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|J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location|
|Type||Town built upon Trade between men, elves and dwarves in Northern Middle-earth
|Ruler||Master of Lake-town|
Esgaroth, or Lake-town, is a fictitious community of Men upon the Long Lake which appears in the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Constructed entirely of wood and standing upon wooden pillars sunk into the lake-bed, the town is south of the Lonely Mountain and east of Mirkwood. The town's prosperity is apparently built upon trade between the Men (descendants of the Edain and thus distant cousins of the Dúnedain of Gondor), Elves and Dwarves of northern Middle-earth.
Esgaroth and Lake-town may have been separate settlements established on the same site, one predating Smaug's destruction of Dale and Erebor and the other built afterwards. There is mention in The Hobbit of "old pilings of a greater town" that could be seen at low tide.
Esgaroth appears to be a city-state, always independent of Dale, and a republic with no king (the only real republic shown in Middle-earth). The people had always elected from among the old and wise the Master of Lake-town and did "not [endure] the rule of mere fighting men."
In the year 2941 of the Third Age the town was attacked by the dragon Smaug, but Bard the Bowman, who had indirectly learned of a weakness in Smaug's armour that had first been noticed by Bilbo Baggins, slew the dragon. The town was wrecked by the dragon, but afterwards it was rebuilt in a different location using some of the treasure that Smaug had stolen, though the town's Master ran off with some of the gold. Part of the town's population followed Bard to resettle the Kingdom of Dale.
As a trading people, the Men of Esgaroth knew the Common Speech, Westron. Amongst themselves they spoke an ancient form of it, which was loosely related to but distinct from the also-ancient language of the Rohirrim. Tolkien "translated" Westron into English in his text, so to represent the ancient relative of it that the Rohirrim spoke, he substituted Old English. Thus, Tolkien substituted Old Norse for the language of the Men of Esgaroth (in person and place names, etc.) because it is an ancient relative of Old English (of which Modern English is largely derived).
Master of Lake-town
Master of Lake-town is the title given to the elected leader of Esgaroth. The Master of the town when Bilbo and Thorin's Company arrived in The Hobbit was portrayed as capable, but more than a little greedy and cowardly. His name was never given, although he earned the unpopular title "money bags" later. He was one of the few people in the town who did not eagerly welcome Bilbo and the Dwarves, fearing reprisal from the Wood Elf King. When Lake-town was destroyed by Smaug, the Master was largely held accountable, especially since he was one of the first to flee. Bard the Bowman, who had slain the dragon, was the hero of the people but he refused to seize control, insisting on working with the Master who did all he could to shift the blame onto the Dwarves.
The Master did not fight in the Battle of Five Armies. Instead, he stayed behind to direct the rebuilding of the town. Afterwards Bard gave much gold to the Master for the people of the town, but the Master fell under "dragon sickness" and kept the gold for himself, fleeing Long Lake only to die of starvation in the wastes. It was afterward stated by Balin that a new Master had been elected who was wiser.
In other media
The 2013 feature film adaptation of The Hobbit features Stephen Fry in the role of the Master of Lake-town in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In the film version, the Master is not an elected ruler (it is implied he had inherited the position), and he is much more avaricious and selfish than in the novel. With the guidance of his deputy Alfrid, he employs spies and imposes over taxation on the town. The Master sees Bard as a threat to his status, yet, he could not eliminate him, as Bard had the peoples' favor. After the arrival of Thorin's Company, and the seeing the support of the townsfolk for their journey to Erebor, the Master expresses his support as well, though he fully expects them to be killed by the dragon Smaug. The Master uses this circumstance to finally imprison Bard when he publicly opposes the town's support for the Dwarves plan. When Smaug attacks Lake Town, the Master attempts to flee with the town's treasury gold in his boat. He refuses to pick up pleading townsfolk, and even goes so far as knocking Alfrid over board to lighten the load. When Bard slays Smaug, the dragon's body falls and crushes the Master's boat, killing him and his remaining cronies. Unlike the novel, in which the Master survives Smaug's attack and lives to "help" in rebuilding Lake Town (only later trying to flee into the wilderness with much of the town's share of the gold from Erebor).
In the Real Time Strategy game, The Battle for Middle-Earth II, the settlement of Esgaroth is featured in the campaign and available for skirmish.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), ISBN 0-618-13470-0