Military Organization of Gondor (Expanded)
Geography and organization
For mobilizing its armies, Gondor uses a beacon system. This system is similar to that of Byzantine Empire, which had a line of beacons stretching from eastern Anatolia to Constantinople. System stretched 400 miles, with beacons set 30 to 60 miles apart; signal would travel the line in an hour. When beacons were lit, themes would mobilize along the beacon line, and imperial tagmata moving out from Constantinople would pick up thematic forces as it went along. There are in fact two lines of beacons in Gondor, stretching along both borders of the mountain range. Northern line is used to warn Rohan, while southern is used to mobilize Gondor’s own armies and its stretches to Belfalas in the south.
Minas Tirith itself has city guard, and field of Pelennor is protected by a wall of Rammas Echor, built after Ithillien fell into Shadow. It appears similar in nature and purpose to the Long Wall which protected hitherland of Constantinople, unable to stop a major assault but more than enough of barrier to any raid. It is four leagues distant from the City at its furthest point, north-eastward of it; while closest point, to the south-east, it is one league distant and comes up to the very shore of Anduin, and below it lie the quays and landings of Harlond. Minas Tirith itself is twenty leagues away from Shadow Mountains of Mordor. Osgilliath, on the river between Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul, was abandoned and used as a fortress – likely garrisoned by forces from out of Minas Tirith.
Prince Imrahil is stated to dwell in “great fief of Belfalas”. Yet he himself is always referred to as “Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth”, indicating that “fief” is not inherited ownership, and is instead more akin to territorial division such as Byzantine thema. This is confirmed not much later, as Bergil says that “The Captains of the Outlands” are expected. This means that the commanders are not feudal lords – though some of them may be major landowners – but rather simply commanders of territorial units within Gondor itself. Fief is thus simply a term for a military command – again, akin to Byzantine thema – and Lord is a commander, governor (strategos) of a fief (such as Forlong, Lord of Lossarnach) who can be placed and replaced by the Steward as necessary – wealth does not automatically mean high position. Despite massively differing forces, all of the commanders answer directly to the Steward; there is no feudal subordination chain, as none of the commanders are noted to have vassal subcommanders under them. All commanders also answer summons – there is no evidence of insubordination so typical of feudal lords, who may have refused to answer summons at all. Further, all the forces are identified not by the lord or the family they serve, but by the territory they are from – “men of Lossarnach”, “men of Ringlo Vale” and so on. Thus while Prince Imrahil may be the commander and principal landowner in his fief, he is not a feudal overlord; soldiers are recruited and given income (land?) by the state, not by Prince of Dol Amroth – he is merely their commander. Force he brings could only have come from Belfalas as a whole, and soldiers’ loyalties are with Gondor itself, or their province, as opposed to a (feudal) overlord.
This thematic-like system is optimal defensive setup for a pre-modern society. Soldiers are motivated to defend their homes, and are also familiar with the terrain they fight in. This does limit state’s offensive options, but Gondor’s offensive options are limited in any case. As can be seen from later discussion on manpower, provincial commanders only bring a portion of strength to Minas Tirith, leaving majority of the force to defend their own provinces – which proves a good course of action, as Sauron clearly has the strength to attack whole of Gondor, not just Minas Tirith, and he uses Corsairs to precisely that end. It is even possible that decision to leave majority of forces to defend the coasts came from Denethor himself, who emphasizes his concern for Gondor as a whole in his argument with Gandalf. Usage of Corsairs also indicates that Sauron was aware of nature of Gondor’s military, and that threatening attack against provinces would draw off reinforcements from Minas Tirith.
Troops of many of these provinces are clearly professional soldiers – Lossarnach, Ringlo Vale, Pinnath Gelin, Dol Amroth. Yet others, from Anfalas / Langstrand, Lamedon, Ethir, are clearly civilian militia. Soldiers are commanded by captains, but this seems to be an informal title. Likewise, usage of title “knight” does not indicate any kind of feudalism: this was originally a term for a professional, heavily armed cavalryman (or rather a person who could afford a horse and equipment of heavy cavalryman), and that is the meaning in which Tolkien appears to have used it. Medieval knight existed within the structures of feudal society, but was not defined by it. In fact, many different terms are translated by “knight”, many of whom have nothing to do with feudalism, such as equites of Roman Republic which were a class of society wealthy enough to serve as equites – that is, cavalrymen.
Before the siege, the aged, children and women were evacuated from the city westwards, in order to reduce the strain on Minas Tirith’s resources.
When on march to the Black Gate, army has vanguard of cavalry, and infantry marches on either side of the road. This likely indicates that baggage train is on the road itself.
Gondorian army is primarily infantry-based, but it does have major cavalry component. Even so, majority of cavalry is supplied by Rohan. In Minas Tirith itself, only messangers appear to use horses. Provincial army seems to be specialized, with each region providing its own type of forces. These are almost exclusively infantry; only Belfalas appears to have some cavalry (knights of Dol Amroth). There is no mention of any naval force, and indeed defence against Corsairs, as carried out, seems to have been done exclusively by ground forces. Lack of navy is confirmed by the fact that the Corsairs were expected to make it as far upstream as Lossarnach.
Army is obviously that of citizens, similar to (as mentioned) Byzantine themes. Military service is valued, not necessarily for itself but – as Faramir notes – because it is a service to the society as a whole. This is important aspect, as it means that soldiers of Gondor will have high morale and significant cohesion. Knights are also not necessarily late-feudal knights – as with Ordo Equester of ancient Rome, or knights of early Middle Ages, term merely denotes people affluent enough to afford horse and equipment of a heavy cavalryman.
Aside for line infantry – which includes heavy infantry and archers – and cavalry, Gondor maintains what would today be considered special operations forces. These are the Rangers of Ithillien, tasked with scouting, reconnaissance, infiltration and assymetrical warfare. Denethor used Rangers to keep an eye on movements of Sauron’s forces through Ithillien, and also destroy smaller detachments of the same. Rangers are a professional standing force, as the long-term missions in essentially enemy territory would not have been viable with part-time soldiers. Faramir’s own company numbered 200 – 300. Another special task force are troops manning the beacons of Gondor, which are at least in strength of a company if not companies.
Provincial forces have very varied equipment, and each province or area appears to have its own military tradition. Good Old Forlong wears mail armour, black helmet and long heavy spear, while his men – who are infantry, he himself is the only one ahorse – bear great battle-axes. Men of Blackroot Vale are bowmen, those of Green Hills appear to be rangers, while Dol Amroth has a company of knights supported by men-at-arms on foot. Knights are described as being “in full harness”; as such, they certainly have, at the very least, a helmet, a mail hauberk, a shield, a spear and a sword. Despite popular misconception, use of “full harness” does not indicate plate armour. That is modern usage, but is rather incorrect – “full harness” means, essentially, “fully equipped” to the standards of the time, regardless of whether said harness is a spear, wicker shield, felt cap and quilted tunic, or else a pollaxe and full plate. Prince of Dol Amroth himself wears a shining mail, which would make little sense if plate armour was, in fact, available.
Pippin, when he joins the Guards of the Citadel, is provided with “garments of black and silver” – likely indicating an armour blackened or else painted black to resist corrosion. He has “small hauberk”, its rings forged of steel yet black as jet; high-crowned helm with small raven-wings on either side; and black surcoat above the mail, broidered in silver with token of the Tree. This again confirms that a) plate armour was never used in Gondor, and b) surcoats were worn over armour.
City Guard of Minas Tirith has at least three companies. It is an all-infantry force, as only messangers use horses. This is seen when reinforcements arrive from provinces. Old Forlong the Fat, Lord of Lossarnach, arrives with two hundred men wearing battle-axes, which is stated to be only a tithe (1/10) of his total strength. Other areas also spared only a portion of their strength. From Ringlo Vale came three hundred infantry. From Morthond, 500 bowmen; from Anfalas, the Langstrand, “long line of men – hunters, herdsmen, and men of little villages, scantily equipped save for the household of Golasgil their lord”. From Lamedon, a “few” grim hillmen; hundred fisher-folk of Ethir (Anduin), three hundred men of Pinnath Gelin. From Dol Amroth came a company of knights and seven hundred men-at-arms. In total there are less than three thousand. All numbers are in multiples of a hundred, and as such it is reasonable to assume that a company numbers 100 men. This may not be a strict rule however, as Faramir’s own company in The Two Towers numbered between 200 and 300, and later on company is noted as 500 men.
Reason behind limited numbers is that the threat of Corsairs has drawn off much of the help which was expected from Lebennin and Belfalas. Assuming a company is a hundred men, strengths of reinforcements will have been: Lossarnach, 200 infantry; Ringlo Vale, 300 infantry; Morthond, 500 bowmen; Anfalas, unknown – but given “long line”, no less than a hundred; Lamedon, unknown – definitely less than a hundred, maybe no more than dozen; Ethir, 100 fishermen (militia); Pinnath Gelin, 300; Dol Amroth / Belfalas, 100 knights and 700 infantry. Known forces account for 2 200 solders. Giving Lamedon 100 men would leave 700 men until 3 000. As there are “less than” three thousand, Anfalas may have contributed 500 men. However, company is later stated to be 500 men; yet a 500-man company would have left at most 100 men to Anfalas force, which given the size of the area is unlikely. Middle-way would be giving 300 knights to Dol Amroth and 300 men to Anfalas.
Now, these areas may be listed according to the manpower provided and the threat they may expect from Corsairs – areas further inland would be naturally less threatened.
As can be seen, basically all regions are represented. Yet much of the help had been drawn off by corsairs. The only indication of how much is the information that Lossarnach spared only a tenth of overall manpower. As Corsairs’ navy should have enjoyed mobility advantage over ground forces – and indeed that appears to have been the case – proportion of forces sent or not sent may well be a function of how distant from the shore areas is. I will assume that all areas on the sea shore sent a tenth of men at most, and others sent greater proportion depending on their location. Ethir, due to its proximity to Harondor, may well have sent fewer men than that.
- Lossarnach – 1/10
- Ethir – 1/10 – 1/20
- Belfalas – 1/10
- Anfalas – 1/10
- Pinnath Gelin – 1/7 – 1/5
- Morthond – 1/5
- Lamedon – 1/5
- Ringlo – 1/5
Total numbers would thus be:
- Lossarnach – 200 * 10 = 2 000 infantry with axes
- Ethir – 100 * 10 – 100 * 20 = 1 000 – 2 000 fishermen
- Belfalas – 1 000 * 10 = 10 000 (3 000 knights, 7 000 men-at-arms)
- Anfalas – 300 * 10 = 3 000 civilian militia
- Pinnath Gelin – 300 * 5 – 300 * 7 = 1 500 – 2 100 (presumed soldiers)
- Morthond – 500 * 5 = 2 500 bowmen
- Lamedon – 100 * 5 = 500 hillmen
- Ringlo – 300 * 5 = 1 500 infantry
Above would give 3 000 cavalry, 7 000 men-at-arms, 2 500 archers, 14 500 – 15 100 other professional infantry, and 4 500 – 5 500 civilian militia; thus a total of 27 000 – 27 600 soldiers of standing army and 4 500 – 5 500 civilian militia, for 31 500 – 33 100 total provincial force.
Minas Tirith is as of yet unknown. Citadel Guard has at least 1 500 men (three companies). Faramir had sent his company to reinforce Osgilliath. Gandalf comes in with a long line of wagons carrying survivors of Causeway Forts, yet their numbers are unknown. When Denethor releases a mounted sortie to save Faramir, knights of Dol Amroth are at their head, showing that city itself still had some cavalry. Hundreds however must have fallen in combat by that point, as army of Mordor threw a “hail” of human heads at the city.
Aragorn’s initial reinforcements have been enough to turn the tide of a battle. No exact numbers were given, but men of Lamedon had been confronting enemies from Harad when Aragorn and Legolas arrived. No indication is given as to their strength, and they only confronted a smaller portion of strength of Umbar.
When Aragorn arrived, there was a “gathering” of men out of Lebennin and the Ethir, and Angbor of Lamedon brought up horsemen. Reinforcements brought up the river by Aragorn were carried by “fifty great ships and smaller vessels beyond count”. Assuming 50 large Byzantine-type dromunds (crew 230, of which 70 soldiers) and 200 longships (crew 80, of which 20 soldiers), total would be 7 500 soldiers and 20 000 rowers; assuming 50 skeids (30 rowing chairs, crew 80) and 200 karvis (15 rowing chairs, crew 40), total would be 3 000 soldiers and 9 000 rowers. Considering that Gondor borders ocean, latter is more likely as a Byzantine dromond would not have been capable of open-ocean operations. Soldiers would have been mostly out of Lebennin and Ethir, and due to geography former likely made up majority of the 3 000.
When plans are made to march on the Black Gate, Imrahil states that due to many being wounded, he could lead 2 000 men of Gondor, and leave another 2 000 to defence of the city. Aragorn notes that he had sent 4 000 men marching from Pelargir through Lossarnach, presumably because there was no place on the ships, but they had not yet arrived; these may have been from Lebennin and Ethir as well, but possibly also included Anfalas and Belfalas as well. Later, it is decided that Aragorn should find two thousands of those that had gathered with him in the South; Imrahil should find three-and-half thousands. Rohirrim had 4 000 battle-worthy out of 6 000, of which 1 000 went with expedition and remaining 3 000 went West to attack Mordor blocking force.
As Rohirrim had suffered 1/3 losses, similar may be assumed for other forces. Imrahil thus had 5 500 men originally at command. Of those, 3 000 came from fiefs, thus leaving 2 500 men as city garrison. City is also noted to be better defended than when battle began after 6 000 soldiers of Gondor leave with expedition; this would have left 1 000 of Aragorn’s reinforcements, 4 000 other Gondorian troops and 3 000 Rohirrim. This force of 8 000 would indeed have been much more significant than original 5 500 garrison.
Tolkien also notes that beacon towers have permanent garrisons; each individual garrison is small, yet their total force would be enough to form a company or companies if brought together; I will thus assume a total of 500 men for beacons.
Total numbers would thus be:
- Minas Tirith – 2 500 city garrison (infantry)
- Lossarnach – 2 000 infantry with axes
- Lebennin – 2 000 infantry
- Ethir – 1 000 – 2 000 fishermen
- Belfalas – 10 000 (3 000 knights, 7 000 men-at-arms)
- Anfalas – 3 000 civilian militia
- Pinnath Gelin – 1 500 – 2 100 (presumed soldiers)
- Morthond – 2 500 bowmen
- Lamedon – 500 hillmen
- Ringlo – 1 500 infantry
- Beacon Towers – 500 infantry
This increases the number of professional soldiers to 22 500 – 23 100, with additional 4 500 – 5 500 militia. Total would be 27 000 – 28 600. Of those, around 3 000 would be heavy cavalry. Ithillien and Anorien are deserted, and thus not listed – there is no mention of any settlements in Anorien, and Ithillien is outright stated to have been abandoned. Osgilliath and Cair Andros are likely garrisoned by troops from Minas Tirith.
Way of recruiting troops is not described. However, descriptions do provide some clues. Given regional variance of equipment, it seems likely that men buy their own equipment from local smiths. However, language – men are identified by the province – makes it clear that these are not feudal troops. All of them are soldiers of Gondor, and their loyalties are national and regional, not personal. Thus, system appears fairly similar to that of Byzantine themata or else Anglo-Saxon fryd. As such, soldiers will have been given land. But unlike feudal system, where land is provided by the lord, here soldiers will have been provided holdings directly by the state. In Byzantine theme, strategos was a military commander and possibly a principal landowner, but state provided for the soldiers, and strategos was not a feudal overlord.
As can be seen from above, the entirety of Gondor’s military is structured for defense-in depth, slowing down or damaging the attacker while yielding space. This reduces the forces required by abandoning the requirement to stop the enemy dead in his tracks, and also provides the opportunities for the enemy to get in his own way. Armies are complex things, and as they fight the system of numerous interactions which keeps them moving slowly starts to break down. Equipment breaks down, soldiers tire out, food and water is spent, equipment, personnel and entire units get misplaced or destroyed. Intelligence is also less reliable further away from one’s starting position, providing more opportunities to make a mistake.
Gondor’s own defensive plan has several layers of defense: rangers in Ithillien, crossings of Anduin, Rammas Echor, fields of Pelennor and Minas Tirith itself. It is thus clear that the idea is to gradually pull back instead of relying on any single defensive position to hold the enemy. Minas Tirith itself has seven circuits of walls. Rammas Echor is a wall enclosing Pelennor, and two forts – Causeway Forts – are located where road from Osgilliath passes through the wall. While Rammas Echor is too long to be defended against an outright assault, it is enough to stop small-scale raids. It also physically impedes passage, even if unmanned, thus complicating logistical situation. Being close to Osgilliath, Rammas Echor further helps provide security for any force retreating from the city as it can be used to delay the enemy advance and thus screen the retreat. Each of these positions adds another layer of attrition to the enemy while limiting one’s own losses. Delaying the enemy in reaching the city itself allows more reinforcements to reach the city.
During attack on Gondor, orcs are confronted first at Cair Andros and Osgilliath, and then at Rammas Echor. Faramir’s defense of Rammas Echor allows forces from Cair Andros to retreat into safety of Minas Tirith – wounded, in particular, are evacuated there. After defense of Rammas becomes untenable, Faramir retreats to Minas Tirith, with main infantry force being covered by cavalry rearguard – thus forcing forces of Mordor to maintain the battle formation. Orcs finally break battle formation close to the city. This leaves them open to cavalry countercharge, which routs them.
Overall behaviour of forces of Gondor – Faramir’s retreat across Pelennor, and discipline with which Denethor’s cavalry halts their charge once called back – strongly suggests that these are professional troops, likely Gondor’s equivalent to Byzantine tagma. Another evidence for this lies in the fact that Gondor is a strongly moneyed society.
Fact that Gondor has some 23 000 professional and thematic troops would indicate a population of around 960 000 – 1 350 000 (Byzantine Empire: 1025: 250 000 troops and 30 000 sailors? With 12 000 000 = 2,4%, 840: 154 600 troops with population of 8 000 000 = 1,9%, 118 400 troops with population of 7 000 000 = 1,7%).
While Denethor did use palantir, he was aware of its dangers. Before him, many Stewards refused to use it – ever since Minas Ithil fell to Sauron some thousand years before the War of the Ring. As such, Gondor has well-developed intelligence apparatus. Cirion, who became Steward of Gondor in 2489., “sent scouts and spies in the lands between the Mirkwood and Dagorlad”.
What is just as important is that Gondor keeps its soldiers well-informed. Beregon, a “simple soldier” of the Tower Guard, was well aware of military and political situation in Rohan. More importantly, he is also aware of the movements of the enemy: enemy approach to Lebennin, and even enemy movements around the Inner Sea, Mirkwood and Harad.