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The Weaponry of Middle-earth – Lioness at Large

The Weaponry of Middle-earth

Middle-earth was not a peaceful place; from the First-Age warfare between Morgoth and the Elves, and their Edain allies, to the War of the Ring at the end of the Third Age, armed conflict formed the constant background of its people’s existence — and while there were also numerous minor wars and disputes, the overarching theme was that of a conflict between the forces of Good and Evil.  The weapons used in this conflict were essentially those of the medieval warfare of our Age; those of a time before the use of gunpowder (with the exception, of course, of Saruman’s “Fire of Orthanc”), however amplified by the powers of Wizard staffs and the supernatural powers of Evil employed by Morgoth, Sauron, and the Balrogs.

The major armed conflics of Arda and Middle-earth are discussed on a separate page: Wars and Battles of Arda and Middle-earth.



The preferred weapons of Men and the Elven Kindred of the Ñoldor; almost all of the legendarium’s most famous swords were wielded by them and had been forged either by Dwarves or by Elven (typically Ñoldorin) smiths.  Renowned blades — especially those forged during, and come down from, the First or Second Ages — were given names, and they were instantly recognizable by their engravings and other markings.

Notable figures besides Elves and Men who wielded swords were the Wizard Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield, Dwarven King Under the Mountain.


Narsil => Andúril

The Sword That Was Broken, reforged into The Flame of the West:

Narsil (sun-moon”) was the blade of Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil, the founder of the kingdom of Arnor; it had been forged by Telchar of Nogrod, the most famous of all Dwarven smiths of the First Age.  The sword broke in Elendil’s fight with Sauron during the War of the Last Alliance; Elendil’s son Isildur retrieved its hilt from under his fallen father’s body to cut off Sauron’s finger with the One Ring on it (later to lose the Ring, however, in the waves of Anduin during his attempt to flee from an Orc attack).

The shards of Narsil were taken back to Arnor by Isildur’s squire and, like all of the heirlooms of the House of Elendil, after the partition of Arnor and the failure of its successor kingdom of Arthedain they were kept in Rivendell, where Elrond at last presented them to Elendil’s heir Aragorn upon his coming of age.  

When the One Ring had been found and Sauron had risen to power once more, the Elven-smiths of Rivendell forged the shards of Narsil into Andúril (“west-brilliance”), which Aragorn took up as his new sword.  On its blade Andúril bore many runes, as well as the symbols of the ancestors from whom derived Aragorn’s claim to the kingship of both Arnor and Gondor: seven stars for Elendil; a crescent moon for Elendil’s elder son Isildur, cofounder of the kingdom of Gondor and heir to the throne of Arnor at Elendil’s death; and a rayed sun for Isildur’s brother Anárion, founder and ruler of Gondor together with Isildur and ancestor of the royal line of the kings of Gondor after separation of the two kingdoms following Isildur’s death.

Art by Weta Workshop

Aragorn’s other weapons besides Andúril included the sword and the bow and arrows that he had used as a Ranger, as well as an Elven knife (which sometimes seems to be conflated with Angrist, the blade that Aragorn’s ancestor Beren had used to cut off one Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown — impossibly so, however, as Angrist broke when Beren tried to cut off a second Silmaril).



(Image top right: source)

A First Age-made Elven blade from Beleriand, found by Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield, and their company in a troll cave early during their trip through the Misty Mountains towards Erebor.  Of no greater size than a dagger or a large knife to Men and Elves, but perfect in its dimensions to serve as a sword for a Hobbit, the blade’s most significant property — like that of many Elven blades — was its blue gleam whenever in the proximity of Orcs.  Bilbo named it Sting and carried it through all of his adventure There [to the Lonely Mountain] and Back Again; and he later took it to Rivendell when leaving Hobbiton for good after his 111th birthday celebration.

When Frodo came to Rivendell, fleeing from the Shire with the One Ring, and the Fellowship was formed to accompany Frodo on his mission to Mordor, Bilbo gave Sting to Frodo to use as his sword in turn.  Towards the end of that mission, on their way into Mordor, after Frodo had been poisoned by Shelob, Sam Gamgee took Sting from his friend in order to fend off further attacks by Shelob, and seriously wounded her when she lowered herself over Sam, not expecting him to hold up the blade.  In recognition of his friendship and loyalty, Frodo later gave Sting to Sam; though Sam insisted that Frodo should at least still carry the sword while attending on Aragorn in his new glory as King Elessar, before their own return to the Shire.


(Image sources here, here and here)

Made in the First Age by the Elves of Gondolin, Glamdring (“foe-hammer”) was originally Turgon’s sword.  Through the twists and turns of the Ages, it at last found its way into the same troll cave where, towards the end of the Third Age, Bilbo’s and Thorin Oakenshield’s company also found Sting. Gandalf, recognizing the sword as a blade of Gondolin, took Glamdring for himself; his choice was approved by Turgon’s great-grandson Elrond when the company later reached Rivendell.  It was Elrond, too, who specifically identified the sword as Turgon’s (Gandalf had only gone so far as to associate it with Gondolin, at least in his comments to Bilbo and the Dwarves).  Gandalf continued to use Glamdring throughout all of the later events associated with the War of the Ring.  The sword, which like many Elven blades began to glimmer blue as soon as Orcs were near, was known as “Beater” to the Orcs.


Glamdring’s mate; also made in Gondolin in the First Age and, much later, found in the same troll cave by Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin Oakenshield and company; and also imbued with the same properties as Glamdring.  Thorin took this sword for himself; a choice that Elrond decided to condone, expressing the hope that it would soon kill many more Orcs and thus honor its name, which translates as “goblin-cleaver”.  The Orcs feared Orcrist as much as its mate Glamdring; to them it was known as “Biter”.

When Thorin died in the Battle of the Five Armies, Thranduil, the Elven-king of Mirkwood, laid Orcrist upon his tomb inside the Lonely Mountain.



(Left: art by BellaBergolts; right image here)

Fingolfin’s sword, which was said to be glittering like ice (its name translates as “cold-star” or “cold-spark”): the blade which Fingolfin took into the single combat that he fought against Morgoth during the fourth Battle of Beleriand.  Wielding Ringil, Fingolfin caused Morgoth seven wounds, but was at last crushed to death by Morgoth’s foot and shield; yet, even dying he still pierced Morgoth’s foot with Ringil a last time and caused him to walk with a limp ever after.

(Image sources here and here)
Angrist and Dagmor

The weapons of Beren, son of Barahir; his sword Dagmor (“dark slayer”) and the knife Angrist (“iron-cleaver”).  Ordinarily, with a warrior such as Beren the sword would be the more significant weapon, and Dagmor did win him great honor indeed; yet, in this instance even higher honors may have to go to the knife:

Like Elendil’s sword Narsil, Angrist was made by the famous First-Age Dwarven smith Telchar.  It was originally owned by Fëanor’s son Curufin, but Beren took it from the Elven lord in their skirmish over Lúthien; and it was with this knife that, in Angband, he cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown.  Still, when Beren attempted to cut off a second Silmaril, the knife snapped.


(Image source)

The equally powerful and unlucky blade wielded by Túrin Turambar: 

Originally named Anglachel (“iron-flame”), the sword was one of a pair forged by the Dark Elf Eöl, and given to Thingol in return for his permission to Eöl to make a home in the forest of Nan Elmoth.  Both Anglachel and its mate Anguirel (“iron-of-the-fiery-star”; the latter, stolen by Eöl’s son Maeglin, probably before fleeing to Gondolin with his mother) were forged from meteoritic iron and therefore black; Eöl had put all of his craft into their making, but Melian warned Thingol that Anglachel also carried his malice.  Thingol therefore never used the sword himself but kept it in his armory, where Túrin’s Elven friend Beleg — over Thingol’s warnings — eventually selected it as his weapon of choice when departing from Doriath in search of Túrin.

Túrin’s (albeit inadvertent) killing of his best friend Beleg, some time after their reunion, would be the first of several cataclysmically unfortunate killings committed by Túrin while wielding this sword.  Anglachel (which was sentient) turned blunt in grief over having been used in the killing of its master Beleg; but Túrin, undaunted, had it reforged in Nargothrond after he had been taken there by the Elf Gwindor, and renamed it Gurthang (“death-iron”).  For the many deeds of valor that Túrin did with Gurthang during his stay in Nargothrond, he himself came to be known as Mormegil (“black-sword”) to the city’s Elves; yet, Gurthang’s greatest moment came when Túrin used it to kill the dragon Glaurung, who had been one of the deadliest terrors unleashed by Morgoth in the final two Battles of Beleriand, who moreover had destroyed Nargothrond, had bewitched both Túrin and his sister (as a result of which, they ended up in an incestuous marriage), and who finally had embarked on a trail of devastation across Beleriand. 

However, after having rashly killed yet another friend, rather than believe that he had recently married his own sister and that she herself had committed suicide over this realization (and worse, the realization that she was carrying her own brother’s child), Túrin turned Gurthang on himself after his eyes had at last been opened to the truth about the manifold ways in which he had directly or indirectly wrought destruction on others.  The sword broke when it killed Túrin; its shards were laid next to his body when he was buried.

Elena Kukanova: Thingol

The much-prized sword of the First-Age Elven King Thingol of Doriath; its name translates as “king’s ire”.  When the Elven huter Beleg asked Thingol for a sword in his quest to seek Túrin, Thingol told him that he could have his choice of any weapon in his armory except his own.

After Thingol’s death, Aranrúth was passed down to his descendants; and having been rescued from the Second Kinslaying by Elwing along with the Nauglamír, from her it came to her son Elros.  Through him in turn, it became a heirloom of the Kings of Númenor, but it was finally lost in the island’s Drowning.


Magali Villeneuve: Glorfindel

Glorfindel’s sword; its name translates as “Eagle of the Western Sun”.  With this sword, Glorfindel destroyed the Balrog that had led the host of Orcs waylaying Tuor, Idril and the survivors of the Fall of Gondolin during their flight from the embattled city.  When Glorfindel — having been killed by the Balrog in turn — was later sent back to Middle-earth to assist Gandalf and the forces allied against Sauron, presumably Thorondún was returned to him and was consequently also the sword that he carried during his mission to rescue Frodo and his companions from the Nazgûl and help them cross the Ford of Bruinen. 


The name of this sword actually appears in Tolkien’s writings on one occasion, but its history is a belated add-on from the movie adaptations, so it can hardly be called “canon” — though the makers of the movies really went all-out in creating that history, to an extent that it’s almost a pity that it is not part of the official canon. 

According to that history, the sword originally belonged to Elrond’s grandmother Idril, Turgon’s daughter (who just might have used it to defend herself and her little son Eärendil from the traitor Maeglin during the Fall of Gondolin); and it was passed down the generations from her.  This makes sense to me to the extent that we see both Elrond and Arwen wielding Hadhafang, whose name incidentally translates as “throng-cleaver” … even if it does make me do a bit of a double-take to see Elrond carrying to war — as he does in the movies’ scenes from the war of the Last Alliance — a sword that according to the very inscription on its blade was made for the defense of a “noble lady”, which incidentally is also the translation of Arwen’s name: but Arwen was not yet born at the time of the Last Alliance (so even by implication Elrond couldn’t have been taking the sword to that particular war with her defense in mind); and anyway, wouldn’t a powerful Elven lord like Elrond have at least one blade of his own?

Thranduil’s Sword

Also not canon, and in this case not even named — which in turn, however, just might actually make sense within the internal consistency of the canon, too, as Thranduil was King of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, who were not the first to rush into war anyway, and who as a rule preferred the bow and arrow to the sword both in hunting and in fighting.  Yet, in the Hobbit movies we see Thranduil valiantly wielding a blade rather than the bow and arrow of his people, so it might as well be listed here, too (in fact, its prominence in the movies seems to have made it almost as much semi-unofficially-nearly-but-well-no-not-really-canon as Hadhafang at this point).

(Top right image: source)

The sword of Théoden, King of Rohan (and we’re back on solid canonical ground here once more).

The Rohirrim’s other main weapon besides the sword was the spear; and in fact, we see Éomer and other men of the cavalry of Rohan wield these, either in addition to or in lieu of swords, but to Théoden, Herugrim was clearly the weapon of choice and the first thing that he called to be brought to him once Gandalf had freed him from Gríma’s (and Saruman’s) evil influence … at which time it was found to have been one of many things that Gríma, worm-tongued professional picker-up of unconsidered trifles, had secretly been squirreling away over the years. — The sword’s name is Rohirric and translates as “very fierce”.

(Top right image: source)

“Battle-friend”; the sword that Éomer wields when fighting alongside Aragorn in the Battle of the Hornburg, and presumably also the sword that he tosses into the sunlight with joy at the approach of Aragorn and the unfurling of the standard of Elendil during the Battle of the Pelennor Field.

Eowyn’s Sword

One other person from Rohan whom we see wielding a sword, and not only in the movies but as per Tolkien’s own writings and strictly within the canon, is Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan.  Her sword is not named — I suppose that would be asking a bit much, especially since she wasn’t actually supposed to be at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in the first place; never mind that she was apparently considered superior to many of the male Rohirrim in terms of craft and skill — but it absolutely deserves inclusion here to mark her bravery.  And, of course, for the fact that this was the sword that did away with the Witch-king of Angmar … (even if it was destroyed in the process).

Éowyn’s sword — at least as shown in the movies — was a full-sized one, measuring almost three feet long from tip to hilt. The bronze guard and pommel were richly styled in honor of her people’s beloved mearas, which just may also have helped to improve the grip of Eowyn’s sword hand, which was smaller than that of a man.

Art by Paul Tobin, kingfisher, and Sergio Artigas
Dwarf Blades

While the Dwarves’ main weapon in battle was typically the axe, Thorin was not the only one of them to also carry a sword or a dagger, or both.  As (credibly) depicted in the movies and in related scenarios, Dwarf blades — both swords and knives or daggers –, like their owners, were stockier, broader and less elegant than those of the Elves, although they could be richly decorated and engraved with runes, too.  Not infrequently, the swords, daggers and knives carried by Dwarves would moreover have been double-edged, and their tips or edges could be dented or diagonally cut off across the width of the blade, giving them broader top ends than the more regular points of an Elven sword or one made by Men — if they had been curved, they might have looked very much like scimitars.  The Dwarves are not known to have regularly named their swords; and if, like Thorin, they did own a named sword, it was more likely than not of Elvish make and provenance.

Hobbit swords and Barrow-blades by Weta Workshop
The Hobbits’ Barrow-Blades (Daggers of Westernesse)

The Hobbits set out from the Shire without bearing any arms; even Frodo was given his sword Sting only when they reached Rivendell, where it was handed over to him by its previous owner Bilbo.

However, before they had even reached Bree (let alone Rivendell), they each acquired an ancient yet still perfectly sharp and useful weapon when they were caught in, and rescued by Tom Bombadil from, an ancient burial mound in the Barrow-downs just outside the borders of the Shire near the Old Forest: After Tom had driven out the Barrow-wight occupying the mound, he handed the Hobbits four blades that, as he explained, had been fashioned for the soldiers of Cardolan, one of the three successor kingdoms of Arnor, to which this area south of the Great East Road (including the Old Forest and the Barrow-downs) had once belonged, before Cardolan had been vanquished by Angmar and further depopulated by the plague, thus making room for the the Barrow-wights, who thereafter had kept all living people at bay.  There is a suggestion that the mound in which the Hobbits were caught was none other than the very burial mound of the last ruler of Cardolan himself.

For their history and its association with the Dúnedain of Eriador, the Hobbits’ Barrow-blades also came to be known as the Daggers of Westernesse (the latter is Westron for Númenor).  Denethor, Steward of Gondor, instantly recognized the provenance of the blade that Pippin offered up to him as a token of fealty during his and Gandalf’s first joint audience with Denethor, and he commented on it with approval.

Each of the four daggers had a long, leaf-shaped blade that was damasked with serpent-shaped ornaments in red and gold; as well as a sheath made of a light but strong metal unknown to the Hobbits and set with fiery stones. 

Only two of the Barrow-blades survived until after the War of the Ring:

  • Frodo’s blade was broken by the Witch-king of Angmar at the Ford of Bruinen.
  • Merry’s blade was destroyed when he cut the sinews of the Witch-king of Angmar’s knees with it; administering the wound that, besides Éowyn’s stroke through the Nazgûl’s head, caused the annihilation of the Lord of the Ring-wraiths.
  • Sam laid his own blade next to Frodo in salute to his friend when he believed him to have been killed by Shelob; however, his blade was retrieved by Gandalf from the Mouth of Sauron at the Black Gate of Mordor, together with Frodo’s mithril shirt; and Gandalf later returned it to Sam.
  • Pippin used his Barrow-blade to kill a troll at the Battle of the Black Gate, for which he later called his sword “troll’s bane”. After the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, he wielded it again in the fight freeing the Shire from Saruman and his ruffian minions.


Wizard Staffs

(left: art by Norloth; right:image source here)

The Istari’s sole mark of their supernatural powers while as Wizards in Middle-earth, and the items in which most of their powers were concentrated: not to be used against unprotected mortals (not that Curumo, aka Saruman, would have cared, at least not at the end); but they could be used for benevolent purposes.  Gandalf’s fireworks may be an example of that, as is clearly his use of his staff to shine a light in dark places, and as are of course also the healing and herb and bird lore powers of Radagast’s staff.  The Istari could, however — and Olórin (Gandalf) in particular was frequently even compelled to — use their staff as a weapon of defense against the immortal or Unseen agents of Evil, such as the Nazgûl.  But they were banned from straight-out matching Sauron on a power level of Maia(r) against Maia: they had been sent to Middle-earth to assist its peoples in their fight against the Dark Lord, not to take over and arrange Middle-earth’s affairs on their own authority.  (That, of course, was the key command that Saruman came to disregard once he had been seduced into treason by the One Ring.)

The legendarium tells us that Aiwendil / Radagast lived in the vicinity of Dol Guldur for a while and kept watch on it, using birds as spies; and according to the movies, he also used his staff to fight off the Witch-king of Angmar on one occasion.  But even if he was a member of the White Council, by and large he didn’t have much of an active hand in its doings and the vastly greater powers of his staff seem to have been in healing and in herb and bird lore.  The properties of the two Blue Wizards’ staffs, on the other hand, are not known at all.  Therefore, these three Wizards’ staffs aren’t discussed in any further detail here; there’s just not enough basis of known facts to include them on a page dealing with Middle-earth’s weapons.  (As for the movies’ reconning the events into Radegast giving Gandalf his own staff after the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur, see below.)


Saruman’s Staff

The most powerful staff in Middle-earth while Curumo / Saruman was leader of the White Council and for a while even after his treason had become known: shown as a black rod with a whitish crystal ball in its prongs; vaguely resembling the shape of Orthanc at the tip and with the ability to gleam white in certain types of light. 

Not even Olórin had the power to withstand this staff as long as he was Gandalf the Grey — it doesn’t take the movies’ CGI-fueled wizard staff duel inside Orthanc to tell us that; all we need to know is that Saruman succeeded in keeping Gandalf locked away atop Orthanc for several months: long enough for Gandalf not to be able to stand by Frodo and the Hobbits on their way to Bree, to still miss them there, and not to be able to help them against the Nazgûl on Weathertop over two weeks after their departure from the Shire.

And given that (from Curumo / Saruman’s chronically overconfident perspective) “even” Olórin / Gandalf alone had succeeded in driving Sauron to temporarily leave Dol Guldur during his first reconnaissance mission there not quite a millennium earlier, and the White Council, led by Curumo, had had no trouble in driving the “Necromancer” out of Dol Guldur once and for all in their attack that occurred simultaneously with the Dwarves’ retaking of the Lonely Mountain, it’s perhaps not so terribly surprising that he ended up deluding himself — helped along by the One Ring — that he would still be able to master Sauron even after the Dark Lord had come back into his full power …

Anyway, for all his suspicion and jealousy of Olórin, after having lorded it over the other Istari for several millennia (and over the White Council for almost one full millennium), and after having had the better over Olórin / Gandalf only very recently, Curumo / Saruman clearly did not expect to be ousted by his “old friend” (read: rival), the Grey Pilgrim of all people; nor did he expect him to come back as the White Wizard in the first place.  Olórin / Gandalf breaking his staff after the battle at Helm’s Deep, without even having to touch that staff to begin with, is the clearest mark of his growth in power that we can possibly have.

Art work for Gandalf’s staff by Weta Workshop
Gandalf’s Staffs

While Saruman never sees the need to change his staff in all of three millennia and more (and why should he?), Gandalf goes through a whole series of them, at least if we’re to believe the movies — but based on Tolkien’s own writings, only one of those staff changes is demonstrably consistent with the canon, at least in the broad scheme of things (spoiler: it’s the one from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White).

There are questions as to certain aspects of the very first staff replacement already:

The only attack on Dol Guldur during which Gandalf’s first staff could have been destroyed by Sauron (aka the Necromancer) in any way coinciding with the events in The Hobbit was, of course, the one launched by the White Council simultaneously with Bilbo’s and Thorin’s quest for the Lonely Mountain: Leaving aside the movies’ reconning of even the timeline associated with Dol Guldur, Gandalf’s first visit to Dol Guldur preceded the events of The Hobbit by almost a millennium; and his visit to Dol Guldur during which he encountered Thorin’s father Thráin and received from him the side door key and the map of the Lonely Mountain still occurred almost a century before he at last showed up at Bilbo’s home with Thorin Oakenshield and company in tow. 

But one has to wonder: Had Sauron, whose power was clearly tied to the One Ring, already regained so much of his power merely by Bilbo’s finding the Ring and unwittingly bringing it out into the open a very short time earlier that he (Sauron) was already able to destroy the one item that embodied much of the power of another Maia — Olórin / Gandalf’s staff?  Moreover, did he have that amount of power when also facing off against the most powerful staff of all, Curumo / Saruman’s, which during the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur was still (albeit grudgingly) allied with Gandalf`s?

And even if Gandalf’s staff was destroyed during the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur that coincided with Thorin’s campaign to recapture the Lonely Mountain, it is not easy to fathom that the source of his new staff should have been Aiwendil (known in Middle-earth as Radagast the Brown).  To begin with, each Wizard’s staff was clearly in line with that particular Wizard’s special role and powers; so it is not easy to see how one Wizard could simply use another Wizard’s staff — these weren’t replacement items off a department store rack (and don’t get me started on Radagast’s comment that his own staff was “a bit dicky” in the first place and that was the reason for its frequent malfunctioning).  Also, regardless whether Radagast was formally a member of the White Council, he didn’t have much of an active hand in its doings — he hovered on its sidelines and mainly kept a watching brief.  More significantly, Radagast was still merrily doing his plant-and-bird wizarding (unwittingly helping Saruman in his quest for the One Ring, no less) — for which he would presumably have needed his staff, since most of the Wizards’ power was concentrated in those, and that certainly seems to have been true for Radagast’s staff — even when Saruman made use of the friendship between Gandalf and Radagast to lure Gandalf to Orthanc several decades after Bilbo’s return to Hobbiton. 

If, at any rate, one accepts that at the beginning of the events related in The Fellowship of the Ring Gandalf’s staff (wherever it had come from) was still the same as the one at the end of The Hobbit — and that at the very least does not seem to be expressly inconsistent with the written canon — then it is just possible that the crown of that staff (if it really had the knobbly branches sticking out at the top that Radagast’s staff did) would have gotten a bit under the weather in the intervening decades, and the branches broken or worn off … though one also has to wonder why this hadn’t already happened in the millennia since the Istari’s first arrival in Middle-earth.

But regardless what staff precisely Gandalf took to Isengard when following Saruman’s invitation there, it is not sure at all that Saruman ever needed to deprive Gandalf of his staff in order to lock him up atop Orthanc: The figure that Frodo saw in his dream — and who we later learn must have been Gandalf — did hold a staff when being rescued by Gwaihir.

There is no inconsistency in the written canon, therefore, in regard to Gandalf’s possession of a staff when he and the Hobbits reunited in Rivendell.  In fact, the movies’ implicit suggestion that the Elves might have fashioned a new staff for him after his release from Orthanc comes with a whole new set of questions: Even if one assumes that the Elven smiths were also proficient in the art of wizard staff-making, they were inferior to the Maia Olórin (Gandalf) in the legendarium’s cosmic scheme of things, so they are unlikely to have been able, on their own, to imbue the new staff created by them with a Wizard’s / Maia’s full powers.  In other words, either Gandalf himself would have had to accomplish that; and if he couldn’t do it, either, he would likely (without of course mentioning this to anybody) have had to appeal to one of the Valar — presumably the one who sent him, so most likely Manwë –, or even to Ilúvatar himself, to give his new staff the power he needed to continue his task.

The staff that Gandalf took from Rivendell to Moria, at any rate, only survived until the Fellowship reached Durin’s Bridge and was attacked by the Balrog.  Regardless whether you go with the legendarium as written — where the staff broke when Gandalf rammed it into the bridge, telling the Balrog “you cannot pass” — or with the movie version (where Gandalf “merely” lost his staff in his fight with the Balrog), it’s clear that after Moria, Gandalf the Grey’s staffs were no longer, as little as Gandalf the Grey was himself.

The ashen / white staff wielded by Gandalf the White, finally, again went different ways in the legendarium as set down in writing and in the movies: In the latter, it was broken by the Witch-king of Angmar when Gandalf confronted him at the Great Gate of Minas Tirith.  But that didn’t happen according to the actual text of The Return of the King; quite to the contrary, the Witch-king withdrew his challenge — and while this may also have had something to do with the arrival of the Rohirrim at the battle of the Pelennor Fields, which occured exactly at that moment, the Nazgûl had already fled from Gandalf’s staff at least once shortly before, when Gandalf had caused his staff to strike them with a streak of blindingly white light when riding out in support of the embattled soldiers of Minas Tirith, so as to help the soldiers return into the city and safely bring the injured Faramir back inside.  The movies also don’t explain how exactly Gandalf’s staff would have been replaced (yet again) after Gandalf’s face-off with the Witch-king, nor why — all other properties apparently being equal — the sixth and final staff we see in Gandalf’s possession seems to be larger than the previous one.

So in sum, of the movies’ four (and a half) staff changes, only one is at least substantially consistent with the canon as set forth in Tolkien’s writings; the change from the staff of Gandalf the Grey to that of Gandalf the White.

What is clear, in any event, is that the ashen / white staff of Gandalf the White was not only an external mark of his transformation: the staff itself was of vastly greater power than any other staff he had wielded before; and gone were the days when Gandalf would occasionally use his staff’s powers to entertain others (such as with his fireworks) — because gone were the days when anyone would even remotely have had the leisure to think of any sort of entertainment to begin with.


Bows and Arrows

Collage to the left includes: Tuor and Voronwë (by Steamey; 2d row right), Northmen (by Johnny Shumate; 4th row right), Cocoz42: Beleg Cuthalion (5th row left), and Marya Filatova: Beleg (6th row).  Art work shown in collage to the right by Weta Workshop

Bows and arrows were common weapons in Middle-earth and were used by most everybody to some extent or other; however, they were favored in particular by the Elves, the Númenóreans, and the Rohirrim and other descendants of Northmen.  Elven bows were typically made from wood, with those of the Galadhrim being strung with Elven hair; while the Númenóreans preferred the steel bows forged in their armories and made from hollowed steel.

The Elves were the first people of Middle-age to master the use of bows and arrows.  The Sindar of Doriath and Lothlórien chiefly used the superior longbows, which had a greater range than that other bows, such as those used by their Silvan kin of Mirkwood; the spearmen and archers of the latter, however, still formed the chief contingent of the Elven army from Mirkwood in the Battle of the Five Armies near the Lonely Mountain.

The Númenóreans’ steel-bows were used to shoot black-feathered arrows measuring a full ell from point to notch; they and the arrows shot from them were a much-feared weapon that some of their enemies compared to “a great cloud, as of rain turned to serpents, or a black hail tipped with steel”.  The Númenoreans also developed crossbows, which they used primarily for bird hunting.

The Gondorian forces included units of archers equipped with longbows made of heartwood, measuring approximately 68″ and known to be true to their aim over distances up to 200 yards.  Bows were also the primary weapon of the Rangers of Ithilien and the Northern Rangers (Dúnedain of the North).  Unlike most other archers, those of Gondor wore the quivers holding their steel-tipped, 28″-long arrows on their hips rather than on their backs.

Rohirrim archers, who like virtually all members of the forces of Rohan fought from horseback, used shortbows with a range of some 125 yards; other descendants of the Northmen, such as the Men of Dale and the Lake-men, also used bows for both hunting and warfare.  Beorn, the skinchanger living near the Anduin River between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood, supplied Thorin Oakenshield and his company of Dwarves with hunting bows before they embarked on their path through Mirkwood.

Even Hobbits used bows on occasion; there were contingents of Hobbit archers in the forces of Athedain before most of Eriador was devastated by Angmar and the plague, and Hobbit archers also had a role in the Battle of Bywater at the very end of the War of the Ring.

The Bow of the Galadhrim

Galadriel’s present to Legolas at the Fellowship’s leaving Lothlórien: a longbow strung with a string of Elven hair; longer and stronger than those of Mirkwood, and accompanied by a quiver of arrows.  Legolas would come to use up the arrows at Helm’s Deep, but not before having shot the “fell beast” from Mordor tracking the Fellowship on their way down the Anduin, near the rapids of Sarn Gebir.

The Black Arrow

A weapon forged by the Dwarves Under the Mountain that came down to Bard, the Bowman of Lake-town, from his ancestor Girion.  Bard said that the arrow had never failed him and he had always been able to retrieve it after it had been shot; it was the last arrow in his quiver when confronting Smaug, and he used it to aim at a soft spot on Smaug’s belly about which he had learned from a thrush.  The arrow hit its mark and killed Smaug.

Unlike the portrayal in the movies, the book version of The Hobbit does not contain any indications that the arrow requires a crossbow to be fired; Bard just uses his own bow there.  (In fact, the movies are inconsistent with the legendarium in this respect, as the Men of Dale and the Lake-men were descendants of the Northmen, who were not known for — and did not have the technical skill to develop and build — crossbows; those were a weapon only used by the Númenóreans.)

Belthronding and Dailir

Elena Kukanova: Beleg

The bow (Belthronding) and arrow (Dailir) of Túrin’s Elven hunter friend Beleg Strongbow of Doriath, the mightiest archer of the First Age.

Belthronding (whose name implies strength and hardness) was made of black yew wood and both its might and Beleg’s skill earned Beleg his epithet Cúthalion (“Strongbow”), as well as becoming part of the name of the area that Túrin and Beleg kept safe for a while, Dor-Cúarthol (“the Land of Bow and Helm”, for Beleg’s bow and Túrin’s famed dragon helm).

Dailir (“cleaver”), like the Third-Age Black Arrow of Bard the Bowman, was an arrow that its owner would always be able to retrieve after it had been shot.  It no longer featured in the later versions of The Children of Húrin, however; it is only mentioned in the earliest one.

When Túrin tragically mistook his best friend for an Orc and killed him, after having himself been captured and abducted by a host of Orcs (from whom Beleg had actually just freed him), Túrin buried Belthronding with its owner. Dailir had broken earlier, while Beleg had been carrying his injured friend.


The Bow of Bregor

The bow belonging to Bregor, the Lord of Ladros, a heirloom of the House of Bëor (whose last scion was Bregor’s grandson Beren).  The bow survived the decimation of the House and was taken to Númenor by the Edain, and it remained a heirloom of the Kings of Númenor until the island’s Drowning, in which it was lost.

(Image sources here and here)
The Red Arrow

A weapon in appearance and possibly in origin, but used as the token of Gondor’s plea for assistance from Rohan, conveyed by a horsed messenger:

The Red Arrow was a black-feathered arrow barbed with steel and with a red tip, in which the color of blood served as an indication of the seriousness of the situation.  (The red color may originally really have been blood, though this is not certain.)

It was first used by a messenger from the Stewards of Gondor to call Eorl the Young, King of the Éothéod, and his people to the assistance of Gondor against the attack by the Easterlings known as the Balchoth: after the battle in which the allied forces of Gondor and the Éothéod at last vanquished the attackers, Cirion the grateful Steward of Gondor granted to Eorl and his people the lands which subsequently became the Kingdom of Rohan; and the rulers of Gondor and Rohan swore an oath of reciprocal loyalty and assistance to each other; this came to be known as the Oath of Cirion (or Oath of Eorl).

Relying on this tradition, Denethor II, Steward of Gondor, dispatched a messenger named Hirgon to Rohan when Gondor was on the point of being attacked by the forces of Mordor during the War of the Ring.  Hirgon was able to deliver his message, but was killed by Orcs on his way back to Gondor.  Because of this, and also because the forces of the Rohirrim had been concealed with the help of the Drúedain (“Woses” or “wild men”) of Drúadan Forest from the host of Orcs lying in ambush on the straight way from Rohan to Gondor, the Rohirrim’s arrival on the battlefield of the Pelennor outside Minas Tirith came as a total surprise to friend and foe alike.

(In any event, forget Pippin’s bit of special bravery in the movies: there actually was a series of beacons along the mountaintops of the White Mountains that were to be lit when Gondor was in peril, but (1) these — seven, not thirteen like in the movies — were, at the time of the War of the Ring, beacons to alert the people of Anórien, northwest of Minas Tirith (not beacons to alert Rohan); (2) the beacons were actually lit in the book text of The Return of the King; in fact, they’d been lit already by the time Gandalf and Pippin passed them on their ride to Minas Tirith; (3) since the time of Eorl the Young, the messaging system for Rohan was the Red Arrow, not the beacons; and (4) it was Denethor himself who sent Hirgon off to Rohan, in probably one of the last sane things he did in his life.)


Art by Artigas (top) and Weta Workshop (bottom)


Axes were the Dwarves’ chief tools, both in warcraft and in mining, chopping and other daily tasks; though they were used by other peoples of Middle-earth as well. Dwarven warriors carried at least one, but not infrequently several axes of different makes and sizes. 

Among the Elves, the Ñoldor had taken to weapon making even earlier than the Dwarves, when Melkor had first begun to threaten Valinor; axes were among the arms they created besides swords and spears. — The Sindar in Middle-earth later acquired axes, as well as swords and spears, by trading with the Dwarves; axes, too, would remain the main weapons of the wardens of Doriath, as well as the members of the House of Haleth (the Second House of the Edain) living in nearby Brethil.

Other Edain — namely of the House of Hador — also carried axes during the First Age; during the Second Age, the Númenóreans, who had learned weaponmaking from the Ñoldor, once more forged great axes, though not only as weapons to be used in warfare: a major purpose of their use was the cutting of timber for their ships. 

Axes were rarely named; a notable exception is the great battle axe borne by the Edain warrior Tuor, Dramborleg.


(Image source)

Durin’s Axe

A great heirloom of the Dwarves; lost in Khazad-dûm (Moria) when it was abandoned following the killing of Durin VI by the Balrog Durin’s Bane.  The axe was retrieved by Balin’s company when they resettled in the Longbeards’ ancient home towards the end of the Third Age, but lost again (likely forever) when Balin’s company was destroyed by Orcs.

Azaghâl’s Axe

Azaghâl was the First-Age lord of Belegost; probably the chief of the Broadbeams (the House mainly associated with Belegost).

Besides having been the first owner of the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, which later came to even greater fame as a piece of Túrin Turambar’s body armor, Azaghâl was chiefly noted for his great battle ax, which he carried into the fifth Battle of Beleriand (the Nírnaeth Arnoediad) on the side of the Sons of Fëanor.  Covering the Ñoldorin lords’ retreat, Azaghâl and his Dwarves surrounded the dragon Glaurung — the greatest of the many terrors unleashed by Morgoth in this battle — and kept striking him with their axes.  They in fact did manage to injure the dragon, as his scales were not yet hardened enough to make him completely immune to the Dwarvish blades; however, in his rage he struck down Azaghâl and crushed him to death by crawling over him.  With his last bit of strength, the Dwarf-lord stuck a knife into Glaurung’s belly and thus wounded him seriously enough to make him flee, followed by many of the monsters from Angband that he had led into battle, while Azaghâl’s body was carried off the battlefield by his people with great pomp and dignity.

(Top right image: source)
Gimli’s Axes

Next to the swords wielded by most of the other members of the Fellowship — particularly Aragorn’s Andûril, Gandalf’s Glamdring, and Frodo’s Sting, with special honors going to Éowyn’s and Merry’s unnamed blades that jointly killed the Witch-king of Angmar — as well as Legolas’s bow of the Galadhrim, Gimli’s battle axe was without doubt the most fearsome and effective weapon carried into battle by Frodo’s band of friends and companions. 

The movies show Gimli as having carried not one but several axes, at least some of which could also be used for purposes other than fighting: this is decidedly not canon (Tolkien is very specific about the fact that Gimli carried only one axe); the representation of his prize piece of battle weaponry makes sense, however, showing it as a huge double-bladed axe that allowed him to swipe with equally deadly force in both directions, without having to turn his weapon’s handle, and whose hefty weight further added to the power of his blows.

(Right image: source)
Dáin II Ironfoot’s Axe

Dáin Ironfoot’s signature red axe was the weapon that, according to the legendarium as written (i.e., contrary to the portrayal in the movies) killed Azog the Defiler in the Battle of Azanulbizar outside Moria, thus avenging the death of King Thrór, who in turn had been killed by Azog when trying to enter the Longbeards’ ancient stronghold several years earlier.

Dáin would later also take his red axe to the Battle of the Five Armies, where he had been summoned in support of his cousin (and briefly, his predecessor as King Under the Mountain) Thorin Oakenshield, and where his and Thorin’s fighters eventually united with those of the Elves and of Lake-town, as well as with the Eagles and Beorn the skinchanger, against their common enemy, the Orcs.

Natalie Chen: Tuor

The First-Age Edain warrior Tuor’s great axe, which he preferred over any other weapon.  Its name translates as “thudder-sharp” and derives from the fact that, as we are told, with this axe Tuor “smote both a heavy dint as of a club and cleft as a sword“.

Tuor fought with this axe in the Fall of Gondolin, killing no less than three Balrogs as well as Othrod, the leader of the Orcs, before he rescued his wife Idril and his son Eärendil from Turgon’s murderous, treacherous nephew / stepson Maeglin, who had betrayed Gondolin to Morgoth out of jealousy and spite.

Through Eärendil and his son Elros, who would become the first King of Númenor, Dramborleg would become a heirloom to the royal line of Númenor, where however it would ultimately be one of many heirlooms rescued from Middle-earth only to be finally lost in the Drowning of of the Fallen Island.



Pole weapons made of a (typically: wooden) shaft with a pointed metal spearhead, wielded with either one or two hands and designed either to be thrust as a melee weapon or to be thrown as a ranged weapon (a javelin): spears were the perfect weapons for a cavalry such as that of the Rohirrim, though the Elves used them as well.  Among the Kindred of the Eldar, they were the preferred weapon of the Vanyar; but we also learn in The Hobbit that the Elvenking of Mirkwood had brought “a thousand of their spearmen” to the Battle of the Five Armies.



(Bottom image: source)

One Ñoldorin warrior who — unlike most of his Kindred, who favored the sword — preferred his spear over any other weapon was Gil-galad; and indeed, “Against Aeglos the spear of Gil-galad none could stand“, we are told about the war of the Last Alliance in the Silmarillion  … none, it would turn out, other than Sauron, who eventually killed both Gil-galad and Elendil, fighting them on the slopes of Mount Doom, however at the cost of having the Ring of Power cut from his hand (finger included) by Isildur, wielding the hilt and upper shard of his father’s broken sword.

Aeglos, which is also the name of a plant, translates as “snow-point” or “icicle”.

Bottom image: Art by Weta Workshop

Art by Weta Workshop

The Spears of the Rohirrim

The melee weapons par excellence, spears were indispensable in the armories of Rohan. 

The King, his designated heir Éomer, and the captains of Rohan were all highly-trained in this sort of combat and were expected to lead the charge; however, there wasn’t a member of the Rohirrim who hadn’t had some level of instruction in the use of a spear at some point in his life.  Many of them were on active duty in the éoreds (units of the Rohan cavalry of some 100-120 riders each, usually attached to their commanders’ household) keeping watch in the various parts of the Mark on a daily basis.

In addition to their spears, the Rohirrim carried bows and arrows, as well as one or more of a cavalryman’s other standard weapons, most notably swords and axes.

The notable exception as far as personal armament goes was, of course, Gríma Wormtongue: In fact, given that his best weapons were his mouth and his aptitude with poisons — and that he did everything he could to talk himself out of having to join the Rohirrim when going to war — one wonders that he even should have carried so much as a dagger, but probably it was just impossible for a Man of Rohan not to be carrying any sort of arms at all; and of course a dagger lends itself to stealth much more easily than a sword would.


Body Armour and Shields

Body armour was mostly what you’d expect in the face of weaponry such as swords, arrows, axes, and spears: helmets, hauberks, mail shirts and metal-plated or hardened leather vests, as well as chausses (metal leg braces) and metal or hardened-leather gauntlets (gloves).  In addition, most fighters would be equipped with a shield; even though some (e.g., Gil-galad and apparently also Théoden and Éomer) preferred to fight holding weapons in both of their hands, and Gimli used both of his hands to wield his great two-bladed battle axe. 

Few items of body armour stand out; though some deserve to be mentioned:


The Mithril Shirt

Other than Nenya, (the Elven Ring of Power worn by Galadriel), probably the most renowned item made of mithril, the legendary “true-silver” of the Elves of Khazad-dûm: a mail shirt originally made for a young Elven prince, found in the treasure at Mount Doom after it had been reconquered from Smaug by Thorin Oakenshield and his company of Dwarves.

Thorin gave the shirt to Bilbo Baggins as a mark of appreciation and friendship, and Gandalf later commented that the shirt’s worth was “greater than the value of the Shire.”  Bilbo wore it during the Battle of the Five Armies and on his return trip to Hobbiton and later took it to Rivendell, where he finally passed it on to his nephew.  Frodo, in turn, wore the mail shirt while the Fellowship was attacked by Orcs in the Mines of Moria, where it saved his life; but the Orcs took it from him after they had captured him and taken him to Cirith Ungol after he had been stung, incapacitated and cocooned by Shelob.  However, the Orcs’ subsequent quarrel over his mithril shirt allowed his faithful Sam to rescue him; and though the shirt was by this time on its way to Barad-dûr, and was later used by the Mouth of Sauron to demonstrate to Gandalf and Aragorn that “the (one) Halfling” had been captured in Mordor, Gandalf reclaimed the shirt from Sauron’s emissary and returned it to Frodo after he and Sam had been rescued from Mount Doom by the Eagles.  When at last Frodo and his Hobbit friends returned to the Shire, the mithril shirt once more saved his life when he was attacked by Saruman (now known as Sharkey) in an altercation that Saruman himself would not come to survive (or at least not in the manifestation in which he had been known in Middle-earth; and we are not told what happened to him when his immortal incarnation as Curumo tried to return to Valinor).

The Dragon Helm of Dor-lómin

Left: art by OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay; right: Alan Lee: Túrin wearing his dragon helm

A visored steel helmet; yet another item made by the greatest of all First-Age Elven smiths, Telchar of Nogrod: Also known as the Helm of Hador for its later owners, it was embossed with gold and runes and bore at its crest a representation of the great dragon of the latter days of the First Age, Glaurung, who would eventually come to be killed by the helm’s most famous owner, Túrin Turambar.

The helm was originally forged for Azaghâl, lord of Belegost, who gave it as a gift to the Ñoldorin lord Maedhros (eldest son of Fëanor, the creator of the Silmarils) after Maedhros had saved Azaghâl’s life when he was attacked by Orcs.  However, the helm was too heavy for Elves and also most Men to wear; and from Maedhros it eventually found its way to his cousin Fingon, who in turn presented it to Hador in celebration of the latter’s having been named the first Lord of Dor-lómin at the creation of that fiefdom by Fingon’s father Fingolfin.

From Hador, the helm was passed down to his House’s subsequent generations, until it finally came into the possession of Hador’s great-grandson Túrin, who received it from the hands of Thingol, High-king of Beleriand, after having been sent to Thingol’s protected realm of Doriath together with Túrin himself by the young warrior’s mother.  As it had done in his ancestors’ generations, the helm inspired hope and courage in others when it was seen to be worn by Túrin; and although it had initially remained in Doriath at Túrin’s hasty decision to leave Thingol’s realm, his friend, the Elven hunter Beleg, brought it along when he later went in search of Túrin.  Together, for a while Beleg and Túrin were known as “the Bow and the Helm” for Beleg’s famous bow Belthronding and Túrin’s Dragon Helm, and the land protected by them was known as Dor-Cúarthol (“the Land of Bow and Helm).

The ultimate fate of the Dragon Helm is not recorded, but it was probably buried with Túrin, along with his other arms, when Húrin found his son after the latter had turned his sword Gurthang on himself, having at last understood the many woes that he had (albeit unwittingly) brought on others, including and in particular those closest to his own heart.

Tuor’s Arms

Left: Tuor’s arms (image source here) — right: Ted Nasmith: Tuor

The device on Tuor’s arms, or rather on his shield, marks a crucial moment in both his own life’s trajectory and that of the House of Fingolfin, and of the Ñoldor generally:

After reaching Middle-earth, Fingolfin’s younger son Turgon and his company had spent some time on the coast of Belegaer (the “Sundering Seas” between Middle-earth and Aman) before finally moving inland and founding Gondolin.  Before they had left the coast, moving eastward from the port city of Vinyamar, Ulmo had appeared to Turgon and had commanded him to leave behind a sword, armour, and a shield bearing the device of a white swan on a blue field for a warrior who would arrive some day in the far future, and who would be the last hope of the Ñoldor and the House of Fingolfin; a prophecy echoed in the final words that Tuor’s father would later speak when parting from Turgon before the fifth Battle of Beleriand (in which he was killed): “Out of your house shall come the hope of Elves and Men; from you and from me a new star shall arise.” — Though wondering about the meaning of Ulmo’s command, Turgon had obeyed.

When Tuor himself, having escaped from the Easterlings then ruling his native Dor-lómin, crossed through Nevrast down to the sea shore, Ulmo sent him a sign that told him to follow a group of seven swans southwards.  The swans led Tuor to Vinyamar, where he found the arms left behind by Turgon long ago.  Then Ulmo appeared to Tuor and commanded him to seek the hidden city of Gondolin, where Tuor — guided by the Elf Voronwë (a native of Gondolin), to whom he had told his story — arrived after a hard and lengthy journey.  In Gondolin, he fell in love with Turgon’s daughter Idril and married her, and their son Eärendil, his wife Elwing, and their son Elros (Elrond’s brother) would later secure the survival of the Edain faithful to the Valar and to Eru Ilúvatar and guide them to Númenor after the end of the War of Wrath.



Trumpets would be blown to mark moments of importance at court, such as the King’s or a high dignitary’s entrance, but they were not what stirred the warriors’ courage or drove fear into the hearts of enemies on the battlefield — that feat was accomplished by horns.  Middle-earth and Arda knew many great horns, including:



Oromë (art by Steamey)

The horn of the Vala Oromë, the Great Huntsman and guide of the Elves.  With a sound like lightning cleaving the clouds and echoing in the mountains, it could be heard above all other horns; and it made the shadows flee and made even Melkor quail in fear.  Oromë often blew it in the woods of Valinor to alert his followers, and when the Sindar heard it being blown in Beleriand, they knew that he was out hunting Morgoth’s minions.  Valaróma only failed Oromë on one occasion: during the Darkening of Valinor, when he blew it in an attempt to dissolve the impenetrable black cloud created by the nauseous vapors from Ungoliant’s glands, but found to his disappointment that even the sound of his great horn could not penetrate that cloud and faltered before it.


The Horn of Elendil: Not mentioned in the published text of The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, but according to a later-published outline (contained in The Treason of Isengard) it was only blown in situations of extreme urgency.  Frodo heard it while he and Sam were climbing Mount Doom.

Presumably, this was thus also the horn that Elendil himself blew before the final battle fought by the Last Alliance on the slopes of Mount Doom, which ended with Elendil’s death, but also with Sauron’s loss of the Ring of Power (including the finger on which he wore the Ring) to the hilt and upper shard of Elendil’s sword Narsil, wielded by Elendil’s son Isildur.

(Source of second image here;
bottom images: art by Weta Workshop)
The Great Horn of Gondor

Unquestionably the greatest of all Third-Age horns: made from a horn of the Kine of Araw, a breed of white, aurochs-like cattle living near the Sea of Rhûn and because of their great hardihood and wildness believed to be descended from the cattle of the Great Hunter Oromë (Araw is Sindarin for Oromë).  Cut off one killed oxen’s head by Vorondil, the ancestor of the Stewards of Gondor and a great huntsman himself, the horn was tipped with silver and inscribed with ancient runes — and from the beginning, it was the mark of the ruling Steward’s eldest son and heir, who (at least at the time of the War of the Ring) bore the title of High Warden of the White Tower.

The Great Horn was the stand-out item in Boromir’s personal armory: like his father Denethor and his brother Faramir he carried a sword (and like his father’s, his was a broadsword), as well as a shield and a dagger; but none of their equipment was as instantly recognizable as the Great Horn, both in appearance and in sound — if it was blown anywhere inside the ancient borders of Gondor, it would be heard anywhere within the land; and the saying went that its call would not go unheeded.

Boromir had brought the Great Horn to Rivendell, where he blew it to signal the beginning of the Fellowship’s enterprise once he had been chosen as one of its members; and when he later blew it inside Moria, its mighty roar made the attacking Orcs draw back in terror (even if it did not drive them away entirely and they returned with renewed force a short while later).  However, while his father and brother — who were far away in Minas Tirith — did also hear the horn’s call when Boromir blew it once more during the Orc attack at Parth Galen, on that occasion its call was not heeded in time: Aragorn and the other members of the Fellowship arrived too late to save Boromir’s life; and when they found him, even the horn itself had been cloven in two.  His companions laid the shards of the horn with his body and his other weapons into the Elven boat, transformed into his funeral barge, in which they sent him on his final journey down the falls of Rauros; the horn’s shards were later recovered and brought to Denethor, who thus learned of the death of his favorite son.

The Horn of Helm Hammerhand

The horn that gave its name to the Hornburg, the Rohirric fortress at Helm’s Deep (in turn, also a name derived from Helm Hammerhand) on the southern edge of the Gap of Rohan, set against a cliff edge of the White Mountains and facing, though at a great distance, Isengard on the northern side of the Gap of Rohan (near the southern foothills of the Misty Mountains).  A horn blown from the tower of this fortress would echo and reverberate loudly throughout all of its walls, chambers and corridors, not merely those set against the outside of the cliff edge but also the many caverns inside the rock, originally delved by the Númenóreans when they had first fortified the site and then known as Aglarond (“Glittering Caves”) for the many riches it yielded.

Helm Hammerhand was the ninth King of Rohan; he withdrew his troops into the fortress later known as the Hornburg during a battle fought during a bitterly harsh winter, a little over 2 1/2 centuries before the War of the Ring.  The fortress was besieged by his Dunlending enemies and famine began to afflict those inside, but Helm again and again broke through the enemies’ ranks, clad in white, stalking the enemy soldiers like a snow troll, killing them with his bare hands, and blowing his horn, making his enemies’ hearts congeal with fear at its sound alone.  Even when he was found frozen to death by his own men, standing erect in Helm’s Dike, the enemy soldiers still did not dare approach him.  Ever after, his horn was believed to be heard inside the fortress and his spirit was believed to walk among Rohan’s enemies whenever the fortress was under siege. 

Thus, when Helm’s horn was blown from the during the Battle of the Hornburg that was fought against Saruman’s troops during the War of the Ring, and its sound echoed throughout all of Helm’s Deep and reverberated from the the surrounding cliffs and mountains, yet again this alone made many of the attacking Orcs throw themselves to the ground and hold their ears in terror, while the defenders of the fortress instantly took courage, shouting “Helm is arisen and comes back to war.  Helm for Théoden King!”

(Image sources here and here)
The Horn of the Mark

A silver horn made by the Dwarves; a heirloom of the House of Eorl when the Éothéod first settled in the Mark that was to become Rohan, accepting the gift extended to them by Steward Cirion of Gondor.

The horn had been the subject of a dispute between the Éothéod and the Dwarves of the Grey Mountains, because it had found its way into the possession of the Rohirrim’s ancestors when one of their great heroes, a man named Fram, had killed the dragon Scatha, who had stolen the Dwarves’ hoard.  When the Dwarves claimed their hoard back from Fram, he instead sent them a necklace made from the dragon’s teeth, telling them that jewels such as these were unmatched even in their treasuries, as they were hard to come by — for which the Dwarves would seem to have killed Fram in response.  Nevertheless, the horn was part of the Dwarven treasures that remained in the Éothéod’s possession.

After Sauron’s defeat, Éowyn gave the horn to Merry as a farewell gift and as a token of appreciation for his services to Rohan.  Upon the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, Merry blew it to rouse the Shire-folk and hearten their hearts in their fight against Saruman’s ruffian henchmen.  Ever after, the horn was blown at Buckland at sundown of the anniversary of the Shire’s liberation, ringing in the lavish celebrations and bonfires commemorating that event.

(Image sources here and here)
The Black Horn of Erkenbrand

The horn of Erkenbrand, chief lord of the West-mark, which he blew at the arrival of his troops at the Hornburg, instantly rousing its then-much-embattled defenders.

Erkenbrand and his men had suffered defeats in two battles fought nearer to Isengard a week and two days earlier, respectively; during the first of these armed engagements, Théoden’s own son and heir, Théodred, had been killed.  Gandalf came across the survivors shortly after the second of these battles and instantly summoned them to Helm’s Deep, where their arrival — heralded by Erkenbrand’s horn — was the decisive moment that turned the tide against Saruman’s forces.

After Éomer had succeeded his uncle Théoden on the throne of Rohan, he formally appointed Erkenbrand Marshal of the West-mark.

The Horn of Erebor

Not canon — in the text of The Hobbit, a trumpet sounds before the Dwarves’ emergence from the Lonely Mountain, and then it’s the voice of Thorin himself that rings out and shakes the valley below “like a horn”.  But this scene fits so well with at least the basic tenets of the canon that it would be a shame not to at least give it a nod (and who better to blow that horn than Bombur?).

Peter Polach: Horn-call of Buckland
The Horn-call of Buckland

The Horn-call was the alarm signal of the Hobbits of Buckland, calling them to action against invaders and incursions into their land.  Being an emergency signal, it was infrequently heard; one such occasion was during the Fell Winter of TA 2911, when White Wargs crossed the Brandywine River into the East Farthing. 

The next time it was used over a century later in the beginning stages of the War of the Ring, when Sauron’s Black Riders intruded into Buckland; the horn-call caused them to depart from Crickhollow and ride through the North Gate.  Towards the end of the War of the Ring, Merry Brandybuck would sound the horn-call again, however not using the horn previously used in Buckland but the Horn of the Mark, in order to rouse the Shire-folk against Saruman’s ruffians.


Weapons of Angband, Mordor and Isengard

Art work by Weta Workshop

By and large, the weaponry of the Dark Side was similar to that of the peoples allied against it: Everybody used swords and daggers; the Black Númenóreans and the Corsairs of Umbar would have had the full range of weapons made and used in Second-Age Númenor (as well as, in the case of the Corsairs, the standard pirate equipment, such as boarding hooks and axes); the Easterlings (particularly the Wainriders) would likely have added axes and pikes to the mix; the forces of the Hardrim included a cavalry and large contingents of spearmen and archers, and they were also particularly noted for the gold- and bronze-plated vests that they wore as part of their body armor; and everybody had horns (which are often described as “braying” or with words to that effect when it comes to those of the forces allied with Sauron).  But a number of weapons do stand out among the Dark Side’s arsenal.

(Note: Arguably, among Morgoth’s fierces weapons were his dragons, most notably Glaurung and Ancalagon the Black; the same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the Nazgûl’s “fell beasts”, and for the Haradrim’s mûmakil; yet all told, all of these monsters are still better placed in a discussion of the Creatures of Middle-earth.)


JMKilpatrick: Morgoth and Fingolfin

Morgoth’s giant mace, the “Hammer of the Underworld”, which shook the earth like a thunderbolt, creating pits of erupting smoke and fire, with everyone of its strikes.

Fingolfin was fast and agile enough to be able to evade Morgoth’s blows with Grond and cause the Dark Lord no less than seven injuries in their duel; when at last he tired, Morgoth did not smash him with his mace but under his foot and his shield (and even then Fingolfin managed to stab Morgoth’s foot with his sword and made him walk with a limp ever after).

The huge, hundred-foot-long battering ram that Sauron’s armies used to bash in the Great Gate of Minas Tirith in four mighty strokes during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was named Grond to recall Morgoth’s mace and the terror wrought by it.

Art work by Weta Workshop
Sauron’s Mace

Canon only insofar as we know that Elendil was “struck down” in his final duel with Sauron; the representation in the movies is feasible creation in all likelihood intended to recall Morgoth’s mace in a similar way as the battering ram used by Sauron’s forces at Minas Tirith — and leaving aside Sauron’s supernatural powers, of the more “terrestrial” weapons at his disposal it would arguably have been the most fearsome one. 

The only creature of the Dark Side that is expressly mentioned in the text of The Lord of the Rings as having a mace, however, is the Witch-king of Angmar, who wields it when confronting Éowyn on the Pelennor Fields.


(Top images: source)
The Nazgûl Blade

… aka the Morgul-knife: of all the Dark Side’s weapons, the most devious one by far; maybe not as overtly terrifying as a mace (even Grond) or a Balrog’s fire whip, but immeasurably more cruel. 

This enchanted, poisonous dagger left a shard in the wound administered to Frodo by the Witch-king of Angmar during his attack on Weathertop, after which the shard worked its way toward Frodo’s heart; if it had reached its goal before it was removed, it would have turned Frodo into a Ring-wraith.  Even as it got closer and closer to his heart, Frodo was falling more and more into the shadow of Darkness, although Aragorn had treated his wound with athelas (kingsfoil), a plant known to slow the effect of the poison.  Yet, it ultimately took the speed of Glorfindel’s horse Asfaloth and the healing skills of Elrond to convey the injured Hobbit to Rivendell in time and to find and remove the shard, and even so, Frodo felt the effects of the blade ever after: it made the weight of the Ring that much harder to bear, and even during and after his return to the Shire, after the Ring had been destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo still suffered severe bouts of pain and for some time seemed lost to his surroundings every year on the anniversary of the attack on Weathertop.

Art work by Weta Workshop

Yet, being an instrument of Darkness, the Morgul-knife could not withstand the light of the sun — it withered away as soon as it was exposed.

As far as the traditional weaponry goes, the Witch-king is clearly the Nazgûl, too, about whose arsenal we know the most — in addition to his Morgul blade, he is specifically also described as wielding a sword and a mace.  But of course, all of the Nagzûl’s most terrifying weapon was their Black Breath and the aura of marow-freezing fear and desperation they created wherever they went — and in addition, their monstrous rides, the “fell beasts”, also brought with them a terror all of their own and added the fear struck by their appearance to that created by the Nazgûl themselves.

The Balrogs’ Fire Whips

Instruments taking any earthly cat-o’nine-tails to the nth degree; many-tongued enormous whips of liquid fire that couldn’t fail to make any adversary shudder when confronted with them.  And they were devious, too: Gandalf may have made the Bridge of Durin break apart right in front of the feet of the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane, but even in falling the monster still managed to catch him with his whip and drag him into the abyss.

Diana Franco: Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs
Gothmog’s Axe

The leader of the Balrogs did have a fire whip like all of his kind, of course, but he was — to the extent that is possible — even more feared for his giant axe, with which he hewed down many an adversary.  (It is usually described as black, but I think the depiction of the axe as glowing with an internal red flame is proximate for a fire monster such as a Balrog.)

The Fire of Orthanc

Fire again, and this time Saruman’s very own contribution to the arsenals of the Dark Side, putting to ill use the skills he had learned from Aulë long ago and far away in the West: an explosive substance of unknown properties that blew right through the outer wall of the Hornburg and allowed Saruman’s forces to take the Deeping Wall at a crucial moment of the battle at Helm’s Deep, which might well have turned the outcome in their favor — if Gandalf had not arrived with reinforcements shortly thereafter.

Top: Brittany Graham: Scimitar sword;
Anke Eißmann: The Black Serpent Founders 

Single-edged swords with curved and, sometimes, dented blades, used by the Orcs (e.g., those that the Fellowship encounters in the Mines of Moria; and also Bolg’s bodyguards during the Battle of the Five Armies), as well as by the Easterlings and, chiefly, by the Haradrim, who were trained for warfare on horseback; and a scimitar is a weapon that is particularly well-made for this sort of combat.  The Haradrim’s scimitars in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields are likened to “glittering stars.”

Art work by Weta Workshop
The Orc’s and Uruk-hai’s Weaponry

The depiction of the arsenal of Mordor’s and Isengard’s main body of troops in the movies seems essentially in synch with the actual written descriptions (also of the weapons used by the Orcs of Angband in the First Age): of the two, Uruks were the higher breed and would thus presumably have used the more sophisticated weapons, maybe even such things as crossbows, whereas those used by the (“ordinary”) Orcs were more primitive and, in the first place, made not merely to injure or kill, but also to create the greatest possible pain in the process.



Note: Images not specifically attributed or sourced otherwise on this and the associated sub-pages of this blog’s Middle-earth Project originate from the three-part movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King; Peter Jackson / New Line Cinema, 2001-2003) and the three-part movie adaptation of The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and The Battle of the Five Armies; Peter Jackson / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. Pictures / MGM, 2012-2014).  Please see the blog’s Copyright and Privacy Policy page with reference to the use of third-party images under the doctrines of fair use and fair dealing.

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