“Gondor! Gondor, between the Mountains and the Sea!
West Wind blew there; light upon the Silver Tree”
Gondor was the South Kingdom of the Númenóreans in Middle-earth, established soon after the downfall of Númenor by Isildur and his brother Anárion. Their father Elendil, who ruled the North Kingdom Arnor, held the overlordship of the realm, however. Though it waned in power over time and the line of its Kings failed, Gondor survived to the end of the Third Age, and had an instrumental role in the War of the Ring. After the defeat of Sauron, Gondor was ruled by Elessar, Heir of Isildur. Gondor was the seat of the Dominion of Men in the beginning of the Fourth Age, and many of the tales and legends of the earlier Ages of Middle-earth come from the lore and history it preserved.
Before the Downfall of Númenor, the region that would become Gondor was home to many Númenórean colonists, who either mingled with the indigenous Middle Men if they were friendly, or dispersed them into Ras Morthil, Dunland, and Drúadan Forest. The land on which Gondor was founded was more fertile than the more northerly areas of Middle-earth, and therefore it already had a fairly large population and settlements, including a well-established haven, Pelargir founded by the Faithful Númenóreans in the year 2350 of the Second Age.
The refugees from Númenor led by Isildur and Anárion were given a warm reception upon their arrival by those Númenórean colonists. Those north of the river Anduin accepted Elendil's claim to kingship over them, being a heir of the Faithful Lords of Andúnie. South of the Great River, however, there were also-newly-exiled Black Númenóreans, descendants of the King's Men of Númenor, who opposed the Faithful, and therefore did not recognize Elendil's claim. Much of Gondor's early history was marked by conflict with the Black Númenóreans.
After their arrival and acceptance by the people, Isildur and Anárion put themselves to the task of ordering their realm. Isildur took the area then known as Arnen (later Ithilien) and built the tower of Minas Ithil near Mordor as a threat to the Black Land, and within its walls he planted a seedling of the White Tree of Númenor that he had taken before its burning. Anárion raised the tower of Minas Anoron the other side of Anduin's floodplain as a bulwark against the Wild Men. In between their cities, the brothers founded Osgiliath, their capital, from which they jointly reigned; these three cities also housed three of the palantíri, the Seeing Stones that the Faithful had taken with them from Númenor, to maintain contact with Elendil and the other areas under their control.
First Conflict with Sauron
The Dúnedain were at first unaware that Sauron, who had been taken as a prisoner to Númenor before its destruction, had survived the disastrous Downfall. However, not long after the kingdom's cities were built, the awakening of the fires of Orodruin signaled his return. At that time, the Men of Gondor first called the mountain Amon Amarth, or Mount Doom. Soon after, Sauron launched an attack on Minas Ithil, which forced Isildur into a retreat. Sauron took the fortress and burned the White Tree that had grown there, but Isildur saved one of its seedlings and took it and his family on a ship down the Anduin. He sailed to the north to confer with Elendil about these events. Anárion remained in Gondor and continued to hold Osgiliath. He also managed to push back Sauron's forces to the mountain range of Ephel Dúath, but Sauron began to gather reinforcements, among whom were a large number of Black Númenóreans, and the Men of Gondor knew that their realm was in great danger of being destroyed unless aid came.
The War of the Last Alliance
Elendil reacted to the threat of Sauron by combining forces with Gil-galad the Elven-king to make the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Their armies marched southeast from Arnor and Gil-galad's realm of Lindon. Supported by the forces of Gondor, Lórinand, Mirkwood and the dwarves of Moria, the Alliance fought a great battle on the plain of Dagorlad north of Mordor. The armies of Elendil and Gil-galad were victorious, and entered Mordor itself, where they laid a siege on Sauron's Tower of Barad-dûr for seven years. During this time, Anárion was killed by a rock thrown from the Tower that broke his helm. The siege ended when Sauron himself emerged from Barad-dûr to fight the Alliance. Gil-galad and Elendil attacked and destroyed Sauron, though they themselves were slain the process.
Gondor in the Beginning of the Third Age
After the battle, during which the long Second Age came to an end, Isildur built a secret tomb for Elendil on the mountain Amon Anwar. He also aided Anárion's son Meneldil, who was now King, in reorganizing Gondor. Isildur planted the seedling of the White Tree that he had saved in Minas Ithil, and brought to Minas Anor (later known as Minas Tirith), and it endured for several centuries. After these acts, Isildur left Gondor in the third year of the Third Age with the intent of ruling his father's kingdom of Arnor. He never arrived.
After the war, Gondor's power and wealth grew steadily (only interrupted by an Easterling invasion in Third Age 492). Its power would continue to grow into the 9th century of the Third Age. While the power of Gondor's sister kingdom Arnor peaked during the 9th century, when it broke into various successor states, Gondor's greatest glory was yet to come.
Gondor's Golden Age
Gondor's power reached its Golden Age under the four 'Ship-kings'
The reign of Tarannon was an unhappy one: he married Berúthiel, nefarious and loveless. Unlike her husband, she hated the Sea, its smells and its sounds. Mystery began to surround her as she used her cats to spy on every one, and paranoia and fear rose. After much ado, Tarannon banished her from Gondor, setting her on an adrift ship with her cats. It was last seen passing Umbar in the South.
In the reign of the powerful king Hyarmendacil I Gondor reached the height of its power. During Hyarmendacil's reign Gondor's borders reached their furthest extent. The Kingdom extended east to the Sea of Rhûn, south to the nearest lands of the Haradrim, as far north as Mirkwood and west towards the borders of Arnor. Gondor would also enjoy several centuries of peace due to its military might.
Rómendacil II built on the northern approach to Nen Hithoel the giant pillars Argonath to mark the northern border of Gondor following a great defeat over the Easterlings in T.A. 1248.
The Decline of Gondor
After Rómendacil II's reign, decadence spread under the kings of Gondor and a long period of decline began (although Gondor experienced several revivals). Three great calamities struck Gondor during the second millennium of the Third Age, which are held to be the chief reasons for its decline: the Kin-strife, the Great Plague, and the invasion of the Wainriders (a tribe of Easterlings), one of series of conflicts in the Wainrider/Balchoth War.
In the 15th century a great civil war named the Kin-strife tore the nation apart. The current King Eldacar was of mixed blood: his mother was of the Northmen. Popular displeasure at this led to the overthrow of King Eldacar by Castamir, the admiral of all of Gondor's naval forces who possessed some royal blood. Eldacar's son was slain, and Eldacar fled north. Castamir was afterward known as Castamir the Usurper. During his ten year rule he proved to be very cruel, and because of his love of his old fleet, he lavished attention on the coastal regions while the interior provinces were ignored and left to rot. Eldacar then returned with an army of his Northmen kinsmen, and they were joined by armies of Gondorians from interior provinces such as Anórien. Osgiliath was devastated during this conflict, its great bridge destroyed and its palantír lost. Eldacar slew Castamir and reclaimed his throne, but Castamir's sons and their forces were besieged in Pelargir, the great port of Gondor. They eventually retreated to Umbar, where they joined with the Corsairs, and troubled Gondor for many years, until their descendants died out.
The Great Plague
In Third Age 1636 the Great Plague struck and the White Tree died. This Plague was no localized event: the Plague swept through all of Middle-earth, reaching the successor states of Arnor and the Hobbits of the Shire in the North. King Tarondor found a sapling of the White Tree, and moved the capital from Osgiliath to Minas Anor, the City of Anárion. During this time, Gondor was so depopulated that the fortifications guarding against the re-entry of evil into Mordor were abandoned. It is believed that had the Haradrim or Easterlings been capable of attacking Gondor at this time, it would have fallen. However, the Plague left Gondor's enemies in no better condition than Gondor itself, and neither side was capable of mounting new offensives.
The Invasion of the Wainriders
Following the sapping of Gondor's strength by the plague, the Wainrider invasions devastated Gondor, and the conflict lasted for almost a century. The Wainriders destroyed the Northern Army of Gondor, but survivors linked up with the victorious Southern Army of Gondor, led by a general named Eärnil, and they defeated the Wainriders as they celebrated their victory during the Battle of the Camp, in Third Age 1944.
The Line of the Kings Fails
In 1944, Gondor also faced a constitutional crisis when King Ondoher was slain in a previous battle with both his sons. Prince Arvedui, son of King Araphant of Arthedain and Ondoher's son-in-law, and the victorious general Eärnil, who was a distant blood-relative of Ondoher, claimed the throne. Arvedui's claim lay mainly in the reintroduction of the old Númenórean law of accession, which stated the eldest (remaining) child should succeed the king. If the law was reintroduced, then Arvedui's wife Fíriel, Ondoher's daughter and last remaining child would become Ruling Queen, making their descendants Kings of both Arnor and Gondor. Arvedui also tried to put weight behind his claim as he was Isildur's heir. The Council of Gondor recognised that the name of Isildur was held in honour in Gondor, but they dictated that the South-Kingdom must be ruled by an Heir of Anárion. Due to his ancestry from Fíriel and Arvedui, more than a millennium later, Aragorn Elessar put forward his claim as the heir of both Isildur and Anárion.
Eärnil lay his claim as being a direct descendant of King Telumehtar Umbardacil. His claim was also greatly bolstered by the popularity he had gained as the victorious general who saved Gondor from the Wainriders after winning the southern theatre of the war. Steward Pelendur who was temporarily ruling Gondor as serving as arbiter of succession, intervened in favour of Gondor's victorious general who would rule as Eärnil II.
The Last Heir of Anárion
During the Battle of Fornost, Eärnil II's heir Eärnur led Gondor's forces to victory over the Witch-king of Angmar, who was actually the Lord of the Nazgûl. Although Eärnur wished to fight him, Eärnur's horse was terrified and fled the battle against his wishes. By the time he mastered his horse and return, the Witch-king had fled. Glorfindel the Elf then prophesied to him that it was better that he not fight the Lord of the Nazgûl because 'never by the hand of man shall he fall'.
Eärnur later ascended to the throne, ruling from Minas Anor (Tower of the Sun). During this time, the Ringwraiths captured Minas Anor's sister city, Minas Ithil (Tower of the Moon), renaming it Minas Morgul (Tower of Sorcery) and taking it as their lair. Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith (Tower of Guard) as a result. The Lord of the Nazgûl repeatedly sent messengers to Minas Tirith challenging Eärnur to single combat, taunting him that he had fled out of cowardice from facing him during the Battle of Fornost. Eventually, King Eärnur was overcome by wrath and rode with a small company of knights to Minas Morgul, to accept the challenge. They were never heard from again. So ended the Line of Anárion.
The Stewards of Gondor
The Ruling Stewards
The realm was governed by a long line of hereditary Stewards after the disappearance of Eärnur, son of Eärnil, since there was no proof that the last king was dead, and no claimant had enough support to be accepted as his successor. The line of Anárion was held to have failed, and Gondor was not willing to risk to another Kin-strife, which would surely have destroyed it. Whenever there was a new Steward, he would swear an oath to yield rule of Gondor back to the King, in essence only an heir of Isildur, if he should ever return. In Gondor there was no one who could claim descent from Isildur in direct line, and the northern line of Arnor had effectively disappeared, so this oath was not considered seriously. The line of Stewards ruled as Kings, without having the title.
Cirion and Eorl
In Third Age 2510, when Steward Cirion ruled over Gondor, the nation faced one of its greatest perils: an Easterling tribe named the Balchoth invaded Gondor with massive force. Gondor's army marched to fight the Balchoth but were cut off from Minas Tirith and pushed back in the direction of the Limlight.
Messengers were sent to get help from the Éothéod, a tribe which lived in the northern vales of the Anduin, but nobody expected the messengers to reach their destination. When certain peril came upon Gondor, however, the Éothéod turned the tide of the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. After the victory the Éothéod were awarded the fields of Calenardhon north of the Ered Nimrais from the Gap of Rohan at the southern end of the Hithaeglir, Fangorn Forest, rivers Limlight to river Anduin, western Emyn Muil and the Mering Stream, where they established the kingdom of Rohan with Eorl the Young as their first king. A perpetual alliance between Gondor and Rohan was established by the oath Eorl swore to Cirion.
War of the Ring
In 3019, during the War of the Ring, Gondor was the strongest of the free nations that opposed Sauron, and thus, its defeat was his primary strategic goal in the war. Gondor faced an all out attack on its capital Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Although nearly defeated, the Rohirrim once again turned the tide of battle, and helped win the war, though with heavy losses. The combined army of the West then carried the battle to Sauron at the Battle of the Morannon, a feint to distract Sauron's attention from Frodo Baggins's quest to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom, thus causing Sauron's destruction and the allies' ultimate victory.
After the second and final defeat of Sauron the Kingship was restored, Aragorn II became king of the Reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor.
Faramir, last heir of the Ruling Stewards, was to retain the office of steward (though not ruling), and was made Prince of Ithilien, which had been reconquered from the forces of Mordor. Faramir would serve as the King's representative during absence or illness, and became the chief counsellor of the Council of Gondor.
Initially, Gondor was comprised of the lands to the North and South of the White Mountains, but a large part of the northern territories was gifted to the Éothéod in Third Age 2510. Gondor's close proximity to Sauron's land was the catalyst of many battles and skirmishes, but its location also gave the Gondorians more ability to protect the other regions of Middle-earth from the Dark Lord and his servants.
Gondor was divided between several nearly autonomous regions. These were the following:
- Ithilien, across the Anduin from Minas Tirith
- Anórien, surrounding Minas Tirith
- Dor-en-Ernil, ruled by the Prince of Dol Amroth
- Lamedon, north of the Ringló
- Ringló Vale
- Anfalas, or the Langstrand, in the south-west
- Ethir Anduin
The long cape of Andrast was not populated.
Additionally, Gondor held or had held the following regions at certain points in its history:
- South Gondor, which was contested between Gondor and Harad
- Calenardhon, which was given to the Éothéod and became Rohan
- Enedwaith, never really populated by Gondor and soon abandoned
- Rhovanion, which was never fully under the control of Gondor but under Gondorian influence at certain times during the Third Age
Cities in Gondor included:
- Dol Amroth, a city on the coast of Belfalas
- Minas Tirith (originally named Minas Anor), City of the Kings
- Osgiliath, city and former capital of Gondor on the river Anduin, largely destroyed and abandoned by the end of the Third Age
- Tarnost (debatable)
Fortresses and Outposts
Additionally, Gondor used the following locations as military strongholds at certain points in its history, many of which Mordor later took:
- The outposts of Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw on Emyn Muil probably had small garrisons
- Angrenost, the fortress of Isengard, later granted to Saruman
- Aglarond, the Gondorian fortress, later known as Helm's Deep
- The Towers of the Teeth, built by the Gondorians to keep watch over Mordor
- The Gondorian fortress guarding the pass of Cirith Ungol
- The castle that came to be called Durthang, the largest fortress in Mordor, originally built to guard the Ephel Dúath
- Minas Ithil, conquered by Mordor and renamed Minas Morgul by the Gondorians
- Tharbad to the north, held by both Gondor and Arnor but abandoned and later ruined after Gondor retreated from Enedwaith
- Umbar, a harbour in the south which was contested by the Haradrim and lost and reclaimed several times
As the Gondorians came from Númenor, so came their language: Westron, or the Common Speech, was the main language of the people of Gondor. Though the source of Westron lay in Pelargir, the clearest form, without any accent, was spoken in Minas Tirith. This style was nobler and more antique than other dialects, and this was the Westron the Elves adopted. In reverence of the mighty lords of Númenor of old, Eldarin was spoken by nobility. Quenya was known to the learned, and Sindarin was used to be polite, especially by those of high Númenórean blood. However, especially the Sindarin contained several dialectical differences.
In earlier times, it was called the South Kingdom, or Hyaralondie, Hyallondie and Turmen Hyallondiéva in Quenya, and Arthor na Challonnas in Sindarin from the Númenórean point of view: the elements londie and lonnas mean 'harbour, landing'.
The name Gondor was likely adopted from the lesser people's terminology and translates from Sindarin as 'Stone-land', from the words gond, 'stone', and (n)dor, 'land'. The (generally not used) Quenya form of the name was Ondonóre. Gondor received its name because of the abundance of stone in the Ered Nimrais, and the usage of it in great stone cities, statues, and monuments, such as Minas Tirith and the Argonath.
In Rohan, it was known as Stoningland (a modernization of Old English Stāning-(land)), and Ghân-buri-Ghân of the Drúedain also recognized their use of stone.
The history and civilization of Gondor has been compared to historical elements of the real world.
Writing in a letter about an impending trip in 1955, Tolkien identified Gondor as Italy.
Tolkien himself likened Gondor in a degree to ancient Egypt, in terms of how Gondorians constructed gigantic stone structures, and the Crown of Gondor being similar to the crown of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Notably, some 'scholars' claimed that ancient Egypt was a colony of Atlantis, much like how Gondor was a survival of Númenor (although it is unknown if Tolkien considered this aspect).
In online discussions, many Tolkien fans have entertained the idea that Gondor is comparable to the Byzantine Empire, and Tolkien himself referred to Minas Tirith as a 'Byzantine City'. Some of the parallels noted between Gondor and the Byzantine Empire are:
Gondor is the south-eastern portion of Elendil's original kingdom. The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern remnant of the Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire eventually withered and dissolved, like Arnor, while the Byzantine Empire endured, although in declined state. Their geographical role is also comparable as the Byzantine Empire encircled the Mediterranean while Gondor occupied the region around the Bay of Belfalas; both were threatened by eastern and southern adversaries. The Byzantine Empire absorbed several 'barbaric' peoples like the Wends and Slavs, much like Gondor did with the Northmen and other Middle Men.
As a final note, the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI, remained in legend and folklore as the 'Marble King' whose messianic resurrection and return would signal the restoration of the Empire. This parallels the fate of Earnur and Gondor's interregnum period until the 'Return of the King' who restored the Kingdom. However unlike the Byzantine Empire, Gondor did not fall.