- "One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume."
- —Boromir at the Council of Elrond (At Rivendell)
Mordor was the realm of Sauron, in the southeast of Middle-earth to the East of Gondor, Ithilien and the great river. The Fellowship of the Ring was tasked to take the One Ring there to be destroyed. Mordor was chosen to be Sauron's fortress because of the mountain ranges surrounding it on three sides, creating a natural fortress against his enemies. Much of the land was a volcanic waste due to the activity of Mount Doom, but some could be cultivated and the Dark Lord's slaves raised food for his armies here as well.
GeographyMordor was protected from three sides by mountain ranges, arranged roughly in a rectangular manner: Ash Mountains (Ered Lithui) in the north, Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) in the west and south. In the northwest corner of Mordor the deep valley of Udûn was the only entrance for large armies, and that is where Sauron built the Morännon, 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 (called Orodruin in Sindarin); to the east lay the plain of Lithlad. A narrow pass led through Ephel Dúath and the fortress of Minas Morgul (earlier Minas Ithil) was guarding that; an even more difficult pass, Tarech Ungol, was guarded by the giant spider Shelob and the fortress of Cirith Ungol. Another known fortress was Durthang in northern Ephel Dúath. Mordor's geography was excellent for defense against enemies attacking on all fronts, for nearly unscalable mountains defended Mordor on three sides, while the broken, jagged land of Gorgoroth and Nurn 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 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 Rhun. In theory, these forts have no use, because to get there they would have to pass along the western edge of Rhun, and Sauron's strongest allies, the Easterlings, abode there. Also it would have been difficult to pass unnoticed because of the many roads running from Mordor into Rhun were always being marched along by Easterlings entering Mordor or partrolling the roads and borders.
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 Orodruin and its eruptions. Sauron however was the first to settle there with the exception of Shelob and her ancestors.
See also: Timeline of Arda
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 or Orodruin, where Sauron had forged the One Ring. Near Orodruin 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 Orodruin. For about a thousand years, Mordor was guarded by Gondor in order to prevent any evil forces from breaking out. 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 Nazgul, after having destroyed Arnor reclaimed it and started to rebuild it`s 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 Dark Tower, the Black Gate and the Towers of Teeth collapsed to ruin. Mount Doom exploded. Both Sauron and his Ringwraiths were apparently destroyed.
After the ultimate defeat of Sauron, Mordor became mostly empty again as the orcs inside it fled or were killed. Crippled by thousands of years of abuse and neglect, but capable of sustaining life, the land of Mordor was given to the defeated foes of Gondor as a consolation, as well as to the freed slaves of Nurn who were formerly forced to farm there to feed the armies of Mordor.
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 300,000 - 600,000 during the Second Age and the War of the Ring.
Mordor's basic units were Orc warriors and archers. They sometimes 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. There were also weaker Trolls like Cave or Mountain Trolls to assist the Orcs. The orcs had a number of weapons such as, maces, axes, halberds, daggers, scimitars, pikes, spears, hammers, flails and bow and arrows.
Mordor's elite units were stronger Orcs, Black Uruks, Trolls, and corrupted Men allies. The Morannon (or Black) Orcs were superior to normal orcs in almost every way. They were equipped with better armor, they were also significantly smarter and took part in major assaults throughout the War of the Ring. The weapons that the Morannon orcs used were the same as the normal orcs, but handled them much better for they were superior troops, but the Uruk-hai of Isengard were in fact more superior yet. The same was true for Black Uruks , which were rarer than Morannon Orcs; they were a stronger genetic breed of Orcs created originally by Sauron, before Saruman basically copied that idea, and Saruman used them more effectively. The Attack Troll was especially deadly, and little could withstand its rage for it could destroy entire companies of men, while not being affected much from arrows, spears, swords, or pike attacks due to its heavy armour . The other almost-invincible troll in the series is the Morannon sentry simply known as an "Olog-hai" troll, which Aragorn confronts at the last battle at Mordor.
Mordor had powerful allies to aid them in its quest for domination. The Easterlings were a highly cultured and more advanced race (than the Orcs) who used deadly swords and pikes to skewer their enemies into submission. 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. They either shot their deadly bows on the ground or on top of a Mumakil . 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 Saurons 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 and was somewhat smarter than the rest, and he is climacticly slain by Gimli, Aragorn, and Eowyn.
Grishnahk was a captain of Barad-dur , 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 Grishnahk's 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 it's inhabitants and soldiers were killed, although Shagrat successfully got away with Frodo's mithril under-armor, and he brought it to Barad-dur , to Sauron , who gave 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 .
Mordor actually 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 assumed 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 however published before The Peoples of Middle-earth, where it turned out that the Sea of Rhûn and Mordor existed already in the First Age.
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