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A Tale of Two Cities: Umbar & Pelargir / part III


Sep 12 2021, 9:52pm

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'Exilic demography – demography as destiny?'

The nature of the respective foundations of Pelargir and Umbar, linking them in turn to the Akallabêth and its exilic consequences, helps to inform our understanding of the demography and, thereby, the durability of these Númenórean bastions. While it might seem odd to start this study of ancient Númenórean demography in the late Third Age, it’s also a perfect place to start! The melancholic musings of Faramir in Henneth Annûn before his (literally) captive audience, Frodo and Sam, is Tolkien’s earliest published narration of the history of Númenor and the Númenórean realms in exile (‘Window on the West’, LotR). It’s a teaser, in many respects, for the trove we get in the ‘Appendices’ of LotR, and various posthumously published material. But the template is there, even if the direct links to Umbar and Pelargir are yet to come. Quoting Faramir’s narration, we have:

“The Men of Númenor were settled far and wide on the shores and seaward regions of the Great Lands, but for the most part they fell into evil and follies. Many became enamoured of the Darkness and the black arts; some were given over wholly to idleness and ease, and some fought among themselves, until they were conquered in their weakness by the wild men…

… Yet even so it was Gondor that brought about its own decay, falling by degrees into dotage… Death was ever present, because the Númenoreans [sic] still, as they had in their own kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging. Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry…”.

Faramir’s characterisation of the condition of the scions of Númenor is one of a remnant people at a low, possibly their lowest, ebb. Their homeland is a distant memory, there hasn’t even been a king in Gondor for nearly a thousand years, and the descendants of the Númenóreans have either been conquered by ‘wild men’ or (as Faramir’s narration goes on to establish) have declined to become more like the ‘Middle Men’, such as the good but ‘less civilised’ Rohirrim. Decline and even extinction are key themes.

Faramir’s reference to those who had become “enamoured of the Darkness” implicitly but evidently describes the Black Númenóreans. And their fate is a grim one, even worse than that of the fading (as Faramir sees it) Númenóreans of Gondor. These Black Númenóreans had been “conquered in their weakness” by the very wild men that the likes of Fuinur and Herumor (two “mighty and evil” Black Númenóreans) once lorded it over, in the years between the Akallabêth and the War of the Last Alliance (‘Of the Rings of Power in the Third Age’, The Silmarillion). There is no direct link to Umbar, either in Faramir’s narration or in the singular reference to Herumor and Fuinur. However, in addition to the fact that we know that Umbar is a focal point of Black Númenórean power after the Akallabêth, this ‘decline’ theme appears in ‘Appendix A’ as well, linked directly to Umbar. We have: “After the fall of Sauron their [Black Númenórean] race swiftly dwindled or became merged with the Men of Middle-earth.”. Not quite as dramatic as ‘conquered by wild men’ but certainly indicative of looming extinction as a distinct ruling class based on Númenórean ethnicity. Moreover, tellingly, after Eärnil’s conquest of Umbar in III.933 there is no direct attestation of the Black Númenóreans ever achieving a ‘reconquista’, and they all but disappear from Tolkien’s narrative and annalistic accounts of the Third Age – at least in the context of Umbar and the Harad. There is one revanche, which is a 35-year long siege of Umbar from the landward side (III.1015-1050), which results in the killing of the then King of Gondor, Ciryandil. However, the account hardly speaks of a group in their prime: “… but the Men of the Harad, led by the [Black Númenórean] lords that had been driven from Umbar [82 years previously], came up with great power against that stronghold...”. Yes, the Black Númenóreans instigate the siege, in some respects reprising the leadership over the Haradrim exercised by their ancient predecessors, Herumor and Fuinur. But the flipside of this is that they lacked the power themselves to retake their antique patrimony. And after the siege is broken by King Ciryaher of Gondor (thereafter Hyarmendacil I: ‘South-victor’) in III.1050, these former masters of Umbar are never referred to again in relation to this city. Indeed, the breaking of the siege itself is described as part of larger ‘Gondor vs Harad’ conflict: Ciryaher “utterly defeated the Men of Harad” (‘Appendix A’). And even when Umbar later fell (twice) to the foes of Gondor, these events are specified as being at the hands of Gondorian rebels and, later, the Haradrim. Although not explicitly told so by Tolkien, the secondary world history he crafts implies that the Black Númenóreans of Umbar are scattered, if not spent, approximately a millennium after the Akallabêth.

In contrast, albeit with various ups and downs, Pelargir and Gondor endure. But was Umbar’s situation so different as a post-Akallabêth city and state that it was uniquely precarious? Within the confines of Tolkien’s sub-creation, I reckon the answer is: highly likely ‘yes’, due to the fundamentals of its post-Akallabêth demography. In its prime, Umbar appears to have been the premier Númenórean city in Middle-earth. It was founded by the then dominant, and more numerous, Númenórean faction; and a millennium later, it was the ‘go-to’ choice for Ar-Pharazôn as to where to make a kingly landfall in Middle-earth. By the time of the Akallabêth things were probably quite different though. Ar-Pharazôn was preparing the largest armada in history for the most audacious invasion in history, so it’s likely that the Númenórean colonies in Middle-earth were heavily levied. Not all the King’s Men settled in Middle-earth sailed in Ar-Pharazôn’s armada, clearly – the presence of Herumor and Fuinur attests to that. However, it’s a reasonable assumption that post-Akallabêth Umbar (and indeed the other Black Númenórean settlements, further to the south) was, if not a shade of its former self, then a depleted one.

It can be argued that this depletion had implications for the Black Númenóreans of Umbar and their ability to maintain a viable state. While the first millennium of the Third Age seems to have passed without incident (ie. Tolkien is silent!), as set out above, the neighbourhood gets a lot rougher for Umbar from III.933. Gondor was closing in from the north and thereafter developed a taste for permanent control. And to the east and south, the picture was likely getting more complex, if not perilous. The Haradrim were biddable enough in the days of mighty lords such as Herumor and Fuinur and the kings of the Harad rallied to the Black Númenórean banner when the latter were expelled from Umbar by Eärnil. However, the massive defeat of the Black Númenóreans and their Haradrim allies in III.1050 may have irrevocably altered the balance of power in more ways than one. Yes, Gondor is now the new power south of the Harnen River. In addition, with no stronghold, no great harbour and no place to call their own, the Black Númenóreans lately of Umbar were acutely dependent on the good will or at least compliance of their Haradrim allies. And given the relationship between the Black Númenóreans and the Haradrim was one built on overlordship and dominance, the various kings of the Harad may well have noticed and exploited the relative, and increasing, weakness of their former masters. And here we come full circle to the musings of Faramir and his recounting of the fate of the Númenóreans who “were conquered in their weakness by the wild men”. I attach a last rider to this though, to be fair to these ‘wild men’ and their narrated impact: intentional on the part of Tolkien or not, Faramir’s account skates over the fact that Gondor itself played its own role in the extinction of the Black Númenóreans – at least in the case of Umbar.

A final question regarding Umbar in this context: precariously-placed as the Black Númenóreans of Umbar were, why didn’t they seek to consolidate with their scattered brethren? As we know, the lands south of Umbar included other colonies of the King’s Men. Here, Faramir’s narration provides another credible information gap filler: “some were given over wholly to idleness and ease, and some fought among themselves…”. Being aware that the writing might be on the wall, let alone sensible consolidation to resist this, is pretty tough if idleness and infighting are your modus vivendi. It’s conceivable that Tolkien had no particular narrative plan in mind when he ceased referring to the Black Númenóreans of Umbar. But the account given via one of his favourite characters, Faramir at least hints that this potential lacuna isn’t random. A Tolkien note, dated to just before 1966 and reprinted in Unfinished Tales (‘The Istari’), seems to confirm something of this suspicion (my emphasis): “their [the Númenóreans’] settlements beyond Umbar had been absorbed, or being made by men already in Númenor corrupted by Sauron had become hostile and parts of Sauron’s dominions.” Intriguingly, this passage opens up the possibility of some Black Númenórean settlements south of Umbar surviving, at least for a time, but measuring their impact on events falls into the almost ‘blank canvas’ territory that is the product of Tolkien’s sometimes self-consciously Gondor-centric accounts of ‘the South’ or ‘the East’, for that matter. The previously-quoted line from ‘Akallabêth’ is a particularly appropriate bookend for these obscure settlements: they “left many rumours in the legends of Men…”. In the absence of anything further to go on, that’s where I’ll leave them!

Turning back to Pelargir, the issues that bedevilled the viability of Umbar in some respects worked in Pelargir and Gondor’s favour. As in Umbar, the Númenóreans of Pelargir and Gondor more widely must have been a minority amidst or adjacent to larger populations of so-called ‘Middle Men’ or ‘Men of Darkness’, to continue with Faramir’s broad brush, Gondor-centric ethnography. However, unlike in Umbar, the Elendilic population of Pelargir was continually reinforced over many centuries with Númenórean settlers. The desperate arrival of Isildur, Anárion and their five shiploads of Númenórean refugees at the Mouths of the Anduin in II.3320 was but the final in a series of emigrations. As the Elendili faction became increasingly isolated and indeed persecuted in Númenor, these Númenóreans found save haven in Middle-earth, particularly in and around Pelargir. Thus, as previously quoted (‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’):

“In the later days [after the foundation of Pelargir] to this haven came only the Faithful of Númenor, and many therefore of the folk of the coastlands in that region were in whole or in part akin to the Elf-friends and the people of Elendil, and they welcomed his sons.”

The kings of Númenor had been persecuting the Elendili and at least tacitly encouraging their emigration for many centuries prior to the Akallabêth. The colonial impulses reflecting Númenor’s division between King’s Men and Faithful goes back as far as the reign of Tar-Ancalimon (II.2251-2386), during whose rule Pelargir and Umbar were founded. As for specific date ranges for new influxes of Númenóreans into Pelargir, the better-known entry for this relates to the reign of Ar-Gimilzôr (II.3102-3177) (‘Akallabêth’) but a late essay by Tolkien also provides an earlier, more extensive reference, dated to the reign of Ar-Adûnakhor (II.2709-2962) (‘Of Dwarves and Men’, HoMe XII). Here we see:

“… in the time of Ar-Adûnakhor; for the settlers in this region [between Pelargir and the Gulf of Lune] had refused to join in the rebellion against the Valar, and were strengthened by many exiles of the Faithful who fled from persecution by him and the later Kings of Númenor.”

Elaborating further on my earlier speculation about Ar-Pharazôn having recruited heavily from the settlements of the King’s Men in Middle-earth for his grand armada (thus weakening their demographic base), I put it that the opposite would have been the case for the settlements of the Faithful. Why dragoon ‘faithless’ Faithful into the invasion of Valinor when, if bulk manpower was the issue, the dominant Númenórean faction could have easily levied more reliable, compliant minions from their ‘wild men’ vassals in Middle-earth? Also, as the Faithful had been regarded as fifth columnists for centuries, importing them into a secret, blasphemous plan to assault the Undying Lands doesn’t make much secondary world sense. The upshot here is that although the Faithful were numerically and politically in the minority in Númenor, by the time of the Akallabêth they may have made up the majority of the surviving Númenórean population in Middle-earth. Thus, by the time Isildur and Anárion show up, the Númenórean colonial footprint was already deep, if not wide, in Pelargir and its Bay of Belfalas environs.

Although the importance of Pelargir as a city of Gondor rapidly appears to have been superseded by the Sons of Elendil’s grand settlement ambitions further up the Anduin, its population base would have been a priceless gift. Pelargir would have put the demography and durability of the nascent Númenórean co-kingdom of Gondor on a distinctly different footing to that of Umbar. As discussed previously, the latter collapsed as a Númenórean state inside a millennium. In contrast, Gondor, built on the demographic strength of Pelargir, not only endures but becomes a Middle-earth superpower, based on an Elendili-Númenórean core.

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