Sep 12 2021, 9:53pm
'Old fault lines renewed'
A Tale of Two Cities: Umbar & Pelargir / part IV
In ‘Part III’ of this essay series I quoted liberally from Faramir’s narration of the history of the Realms in Exile, and explored the impact of infighting on the fate of the Black Númenórean (‘Window on the West’, LotR). I tied this to the demise of Umbar as a Black Númenórean state but of course, Gondor did not prove immune to infighting (and nor did Arnor, for that matter). ‘The Tale of Years’ (‘Appendix A’, LotR) documents the ‘Kin-strife’ of Gondor (III.1432-1448), a civil war on such a destructive scale that it is named the first of three “great evils” that befell the southern Númenórean Realm in Exile. And in important respects, Pelargir and Umbar are both at the heart of this conflict, as well as its bookends. And in terms of outcomes, one of them is the re-establishment of the ancient antagonism between Númenóreans settled on and around the Bay of Belfalas and Númenóreans settled on the firth of Umbar.
The Kin-strife, pitting the rightful King Eldacar against his usurper cousin, Castamir is of course about more than Pelargir and Umbar. But both do feature significantly in the ‘Appendix A’ narrative. As well as being an ethno-chauvinist rebel and usurper, Castamir is very much associated with Gondor’s maritime power – he was ‘Captain of the Ships’ and was “supported by the people of the coasts and of the great havens of Pelargir and Umbar.”. Intriguingly, these two cities, born of two very different Númenórean traditions, take the same side in the Kin-strife. And after seizing the crown, Castamir “cared little for the land, and thought only of the fleets, and purposed to remove the king’s seat to Pelargir.” The final act of the Kin-strife was Castamir’s faction being holed up in Pelargir, besieged by Eldacar’s vengeful forces, before sailing away to establish themselves in Umbar. And upon seizing Umbar “… they made a refuge for all the enemies of the king, and a lordship independent of the crown.”.
With this denouement, we are back in familiar territory. Umbar becomes a separate Númenórean state again, and once more it’s one that’s driven by enmity towards Gondor. This time round we get a lot more information about the kind of menace Umbar posed to Gondor. The drafting of the relevant source material goes through several phases, building up to the finished product: ‘Appendix A’ of LotR. The rebirth of an Umbar hostile to Gondor in the wake of the Kin-strife occurs in Tolkien’s second and third drafts of this ‘historical’ era (‘The Heirs of Elendil’, HoMe XII). As ever, the cutting room floor is as interesting as the finished product, with the published ‘Appendix A’ evidently losing a handful of earlier details. I’ll draw in some of this material for additional colour, alongside the published ‘canon’ of ‘Appendix A’.
With the end of the Kin-strife in III.1448 comes the beginning of ‘Castamirid’ Umbar (you don’t study Classics for 12 years without learning how to put ‘-id’ or ‘-ad’ at the end of dynastic names!). And the Castamirids don’t secede from Gondor for a quiet life. This ‘new’ Umbar became a “threat to its [Gondor’s] coastlands and to all traffic on the sea” and raided “coasts even as far as the Anfalas”. Umbar hereafter becomes synonymous with ‘the Corsairs of Umbar’, and Castamir’s descendants prosecuted their raids and grudge against the descendants of Eldacar across several generations. King Aldamir was slain in warfare with Umbar and Harad in III.1540; and in III.1634, two great-grandsons of Castamir, Angamaitë and Sangahyando, led a raid on Pelargir, killing King Minardil and ravaging the city in the process. Just as with the wars against the Black Númenóreans of Umbar, two kings of Gondor fall in this new longue durée conflict.
Turning to the aforementioned ‘cutting room floor’, we find fascinating oddments that neither survived the compressive process of producing ‘Appendix A’, as published with the first edition of LotR, nor found a home in the revisions made to that appendix (and in particular to the ‘history’ of the Kin-strife) in the second edition. As cited above, the Castamirids established in Umbar a “lordship independent of the crown” of Gondor. In earlier drafting, this state was described as a “small kingdom”. It’s difficult to discern whether there’s a substantive point of difference between the two titular descriptors, beyond the fact that we are to understand Umbar as being once again independent of Gondor. Speculating about the ‘kingship’ title for a moment, was this a reference to the Castamirids continuing to assert that they were the true kings of Gondor? They were indisputably of the House of Anárion, albeit of a usurper cadet branch, after all. Or was this literally a new Númenórean kingdom, its rulers drawing their legitimacy and prestige from their descent from Anárion and Elendil but separate and in opposition to the Elendilic foundation of Gondor? Both, I suppose, are conceivable, given rough and ready comparators such as the Plantagenet kings of England simultaneously claiming to be kings of France; and the multiple kingships of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
Although not present in the final cut of ‘Appendix A’, we learn from the drafting phases that Tolkien had conceptualised latter day Castamirid Umbar as one where only the descendants of Castamir (eg. Angamaitë and Sangahyando) “were of Númenórean race”, with the rest of the rebels’ descendants having “become much mixed in blood through admission of Men of Harad” (‘The Heirs of Elendil’). And in an approximately parallel draft: “But they married women of the Harad and had in three generations lost most of their Númenórean blood.” (Ibid). As far as ‘canon’ is concerned on the question of relations with the locals, we have a brief entry in the ‘Tale of Years’ for III.1540 that covers the death of King Aldamir of Gondor, “slain in war with the Harad and Corsairs of Umbar” (‘Appendix B’). An alliance between Umbar and the Haradrim is implied. For more information, the drafts are once again more forthcoming: “Aldamir fell in battle with the rebelling kings of Harad allied with the rebels of Umbar.” (‘The Heirs of Elendil’). This ‘mingling’ – ironic, given the racial supremacist views espoused by the Castamirids during the Kin-strife – and alliance-building in the Harad is reminiscent of the fate of their Black Númenórean predecessors, who “became merged with the Men of Middle-earth” and who later relied heavily on the Haradrim in their attempts to retake Umbar (‘Appendix A’). As with Gondor’s serial co-option of non-Númenórean manpower, the Númenóreans of Umbar (whether King’s Men or Castamirid in origin) similarly turned to local populations to shore up their military and demographic position – both of which were interlinked.
The transformation of Umbar into a Corsair state antagonistic towards Gondor and with a predilection for raiding Pelargir and its environs, long outlives the rule of the Castamirids. Castamirid Umbar appears to have been durable enough to weather at least one major Gondorian incursion south. King Vinyarion defeated the Haradrim in III.1551 – afterwards taking the name Hyarmendacil II. Although Umbar isn’t mentioned in this war, the Haradrim are probably allies of the Castamirids at this time (as discussed above), and their decisive defeat at the hands of Gondor must have prompted some trepidation in the City of the Corsairs. Umbar remains militantly defiant for centuries to come though, as the subsequent great raid of Angamaitë and Sangahyando in III.1634 attests. Yet, retribution did catch up with them. The Castamirids were violently extinguished as a dynasty in III.1810 by King Telumehtar, who reconquered Umbar for Gondor, thereafter taking the name Umbardacil (‘Umbar-victor’). This was, however, an ending but not the end of Umbar as a Corsair state. Although I can’t pin down a date in any of the canonical or draft works published, Umbar was, in time, once again lost to Gondor and a new generation of Corsairs emerged to trouble its coastlands. These new Corsairs were Haradrim and Umbar was thereafter “never again completely subdued until the days of Elessar” (‘Appendix A’). The demise of the Castamirids and the later occupation by the Haradrim certainly meant that Umbar was no longer a Númenórean ‘realm in exile’ in any meaningful sense. The passing of Umbar into the hands of the Haradrim does, however, usher in a third phase in Umbar’s hostility towards Gondor, in the tradition of the Black Númenóreans and Castamirids.
The terminus post ante for this Haradrim conquest of Umbar is early in the rule of Gondor’s Steward Cirion (III.2489-2567), when it’s noted that the “Corsairs harried his coasts” (‘Appendix A’). The Corsairs appear again to trouble the shores of Gondor in III.2746, in III.2758 (“Three great fleets… came up from Umbar and the Harad”, bringing “war on all of its [Gondor’s] coasts”) and III.3019 (during the War of the Ring). Even Rohan suffered predations, via Corsair landings at the mouths of the Lefnui and the Isen Rivers, also in III.2758. Establishing a terminus post quem is more difficult. The main source, ‘Appendix A’, states only that Umbar fell to Gondor’s enemies once more after the second rising of Sauron and after the third of the ‘great evils’ that befell Gondor. The latter was the near 100-year war between Gondor and the Wainriders, which ended in III.1944 and in which year Gondor was still in control of Umbar (‘Cirion & Eorl’, Unfinished Tales). The former is even less precise. Sauron’s open declaration of his return was in III.2951 but Umbar is well and truly in the hands Corsairs again by this time. ‘Second coming’ candidates recorded in ‘The Tale of Years’ (‘Appendix B’) that post-date the last known Gondorian occupation of Umbar (III.1944) relate to Sauron’s years in Dol Guldur, eg. III.2050 (“The power of Dol Guldur grows. The Wise fear that it may be Sauron taking shape again.”) or III.2460 (“The Watchful Peace ends. Sauron returns with increased strength to Dol Guldur.”). At any rate, by the 25th century of the Third Age at the very latest, Umbar is once again independent of Gondor and once again the home of Corsairs who see Gondor’s coasts as their natural stomping ground. This is, incidentally, the first mention by Tolkien of the Haradrim exercising maritime power. Back in III.1015-1050, the Haradrim had fruitlessly besieged Umbar from the landward side, only to have Gondor relieve and protect its new conquest from the sea, with Haradrim and Black Númenóreans alike apparently powerless to prevent this (‘Appendix A’).
Some final remarks on this new phase in Umbar’s long antagonism towards Gondor, and its implications for the security of Gondor. Given what the Corsairs of Umbar, in either their Castamirid or Haradrim incarnations, wreak, it is clear that Umbar was a threat to the security of Gondor’s coastal and southern fiefs. Key possessions such as Pelargir, the Principality of Dol Amroth / Belfalas, Lossarnach and Lebennin were at risk as long as the Corsairs remained at large. Even the inland Kingdom of Rohan, a key ally and source of manpower for Gondor wasn’t beyond the reach of the Corsairs. However, the Corsairs don’t ever seem capable, by themselves, of conquering Gondor or, in the case of the Castamirids, be realistically positioned to regain the throne of Anárion. However, Corsair predations did produce ripples beyond the Bay of Belfalas. Gondor’s Steward Beren couldn’t send aid in time to Rohan due to the Corsairs assaulting his coasts in force, and therefore Rohan endured an existential war with the Dunlendings and the Long Winter of III.2758-2759 alone, suffering grievous losses, including the death of its king, Helm. Closer to home, the seaborne attacks of the Corsairs and their Haradrim allies in III.3019 were enough to draw off soldiers who could otherwise could have been called to defend Minas Tirith in its hour of need. Aragorn, bearing his nom de guerre Thorongil, foresaw this grave dynamic and, in III.2980 whilst in the service of the Steward Ecthelion II, moved to address the risk (‘Appendix A’):
“Thorongil often counselled Ecthelion that the strength of the rebels in Umbar was a great peril to Gondor, and a threat to the fiefs of the south that would prove deadly, if Sauron moved to open war. At last he got leave of the Steward and gathered a small fleet [at Pelargir], and he came to Umbar unlooked for by night…”.
Even with this successful pre-emptive strike, which resulted in the burning of “a great part of the ships of the Corsairs” and the slaying of Umbar’s ‘Captain of the Haven’, Aragorn’s fears were still in part borne out. During the muster at Minas Tirith witnessed by Pippin and Bergil, some bystanders lament the dearth of men arriving from Lossarnach under the command of Forlong (‘Minas Tirith’, LotR: emphasis is mine): “So few! Two hundreds, what are they? We hoped for ten times the number. That will be the new tidings of the black fleet. They are sparing us only a tithe of their strength.” The identity of this ‘black fleet’ isn’t dwelt on at this time in the narrative but it later becomes clear that these are the Corsairs of Umbar, who are later found by Aragorn in battle with forces from Lamedon at Linhir, at the mouth of the River Gilrain; and again at Pelargir, with their main fleet of “fifty great ships and smaller vessels beyond count.”
The second aspect of the Castamird legacy in Umbar relates to Gondor’s ability to control or assert itself in Harondor (‘South Gondor’) and the Harad respectively. The era of Gondor’s ‘Ship-kings’ (III.830-1149) first pushed Gondor’s borders south of the Anduin and beyond the Harnen River, and established Umbar as “a great harbour and fortress of the power of Gondor” (‘Appendix A’). And a crushing victory at the hands of Ciryaher (consequently the first ‘South-victor’ king) in III.1050 had the following effect on the Harad: “their kings were compelled to acknowledge the overlordship of Gondor…” (‘Appendix A’). Subsequently, Gondor’s imperial fortunes in Harondor and the Harad appear more often than not tied to the status of Umbar and whether or not it lay in Gondorian hands. I quoted the following passage from ‘Appendix A’ in ‘Part I’ of this study to explore the theme of Númenórean ‘patrimony’. Now I switch the emphasis to the first clause (emphasis mine):
“The loss of Umbar [in III.1448] was grievous to Gondor, not only because the realm was diminished in the south and its hold upon the Men of Harad was loosened, but because it was there that Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, the last king of Númenor, had landed and humbled the might of Sauron.”
Castamirid rule in Umbar provided the Haradrim with a natural ally, and vice versa, against the hated Gondorian foe. Without Umbar, Gondor clearly struggled to maintain its grip on its territories and vassals in the south. Thus, King Aldamir died in III.1540 “in battle with the rebelling kings of Harad allied with the rebels of Umbar.” (‘The Heirs of Elendil’, HoMe XII). Moreover, as a result of the hostility of Castamirid Umbar, Harondor “became a debatable land between the Corsairs and the Kings.” (‘Appendix A’). During the rule of the Steward Túrin II (III.2882-2914), Harondor had fallen altogether to the Haradrim, and even the Crossings of the Poros and South Ithilien were contested by the Men of Harad. Tellingly, Umbar was out of Gondor’s orbit at this time – one more foe on Gondor’s southern flank, and unavailable to anchor, protect or promote Gondor’s interests there. To an extent, the inverse of this dynamic also appears to be true: in III.1944, King Ondoher could afford to concentrate most of his forces in his northern army (to fight the Wainriders), and leave a smaller southern army to deal with the Haradrim, because “an attack proceeding from Near Harad – unless it had assistance from Umbar, which was not at that time available – could more easily be resisted and contained.” (‘Cirion & Eorl’, Unfinished Tales).
In conclusion, the advent of Castamirid Umbar and a later phase of Haradrim rule there saw Gondor and Umbar locked into a second era of bitter conflict, with Pelargir a regular focal point for both parties – whether as a target or as vital infrastructure for projecting power. Moreover, with Gondor’s imperialism south of the Harnen at least in part built around its control of Umbar, the fate of Umbar became inherently intertwined with Gondor’s relations with the Harad. And vice versa. The kings of the Harad patently had ambitions of their own north of the Harnen, and Umbar was correspondingly important to fulfilling these. Umbar thus effectively became more of a prize or asset for larger parties than a consistently independent actor.
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