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Lake-town may have been separate settlements established on the same site, one predating Smaug's destruction of Dale and the Lonely Mountain in TA 2770 and the other built afterwards. Uniquely, of all of the towns, settlements, fortresses, and cities of Middle-earth, Lake-town utilized water as its defense. The Long Lake was also surrounded by towering cliffs and high mountains, all helpful natural barriers that had the potential to aid its defenders in a siege (such as the Easterling invasion of the North in TA 3018). While these defenses slowed and diverted Lake-town's human enemies, it did nothing to prepare its inhabitants against Smaug. The villagers would be harassed on a regular basis by Smaug. Smaug would steal an occasional maiden or just burn down their homes.
Lake-town was founded sometime during the Third Age and its inhabitants traded extensively with the Elves of Thranduil's Woodland Realm, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the Iron Hills, their kin in Dale and Dorwinion to the south, and possibly with the Easterlings (in times of peace, of course). The Men of Lake-town traded with Dorwinion (a human realm on the fertile coastal plain on the west shore of the Sea of Rhûn) in a unique way; wine barrels were floated down from Thranduil's caverns in Mirkwood (the Elves were known as copious wine drinkers, as found in the Hobbit) along the Celduin down to Lake-town, where they were redirected to Dorwinion. The wine was then paid for and filled with the necessary goods before being shipped back north, and the cycle of trade resumed once more. These barrels were also quite large, for they could fit a Hobbit or Dwarf (even the extremely fat Bombur).It is also where Bilbo and the Dwarves travelled in their adventure to reclaim the Lonely Mountain. In the year TA 2941 of the Third Age the town was attacked by the dragon, but Bard the Bowman, who had indirectly learned of a weakness in Smaug's armor that had first been noticed by Bilbo Baggins, slew the dragon. Smaug, livid with bestial fury, had winged his way to the town in the dead of night and promptly began to immolate the wooden matchwood structures there, materials that burst into flame at the slightest provocation. Its inhabitants realized all too late their predicament and while some, including most of the women and children, got away safely on boats, many perished in the maelstrom of fire that ensued. A brave company of spearmen and archers attempted, in vain, to shoot down the dragon, but were mostly immolated themselves. The town was wrecked by the dragon, but afterwards it was rebuilt 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 trading people, the Men of Lake-town knew the Common Speech, Westron. However, 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 its ancient relative 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 English that is related to Old English.
After the town's near destruction following Smaug's rage, its inhabitants rebuilt it with more splendor and grandeur further down the lake. Lake-town is used to refer to the pre-Smaug town upon the Long Lake, while the rebuilt, larger cousin further down the waterway is referred to as Esgaroth. The inhabitants also learned a crucially important, but painful, lesson bought with the blood of loved ones: the town was built to be less susceptible to flame and its military was expanded. These lessons greatly aided it during the War of the Ring.
Portrayal in adaptations
The Hobbit film trilogy
In Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movie trilogy, the clear Eastern design and culture of Lake-town and its inhabitants (including, the military and political leaders) are primarily derived from medieval Russian influences - i.e., the early Rus' states of Kievan Rus' and its successors. Indeed, Lake-town is reminiscent of the old northern Rus' trading city of Novgorod - itself, like Lake-town, also situated on a lake.
Also, as presented in the movies, per the complex nature of Russian ethno-cultural history, Lake-town itself and its people are also infused with Nordic, Finnic, Baltic, and Turkic influences. In the movies, Peter Jackson clearly defines the culture of Lake-town and Dale as a part of the East. Due to the location of Lake-town in the North-East of Middle-earth, these elements are highly appropriate.
Translations around the World
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Portuguese (Brazil)||Cidade do Lago|
|Spanish (Spain and Latin America)||Ciudad del Lago|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||長湖鎮|
|Polish||Miasto na Jeziorze|