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  • Updated 19 September 2019
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Captain of Ships

Commander of the navies of the Dúnedain

A title used among the Dúnedain for the commander of the royal navies, a shortened version of the fuller title 'Captain of the King's Ships'. The rank was an ancient one, going back to the early centuries of the island nation of Númenor. The first recorded holder of the title was Vëantur, who famously made the first crossing of the Great Sea from Númenor to Middle-earth, in the year II 600. Even after the Downfall of Númenor, the Dúnedain in Middle-earth maintained the position of Captain of Ships, at least in the South-kingdom of Gondor.1

Though the title Captain of Ships seems to have been a common rank among the Númenóreans and their descendants, few of these Captains are named. The list below includes not only those officially named as Captains of Ships, but also those with similar ranks among the navies of Númenor and Gondor:

Vëantur Sailed to Middle-earth II 600
The earliest Captain of Ships in records was the great Númenórean mariner Vëantur, who was famously the first Númenórean to successfully cross the Great Sea from Númenor to Middle-earth. He had close ties to the royal family: his daughter Almarian became Queen to King Tar-Meneldur, and Vëantur passed on his love of the ocean to his grandson, the royal heir Aldarion.
Aldarion Appointed II 800
Vëantur's royal grandson Aldarion was not formally named 'Captain of Ships', but he was given the similar rank of 'Lord of the Ships and Havens of Númenor' by his father King Tar-Meneldur. He presumably held the title until he succeeded his father as King of Númenor in II 883, but even as King Tar-Aldarion he still loved the Sea and sailed to Middle-earth from Númenor.

After Aldarion's time, no Captain of Ships is mentioned throughout the entire remaining history of Númenor or the earlier centuries of Gondor in Middle-earth - a period spanning rather more than three thousand years. Then the term appears once again in the histories, implying that the rank had continued in use, at least intermittently, through that vast period of time.


Tarannon Captain of the Hosts before his accession to the Kingship in III 830
The heir to King Siriondil of Gondor, Tarannon was titled Captain of the Hosts rather than Captain of Ships, but his duties clearly encompassed the navy. He built many ships and achieved many naval victories along the coasts of Middle-earth. He succeeded his father as Tarannon Falastur, a title meaning 'Lord of the Coasts', and began a line of four Kings known collectively as the Ship-kings of Gondor.
Castamir Captain of Ships until his usurpation of the throne in III 1437
A remote descendant of Tarannon Falastur's brother Tarciryan, Castamir used his power and influence as Captain of Ships to take the throne of Gondor after driving out the rightful King, Eldacar, during the civil war known as the Kin-strife. After an unhappy ten-year reign, Castamir was himself forced out of the throne and slain, and after his time no other Captain of Ships is mentioned in histories.2

The last recorded holder of the post proved unreliable, to say the least. This was Castamir, who in III 1432 gathered support from the coastal strongholds of Pelargir and Umbar and raised a rebellion against the rightful King, Eldacar. This led to the period of Gondorian civil war known as the Kin-strife in which Eldacar was deposed and Castamir ruled for a decade.

The fact that Castamir was in a position to launch a coup against the King shows the power of the Captain of Ships in Gondorian government in that period. It is unclear whether the Captaincy continued after Castamir's time; after his overthrow, we have no direct references to any further Captains of Ships. Nonetheless, the King would still have needed a commander for his fleet, and so it seems likely that the rank was filled in some manner even after Castamir's rebellion.


Notes

1

We have numerous references to the ships and ports of Gondor, but nothing equivalent for the North-kingdom of Arnor. It's unclear whether Arnor even possessed a navy, and therefore whether there was any need for a Northern Captain of Ships. Arnor was not entirely landlocked (indeed the old Númenórean harbour of Lond Daer lay on its southern borders), but the coastlands of Cardolan were far from the major cities of the land. If Arnor possessed any kind of fleet, then, it played so little part in history that no record of it or its Captains has survived.

2

The fact that no Captain of Ships is mentioned after Castamir's time may be significant: it is not inconceivable that the Kings who ruled after his time were wary of placing so much naval power in the hands of a single commander. Alternatively, it is perfectly possible that Captains of Ships continued to be appointed after this period, but none played sufficient part in history for their names to be recorded.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 19 September 2019
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