Primary Sources: the Return of the King Appendices, Part 5 of 15
GONDOR: A PRETTY SAD HISTORY
The Appendix A history of Gondor follows, and it’s… not dull, exactly. Gondor has a long history of wars internal and external, expansion and contraction. But in general it just seems less directly related to the story of the Lord of the Rings than the history of Arnor in the previous section; there isn’t a Shire in the south, basically.
Gondor is at war more or less continuously throughout its history, whether it’s against the Easterlings who live off the map on the east side or the folk of Umbar who live off the map on the south side, or maybe remnants of servants of the Enemy in Mordor, although by and large Mordor is depopulated. Gondor in theory runs from the southern end of Mirkwood to the deserts in the south, and also the empty land north of Mordor and south of the Lonely Mountain, on the east side of Mirkwood, the Rhovanion area.
The extent to which Gondor’s central government controlled this vast area waxed and waned with time, mostly waning. Around 1200 years after the Last Alliance and Elendil’s death, there’s an interesting story here about how a faintly Julius Caesar sort of king of Gondor fought a long campaign in Rhovanion against Easterlings and allied with local Northmen, who considered themselves to be allies with the nation of Gondor, but not subjects. This king got along well with the supposed nation of Rhovanion, and set up an alliance, and sent his son out there to be educated after the war was over. Son falls in love with and marries a local girl, considers himself more Rhovanionian than Gondorian, goes back to the south to be king when his father dies. Then he dies and his half-Northman son Eldacar is the new king? Well, the southern aristocrats don’t like that, boom, civil war, called the Kin-strife.
Over the course of the Kin-strife, which is a bigtime war, the capital city of Osgiliath is burned and the palantir there lost. Eldacar, the half-Northman king, loses the war and his cousin ascends to the throne. Cousin is kicked to the curb a decade later when Eldacar leads a vast host of Northmen south. The usurper and his allies flee over the ocean to South Gondor, aka Umbar, aka a nation in a perpetual state of revolt for the next 2000 years or so that had the big black ships for to attack Minas Tirith in Return of the King.
Tolkien pauses to note that back in the Second Age, when Ar-Pharazon completed Operation DESTROY ALL EVIL FOREVER, the Numenorean fleet landed at Umbar, and there was a big war memorial there, a crystal cathedral-cum-lighthouse, which once Sauron formally seized control of the government there got torn down, which was a bummer.
Then a couple of centuries later, plague happens, the same one that I mentioned in the previous entry’s fourth paragraph. Osgiliath is abandoned and ruined, again, this time for good. The borders shrink dramatically as Gondor abandons control of all those empty tracts of land Frodo and Sam pass through on their way to Mordor.
Third terrible thing — after the Kin-strife and the plague — was another few centuries down the road, the war with the Wainriders, a massive confederation of Easterlings “stirred up” by agents of Sauron. They formed a vast host and pounded Gondor steadily for multiple generations. Eventually they gave up and went home, but not until after they’d already killed the current King of Gondor and all his close relatives.
At this point, the king of Arthedain, up in the north, points out that he’s a distant cousin of the royal family of Gondor, and that by Numenorean principles he’s the rightful heir. The general of the Gondorian armies, himself a cousin of the royal family, disputes this claim and crowns himself the new king, with the support of the Gondorian aristocracy. There might have been another Kin-strife, except that the king of Arthedain I’m talking about is busy dealing with Angmar.
Arthedain is like, okay, Gondor, we won’t press this whole rightful rulership thing if you can help us out against Angmar, and Gondor is all, cool, just give me a second to secure my own borders and recover from this Wainriders thing. “Just a second” ends up being about two generations; by the time Gondor is ready to march to Arthedain’s aid against Angmar, Arthedain is pretty much all dead and we’re into paragraph six of the previous entry.
Cirdan the Shipwright pals up with Gondor, and a mixed force of Men and Elves assault Angmar to avenge the lost nation of Arthedain, which works out okay at first. However it turns out that the Witch-King wasn’t actually defeated — it was the Lord of the Nazgul, remember. It and the other Ringwraiths attack the Gondorian citadel of Minas Ithil, which watched the pass between Gondor and Mordor, and captured it and renamed it Minas Morgul.
The Witch-King waited a few decades, until the prior King of Gondor was dead and his brash young impetuous idiot of a son had taken the throne. Then he sent a message to Minas Tirith, inviting the King of Gondor to duel mano a mano with the King of Minas Morgul, winner gets Minas Morgul.
It’s an offer this king of Gondor can’t refuse! He rides out to Minas Morgul with a small group of his besties, and is never seen or heard from again.
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