Razing Arnor: How real were the Dunadan conspiracies?
Amlaith became the first king of Arthedain, the Dunadan realm between the Weather Hills and the Lhun, north of the Baranduin and the great east-west road. His name seems to begin with the root word "am-", meaning "up, reaching, upwards". The second part of the name "-laith" may or may not be a word. The only similar word I know of is the name "Lalaith", from Nen Lalaith in Dor-lomin, a stream which ran close to Hurin's house, and from which Hurin's people gave his first daughter, Urwen, the nickname Lalaith (laughter).
In his Silvan dictionary (Other Hands 28), David Salo gives "laugh" as "lara", so I would guess that "lala" is the "laugh" part of "Lalaith".
Another (remote) possibility, I suppose, could be "lek-" (loose, let loose, release) from which "leithian" (release, as in release from bondage, "Lay of Leithian") developed. In this case the meaning of Amlaith might be "(he who) frees up".
So, Amlaith's name is no real help in figuring out what happened, unless it indicates that the decision to divide Arnor into three realms was his own idea.
Most people assume that Rhudaur is taken from "rhun" (east) and "daur,taur" (forest), but I don't think "taur" can become "daur". There is a root in "The Etymologies", "day" (shadow) which gives the word "dair" (in the Ilkorin dialect), that means "shadow of trees". So Rhudaur might only refer to the shadowy woodlands of the east (eastern Arnor/Eriador). Other possible roots might include "DO3,DO-", which gives "dur" (dark, in Exilic Noldorin). Other people suggest the name may simply mean something like "the dark east" or "the gloomy east". Rhudaur did become an evil land, and it may be that it was always considered to be dark and gloomy in nature by the Dunedain, few of whom actually settled there (and this despite Elrond's refuge lying beyond Rhudaur across the Bruinen).
Numerous possible meanings have been suggested for Cardolan. The three I favor (knowing literally nothing of these matters) are CAR + DOL + AN (red + head + great), which might mean "the great red top" (a possible reference to a hill, as Amon Sul is called Weathertop); CARAK + DOL + LHANN, which might mean "the province of the red (head/top)", possibly a reference to a hill, or a famous (red-haired) leader; and CAR + DO(ME) + LHANN, which might mean "House of the Twilight", "Shire of the Twilight". Recall that the Gwathuirim were so named (Shadowy Folk) because they lived along the Gwathlo, which name was derived from Gwathir, "river of shadow".
Arthedain simply means "realm or kingdom of the Edain". This name is pretentious in that it asserts the true royalty of Arnor remained with the elder line. Technically, Amlaith was the legal heir of Elendil and Isildur. In the end, his descendant Argeleb I took a royal name asserting his authority over all of former Arnor because the other royal families descended from Earendur had died out.
The events surrounding the curious division of Arnor don't really tell us much, either. Earendur reigned at Annuminas (the last king to do so) from 777 to 861. We know virtually nothing of his reign or events in Arnor. The only real event given prior to 861 (other than the normal death dates of the High Kings) is the violent death of Earendur's grandfather, Valandur, in the year 652.
Turambar was the King of Gondor from 541 to 667. Turambar's father had been Tarostar, who took the name Romendacil after inflicting a great defeat on Easterlings who began attacking Gondor during the late 5th century. Romendacil was slain in battle by the Easterlings and it fell to Turambar to defeat the enemy and claim new lands for Gondor beyond Anduin.
Hence, it would be during Turambar's reign, most likely, that Gondor came into contact with the Northmen (Edainic peoples living west of the Misty Mountains and Anduin) for the first time. We don't know exactly where these Northmen lived, but it seems likely they were not yet numerous. So it's conceivable that some of the Easterlings crossed the Anduin and maybe even the Misty Mountains and invaded Arnor. That might explain the death of Valandur in 652. It may also explain where the evil men of Angmar and the hill-men of Rhudaur came from (although these could have been indigenous peoples, descended from First Age Easterlings, as well).
Since Valandur died in battle, it stands to reason that his son Elendur must have driven back whatever enemies Valandur had been fighting. Did he subdue them or drive them off? We don't know. But Earendur would have been alive, a young boy of 12 years, when Valandur was killed. The event could have made a lasting impression on him.
After the wars with the Easterlings nothing much happened in Gondor and Arnor for a couple hundred years. Tarannon took the throne of Gondor in the year 830, being the great-grandson of Turambar. We know more about Tarannon than we do about any earlier king between him and Meneldil. Tarannon at some point married a Black Numenorean lady or princess, Beruthiel. Her homeland was not named by Tolkien but Chris Seeman, editor and publisher of Other Hands, suggests she may have come from Umbar. Tarannon took the name Falastur, Lord of Coasts, because he conquered the coastal regions of northern Middle-earth, perhaps as far north as the Gwathlo, pacifying Enedwaith.
Tarannon was the first of Gondor's ship-kings, and his conquests may or may not have been driven by personal ambition. But let us suppose that he indeed was an ambitious man. Amlaith was born in the year 726, so he would have been 104 years old when Tarannon became King of Gondor and celebrated his (earlier) victories by taking the name Falastur. It's reasonable to conclude that Amlaith's two younger brothers were already alive and probably adult men.
Were their imaginations fired by the successes of Tarannon? Did the growing power of Gondor make the northern princes feel envious? After all, Arnor really had few opportunities for conquest, and if Tarannon was the king who pacified Enedwaith Arnor's southern border would now be aligned fully with Gondor's. The lands where Angmar would eventually rise were the only convenient prospect for conquest remaining, unless Arnor marched across the Misty Mountains in an effort to claim the Vales of Anduin, but that would mean marching armies past Elrond's front door.
Tarannon had a younger brother, Tarciryan, who apparently never challenged Tarannon's authority. Things were easier in Gondor as far as satisfying princely ambitions, however, because Tarannon's marriage to Beruthiel produced no children. So Tarciryan's son Earnil succeeded Tarannon as King of Gondor. Earnil immediately turned his attention to attacking Umbar. Tarannon died in 913 and Earnil captured Umbar in 933.
By this time Arnor had been divided into three lesser kingdoms for 72 years. Amlaith reigned in Arthedain until 946. So his younger brothers were probably also alive. Imagine their frustration at not only not being unable to expand their small kingdoms but also at having to watch Gondor's power grow.
One implication of the division of Arnor is that Amlaith was not a strong leader, or else that his brothers had themselves become strong enough to not only challenge his authority but to secede from Arnor. How could this be possible? If Arnor wasn't fighting anyone, then did the North Kingdom's politics result in a squandering of regal authority or were external influences at work?
Suppose Amlaith's younger brothers had gone south to Gondor and served under Tarannon in the Army (or Navy) of Gondor. They could have joined in the campaign(s) Tarannon led in Enedwaith and therefore played a role in pacifying a land which had threatened Arnor. Amlaith, as the King's Heir, probably would not have been permitted to go adventuring, so his brothers could have earned much glory which could have lain the seeds of disloyalty among the people of Cardolan.
Although Gondor had access to the Elves of Edhellond, there is no real indication that Gondor maintained close relations with either the Elves of Lindon or the Elves of Rivendell. The Elves of Lorien were permitted to pass through the kingdom unmolested, so the people of Gondor were still friendly or at least tolerant toward the Elves, but it appears that the true Elf-Dunadan friendship was maintained in the north alone.
There, after the division of Arnor, Tolkien notes (in The Peoples of Middle-earth) that only Arthedain retained the Dunedain's ancient friendship with the Elves, particularly with Cirdan's people. Tharbad was Arnor's chief (and perhaps only) port, and it probably was included in the kingdom of Cardolan. Since the lands between the Baranduin and Lhun belonged to Arthedain it's possible there was a harbor at the mouth of the Baranduin, but Tolkien never mentions such a town. So Lindon may have become Arthedain's chief route to the sea. It would have behooved Amlaith to maintain good relations with Cirdan.
But Amlaith, the King's Heir, may also have interacted with Cirdan more than his brothers. If the younger princes had indeed gone south to Gondor (and, who knows, maybe Arnor asked for Gondor's help in putting down the troublesome clans of Enedwaith -- the Dunlendings did eventually become strong enough to attack Rohan more than once), they may never have developed much of a rapport with the Elves. A close association with the kings of Gondor would, in fact, help explain why Rhudaur and Cardolan came to fight over Weathertop. The palantir there would have been their only means of direct communication with Gondor.
The boundaries of Arthedain are given as the Baranduin as far north as the east-west road, and then east to the Weather Hills. But since the other two realms fought over Weathertop it seems that hill was not part of Arthedain. In "The Heirs of Elendil" (The Peoples of Middle-earth) Tolkien also says that Bree was a part of Cardolan. It seems a bit strange that so vital a cross-roads town would be deemed part of Cardolan, but Bree was closer to the South Downs and the Barrow Downs, where many Dunedain (and other Men) still lived, so its association with Cardolan may not be such a stretch. Nonetheless, Bombadil led Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin through a large dyke marking the boundary between Arthedain and Cardolan just north of the Barrow Downs and south of the east-west road, so Bree seems to be on the wrong side of the dividing line altogether.
There also appear to have been other princes in Arnor besides the princes of the royal house. In the war of 1409, more than 50 years after the last Heir of Isildur had died in Cardolan, the last prince of Cardolan retreated to the Barrow Downs and made a final stand there against the army of Angmar. If he wasn't an Heir of Isildur, then he had to be someone else's Heir. So it follows that at least one princely house existed besides the House of Isildur in Arnor.
In the past I have speculated that perhaps the six ship-captains who commanded the remaining vessels in Elendil's small flotilla (Elendil, Isildur, and Anarion each seem to have had their own ships) established princely houses in Arnor and Gondor. Each of the ship-captains was denoted by a star in the royal emblem of Elendil's house. The stars may imply nobility. In Unfinished Tales a note in "Cirion and Eorl" says that Elendil bestowed the title of "prince" on the ancestors of the Lords of Dol Amroth because they were his relatives. If their first prince had also been a Numenorean captain who commanded one of Elendil's ships, then his princely house would be one of three which could have helped to found Gondor.
Gondor did originally consist of five regions: Ithilien and Anorien, the shires of Isildur and Anarion, and Belfalas, Lebennin, and Calenardhon. If there were princes of Lebennin and Calenardhon, then they may have been ship-captains (Isildur and Anarion reached Pelagir with five ships).
Arnor could also have established three princely houses in addition to Elendil's house. Although it's not necessary for either realm to actually have more than the one attested princely family, it does make sense to assume that the ship-captains were given some sort of recognition in both kingdoms.
The situation in Arnor at the time of Earendur's death could therefore have been complicated by the existence of one or more princely families who had lost faith in Amlaith. Their support would have helped to ensure that Amlaith's younger brothers were accepted among the peoples of Cardolan and Rhudaur, and could have been the chief reason for why Amlaith would agree to a division of his rightful realm in the first place. If the Council of Arnor (or whatever the appropriate body of lords and captains might be called) were divided over Amlaith's fitness to govern Arnor, Amlaith might have agreed to or even proposed the division of Arnor in order to prevent a bloody civil war.
Gondor later on did fight a civil war, the Kin-strife, although that war's causes lay strictly in the racial attitudes of the Dunedain, who felt that their kingly house shouldn't mingle its blood with the houses of non-Dunadan realms. There had apparently been no objection to Tarannon's marriage to Beruthiel, but since she was a Black Numenorean she had the appropriate racial background. Presumably Gondor's other kings and princes found wives either in Gondor or Arnor, or among Black Numenorean lands such as Umbar (and Umbar was probably only the northernmost Black Numenorean enclave). Despite the name given to them, and the fact that they were descended from the Kings Men of the Second Age (who had served Sauron), the Black Numenoreans may not always have been on unfriendly terms with Arnor and Gondor.
As bizarre as that may seem, it could be there was a serious shift in policy in Gondor away from Elven friendship and toward easier relations with the Black Numenorean nations. This attempt at reconciliation, if it occurred at all (but Tarannon's marriage implies it did), ultimately backfired. Tarannon's expulsion of Beruthiel may have laid the foundation for a renewal of hostilities that forced Earnil to take action against Umbar.
Tarannon may have seemed too powerful for the Black Numenoreans to challenge. It may also be that his expulsion of Beruthiel didn't occur until sometime after 863. Hence, the younger sons of Earendur might have advocated a policy of reconciliation with the Black Numenoreans -- based on Tarannon's example -- which was either met with indifference or outright hostility by Amlaith (and perhaps Earendur himself). Arnor stood to gain nothing by an association with the Black Numenoreans, and because of its close friendship with the Eldar, Arnor may have retained a stronger tradition of hostility toward those Numenorean colonies which had supported Sauron.
Tarannon, situated closer to the Black Numenorean kingdoms, may have simply been engaging in some Realpolitick to keep Gondor out of a major war. If the Black Numenoreans had made overtures to Gondor, the potential for extending his realm's influence both politically and financially through trade may have seemed attractive. Perhaps Tarannon could have entertained an ambition to reunite the Faithful Dunedain with the Black Numenoreans.
Whatever Tarannon's motives or actions toward the Black Numenoreans, his successes in battle and politics may have inspired Amlaith's brothers to advance and demand policy changes that Arnor simply wasn't willing to accept. Cardolan, being closer to Enedwaith and controlling the sea-trade which must have passed through Tharbad, had better reason to want to be more like Gondor, or closer to Gondor, than Amlaith and the northern lords of Arnor.
In terms of potential conflicts and motivations, Rhudaur is a much less clear issue, however. Since the Dunedain there were not very numerous, it seems odd that the hill-folk would welcome an alternative Dunadan king. Why bother? What could or should Amlaith's younger brother have promised them to induce them to be more loyal to him than to the king at Annuminas (later Fornost, where Amlaith established his seat)?
If the Dunedain of Rhudaur had a stranglehold on the region's commerce and government, then the support of the hill-folk may have been unnecessary. An alliance with the local prince may be all that would be required. But why should the local prince wish to secede from Arnor, unless he wanted to be a power behind a throne? And yet, there is no indication that the Line of Isildur was controlled or influenced by anyone in Rhudaur.
It may be that the Rhudaurians did not want to be governed by Cardolan, and seeing Amlaith as weak they decided to raise up their own king who would put their own priorities first. Imagine the weeks leading up to the division of Arnor. The High King was dead or dying and major policy changes were being proposed. Amlaith would be firmly set against reconciliation with the Black Numenoreans, and had no desire to set out upon wars of conquest. His brothers, inspired by Tarannon's growing power and influence, would be arguing for Arnor to take bolder action. "We've missed our opportunity for conquering Enedwaith," they might say. "Let's build a great navy and interact with the southern realms more," the southern brother might be arguing. "Let's get the Forodwaith before they get us," the eastern brother might be arguing.
What's a King's Heir to do? Presumably Amlaith decided to wait until his father died. If the issues of the day were indeed as critical as I've suggested, there would have been little Earendur could have done. His sons' ambitions would have been restrained while he lived, but Amlaith probably had far less support among the princes and lords of the realm than his father.
So, when the time came for Amlaith to claim the Scepter of Annuminas, his brothers may have put forth an ultimatum: reconcile with the Black Numenoreans and expand Arnor's borders, or give the scepter to one of us. Assuming Amlath was truly friendly with Cirdan and Elrond, the idea of bringing Black Numenoreans into Arnor's sphere of influence may have seemed appalling to him. And what if his brothers had already done just that? What if they had taken wives from Black Numenoran families to forge new alliances with the south?
Such marriages may have come with the requirement that Arnor establish friendly relations with the Black Numenorean realms. Or at least the hope. Arrangements with Arnor could be seen as helping to ensure that Gondor's ambitions would be restrained. After all, the High King was in Arnor, not Gondor. If there was a Black Numenorean question to be settled in Arnor at all, the crisis might explain why Arthedain's kings didn't continue the High Kingship. How could Amlaith hope to preside over Gondor if he couldn't even influence his own brothers?
Tarannon's overtures to the Black Numenoreans may therefore have already strained relations with Arnor. And Earendur might not have welcomed having Gondor's border run right up to his. Gondor maintained a garrison of soldiers at Tharbad, but Tarannon's conquests of the lands west and north of ancient Gondor altered the balance of power radically. Despite the kinship of their royal houses and the ancient alliance and relationship between Arnor and Gondor, Tarannon was probably the senior partner in the relationship in all but name.
Amlaith's failure or refusal to claim the High Kingship upon his father's death was probably a reflection of the political realities of his day. What if ascension to the High Kingship required the explicit recognition of Gondor's king? Did Tarannon simply withhold that recognition? Would Arnor and Gondor have gone to war if Amlaith had taken up the High Kingship and demanded Tarannon recognize him? A refusal would either require Amlaith to concede he was not the High King or to launch a war against the South Kingdom. And Amlaith doesn't seem to have been the kind of man to lean toward civil war.
Hence, the fact that Amlaith began his reign as merely a King of Arnor may have given his brothers and their supporters a pretext for seceding from Arnor. Arnor was no longer, in fact, the land of the High King, because there was no longer a High King. So the brothers could argue successfully that the disaffected peoples of Cardolan and Rhudaur had the right to establish their own kingdoms. The lack of forceful opposition from Amlaith indicates he wasn't willing to settle the question in blood.
If it merely comes down to the power and prestige of the High Kingship, there may be no need to introduce Black Numenorean connections or dreams of conquest as causes of conflict. Tarannon Falastur alone may have been able to determine the course of action in the north. If he was willing to reconcile with the Black Numenoreans, then perhaps he would also have been willing to play kingmaker in the north, and to ignite the ambitions of Amlaith's brothers.
It need not be said that Tarannon was evil. Rather, he was merely ambitious, and perhaps manipulative. Whereas his great-grandfather had extended Gondor's borders in response to invasion from the east, there is no indication that Tarannon or his father were forced to go to war against the lands they conquered. They may simply have felt it was time for Gondor to expand.
If Arnor was opposed to such expansion of power and influence, or concerned by the extension of Gondor's borders right up to the Gwathlo, then it may have made sense to neutralize Arnorian concerns by eliminating the High Kingship. And the easiest way to do that without bringing the issue to war would be not only to refuse to recognize Amlaith as High King, but to also foster regal ambitions in Amlaith's brothers. In effect, Tarannon could have forced the dissolution of Arnor altogether, and Amlaith was left with only that portion of the old realm farthest removed from Gondor. Rhudaur might have served as a balance between Cardolan and Arthedain, preventing either realm from becoming strong enough to conquer the other and eventually moving against Gondor.
The idea that Gondor and Arnor might actually have moved so far away from friendship and shared interests is radical. There is no hint of such an estrangement between the nations. But the fact that Gondor accepted eight High Kings after Isildur implies that Arnor retained the senior position in the two countries' unique relationship until Gondor had clearly become the stronger power. If Tarannon had no reason to abandon friendship with Arnor, he appears to have felt no compunction to continue the ancient policies set down by Isildur and Anarion and their father Elendil.
Hence, the division of Arnor may reflect the emergence of Gondor as the dominant power among all the Dunadan kingdoms, and perhaps heralded the onset of Gondor's aggressive policies. Although it's entirely possible that Earnil was subsequently provoked to action by Umbar, it seems more likely that he was merely continuing Tarannon Falastur's policies of extending Gondor's power at the expense of other nations, and since Tarannon embarked upon his conquests while his father was still King of Gondor, the shift in policy and action was gradual and could have been set in motion by Siriondil himself.
Tolkien writes in Appendix A that "though war never ceased on their borders, for more than a thousand years the Dunedain of the South grew in wealth and power by land and sea...." It may be that the continuous warfare eventually fostered the ambitions of Gondor's warrior-kings. Arnor may have experienced some troubles, but the High Kings generally seem to have enjoyed relative peace. It was probably inevitable that different policies developed in the North and South.
Since we don't know the nature of the dissensions which led Earendur's sons to divide Arnor between them, we can only guess at the causes. Internal politics are simply impossible to extrapolate. We don't even know how many noble families could have been involved in the disputes and decisions. But at the very least it seems reasonable to infer there were potential external factors which could have ignited the flame of division within the heart of Arnor.
We need not infer that any of the kings of Arnor, its successor realms, or Gondor fell into evil. But ambition most likely played a role in bringing about the division of Arnor. It does not necessarily have to be that the ambition was limited to Arnor's royal house.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
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