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Author Topic: Dale (from Michael Martinez's Visualizing Middle Earth)  (Read 2236 times)
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« on: June 11, 2008, 11:34:22 AM »

The Northmen were descendants of ancient Edainic peoples, and were most closely related to the Marachians, the Third House of the Edain, those people who entered Beleriand under Marach and eventually settled in Dor-lomin, where Hador, one of Marach's descendants, was made their lord. From Hador were descended the Kings of Numenor and the Lords of Andunie, and from the Lords of Andunie came the later Kings of Arnor and Gondor. It's entirely conceivable that Marach himself came from an older family of chieftains who continued to lead other communities in Eriador and Rhovanion.

Whether any of Marach's kinsmen founded dynasties which survived thousands of years into the Third Age is another matter. But these Edainic peoples in the east continued to have their own leaders. They suffered terrible setbacks in the Second Age when Sauron destroyed their culture in the War of the Elves and Sauron, but some of them survived in the far north and around the end of the Second Age and the beginning of the Third Age they began spreading south around the edges of the Forest of Greenwood.

Most likely these Free Men of the North (as they were called) lived in communities much like those of the Edain of the First Age. They would have built strong villages protected by stockades (There were Orcs and other evil creatures in the far north even back then. In fact, they had been there since the end of the First Age.). Each generation or two, probably, one or more leaders would have led a southward migration to help ease population pressures.

In those early centuries the forest extended farther east, and in fact Erebor was situated on the eastern edge of the forest. So these early Third Age Northmen were in fact Woodmen (though not the same Woodmen, it seems, who inhabited the middle part of Greenwood and tried to help Isildur's Arnorians). These northern Woodmen were probably very primitive in lifestyle, essentially "barbarians" in the traditional sense: illiterate, speaking their own (Adunaic-derived) language, and relatively unsophisticated in culture and customs.

But at some point one or more of the migrational bands had to leave the forest, and these Northmen would have taken the first steps toward building the culture which eventually came into contact with Gondor. In the year 541, King Romendacil I was slain in battle with Easterlings and his son Turambar launched a campaign which resulted in Gondor taking control of much eastern territory. It was most likely Turambar who conquered all the lands between Mordor and Greenwood as far east as the Sea of Rhun.

So by the end of the 6th century of the Third Age, Gondor was probably in contact with various communities of Northmen who could have, by that time, spread far down the Celduin. How many "tribes" would there have been? There is no knowing. Tolkien says the Kings of Gondor gave them much land after Turambar subdued the lands. These Northmen then increased, both within Gondor's borders and without, and by the 13th century they were quite numerous.

Now the situation was quite different. Northman culture was probably a mixture of woodman communities in the far north, farming and fishing communities along the rivers, and farming and herding communities in the lands south of Celduin. Tolkien implies they had many princes, leaders, and probably he envisioned as many as 10 or 12 rival dynasties. These would have been petty kingships, of which Vidugavia's was the largest (between Greenwood and the Celduin).

Vidugavia's people are characterized as "a numerous and poweful confederation of peoples living in the wide plains between Mirkwood and the River". These Northmen actually lived along the eastern edge of the forest, but because of their use of horses they were able to control all the territory eastward to the Celduin. They must, therefore, have possessed a very mobile and sophisticated army. It was from the cavalry arm of this army that the Eotheod, the ancestors of the Rohirrim, were derived.

In the north matters went differently. Vidugavia's power stopped at the Celduin, and the most likely reason is that he did not possess any ships. In The Hobbit Laketown is portrayed as a remnant of an ancient maritime power. The Celduin was navigable by large boats or small ships as far north as the Long Lake. Tolkien doesn't indicate where these Northmen learned the art of ship-building, but one could suppose they devised it on their own.

The ship-builders spread eastward to the Carnen, and indeed their largest towns may have been situated on the Long Lake, at the confluence of the Celduin and Carnen, and perhaps where the Carnen flowed out of the Iron Hills. Some of the Longbeard Dwarves lived in the Iron Hills, which they had always considered to be an eastern outpost of their territories. These Northmen would have been the Dwarves' main source for food.

The lands between the two rivers, from Erebor to the Iron Hills, seem to have been a mixture of open grasslands and woods. This would be ideal farming territory, and there is every reason to believe that there must have been scattered clans and villages living throughout the region. But the population centers were most likely built on the rivers.

Through the centuries Vidugavia's kingdom rose and fell. In The Hobbit Tolkien says that Laketown's ancient fleets fought great wars. The author undoubtedly had no clear idea of how that history unfolded when he wrote The Hobbit, but as the history of the Third Age unfolded in the early 1950s he provided opportunities to explain those wars. The Northmen living along the rivers must have come into conflict with the Wainriders, but because of their command of ships -- and the Wainriders' apparent lack of ships -- these Northmen were able to withstand the invasions.

Hence, in the 600 years after Narmacil II's death, the Northmen beyond Celduin seem to have survived, but their contact with Gondor would have been cut off. Not only that, all the communities of Northmen between Celduin and Gondor had been destroyed or replaced by the communities of enemies. Trade should have declined and with declining trade populations should have declined.

Where did the people go? Perhaps some migrated west through the forest, but it's more likely that families simply became smaller as it became more difficult to support children. Many people probably moved into the deeper woodlands or more remote regions to become farmers and herdsmen. Tolkien seldom mentions economics but he does seem to connect growth in populations and power with growth in wealth and commerce. Hence, a decline in commerce should have produced a decline in population. The Northmen essentially entered into a dark age after the Wainriders destroyed Gondor's eastern marches.

The arrival of the Longbeard Dwarves at Erebor in 1999 doesn't seem to have heralded any significant rise in Dale's history. The Dwarves probably settled in Erebor because the town (or some community of men) was already there. But most of Durin's Folk were gathering in the northern mountains. Even though their kings lived at Erebor, they had too little economic impact on the region to survive. Thorin I left the Lonely Mountain in 2210, barely more than 200 years after his people had settled there. The Dwarves probably had not yet recovered enough of their former numbers to drive a boom economy.

But 380 years later, when Thror brought his people back to Erebor, matters were different. Now there were many more Dwarves than before. So many hungry mouths to feed would have required many farms. The Men of Dale may therefore have benefitted from an influx of neighboring peoples who hoped to trade with the Dwarves.

So, it is quite reasonable to suggest that Northmen had always lived in the region, even in the valley, but they would have been too few in number for the most part to establish a city. And yet, when Thror arrived with a great following of Dwarves, the local chieftains probably saw an opportunity unfolding before them, and inviting their friends and relatives from all over the region to join them, they built the city that became Dale.

From 2590 to 2758 should therefore have been a period of great growth and expansion for the Northmen. In Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings Tolkien writes: "To the Great Hall of Thrain, Thror brought back the Arkenstone, and he and his folk prospered and became rich, and they had the friendship of all Men that dwelt near. For they made not only things of wonder and beauty but weapons and armour of great worth; and there was great traffic of ore between them and their kin in the Iron Hills. Thus the Northmen who lived between the Celduin...and Carnen...became strong and drove back all enemies from the East; and the Dwarves lived in plenty, and there was feasting and song in the Halls of Erebor."

These enemies were undoubtedly Easterlings related to the Wainriders and Balchoth. There was a new migration of Easterlings into the western lands after Sauron returned to Dol Guldur in 2460. By the time Cirion became Steward of Gondor in 2489 the Balchoth were "slaying or driving north up the River Running and into the Forest the remnant of the Northmen...." Over the course of the next 100 years, the Northmen of the Long Lake must have become weakened, but when Thror decided to leave the northern mountains he apparently felt there were enough Northmen left in the region to make the recolonization of Erebor worthwhile.

As a result of the founding of Rohan by the Eotheod in 2510 and the later rise of Dale in close alliance with Erebor, the Easterlings must have been checked. Eorl died in battle with the Balchoth (or their successors) in 2545. Brego, Eorl's son, defeated the Easterlings in 2546, and Rohan seems to have been untroubled by the east for more than 200 years. It would thus seem that the Rohirrim so weakened the Easterlings that the Northmen of Dale were able to push them back across the Carnen. Some Easterlings surely remained near southern Mirkwood, but their great confederation of tribes must have been weakened.

All that changed in the year 2758. This was the year that the rebel Wulf drove Helm out of Edoras. Rohan was attacked from the east again at the same time. The Easterlings need not have been concerned with Dale, but there is the curious matter of King Bladorthin and the spears with thrice-forged heads that were never delivered to his army. If the Easterlings began to move again in the north as well as against Rohan, Bladorthin may have mobilized his army for war. But then the Long Winter set in and the situation must have changed for everyone. Bladorthin died and most likely was succeeded by Girion (presumably his son or nephew).

Girion would then have remained King of Dale until Smaug attacked the city in the year 2770. But Girion probably drove the Easterlings back, or at least followed them to the rivers if they withdrew as a result of long deprivation. Dale became strong and prospered until the dragon arrived.

The prosperity of Dale is summarized by Thorin in The Hobbit. The Dwarves provided the industry on which Dale's merchants grew wealthy. Girion must have controlled a vast trading network between Erebor, Dale, the Iron Hills, and Laketown (which was independent of Dale and itself in control of a riverborne trading network). Of course, trade seems also to have existed with Thranduil's Elven realm in northern Mirkwood.

Dale's economy was probably based originally on trading food to the Dwarves in exchange for stone-masonry, smithing, and specialized industrial fields (such as bell-making -- since there were no churches in Middle-earth, the use of bells seems to have been for sounding alarms and probably great celebrations, but both Minas Tirith and Dale relied upon bells to sound alarms). But as the Dwarves became more productive, Dale most likely exported toys and other items of Dwarven manufacture to other regions.

The city should have had a warehouse district, and probably many large houses, the homes of merchants and lords who had grown wealthy on the trade. The farms around the city may have become quite large. Wealthy farmers could have bought out smaller farmers. And there should have been towns and villages stretching out along the various trade routes (east, west, and south) to provide travellers with comforts and help supply the growing kingdom. Girion most likely lived in a great hall, and there should have been craftsmen such as tanners, tailors, carpenters, weavers, shoemakers, cartwrights, and so forth. Dale should have buzzed with plenty of activity.

Something I have always wondered about was what Tolkien would have called the other Kings of Dale (and, indeed, any men which might have emerged in its histories and legends). The language of Dale is represented only in the names of its few kings and the Longbeard Dwarves. These are all Norse names (or Germanic names modelled on Norse styles). In a note Tolkien wrote for himself while working on The Lord of the Rings he identified the language of Dale with Old Norse and the language of Rohan with Old English, but their ancestral language he identified with Gothic (the oldest recorded Germanic language).

Old Norse and Old English are actually closely related languages, separated by a phonetic shift and some alterations in grammar in the 7th and 8th centuries. The Angles were a Danish people, in fact, and eastern England (where the Angles settled) was later known as the Danelaw, because many Scandinavians had settled there. So the relationship between English and Norse is used to imply a similar relationship between Rohirric and Dalic.

But Tolkien nonetheless applied a certain style to his selection of names. Though he took the Dwarven names from Scandinavian mythology, he decided these represented a special name-set used only by the Dwarves. Men would have used different names. Some likely possibilities (in my opinion) would include Jarl (similar to Eorl for the Rohirrim), Agnar, Bjorn (similar to Beorn), Grim, and Karl (similar to Ceorl for the Rohirrim). Of course, he might have Anglicized these names a bit.

In many ways Dale and Laketown sound like old Viking trading cities. Tolkien might have developed an entire Viking-like culture for them, perhaps modelled on Icelandic towns with some Swedish trading motifs. The core of the royal armies were probably freehold farmers with many servants. The fleets were probably manned by adventurers. And many of the young men may have gone off to work as mercenaries to earn their fortunes and reputations. One can almost see runestones dotting the landscape commemorating the adventures of men through the centuries.

Dale could have been an interesting place with many stories to tell. It's a shame Tolkien never really sat down to work out just exactly what went on there.

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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2008, 12:32:39 PM »

Mordorrain, my friend,

This is wonderful.  Thank you for sharing this fascinating background on these important peoples.  In the Hobbit, fireworks and toys from Dale are mentioned as highly prized items.  This has always led me to believe that these people were greatly skilled in crafts, and that their trade extended far beyond their borders, likely through their ships.  I don't know if this is right at all, but I do like thinking of them as renowned craftsmen.

Take care, hunter, you might have the makings of a loremaster in you or at least a scholar with this fine research and writing.

singing along the road
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