Military organization of Gondor

There is not much detail regarding military structure and organization of Gondor in Lord of the Rings, as Tolkien set out to write an epic, not a history book. Yet a lot can be gleamed about it from careful reading and comparison with Tolkien’s historical sources. Almost all we know of military organization of Gondor in Third Age comes from the Return of the King, and that is what I will be utilizing here.

First line of interest is early in Return of the King, when Bergil says to Pippin that “the Captains of the Outlands are expected up the South Road ere sundown”. This is an important line: fact that these men are called “Captains of the Outlands” indicates that they are given this authority by the Ruling Steward. They are first and foremost military commanders. Their position is military and administrative one, given by the central government and not inherited in the family.

This is confirmed when commanders arrive. Forlong is lord of Lossarnach, and he brings two hundred men; reader also learns that he brought only a tenth of his strength due to news of the Black Fleet. Also arrive 300 men of Ringlo Vale, 500 bowmen of Morthond / Blackroot Vale, “long line of men, scanthily equipped save for household of their lord” from Anfalas / Langstrand, “few grim hillmen without captain” from Lamedon, hundred or more fisher-folk of Ethir (Anduin), three hundred soldiers from Pinnath Gelin under Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills, and finally Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth with “a company of knights in full harness” and seven hundred men at arms. All these forces range from 200 to 800, and it can be assumed that differences in “home strength” are less. Numbered forces total 2 600 – Imrahil’s “company of knights” likely numbers 500 men, as in later discussion before march at Black Gate, all numbers given are in multiples of 500. This is from a total force of “less than 3 000”. Remainder are Anfalas / Langstrand and Lamedon, totalling 400 men. If latter number no more than 100, as “only few” came, then Anfalas troops are around 300.

This tells little of actual forces available. However, coastal areas are noted to have sent few men due to warnings of black fleet – Lossarnach, despite being on coast of Anduin instead of the sea, spared only a tenth of its manpower. This indicates two things: 1) Gondor has no appreciable navy if it was expected than Corsairs could make it as far upstream as Lossarnach, and 2) areas further inland might have sent greater proportion of their forces. If assumption is made that coastal areas such as Lossarnach sent a tenth of their manpower, and inland areas sent a fifth, then total forces might have been as follows:

  • Lossarnach: 2 000
  • Ringlo Vale: 3 000
  • Morthond: 5 000
  • Anfalas: 3 000
  • Lamedon: 500
  • Ethir Anduin: 1 000
  • Pinnath Gelin: 1 500
  • Dol Amroth: 12 000

Pinnath Gelin is close to shore but not on it, so I have assumed a total of 1 500 men there. Forces listed are not all the forces available, however. Not counted into the above are the 1) original garrison of Minas Tirith, 2) garrison of Osgilliath, 3) garrison of Cair Andros, 4) garrison of Anorien (if there is such) and 5) army of Lebennin. It is noted that the attack had drawn off many men from Lebennin and Belfalas, which are indicated to be strongly populated – indeed, Dol Amroth must be drawing most of its strength from Belfalas, and I will be assuming that the total strength of Dol Amroth is in fact total strength of Belfalas.

Ithillien and Anorien appear in the books to have been deserted – there is no indication of any sort of habitation for the entire stretch which Gandalf rides with Pippin through Anorien. For Minas Tirith, we learn that Citadel Guard has at least 3 companies. If we assume 3 companies of Citadel Guard and another unidentified company, this will lead to a total garrison of Minas Tirith as being 2 000. However, Citadel Guard is noted to be an elite unit, and just being a member of the Guard commands significant respect. As such, it may be assumed that it does not form a majority of the garrison of Minas Tirith; yet garrison itself must not be too large. As such, I will be assuming there are six companies in the City, for a total garrison of 3 000.

In his defense of the City, Aragorn brought at least 2 000 soldiers from Pelargir, and sent another 4 000 marching. However, these troops would not have been from Pelargir itself, as that would indicate that Pelargir is much larger than Minas Tirith; and Minas Tirith itself cannot have very large garrison. Thus I will not be including them here.

However, soldiers from Minas Tirith are likely also used to garrison Osgilliath and Cair Andros. Faramir had sent his company to strenghten garrison at fords of Osgilliath. This company too I will assume as being 500 strong, at least originally. Strength of garrison at Osgilliath is unknown, but likely comes out of original 3 000 of Minas Tirith, and is noted as being weak – thus likely around 500. And if Osgilliath is so weak, Cair Andros can hardly have had more.

Army of Lebennin is completely unknown. It is however mentioned in the same breath as Belfalas, and thus cannot have had significantly fewer men. In fact, it is mentioned as one of significantly populated areas of Gondor, alongside Minas Tirith, Lossarnach and mountain vales. I will thus give it half the strength of Belfalas, as it is around half the area.

Thus numbers are as follows:

  • Minas Tirith: 3 000 (of which 1 000 at Osgilliath and 500 at Cair Andros)
  • Lossarnach: 2 000
  • Ringlo Vale: 3 000
  • Morthond: 5 000
  • Anfalas: 3 000
  • Belfalas: 12 000
  • Lebennin: 6 000
  • Lamedon: 500
  • Ethir Anduin: 1 000
  • Pinnath Gelin: 1 500

Total number of forces available to Gondor thus comes to 37 000. Rohan is noted to be able to field up to 12 000 riders – 10 000 after losses to Saruman, and its total strength could be as much as twice that as Rohirrim are likely to have a significant force of infantry for garrison duty, being a sedentary society. Since Gondor is senior partner, and main focus of Sauron’s military efforts, it having 37 000 to 40 000 troops versus 20 000 – 25 000 for Rohan seems likely. Indeed, anything less would not be realistic, seeing how a host of Mordor at Black Gate has 60 000 men or more, and that after the massive losses in the Battle of Pelennor. (Side note: as Gondor is based on Byzantine Empire, which managed to field 120 000 men in 842. from population of 8 million and 250 000 men in 1025 from population of 12 million, this suggest total population for Gondor of between 1,8 and 2,7 million people).

When it comes to actual organization of forces, it must be noted that Imrahil is a Prince of Dol Amroth, not Prince of Belfalas, yet commands its military strength. This is not a feudal model; if anything, it is much more similar to thematic military model of Byzantine Empire, state that Gondor is modelled after. This military model was introduced after half of Byzantine territory was conquered by Muslims – out of 150 000 soldiers of Byzantine field armies, only 80 000 were evacuated to new quarters in Anatolia. Need to maintain extensive army with limited resources led to soldiers receiving military lands to be supported from, leading to thematic system. Likewise, Gondor had lost significant parts of its territory: Umbar, Harondor, Ithillien were all conquered by Mordor or its allies, and Calenadhorn had been given away to Rohirrim in a manner of foederati settlement. Its capital had been abandoned, and new capital was on a frontline.

But thematic lands were given to soldiers directly, not through middleman as in Western feudal system. There was no subinfeudation; strategos of a theme was military commander, and possibly principal landowner – generally only the rich were educated enough to achieve high military positions – but it was the state, not strategos, who gave soldiers the land. The Emperor retained full control of the bureocracy and the army. Gondor is no different. Regardless of wildly varying forces they brought, no commander refused to send troops when Minas Tirith called. Command of the themes was not inheritable – this too can be seen in Gondor, where Imrahil is prince of Dol Amroth, not prince of Belfalas, yet he commands the strength that can only have come from Belfalas as a whole. He is thus landlord of Dol Amroth and strategos of Belfalas, but not landlord of Belfalas. And his status of strategos could be revoked by the Ruling Steward at latter’s will. Further, there is no indication that any of lords who came to Minas Tirith have lords or nobles serving under them, as is the case with feudal system; they have no vassals, and they themselves are not vassals. This again is very much like Byzantine thematic system, and very much unlike feudal system.

Much like armies of the themes, armies of fiefs of Gondor are apparently seldom called out on campaigns. This has to do with strategic situation of Gondor, which had spent last centuries on defensive. Yet structure of military usually adapts to serve its strategy, and thematic system is perhaps the optimal defensive system for a preindustrial society. Thus it is no surprise that, when they are called, commanders of fiefs only spare a portion of fiefs’ strength; their primary duty is to territories whose care they had been entrusted with, yet they cannot refuse Steward’s call alltogether.

And as can be seen from the list of forces as estimated above, all of the lords are lords of fairly small districts, and command forces that are fairly close in strength to each other, with Belfalas and Lamedon being possible outliers. This is also similar to Byzantine army, whose themes were close in strength, with Anatolikon and Thracesian themes being outliers.

Imrahil does lead a force of knights. Yet the original meaning of a knight is merely “person rich enough to afford a horse and equipment for a heavy cavalryman”. This is the origin of the term in ancient Rome, and how it was used for Byzantine cataphractii; it has no connection to feudalism. In medieval usage as well, knight was merely an armoured cavalryman – in fact, many knights were not landowners, but rather members of his retinue. And Byzatine cataphracts were in fact heavier troops than early Western knights, having armour for both a rider and a horse – something that will be later emulated in the West by the richest of nobility.

Provincial forces are summoned by usage of a line of beacons. As explained here, there ae two strings of beacons – one facing north of Ered Nimrais (this is the string that Pippin and Gandalf see) towards Rohan, and another facing south, towards Belfalas. Denethor uses this southern line of beacons to summon reinforcements discussed above. These beacons recall a similar line of beacons connecting Constantinople to eastern Anatolia, specifically the Taurus passes which Arabs used for their incurions. Sauron is aware of the nature of Gondor’s military; he uses corsairs of Umbar, not to reinforce his assault against Minas Tirith, but rather to tie up Gondor’s coastal forces from moving to assist Minas Tirith. For this purpose, threat of the attack – which can and does tie up significant forces all along the coast of Gondor – is much more effective than Corsairs’ possible contribution to siege of Minas Tirith.

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