The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
The time before the War of Wrath and the expulsion of Morgoth from the World; dated after the rising of the Sun from I 1 to I 590
Other names
The Eldest Days

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  • Updated 5 July 2009
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First Age

The Age of the Wars of Beleriand

Encyclopedia of Arda Timeline
Years of the Trees First Age Second Age Third Age Fourth Age and Beyond

The Ages of Arda

The first of the four Ages chronicled by Tolkien. Unlike the Second and Third Ages, there is no detailed chronicle of the events of the First Age, at least in any canonical sources, and so dates must be inferred from references in the text - hence many dates in this Age (including the year in which it ended) are necessarily approximate. This entry deals with events of the First Age of the Years of the Sun; for earlier events see the entry for Years of the Trees, and for the rationale behind this distinction, see the essay Dating the First Age below.

The First Age began with the Return of the Noldor to Middle-earth, the first rising of the Moon and the Sun, and the Awakening of Men in Hildórien. It ended with the War of Wrath, the destruction of Beleriand and the final defeat of Morgoth. The end of the First Age was marked by the return of many of the Noldor, accompanied also by many Sindarin Elves, into the West to dwell on Tol Eressëa.

Key Events of the First Age

1 The first rising of the Moon and the Sun; Awakening of Men
60 Dagor Aglareb
116 Completion of Gondolin
c. 305 Arrival of Men in Beleriand
455 Dagor Bragollach
465 Beren and Lúthien achieve the Quest of the Silmaril
471 Nirnaeth Arnoediad
495 Sack of Nargothrond
510 Fall of Gondolin
545 Beginning of the War of Wrath
587 End of the War of Wrath with the capture of Morgoth
590 Expulsion of Morgoth from the World; end of the First Age

For a full chronicle of events from the
First Age, see the Chronicle of Arda


Dating the First Age

Establishing the point where the First Age began is not as simple as might be imagined. The only really definite statements are in the drafts of the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, which originally included this comment, relating to the time of the awakening of the Elves:

'Here begin the Elder Days, or the First Age of the Children of Ilúvatar.'
The History of Middle-earth volume 11, 3 V The Tale of Years

According to this dating, the First Age began about 4,312 years before the rising of the Sun, making the entire Age some 4,902 years long. This calculation is backed up by a further comment from other drafts of the Appendices:

'The First Age was the longest.'
The History of Middle-earth volume 12, 1 VI The Tale of Years of the Second Age

It's perhaps notable that no direct comment on the beginning of the First Age, or its length, survived into the published version of the Tale of Years (which indeed does not attempt to provide a chronicle of the First Age at all). It's hard to be sure why this should be, but part of the problem was doubtless the complication of having two dating systems: one before the rising of the Sun, and one after.

The whole notion of measuring time in 'years' is of course dependent on the existence of the Sun, so before it was created, a different dating system was needed. This worked on so-called 'Valian Years', dating from the making of the Two Trees; on this system the first Elves awoke in 1050. However, Valian Years were rather longer than solar years, so 1050 is equivalent to about 10,062 conventional years (actually there are various ways of making this calculation, so this is necessarily an approximation). We might imagine that the beginning of the First Age would restart the count of years, but in fact that did not happen until the Sun was created 1500 Valian Years (about 14,374 solar years) after the making of the Trees. From that point the First Age is dated in normal years.

So, a full chronicle of the First Age would involve two dating systems, using two different types of years; first a period of 450 Valian Years (4,312 solar years) starting in (Valian Year) 1050, then a period of 590 solar years starting at year 1 (the rising of the Sun). Given this level of complexity, a Tale of Years of the First Age would be unwieldy, to say the least.

A simpler solution is to follow the approach suggested in the Reader's Companion to The Lord of the Rings:

'...in Tolkien's mythology Men awoke only at the beginning of the First Age when the Sun first arose in the heavens.'
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion 7 In the House of Tom Bombadil

It's difficult to support this statement from Tolkien's known writings, though the authors of the Reader's Companion, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, were also editors of the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Lord of the Rings, so it's conceivable that their comment is based on material not in the public domain (if so, they don't mention the source). Nonetheless, taking the rising of the Sun as the beginning of the First Age simplifies matters considerably, essentially dividing the full Age into two sections (the long Years of the Trees and the much briefer First Age of the Sun). This makes dating the First Age a straightforward matter of using solar years from I 1 (which is the convention used throughout this site).

See also...

Aghan, Alders, Alqualondë, Aman, Amon Obel, Amrod, Anach, Ancalagon, Angband, Anghabar, Arda, Arminas, Arvernien, Azaghâl, Balrogs, [See the full list...]

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