Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age: 1. Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age

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1. Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age


Henneth Annun Research Paper
January 2003

Mardil (


1. Introduction:
Outline, Concepts, Structure

2. Geopolitics:
A Brief Overview

3. The End of the Second Age:
Ar-Pharazôn, Sauron, and the last years of Numenor.

4. Conclusion

5. Notes

1. Introduction: Outline, Concepts, Structure

This paper had its origins when in a discussion between myself and a notable fanfic author when we were both rather focused on other things. She mentioned that, once a certain large preoccupation had been completed, she would start writing a fanfic based around the events at the end of the Second Age. As a tongue-in-cheek remark I offered, once my own preoccupation was finished, to write an analytical paper in order to give background that might (or might not) prove useful for her. One (almost) PhD thesis and one MA dissertation later and here we go.

The history of Tolkien's Middle Earth is one of the most detailed and complex fabrics that has ever been woven in a work of fiction. Thousands of years of history, of created societies and races, are conveyed and brought to a vivid life in his works. One of the underlying themes within these works is that of conflict: conflict between races, conflict between societies, conflict between ideas; conflict over destiny, conflict over power. This conflict manifests itself, often, as armed struggle between two imperial, or imperialist, powers: in the First Age, between the Elven kingdoms and Morgoth, in the Second and Third Ages between Numenor, and its offshoots Gondor and Arnor, the Elven realms, and Mordor, with its own offshoot, Angmar. This military and political struggle, fought for the control of land and territory, lends itself to different types of analysis in the field of international relations and politics. One of these tools is geopolitics.

This paper is not intended to be a complete geopolitical analysis of the situation in Middle Earth over the entire period of the Second and Third Ages, nor is it intended to be definitive; rather it is intended merely as an introduction to ideas and an identification of key areas and issues. If anything, it is even more tongue-in-cheek than the offer to write it, coming from a British historian, with a British historian's traditional view on the (un)usefulness of theory, international relations and political scientists.

2. Geopolitics: A Brief Overview

Geopolitics is often identified as one of the most controversial concepts in modern international relations and strategic analysis. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, there has been a revival in the concept and the emergence of geo-economics, a variation of the same principle.[1] The exact application of geopolitics varies from practitioner to practitioner, but as a discipline

Theoretical Geopolitics studies the relation between physical space and international politics, develops models for the spatial division of the world into cooperating and competing parts for historical, economic and political reasons, and analyses how the participants interpret the political, economic and military consequences of this division… The Geopolitics of a state or other territorially defined society means its pursuit of geographically dimensioned aims that are connected with its economic and political position, security and culture. [2]

While a detailed exploration of geopolitics is not the intention of this paper, the application of certain aspects of geopolitical theory to Middle Earth can be examined.

Theoretical geopolitics has a number of tenets and models that can be used in application to Middle Earth. It has been argued that there are three groups into which geopolitical models can fall - imperialist, state and universalist.[3] According to Retaillé the first geopolitical formula is grouped under the term imperialist as 'it is the basic principle of colonial conquest and also shows hegemony taken to extremes in arkhe (sovereignty and its expansion)'[4] using space and area as the basis of positions. The state model takes territory as its basis with linear frontiers identifying it; 'These may emerge from ethnic or political bases from original cores and centres, or be enclosed within limits inherited from the colonial episode or from different international settlements and treaties. In any event, national identity is sought and asserted'[5] , with the model allowing for zonal centre-periphery regional units. The universalist models are not immediately geopolitical; 'they only become so by virtue of the paradox on which they are based and the context that they provide both for the imperialist and state models. The paradox results from the assertion of values of a universal nature…stemming from local philosophical and political traditions that are in conflict'[6] , allowing for the formation of 'culture areas.'

While geopolitical theories can belong to any of the three groups depending upon their particular thesis and tenets, the particular modals illustrated by the three groupings can be placed over and onto the political situation laid out by Tolkien in Middle Earth. The ideas of imperialist control of territory are evident in the actions of Numenor, Gondor, Arnor and Mordor, as is the formation of state and 'cultural areas', though Tolkien does not use these terms to describe them.

The political systems of the major powers in Middle Earth as described by Tolkien are one that, by and large, are hierarchical in nature and based upon a benevolent monarchical tradition, or else militaristic dictatorships of power. The role of a state is linked to that of the early modern to modern period; emphasis on power, defence and a 'place in the sun.' Ideas of social welfare and democratic ideals are secondary to those of power, realm formation and territorial control. While similar governmental situations are not necessary for a geopolitical analysis, that they are allows an easier comparison and for geopolitical analysis to be undertaken in the traditional usage of the term; that of areas of competing interests and geography, rather than having to use geopolitics in its modern, contemporary usage, with all the ramifications of geo-economics, globalisation and the breakdown of independent state action.

A further usage of geopolitics runs alongside these models as is witnessed in the works of Mackinder, Spykman, Haushofer and Savitsky. These practitioners of geopolitics - though Mackinder, for one, disliked the term and did not use it - used the analytical method to identify key geographical areas. These areas were key to political control and domination due to their geography and geographical position. Possession of them by a state would confer a decisive advantage over others and enable it to domination the political world.[7] While Mackinder's view of a 'pivot area' was located in the central Eurasian continental landmass, a 'Heartland' as he termed it, contrary pivot areas were proposed by Spykman - the 'Rimland' which surrounded the 'Heartland' and could contain it.

It should be noted, therefore, that while geopolitics can be used to identify areas that are viewed as key to political, military and economic fortune, there is no consensus on their location. Furthermore, the political and strategic reality of the time can alter these areas. Spykman's 'Rimland' was clearly interpreted as a theoretical basis in geopolitics for the constraining of the Soviet Union. Additionally, the possession of territory alone does not confer an immediate advantage upon the power holding it; geographical determinism on its own cannot give an indication of the power balance as 'the actual balance of political power at any given time is, of course, the product, on the one hand of geographical conditions, both economic and strategic, and, on the other hand, of the relative number, virility, equipment and organisation of competing peoples.'[8]

3. The End of the Second Age: Ar-Pharazôn, Sauron, and the last years of Numenor.

As has been argued, 'one of the aims of geopolitics is to emphasise that political predominance is a question not just of having power in the sense of human or material resources, but also of the geographical context within which that power is exercised.'[9] Bearing in mind the existence of separate threads of geopolitics, and that the interpretation of geopolitics used here is one that is very much linked to the strategic military-political field the situation at the end of the Second Age of Middle Earth, prior to the Downfall of Numenor, can be examined.

During the Second Age Middle Earth was dominated by three powers - Numenor, Mordor and the Elven realms.[10] The power of Numenor grew throughout until it reached its zenith at the end of the age. Aside from a little expansion and contraction - for example at Imladris and Eregion, respectively - the Elven realms remained broadly stable. Mordor, however, expanded as well, so that prior to the submission of Sauron in SA 3261 it dominated much of the continental Middle Earth.

The strategic competition between Numenor and Mordor existed from c.SA 1000 when Sauron founded Barad-dûr and founded the power base of Mordor. After he was revealed around SA 1600, Sauron pushed over the East Anduin, through the Misty Mountains and into Eriador so that by SA 1697 Eregion had been laid waste and Eriador overrun. At this point the power of Numenor came into play and Sauron was forced to withdraw defeated after a jointed assault by the Elves and the Numenoreans under Tar-Minastir. Despite this, Sauron's power continued to expand eastwards and to the Misty Mountains, also covering most of what would become Gondor aside from a few coastal havens.

From SA 1700 the Numenoreans began to settle on the coast of Middle Earth and it was from this point that the 'shadow fell on Numenor.'[11] This shadow was a love of power, a desire to dominate and rule lower men on the part of the Numenoreans; it was also a growing fear of death. From here on, there would be a long struggle between Mordor and Numenor for control over the fate of Middle Earth.

For much of the Second Age an uneasy stalemate developed between Mordor and Numenor, Sauron holding the majority of the continent, the Numenoreans having the mastery of the sea and coastal regions. Regional havens, such as at Umbar (founded 2280) and Pelargir (2350), grew up and became bastions of Numenorean power with an increase in their wealth and power cautioning even Sauron against an open confrontation. The situation during the reign of Ar-Pharazôn, prior to Sauron being humbled and the Downfall, is therefore one of the most obvious points to be used in analysis as it is at this point that the two imperial powers faced each other at the peaks of their power.[12]

It could be argued that at this point the basis of Numenorean power lay in its navy and sea empire, contrasting to that of Sauron, which lay in its army and land empire. Without previous history of a confrontation, the two not having clashed openly since SA 1700, some 1600 years previously, there could have been considerable disquiet and concern given the developments in the SA 3250s and 3260s. During these years, Sauron threatened to attempt an assault on the coastal settlements. It is here, however, that the problems of a solely sea or land interpretation of imperial power become evident.

Certainly, Sauron's strength on Middle Earth was great, yet it is not mentioned at this point that he had any significant naval power or strength with which to combat Numenor or with which to take the military struggle to Numenor itself. The contrast with Numenor was evident; in Numenor there was a navy that could transport a host that could take war to Sauron, as had been the case in SA 1700 and would prove to be in SA 3261. Militarily, however, the Numenorean strategy of holding the might of the military in reserve on Numenor, rather than placing it in and around the enclaves of Umbar and Pelargir, illustrated a possible grave weakness. Without solid docking and landing facilities, such as at Umbar and Pelargir, it would be difficult for the Numenoreans to deploy their forces with sufficient speed to achieve strategic and tactical surprise, assuming Sauron would be on the watch for war and wary of a repeat of SA 1700.

For Sauron, the reverse was true. An assault upon Umbar and Pelargir, assuming that they would fall, would cut the Numenoreans off from Middle Earth, or rather, from that part of Middle Earth closest to him. It was true that a landing could still be undertaken at the Gulf of Lune where the Grey Havens were located, but a landing there would take time to regroup, time that Sauron could use to assemble his own forces.[13] Landing in the southern coastal regions with no fixed docks or at Vinyanlondë on the Greyflood, was possible, but it would have been a more complex operation, both due to the tides and the sheer difficulty of transferring forces from ship to land with no immediate protection and provision. Furthermore, it would have been an operation that could have been predicted by Sauron, having taken place in 1700, resulting in his defeat by the Numenoreans under Tar-Minastir and Ciryatur.

At the end of the Second Age, therefore, it could easily be argued that the strategically important points were those of Umbar and Pelargir, and that the lands and seas surrounding them comprised a geopolitically essential area on political, military, economic and cultural levels; who controlled the coastland and the cities would control access to Middle Earth - and to bastardise Mackinder, who commanded access to Middle Earth ruled Middle Earth. The ramifications of this fact were evident in 3261 when the Numenoreans under Ar-Pharazôn acted precipitately and pre-empted Sauron's move against the enclaves, with the result that the former lieutenant of Morgoth submitted. The contradiction in the geopolitical philosophies of Sauron and Numenor - a version of the Mackinder / Mahan disagreement over the importance of a sea based or land based control - was temporarily resolved in the favour of the sea.

What is further of interest, however, is the way in which non-imperialist models of geopolitics can be applied to the end of the Second Age. Any attempt to do this is, in the first place, much more difficult than a corresponding attempt during the Third Age, due to the lesser availability of material. However, that there was a cultural question of geopolitics, in the third Retaillé model, can be assumed, for wherever there were conflicting questions of moral and political philosophies, as there certainly were between the Numenoreans and the dominions of Sauron - at least prior to SA 3261 - there would be the formation of zones of culture which, with the aim of becoming global, turned into geopolitical issues. Evidence of these cultural geopolitical issues can be found in the near worship that Sauron was given during the Second Age by much of the population of Men in Middle Earth. While political allegiance had its role, clearly there was a question of culture, religion and ideals.

Aside from the imperialistic powers of Numenor and Mordor, there is also the issue of Elven realms to be examined, having a major role as they did in their opposition to Sauron. The political structure of the Elven realms in the Second Age - at least at a superficial level - was similar to Numenor and Mordor, with a pyramidal structure of ranks. In North Greenwood Thranduil ruled as king; in Lindon, north of the Lune, Gil-galad ruled, last heir of the Noldor kings in exile and recognised High King of the Elves of the West, with the offshoot of Lórinand (Lorien) under Amroth.[14] A monarchical, imperial structure clearly existed, thus allowing comparison with Numenor and Mordor given their own similar political structures.

While they may have existed on the same map and with a similar mode of government, however, there were major differences in political - and indeed, cultural - philosophy. Imperial the realms of the Elves may have been, but they were not imperialistic in the same way as Numenor.[15] They did not desire domination and conquest over Middle Earth in the politico-military context of the word, witnessed by the construction and differing aims of the Three Elven Rings of Power compared to the Nine and the One. Despite this, however, the political formation of Elven units of territory brought them into a geopolitical model as did their total opposition to Sauron, both politically and militarily, both political and militarily. Whilst they may have existed as territory that had no desire to expand, merely not to contract, they are another facet of the strategic map.

In broad terms, Sauron had a strategic choice to make towards the end of the Second Age - whether to move against Numenor with its obvious temporal power, or against the Elven realms with, in addition to their own strength of arms, power invested in the Three - a power that Sauron understood little for certain. This uncertainty regarding the limits of their power, and the continued role that the Elves had in providing a check on the expansion of Mordor in the West throughout the Second Age, meant that the probability of his turning against Numenor was increased.

Interestingly, however, unlike the time of the Last Alliance when it could be said that the Elven realms and Numenorean domains were acting in concert, at this point prior to the Downfall, this cannot be seen as the case. As the darkness fell on Numenor, the relationship between the Elves and the Numenoreans became estranged, especially following the reign of Ar-Adunakhôr (Tar-Herunumen, SA 2899-2962) when the use of Elven tongues was forbidden.[16] With Numenor thus rejecting Elven influence, it could be argued that there were three powers vying on the continent, even though the conflict between them was not open. Certainly, after Sauron was humbled and came to corrupt Numenor, the ideological and religious conflict between the Elves and Numenoreans became clear, with the worship of Melkor by the main body of Numenor standing opposed to that of the Elves and their reverence for Eru.

It must be asked, however, why there was this conflict. Certainly the influence of Sauron had much to do with the acceleration of the progress, but it had begun centuries before. It could be argued rather that the underlying cause of the conflict lay more in the contradictory and conflicting existence of Men and Elves than in any personal issue. Mans life was nasty, brutish and short in the eyes of the Elves, while Elves lives were long, idle and slow in the eyes of Men. These contradictory tendencies would filter down through the entire culture so that even the most basic of tasks would conflict due to differing urgency and demand. If this idea is continued, it could be seen that the basis for conflict was that Numenor was trying to devise and form its own culture and civilisation that catered for its own needs - and in order for this to happen, the culture and civilisation of the Elves had to be rejected. Given the universal nature of these cultural and philosophical ideas, the conflict could easily be termed to fit as into universalist models of geopolitics as the desire of beliefs was to encompass the entire world.

Unto this situation another element must be considered; the Valar. Their role was that given to them by Eru, the One, who assigned them as the Guardians of the World. Manwe and Elbereth, the Lord of the Valar and his spouse,

gazed out over the Undying Lands and Middle-earth itself, hearing all, seeing all,
and taking all necessary steps to maintain the Balance.

Whatever their successes - and considerable failures - in maintaining this balance, their task then gave them a role to play in the politics and strategic balance of Middle Earth. While there was considerable reluctance to become involved directly in the affairs of Middle Earth, preferring co-option to confrontation, the importance of the Valar cannot be underestimated. Twice, directly, in the Ages of Middle-earth did the Valar make their presence felt, and both times it was accompanied by destruction and the changing of the world. That they had an effect directly upon the events of Middle Earth cannot be doubted; it was at their sufferance that Numenor was raised and by their actions that Morgoth was cast into the outer darkness.[17] They were political actors with powerful motivations. This should not, however, be equated to ambition in the same vein as Numenor, but without a doubt there were aims and objectives that the Valar were determined to fulfil.

The timing of analysis for this paper, being placed before the Downfall, means that at this point there would have been considerable debate over the role of the Valar. After the humbling of Sauron, the dominant view came to be that the Valar presided over the Undying Lands in a secular rule so that they could keep everlasting life for themselves. On a strategic level the Valar dominated the Undying Lands. At the end of the Second Age, quite literally, everything to the west of Numenor was their domain. That the power of the Valar was the greatest in the world, until that time, is true. Yet Numenor, which would humble Sauron without battle, 'rebelled, like others before, against the authority of the Guardians.'[18]

Again, the motivation for this clash is one of universalist philosophies. For their aim of keeping the Balance, the Valar determined to influence the actors in Middle Earth, even if they were one that only became roused to overt action on very few occasions. It is entirely possible, however, that their actions were not limited to those witnessed overtly. Later, in the Third Age for example, it could be argued that dreams and visions - for example, the foresight of the Dunedain - came from the Valar; in many cases these visions were intended to give the receiver a prompt to take an action to restore 'the Balance'[19] ; more obviously the Istari were despatched in the Third Age to ensure that the Balance was kept. In the Second Age, however, these actions, the equivalent of which may well have occurred, could have been interpreted in another way. They were less of an aid than mere meddling and interference from a powerful neighbour, albeit one separated by the vast expanse of the ocean. For a Numenor no longer allied with the Elves and determined to be their own masters, this could be interpreted as a threat and an attempt at subversion.

The rise of Numenor changed the strategic situation. Without a doubt they were the pre-eminent power in Middle Earth after the submission of Sauron. Had they been so minded there is little doubt that they would have been able to overrun the Elven realms. In short, the Valar would have seen a power rising, one that was determined to have its own culture and ambitions, and be free not just from Elven but also from Valinorean influence; they would have seen a power that was determined to be free of allegiance to the Valar. Given their aim of maintaining the Balance this would have been a situation of grave concern to the Valar, especially when they saw the way the culture was directed and the conflict that it would ultimately bring between Numenor and Valinor.

4. Conclusion

Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age was a mixed affair. On Middle Earth affairs were dominated by Numenor and Mordor with the Elves having a stable role. Each of the three had, or were forming, underlying political and cultural philosophies that could easily come into geopolitical and strategic conflict as proved to be the case between Numenor and Mordor in military confrontation and between Numenor and the Elves in terms of a cultural struggle for the minds of the Numenorean people.

Over this situation, the Valar presided. Political actors themselves, determined to maintain the Balance, they were by no means neutral in their guardianship. The rise of Numenor was fact of the strategic reality that would have grown ever more obvious and, perhaps, even as the Faithful looked West in hope, those in the West would have looked East with trepidation.

5. Notes

[1] Following Harold Sprout's article ('Geopolitical Hypotheses in Technological Perspective' World Politics Vol.15), geopolitics came to be identified with exploitation of knowledge to serve the aims of a national regime - associated through the works of Karl Haushofer with the aggressive actions of Nazi Germany. The term 'geopolitics' became value-laden, and despite the discipline having a heritage that could be traced back to Hippocrates and Aristotle, it became a concept that was frowned upon. Since the end of the Cold War geopolitics has experienced a revival in defence and military analysis. However, in contemporary analysis, the realist preoccupation with territorial defence has given way to neoliberal concerns over interdependence and world politics based on economic considerations. 'Geoeconomics' is said to have replaced geopolitics as the guiding motivation for foreign policy formulation and conduct. Summary taken from Evans, G. & Newham, J. The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations (London: Penguin, 1998.) For a further explanation of geopolitics see Weiser, D. '"Geopolitics" - Renaissance of a Controversial Concept' Aussenpolitik, Vol.45 No.4, 1994, pp.402-411.

[2] Tuomi, O. 'The new Geopolitics - the World System and Northern Europe seen from a modern geopolitical perspective' Finnish Defence Studies, no.11 (Helsinki: National Defence College, 1998), p.28 cited in Ferrari, B. 'Some considerations about the methods and the nature of Political Geography and Geopolitics' ( [Accessed 8 August 2002]

[3] Retaillé, D. 'La geopolitique dans l'historie' Espaces Temps, 68-69-70, pp.187-201. Reprinted: Retaillé, D. 'Geopolitics in History' in Lévy, J. (ed.) From Geopolitics to Global Politics: A French Connection (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001), pp.35-51.

[4] Ibid., p.37

[5] Ibid., p.39

[6] Ibid., p.40

[7] Mackinder proposed his ideas in 'The Geographical Pivot of History' Geographical Journal, Vol.23, 1904, pp.421-37 and in Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction (London, 1919.) His argument that the Central Eurasian pivot area was key to the control of world politics was summed up in his famous phrase: 'Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.'

[8] Mackinder, H.J., (1904) op cit., Ref. 74, p.437.

[9] Sloan, G. 'Sir Halford Mackinder: The Heartland Theory Then and Now' in Geopolitics: Geography and Strategy (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999), p.269.

[10] While the Elven realms were independent of each other for the purposes of this paper they will be treated as one. Also, for the purposes of this paper Middle Earth will be used to describe the area that is portrayed in the main maps given in The Lord of the Rings. That is, to Harad and Rhun in the south and east, to the Grey Mountains in the north and the coastline in the west. The definition has, of course, no distinct boundaries.

[11] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings (London: HarperCollins 1991) Appendix B, p.1120

[12] It is also at this point that the author who is prompting me to write this wishes to place her story. Who am I to argue, if I do not want a visit from the guest in the front room?

[13] Much as happened at the very end of the age in the days of the Last Alliance, when the assembly and training of forces required a three year halt at Imladris; time enough for Sauron to raise his own forces and for the resulting conflict to last for over a decade.

[14] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B; Tolkien, J.R.R. Unfinished Tales (London: Grafton, 1991), Part II (IV)

[15] It is noted that Ar-Pharazôn 'had fared often abroad, for as a leader in the wars that the Numenoreans made then in the coastlands of Middle-earth, seeking to extend their dominion over Men…' Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977), Akallab?th, p.269

[16] The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A (i); Unfinished Tales, Part II (III)

[17] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977), Akallab?th, p.260

[18] Tyler, J.E.A. The Tolkien Companion (London: Picador, 1977), p.504

[19] For example, Malbeth the Seer's vision concerning the Paths of the Dead, the recounting of with to Aragorn prompted him to initially begin to consider a change in plan; a change in plan which would lead to victory on the Pelannor, and ultimately, the defeat of Sauron. Thus the Balance was maintained.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Mardil

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Akallabêth/Last Alliance

Genre: Research Article

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/21/09

Original Post: 01/17/03

Go to Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age overview


WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age

Adaneth - 29 May 09 - 8:13 AM

Ch. 1: Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age

Finally getting a chance to read this--

Very interesting, especially the analysis of the role of the Valar.  I'm glad to see the piece was recently updated.

I have noticed that while Numenoreans regularly sailed east and Tolkien describes the Teleri of Tol Eressëa coming openly to Numenor before the rise of the King's Men . . . never, after the colonization of Numenor, is there a mention of any ships of Lindon going to that isle.  Gil-Galad sent messages to Tar-Meneldur by Aldarion, not his own mariners.  Why, do you think, this might be?



Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age

illereyn - 30 May 09 - 7:53 AM

Ch. 1: Geopolitics at the end of the Second Age

Wow.  This article clarified and analysed Second Age politics very well.  It was also easy for someone with no background in politics or history (like me!) to read and to understand.  Thank you very much!

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