from Rivendell led by Glorfindel joined him.
Then, the Witch-king turned back to confront the riders. He charged at Eärnur, but the Captain of Gondor bravely waited to meet him. But at that very moment, Eärnur’s horse panicked and raced away. When he managed to calm his steed and return to the battlefield, the Witch-king laughed at him. But then Glorfindel rode forth from among the ranks and the Ringwraith fled, disappearing in the darkness. Eärnur wanted to chase him, but Glorfindel looked at him thoughtfully, and seeing a day yet to come, said: ‘Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall‘.
Thus, though the realm of Angmar was no more, Arnor, the Northern Kingdom of the Dunedain, was ruined as well. Arvedui’s son was but a lord of a scattered people, thus he called himself Chieftain of the Dunedain, not a king. Aragorn II was the most famous of those chieftains from his line, the sixteenth and the last.
During the reign of king Eärnil II another heavy blow fell upon Gondor. The Witch-king secretly returned to Mordor and there marshalled a host with which he attacked Minas Ithil. It was besieged for two years and then sacked and corrupted. Its palantir was captured, and men spoke of Minas Ithil no more, but of Minas Morgul, The Tower of Dark Sorcery. In defiance, Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, The Tower of Guard.
When Eärnil died in the year 2043 and Eärnur became the thirty-third king of Gondor, the Witch-king reminded him of their encounter in the north, and mocked him for running away. Then he challenged the king to a single combat. If not for Mardil the Steward, Eärnur would rush to the gates of Minas Morgul to answer the call. Seven years later the Witch-king issued another challenge, taunting the king and spreading tales about how even in his youth Eärnur had the heart of a craven, and now he was just an old craven. Eärnur rode to Minas Morgul in rage, with only few companions, and was never seen again. Though many suspected that the king was treacherously taken alive, tortured and then slain, the tale could not be confirmed and thus, Steward Mardil ruled in Eärnur’s name for many years. There were still people of royal descent in Gondor, but no one could tell which claims were legitimate, and thus, to avoid another civil war, the Ruling Stewards governed ‘until the return of the king’.
All Ruling Stewards came from the House of Húrin of Emyn Arnen, which was founded by one Húrin who was the Steward to King Minardil (the twenty-fifth monarch). Húrin was a nobleman of Numenorean descent, but not of royal blood. In Quenya, the office of the Steward was named Arandur, The Servant of the King. This office was established by king Rómendacil I, and initially their role was to govern the realm when the king went to war. For this reason, they were forbidden to leave Gondor while in office.
Húrin served so well that it became customary to choose Stewards from among his descendants, and after the death of Steward Pelendur (who served Ondoher and Eärnil II) it became hereditary, thus he was followed by his son Vorondil. Vorondil, who served Eärnil II, was called Vorondil the Hunter as he would hunt as far as the Sea of Rhûn. The Great Horn which became a heirloom in the House of Stewards and later belonged to Boromir son of Denethor II was made from the horn of one of the wild oxen he slew.
Vorondil was followed by Mardil Voronwë the Steadfast, who advised Eärnil II in the final years of his reign, and then his son Eärnur, only to become the first Ruling Steward. Upon his death he was succeeded by his son Eradan and thus began the dynasty of the Ruling Stewards and Lords of Minas Tirith, which lasted for 969 years, from the year 2050 to 3019, Third Age.
The rule of the first nine Ruling Stewards was known as the Watchful Peace, for though the threat of Minas Morgul and Mordor loomed ever close, there were no major wars. Those nine Ruling Stewards were: Mardil Voronwë, Eradan, Herion, Belegorn, Húrin I, Túrin I, Hador, Barahir and Dior.
Dior died childress and was followed by Denethor I, the son of his sister Rían. At the end of Denethor’s stewardship, a new tribe of Uruks, exceptionally strong orcs, appeared. Their horde invaded Ithilien and stormed Osgiliath. Denethor’s son Boromir defeated them and freed Ithilien, but the Great Bridge of Osgiliath was never rebuilt. As Steward, Boromir ruled only for twelve years as his life was shortened by a wound from a poisoned Morgul-blade he took in battle.
He was followed by Cirion, one of the most notable Ruling Stewards. His stewardship was troubled by raids by the Corsairs and attacks from the north. A new Easterling confederacy, the Balchoth, entered the deserted land of Rhovanion and threatened Gondor’s northernmost province, Calenardhon which had long been depopulated. Cirion sent envoys to Eorl the Young, King of the Éothéod, but before reinforcements could arrive, he was forced to face the invading Balchoth in battle.
Suddenly, the Balchoth crossed Anduin on rafts and cut off Cirion’s host advancing north. Then, orcs marched down from the Misty Mountains and pressed the Steward towards the very backs of Anduin. Yet in this darkest hour, the horns of the Rohirrim were heard, and Eorl the young charged upon the Balchoth with his riders. To reward Eorl, Cirion made a pact of eternal friendship between the Éothéod and Gondor, giving them the province of Calenardhon, which became the Kingdom of Rohan and Eorl’s people the Rohirrim. Gondor was saved, at least for some time, but from now on, war never truly ended.
Cirion was followed by his Ruling Stewards: Hallas, Húrin II, Belecthor I, Orodreth and Ecthelion I (who rebuilt the White Tower of Minas Tirith which housed the palantir, and thus it was later called the Tower of Ecthelion). Ecthelion died childless, so he was followed by Egalmoth, grandon of Morwen who was the sister of Belecthor I. During his term in office, Dunlendings captured and held the Ring of Isengard, which was once a major fortress of Gondor. His son Beren was forced to combat three enormous Corsair fleets of Umbar and Harad, and deal with the aftermath of the harsh Long Winter of 2758. It was Beren who granted Isengard to Saruman the wizard, glad that such staunch ally of Gondor would bring order to the fortress which Gondor was unable to garrison anymore. Beren’s son Beregond was a great commander who defeated the Corsairs. In the days of Steward Belecthor II, the White Tree of Minas Tirith withered and no sapling was found to replace it, thus only the dead trunk stood in the court of the Citadel. His successor was Thorondir, who ruled only for a decade and was followed by Túrin II.
During his reign Ithilien was largely abandoned and only a handful of rangers remained to defend it. His heir Turgon was the twenty-fourth of the Ruling Stewards and it was during his term that Sauron openly declared his return. Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, was rebuilt.
Turgon’s son Ecthelion II was a wise man who enjoyed the friendship of Mithrandir (Gandalf), who was a frequent guest at his court. He showed favour to a stranger who called himself Thorongil, Eagle of the Star. This Thorongil rose through the ranks and became a commander of great renown, and even led a surprise naval attack against Umbar, where he sailed into the harbour in the dead of the night and burned the Corsair fleet at anchor. Yet when the victorious fleet returned to Pelargir, Thorongil refused to return to Minas Tirith, where Ecthelion wanted to reward him and shower with honours. He sent a messenger to Ecthelion, explaining that his services were needed elsewhere, but if such is his fate, he would one day return to Gondor. It was later revealed that Thorongil was in fact young Aragorn on one of his great journeys (in The Fellowship of the Ring Aragorn mentions that he has visited many distant lands, even the far south, ‘where the stars are strange’). People of Gondor loved Thorongil and missed him greatly, with the exception of Ecthelion’s son, jealous of that stranger’s glory.
That son was Denethor II, the twenty-sixth Ruling Steward. He was a great leader, a wise and valiant man. But in his later years, he turned to despair, for Denethor used the palantir of Minas Tirith to expand his knowledge. Sauron, who held the captured seeing-stone of Minas Ithil, found out about this, and manipulated the visions Denethor saw to convince him that Gondor’s situation was even more dire than it seemed, and that there was no hope for the Dunedain.
And indeed, it seemed that the days of Gondor were numbered. It has lost most of its southern provinces, its army was too small, and the population constantly declined. It was plagued by Corsair raid, threatened by Mordor and the Easterlings. At the end of the Third Age, the fall of Gondor was at hand… until the War of the Ring and return of the king changed everything.