The major military engagement of the War of the Ring, in which Sauron committed significant forces to the defeat of the Gondorians. His goal was to capture Gondor's fortified capital of Minas Tirith, thereby effectively leaving his enemies leaderless and neutralising their strongest military forces.
The battle took its name from the Pelennor Fields, the wide townlands that spread out eastwards Minas Tirith. They were protected by the wall of the Rammas Echor, but early in the conflict this wall was breached and Sauron's forces, under the command of the Witch-king, occupied the Pelennor. It was thus within the ring of the Rammas Echor that the battle was fought.
Prelude to the Battle
On 6 March III 3019 Aragorn was still in Rohan. After the defeat of Saruman and the departure of Gandalf and Pippin for Minas Tirith, he dared to look into the Orthanc-stone. Encountering the will of Sauron himself through the palantír, Aragorn revealed himself as the Heir of Isildur, and showed the Dark Lord the sword that had cut the Ring from his finger long ago. Gandalf later surmised that it was this act that forced Sauron into action, setting his long-planned attack on Gondor into immediate motion.
A significant consequence of Aragorn's action was to distract the Eye of Sauron from the Ring-bearer and his companion, who were at that moment travelling through Ithilien, seeking a way into the Dark Land. Four days later, Frodo and Sam would witness the beginnings of the attack, as the Witch-king led his armies out of Minas Morgul on the road westwards to Gondor and Minas Tirith.
Meanwhile in Minas Tirith, the coming siege was foreseen and the Beacons of Gondor were lit to summon aid from Rohan. King Théoden began to assemble his Riders to answer Gondor's call, but Aragorn and his companions set out on a different route. They departed from the Rohirrim to seek out the Paths of the Dead, in the desperate hope of finding stranger allies to fight in the coming battle.
As the Witch-king and his armies set out, Sauron also sent up a great murk into the sky to provide darkness under which his Orcs could fight. This darkness meant that, for the people of Minas Tirith, there was no sunrise on 10 March, causing it to become known as the Dawnless Day. In Minas Tirith, Steward Denethor consulted with Gandalf, Imrahil and his other lords. Though the Witch-king's armies were still distant at this time, Winged Nazgûl were sent ahead of the force; five of these drove Faramir back from his forward post to Minas Tirith, and only Gandalf's intervention drove off the Nazgûl and allowed Faramir to make his way to his father Denethor.
In the darkness that still hung over Minas Tirith, a council of war convened. Denethor's goal was to hinder the passage of Sauron's forces across Anduin, and to this end he sent his son Faramir back to Osgiliath to hold the crossings; a dangerous and doubtful undertaking. Meanwhile another army of Mordor approached Gondor from the north; having set out from the Morannon. This second army attacked and captured the island of Cair Andros, removing the defenders to the north of Minas Tirith and the Pelennor.
Under the darkness out of Mordor, the Witch-king attacked the defences in Osgiliath. Having already concealed floats among the ruins of the eastern city, his force made their way across Anduin and defeated the defenders on the west (whom they outnumbered ten to one). Faramir led his men back from the river to the Causeway Forts that guarded the entrance to the Pelennor Fields, but within hours the Witch-king's army had destroyed those forts and put the Gondorians to flight.
The forces of Mordor now held the Rammas Echor, the outer wall of the Pelennor, and began to move their troops through the breach. From among these forces, they launched a sudden assault on the retreating Gondorians, but Gandalf and Imrahil rode out to the aid of the soldiers, and with their help the wounded made their way back to Minas Tirith. Faramir, who had been holding the rearguard in the retreat, was grievously wounded by a dart.
As night fell, from the walls of Minas Tirith the torches and fires of the enemy could be seen across the fields of the Pelennor, manoeuvring into position and preparing to lay siege to the city.
The morning of 13 March, though still dark beneath the Storm of Mordor, revealed that the Pelennor had been filled with foes and their encampments. These warriors remained out of range of Minas Tirith's defenders, taking time to prepare themselves for a siege of the city. During the day trenches were cut across the fields and filled with fire, while siege engines were brought into position. By the end of the day, the enemy was prepared for their final assault on city.
Now the assault began in earnest, and the engines of the Enemy began to fire against Minas Tirith. Rather than attempting to break the immense walls of the city, they were aimed over those walls and into its lowest tier. The missiles they threw burst into flames as they landed, and the Gondorians were pressed to fight the fires that erupted behind their walls. As well as this incendiary shot, other engines fired the branded heads of defeated soldiers of Gondor to rain down on the defenders of the city. Meanwhile the Winged Nazgûl circled through the skies, bringing more despair with their hideous cries.
While the lower city suffered this assault, Denethor abandoned all hope and began to plan a pyre for himself and his dying son Faramir. With the withdrawal of the Steward, it fell to Gandalf to take up the command of Minas Tirith's defence alongside Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth.
As night drew on, the first tier of the city was burning, and an even greater force of the Enemy crossed Anduin and began to raise their siege towers. In the depths of night the armies of Sauron began their attack on the walls of Minas Tirith.
In the darkness after midnight, the siege engines and Mûmakil approached the walls of Minas Tirith, and the last day of the battle began with the armies of Sauron bringing up an immense battering ram named Grond. With it they broke down the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, and the Lord of the Nazgûl rode through. The terror that went before him caused the defenders to flee, so that only Gandalf remained to stand against him.
As these events unfolded, Denethor the Steward went down to the Silent Street in utter despair and prepared a pyre to burn himself and his son Faramir. Realizing that Faramir was not dead (as his father imagined) Peregrin Took fled through the city seeking Gandalf. As dawn broke, the rising Sun revealed that the dark Storm of Mordor was beginning to clear, and the sound of a horn heralded the coming of the Rohirrim to Gondor's aid. So the confrontation between Gandalf and the Nazgûl Lord did not take place; the Ringwraith rode off to command his armies against the new threat, while Gandalf departed for the upper city to rescue Faramir from his father.
After their sudden entry into the battle, the Rohirrim were able to claim much of the northern part of the field, but the larger army of the Haradrim still held the south. Théoden led his Riders in a charge, breaking the force from the Harad and slaying their commander. Théoden's horse Snowmane was slain by a dart and fell on his rider, and the Witch-king descended from the sky to despatch the King of Rohan. Though destined never to be slain by Man, he met his end at the blades of a Hobbit and a Shieldmaiden: Meriadoc Brandybuck and Éowyn of Rohan, though both of these were left incapacitated by the encounter.
With Théoden's death, Éomer took command of the forces of Rohan. At the site of the Witch-king's defeat, he discovered his sister Éowyn lying apparently lifeless on the field, and a grim mood descended upon him. Meanwhile the battle developed around him: from Minas Tirith, Imrahil led a sortie to join Éomer's army, while a new force of enemies entered the field from the river.
At this point the battle was being fought on two fronts: to the south of Minas Tirith, its soldiers fought the enemy against the city's walls, while Éomer's force was far into the field in the east. Imrahil led his own soldiers out to join with the Rohirrim. The Men of Rohan had driven into the lines of the Haradrim, but were beginning to suffer reverses: their horses would not dare approach the great Mûmakil, and new companies of Easterlings and Variags were swelling the forces arrayed against them. These new foes moved to cover the rear of the Rohirrim, leaving Éomer and his Men surrounded by the enemy.
The End of the Battle
With an influx of new enemies onto the field, the defenders of Minas Tirith were surrounded and hard pressed, and as they fought a desperate stand the ships of the Corsairs were seen on Anduin, apparently bringing yet more allies of Sauron into the fray. When the standard of the ships unfurled, however, it was the white tree on black, the ancient royal standard of Gondor. These ships had been captured by Aragorn aided by the Dead, and now his host of Northern Dúnedain and Gondorians came to the aid of the city's defenders.
The tide of battle had now turned to the defenders, but the fight was far from over. Imrahil led his Swan-knights eastward across the field, forcing the invaders back towards the River, while Éomer and his Rohirrim bore southwards, pushing the enemy towards the docks. From there, Aragorn and his army fought their way northwards, until the two commanders met in the midst of battle. By sunset the Pelennor Fields were empty of enemies: most fought to the end and were slain on the field, though some were drowned as they tried to flee back across the Great River.
After the Battle
So the great siege of Minas Tirith was lifted and the Enemy defeated. The dead were buried in great mounds on the field, near to the Great River, but the monstrous beast that the Witch-king had ridden was burned, leaving a dark scar on the field that remained long afterwards.
Minas Tirith was the pre-eminent fortification guarding the passage from Mordor across Anduin into the West. If Sauron's forces had captured the city, it would have left the way open for the Dark Lord to send his armies on westward across Middle-earth, so its successful defence was certainly a setback to his invasion plans. Nonetheless, Sauron still retained overwhelming forces in reserve, and in time doubtless there would have been a second siege of Minas Tirith, this time with no possibility of another force coming to its defence.
If these were Sauron's plans, they would never come to fruition. Having held the city, the Captains of the West were able to marshal an army and march out to assault the Black Gate of Mordor. This stratagem was militarily hopeless: their defeat was all but inevitable, and their departure left Minas Tirith with barely any effective defence. Sauron failed to see that this march was meant as a distraction, and too late he realised that while his armies fought the Gondorians at the Morannon, his Ruling Ring had been brought to the point of its destruction. Thus the victory on the Pelennor Fields led directly to the end of the Ring and the Downfall of Barad-dûr.
Aragorn Elessar, Arwen Evenstar, Battle of the Field of Gondor, Beacons of Gondor, Black Serpent, Blackroot Vale, Cair Andros, Captain of Sauron, Déorwine, Dernhelm, Derufin, Dervorin, Duilin, Duinhir, Dúnhere, [See the full list...]
For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.
Website services kindly sponsored by Axiom Software Ltd.
Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 1997-2000, 2016. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ.