Real-World Politics and Economics in a Fantasy Setting
2. The Economic situation as at the end of the Third Age
Northern Kingdom (Eriador/Arnor)
The area once known as the Northern Kingdom of the Dúnedain (Eriador, Arnor, Rhudaur, the Shire, Bree and surrounding districts) has one main economic centre. This is the town of Bree, which is a mixed human and hobbit community, located at the crossing of the Great West Road and the Greenway (or Great North Road). This town acts as a trading centre for all of the various groups of peoples in the Northern kingdom: the northern Dúnedain (whose main community is said to be at The Angle - the exact location of this community remains a closely guarded secret of the Northern Dúnedain), the hobbits of the Shire, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountain mining communities, as well as the scattered farmsteads around the Tharbad area, and in a small way, the elves of the Grey Havens and of Imladris.
Agricultural produce is the mainstay of trade within most of this region, with the principle agricultural producers being the Shire and the area surrounding Bree. There is some agricultural land near the Angle, but from all reports this is not as fertile and productive as that near the Shire and Bree. Most farming is of the subsistence level, with surplus produce mainly going toward supplying the local regions. The principal agricultural trade products of the northern kingdoms are the pipeweed which is grown around Bree and the Shire (with the Longbottom Leaf produced in the Shire's South Farthing being the finest of this type, much prized throughout the region); a wide variety of grain and fruit-based foodstuffs (mainly supplied by the Breefolk); Breeland cheeses both hard and soft, of cow, sheep and goats milk (the hard waxed cheeses are the ones which are most familiar in Gondor); smoked and other preserved meats (preserved meat is mainly smoked, as spices for preserving are rare in the North).
The Dúnedain communities of the North mainly trade in worked goods, particularly leatherwork, spun and woven goods (the under-wool of the Northern goats is particularly fine and soft, and is much prized for wedding shawls as well as for baby blankets), and fine furnishings. The reputation of the Dúnedain craftsmen and craftswomen in the surrounding area is untouched, save by that of the Dwarven craftsmen. In addition, there is a strong fur trade from the north, with the furs fetching good prices down in Bree. There is also a thriving trade in mercenary services, as the Rangers of the North are the primary (and indeed, only) standing military force of any size in the area. As such, the Chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain since the time of Arahad I have sold the services of the Rangers as escorts for traders and as messenger services between the various settlements of Eriador as well as messengers into other areas of the North or as far even as Minas Tirith itself. In addition, while the Rangers are an elite force, there are many sons of Northern Dúnadan families who have sold their swords in the armed forces of various southern kingdoms, as well as working as freelance caravan guards, paid escorts, and various other such tasks which are undertaken by mercenary soldiers. Indeed, it appears that there has been a regular traffic of mercenary soldiers taking service with the Kings of Rohan over the past hundred years or more.
There is some trade in Dwarven metalwork, often brought from the north-east, in Erebor, as well as that produced locally to the Blue Mountains. In addition, there was the story that one of the persons involved in the despatch of the Dragon, Smaug, in 2941, was a hobbit of the Shire. While this appears largely to be local rumour, there is some economic evidence that at least one traveller brought to the environs of the Shire a large sum of gold and treasure at approximately the correct time for this rumour to be accurate. Certainly dwarven trade in the region increased dramatically following the rebuilding of Erebor. While the Shire tends toward economic insularity, with a large portion of its produce going to feed its population (the appetites of the halflings are legendary in the North), there is some contact with traders and peddlers who pass through the Shire.
The North-East (Erebor, Esgaroth, Mirkwood)
These three northern kingdoms are gradually recovering from the desolation induced by the dragon, Smaug. The destruction of the dragon in the year 2941 Third Age along with the destruction of the town of Laketown and the Battle of the Five Armies in the same year caused a major shock to the economic prosperity of the area. However, the reclamation of the caves of Erebor by the Dwarves and their discovery of the treasury of the Dragon within them provided a major economic powerhouse for the area. Assistance from the Dwarves was vital in the rebuilding of Esgaroth following the destruction of Laketown. The region is now a stable and productive economic zone, with each of the major players in the region working with the others to create a stable trading zone.
Most of the commerce in the area is between the Dwarves of Erebor and the community of Men at Esgaroth, with the trade largely being a straightforward exchange of foodstuffs and similar such goods from the Men for metalwork and luxury jewellery from the Dwarves. In addition, there is a trade in such things as unworked leather, wool and linen between the Men and the Dwarven artisans. However this trade often appears to work both ways, as the artisans of both people are admired for their work. In addition, there is some trade between the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Esgaroth; this trade often involves Men acting as agents for Dwarven goods. Due to the ongoing bad blood between the Dwarven and Elven peoples, there is a real reluctance on the part of either people to trade directly with the other. Consequently the Men of Esgaroth make a fair profit out of acting as agents for each side.
In addition to these groups, there is some raiding along the border to the East, where the lands of Esgaroth border on those of Rhûn, as well as the regular trade with the Beornings to the west. Annual trade expeditions from the north-west have apparently been part of the regular economic activity of the area as well, with the Northern Rangers providing escort for this caravan along the Old Forest Road. There is apparently an arrangement between the peoples of Esgaroth and Erebor and the Beornings regarding the maintenance of passage through their lands. In addition, there is a regular tithe paid to the Chieftain of the Dúnedain for the services of the northern Rangers in keeping the passes to the West and the routes through to the Blue Mountains trouble free.
The South-West (Rohan, Gondor, Dunland)
In the lands of the southern and western kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan, war has been a constant presence. The effects of war have been most strongly felt in Gondor, particularly in the districts surrounding Minas Tirith and in the Ithilien area (which has been unsuitable for settlement since the invasion from the forces of Mordor nearly one hundred years ago), while Rohan has recently been under increasing pressure from raiders out of Mordor and Dunland. As a result, trade has largely been disrupted, and will take a long while to settle back into a regular, peacetime pattern.
Of the three possible economic powers in the south-west, the most economically stable at this present time is the Kingdom of Rohan. The Rohirrim appear to have a fairly settled pattern of life, combining the nomadic roamings of the horse and cattle herders of the lowlands with the settled farming of the uplands and the vale of Helm's Deep. The principle trade products of the Rohirrim are largely horse-related, although there is starting to be an increasing amount of Rohirric agricultural goods which are reaching markets in Gondor and elsewhere. Recent disruptions to trade, including the incursions of the Orcs, Uruks and Dunlendings into the vale at Helm's Deep, should be relatively short-lived in impact, with the minor effects neutralised within three years, and most of the worst effects being erased within ten.
In the Kingdom of Gondor, the primary economic powerhouse has shifted over time from being Minas Tirith to being the coastal areas around Dol Amroth. This is mainly due to the pressures of warfare on the areas around Minas Tirith. While coastal raiders and incursions from the Umbarite Corsairs have been slowly increasing in Dol Amroth, there has still been nowhere near the amount of disruption to everyday life that has occurred in Minas Tirith. Additionally, the populations of Dol Amroth, Lebennin, Arnórien and Belfalas have been swelled by the increasing numbers of refugees from both the farmlands of Ithilien (evacuated during the time of the Steward Ecthelion II) and the areas around the Pelennor and Minas Tirith (in more recent years). This has provided an influx of farmers, craftsmen and laborers to these areas, and has consequently provided the Prince of Dol Amroth with the wherewithal to provide much assistance, both military and financial, to the Stewards of Minas Tirith.
Dunland has never been a stable area for trade, being composed largely of various barbarian tribal groupings, who appear to have very little regard to the niceties of trade, but rather appear to sustain some form of economic exchange through inter-tribal raiding. There has been a long-standing tradition of raiding between the Dunlendings and the Rohirrim, with each side taking from the other. What little Dunlending trade goods are found (usually traded on from Rohan) appear to be mainly weapons, arrows and horse tack. The horse tack, in particular, appears to be despised by the Rohirrim as being brutal to the mouths of the horses.
The South-East (Harad, Umbar and Khand)
There is very little known of the trading situation within these lands, as they all lie within the domains of Mordor. What little information we have is gained through raiding, through prisoners taken, and through the plunder of our troops. There is a certain amount of smuggling which occurs along the border between Gondor and Harad, as well as a certain amount of coastal raiding which is performed by certain public-spirited sea captains (one hesitates to name them as "pirates") who are based at or near Dol Amroth. In addition, there is a great deal of information which was captured by one Captain Thorongil during his capture of the harbour at Umbar.
It appears that the people of Harad are a largely tribal society, with each tribe jealously guarding certain waterholes and trade passages within that barren land. Occasional waterholes provide the basis for the sporadic agriculture of this area, mainly centred around certain fruits and grains. Many spices are imported through Harad, and it is in silks and spices that most of the smuggled trade between Harad and Gondor takes place. There is also some trade of rare herbs, such as the "Haradic Tea" which is renowned among those men who have served in the garrison at Poros - a dark, bitter brew, without the lightness of many of the herbal teas that most people of the West are used to. Haradic mercenaries (many of which have sold their services to Gondor over the past century) are fell and deadly fighters, although their tribal customs and inter-tribal rivalries mean that it is difficult to place them in Gondorrim units.
Umbar is located in a more heavily forested location, and it is this lumber which is felled to provide their Corsairs with their ships. The ships of the Corsairs are swift (although not as swift as Gondorrim war galleons) and tend to be heavily armed with catapult and bowmen. A single force of Corsairs is capable of pillaging a small settlement, something which has been repeatedly proven throughout their history. Through discussions with Umbarite prisoners of war, it appears that they consider this to be almost a form of agriculture - they will only pillage, rather than decimating a township. As the Umbarite prisoner I spoke to put it: "You want to raise goats, you shear each year. You do not take their hides off all at once."
Other than coastal raiding, ship building, and forestry, Umbar has industries in farming (the lands of Umbar appear to be the major link in the supply chain to Mordor) as well as metal and wood work. Of particular interest in Umbar are the large animals that we know as Mûmakil. In previous years, it has been thought that these beasts had their origins in the drylands of Harad, however it appears that instead, the forests of Umbar are their home. Mûmak ivory is a rare material, useful for carving, for knife hilts, and for a number of other uses.
Of the distant lands of Khand, very little is known. It appears that Khand would be the origin for many of the silks that are purchased, as well as a number of spices. Khandarese are very rarely seen outside their own lands, instead hiring agents either of Umbar or of Harad to perform their business.
Parallel economies: Elves and Men
A word or two must be said here about the nature of economic links between Elves and Men. It appears that commerce between these two peoples is very rare indeed, with the majority of such trade occurring through the Laketown folk of Esgaroth. There appears to be some trade between the Dúnedain of the North and the elves of Imladris, mainly in such things as horses, metals, and leather, with the Dúnedain providing the elves with raw materials and receiving elven worked goods in return. Between the elves of Lothlòrien and the men of Rohan there has been no trade. Indeed, it appears that the borders of Lothlòrien have been closed to outside interlopers since shortly after the destruction of Eregion (1697 Second Age). Most trade that elves engage in is with other elven kingdoms. As a result, it can be said that there are two economic trade "webs" on the face of Arda, both of which touch occasionally, but which are largely independent of each other.
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