An encyclopedia of Middle-earth and Numenor
Geography (see also the map below):
Mordor was located along the lower course of the Anduin, on the eastern side of the river. The land of Rhun was east of Mordor, Khand was to the southeast, and Harad was to the south. On the western side, between Mordor and the Anduin, was the region of Gondor called Ithilien, and across the river was the great city of Minas Tirith.
The area of Mordor was approximately 175,000 square miles. From north to south it was a distance of about 350 miles, and from east to west it stretched about 500 miles.
The Ash Mountains formed the northern border of Mordor, and the Mountains of Shadow marched along the southern and western borders. The eastern border of Mordor was open, but Rhun - the land to the east - was allied with Mordor and it was unlikely that an enemy could enter that way.
The main entrance into Mordor was the Black Gate - a great barrier of iron across the gap called Cirith Gorgor, where the Ash Mountains and the Mountains of Shadow met at the northwestern corner of Mordor. The Black Gate was heavily guarded and it was flanked on either side by the Towers of the Teeth.
Inside the Black Gate was the deep valley of Udun, surrounded by high mountains. There were armories and tunnels in Udun that held weapons and armies for the defense of Mordor. There were also a number of forts and towers around Udun, including the great castle called Durthang. On the opposite side of Udun from the Black Gate was the Isenmouthe - the narrow passage that led out onto the great plateau of Gorgoroth. The Isenmouthe was blocked by a spiked fence and an earth wall and a trench spanned by a single bridge.
There was another entrance into Mordor about 90 miles south of the Black Gate. From the Morgul Vale in the Mountains of Shadow, a road led over the Morgul Pass. The Morgul-road was guarded by the fortress of Minas Morgul, where the Lord of the Nazgul dwelled.
But there was also a lesser-known way into Mordor from the Morgul Vale: a Straight Stair and a Winding Stair led up the mountainside to a tunnel where the Great Spider Shelob lurked. On the other side of Shelob's Lair, the Tower of Cirith Ungol guarded the Pass of Cirith Ungol. A road led down from the pass to join the Morgul-road.
On the inner side of the Mountains of Shadow, between the Morgul Pass and the Black Gate, there was a row of jagged cliffs and ridges called the Morgai. The Morgai was at least 1500 feet high. There were a few trickling streams of bitter-tasting water in the Morgai, and some vegetation managed to survive there, including twisted trees, coarse grass, and bramble thickets. Black flies marked with red spots lived in the Morgai as well.
Below the Morgai was Gorgoroth, the vast plain in northwestern Mordor. It was a barren and lifeless land, with no vegetation or water. The surface of Gorgoroth was ash and rock marred by craters and fissures, from which smoke and fumes issued. In the middle of the plain rose the solitary peak of Mount Doom - a volcano with a fiery core. Still more smoke and fumes poured forth from Mount Doom, which rendered the atmosphere of Gorgoroth difficult to breathe and cast a dark shadow over the land.
About 30 miles east of Mount Doom was Barad-dur - a great fortress at the end of a spur of the Ash Mountains. Sauron ruled Mordor from Barad-dur, and he watched over the land from the Window of the Eye atop the tower. The palantir called the Ithil-stone was kept in Barad-dur. East of the spur upon which Barad-dur was built was the ashy plain called Lithlad.
There were a number of roads in Mordor that were used by Sauron's servants. In the northwest, roads connected the Black Gate, Barad-dur, Mount Doom, and the Morgul Pass. Sauron's Road ran between Barad-dur and Mount Doom. There were water cisterns along the roads through Gorgoroth for the use of passing troops. It is likely that there were also roads to southern Mordor.
While northwestern Mordor was used mainly for industry such as mines and forges, the more fertile southern region called Nurn was used for agriculture. The land was watered by four rivers that branched off of Lake Nurnen - a vast lake or inland sea in the southeast. Slaves worked in the fields to produce food for Sauron's armies.
In addition to the Men kept as slaves,
there were also evil Men in Sauron's service, such as the Mouth
of Sauron who lived in Barad-dur. Orcs were the most numerous of Mordor's
inhabitants. Many Orcs lived in camps along the Morgai or in the forts
around the valley of Udun. Trolls also dwelled in Mordor, including the
superior kind bred by Sauron called the Olog-hai. Sauron also bred the
Fell Beasts in Mordor.
These winged creatures were used as mounts by the Nazgul,
who dwelled in Minas Morgul on the western border of Mordor.
Mordor was Sauron's realm during the Second and Third Ages, but he was not the first inhabitant of the Black Land. Sometime before Sauron's arrival, the Great Spider Shelob made her home in a tunnel high in the Mountains of Shadow. It may be that other creatures dwelled in Mordor in ancient times as well.
Sauron chose Mordor as his realm around the year 1000 of the Second Age. The high mountain ranges on three sides were an important consideration in terms of defense, particularly against the Men of Numenor who had begun exploring the coasts of Middle-earth. But Sauron's main reason was the presence of Mount Doom. He was skilled at craftsmanship, and he intended to use the volcano's great heat as a powerful forge. Sauron began the construction of the Dark Tower of Barad-dur as his main stronghold, and he gathered forces of evil creatures to live in Mordor.
Sauron left Mordor around 1200 and traveled to Eregion, where he deceived the Elven-smiths into thinking he was an emissary of the Valar. He taught them many skills, and they began forging the Rings of Power around 1500. Sauron then returned to Mordor, and around 1600 he forged the One Ring to rule the others in the fires of Mount Doom.
The Elves realized they had been deceived, and Sauron declared war against them in 1693. He gathered a great army in Mordor and set out to attack Eregion. He destroyed Eregion and seized the Nine Rings and six of the Seven Rings, but his forces were finally defeated and Sauron returned to Mordor in 1701.
Sauron began rebuilding the forces of Mordor, and around 1800 he expanded his power eastward and southwards over the Easterlings and the Haradrim. Sauron gave the Nine Rings of Power to Men who became his deadliest servants, the Nazgul.
But in 3262, Ar-Pharazon of Numenor came to Mordor with a great force and demanded that Sauron surrender to him. Sauron perceived that he could not win by force, but he still hoped that he could overthrow the Numenoreans by cunning and deceit, so he came down out of Barad-dur and allowed himself to be taken to the island realm of Numenor.
Sauron succeeded in corrupting the Numenoreans, and Numenor was destroyed by Eru in 3319. Sauron lost his bodily form, but his spirit survived, and he returned to Mordor in secret in 3320. He created a new form that was terrible to behold, and he began to rebuild his strength in Mordor.
Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anarion also escaped the ruin of Numenor, and they founded realms in Middle-earth. Arnor was in the north, while Gondor was in the south bordering Mordor. They built a fortress called Minas Ithil at the foot of the Mountains of Shadow to keep watch on Mordor. Isildur dwelled in Minas Ithil.
Sauron prepared to attack Gondor, and smoke rose from the fires of Mount Doom. In 3429, Sauron captured Minas Ithil. Isildur escaped and went north to Arnor to seek help while Anarion drove Sauron back to Mordor. The Last Alliance of Elves and Men was formed, and they marched to Mordor led by Gil-galad and Elendil. The War of the Last Alliance began in 3434. The Battle of Dagorlad was fought on the plain in front of the Black Gate, and the Last Alliance was victorious against Sauron's forces.
The forces of the Last Alliance entered Mordor and besieged Barad-dur. The Siege of Barad-dur lasted seven years. At last in 3441, Sauron came down from his tower and fought with Gil-galad and Elendil on the slopes of Mount Doom. All three fell in the struggle. Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, and Sauron's spirit left his body and fled from Mordor. He later rose again and built the stronghold of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood.
Barad-dur was razed to the ground and Sauron's forces were routed and dispersed. At the beginning of the Third Age, Gondor kept watch on Mordor. Minas Ithil was remanned and new fortresses including the Tower of Cirith Ungol and the Towers of the Teeth were built. But over time the guard began to relax, and after the Great Plague of 1636 killed many in Gondor, the guardposts were deserted.
The Lord of the Nazgul returned to Mordor in 1980 and he gathered the other eight Nazgul to him. They began preparing Mordor for Sauron's return and evil things multiplied there once more. In 2000, the Nazgul besieged Minas Ithil and in 2002 they captured it and claimed it as their stronghold. It was renamed Minas Morgul, the Tower of Black Sorcery. They took possession of the palantir called the Ithil-stone and later gave it to Sauron.
In 2050, King Earnur of Gondor went to Minas Morgul in response to a challenge from the Lord of the Nazgul and was never seen again. The Stewards ruled Gondor in the absence of a King from that time on.
In 2475, a breed of Orcs of great strength called Uruks first appeared out of Mordor. They swept through Ithilien and captured Osgiliath, the great city on the Anduin. Ithilien was reclaimed by Gondor, but Osgiliath lay in ruin. By 2901, attacks by the Uruks had resumed and Ithilien was infested with Orcs. Most of the Gondorians fled Ithilien at this time.
Sauron was driven out of Dol Guldur in 2941, but by now Mordor had been prepared for him and he returned there in secret in 2942. In 2951, he openly declared his presence in Mordor and rebuilt Barad-dur. Mount Doom burst into renewed flame in 2954. Sauron amassed armies of Orcs and Men from the East and South. He created a new breed of Trolls known as the Olog-hai that could withstand sunlight. The one thing Sauron lacked to regain his full power was the One Ring.
Gollum - who had borne the Ring for many years - was captured on the outskirts of Mordor in 3017 and was brought to Barad-dur for questioning. Under torture, Gollum revealed the names Shire and Baggins. Sauron allowed Gollum to escape from Mordor in hopes the creature would lead him to the One Ring. In 3018, Sauron sent forth the Nazgul to seek the land called the Shire and the Hobbit named Baggins who bore the Ring.
At the Council of Elrond in October of 3018, Frodo Baggins volunteered to take the One Ring to Mordor to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom so that Sauron would lose his power and be defeated. Eight companions were chosen to accompany him, but in the end only Frodo and Sam Gamgee entered Mordor.
The Hobbits met Gollum in the Emyn Muil near Mordor and Frodo accepted Gollum as a guide into the Black Land. Gollum led the Hobbits to the Black Gate of Mordor on March 5, 3019. Frodo saw that the gate was impenetrable and heavily guarded and realized they could enter that way. He agreed to follow Gollum to a secret way into Mordor. Before they left the Black Gate, Frodo saw armies of Men enter the Black Gate to fill the ranks of Sauron's forces.
On March 9, Gollum brought the Hobbits to the Morgul Vale in the Mountains of Shadow. That same day Sauron launched a massive assault against Gondor. A red signal was sent up from Barad-dur, and Minas Morgul acknowledged with a flash of blue flame. The Lord of the Nazgul led a vast army from Minas Morgul and headed for Minas Tirith. Sauron sent a great cloud of darkness from Mordor to cause dismay and fear among his opponents, and the next day was the Dawnless Day.
Frodo and Sam followed Gollum up into the Mountains of Shadow by way of the Straight Stair and the Winding Stair. They came at last to a tunnel, where Gollum abandoned the Hobbits. The tunnel was the lair of the Great Spider Shelob, and she attacked the Hobbits and stung Frodo in the neck, paralyzing him with her poison.
Frodo was discovered by two Orcs named Shagrat and Gorbag and he was taken captive to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. The Orcs fought over Frodo's mithril shirt and nearly all of them were killed. Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower, but Shagrat escaped and took the mithril shirt and other tokens to Sauron in Barad-dur.
On March 15, Sauron's forces were defeated at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields by the combined forces of Gondor and Rohan, but Sauron still had tens of thousands of troops in Mordor. The Captains of the West decided to march to Mordor to confront Sauron's forces in order to give Frodo time to complete his quest.
Frodo and Sam travel north through the ridges and valleys of the Morgai because Frodo believed that Sauron's servants would be hunting for them on the road eastward. When they came to the point where Mount Doom was directly east of them, about 40 miles away, they were standing at the edge of a 1500-foot cliff. They could not get down, and the plain of Gorgoroth below them was filled with troops marching toward the Black Gate.
The Hobbits continued northward to the end of the Morgai, and then they started to follow a road leading eastward. They were overtaken by a company of Orcs, but Frodo and Sam were wearing Orc armor and they were mistaken for straggling Orcs. They were forced to march with the Orcs for a time but finally managed to escape in the confusion when several companies of Orcs converged near the entrance to Udun.
Sauron gathered most of his forces in Udun to await the arrival of the forces of the West. Gorgoroth was deserted as Frodo and Sam moved eastward, and they were able to stay on the road much of the time. Finally they turned south to Mount Doom, reaching the foot of the mountain on March 24.
That same day the Host of the West came within sight of the Black Gate. The next day on March 25, Sauron sent his emissary, the Mouth of Sauron, to show them Frodo's mithril shirt. He claimed that the owner of the shirt was Sauron's prisoner and would be tortured mercilessly unless the Host of the West surrendered. Gandalf refused Sauron's terms, and the Battle of the Morannon began.
At Mount Doom, where the Ring had been forged, Frodo's burden grew too heavy to bear. Sam carried Frodo up the mountainside, but they were attacked by Gollum. Frodo and Gollum struggled for the Ring at the edge of the Cracks of Doom, and Gollum slipped and fell into the fiery chasm holding the Ring.
When the One Ring was destroyed, Sauron was utterly vanquished and much of Mordor fell into ruin. Barad-dur collapsed, the Towers of Teeth crumbled, and the Black Gate was flung down. The ground trembled and cracked. Mount Doom erupted and lava and ash poured forth onto the plain of Gorgoroth. The Nazgul were destroyed by the fires, and Sauron's forces scattered in confusion or surrendered. Frodo and Sam were rescued from the ruin by the Great Eagles Gwaihir, Landroval, and Meneldor.
Nurn in the southern part of Mordor may have escaped much of the damage that ravaged the rest of the Black Land. Aragorn, King Elessar, decreed that the slaves of Mordor would be freed and he granted them the land around Lake Nurnen as their own.
Sauron establishes his realm in Mordor and begins to build Barad-dur.
Sauron leaves Mordor and goes to Eregion, where he deceives the Elves and begins teaching them skills of craftsmanship.
The Elves begin forging the Rings of Power under Sauron's instruction. Sauron returns to Mordor.
Sauron forges the One Ring in Mount Doom. The Elves realize they are deceived.
Sauron prepares a great force in Mordor and declares war against the Elves.
Sauron invades Eridador.
Sauron returns to Mordor after being defeated by the Elves and the Men of Numenor.
Sauron extends his power eastward.
The Nazgul appear around this time.
Ar-Pharazon comes to Mordor with a great force and demands Sauron's surrender. Sauron submits to being taken to Numenor.
Numenor is destroyed . Sauron's body is destroyed but his spirit escapes.
Sauron returns to Mordor. Elendil and his sons found the realms of Gondor and Arnor. Minas Ithil is built to keep watch on Mordor.
Smoke rises from Mount Doom. Sauron attacks Gondor and captures Minas Ithil. Anarion drives Sauron back to Mordor.
The Last Alliance of Elves and Men is formed.
Sauron's forces are defeated in the Battle of Dagorlad outside the Black Gate. The Siege of Barad-dur begins.
Sauron comes down from Barad-dur and fights Elendil and Gil-galad. Sauron is cast down and the One Ring is cut from his finger by Isildur. Sauron's spirit flees his body and goes into hiding.
Isildur is slain by Orcs in the Gladden Fields. The One Ring is lost in the waters.
Sauron establishes the stronghold of Dol Guldur in Greenwood.
The Great Plague devastates Gondor. The watch on Mordor declines.
The eight Nazgul may have returned to Mordor around this time.
The Lord of the Nazgul returns to Mordor and gathers the others to prepare for Sauron's return.
The Nazgul besiege Minas Ithil.
The Nazgul capture Minas Ithil, which is renamed Minas Morgul. The palantir called the Ithil-stone is also captured.
Earnur goes to Minas Morgul in response to a challenge from the Lord of the Nazgul and is never seen again. The Stewards rule Gondor in the absence of a King from this time on.
Gondor is attacked by black Uruks from Mordor.
Uruks from Mordor conduct raids on Ithilien and most of the inhabitants flee.
Sauron returns in secret to Mordor.
Sauron declares himself openly and begins to gather power and rebuild Barad-dur.
Mount Doom bursts into flame.
The Shadow of Mordor lengthens.
Gollum is captured by Sauron and brought to Barad-dur. After Gollum reveals the names Shire and Baggins, he is allowed to escape from Mordor.
June 20: Sauron sends the Nazgul to attack Osgiliath.
July 1: The Witch-king leads the Nazgul of Minas Morgul across the Anduin in secret to hunt for the One Ring.
March 5: The Hobbits reach the Black Gate and realize it's impassable. Frodo agrees to follow Gollum to a secret way into Mordor.
March 9: The Hobbits reach the Morgul-road at dusk. Darkness begins to flow out of Mordor.
March 10: The Dawnless Day. An army from the Morannon takes Cair Andros and passes into Anorien. Sauron signals for the Lord of the Nazgul to lead forth his army to attack Minas Tirith. Gollum leads the Hobbits up the Straight Stair and the Winding Stair.
March 12: Gollum leads the Hobbits into Shelob's Lair.
March 13: Frodo is wounded by Shelob and is taken prisoner by Orcs to the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
March 14: Sam finds Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
March 15: Frodo and Sam escape from the Tower.
March 15: Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Sauron's forces are defeated.
March 16: Frodo and Sam look toward Mount Doom from the Morgai.
March 17: Shagrat brings Frodo's cloak and mithril shirt, and Sam's sword to Barad-dur.
March 18: Frodo and Sam are forced to join a company of Orcs marching toward Udun. The Host of the West sets out for the Black Gate.
March 19: Frodo and Sam escape from the Orcs and continue on.
March 22: Frodo and Sam leave the road and turn south toward Mount Doom.
March 23: The Hobbits cast away their gear.
March 24: The Hobbits reach the foot of Mount Doom.
March 25: The Host of the West fights the forces of Sauron in the Battle of the Morannon. Frodo reaches the Cracks of Doom and claims the Ring. Gollum bites the Ring from Frodo's finger and falls into the Cracks of Doom. The Ring is destroyed and Sauron is utterly and finally defeated and Mordor falls into ruin.
May 1: Aragorn is crowned
King of the Reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor. In the days following
his coronation, he frees the slaves of Mordor and gives them the land around
Mordor means "Black Land"
from mor meaning "dark, black" and dor meaning "land." Mordor
was often referred to as the Black Land in the Common Speech, as
well as the Dark Country and the Land of Shadow.
The Silmarillion: "Appendix - Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names," entries for morand dor
Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion," p. 332-33; "The Stewards," p. 333-35
The Silmarillion: "Akallabeth," p. 267, 280; "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 288, 290-97, 302-3
Unfinished Tales: "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn," p. 236, 239
The History of Middle-earth, vol. VII, The Treason of Isengard: "The Story Foreseen from Moria," p. 213; "The First Map," p. 309 map III, 313 (location of Lithlad)
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