Sep 19 2021, 11:44am
The Battle of the Five Armies is probably your best shot at retrofitting the demography of that era. The cautionary note is that Tolkien's world-building at the time of writing The Hobbit is obviously at a significantly earlier stage. Demography doesn't necessarily get any easier once LotR and the posthumous works hit the shelves but at least there's more to go on! Anyway, happy to add to the guesswork :)
The Battle of the Five Armies
So, back to the Battle of the Five Armies, where Tolkien does provide some numbers, specifically: 500 Dwarves from the Iron Hills and 1,000 spearmen of Thranduil's Woodland Ream. Behind these, some hundreds of Elvish archers can be implied, as well as some hundreds of Lake-town warriors. Moreover, the 500 Dwarves are clearly a vanguard, as Tolkien writes of more reinforcements to come; and the named/numbered Elvish forces aren't described in absolute terms but rather a specific (albeit major) element of the battle. Of less help but interesting all the same, is that the battle resulted in: "...three parts of the goblin warriors of the North perished on that day...". ('The Return Journey'). 75% of a figure that was vaster than all the forces of the Free Peoples on that day combined is better than knowing nothing, I suppose.
When studying the Medieval history at uni I wasn't particularly into the military side of things but, for what it's worth, there are plenty of websites that 'calculate' soldier-to-rest-of-population ratios, some even going so far as to account for amount of arable land and so on. Skimming a few of these, it strikes me that a given army only represents a tiny proportion of the total population, which in turn provides the economic and manpower base for the military component. If you've got 1,000+ Elvish soldiers at Erebor in III.2941, then the Woodland Realm itself could be comprised of anything up to 100,000 Elves in total. Again, I'm relying on ratio calculators whose methodology I can only marvel at rather than interrogate with any actual knowledge! If you're looking to delve further, from memory, the source material for the early (ie. 12th century) Crusader States has some interesting data on how many knights particular baronial holdings could support. My cautionary note here would be that the quality of the arable land and proximity to trade routes could significantly affect the numbers involved. The output of 12th century seignorial holdings in somewhere like the Loire Valley, for example, might drastically differ from Frankish holdings by the Sea of Galilee. At any rate, as far as The Hobbit is concerned, I suspect we're thinking about secondary world demographics way more than Tolkien was at the time!
A final aside, and a ropy one - apologies in advance - as I don't have my copy of Unfinished Tales to hand. In the 'History of Galadriel and Celeborn' Tale, there are a few 'Author's Notes' gathered up by CJRT, referring to the absolute hammering the Sindarin-Silvan forces took during the War of the Last Alliance, including those led by Thranduil's father, Oropher. I think I recall correctly that Thranduil then led the remnant forces home, after the end of the war, where he concentrated on carefully reviving and rebuilding his people. You could take from this that the relatively unruly and populous ranks Oropher led into Mordor in II.3434 had been somewhat replenished by the time the Battle of the Five Armies of III.2941 comes round. I'll rely on others to iron out any creases in my recollection.
I've been mulling over your earlier post on borders in this era and will reply in slower time. Another thought-provoking question though!
Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk