Scaling the Walls of War in Middle-earth – Michael Martinez’ J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

by Jun 25, 2001Other News

“The reliance upon defensive fortifications backed by supreme naval power may have served Numenor well, but Gondor and Arnor were presented with different challenges. Gondor, especially, established a huge land-based empire in the early Third Age. Without the threat of Sauron’s empire in the east, Gondor was able to expand into lands which Numenor had never before controlled, or had controlled only briefly under Ar-Pharazon.”
In his June 17th Suite101 article, Michael Martinez examines how Númenorean architecture may reflect a fundamental aspect of Numenor’s imperial strategy and the flaw in Gondor’s imperial ambitions.

Here is an excerpt:

In their Egyptian-like fashion, the Numenoreans built on a massive scale, according to Tolkien. That is, they liked to build really large things. We are provided glimpses of the large architecture in The Lord of the Rings, such as the Argonath, the two huge statues of Isildur and Anarion carved into the cliffs overlooking Anduin.

The Argonath were built by Minalcar in the 13th century of the Third Age, and they may represent the last gasp of the ancient Numenorean architectural style. Ecthelion rebuilt the White Tower of Minas Tirith in the third millennium, but was the tower really one of those massive structures?

The Egyptians built large tombs (the pyramids being the best-known examples), temples, and obelisks. The Sphinx (apparently associated with a temple) is a symbol of ancient Egypt’s power and culture. Except for the tombs, the Numenoreans did not built things for the same purposes as the Egyptians. The Dunedain of Gondor did apparently practice embalming in an effort to preserve their bodies.

Numenorean architecture is more imperial than religious. Like ancient Rome, Osgiliath sent out armies to control its empire. Great fortresses were built around Mordor, and in Calenardhon. Minas Ithil and Minas Anor were secondary cities. A few monuments decorated the countryside: Isildur’s huge black stone at Erech, the statue of the king at the crossroads in Ithilien.

The Numenoreans of Gondor carved whole mountainsides, shaping the walls of Orthanc, Minas Ithil, and Minas Anor from black stone into smooth faces. The magnitude of Numenorean craftmanship and perseverence only occasionally leaps out from the pages of The Lord of the Rings to impress the reader with visions of lost art and knowledge, of ancient populations laboring under the watchful eyes of their kings to glorify their empire.

Nearly every city mentioned in connection with Numenor’s settlements in Middle-earth is associated with military power and war.

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