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|Also known as||Wainriders, Balchoth, Variags|
|Created date||First Age|
|Base of operations||Rhûn|
|Language||Westron, and several different Eastern tongues|
In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, "Easterling" and "Easterlings" were generic terms for Men who lived in Rhûn, the vast eastern region of Middle-earth. Many fought under Morgoth and his successor Sauron, the Dark Lords of Middle-earth.
The race of Men awoke in the East of Middle-earth in the First Age; the races of Elves and Dwarves had already been awake for millennia. Some tribes of Men soon migrated to the west of Middle-earth; they were the ancestors of peoples such as the Edain of Beleriand. But many Men remained in the East, or did not migrate until much later; they are known as the Easterlings.
During the First Age, the term Easterlings was applied to the Swarthy Men who came from the east and went into Beleriand in Y.S. 463. They were of different tribes, which were sometimes on the edge of strife. They were generally described as "short and broad ... strong ... their skins were swart or sallow, and their hair was as dark as their eyes". Some were of the same ethnic stock as the Forodwaith and later men of Lossoth. The most powerful of their chieftains were Bór and Ulfang, and the Sons of Fëanor made alliance with them.
The people of Bór proved to be faithful, but were completely destroyed during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, fighting on the side of the Eldar and Edain. But the followers of Ulfang and his son Uldor, the Accursed, were already in league with Morgoth before their coming, and betrayed the Elves and Men of the West to their defeat during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in what was later known as the Treachery of Men.
However, Ulfang's Easterlings were also betrayed by their lord Morgoth, who had promised them vast lands, and they were locked in Hithlum. After the War of Wrath, those that survived fled back over the Ered Luin to Eriador and beyond.
In the Second Age, the Easterlings fell under the dominion of Sauron of Mordor. They "built many towns and walls of stone, and they were numerous and fierce in war and armed with iron. To them Sauron was both king and god; and they feared him exceedingly".
During the Third Age, the term Easterlings was applied to those tribes and kingdoms of Men living beyond the Sea of Rhûn. Many were allied with Sauron and frequently attacked Gondor, but when Aragorn travelled into Rhûn he encountered people "both evil and good". Their armies consisted of swordsmen, spear-men, bowmen and mounted archers, horsemen, charioteers, and War-wagon crews, as well as axe-men.
The first Easterling attacks were in the late 5th century of the Third Age and were repelled by King Ostoher and his son Rómendacil I. Later King Turambar fought wars of conquest against the Easterlings, extending Gondor's borders to the Sea of Rhûn. In 1248 the Regent of Gondor, Minalcar, led out a great force and attacked and destroyed many Easterling settlements, ensuring peace for Gondor in the east until T.A. 1851.
The Wainriders were a confederation of Easterling tribes who were united by their hate of Gondor, fuelled by Sauron. Following the Great Plague which weakened Gondor, they started their raids in T.A. 1851 and attacked in full force five years later, defeating the Gondorian army and killing King Narmacil II. They rode in great waggons and chariots (which gave them their name), and raided the lands of Rhovanion, destroying or enslaving many of its people, who were allies of Gondor. Gondor gradually lost all of its possessions east of Anduin, save Ithilien, to them. The thirtieth king of Gondor, Calimehtar son of Narmacil, defeated the Wainriders in battle on the Dagorlad in 1899, buying some rest for his land.
However the Wainriders struck back in T.A. 1944, allying themselves with the Haradrim of Near Harad and the Variags of Khand. They managed to kill King Ondoher and both his sons, but instead of riding on to Minas Anor and taking the city, they paused to celebrate. Meanwhile, general Eärnil of Gondor's southern army had defeated the Haradrim and rode north to defend his king. He came too late to rescue Ondoher, but managed to surprise and defeat the Wainriders in the Battle of the Camp. Eärnil was crowned king a year later. After this defeat the might of the Wainriders was broken, and their confederation collapsed.
The Balchoth (Sindarin for "cruel people") were an entire ethnic group of Easterlings, complete with women and children, who migrated towards eastern Gondor due to overcrowding. In T.A. 2510 they began to settle the plains of Calenardhon and almost routed the army of the Ruling Steward Cirion, but were all slaughtered by the Éothéod under Eorl the Young at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. Like the Wainriders they rode in chariots and wagons, and they may have been descendants of this people.
Variags of Khand
The Variags were from Khand, and they first appeared to the east and south of Mordor in T.A. 1944, fighting alongside the Wainriders. They were also present during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, over a thousand years later. Little was known about them, other than the mention that they were "Variags who hated the sun".
In the real world, Variags is another name for the Varangians, Vikings from Scandinavia as well as warriors from parts of Russia and the Baltic regions who had contact with Kievan Rus and Constantinople, described in one Byzantine chronicle as "axe-wielding barbarians".
"Easterlings with axes"
Large numbers of Easterlings fought in the War of the Ring: "swordsmen, spearmen, bowmen upon horses, chariots of chieftains and laden wains." They are described as belonging to more than one culture, plus the Variags of Khand. One group is described as a "new" kind of Easterling that the men of Gondor had previously not encountered: fierce bearded men with axes. Sauron mustered whole armies of Easterlings; they were deployed against the Free Peoples in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the Battle of Dale, and the Battle of the Morannon.
When the battles of the War of the Ring turned against the Easterlings, some fled. But many fought on bravely. As the War ended and the Fourth Age began, Aragorn, the new King of the West of Middle-earth, pardoned the Easterlings who gave themselves up, and sent them home free. Easterling realms sent embassies to Aragorn's court.
Easterlings are not featured greatly in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. They can be seen marching when Frodo and Sam come to the Black Gate in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and in a few quick scenes in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (they can be spotted both on foot and horseback among the Mordor forces that penetrate Minas Tirith). Gandalf does not mention them by name when he tells Pippin of men allied with Sauron (although they were mentioned in a conversation involving Faramir's briefing in Ithilien when consulting the map). On screen, the Easterlings wear lamellar often covering the middle of the chest and the full stomach with a neck plate and a wok-like helmet with three crests and a faceplate, rerebraces, vambraces, cuisses, poleyns, finger-scales, hand-plates, and thumb-scales. Also, they are armed with halberds with the hook below the ax head, scimitars and bronze scutums. Their armour is inscribed with a script which resembles Tengwar mixed with Persian. The clothing they wear is a dull-violet headscarf, tunic, trousers, robe-skirt (comes to knees), red gloves, black boots, and a black facecloth. There is a sculpture at Weta Workshop of an Easterling with a long bow and a fanned-out quiver of arrows. In early design concepts, the Easterlings wore turbans and their helmets bore crescent moons, an appearance that heavily resembled medieval Arabian dress, but director Peter Jackson requested that obvious representation of real-world cultures be avoided. In The Two Towers they carry scarlet standards marked with a black serpent. In the book this emblem is attributed to the Haradrim, and in The Return of the King, flags with this design (and the eye of Sauron) adorn the Mûmakil.
The real-time strategy game The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, chiefly based on the film trilogy though also taking material from the book, features one playable Easterling unit, in the Mordor faction: Pikemen. Also, one of the playable maps is Rhûn, complete with Easterling buildings. The buildings' architecture suggests both Asian and Nordic influence and the Easterling helmet crests resemble those of samurai.
Though the Variags are not a unit in the game, they are mentioned in a caption for the create-a-hero function in the game, and it is possible to create a corrupted man with barbarian-like armour and clothing that differs from that of the Easterlings or Haradrim, and is most likely that of a Variag.
- On the other hand, in mods for this game like Age of the Ring, the Mordor faction is reprogrammed to feature four Easterling units: Pikemen and Archers, available at a Level 2 Easterling Temple; and Swordsmen and Kataphrakts, available at a Level 3 Easterling Temple. However, the latter two also need the gamer to cast the "He is Gathering All Evil to Him" spell in order to be trainable. Lastly, the "Dungeon of Dol Guldur" spell is how a gamer unlocks their Nazgul emperor, Khamul. Lastly, the Variags of Khand can be trained at the Easterling Temple at all three levels, but only as fencer who use a mix of swords, axes, and mattocks with their shields. Despite the only descriptive words for the Variags being that they "hated the sun", their coat of arms in Age of the Ring is a blazing sun.
In The Two Towers (MUD), both Easterling and Variag are playable races. Easterling players start at wagons outside a town.
In the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game, the Easterlings are presented as their own faction, with a mixed infantry of Phalanxes and archers, along with deadly cavalry called "Kataphrakts", and have lethal commanders like the War Priest and the Dragon Knight. In fact, Age of the Ring adopted the name "Kataphrakts" from the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game.
In Iron Crown Enterprises "Middle-earth Role Playing" game, there are various peoples and tribes of Easterlings, including the Sagath, Logath and Igath (identified as the Wainriders), Asdriags, Odhriags and Nuriags and many others. Most of these cultures are more or less contradictory to Tolkien's descriptions: they are shown as nomadic Horse people much similar to the historical Huns, Mongols and Scythians. The "Easterlings with axes", who were described as bearded like dwarves in the books, inspired a distinct race of half-dwarves similar to the "Mul" of Dungeons & Dragons, known as "Umli", possibly ancestors of the later "Easterlings with axes".
In Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard, two groups of Easterling people called the "Khundolar" and the "Jangovar" appear. The Khundolar, described as descendants of the Balchoth, attack the plains of Rohan. The Jangovar are a separate tribal group of Easterling that attack Dale and Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Their look is inspired by ancient Iranian peoples such as the Parthians, Sarmatians and/or Sassanides. The "Easterlings with axes" are identified as a tribe called "Sûhalar" within the storyline of the game.
Tolkien expanded on the term "Easterling", a word long used in England to denote "a native of a country eastward of another." In dispatches, English ambassadors of the 16th century despaired of the Easterlings, those merchant traders from the Baltic coasts who on more than one occasion "retained" other countries' ships at sea. In the classic and often-reprinted Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), Englishman Richard Hakluyt describes the Easterlings in detail. "Eastland is a very large land and there be many cities and townes within it, and in every one of them is a king: whereby there is continually among them great strife and contention. ... There is no ale brewed among the Easterlings but of meade there is plenty. The wealthiest men drinke commonly Mares milke and the poore people and slaves meade."
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch. 18 p. 157; ISBN 0 04 823139 8
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age', p. 290; ISBN 0 04 823139 8
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A(v) p. 341; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- Tolkien, J.R.R. (1955). Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields".
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 2 ch. X p. 417; ISBN 0 04 823045 6
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 5 ch. VI p. 124 & book 6 ch. IV p. 227; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 6 ch. 5 p. 246-247; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A(II) p.352; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- 'Design Galleries: Easterlings', The Two Towers: Extended Edition DVD, Disc 3.
- "Mordor Faction Plan - Age of the Ring - Discussion & Suggestions". Revora Forums. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
- Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. C. & G. Merriam Co. 1913.
- Henry VIII (1882) . Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic. 6. pp. 449–466.
- Hakluyt, Richard (2004) . Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques And Discoveries Of the English Nation. 1. Kessinger Publishing. p. 53.
- "Easterlings". Tolkien Gateway.