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  1. Underhill40's Avatar
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    #1
    I am currently rereading LOTR and also listening to a course on CD concerning the history of the Byzantine Empire.

    On the same day I read this in Fellowship of the Ring:
    "Believe not that in the land of Gondor the blood of Numenor is spent, nor all its pride and dignity forgotten. By our valour the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West." (Boromir, "The Council of Elrond")

    And heard this(a paraphrase drawn from Judith Herrin's new history of Byzantium)in the course on Byzantium:
    Byzantium's resistance was decisivein preventingvarious invasions from the east - above all that of the 7th century CE (common era), when the first great expansion of Muslim power threatened the city. Had the Arabs succeeded they would undoubtedly have colonised "throughout the Balkans, into Italy and the West....at a time when political fragmentation reduced the possibility of organized defence." The north shore of the Mediterranean would have been "converted" as well as the south, there would have been caliphates in the Baltic, as well as the Levant and today's Mesopotamia. By preventing this, the crossroads metropolis "made Europe possible...allowing small units time to develop their own strengths" and eventually repel the invaders. Developing nation-states like France, Spain and England were given the chance to consolidate and arm, and a century later turned back the invaders, and confined them, on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, to one part of Iberia. Thus the magnificent capital of the eastern empire shielded everyone to the west and north: "Without Byzantium there would have been no Europe."

    That got me to thinking. Did Tolkien have Constantinople in mind when he created Gondor? Here are thesimilarities:

    - Both shielded the West
    - Bothwere located in the southeast corner of the map (Gondor of Middle Earth, Constantinople of Europe)
    - Both had extremelypowerful walls
    - Both were remnants oflarger, more ancient realms (Numenor and Rome)
    - Both were assailed by "evil" forces from the East and Northeast (by "evil" I am only looking at this from the point of view of the Medieval world; this is certainly not my view)
    - Both were bastions of culture and learning; in fact, each preservedmanyancient sources not available anywhere else in their respective worlds

    I found this comparison fascinating. It may be coincidence. And maybe this has been talked about already and I'm just now realizing it. But I'd be curious to know if anyone else has read anything about this, or considered it themselves.

  2. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    That's really interesting. Mind you, a case could be made against this. The Eastern Roman Empire (the West having collapsed earlier) barely withstood the Muslim onslaught, and by the end of the 7th century AD (Anno Domini)hadlost all North Africa and the Middle East, being limited effectively toAnatolia, modern Greece and the southern Balkans, and a couple of exarchates in Italy, which it lost before the end of the 8th century. It was never thereafter the dominant power in that area, as Gondor was at the time of the War of the Ring; and by the time of the crusades it was sorely beset by Turks. The crusades effectively finished it off, especially the notorious Fourth Crusade, and though it held on, with territory reduced to little more than the city area, until 1453, it had effectively ceased to be any sort of power evenbefore 1204.

    And anyway Tolkien called Venice Gondor! (Letter #168)

    But thanks for that idea. In fact, my mind's eye tends to see Boromir, Denethor and Co. in a sort of early Byazantine (Ravenna) costume - though Tolkien seems to have been thinking at least partly of ancient Egypt ....(Letter #211)
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  3. halfir's Avatar
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    Underhill 40: A warm welcome to the Lore Forums and the Plaza. Enjoy. And thanks for giving such an interesting and informative post. You have beeen tribbed.

  4. Underhill40's Avatar
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    #4
    I agree that Tolkien probably didn't have Constantinopleactivelyin mind when he created Gondor and Minas Tirith. It seems that he did have Egypt in mind, from what he wrote. There are certainly many things that differ between the two. For one thing Constantinople fell and Minas Tirith did not. I believe that the similarities are probably mostly subconscious. Tolkien certainly knew European history and would have had at least a reasonable understanding of Byzantine history in particular. I would never argue that he consciously created any kind of analogy, as he strongly denied thisseveral times (i.e. that Sauron is Hitler, the West represents the Allies in WW II, etc.)

    And thanks very much for the welcome. I thing this is a terrific site.

  5. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    #5
    Despite my knocking holes in the idea, I think it's no worse than most comparisons of Legendarium situations with real history, and a great deal better than some! Like Egypt ...

    Anyway, Tolkien only connected Venice with Gondor when he went there, after finishing LotR, in August1955. Seeing Venice at night, he remarked that it was

    incredibly, elvishly lovely - to me like a dream of Old Gondor, or Pelargir of the Numenorean ships, before the return of the Shadow
    (Travel diary, quoted in Scull and Hammond Reader's Guide p. 434)
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  6. Nieliqui Vaneyar's Avatar
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    #6


    I thought Numenor was supposed to be the Egyptian-like stand-in-for civilization (at least in some respects). And that Minas Tirith was not much more than a late shadow of that realm.
    I would think that Constantinoble (Istanbul) did sort of take over for Egypt, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, as the dominant force in the Eastern Mediterranean and become the seat of learning and protectiontosome degree of the lands to the northwest. And being a rather tenuous continuation of Greek (and some Eygyptian)learning that survived Rome, took over in Eygpt, and continued thriving in one way or another in that area.

    And I suppose one couldalso possiblylook at the Angmar area as being perhaps a little more thancoincidental with the invasion of Europe through Spain that ended with the battle at Tours, which effectively stopped that influence from the south. Oh, yes, and gave hobbits a chance to settle, mature a little, and be able to contribute greatly in the end.

    Just to continue the allusion.

  7. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    I'm not too sure about Byzantium being a continuation of Egypt - there are just too many intermediaries, at least from Alexander on.Also as a bulwark against Islam, it was not very effective. When Tariq ibn Ziyad began the conquest of Spain in 711 he didn't need to go anywhere near Constantinople. The Muslim threat to Europe from Anatolia was not significant until at the 14th century, when Byzantium was on its last legs - and it had in any case been bypassed again through S.Eastern Europe.

    There is an awful lot of Byzantine culture that is most un-Gondorean, such as the autocracy, not to say tyranny,and the sheer cruelty (blinding a common punishment, torture a normal form of interrogation. Still, there is something about the feel of Byzantium that makes me at least think of Numenor, if not Gondor - I can't be more precise than that, but go to an Eastern Orthodox service and you may see what I mean.

    Also, some aspects of Venice show Byzantine influence, for example the architecture of San Marco, so there may be a link there. BTW, if Venice struck JRRT so forcefully, what would he have made of St Petersburg? Very different architecture and relation between land and water, but a walk along the embankments in the long summer twilight canseem rather other-worldly (in a positive sense). Mind you, it's Moscow that claims to be the Third Rome...
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  8. Rochir Mumakdacil's Avatar
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    #8
    I agree with Dorwiniondil that there are many aspects of Gondor that are not like Byzantium (though one might ask when on the Third Age we are looking at Gondor and at what date in the real world are we comparing Byzantium). Physically Minas Tirith and the city of Constantinople are perhaps a better fit than Gondor and the Byzantine empire are politically and socially.

    Anyway, here are Tolkien's own words on the subhect
    But in the north Arnor dwindles, is broken into petty princedoms, and finally vanishes. The remnant of the Númenóreans becomes a hidden wandering Folk, and though their true line of Kings of Isildur's heirs never fails this is known only in the House of Elrond. In the south Gondor rises to a peak of power, almost reflecting Númenor, and then fades slowly to decayed Middle Age, a kind of proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent <?: prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="&#111;n"><st1:place w:st="&#111;n">Byzantium</st1:place></st1:City>. The watch upon Mordor is relaxed. The pressure of the Easterlings and Southrons increases. The line of Kings fails, and the last city of <st1:City w:st="&#111;n">Gondor</st1:City>, Minas Tirith ('<st1:place w:st="&#111;n"><st1:Place w:st="&#111;n">Tower</st1:place> of <st1:PlaceName w:st="&#111;n">Vigilance</st1:PlaceName></st1:place>'), is ruled by hereditary Stewards. from Letter #131, to Milton Waldman - which is a summary written for a potential publisher.

  9. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    RM:yes, I'd missed that reference. My only excuse is that it's a long letter!
    Thanks!
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  10. Rochir Mumakdacil's Avatar
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    ... and I'd missed Tolkien's describing Minas Tirith as the last city of <ST1:CITY w:st="&#111;n">Gondor</ST1:CITY>. I can see what he means, with Minas Ithil captured and Osgiliath in ruins, but what of Pelargir?Surely a 'city'.It was the main base of Castamir the usuper and his heirs.Dol Amroth and the various townships that we know of in Lamedon and Lebennin such as Calembel and Linhir were arguably too small to be regarded as Cities, but maybe Tolkien was either forgetful or trying to keep the account as simple as he could.

  11. Dorwiniondil's Avatar
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    Pelargir indeed - as I've mentioned above, one of his comparisons with Venice!
    And in fact there were a few enclaves that briefly survived Constantinople, the most famous being Trebizond, which hung on till 1461. Its fate was more like what would have happened to Pelargir in the case of a Sauron victory - all the men enslaved, when they were not simply slaughtered(I don't know what happened to the women, but can imagine). However, I hope that the ruler of Pelargir in these circumstances would have been more honourable than the "Emperor" of Trebizond, David Comnenus, who signed over his population toMehmet in return for being allowed to escape with his treasure. However, his fate was not that of the Mayor of Laketown - fairly soon after Mehmet had him executed, together with most of the male Comneni.

    Sorry for historical digression!Edited by: Dorwiniondil
    "I am no longer young even in the reckoning of Men of the Ancient Houses."

  12. Rochir Mumakdacil's Avatar
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    #12
    That made me think. I had no notion of where Trebizond was (though I'd heard the name - it's very evocative, but I couldn't say what of!), but the date 1861 perplexed me until I did some research. The date was mistyped. Trebizond (at the SE end of the Black Sea) fell to the Turks in 1461.

  13. Rochir Mumakdacil's Avatar
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    Ah. Xenophon and the Ten Thousand finally reached the sea at Trebizond. That's probably why the name was lodged in the recesses of my brain.

  14. D*M*B's Avatar
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    Underhill40,
    I just now noticed the particular topic and I must say that there are many qualities that can be found in both realms.
    I an impressed you found and made the copmarison between the two.
    I do not think that Tolkien created Gondor due to the events that occured in Constantinople.
    However, due to the vast amount of history in the world and vast amount of culture, you will probably be able to find common aspects between the world of Tolkien and the history of the human civilization.
    You could be right in your view of the two but I kinda doubt it and the big bummer is we cant even check it out.
    I am sorry if I have coppied anyones replies here, I just didnt have time to read the whole discussion and I wanted to post somthing.My bad-I dont even know what smiley to put on.

  15. Of course Gondor is Byzantium! It is obvious! Just look at the map of Middle Earth:

    -Mordor is obviously meant to represent the land of the Turks (Central Asia, Persia, and Turkey itself)
    -Gondor is Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Rome and Byzantium)
    -The Bay of Belfalas is the Mediterranean Sea
    -Lebennin is Lebanon
    -Harad is the land of the Arabs (Arabia / the Sahara)
    -Umbar is clearly Northwest Africa (Carthage and the Corsairs of the Barbary Coast - in fact they are even called Corsairs in the books and they ride on elephants! You could not think of a more obvious reference to North Africa if you tried).
    -Andrast is Spain
    -The White Mountains are the Alps
    -Rohan is clearly Germany
    -The Shire / Bree was always meant to represent rural England, Tolkein was never coy about that.

    Though this strange map has placed Mordor in the Balkans:
    http://stufforama.wordpress.com/2007...o-great-blogs/

    Go figure.......

    <a href="http://www.explorethemed.com" target="_blank">http://www.explorethemed.com</a>

  16. Eldorion's Avatar
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    #16


    That map, which has been referenced far too many times on this forum, is worthless. I wouldn't worry about it disagreeing with your theory, ExploretheMed. Anyone who makes a map showing the Shire as south of Dol Guldur (among many other problems) has no idea what they are talking about.

    Also, welcome to the Plaza! I hope you enjoy your time here and stick around.


  17. geordie's Avatar
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    #17
    -Mordor is obviously meant to represent the land of the Turks (Central Asia, Persia, and Turkey itself)

    Not so! Apart from the Shire, which Tolkien modelled on 'an English village around the time of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria', I can't think of anything in LotR which is said by him to 'mean' any specific country. Certainly he never meant any place in that book to 'represent' a real-world country, in the way stated by Explore.

    Granted, in another letter, Tolkien said he reckoned Hobbiton to have been on about the same latitude as Oxford, so Minas Tirith would have been on the same latitude as Florence; and in yet another letter, or possibly a diary entry, he noted that Venice 'reminded' him of Pelargir. (all of these are paraphrases from memory). But, to reiterate; he never really meant to 'represent' anything or anyone in his books; not in that way.

    All he wanted to do was to tell a story.

    Welcome to the Plaza, by the way.

    It's all in the books...

  18. Beren Laerdir's Avatar
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    #18

    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">being fond of both middle earth and the roman empire, i can definitely see where you are coming from mister underhill! :)
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">(edit: you should take this first sentence as a warning, i get a little fanboyish when these certain topics are on the cards)
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">literally from the second minas tirith was described in the book it has always "felt" like constantinople to me; the parallel's between the two cities and their histories are too obvious for me. the wall's of both were effectively invincible to any seige craft of their time; the numbers involved in the final defence of each city are almost the same..it goes on and on
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">this was only cemented by the movie's, which took tolkien's description of gondor as a "venerable byzantium" and really, really ran with it as far as architecture goes.
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">as to dorwiniondil in the first response to this thread, not so! byzantium, even in its waning, was, whilst admittedly not a superpower anymore, was still the premier power of the region until manzikert in the mid 1000's. in any case, there are certainly similarities between gondor and the empire historically speaking, though the link is more tenuous. an example would be how gondor (quite cleverly, for the most part) utilised the semi-"barbaric" men of rhovanion and later on the eotheod as federates and a shield on its vulererable northern border. this is very similar to how byzantium behaved for practically its whole history, and perhaps the best example would be how the empire had the bulgar's aid it during one of the arab-seiges of constantinople (in a truly epic usage of diplomacy) to aid them...though the empire was certainly less...generous in its gifts to the bulgars than cirion was to eorl!
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">as to a few posts above me andmordor being equivalent toanatolian turkey...i would say ithilien has more in common from a historical perspective.
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">perhaps most importantly, the empire and gondor are similar in that they are both "city-nations". by this i mean that gondor, much like byzantium, suffered many, many misfortunes in its long history, but only the loss of minas tirith could have destroyed it. the empire was invincible as long as it had two things; constantinople and an army capable of defending it, repeatedly in its millenia long history the empire was reduced (almost literally) to the city and its garrison, and it always clawed its way back untill 1204. that year and the tragedy of it is the divergent point in the fortunes of constaninople and gondor, because gondor never had a 1204. yes it lost minas ithil, and yes osgiliath was ruined, but neither city was as important to gondor as minas tirith. gondor was a fortress and minas tirith its citadel, so long as the citadel held the fortress could be retaken eventually, and in this gondor and byzantium are almost identical.
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" ="WebWizRTE" topmargin="1" leftmargin="1">Edited by: Anairiën
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    <br />i perpetually yearn for times past and places that never were. that yearning grows heavier in me every day...

  19. stabilia's Avatar
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    <DIV =WebWizRTE marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" leftmargin="1" topmargin="1">I tend to disagree with you both I do think Tolkien meant these places to be closer to home, Mordor I think he could be referring to the moors around dorset and Dartmouth hence the name mordor, The shires is also found in numerous county's throughout England , He was high in English and Nordic folklore and i do think that most of his similarities lie with in Anglo Saxon states rather than those further a field
    Speak friend and enter Mellon

  20. Beren Laerdir's Avatar
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    <DIV =WebWizRTE marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" leftmargin="1" topmargin="1">
    <DIV marginheight="1" marginwidth="1" leftmargin="1" topmargin="1" ="WebWizRTE">true; but he was quite widely learned; at the least he knew late some roman history, and recognised it had parallel's with his history of gondor, and that much could be infered from it, ultimately it is all about applicability, thought the LOTR companion (ill cite properly when its not 2AM and i can have the lights on to read lol)does posit that the seige of gondor could well have been at influenced by the seige of constantinople in 1453, as well as the battle of vienna some 120 years later (as memory serves...austrian/ottoman history aint my strongpoint) if not partly inspired by them. you gotta keep in mind that minas tirith is similar in nature to constantinople as well; both cities were practically invulerable from several flanks (minas tirith could only be threatened by mordor from osgiliath, and its position upon mindolluin would make it a tough nut to crack by any standard, and constantinople has the good fortune of 3 fortified sea walls with strong tides and currents protecting two, with the third barred by a chain and a fleet, in addition to two massively fortified land-walls, and a wall/moat system beyond those) and had rediculously power fortifications; it was said, not entirely as an over-exaggeration, that constantinople had "the highest and mightiest walls in all the world" by a medieval popewho i think went by the name eugenius (i think, ill have to check this), though again im not sure; in any case those walls certainly are a contender for the most succesful defensive walls ever, and certainly rank as more succesful than the great wall of china, which afaik is the only "bigger" or even comparable deffensive system from before the modern age...in any case, as minas tirith is described it might be considered even stronger than constantinople in real terms, its greater geographical vulnerability offset by having 4 more levels of defenses.Edited by: Anairiën
    obsessive blind guardian fan,
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  21. Aredhel Ar-Feiniel's Avatar
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    #21
    As much as the comparison you have made is fascinating, Underhill, I can't agree with it. I study Medieval history in University, and the vision of the importance and role of Byzantium and its empire in the Middle Ages greatly differs from historian to historian, but there are a few firm points that one can't get away from, and that make the history of Constantinople greatly different from that of Gondor.

    1) Origins: the empire of Constantinople was a branch of the Roman empire that survived East after the Western part of it had collapsed under the barbaric invasions. Gondor was a realm founded becausea whole country had foundered and disappeared. The Numenoreans already had footholds in Middle Earth, but nothing similar to the ordered system and quite separate power Constantinople already possessed almost independently of Rome. It is clearly stated throughout Tolkien that Elendil and his people founded and ruled kingdoms of their own, absolutely unprecendented; Middle Earth had only been a tributary to Numenor, while Constantinople, when Rome fell, already had its own Emperor, whose power derived from the same source of the Roman one, and was actually equal to it.



    2) Expansion: as already said, Constantinople was the surviving branch of a vaster empire, and the lands it ruled had been inherited, and not newly conquered. Every try of the Eastern emperors to widen their boundaries proved short-lived and doomed, and their strife was mainly to maintain what they already had, rather than to gain new land. On the other hand, Gondor starts as a new kingdom, whose possessions widen with successive rulers.

    3) Role in defending the West: this is a much debated point among historians, who vary from those who deny that Bysantium had any real power as a defense and those who give it all the merit for keeping the Turks back. What one can say, on a sort of careful middle ground between such extreme positions, is that if at first the West was overwhelmed from the Germanic invaders, when they mingled with the Roman natives and formed the so called Roman-Barbaric kingdoms, they were quite able to fight back. Furthermore, Byzantium had a very long agony, being torn by repeated Turkish invasions much before it was actually conquered. When the Crusaders first crossed Anatolia around the year 1100, they had to fight back the Turks from the Byzantine Emperor's very land. On the other hand, Gondor stands alone when all the other kingdoms of the West have fallen or gone into hiding, and it is around its banner that the last Free Peoples of Middle Earth eventually rally. So that we have there a power that is able to resist to the very end (although tottering very close to its fall in more than one occasion) and which guards an Earth almost void of any other armed and militarily prepared kingdom.

    It is certainly true that in the Byzantine libraries much of the classical lore of the Ancient Times was preserved, but again it has a completely different origin: while Elendil brought to Middle Earth all he could save of a destroyed civilization, Constantinople possessed from the beginning the same treasure of lore of Rome. As it was not conquered, plundered and sacked until a millennium after, it only had the good fortune of holding onto those precious books for much longer.

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