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Posted on 01/07/2003 11:58:54 PM PST by JameRetief
A History of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, Part 2
[ Part three is the source notes as annotated in the article. The appropriate source notes have instead been added to the end of the other two parts for consolidation]
This is the final article concerning the war of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. The article was originally written for the Tolkien journal Arda. Part 1 covered events leading up to the war. Special thanks to Rick House, who provided comments and suggestions when the article was written in 1996.
The actual war began with the assault upon Minas Ithil in SA 342932. When the city was lost, Isildur and his family escaped to Osgiliath33. From there they sailed away, leaving Anarion to defend the realm. It may be that at this time Isildur stopped at Edhellond, and passed northward to Erech to call upon the King of the Mountains to fulfill the oath his predecessors had sworn; or, it may be at this time Isildur extracted the oath from the King, to be fulfilled later when the West was ready to march against Sauron34.
In any event, Anarion apparently was not troubled by the men of Ered Nimrais, though he may have prudently mounted a watch against betrayal from the west. The presence of the Elven haven at Edhellond may have been a comfort to the Dunedain, however. Also, since Sauron had gathered his allies in Mordor, the armies of Herumor and Fuinur did not attack from the south. They must have passed north into Mordor through the Nargil Pass35, or else they marched northward along the Ephel Duath to assist in the assault on Osgiliath.
Elendil and Gil-galad held a council in SA 3430 where the Alliance was formally created36. The council must have been quite a large gathering of lords from Arnor, Gondor, Lindon, and other lands. Besides Gil-galad and Elendil we can guess that Isildur and Cirdan were in attendance, and perhaps also Elrond, Celeborn, Galadriel, Gildor Inglorion, and Glorfindel37. Isildur's sons Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon might also have been in attendance; at the very least Elendur was probably there.
There may also have been emissaries from the Vales of Anduin (if not Durin IV, Oropher, and Amdir themselves). Possible emissaries from the Elves would include Thranduil and Amroth. However, it may be that the Alliance originally included only Lindon, Arnor, Gondor, and Imladris.
The Alliance could only have had one military purpose: march upon Mordor and achieve a complete and total victory against Sauron. They knew they could beat him in the field, as this had been accomplished on more than one occasion in past wars. The real question must have concerned what they would do once they breached Sauron's defenses. How long could he hold out against the Alliance, and what would he be able to contrive against his enemies while besieged in Barad-dur? Sauron's forces were considerable, for he commanded not only the Orcs and Trolls, but also many Men, and his chief servants were the Nazgul.
Gil-galad and Cirdan marched east from Lindon in 343138. Elendil had already mustered his army at Amon Sul and he waited there for the Elvish host39. But they stopped in Imladris for three years, apparently to train and equip their armies, and perhaps also to persuade Oropher, Amdir, and Durin to join the Alliance, if they had not yet done so40. In that time, Sauron must have established an army in the lands between Greenwood and Mordor41. Such a development certainly would have been persuasive with Oropher. It may be that during this time Elendil sent an army to Gondor to reinforce Anarion42.
There were two probable lines of march for the Alliance armies when they finally began to move in 3434. It may be that Oropher and Amdir advanced down the eastern shore of Anduin, while Gil-galad, Elendil, and Durin passed west of Lorinand toward Parth Celebrant. Or perhaps Gil-galad and Elendil crossed the river by the Men-I-Naugrim, using the ford where there had once been an ancient bridge. Oropher could have preceded or followed them on their road south, and Amdir and Durin would have crossed Anduin via boats (much as Celeborn several thousand years later when he assaulted Dol Guldur).
Sauron probably met the Alliance forces somewhere near the Undeeps, but seeing that he was outnumbered he fell back, destroying the ancient Entish domain north of the Emyn Muil (later known as "The Brown Lands") in an attempt to slow the advance of the Alliance43. The retreat to Mordor must have been rapid, yet the Alliance was able to overtake Sauron's army on the Dagorlad. It may be that a cavalry force from Lindon44 forced Sauron's army to halt and dig in north of Udun, and that the two forces arrayed themselves for battle over the course of one or more following days.
Although we have no record of the Battle of Dagorlad itself, we can infer some probable alignments. Gil-galad, being the leader of the Alliance (or, more likely, the most senior of the four "equals"), probably commanded the center. Since Elrond was Gil-galad's herald in this campaign, it may be that Gil-galad's flanks were commanded by Celeborn and Cirdan (or Glorfindel or Gildor Inglorion may have commanded a "Noldorin" flank).
We know that in the course of the battle Amdir's army was cut off from the main host and cut to pieces in the marshes4. Therefore we may suppose that Oropher took the right side of the field with Amdir holding the outer flank. In this way the "independent-minded" Silvan Elves would be in a position to support Gil-galad without being hemmed in by his own forces. Elendil and Durin may therefore have stood upon the left (east) side of the field.
What we cannot infer is whether Anarion, with the host of Gondor, was present at the Battle of Dagorlad. Had Sauron divided his forces during the preceding years to keep Anarion occupied? The only possible allies Anarion could have called upon would have been the Elves of Edhellond, said to be mostly of Nandorin or Sindarin origin46. They would not have constituted a large force at all and may have been only a contingent of Anarion's host.
Sauron's forces would have been drawn from the Orcs and Trolls, probably dwelling mostly in Mordor at that time; the Easterlings, perhaps quite primitive; the Haradrim, ruled by Black Numenoreans and including large numbers of such; and whatever Men may have lived in Mordor itself (if any). A few Dwarves are said to have fought for him as well, though nothing is mentioned of their home or kindred47.
If Anarion was prevented from immediately joining Gil-galad by an army in the south, Sauron may have had only a few Haradrim at the Battle of Dagorlad. Thus, he may only have had two armies: the Easterlings and his own forces from Mordor and Harad. Sauron's left flank may have been the strongest part of his army, since he was able to drive in on Amdir's Silvan Elves, pushing them into the marshes48. It may be that the Easterlings did not stand on Sauron's right, but perhaps came against the eastern flank of the Alliance host (where may have stood the hosts of Arnor and Khazad-dum). This strategy would at least have afforded the left flank an opportunity to crush the Silvan Elves while the main host held Gil-galad's attention in the center.
Gil-galad may have played a cautious strategy, holding back from assaulting Sauron's line. Perhaps Sauron either drew Amdir out with a sortie or perhaps even launched the attack himself. The advantage in launching the attack would lie in Sauron's chance to split the Elven host and destroy the Silvan Elves. Since Amdir and more than half his army were killed, Sauron's forces in this area were quite effective. But since Sauron ultimately gave up the field49, his right flank must have collapsed under the assault of the other Alliance armies. It may be that the entire force which engaged Amdir in the marshes was abandoned by Sauron in the retreat.
Although we don't know whether parts of Sauron's army survived the Battle of Dagorlad, we can be certain that his forces were greatly diminished. Yet he apparently was able to make one more stand outside the Barad-dur, for Oropher led a premature assault on Mordor50. The Silvan Elves may have been enraged by the slaughter that occurred in the marshes, and perhaps Oropher thought Sauron's forces were weaker than they were.
But though the Silvan Elves again suffered grievous losses51, Gil-galad and the Alliance broke into Mordor, pushing Sauron all the way out of Udun and into Barad-dur, where they took up the seven-year siege. By this time Anarion must have brought Gondor's army into Mordor, perhaps passing through Ephel Duath to ensure Sauron could not escape to the south.
Sauron's defense of the Barad-dur was not passive. He sent out many sorties52. The fortress itself used missile weapons to inflict great losses on the armies of the Alliance, including the taking of Anarion's life in 344053.
Elrond's brief description of the last struggle between Sauron and his foes implies that Gil-galad had taken up a position on Orodruin. This seems to be quite a distance from Barad-dur, but it may be that during the years of the siege Gil-galad had to contend with forces outside the Barad-dur in the lands to the east and south. If so, then Orodruin would have made an excellent command post, but this would also imply that the armies of the Alliance (weakened by the battles in the north) must have been spread thin.
It thus seems that Sauron was either able to take Gil-galad by surprise or he led a last, massive charge against Orodruin. Once Sauron reached the slopes of the fiery mountain, only Elendil stood close enough to directly aid the Elf-king, though Elrond, Cirdan, and Isildur were closer than others. How did Sauron manage to get so close to Gil-galad? Did the Elven-king perhaps offer Sauron a challenge to single combat (like his grandfather Fingolfin had challenged Morgoth)? Did Sauron hope to murder Gil-galad and thus discourage his enemies?
In the event, Gil-galad fell before Sauron's assault and it was Elendil who struck the "mortal" blow that felled the Dark Lord. Sauron must nonetheless have retained enough strength and presence of mind to throw himself upon Elendil, since it was the heat of his body which killed the Dunadan king. Isildur then charged up the slope to cut the Ring from Sauron's hand, but did he do this knowing that Sauron's spirit would flee or was he immediately drawn to the Ring's power?
The final combat must have resulted in a near complete loss of will among the surviving Orcs and Trolls54. If any Easterlings or Haradrim continued to exist outside Barad-dur, they either fled or fought until they were destroyed, as happened among Sauron's forces at the end of the Third Age55. But the Barad-dur itself had to be razed, and fortresses were built in the Ephel Duath and Udun to maintain a watch on Mordor56.
Most of the original leaders of the Alliance never saw the end they worked so hard to achieve: Gil-galad, Elendil, Oropher, Amdir, and Anarion all perished. The Elvish forces suffered grievous losses, as apparently did Arnor's host, too. Nothing is said of what happened to Khazad-dum's army and king.
One of the probable benefits of the war to the Free Peoples was a diminishment of the Black Numenoreans who, though not destroyed, were unable to establish a great kingdom like Gondor or Arnor (unless it were Umbar, which eventually was conquered). But one of the great costs of the war would have been the virtual ruin of the ancient Beleriandic civilization in Lindon. Cirdan's folk absorbed a remnant of Gil-galad's people into Mithlond and some may have settled in or near Imladris, but most of the survivors abandoned Middle-earth57.
Arnor emerged from the struggle greatly weakened. Gondor, however, grew in power from that time onward, and for more than 1600 years maintained a watch upon Mordor against Sauron's eventual return. The Alliance failed to achieve a lasting victory over Sauron, largely because in the end Isildur failed to destroy the One Ring when he had the chance. And yet, had he followed the advice of Cirdan and Elrond, what would have become of the Elves in Middle-earth? Isildur's folly was the Alliance's triumph, for the Eldar were thus able to use their three remaining Rings of Power for more than 3000 years to enhance their world.
Tolkien wrote that the Third Age was "the fading years of the Eldar. For long they were at peace, wielding the Three Rings while Sauron slept and the One Ring was lost; but they attempted nothing new, living in memory of past." (The Return Of The King, p. 365). Perhaps they established no new kingdoms, but the Elvish songs relating the tragic stories of Nimrodel and the Ents' search for the Ent-wives show that the Elves continued to flourish and interact with other peoples around them long after the war was over.
Glorfindel is more probably a participant in the war. According to Christopher Tolkien, his father "came to the conclusion that Glorfindel of Gondolin, who fell to his death in combat with a Balrog after the sack of the city (II.192-4, IV.145), and Glorfindel of Rivendell were one and the same; he was released from Mandos and returned to Middle-earth in the Second Age" (The Return Of The Shadow, pp. 214-5). The profound implication of this conclusion is that Glorfindel played some role in the War of the Last Alliance, though perhaps not one so great as is hereafter postulated.
Lindon, on the other hand, represented the last great Noldorin country in Middle-earth and Gil-galad probably still had many Elven horses. It is possible the Elves living in and near Imladris also contributed to such a force.
In The Hobbit the Elven-king rides out to hunt several times, but he does not uses horses in The Battle Of Five Armies, so it seems unlikely that Oropher possessed a cavalry. Amdir's army was small but contained Noldor and Sindar from Eregion. Nonetheless, the few published facts about the war do not imply Lorinand had cavalry.
The implication that yet other Elven realms (i.e., Avari) were involved is vaguely supported by an earlier passage describing how Sauron eventually seduced the Elves of Eregion (Cf. note 1 above).
The Return Of The King, p. 227. "...As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled waiting back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope."
Carpenter, Humphrey. The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.
Tolkien, Christopher, ed.
Author: Michael Martinez
Published on: May 25, 2001
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