While there is no substantial difficulty in fixing the time periods known as the Second, Third, and (beginnings of the) Fourth Age of Arda and Middle-earth, it is somewhat trickier to determine what exactly was “the First Age”, how long it lasted and which events it comprised. For a discussion of the whys and wherefores see The Encyclopedia of Arda: The First Age (https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/f/firstage.html); for present purposes, I’ll just note the essentials:
- There is no measure of time for the period of the creation of Eä and Arda, referred to in the Silmarillion as the Deeps of Time.
- After Arda had been created by the Music of the Ainur (aka the Great Song), the Valar entered it and began to shape it physically. During this process occurred what is known as the First Battle (between the Valar and Melkor). There is still no measuring system for this early stage, but by the systems applied later, the First Battle is reckoned to have lasted 1,500 Valian years (= approximately 14,000 solar years) from the moment the Valar had first entered Arda, ending when Melkor fled back into the Void and the Spring of Arda began.
- In its first incarnation in the Spring of Arda, the world was illuminated by the Two Lamps, Illuin (“sky-blue”) in the north and Ormal (“high-gold”) in the south. This period is sometimes referred to as the Years of the Lamps. According to the Annals of Aman in The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth’s Ring, the building of the Lamps is first mentioned in Valian year 1500, and they are recorded as being finally raised in 1900. They continued to shine for 1,600 Valian years (= ca. 15,342 solar years) until their destruction by Melkor, which occurred 1,550 Valian years (= ca. 14,854 solar years) before the Sun and the Moon first rose over Middle-earth.
- After the Two Lamps had in turn been destroyed by Melkor, the Valar created a new home for themselves at the western Edge of Arda, known as Aman (“the Undying” or “the Blessed Lands”), where they lived in Valinor (“the Land of the Valar” / “of the Powers”). This was originally illuminated by the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin (golden) and Telperion (silver), during a period known accordingly as the Years of the Trees. According to the Annals of Aman, the Trees shone for a total of 1,495 Valian years (= ca. 14,325 solar years).
- The making of the Two Trees of Valinor marks the beginning of the Valian years. One Valian year roughly equaled 9.582 solar years.
- According to a draft of The Tale of Years also published in The History of Middle-earth, the Awakening of the Elves (the Firstborn or Elder Children of Ilúvatar) — some 1,050 Valian years or 10,062 solar years after the making of the Trees — marks the beginning of the First Age.
- Time, however, ceased to be measured in Valian years after the Two Trees were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant, and the Darkening of Valinor ensued.
- From the last fruit of the Two Trees, Yavanna and Nienna created the Sun and the Moon. This occurred some 1,500 Valian years (= ca. 14,374 solar years) after the making of the Trees and 450 Valian years (= ca. 4,312 solar years) after the awakening of the Elves. From the moment of their first rising, “years” are equivalent to our solar years.
- For purposes of consistency with the time measurement of the Second and Third Ages (which are entirely given in solar years) — and consistent with the Grey Annals contained in The History of Middle-earth: The War of the Jewels — “Year 1” of the First Age (“FA 1”) is usually treated as beginning with the first rising of the Sun and the Moon. This is also the year that marks the coming of Men (the Younger Children of Ilúvatar).
- The term The Eldest Days comprises the entire time period from the creation of Eä and Arda to Melkor’s / Morgoth’s downfall at the end of the First Age. The expression “the Elder Days” typically has the same meaning, though on occasion it is also used to reference the Second Age or even the early years or centuries of the Third Age.
The Eldest Days
The Three Ages
The First Age
The Second Age
Rulers of Númenor and major developments in Númenor and in Middle-earth:
The Third Age
The Third Age, up to the events in The Hobbit:
Timelines of The One Ring & The Lord of the Rings
The Calendars of Middle-earth
Detailed Online Timelines
- Interactive timeline: http://lotrproject.com/timeline/
- Interactive / convertible calendar: https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/dates.html
- Searchable chronicle: https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/chronicle.html
- Consolidated graphic for the Three Ages: https://imgur.com/gallery/q7jG85u
- Consolidated Family Tree (all characters of the legendarium)