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- "Far away now rising towards the South the sun, piercing the smokes and haze, burned ominous, a dull bleared disc of red; but all Mordor lay about the Mountain like a dead land, silent, shadow-folded, waiting for some dreadful stroke. "
- —The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Ch. III: "Mount Doom"
Mordor was a black, volcanic plain located in the southeast of Middle-earth to the East of Gondor, Ithilien and the great river Anduin. Mordor was chosen by Sauron to be his realm because of the mountain ranges surrounding it on three sides, creating a natural fortress against his enemies. Translated, its name means "Land of Darkness".
Mordor was protected from three sides by large mountain ranges, arranged roughly in a rectangular manner: the Ash Mountains ('Ered Lithui') in the north, and Ephel Dúath in the west and south. In the northwest corner of Mordor the deep valley of Udûn was one of the few entrances for large armies, and that is where Sauron built the Black Gate of Mordor. In front of the Black Gate lay the Dagorlad or the Battle Plain. Sauron's main fortress of Barad-dûr was at the foothills of Ered Lithui. To the southwest of Barad-dûr lay the arid plateau of Gorgoroth and Mount Doom; to the east lay the plain of Lithlad. Mordor's geography was excellent for defense against enemies attacking on all fronts, for nearly un-scalable mountains defended Mordor on three sides, while the broken, jagged land of Gorgoroth and Núrn would greatly impede any army that managed to break through.
Mordor's dry and blasted geography would also be extremely unfriendly to any army bivouacked on the plains, forcing a withdrawal within days (unless they have stores sufficient for months). The only other path for armies to cross into Mordor from the west, over the Ephel Duath was the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Isildur originally built the city of Minas Ithil ( "Tower of the Rising Moon") to guard this pass from evil things attempting to re-enter Mordor, but in the Third Age the population of the city waned and was conquered by the Nazgûl. It became the home of the Ringwraiths and was renamed Minas Morgul, and was thereafter a great stronghold of evil, ever at war with Gondor to the west, until the end of the War of the Ring. To escape the vigilance of Morgul, to enter Mordor one would still have to get past the lair of Shelob, and the Tower of Cirith Ungol- a feat only Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee (led by Gollum) ever accomplished- though not without being waylaid by the great fearsome spider Shelob, and Frodo being taken prisoner to the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
The southern part of Mordor called Núrn was slightly more fertile, and moist enough to carry the inland Sea of Núrnen. Nurn was made somewhat fertile because the ash blown from Mount Doom left its soil nutrient-rich, thus allowing dry-land farming.
The east of Mordor is by far the least mentioned of any of Mordor's geographic notes and descriptions. One might assume that the easiest route to Mount Doom would be for the Fellowship to journey through the 'unguarded' section of the east, where no mountains guard; however, we are told in the Fellowship of the Ring that the area was heavily defended by a line of border forts facing Sauron's allies in Rhûn. In theory, these forts have no use, because to get there they would have to pass along the western edge of Rhûn, and Sauron's strongest allies, the Easterlings, abode there. Also, it would have been difficult to pass unnoticed, because the many roads running from Mordor into Rhûn were always being marched along by Easterlings entering Mordor or patrolling the roads and borders.
- Barad-dûr (Capital and seat of the Dark Lord Sauron.)
- Minas Morgul (Home of the Nazgûl including the Witch-King, commander of Mordor's armies and Sauron's second-in-command and the fell captain)
- Black Gate
- Mount Doom (Oroduin, where Frodo cast the Ring and destroyed it)
- Tower of Cirith Ungol
Mordor was a relic of the devastating works of Morgoth, apparently formed by massive volcanic eruptions. It was given the name Mordor already before Sauron settled there, because of its volcano Mount Doom and its eruptions. Sauron however was the first to settle there with the exception of Shelob and her ancestors.
One possible theory to Mordor's creation, based upon maps of Middle-Earth in the First Age is that it maybe the dried seabed of the once inland Sea of Helcar.
Languages and people
At the time of the War of the Ring, Sauron had gathered great armies to serve him. These included enslaved Men of the East and the South, who spoke a variety of tongues, and Orcs and Trolls, who usually spoke a debased form of the Common Speech. But within Barad-dûr and among the captains of Mordor (the Ringwraiths and other high-ranking servants such as the Mouth of Sauron), the Black Speech was still used, the language devised by Sauron during the Dark Years of the Second Age. In addition to ordinary Orcs and Trolls, Sauron had bred a stronger strain of Orcs, the Uruk-hai, and very large Trolls known as Olog-hai who could endure the sun. The Olog-hai knew only the Black Speech.
Sauron settled in Mordor 1,000 years after the end of the First Age, and it remained the pivot of his evil contemplations for the whole of the Second and Third Ages of Middle-earth. In the north-western corner of this land stood Mount Doom, where Sauron had forged the One Ring. Near Mount Doom stood Sauron's stronghold Barad-dûr. After this time, Sauron was known as the Dark Lord of Mordor.
For two and a half thousand years, Sauron ruled Mordor uninterruptedly. Having wrought the Ring, it was from there that he launched the attack upon the Elves of Eregion. He was repelled by the Men of Númenor. He fought against the men again, almost a thousand years later; that time, he was captured by the Númenóreans and brought to their island kingdom, eventually causing its destruction (see Akallabêth). Immediately after Númenor's destruction, Sauron returned to Mordor as a spirit and resumed his rule.
The Last Alliance and Third Age
Sauron's rule was interrupted yet again when his efforts to overthrow the surviving Men and Elves failed, and they fought their way back to their foe's domain. After several years of siege, forces of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men came into Mordor. Sauron was defeated in a final battle on the slopes of Mount Doom. For about a thousand years, Mordor was guarded by Gondor in order to prevent any evil forces from breaking out. Minas Ithil, The Towers of the Teeth and the Tower of Cirith Ungol were built by Gondor to watch two of the major entry points to the dark land.
However, Sauron eventually used the Wainriders to distract and weaken Gondor, and the Nazgûl, after having destroyed Arnor reclaimed it and started to rebuild its might. Minas Ithil was conquered by the Nine Ringwraiths and the Gondor fortresses occupied by evil creatures. By the time Sauron returned into Mordor after his false defeat in Dol Guldur (in the events that took place at the time of Bilbo Baggins's quest), Mordor was too strong to be captured by any military might that was available in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. In the north of Mordor during the War of the Ring were the great garrisons and forges of war, while surrounding the bitter inland Sea of Núrnen to the south lay the vast fields tended for the provision of the armies by hordes of slaves brought in from lands to the east and south.
War of the Ring
During the War of the Ring, Sauron gathered all his forces to Mordor. After the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a Host of the West went to the Black Gate. Sauron sent his army to destroy the Men of Gondor and Rohan, but then Frodo Baggins destroyed the One Ring and Mordor fell. The Eye of Sauron was destroyed, sending shock waves through the air and ground. The Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, the Black Gate and the Towers of Teeth collapsed to ruin. Mount Doom exploded and both Sauron and his Ringwraiths were apparently destroyed. The shadows fled and the bright light came and filled Mordor.
Mordor has two meanings: The Black Land or The Dark Land in Tolkien's contrived language Sindarin, and The Land of Shadow in Quenya. The root mor ("dark", "black") also appears in Moria. Dor ("land") also appears in Gondor ("stone-land") and Doriath ("fenced land"). The Quenya word for Shadow is "mordo". It is pronounced with a Russian-sounding r. The gate of Mordor, Morannon, means The Black Gate. It was named this by the elves in the Second Age.
A proposed etymology out of the context of Middle-earth is Old English morthor, which means "mortal sin" or "murder". (The latter are descended from the former.) It is not uncommon for names in Tolkien's fiction to have relevant meanings in several languages, both those invented by Tolkien, and "real" ones, but this of course happens with any two languages. Mordor is also a name cited in some Nordic mythologies referring to a land where its citizens practice evil without knowing it, imposed on themselves by the society long created for that purpose. This quite fits with Tolkien's Mordor.
In The Atlas of Middle-earth, Karen Wynn Fonstad assumes that the lands of Mordor, Khand, and Rhûn lay where the inland Sea of Helcar had been, and that the Sea of Rhûn and Sea of Núrnen were its remnants. The atlas was published before The Peoples of Middle-earth however, in which it turns out that the Sea of Rhûn and Mordor already did exist in the First Age.
Mordor had vast armies at its disposal, all filled with a fierce hatred of the Men of the West. While the Orcs in the land may not have been the most powerful warriors, they were very fierce and could be quite overwhelming in numbers. Other units, like Trolls and allies like the Haradrim, were much more devastating. The vast Orc armies numbered between 100,000 - 300,000 during the Second Age and the War of the Ring.
The backbone and most numbered part of Sauron's army were the Orcs. They often used poisoned or fiery arrows to attack their opponents. Though neither the soldiers themselves nor their weapons reached the quality of the "Free Peoples", they were still quite deadly and could swarm over their enemies thanks to their large numbers. They also did not "fight fair" and used whatever strategy (or no strategy) to win. Many could overcome most of their enemies and their weapons could nearly match the quality of the weapons of the Men of Gondor at their very best.
Mordor had powerful allies to aid them in Sauron's quest for domination. The Easterlings were a highly cultured and more advanced race (than the Orcs) who used deadly swords and pikes. They had finer quality weapons and armor, as well as better-trained soldiers. In a sense, they were more of the elite infantry of Mordor. The Haradrim used bows; far superior to Orc bows, they could deal some heavy damage to enemy units before being killed, even ones on horseback. The Haradrim also had oliphaunts, huge, elephant-like beast which are like a walking tower which could deal huge damage to the infantry.
They either shot their deadly bows on the ground or on top of a Mûmak. Mumakil were elephant-like creatures that could trample many in their path; little could contend against them.
Captains and Champions
Mordor had some very powerful captains that fueled the wave of darkness towards the fall of Middle-earth. The Nazgûl were deadly shadow-wraiths that could spread terror in their foes and were Sauron's primary captains. The Mouth of Sauron was a Black Numenorean sorcerer who served as Sauron's ambassador. Gothmog was the "lieutenant" of Minas Morgul, and took over after the Witch-King was struck down at the Pelennor Fields. Gothmog in the movies was a different type of orc--quite possibly inspired by Tolkien's "human-orc hybrids", as Tolkien described such creatures being among the forces of both Sauron and Saruman, having the complexion and higher intelligence of men but the sallow features of orcs. Gothmog is climactically slain by Gimli, Aragorn, and Éowyn at the end of the Battle of Pelennor Fields, shortly after the demise of the Witch-King.
Grishnákh was a captain of Barad-dûr, and he led the Orc-band from Mordor that was to meet Saruman's Uruk band that had Merry and Pippin. In those scenes, there are skirmishes between Grishnákh authority and Ugluk's, who will only follow Saruman's rule, not Sauron's. The Orc-band from Mordor was mostly made up of snagae.
Other Orc captains, such as Shagrat and Gorbag, kept their unruly underlings in line—but required strong leadership themselves lest they go "rogue." Shagrat was a Black Uruk, loyal to Sauron, while Gorbag was from Minas Morgul, and the two had, or at least caused, a big fight at Cirith Ungol, which ended up in all its inhabitants and soldiers were killed, although Shagrat successfully got away with Frodo's mithril under-armor, and he brought it to Barad-dûr, to Sauron, who gave it to the Mouth of Sauron, who later rode to the Morannon to meet the Host. There, he used the vest for evidence that Frodo was abducted, which he would have been, if it weren't for Sam from the Shire.
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Translations around the world
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Chinese (Hong Kong)||魔多|
|Kazakh||Мордор (Cyrillic) Mordor (Latin)|
|New Balaybalan||Alem-eb Quzrak|
|Serbian||Мордор (Cyrillic) Mordor (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Мордор (Cyrillic) Mordor (Latin)|