Military Organization of Rohan
Riders of Rohan are organized into eoreds, and are professional soldiers: “had no precisely fixed number, but in Rohan it was only applied to Riders, fully trained for war: men serving for a term, or in some cases permanently, in the King’s Host. Any considerable body of such men, riding as a unit in exercise or on service, was called an éored”. This can also be seen from the fact that many are horse archers, which is type of cavalry used only by either steppe nomads or else highly professional forces.
Rohan itself is divided into three command areas: King’s Lands, commanded from Edoras by the First Commander; West Mark, and East Mark, commanded by Second and Third Commanders. Generally, Second Commander is given the command of more endangered Mark. West Mark itself is commanded from Hornburg in Helm’s Deep.
Each Commander has one eored of Riders under personal command, which can in emergencies be used according to Commander’s own judgement. This eored appears to be based on bodyguard of hand-picked warriors maintained by each Anglo-Saxon lord, which later evolved into huscarles, introduced by King Canute, a Dane. Huscarles were a group of professional warriors in direct service of the king, living in his hall and receiving gifts in exchange for their service. This description is repeated almost word-for-word in description of personal eoreds, leading to conclusion that these were professional standing forces. Anglo-Saxons used “hundreds” as basic military and administrative unit, fulfilling not just roles of military organization but also taxation and administration; Rohirric eored may be similar in role.
Infantry is present in the Helm’s Deep, but it appears to be conscripted militia, as opposed to a standing professional force – as Gamling states, most of his men are either too old or too young. This territory-based system of infantry levies is used to reinforce standing professional army formed by Riders of Rohan, and indeed fact that there is distinction between Riders and levies reinforces the conclusion that Riders are a professional, perhaps even a standing, army. System is overall similar to Anglo-Saxon fyrd, consisting of professional core augmented by part-time militia consisting of all free men. Only the core (Riders of Rohan) can be used offensively, while militia is purely defensive and only used for local defence.
In fact, overall organization of military of Rohan comes from different points of evolution of fyrd. As noted earlier, original fyrd was a collection of all free men capable of bearing arms, from 16 to 60 years of age. They were recruited on the basis of territorial organization – the township, the borough, the hundred and the shire. The fyrd represented a fighting force of the shire, with each family marching together in a township fighting unit.
Unlike early fyrd, Rohirrim forces do not appear to be war-bands tied by personal loyalties; their loyalties are national. Still, each of commanders of Rohan is expected to self-initiatively wage war in defence of his Mark, much like Anglo-Saxon ealdorman in defense of his scir. Original fyrd of part-time militia was reorganized in 878. by King Alfred. He also created two rotating contignents, thus creating an essentially standing army. And while old fyrd was an infantry force, Alfred’s fyrd consisted of mounted warriors capable of chasing their opponents. These mounted warriors were full-time soldiers; ordinary ceorls will not have been able to afford horse required for service, and men able to afford the horse will have been rich enough not to have to work in the fields. Another argument for professional nature of fyrd is high rate of pay of fyrdmen – 20 shillings for each two-month period, equivalent to pay rate of post-conquest knights.
Alfred’s standing fyrd was designed to act in tandem with burwaran, the permanent garrison that king settled in newly built burhs. This also has reflection in Tolkien, in the fact that Helm’s Deep apparently has a permanent garrison as well as serving as a mobilization/collection centre for men and resources. Alfred’s army counted 30 000 men in garrisons of burhs, plus forces in fyrd and the navy.
One element lacking from military of Rohan are mercenaries – butescarles and lithsmen. However, they need not have been nonexistent: Aragorn has ridden with host of Rohan while Eomer was still a child, indicating that Rohan may have (had) something similar. But overall, much like late Anglo-Saxon fyrd, Riders of Rohan are a well-equipped professional army, with only difference being that Riders are heavy cavalry instead of heavy infantry.
Anglo-Saxon army had pre-arranged mustering sites, which were well-known and monumentalised so as to be easily recognizable. These sites could be used by troops as far away as 80 kilometers, and allowed the army to be assembled extremely quickly. They too are in evidence in Rohan: when preparing for relief of Minas Tirith, muster of Rohan is organized in Dunharrow. Muster itself again confirms professionalism of the Riders: camp consists of “ordered rows of tents and booths, and lines of picketed horses, and great store of arms, and piled spears (…) Watchmen heavily cloaked paced to and fro”. Speed of mobilization is also significant, with 6 000 men mobilized within a week.
Equipment and tactics
Rohirrim utilize swords, spears and round shields. Armour is almost exclusively mail, imported from Gondor. While some Riders are adept mounted archers, they appear to be predominantly shock cavalry. Of Theodred’s 12 units of Riders at Battle of Fords of Isen, 11 are heavy cavalry and only 1 is horse archers. Elfhelm led four units to help. At any rate, horse archers are only a small part of total force.
Rohirrim appear to use spears in couched lance charge, a novelty first introduced by Alexander the Great’s Companion cavalry, but which was later mostly abandoned until it was rediscovered by Western European knights.
Riders themselves however are fully capable of fighting afoot, and when doing so they organize a shield wall – Erkenbrand did so against Isengard, and Eomer meant to form a shield wall on Pelennor.
Overall, equipment of Riders is similar to those of Anglo-Saxon fyrd, who wore spear, shield, helmet, sword and mail shirt, and also had a horse – the only difference being that Rohirrim utilize horse for combat and not only for transport. This has implications for Rohan’s infantry, as average burwaran would have only had a shield and a spear, with better-off having a helmet and a mail shirt.
In Unfinished Tales, Rohirrim basic cavalry unit is eored, which was to contain no less than 120 men. Since Rohan’s military is apparently also highly structured, I will use 120 men as standard. Fact that 120 men is apparently standard is also confirmed by Eomer’s unit having 120 riders (he had 105 Riders after losing 15 men). Immediately after introduction of eoreds about 100 years before the War of the Ring, there were a total of 100 eoreds (12 000 riders), not including the riders of King’s Household. Full Muster of Rohan may have produced “many more than twelve thousand” riders before Saruman’s attacks, as they had increased in numbers since Folcwine’s time (Unfinished Tales).
Population of England was 1 710 000 in 1086., 3 100 000 in 1190., 4 750 000 in 1290., before the plague hit. Thus increase is between 53% and 81% over 100 years. As such, assuming similar increase in population of Rohan, and proportional increase in manpower, total muster of Rohan could have been between 150 and 180 eoreds, which would translate into 18 000 – 21 000 riders. Still, constant warfare means that number is likely closer to the lower end of the scale. Theoden only led 6 000 riders to Minas Tirith, but this was due to a combination of losses, limited time available and the need to leave garrisons and reaction force to defend Rohan. 11th century England could call 14 000 fyrd; thus, upper end of 21 000 riders would imply population of 2 565 000 for Rohan. Actual number however is certainly smaller; Rohan is far more militarized society, and (as seen below), has much weaker infantry force compared to Alfred’s 30 000-strong burgh garrisons.
This does not account for infantry, which is apparently used for garrisons; and even that is not necessarily standard practice as only west of the country appears to have any infantry at all. What infantry is there is defensive militia as opposed to standing troops. As such, number of infantry will have been much lower than that of cavalry, especially since Riders themselves are trained to fight as infantry when necessary. Since Rohan is a junior partner in the alliance, it is also almost certain that total number of Rohan’s forces is less than that available to Gondor. With less than 27 000 troops that are available to Gondor – maybe 25 000 at a wild guess – Rohan would have had no more than 9 000 infantry. If Rohan is significantly weaker than Gondor – a difference of maybe 25% – total number of troops may be less than 20 000.
Overall, 18 000 cavalry and 6 000 infantry militia appears to be a good number for maximum strength of Rohan. Due to Grima’s and Saruman’s manipulations, losses and size of the country, number actually available at time of War of the Ring was certainly less than this. It should be noted that Theoden expected to be able to gather 10 000 cavalrymen within a week in normal circumstances, but that number was reduced by the factors mentioned earlier.
As can be seen, army of Rohan is a highly-professional standing force supplemented by part-time militia. In this, it is not dissimilar to military of Gondor, though latter is likely somewhat more professional. This indicates potential influence by Gondor in terms of military organization, thus well representing the closeness and common history of two allied countries.