Umbar

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This article is about the fictional realm in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. For the prominent tree of Buddhism and Hinduism, see Ficus racemosa.
Umbar (Fate)
Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Description Harbour
Location Bay of Belfalas
later Gondor
Founder Unknown
Lord Kings of Númenor
later Black Númenóreans
later Kings of Gondor
later Corsairs of Umbar
later Reunited Kingdom

Umbar is a fictional place in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. It was a great haven and seaport to the far south of Gondor in Middle-earth. 'Umbar' was a name—of unknown meaning—given to the area by its original inhabitants. The Númenóreans adopted the name, probably aware that 'Umbar' was the Quenya word for 'fate'.[1]

Fictional context[edit]

Umbar was located on the south-western coast of Middle-earth. The great cape and land-locked firth of Umbar south of the Bay of Belfalas formed a natural harbour of enclosing rock,[2] but the "great fortress of Númenor" (The Lord of the Rings) within it was not built until S.A. 2280. It was only by this time that the evil necromancer Sauron had dared to threaten Númenor: "...the strength of his terror and mastery over men had grown exceedingly great, he began to assail the strong places of the Númenóreans upon the shores of the sea."[3]

Like the earlier New Haven in Enedwaith far to the northwest, and the later harbour Pelargir on the river Anduin, Umbar became a base from which Númenórean influence spread over Middle-earth. It was at Umbar that the last king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, landed in S.A. 3261, to challenge Sauron. After the Downfall of Númenor 58 years later, Umbar remained in the hands of the Númenóreans, in essence a Realm in Exile alongside Arnor and Gondor. But unlike these others, Umbar had been used by the "King's Men", who had turned to the worship of Sauron's former master Melkor in the last days of Númenor. These "King's Men", unfriendly to the Elves and to their fellow Númenórean survivors who were allied to the Elves, became known as Black Númenóreans.

Two Black Númenórean lords, Herumor and Fuinur, were probably from Umbar, as at the end of the Second Age they became very powerful amongst the Haradrim, a neighbouring people. Their fate is unknown, but they likely shared Sauron's defeat at the hands of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. The rulers of Umbar retained much influence over the Haradwaith, the land of the Haradrim, well into the Third Age. When not under Gondor's rule Umbar's system of government may have been a duumvirate: Black Númenórean and later Corsair Lords are paired when mentioned in Tolkien's works. Examples of this are Herumor and Fuinur, and later Angamaitë and Sangahyando.

Gondor's power, however, eclipsed that of Umbar as the Third Age progressed, and in T.A. 933 Gondor's King Eärnil I captured Umbar in a surprise attack, although this was "at great cost." For the following 500 years, Umbar was an important Gondorian city, a major seaport and a strategic centre from which Gondor projected influence over the Harad. It also marked the site of the submission of Sauron to Ar-Pharazôn, and so served as a proud reminder of the might of the Dúnedain of old:

on the highest hill of the headland above the Haven they (…) set a great white pillar as a monument. It was crowned with a globe of crystal that took the rays of the Sun and of the Moon and shone like a bright star that could be seen in clear weather even on the coasts of Gondor or far out upon the western sea.[4]

Even the Faithful who founded Gondor and Arnor respected the column, as it was a symbol of the submission of Sauron to the might of Númenor before he corrupted them. Many Black Númenóreans had fled Umbar from the assault of T.A. 933, to their subjects in Near Harad, but 82 years later they attempted to recapture the city. Despite killing King Ciryandil in their attack and then besieging Umbar for 35 years, they failed to take the city. Its supply was easily maintained "because of the sea-power of Gondor". In T.A. 1050, Ciryandil's son, Hyarmendacil I utterly defeated the Haradrim attackers.[5]

During the Gondorian Kin-strife, Umbar consistently supported Castamir the Usurper. Thus, Gondorian possession of Umbar came to an abrupt end in c. T.A. 1448. Umbar rebelled against Gondor and became independent. Eldacar at the time had no navy, so was obliged to let Umbar go. Castamir's descendants and their followers, the notorious Corsairs of Umbar, quickly established themselves as a major military threat to Gondor. Alone and in alliance with the nearby Haradrim, they were a constant menace to shipping in Gondor's waters, and on many occasions attacked its coastal regions. Gondor prepared to retaliate, but these preparations were soon halted as Gondor was soon after ravaged by the Great Plague. Vengeance, if not swift, was certainly devastating: 176 years after Minardil's death, his great-grand nephew succeeded in briefly recapturing Umbar, and even renamed himself Umbardacil. However, Umbar was soon again lost to Harad.

Throughout the rest of The Third Age, Umbar was home to a new generation of 'Corsairs of Umbar'. These new Corsairs were cruel slavers who often raided the coasts of Belfalas and Anfalas in Gondor. In T.A. 2746, for example, Amrothos, the 15th Prince of Dol Amroth, fell defending his town against them.

When Sauron declared himself openly again in 2951, Umbar declared its allegiance to him, and the great monument commemorating Ar-Pharazôn's triumph at Umbar was thrown down. Umbar's fleet was largely destroyed 29 years later, when Thorongil, in fact Aragorn, the last heir to the throne of Gondor, as it later turned out, who was then in the service of the Steward of Gondor Ecthelion II in disguise, led a taskforce south and burned them, killing the Captain of the Haven in the process.

During the War of the Ring, Umbar had not fully recovered from this, but could still send "fifty great ships and smaller vessels beyond count" to raid the coastlands of Gondor and draw off major forces from the defence of Minas Tirith. They were once again defeated by Aragorn, and the Dead Men of Dunharrow.

In Unfinished Tales it is stated that the Númenóreans had built other havens south of Umbar, but that they were likely absorbed by the native Haradrim.[6]

Publishing[edit]

The Corsairs of Umbar were first mentioned in The Return of the King when this third volume of The Lord of the Rings was published in 1955. The Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings, "Annals of the Kings and Rulers", also contains an overview of the fictional history of Gondor including the constant strife with Umbar until the end of the Third Age. The Silmarillion, edited by Tolkien's son Christopher from his father's manuscripts and published in 1977 five years after Tolkien's death, contains a part Akallabêth. This expands further on the events of the Second and Third Age that had been mentioned before in the Appendix to The Lord of the Rings. Umbar appeared on the bottom edge of the maps found in earlier editions of The Lord of the Rings, but it is absent from modern editions, which maps a slightly smaller area of Middle-earth.

Concept and creation[edit]

A possible influence for the Corsairs of Umbar may have been pirates of the North-African Barbary Coast who used to act as auxiliary troops for the Ottoman Empire.[7] David Salo, however, has compared the seagoing empire of Umbar to Carthage.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2009). "The Music and the Task: Fate and Free Will in Middle-earth". Tolkien Studies 6: 157. doi:10.1353/tks.0.0051. "...in primitive Quenya umbar, ‘fate,’ ..." 
  2. ^ Foster, Robert (1971), The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, New York: Del Rey, p. 509, ISBN 0-345-32436-6 
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "Akallabêth", ISBN 0-395-25730-1 
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1996), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Peoples of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Heirs of Elendil", ISBN 0-395-82760-4 
  5. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Appendix A", Annals of the Kings and Rulers, ISBN 0-395-08256-0 
  6. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien, ed., Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Istari", ISBN 0-395-29917-9 
  7. ^ Anwar, Zakarya. "An evaluation of a post-colonial critique of Tolkien". University of Central Lancashire. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Salo, David (2004). "Heroism and Alienation through Language in The Lord of the Rings". In Driver, Martha W.; Ray, Sid. The Medieval Hero on Screen: Representations from Beowulf to Buffy. McFarland. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-7864-1926-5. 

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