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|Wainriders, Balchoth, Variags|
|Founder||Bór and Ulfang|
|Leader(s)||different Kings or Chieftains (Names only known in Rhûn)|
|Base of operations||Rhûn|
|Language||Westron, and several different Eastern tongues|
|Official religion||Worship of Sauron|
In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, "Easterling" and "Easterlings" were generic terms for Men who lived in the east of Middle-earth, who mostly fought under Morgoth and Sauron, not directly but rather on behalf of their own lords.
During the First Age, the term was applied to the Swarthy Men who came from the east and went into Beleriand in Y.S. 463, much later than the Edain. They were of different tribes, which were sometimes on the edge of strife. Some were of the same ethnic stock as the Forodwaith and later men of Lossoth, but all were dark-skinned and broad. 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.
During the Third Age, the term was applied to those tribes and kingdoms of Men living beyond the Sea of Rhûn, who were allied with Sauron and frequently attacked Gondor. Their armies consisted of swordsmen, spear-men, bowmen and mounted archers, horsemen, charioteers, and wain-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 1851 of the Third Age and attacked in full force five years later, defeating the Gondorian army and killing King Narmacil II. They rode in great wagons and chariots (which gave them their name), and raided the lands of Rhovanion, destroying or enslaving its people. 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 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 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 1944 of the Third Age, 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.
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"
During the War of the Ring itself, Easterlings are described as perhaps 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.
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: 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.
In The Two Towers (MUD), both Easterling and Variag are playable races. Easterling players start at wagons outside a town.
In Games-Workshop's game and in EA-permitted Battle for Middle-earth series mods, the Easterlings are presented as their own faction, with dangerously skilled archers and deadly cavalrymen called "Kataphrakts", and have impressive charioteers, as they were described to have in the book but not in the movie.
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."
- 'Design Galleries: Easterlings', The Two Towers: Extended Edition DVD, Disc 3.
- 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.