The Last King
Gondor was the South Kingdom of the Númenóreans in Middle-earth, established soon after the downfall of Númenor by Isildur and his brother Anárion. Their father Elendil, who ruled the North Kingdom Arnor, held the overlordship of the realm, however. Though it waned in power over time and suffered many setbacks during the first two millenia of the Third Age, many of the tales and legends of the earlier Ages of Middle-earth come from the lore and history it preserved.
Before the Downfall of Númenor, the region that would become Gondor was home to many Númenórean colonists, who either mingled with the indigenous Middle Men if they were friendly, or dispersed them into Ras Morthil, Dunland, and Drúadan Forest. The land on which Gondor was founded was more fertile than the more northerly areas of Middle-earth, and therefore it already had a fairly large population before the ships of Elendil’s sons arrived, including a well-established haven, Pelargir. Pelargir was founded by the Faithful Númenóreans in the year 2350 of the Second Age.
The refugees from Númenor led by Isildur and Anárion were given a warm reception upon their arrival by those that had already colonized this area of Middle-earth. The colonists north of the river Anduin accepted Elendil’s claim to kingship over them. South of the Great River, however, the also-newly-exiled Black Númenóreans did not recognize Elendil’s claim. Since the Black Númenóreans were the descendants of the King’s Men of Númenor, who were opposed to the Faithful, they did not unite with Elendil and his sons, who represented the Faithful in Middle-earth. Much of Gondor’s early history was marked by conflict with the Black Númenóreans.
After their arrival and acceptance by the people, Isildur and Anárion put themselves to the task of ordering their realm. Isildur built the tower of Minas Ithil near Mordor as a threat to the Black Land, and within its walls he planted a seedling of the White Tree of Númenor that he had taken before its destruction. Anárion raised the tower of Minas Anor on the other side of Anduin’s floodplain as a bulwark against the Wild Men. In between their cities, the brothers founded Osgiliath, their capital. From this city Isildur and Anárion ruled side-by-side, and used the palantíri, the Seeing Stones that the Faithful had taken with them from Númenor, to maintain contact with Elendil and the other areas under their control.
First Conflict with Sauron
The Dúnedain were at first unaware that Sauron, who had been taken as a prisoner to Númenor before its destruction, had survived the disastrous Downfall. However, not long after the kingdom’s cities were built, the awakening of the fires of Orodruin signaled his return. At that time, the Men of Gondor first called the mountain Amon Amarth, or Mount Doom. Soon after, Sauron launched an attack on Minas Ithil, which forced Isildur into a retreat. Sauron took the fortress and burned the White Tree that had grown there, but Isildur saved one of its seedlings and took it and his family on a ship down the Anduin. He sailed to the north to confer with Elendil about these events. Anárion remained in Gondor and continued to hold Osgiliath. He also managed to push back Sauron’s forces to the mountain range of Ephel Dúath, but Sauron began to gather reinforcements, among whom were a large number of Black Númenóreans, and the Men of Gondor knew that their realm was in great danger of being destroyed unless aid came.
Elendil reacted to the threat of Sauron by combining forces with Gil-galad the Elven-king to make the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Their armies marched southeast from Arnor and Gil-galad’s realm of Lindon. Supported by the forces of Gondor, Lórinand, Mirkwood and the dwarves of Khazad-dûm, the Alliance fought a great battle on the plain of Dagorlad north of Mordor. The armies of Elendil and Gil-galad were victorious, and entered Mordor itself, where they laid a siege on Sauron’s Tower, Barad-dûr for seven years. During this time, Anárion was killed by a rock thrown from the Tower that broke his helm. The siege ended when Sauron himself emerged from Barad-dûr to fight the Alliance. Gil-galad and Elendil attacked and destroyed Sauron, though they themselves were slain the process.
Gondor in the Beginning of the Third Age
After the battle, during which the long Second Age came to an end, Isildur built a secret tomb for Elendil on the mountain Amon Anwar. He also aided Anárion’s son Meneldil, who was now King, in reorganizing Gondor. Isildur planted the seedling of the White Tree that he had saved in Minas Anor, and it endured for several centuries. After these acts, Isildur left Gondor in the third year of the Third Age with the intent of ruling his father’s kingdom of Arnor. He never arrived.
After the war, Gondor’s power and wealth grew steadily (only interrupted by an Easterling invasion in 492 TA). Its power would continue to grow into the 9th century of the Third Age. While the power of Gondor’s sister kingdom Arnor peaked during the 9th century, when it broke into various successor states, Gondor’s greatest glory was yet to come.
Gondor’s Golden Age
Gondor’s power reached its Golden Age under the four “Ship-Kings”:
- Tarannon Falastur, reigned Third Age 830 – Third Age 913. First of the Ship-Kings, died childless
- Eärnil I, Third Age 913 – Third Age 936. Nephew of Tarannon
- Ciryandil, Third Age 936 – Third Age 1015
- Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I, Third Age 1015 – Third Age 1149. Last of the Ship-Kings
The reign of Tarannon was an unhappy one: he married Berúthiel, nefarious and loveless. Unlike her husband, she hated the Sea, its smells and its sounds. Mystery began to surround her as she used her cats to spy on every one, and paranoia and fear rose. After much ado, Tarannon banished her from Gondor, setting her on an adrift ship with her cats. It was last seen passing Umbar in the South.
In the reign of the powerful king Hyarmendacil I Gondor reached the height of its power. During Hyarmendacil’s reign Gondor’s borders reached their furthest extent. The Kingdom extended east to the Sea of Rhûn, south to the nearest lands of the Haradrim, as far north as Mirkwood and west towards the borders of Arnor. Gondor would also enjoy several centuries of peace due to its military might.
The Decline of Gondor
But after his reign decadence spread under the kings of Gondor and a long period of decline began (although Gondor experienced several revivals). Three great calamities struck Gondor during the second millennium of the Third Age, which are held to be the chief reasons for its decline: the Kin-strife, the Great Plague, and the invasion of the Wainriders (a tribe of Easterlings).
In the 15th century a great civil war named the Kin-strife tore the nation apart. The current King Eldacar was of mixed blood: his mother was of the Northmen. Popular displeasure at this led to the overthrow of King Eldacar by Castamir, the admiral of all of Gondor’s naval forces who possessed some royal blood. Eldacar’s son was slain, and he fled north. Castamir was afterward known as Castamir the Usurper. During his ten year rule he proved to be very cruel, and because of his love of his old fleet, he lavished attention on the coastal regions while the interior provinces were ignored and left to rot. Eldacar then returned with an army of his Northmen kinsmen, and they were joined by armies of Gondorians from interior provinces such as Anórien. Osgiliath was devastated during this conflict, its great bridge destroyed and its palantír lost. Eldacar slew Castamir and reclaimed his throne, but Castamir’s sons and their forces were besieged in Pelargir, the great port of Gondor. They eventually retreated to Umbar, where they joined with the Corsairs, and troubled Gondor for many years, until their descendants died out.
The Great Plague
In Third Age 1636 the Great Plague struck and the White Tree died. This Plague was no localized event: the Plague swept through all of Middle-earth, reaching the successor states of Arnor and the Hobbits of the Shire in the North. King Tarondor found a sapling of the White Tree, and moved the capital from Osgiliath to Minas Anor, the City of Anárion. During this time, Gondor was so depopulated that the fortifications guarding against the re-entry of evil into Mordor were abandoned. It is believed that had the Haradrim or Easterlings been capable of attacking Gondor at this time, it would have fallen. However, the Plague left Gondor’s enemies in no better condition than Gondor itself, and neither side was capable of mounting new offensives.
The Invasion of the Wainriders
Following the sapping of Gondor’s strength by the plague, the Wainrider invasions devastated Gondor, and the conflict lasted for almost a century. The Wainriders destroyed the Northern Army of Gondor, but survivors linked up with the victorious Southern Army of Gondor, led by a general named Eärnil, and they destroyed the Wainriders as they celebrated their victory during the Battle of the Camp, in 1944 TA.