Sep 12 2021, 9:55pm
'Conclusions: Umbar and Pelargir, two sides of the same coin'
A Tale of Two Cities: Umbar & Pelargir / part V
Taking stock, I’ve explored a 'tale of two cities' that ranges from a colonial foundation era all the way through to the absorption of the cities in question into one or more larger polities. In 'Part I', I examined how Tolkien (eventually) integrated Pelargir and Umbar into his wider Númenórean morality play. In the long, tragic voyage to the Akallabêth, Númenor's psychodrama also played out in Middle-earth, with Umbar representing the bastion of Númenor's 'transgressor' party who had fallen under the Shadow (the King's Men); and Pelargir the haven for those who continued to revere the Valar and the ancient friendship with the Eldar (the Faithful or Elendili). In ‘Part II’, the tale shifts, post-Akallabêth, to the Númenórean realms in exile, where these opposing Númenórean legacies manifest themselves in inter-state warfare and, to an extent, disputed concepts of patrimony. And Umbar and Pelargir were both integral to these conflicts, and they became violently united under one Númenórean state. In 'Part III', I focused more on secondary world ‘historical’ analysis, exploring demography as a key determinant of the fate of the respective cities, at least in terms of their Númenórean heritage. In ‘Part IV’, I examined Gondor’s own destructive psychodrama, the Kin-strife, significant parts of which were played out in Pelargir and Umbar – by this time, twin pillars of Gondor’s maritime power, and whose populations threw in their lot with the usurper faction as one. This civil war culminated in a bloody reinstatement of the old fault lines of the early post-Akallabêth Númenórean state of affairs in Middle-earth. Pelargir and Umbar resumed their positions as bastions of diametrically-opposed factions – a divide that remained stubbornly durable until the reign of King Elessar.
Some final threads then to pull together. There is much that fundamentally divides the two cities of this tale, politically and in the respective world views of their ruling elites. Yet they are, in many respects, two sides of the same coin. For much of their history, they represent two different versions of Númenor, with one abhorrent, heretical even, to the other. Yet they are bound together all the same, arguably because of the dialectical nature of their respective foundations. Perhaps, it is even their umbar to be so... This dynamic supersedes even the ‘post-Númenórean’ era, when conflict becomes rearranged around Gondorian civil war and the seemingly endless conflicts between Gondor and the Haradrim. The machinations of Sauron are of course highly relevant to much of this ‘historical’ narrative: he seduces, suborns and stirs up wherever he can; and his bruised ego and hate of the Númenóreans even drive him to have torn down the monument in Umbar that the Kings of Gondor had earlier erected in “memorial of his humiliation” at the hands of Ar-Pharazôn (‘Appendix A’, LotR). However, Sauron’s personal, if not deranged, interest in the public architecture of Umbar shouldn’t be mistaken for him having unmitigated directorial control of events in Umbar or the Harad. He was dormant for the first millennium of the Third Age, after all; he didn’t cause the Kin-strife; and he didn’t cause Gondor to conquer Umbar in the first place or assert suzerainty over the Harad. Gondorian imperialism was likely reason enough on its own for the Haradrim to see Gondor as the enemy. That this gave Sauron’s emissaries the raw material with which to coax, cajole and otherwise mobilise the masters of Umbar and the peoples of Harad against Gondor is important, but cause and effect is qualified.
Umbar and Pelargir also shared a similar trajectory in terms of relations between core and periphery – characterised by diminution in importance, and often, but not exclusively driven by their relations with their respective hinterlands. For Pelargir, this manifested in its early subordination to a Númenórean state in exile that was not, at first, focused on its littoral. The political centre of gravity of the co-kingdom established by Isildur and Anárion was over 100 miles inland from Pelargir and this remained the case throughout the history of Gondor, apart from an abortive attempt by Castamir the Usurper to “remove the king’s seat to Pelargir” (‘Appendix A’). Thus, from being the ‘chief haven of the Faithful’ in Middle-earth, Pelargir becomes one of four major Gondorian cities, with the other three conspicuously being ‘royal’ foundations. Pelargir was not without prestige or high strategic value to the rulers of Gondor, particularly during the reigns of Gondor’s Ship-kings or indeed the era of Castamir. But it was very much an appendage of this Númenórean state rather than at its administrative heart. Similarly, although over a longer period of time, Umbar journeys from being the foremost and mightiest Númenórean foundation in Middle-earth; to southernmost conquest of, and annexation to, Gondor, ruled from distant Osgiliath (later, Minas Anor); to just one of many, at times competing, realms of the Haradrim.
The nature of the available, and relatively scarce, source material has meant much of this ‘tale of two cities’ has focused on Umbar, and Pelargir’s tale has more often than not been swallowed up in the wider history of Gondor. Overall, this reflects that fact that there is simply more Tolkien ink to be found on Umbar than Pelargir. But the question arises for me: is this reflected in the secondary world impact and can one of these two cities be considered to have mattered more? The respective legacies of Pelargir and Umbar, both singularly and indeed when they intertwine, are equally impressive in my view. However, in the tale of these two cities, I would argue that Pelargir just takes the honours, on two counts. Firstly, harking back to ‘Part III’ of this study, Pelargir was the demographic ‘linchpin’ of the most durable of the Númenórean realms in exile. Without the pre-Akallabêth colonial footprint in Pelargir to bolster its early ranks, the kingdom of the House of Anárion may have suffered a similar fate to that of the less populous northern Kingdom of Arnor. Secondly, Pelargir is named by Tolkien as the primary location for the mingling of the original Adûnaic language of the Númenóreans with the languages of their proto-Edainic kin in Middle-earth. It is thus the birthplace and earliest dissemination point for the new Common Speech or ‘Westron’ – later the dominant tongue in Middle-earth (‘Appendix F’, LotR). Pelargir may well have been absorbed into Gondor by the Sons of Elendil but this last generation of the Faithful / first generation of the Realms in Exile, massively benefited from the twin gifts of sound demographic foundations and a burgeoning lingua franca. Both of which would be crucial to future robustness and power of Gondor.
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