Rhûn, also known as The East and Eastlands in the Westron tongue, is a large region in the far eastern part of Middle-earth. It was the home and kingdom of the Easterlings in the Second and Third Ages. It had many different groups who ultimately fought together and were in Sauron's service. They seem to be based on Central Asian cultures.
We know almost nothing of the lands beyond the great Sea of Rhûn that stood on its borders with the western lands. Even Gandalf had never explored there, and although Aragorn visited once, we have no report of his activities.
Of its ancient geography we can glean a little from The Silmarillion; far beyond the Sea of Rhûn was another inland sea, the Sea of Helcar, and beyond that a range of mountains known as the Orocarni (Red Mountains). Somewhere in the lost east, too, lay Cuiviénen and Hildórien, where Elves and Men first awoke: all the Children of Ilúvatar could trace their ancestries back to the eastward regions of Middle-earth.
Rhûn was the domain of the Easterlings, Men of Darkness who were ready to follow both the Dark Lords and fought as their allies in war. These lands, too, were inhabited by lost Elves, Avari and Úmanyar, and by four of the seven clans of the Dwarves. Mumakil or Oliphaunts, of Far Harad, also probably lived in this area, but it is unknown.
During the Third Age, Rhûn was visited by three Wizards; Saruman, Alatar and Pallando, and though Saruman returned into the west, the two Blue Wizards remained. Their fates are unknown and whether they were successful in inspiring the peoples they had contact with to resist Sauron's influence is unknown. Sauron himself journeyed into the eastward lands, in hiding from the White Council during the centuries known in the west as the Watchful Peace.
The people of Rhûn were finally subdued in the Fourth Age under King Elessar and his son Eldarion. King Elessar eventually made peace with the Easterlings, and the Easterlings were allowed to remain in their great empire.
(Much of this section is merely conjecture) Rhûn was, especially during the Second Age, a land where trade was a main part of their culture--especially around the tropical regions around the north of the Sea of Rhûn, where wine, seafood, salt, and tobacco were produced and traded throughout Middle-earth.
As the blasted rock and extremely volatile and dangerous mines of volcanic Mordor enormously inhibited Sauron's ability to mine minerals to feed the insatiable hunger of his forges, it is possible that colossal quantities of ore and other critical raw materials were shipped from Rhûnic mines in the eastern territories and the Orocarni mountain range to the Black Land. This would explain Sauron's ability to arm and equip his armies of millions of Orcs so quickly and efficiently, even if the weapons and armor were woefully inferior to their opponents'.
Feeding an army of well over a million Orcs, Haradrim, Variags, and Trolls proved a massive undertaking. The scorched badlands of the Harad could barely sustain scrub, much less a stable food supply. Khand, located on the southwestern flanks of Mordor, was most likely a fallow grassland fit only for grazing animals. The massive slave-worked fields of Nurnen in South Mordor would have been severely overburdened, so it would be a prudent decision to shift some food production to Rhûn. The massive, fertile fields near the Sea of Rhûn could have easily both fed the civilians at home and the army abroad on campaign. The warm, humid climate and rich soil would provide a wonderful arena where food and textile crops could flourish all year round. Crops like tropical grains, greens, winemaking grapes, succulent melons and tubers could provide the Rhûnic populace with a wide variety of delectable options and culinary recipes, as well as being the luxurious rarities desired by the rest of Middle-earth. Rhûnic tobacco was famed and smoked by all walks of peoples. Textiles like cotton, flax, and kurren provided the Easterlings with material to weave fine cloth, for both personal adornment and additional trade.
In times of peace (or unstable lulls between Easterling attacks), the Men of Rhûn traded their fine tobacco, wine, and food products to their erstwhile enemies as well. As seen in The Hobbit, a number of Elvish guardsmen in the cellar of King Thranduil's subterranean palace drank themselves into a stupor and blindly let Bilbo Baggins and his Dwarf companions escape down the River Running to Lake-town. The massive, wild white Kine of Araw (from which Boromir's Horn of Gondor was crafted) would also prove to provide a source of rare, sumptuous, and mouth-watering meat that was famed around the land and was greatly desired by the monarchs of every sort of kingdom, from the Elvenking to the Steward of Gondor.
Despite the vast trade networks stretching their lengthy arms all around Middle-earth, the Easterlings do not appear to have utilized ships and maritime commerce to further their trade. If they did so, this is unknown.
Rhûn is a diverse land that borders many known and unknown lands and dominions, the most of any in Middle-earth. It is so large that it could almost be called its own continent. To the northwest are the Dwarvish realms of the Iron Hills and Lonely Mountain, the Mannish kingdoms of Dale, Lake-town upon the Long Lake, and Dorwinion on the Sea of Rhûn. Further northwest was Thranduil's dominion of eastern Mirkwood. To the far west were the Brown Lands.
To the southwest was Dagorlad, the Morannon, and of course, the volcanic plateaus and jagged mountain ridges of Mordor itself. Even further south of that were Rhûn's allies on the plains of Khand and the searing deserts of the Harad.
To the east, somewhere out there, were the Orocarni. What lays in the uttermost east no one knows or comprehends, save the people of Rhûn itself. This great land remains the last, puzzling enigma of Middle-earth, and the great question mark of the Fourth Age.
Aside from the steppe, we can also assume that the Orocarni lay not too far away from Rhûn's grasslands. The red color comes from thousands of years of sedimentation and subsequent tectonic upheaval, denoting that they were most likely underwater. If this is true, it can be assumed that they were the product of the fall of Númenór and the reshaping of the world by Eru Ilúvatar or of Melkor's many attacks on Arda. The combination of deep-earth heat and being underwater could have crated a vast hoard of minerals and metals.
(Much of what follows in this section is merely conjecture and without canon sources)
These mountains were extremely rich in every kind of resource, bursting to the seams with minerals like iron, copper, tin, silver and gold, key for any war effort. In Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth, the western flank of the Orocarni closely situated adjacent to Cuiviénen was a heavily-forested region, presumably supplying the Easterlings with gargantuan reserves of timber for use in buildings, siege equipment, towers, fortresses, towns, cities, and homes. Near the western slopes of the Orocarni were volcanic vents that continually spewed mineral rich ore-rocks, forming great hills of rich piles of ores.
The army of Easterlings marching into the Black Gate of Mordor was noticeably different from almost every other army in Middle-earth. While the cavalrymen of Rohan were decked in primitive Dark Age-era chain mail and Norse helmets, and many of the Orcish allies of the Easterlings wore pitiful little scraps of armor salvaged from dead foes, every soldier of Rhûn was scrumptiously clad in lustrous scale armor. Their next-best match was the forces of Gondor, an ancient kingdom attempting to recreate its noble Númenórean heritage harking back to the days of Isildur and Elendil. Even the soldiers of Gondor were garbed with merely standard, dull, and uniform plate armor.
The sheer task of arming and equipping the Easterling expeditionary force sent to do battle against the Free Peoples of Middle-earth was a colossal undertaking, and it is a testament to the aptitude and skill of the Easterling smiths that kept their forces on the forefront of battle, the grenadiers of their day.
Most of the great, yet unknown, Easterling cities would most likely be located on the flanks of the Orocarni or, in the case of the plains, upon hills for better defence from sieges. These were presumably grand and magnificent beyond imagination, a rival to even the glory days of Númenór. Many travelers' stories tell of glistening pagodas and grand palaces. However, the people of Rhûn would also have to contend with the great cities of the remaining four of the seven Dwarf clans, the ones that refused to trek westwards. These cities might have resembled the great fortresses of Nogrod and Belegost, situated deep within the vales of the Blue Mountains during the First Age. If this were so, the other great cities of the remaining clans would most likely be delved into the rock of the Red Mountains. The Southwest may also have been jungle, like that of Far Harad and Mumakil possibly lived there.
Rhûn was feared and dreaded for its superbly effective fighting forces, nearly spelling the doom of Gondor and almost heralding Sauron's complete victory over the entirety of Middle-earth. (See the article entitled "Easterlings" for a more complete digest of their military structure.)
The First AgeEdit
During the First Age, many of Tolkien's works (such as The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin) feature a faction known as the "Easterlings" that eventually betray the Eldar and take the lands of Hithlum as their fief. It is unclear whether Tolkien's First Age Easterlings came from Rhûn itself, or from the then-unknown lands of Eriador to the east of the Blue Mountains. In any case, information about them and their military structure during the War of the Jewels is sketchy to nonexistent.
However, we can assume that their military was not of the quality of the three houses of the Edain. Because of their distance from the high culture of the Eldar, their weaponry and armor would most likely be inferior to that of their Edain brothers that were armed by the Elves of Beleriand. On their other hand, their work with Morgoth's Orcs would place them in a position to utilize his weaponry after large losses and attrition.
The Third Age and BeyondEdit
Although not much is known of how the Easterling army is composed there are a few things to be learned.
The main weapon of the infantry of Rhûn that marched upon Gondor seemed to be the spear although there were reports of short, swarthy men wielding axes during Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
However, they are not all footmen. In the books, they are described as having bowmen upon horses and then they are described as companies of horsemen. Both the Wainriders and the Balcoth also used chariots. These were supremely effective in the flat no-man's lands that characterized much of Rhovanion in the wide corridor between the southern eaves of Mirkwood and the northern flanks of Mordor, routing and destroying the armies of Gondor under King Narmacil II in the Battle of the Plains. They were to take a considerable toll on the Eotheod as well.
The Easterlings that fought in the War of the Ring established and built on the solid foundation of military excellence and fearsome savagery that characterized their all-conquering ancestors. Often, the Easterlings in a mixed contingent of Orcs, Haradrim, Variags, Corsairs, or Uruk-hai would be the first to clash with the enemy and the last to leave the field. The Rhûnic tradition of bravery and self-sacrifice was imbued within every warrior of Rhûn, instilling him with a concoction of bloodlust and fury that would ensure that he fought to the last. As evidenced in countless battles during the Third Age, the Easterlings would always stand their ground and fight to the last man unless ordered otherwise. This was proven in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The Easterlings' resolve to fight to the death was also exemplified the next day, when the tables turned against Sauron. While the host of Mordor dropped their weapons, shed their armor, and fled en masse across the bridge to Osgiliath, the host of the Easterlings halted with their backs to the River Anduin and stood their ground. None survived, despite inflicting numerous casualties upon their hated enemies.
The vast Rhûnic army that besieged Dale and the Lonely Mountains in TA 3019 most likely had a sizable support element traveling along with them, for one does not simply win a siege with footmen. It is likely that the siege weapons brought along by the Easterlings differed greatly from their primitive and savage Orc allies.
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