Military strength and organization of Gondor

Discussion in 'The Hall of Fire' started by Aldarion, Jun 2, 2019.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion New Member

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    I found a piece on "Gondor and Byzantium"; cannot post a link due to spam protection, but it is called "Gondor, Byzantium and Feudalism"; Google it.

    To cite a summary I wrote on another forum:
    "Tolkien did not go into details on social and political structure of Gondor. Terminology he uses is definitely Western - feudal (fiefs etc.). However, closer look shows that actual structural inspiration for the system of Gondor is that of a middle Byzantine Empire. Tolkien mirrored feudal breakup of the Western Roman Empire in Arnor, which got divided into three weakening kingdoms. Arthedain was feudalistic, as king granted hobbits land in a fief of sorts, though it could also have been a foederati-like setup.

    But Gondor is not a feudal society, despite Tolkien using decidedly feudal terminology. It is based on Byzantine Empire, with Gondor of the Stewards corresponding to post-7th century Roman (Byzantine) Empire. In Byzantine Empire of the time, Emperor retained full control of the bureocracy, and each province was ruled by an official (general, strategos) who, while having wide powers, could be recalled at will. Great wealth did not automatically mean high state offices, and there were cases of peasants becoming emperors through merit. Byzantine dukes and counts were military ranks, and were not inherited. While aristocracy monopolized these positions thanks to greater access to education, there was always space for talent from below, and emperor could always sack rebellious generals. Even a successful rebellion meant that a general would take a throne, rather than becoming a quasi-independent ruler as was the case in the West. Thematic troops received land in exchange for service, but land was given directly by the Emperor, who also reserved the right to withdraw the land grant. There was no subinfeudation: land was granted by the Emperor and could be taken away by the Emperor; it was not granted to feudal lord, from lord to a knight, and from knight to a tennant; there were no layers of vassals.

    While fief is a feudal term, its function in Gondor is not feudal. Imrahil is Prince of Dol Amroth, not Prince of Belfalas. There appears to be no hereditary ruler of Belfalas. While Imrahil may have been a large landowner, he is primarily the strategos of Belfalas, which is a state office. And just like the men of the themes could be called onto a campaign but principally stayed to guard their own homes, so did various fiefs of Gondor only send a small portion of forces to defend the capital. There is no indication of any leader of any one of forces led to Minas Tirith having a vassal, and their territories are both fairly small and of similar size to one another. Likewise, knight is merely a general term for an armoured cavalryman. Byzantines had such cavalry - cataphracti - and in the later period they were equipped after the pattern of Western knights."

    Overall, Gondorian military system resembles thematic system of Byzantine Empire. Now, onto other matters.

    Byzantine Empire under thematic system had wildly different army strengths. In 820, Empire had 8 000 000 people and 120 000 men in the army. Now, surface area of Gondor is apparently 1 855 530 km2, but most of it is rather sparsely settled. This is about three times the surface area of France, and little more than area controlled by Byzantine Empire in 1025 (1 675 000 km2). Population however may have been more sparse, so I will assume 6 people per km2. This will give population of 11 million, which would then result in army of 165 000 men.

    Yet Lord of the Rings implies that Gondorian army has hardly more than 20 000 - 40 000 men. Rohan is a powerful ally, yet they have only 10 000 cavalry and maybe the same number of infantry. In sum, both countries are extremely understrength militarily.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    I think that the article you referred to is actually this one. Extremely interesting reading! I'd gladly recommend it.

    Regarding the strength of the various forces and armies, There was a lengthy analysis in this old tread.
     
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  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion New Member

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    That is the one; thanks.
     
  4. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    Regarding Aldarion's post on these feudal aspects of the political structure of the various realms in ME, several examples show indeed how ruling kings awarded lands to deserving military leaders, or others whose contributions were meaningful:
    • Cirion rewarded the Éothéod with the lands that became Rohan, after their decisive help at the battle of Celebrant.
    • Beren, Steward of Gondor, let Saruman occupy Orthanc and Isengard so he could contribute to the protection against the Dunlendings.
    • Elessar (Aragorn) rewarded Ghân-buri-Ghân and his folk the Forest of Drúadan.
    • Elessar also awarded exclusive rights of the Shire to the hobbits and added The Westmarch, from the Far Downs to the Tower Hills, to it.
    • Elessar made Faramir Prince of Ithilien and Lord of Emyn Arnen.
    Clearly the Kings (or their Stewards) had full competency to decide on such important matters personally. What in our western world is routinely known as the separation of powers seems to be entirely absent in JRRT’s ME. Kings would issue laws (like no humans to enter the Shire nor the Forest of Drúadan, no strangers to enter Rohan without the King’s permission, …), assume governance of their land and administer justice, all at once.

    About justice, examples are Theoden’s judgment of Gríma or Faramir (as Denethor’s delegated ruler in Ithilien) judging Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Interesting is Elessar’s judgment of Beregond; within the short course of a few sentences, he is a prosecutor, a defendant’s lawyer, a judge and a governor all at once:
    • Prosecutor: “by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty.”
    • Defendant’s lawyer: “your valour in battle, […] all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir.”
    • Judge: “All penalty is remitted […] Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.”
    • Governor: “you are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain”.

    In conclusion, JRRT’s vision of the role of kings in ME is one of complete absolutism. Such absolutism exists for some leaders/kings in some countries, not to be named here; however, ruling kings in democratic countries see their competencies strictly defined (and limited) by the constitution in force and their most important functions are often of a more ceremonial nature.

    JRRT seems to have created such an exception of absolute ruling for the Shire. The Thain and the Mayor of Michel Delving look like such rulers:
    • The Thain was the master of the Shire-moot, and captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms; but as muster and moot were only held in times of emergency, which no longer occurred, the Thainship had ceased to be more than a nominal dignity.
    • The only real official in the Shire at this date was the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire), who was elected every seven years at the Free Fair on the White Downs at the Lithe, that is at Midsummer. As mayor almost his only duty was to preside at banquets, given on the Shire-holidays, which occurred at frequent intervals.
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2019
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  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion New Member

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    @Merroe I think that to understand Gondorian political system, it may be necessary to go back to the country that Gondor was modelled on - Roman Empire, specifically Byzantine period of Roman Empire. It had all elements that define Gondorian political system: divinely blessed absolutist monarch, unity and not separation of powers, union of church and state (in Gondor, King is also the Pope). However, it is far too simple to define Byzantine system as "complete absolutism", since there was the notion of responsibility and accountability to the people. Ultimately, Emperor's powers came from the people, and people routinely exercised their power to ridicule, constrain and even remove the Emperor. While the Emperor was, in theory, a supreme lawgiver, Byzantine laws were nothing more than codification of current practices, and were adjusted as practices changed. In some ways, Byzantine Empire might have been more democratic than European union today. So while political system was that of an absolute monarchy, political process or practice was that of democracy (a distinction that is today all too often lost).

    This, I think, is what we see in Gondor. King has, in theory, absolute power to declare or remove the laws, and do anything he wants. In practice, however, King is constrained - by the tradition, by the divine law and, ultimately, by his own subjects. We see that when the Faithful rebel - first in secret, then openly - against the monarchs who had abandoned the Valar. Likewise, the council of Gondor had rejected Arvedui's claim to the throne of Gondor - a bad decision, maybe, but one that clearly shows that monarch was not seen as "divinely ordained".

    I also remembered after writing the above that Tolkien himself said as much, even if he phrased it differently:
    https://middle-earth.xenite.org/did-tolkien-use-the-divine-right-of-kings-in-middle-earth/
    Likewise, the High King of the Noldor was not an absolute monarch; neither was the king of Nargothrond:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/tolkienfans/comments/4qkzd7/of_the_noldor_at_the_first_age_and_absolute/