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J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location
Blason Gondor.svg
Coat of arms bearing the white tree, Nimloth the fair
First appearanceThe Lord of the Rings
Typesouthern Númenórean realm in exile
RulerKings of Gondor; Stewards of Gondor
Other name(s)The South-kingdom
Locationnorthwest Middle-earth
CapitalOsgiliath, then Minas Tirith
FounderIsildur and Anárion

Gondor is a fictional kingdom in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, described as the greatest realm of Men in the west of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. The third volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, is largely concerned with the events in Gondor during the War of the Ring and with the restoration of the realm afterward. The history of the kingdom is outlined in the appendices of the book.

According to the narrative, Gondor was founded by the brothers Isildur and Anárion, exiles from the downfallen island kingdom of Númenor. Along with Arnor in the north, Gondor, the South-kingdom, served as a last stronghold of the Men of the West. After an early period of growth, Gondor gradually declined as the Third Age progressed, being continually weakened by internal strife and conflict with the allies of the Dark Lord Sauron. The kingdom's ascendancy was restored only with Sauron's final defeat and the crowning of Aragorn.

Based upon early conceptions, the history and geography of Gondor were developed in stages as Tolkien extended his legendarium while writing of The Lord of the Rings. Critics have noted the contrast between the cultured but lifeless Stewards of Gondor, and the simple but vigorous leaders of the Kingdom of Rohan, modelled on Tolkien's favoured Anglo-Saxons. Scholars have noted parallels between Gondor and the Normans, Ancient Rome, the Vikings, the Goths, the Langobards, and the Byzantine Empire.


Fictional etymology[edit]

Tolkien intended the name Gondor to be Sindarin for "land of stone".[T 1][T 2] This is echoed in the text of The Lord of the Rings by the name for Gondor among the Rohirrim, Stoningland.[T 3] Tolkien's early writings suggest that this was a reference to the highly developed masonry of Gondorians in contrast to their rustic neighbours.[T 4] This view is supported by the Drúedain terms for Gondorians and Minas Tirith—Stonehouse-folk and Stone-city.[T 5] Tolkien denied that the name Gondor had been inspired by the ancient Ethiopian citadel of Gondar, stating that the root Ond went back to an account he had read as a child mentioning ond ("stone") as one of only two words known of the pre-Celtic languages of Britain.[T 6] Gondor is also called the South-kingdom or Southern Realm, and together with Arnor as the Númenórean Realms in Exile. Researchers Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have proposed a Quenya translation of Gondor: Ondonórë.[1]

Fictional history[edit]


The first people in the region were the Drúedain, a hunter-gatherer people of Men who arrive in the First Age. They were pushed aside by later settlers and came to live in the pine-woods of the Druadan Forest[T 5] by the north-eastern White Mountains.[T 7]

The next people settled in the White Mountains, and became known as the Men of the Mountains. They built a megalithic subterranean complex at Dunharrow. They became subject to Sauron in the Dark Years. Fragments of pre-Númenórean languages survive in later ages in place-names such as Erech, Arnach, and Umbar.[T 8]

Númenórean kingdom[edit]

The shorelands of Gondor were widely colonized by the Númenóreans from the middle of the Second Age, especially by Elf-friends loyal to Elendil.[T 9] His sons Isildur and Anárion landed in Gondor after the drowning of Númenor and co-founded the Kingdom of Gondor. Isildur brought with him a seedling of Nimloth the fair, the white tree from Númenór, and it appeared on the coat of arms of Gondor. Elendil, who founded the Kingdom of Arnor to the north, was held to be the High King of all the lands of the Dúnedain.[T 10] Within the South-kingdom, the hometowns of Isildur and Anárion were Minas Ithil and Minas Tirith respectively, and the capital city was Osgiliath.[T 10]

Sauron survived the destruction of Númenor and secretly returned to his realm of Mordor, soon launching a war against the Númenórean kingdoms. He captured Minas Ithil, but Isildur escaped by ship to Arnor; meanwhile, Anárion was able to defend Osgiliath.[T 9] Elendil and the Elven-king Gil-galad formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and together with Isildur and Anárion, they besieged and defeated Mordor.[T 9] Sauron was overthrown; but the One Ring that Isildur took from him was not destroyed, and thus Sauron continued to exist.[T 11]

Both Elendil and Anárion were killed in the war, so Isildur conferred rule of Gondor upon Anárion's son Meneldil, retaining suzerainty over Gondor as High King of the Dúnedain. Isildur and his three elder sons were ambushed and killed by Orcs in the Gladden Fields. Isildur's remaining son Valandil did not attempt to claim his father's place as Gondor's monarch; the kingdom is ruled solely by Meneldil and his descendants until their line dies out.[T 11]

Third Age, under the Stewards[edit]

Seal of the Stewards of Gondor[a]

During the early years of the Third Age, Gondor was victorious and wealthy, and kept a careful watch on Mordor. The peace ended with Easterling invasions.[T 13] Gondor established a powerful navy and captured the southern port of Umbar from the Black Númenóreans.[T 13] Gondor became very rich.[T 10] Gondor neglected the watch on Mordor, and there was a civil war; Umbar declared independence.[T 13] The kings of Harad grew stronger and there was fighting in the south.[T 14] With a Great Plague the population began a steep decline.[T 13] The capital was moved from Osgiliath to the less affected Minas Anor and evil creatures returned to the mountains bordering Mordor. There was war with the Easterling Wainriders, and Gondor lost its line of kings.[T 15] The Ringwraiths captured and occupied Minas Ithil[T 9] which became Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery. Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard.[T 16][T 9][T 10] Without kings, Gondor was ruled by stewards for many generations, father to son; despite their exercise of power and hereditary status, they were never accepted as kings, or sat in the high throne.[T 17][b] After several attacks by evil forces the province of Ithilien[T 18] and the city of Osgiliath were abandoned.[T 10][T 13] Later the forces of Gondor, led by Aragorn under an alias, attacked Umbar and destroyed the Corsair fleet, allowing Denethor II to devote his attention to Mordor.[T 12][3]

War of the Ring and restoration[edit]

Coat of arms of Dol Amroth

Denethor sends his son Boromir to Rivendell for advice as war looms. There, Boromir attends the Council of Elrond, sees the One Ring, and suggests it be used as a weapon to save Gondor. Elrond rebukes him; instead, the hobbit Frodo is made ring-bearer, and a Fellowship, including Boromir, is sent on a quest to destroy the Ring.[T 19] Sauron attacks Osgiliath; the defenders leave, destroying the last bridge across the Anduin. Minas Tirith faces direct land attack from Mordor, combined with naval attack by the Corsairs of Umbar. The hobbits Frodo and Sam travel through Ithilien, and are captured by Faramir, Boromir's brother, who holds them at Henneth Annûn, but lets them continue their quest.[T 20] Aragorn summons the Dead Men of Dunharrow to destroy the forces from Umbar, freeing men from the southern provinces of Gondor such as Dol Amroth[T 18][T 21] to come to the aid of Minas Tirith. Gondor, with the Riders of Rohan as cavalry, defeats the army of Mordor in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Aragorn leads an army to the Black Gate of Mordor to distract Sauron from the hobbits' quest to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. The hobbits succeed, and Sauron is defeated. Aragorn is crowned King.[T 22][T 14][T 23][T 24]

Fictional geography[edit]

Sketch map of Gondor in the Third Age, bordered by Rohan and Mordor

Gondor's geography is illustrated in the maps for The Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales made by Christopher Tolkien on the basis of his father's sketches, and geographical accounts in The Rivers and Beacon-Hills of Gondor, Cirion and Eorl, and The Lord of the Rings. Gondor lies in the west of Middle-earth, on the northern shores of Anfalas[T 25][T 18] and the Bay of Belfalas[T 21] with the great port of Pelargir near the river Anduin's delta in the fertile[T 26] and populous[T 18] region of Lebennin,[T 27] stretching up to the White Mountains (Ered Nimrais). Near the mouths of Anduin was the island of Tolfalas.[T 28] The Pinnath Gelin hills lay in the southwest of Gondor.[T 18]

The region of Lamedon and the uplands of the prosperous Morthond, with the desolate Hill of Erech,[T 29] lay to the south of the White Mountains, while the populous[T 3] valleys of Lossarnach were just south of Minas Tirith. Ringló Vale lay between Lamedon and Lebennin.[T 30]

The regions of Anórien, with its capital Minas Anor, and Calenardhon, with fortresses at Isengard[T 31][T 22] and Helm's Deep, lie to the north of the White Mountains. Calenardhon was granted independence as the kingdom of Rohan. To the northeast, by the river Anduin, are the Emyn Muil, with watchtowers on the hills of Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw on opposite banks of the river, and the Gates of Argonath at the northern entrance into the straits of Anduin as a warning to trespassers. Further down the river are the hills of Emyn Arnen.

Tolkien noted that the capital, Minas Tirith, was at a latitude comparable to that of Florence;[T 32] suggesting a Mediterranean climate. To the north-west of the kingdom lies Arnor; to the north, Gondor is neighboured by Wilderland and Rohan; to the north-east, by Rhûn; to the east, by Mordor; to the south, by the deserts of northern Harad. To the west lies the Great Sea. Gondor's land area was estimated by Karen Wynn Fonstad from Tolkien's maps at 716,426 square miles (1,855,530 km2).[4]

The wide land to the west of Rohan was Enedwaith; in some of Tolkien's writings it is part of Gondor, in others not.[T 33][T 10][T 34][T 31] The hot and dry region of South Gondor was by the time of the War of the Rings "a debatable and desert land", contested by the men of Harad.[T 27]

Concept and creation[edit]

Tolkien's original thoughts about the later ages of Middle-earth are outlined in his first sketches for the legend of Númenor made in the mid-1930s, and already contain conceptions resembling that of Gondor.[T 35] The appendices to The Lord of the Rings were brought to a finished state in 1953–54, but a decade later, during preparations for the release of the Second Edition, Tolkien elaborated the events that had led to the Kin-strife and introduced the regency of Rómendacil II.[T 36] The final development of the history and geography of Gondor took place around 1970, in the last years of Tolkien's life, when he invented justifications for the place-names and wrote full narratives for the stories of Isildur's death and of the battles with the Wainriders and the Balchoth (published in Unfinished Tales).[T 37]

Tom Shippey's comparison of Gondor and its neighbour, Rohan[5]
Situation Gondor Rohan
Leader's behaviour
on meeting trespassers
Faramir, son of Ruling Steward Denethor
courteous, urbane, civilised
Éomer, son of King Théoden
"compulsively truculent"
Ruler's palace Great Hall of Minas Tirith
large, solemn, colourless
Mead hall of Meduseld,
simple, lively, colourful
State "A kind of Rome",
subtle, selfish, calculating
Anglo-Saxon, vigorous
Bold colourful Rohan, modelled on the Anglo-Saxons (here in an 11th-century illustration), "the bit that Tolkien knew best",[5] is contrasted by critics with the solemn but colourless Gondor.

The critic Tom Shippey compares Tolkien's characterisation of Gondor with that of Rohan. He notes that men from the two countries meet or behave in contrasting ways several times in The Lord of the Rings: when Éomer and his Riders of Rohan twice meet Aragorn's party in the Mark, and when Faramir and his men imprison Frodo and Sam at Henneth Annun in Ithilien. Shippey notes that while Éomer is "compulsively truculent", Faramir is courteous, urbane, civilised: the people of Gondor are self-assured, and their culture is higher than that of Rohan. The same is seen, Shippey argues, in the comparison between the mead hall of Meduseld in Rohan, and the great hall of Minas Tirith in Gondor. Meduseld is simple, but brought to life by tapestries, a colourful stone floor, and the vivid picture of the rider, his bright hair streaming in the wind, blowing his horn. The Steward Denethor's hall is large and solemn, but dead, colourless, in cold stone. Rohan is, Shippey suggests, the "bit that Tolkien knew best",[5] Anglo-Saxon, full of vigour; Gondor is "a kind of Rome", over-subtle, selfish, calculating.[5]

The critic Jane Chance Nitzsche contrasts the "good and bad Germanic lords Théoden and Denethor", noting that their names are almost anagrams. She writes that both men receive the allegiance of a hobbit, but very differently: Denethor, Steward of Gondor, undervalues Pippin because he is small, and binds him with a formal oath, whereas Théoden, King of Rohan, treats Merry with love, which the hobbit responds to.[6]


Sandra Ballif Straubhaar notes that in Roman legend, Aeneas escapes the ruin of Troy, while Elendil escapes that of Numenor.[3] Painting Aeneas flees burning Troy by Federico Barocci, 1598

The scholar of Germanic studies Sandra Ballif Straubhaar notes in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia that readers have debated the real-world prototypes of Gondor. She writes that like the Normans, their founders the Numenoreans arrived "from across the sea", and that Prince Imrahil's armour with a "burnished vambrace" recalls late-medieval plate armour. Against this theory, she notes Tolkien's direction of readers to Egypt and Byzantium. Recalling that Tolkien located Minas Tirith at the latitude of Florence, she states that "the most striking similarities" are with ancient Rome. She identifies several parallels: Aeneas, from Troy, and Elendil, from Numenor, both survive the destruction of their home countries; the brothers Romulus and Remus found Rome, while the brothers Isildur and Anárion found the Numenorean kingdoms in Middle-earth; and both Gondor and Rome experienced centuries of "decadence and decline".[3]

Dimitra Fimi compares Gondor's bird-winged helmet-crown to the romanticised headgear of the Valkyries. Illustration for The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie by Arthur Rackham, 1910[7]

The scholar of fantasy and children's literature Dimitra Fimi draws a parallel between the seafaring Numenoreans and the Vikings of the Norse world, noting that in The Lost Road and Other Writings, Tolkien describes their ship-burials,[T 38] matching those in Beowulf and the Prose Edda.[7] She notes that Boromir is given a boat-funeral in The Two Towers.[T 39][7] Fimi further compares the helmet and crown of Gondor with the romanticised "headgear of the Valkyries", despite Tolkien's denial of a connection with Wagner's Ring cycle, noting the "likeness of the wings of a sea-bird"[T 40] in his description of Aragorn's coronation, and his drawing of the crown in an unused dust jacket design.[T 41][7]

Miryam Librán-Moreno's comparison of Gondor with the Byzantine Empire[8]
Situation Gondor Byzantine Empire
Older state echoed Elendil's unified kingdom Roman Empire
Weaker sister kingdom Arnor, the Northern kingdom Western Roman Empire
Powerful enemies
to East and South
Final siege from the East Survives Falls
Tolkien called Minas Tirith a "Byzantine City" (Constantinople shown).[9]

The classical scholar Miryam Librán-Moreno writes that Tolkien drew heavily on the general history of the Goths, Langobards and the Byzantine Empire, and their mutual struggle. Historical names from these peoples were used in drafts or the final concept of the internal history of Gondor, such as Vidumavi, wife of king Valacar (in Gothic).[8] The Byzantine Empire and Gondor were both, in Librán-Moreno's view, only echoes of older states (the Roman Empire and the unified kingdom of Elendil), yet each proved to be stronger than their sister-kingdoms (the Western Roman Empire and Arnor, respectively). Both realms were threatened by powerful eastern and southern enemies: the Byzantines by the Persians and the Muslim armies of the Arabs and the Turks, as well as the Langobards and Goths; Gondor by the Easterlings, the Haradrim, and the hordes of Sauron. Both realms were in decline at the time of a final, all-out siege from the East; however, Minas Tirith survived the siege whereas Constantinople did not.[8] In a 1951 letter, Tolkien himself wrote about "the Byzantine City of Minas Tirith."[9]


Black-sailed dromund ships of the Corsairs of Umbar at Harlond, the port of Minas Tirith, as depicted with a domed building in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Gondor as it appeared in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings has been compared to the Byzantine Empire, for numerous reasons.[10] The production team noted this in DVD commentary, explaining their decision to include some Byzantine domes into Minas Tirith architecture and to have civilians wear Byzantine-styled clothing.[11]

There are some marked differences between the book and Jackson's film version of Gondor. A scene compared in detail by Shippey is the imprisonment of the hobbits in Ithilien. In the book, Faramir could easily have taken the One Ring, but chooses not to; in the film, he takes Denethor's words, stating that he will seize this "mighty gift" and is persuaded by Sam to let the hobbits go, with the ring.[12]


  1. ^ The seal of the stewards consisted of the three letters: R.ND.R (standing for Arandur, king's servant), surmounted by three stars.[T 12]
  2. ^ Boromir asks his father Denethor how many centuries it would take for a steward to become a king. Denethor replies "Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice."[T 17] Shippey reads this as a reproach to Shakespeare's Macbeth, noting that in Scotland, and in Britain, a Stewart/Steward like James I of England (James VI of Scotland) could metamorphose into a king.[2]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ Return of the King, Appendix F, "Of Men"
  2. ^ Etymologies, entries GOND-, NDOR-
  3. ^ a b Return of the King, book 5 ch. 6 "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
  4. ^ Return of the Shadow, ch. 22 "New Uncertainties and New Projections"
  5. ^ a b Return of the King, book 5 ch. 5 "The Ride of the Rohirrim"
  6. ^ Carpenter 1981, #324
  7. ^ Return of the King, book 6 ch. 6 "Many Partings"
  8. ^ Return of the King, Appendix F part 1
  9. ^ a b c d e Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  10. ^ a b c d e f Return of the King, Appendix A, I (iv)
  11. ^ a b Unfinished Tales, part 3 ch. 1 "Disaster of the Gladden Fields"
  12. ^ a b Unfinished Tales & see note 25, part 3 ch. 2 "Cirion and Eorl"
  13. ^ a b c d e Return of the King, Appendix B "The Third Age"
  14. ^ a b Peoples, ch. 7 "The Heirs of Elendil"
  15. ^ Unfinished Tales, part 3 ch. 2 "Cirion and Eorl", (i)
  16. ^ Return of the King, book 5 ch. 8 "The Houses of Healing"; book 6 ch. 5 "The Steward and the King"
  17. ^ a b Two Towers, book 4, ch. 5 "The Window on the West"
  18. ^ a b c d e Return of the King, book 5 ch. 1 "Minas Tirith"
  19. ^ Fellowship of the Ring, book 2 ch. 2 "The Council of Elrond"
  20. ^ Two Towers, book 4 ch. 5 "The Window on the West"
  21. ^ a b Unfinished Tales, part 2 ch. 4 "History of Galadriel and Celeborn": "Amroth and Nimrodel"
  22. ^ a b Return of the King, Appendix A, II
  23. ^ Peoples, ch. 8 "The Tale of Years of the Third Age"
  24. ^ Carpenter 1981, #256, #338
  25. ^ Etymologies, entries ÁNAD-, PHÁLAS-, TOL2-
  26. ^ Return of the King, book 1 ch. 9 "The Last Debate"
  27. ^ a b Unfinished Tales, map of the West of Middle-earth
  28. ^ Peoples, ch. 6 "The Tale of Years of the Second Age"
  29. ^ Return of the King, book 1 ch. 2 "The Passing of the Grey Company"
  30. ^ Return of the King, map of Gondor
  31. ^ a b Unfinished Tales, "The Battles of the Fords of Isen", Appendix (ii)
  32. ^ Carpenter 1981, #292
  33. ^ Peoples, ch. 10 "Of Dwarves and Men", and notes 66, 76
  34. ^ Unfinished Tales, part 2 ch. 4 "History of Galadriel and Celeborn"; Appendices C and D
  35. ^ Lost Road, ch. 2 "The Fall of Númenor"
  36. ^ Peoples, ch. 9 "The Making of Appendix A". Letter c in names is used for original k.
  37. ^ Peoples, ch. 13 "Last Writings"
  38. ^ The Lost Road and Other Writings, ch. 2 "The Fall of Numenor"
  39. ^ Two Towers, book 3, ch. 1 "The Departure of Boromir"
  40. ^ Return of the King, book 6, ch. 5 "The Steward and the King"
  41. ^ The Winged Crown of Gondor. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Tolkien Drawings 90, fol. 30.


  1. ^ Hammond & Scull 2005, "The Great River", p. 347
  2. ^ Shippey 2005, p. 206.
  3. ^ a b c Straubhaar 2007, pp. 248-249.
  4. ^ Fonstad, Karen Wynn (1991), The Atlas of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 191, ISBN 0-618-12699-6
  5. ^ a b c d Shippey 2005, pp. 146-149.
  6. ^ Nitzsche 1980, pp. 119-122.
  7. ^ a b c d Fimi 2007, pp. 84-99.
  8. ^ a b c Librán-Moreno, Miryam (2011). "'Byzantium, New Rome!' Goths, Langobards and Byzantium in The Lord of the Rings". In Fisher, Jason (ed.). Tolkien and the Study of his Sources. MacFarland & Co. pp. 84–116. ISBN 978-0-7864-6482-1.
  9. ^ a b Hammond & Scull 2005, p. 570
  10. ^ Puig, Claudia (24 February 2004). "With third film, 'Rings' saga becomes a classic". USA Today. Retrieved 29 December 2011. In the third installment, for example, Minas Tirith, a seven-tiered city of kings, looks European, Byzantine and fantastical at the same time.
  11. ^ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (special extended DVD ed.). December 2004.
  12. ^ Shippey 2005, pp. 419-421.


Further reading[edit]

  • Ford, Judy Ann. "The White City: The Lord of the Rings as an Early Medieval Myth of the Restoration of the Roman Empire". Tolkien Studies 2 (2005): 53–73.
  • Straubhaar, Sandra Ballif. "Myth, Late Roman History and Multiculturalism in Tolkien's Middle-earth". In Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader (2004): 101–18.

External links[edit]