Gondor, or the South-kingdom, was one of the two Kingdoms of the Dúnedain (the other being Arnor in the north) in the lands about the Mouths of Anduin. Initially the lesser of the Realms in-Exile, Gondor survived to the end of the Third Age, unlike Arnor, and had an instrumental role in the War of the Ring.
The shores of the lands where Gondor would be established were settled by Numenoreans around the second Milennia of the Second Age, with the establishment of a port in Pelargir in SA 2251 and later Belfalas. After the Downfall of Númenor, the Exiles of Númenor, led by Elendil, established the Realms in Exile of Arnor and Gondor. Arriving at the Mouths of Anduin, Elendil's sons, Isildur and Anárion, ascended the great river and founded the realm of Gondor.
In Númenorean colonies and outposts, such as Belfalas and Pelargir, there were many Faithful, fully or partially of Númenórean blood, who descended from Númenor long before its Downfall. The colonists welcomed Elendil's sons and allied themselves with the founders of the Kingdoms of the Dúnedain. Elendil made the Faithful nobles (kin of Elendil) who ruled Belfalas "Princes". There were also many men of mingled blood, descended from the Men of the White Mountains during the Dark Years.
At this early point in its history, Gondor was the lesser of the Kingdoms of the Dúnedain, with their conjoint Kings subject to the High King who ruled Arnor in the North. 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 Anor on 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.
Extraordinary knowledge of stonework was brought to the South-kingdom from Númenor, and this skill was a vital part of the character of [ondor and its people. In the early years of the realm, the Gondorians worked to erect mighty cities and monuments throughout their new land. Their original capital at Osgiliath had great stone bridges spanned the Anduin, as well as mighty houses and towers of stone. Other works marvellous and strong they built in the land in the days of their power, at the Argonath, and at Aglarond, and at Erech; and at Isengard, they made the Pinnacle of Orthanc of unbreakable stone. Great roads that ran both north and south of the White Mountains traversed through the realm.
Gondor was, from the beginnning of its history, always more powerful and populous than its northern counterpart, the Arnor, in spite of its borders being impeded in the South and East.
The Last Alliance
Gondor was 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 signalled his return. At that time, the Men of Gondor first called the mountain Amon Amarth, or Mount Doom.
Soon after, in SA 3429, Sauron launched an attack on Minas Ithil, which forced Isildur into a retreat. Sauron took the fortress and burned the White Tree of Gondor 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 while Anárion remained in Gondor and continued to hold Minas Anor and Osgiliath.
He also managed to push back Sauron's forces to the mountain range of Ephel Dúath, but Sauron began to gather reinforcements and the Men of Gondor knew that their realm was in great danger of being destroyed unless aid came.
Elendil reacted to the threat of Sauron by combining forces with Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor, to make the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Their armies marched south-east from Arnor and Lindon. Supported by the forces of Gondor, Lórinand, the Woodland Realm, and Khazad-dûm, the Alliance fought a great battle on the plain of Dagorlad, north of Mordor. The Last Alliance was victorious, and entered Mordor itself, where they laid a siege on Sauron's Tower of Barad-dûr. Anárion, joint King of Gondor, was killed by a rock thrown from Barad-dûr that broke his helm. The siege ended when Sauron himself emerged from Barad-dûr to fight the Alliance. Gil-galad and Elendil were slain in single combat, but Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's finger ending the war.
After the battle, Isildur, former joint King of Gondor and heir to the High Kingship, built a secret tomb for Elendil on the mountain Amon Anwar and placed the rule of Gondor in the hands of his brother's eldest eligible son, Meneldil. Isildur planted the seedling of the White Tree that he had saved in Minas Ithil, and brought to Minas Anor, and it endured for several centuries.
After these acts, Isildur left Gondor in SA 3436 with the intent of taking up the High Kingship in Annúminas. He never arrived. Isildur had relinquished the rule of Gondor to his nephew Meneldil who became the first King of Gondor to rule in his own right and so, Gondor became an independent realm.
The Third Age
After the war, Gondor's power and wealth grew steadily (only interrupted by an Easterling invasion in TA 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 power reached its Golden Age under the four "Ship-kings": Tarannon Falastur, Eärnil I, Ciryandil, and Hyarmendacil I.
Tarannon was Captain of the Hosts and the first of the Ship-kings of Gondor, who extended Gondor far along the shores west and south of the Ethir Anduin. Commemorating his victories, Tarannon assumed the name "Falastur" when he took the crown. Tarannon was also famous for his Queen, the "nefarious, solitary, and loveless" Berúthiel. Tarannon had built a house in Pelargir that rested upon arches sunk into the Anduin, but the queen refused to live within the sound and smell of the sea. She lived in the King's House in Osgiliath where she owned cats said to be able to spy upon men. Eventually Tarannon placed her upon a boat cast adrift at sea. He was then the first king to die without an heir, and was succeeded by his nephew, the second of the Ship-kings, Eärnil I.
Eärnil I continued with the expansionist maritime policy of his predecessor by constructing a great navy and repairing the ancient haven of Pelargir. But Gondor was not the supreme "Lord of the Coasts" as Tarannon boasted; the Haven of Umbar stood in their way of complete domination. So in TA 933, Eärnil I defeated the forces of Umbar, seizing control of the seas and making Umbar a great harbour and fortress of Gondor. Even though Gondor's naval power was uncontested, Eärnil I was lost at sea and was never seen again.
When he was lost at sea, he was succeeded by his son Ciryandil, who continued his father's naval policies of building more ships. Ciryandil reigned over Gondor for seventy-nine years, and died in the defence of Umbar against the Haradrim, in Haradwaith, led by the lords exiled from Umbar.
When Ciryandil was slain, his son Ciryaher took up the Crown. After biding his time and building up his forces, he avenged his father, and defeated the kings of Harad, by land and by sea and made them acknowledge the overlordship of Gondor in T.A. 1050. In the reign of the powerful king Hyarmendacil I Gondor reached the height of its power. After this victory he took the name Hyarmendacil, meaning "South-victor". Hyarmendacil's reign brought Gondor to its greatest extent and power. For the rest of his one hundred and thirty-four year reign Gondor was at peace; the passes of Mordor were well guarded, and no one dared contest his power. During Hyarmendacil I's reign, Gondor's borders reached their furthest extent. The Kingdom extended east to the Sea of Rhûn; south to the Harnen and all the coast up to the cape of Umbar; as far north as Celebrant; and west towards Greyflood. Gondor would also enjoy several centuries of peace due to its military might. The Men of the Vales of Anduin as well as the Haradrim acknowledged its authority and overlordship, with the Kings of Harad paying homage. Hyarmendacil I was the last of the Ship-kings. He was succeeded by his lazy son Atanatar II Alcarin.
The extent and power of the realm Atanatar had inherited earned him the title Alcarin ("Glorious") but he did little to maintain its strength, and nothing to expand its influence. Already during Atanatar's reign, then, Gondor began to stagnate. There is some evidence to suggest that Gandalf first visited Gondor during this period, earning the name Incánus from the Gondorians. Atanatar II ruled Gondor for seventy-seven years, during which the wealth and power created by his father slowly began to wane. Atanatar was succeeded by his eldest son, who ruled as Narmacil I, but Narmacil had no children and was succeeded in turn by his brother, Atanatar's younger son Calmacil.
After sixty-four years as Regent under the old King Calmacil, Minalcar took the throne in his own right. In memory of a great victory over the Easterlings he had won in his Regency, he became King in the name Rómendacil II. Rómendacil II built, on the northern approach to Nen Hithoel, the giant pillars Argonath to mark the northern border of Gondor following his great victory over the Easterlings in TA 1248. He developed less tangible defences, too, working to cement a bond between Gondor and the Northmen who lived to the east. He went so far as to send his son Valacar to live among them, an act from which the evils of the Kin-strife would eventually develop. 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 afterwards 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.
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 first invasion of the Wainriders began TA 1856 during the reign of King Narmacil II, following the sapping of Gondor's strength by the plague. The spirit of Sauron in the East stirred up the forces of the Wainriders to attack the lands of Gondor and her allies. The Wainriders were stronger than any other horde of Easterlings before, and so in 1856, on the fields of Rhovanion, the Wainriders defeated the forces of Gondor and the Northmen, killing Narmacil II and enslaving Rhovanion. During the enslavement of Rhovannion, the Nazgûl entered Mordor. But the Gondorians would not sit idle, while their allies to the north were suffering under the Wainriders. In 1899 Kingn Calimehtar led a revot in Rhovanion, and defeated the Wainriders in the Battle of Dagorlad.
In TA 1940 the King Ondoher took council with Araphant the king of Arthedain. The kings realized that one force was beset on destroying the kingdoms of the Dunedain. For a long time it had lain dormant, but in the weakness of both kingdoms, it attacked. The Kingdoms allied against the power, and Prince Arvedui of Arthedain married Firiel the daughter of Ondoher.
After licking their wounds for 45 years the Wainriders returned with allies from Khand and Harad T.A. 1944. The Wainriders came in the north from Rhovanion and the men of Harad and Khand attacked from the South. The Wainriders destroyed the Northern Army of Gondor, but in the south Gondor defeated the Southrons at the River Poros. Their Captain Eärnil gathered the remnants of the northern army, and went north to challenge the Wainriders. In the Battle of the Camp Eärnil surprised the Wainriders, while they were celebrating their victory.
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.
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 to Carn Dum. 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 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.
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.
In TA 2710 King Déor asked the help of Steward Egalmoth to drive off the Dunlendings from the occupied Ring of Isengard, but a renewed war against the Orcs prevented the Steward from fulfilling the Oath.
Southern Gondor was assailed by three great fleets from Umbar and Harad and Steward Beren spent much of his rule fighting the Corsairs of Umbar. In the meantime, during the Long Winter of TA 2758 - 2759, Rohan came under attack from the Dunlendings, so neither nation could help the other, until captain Beregond, Beren's son, repeled the invaders. Therefore when Saruman suddenly appeared and requested leave to dwell in Isengard, Beren gladly gave the Wizard the key of Orthanc. By the time of Beregond, Gondor started recovering its strength.
Upon the death of Belecthor, the White Tree of Gondor also died, but was left standing "until the King comes".
In TA 2885, when Ithilien was invaded in great strength, King Folcwine of Rohan fulfilled the Oath and sent many men to Gondor. With their aid Steward Túrin II won a victory at the Crossings of Poros. Since then, Gondor withdrew from Ithilien and only the Rangers of Ithilien remained with special refuges for them, and a fortification on Cair Andros.
It was near the end of Turgon's rule, in TA 2951, when Sauron declared himself openly in Mordor; he gathered his power there, and began rebuilding Barad-dûr. Ecthelion II strengthened Pelargir and refortified Cair Andros. Under his service, the stranger Thorongil, severely damaged the Corsairs' fleet at Umbar in a surprise attack.
The War of the Ring
In 3000, 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 of Gondor was restored, Aragorn II became the third King of Gondor and Arnor.
During his reign, Aragorn restored Gondor and repeopled it, but retained Minas Tirith as the chief city.. He, alongside King Éomer, led military campaigns beyond the Sea of Rhûn and on the far fields of the South. As a result, he was able to re-establish his dominance in places which Gondor initially held at the height of its power. The threat of the Corsairs was finally completely subdued during his reign and Umbar was finally re-taken. He also made peace with the Haradrim after his coronation.
Gondor was divided into regions described as 'fiefs', each under the control of a lord who in turn owed their allegiance to the Ruler of Gondor, whether the King or (in later years) the Ruling Steward. Many of these fiefs were dominated by the Dúnedain, notably the royal lands of Anórien and Ithilien, as well as the shoreland fief of Belfalas.
The Númenórean King of Gondor governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter) but not the maker. In all debatable matters of importance domestic, or external, however, even Denethor had a Council, and at least listened to what the Lords of the Fiefs and the Captains of the Forces had to say. Aragorn re-established the Great Council of Gondor, and in that Faramir, who remained by inheritance the Steward (or representative of the King during his absence abroad, or sickness, or between his death and the accession of his heir) was his chief counsellor.
Gondor was centered around the White Mountains - to the North in Anorien, to the South in the in its various fiefdoms - as well as Ithilien across the Anduin. At its greatest, however, it extended much further, extending:
- North to the Field of Celebrant and the southern eaves of Mirkwood
- West to the Greyflood
- East to the inland Sea of Rhûn
- South to the River Harnen, and also along the coast to the peninsula and haven of Umbar
At the height of its power, between the reigns of Hyarmendacil I and Rómendacil II (TA 1015-1366), the wide lands between Anduin and the Sea of Rhûn were never effectively settled or occupied, and the only true north boundary of the Kingdom east of Anduin was formed by the Emyn Muil and the marshes south and east of them. Númenorean influence, however, went far beyond even these extended bounds, passing up the Vales of Anduin to its sources, and reaching the lands east of Mirkwood, between the River Running and the River Carnen.
Gondor encompassed many cities, including Calembel and Linhir, but most significantly Dol Amroth, Minas Ithil, Pelargir and the the historic capital Osgiliath and the later capital Minas Tirith. It also held many fortresses and outposts, including Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw, Tharab and Umbar. More notably, Isengard, Helm's Deep, Cirith Ungol, the towers of the Morannon and Durthang all started life as Gondorian outposts.
Westron, or the Common Speech, was the main language of the people of Gondor. An antique, more formal and terse, form of the Common Tongue was spoken by the Gondorians.
Many of the Men of Gondor could also speak the Elvish tongues, a notable distinction and characteristic among the Dúnedain of the South. Sindarin had long ceased to be a "first language" in Gondor, but was learned in early youth (by those claiming Númenórean descent) from loremasters, and used by them as a mark of rank and high-blood. It had changed very little since the Downfall of Númenor and though the Men of Gondor altered some of the sounds, they could still understand the Elves and be understood by them. Westron became used more and more by the Dúnedain of Gondor themselves, so that at the time of the War of the Ring, Sindarin was known to only a small part of the peoples of Gondor (and spoken daily by fewer); they dwelt mostly in Minas Tirith and the adjacent townlands, and in the land of the tributary princes of Dol Amroth. Sindarin was used to be polite, especially in Minas Tirith.
Quenya was known to the learned of Gondor, a tradition which has continued from the loremasters of Númenor, to be used for places of fame and reverence in addition to the names of royalty and men of great renown. All the royal names of the Kings of Gondor as well as all the Stewards until Mardil Voronwë were Quenya names. At the end of the Third Age, there were more Gondorians (those of Minas Tirith and its fiefs) that knew Quenya or spoke Sindarin than there were Elves (those of Lindon, Rivendell, and Lórien) who did either.