Far to the south of Gondor, on the coasts of the Great Sea west of the Harad, a peninsula thrust out into the ocean behind which was a long narrow inlet. The result was an exceptional natural harbour, and at the inlet's eastern extent a haven grew up - the Haven of Umbar - that would have an important role to play in the histories of the lands further north.
The name Umbar predates the coming of the Númenóreans, suggesting that the lands around the harbour had been occupied since ancient times. The first definite reference to the haven, however, occurs in the year II 2280 when the Númenórean mariners of King Tar-Ancalimon established themselves in the region, building a great fortress and port that would become known as the Haven of Umbar.
Already in Tar-Ancalimon's time, political rifts in Númenor had begun to develop, and the haven at Umbar became a stronghold of the party known as the King's Men. These Númenóreans, already opposed to the Ban of the Valar and contact with the Elves, now dwelt in Middle-earth close to Sauron's own Black Land. Over time they began to worship Sauron and seek his dark knowledge, giving rise to the people known as the Black Númenóreans. It is unclear exactly when and how this transition took place, but the fact that Sauron was able to recruit three Númenóreans as Nazgûl before about II 2250 suggests that this process had already started by the time of Tar-Ancalimon (who came to the throne in II 2251).
Sauron's power grew over the centuries in Middle-earth, and he began the claim the title of King of Men. In Númenor, King Ar-Pharazón was angered by this presumption, and set sail with a great fleet to challenge and overthrow the Dark Lord. Ar-Pharazón's immense fleet sailed into the Haven of Umbar, which lay to the south and west of Mordor, and marched on the Dark Land. There was no war between Númenor and Mordor: seeing the great force that the King of Númenor had brought, Sauron submitted and allowed himself to be taken back across the Sea to Númenor as a hostage.
Thus the Haven of Umbar played a part in the Downfall of Númenor, because Sauron was able to corrupt Ar-Pharazôn and drive him to attack Aman itself, an action that brought utter destruction to the island kingdom. Nonetheless, even the survivors of the Downfall remembered Ar-Pharazôn's humbling of Sauron with pride, and they would raise a monument to the event, a pillar of brilliant white holding a glittering crystal globe, on the headland above the Haven.2
At the time of the Downfall, the Haven of Umbar was still held by Black Númenóreans, and so it did not become part of the new realm of Gondor when that land was founded to the north. We have no record of these Black Númenóreans opposing Ar-Pharazôn at the time of his landing (they were presumably among those followers of Sauron who fled before the fleet) but we know that they afterwards continued to hold the Haven of Umbar in opposition to the new realm of Gondor. They may even have fought on Sauron's part in the War of the Last Alliance, though their role in that war, if any, is not known.
The War of the Last Alliance saw the overthrow of Sauron and the triumph of Gondor, and after the dawn of the Third Age the Black Númenóreans who held Umbar began to dwindle. These people slowly merged with the Men of Middle-earth, but their hatred of the followers of Elendil persisted through the generations.
The enmity between Umbar and Gondor simmered for centuries, but it was not until III 933 that Gondor went on the offensive. A great navy was assembled by King Eärnil I, and as this invasion force sailed into the Haven, a Gondorian army approached from the land and set a siege. This siege was successful: Eärnil drove the rulers of Umbar into exile, and the Haven was made a fortified southern outpost of Gondor.
The Haven of Umbar was not held peacefully by Gondor for long. Just three years after its capture, Eärnil was caught in a storm off the coasts of Umbar and lost, along with many of his ships. Eärnil's son Ciryandil held the Haven for nearly a century, but in III 1015 the former lords of Umbar brought a great force of Haradrim against the Gondorians, and Ciryandil was slain in the fighting that ensued. Though Ciryandil was lost, Umbar did not fall, but now the Gondorians, who had themselves taken the Haven of Umbar by siege, found themselves besieged in turn by the Haradrim.
The naval power of Gondor meant that Umbar could be kept resupplied despite the surrounding forces, and so the Siege of Umbar by the Haradrim was prolonged. The new King of Gondor, Ciryaher son of slain Ciryandil, took no less than thirty-five years to build up his forces to resist the siege. In III 1050 he sent a navy southward from Gondor and an army by land, and the two forces converged on the Haradrim, finally bringing the Siege of Umbar to an end. After this great victory Ciryaher named himself Hyarmendacil, 'South-victor', and established the Haven of Umbar as a southern fortress of Gondor that would last for centuries.
Umbar was securely held by Gondor until III 1447, the year that saw the final events of the Gondorian Kin-strife. This had been a decade-long period of civil war in which the rightful King Eldacar was deposed, but ultimately ousted his usurper Castamir and reclaimed his throne. After Castamir's death his sons fled southward and took refuge in the Haven of Umbar. The weakened King Eldacar had no means to pursue his enemies, and so the sons of Castamir the Usurper were able to take independent control of Umbar.
Now Gondor's former outpost became a haven for its enemies, and its numbers were bolstered by allies of Castamir who fled Gondor in the years after the Kin-strife. The sons of Castamir and their descendants built up a naval force, and made increasingly deadly attacks against the ships and lands of Gondor. This was the beginning of the raiding people known as the Corsairs, who would remain a foe of Gondor until the time of the War of the Ring, more than 1,500 years later.
The power of the Corsairs grew over the years that followed, challenging Gondor's rule of Harondor or South Gondor, a desert land that stood between the two nations. In III 1634 the Corsairs launched their most audacious attack yet, raiding the Gondorian port city of Pelargir and slaying Gondor's King, Minardil. The leaders of this raid were Angamaitë and Sangahyando, great-grandsons of the usurper Castamir.
The Corsairs suffered no immediate retaliation from Gondor at this time, due to the appearance of a Great Plague in Middle-earth that had a devastating effect on the Gondorians. Presumably Umbar was also suffered from the plague, though its effects on the people of the Haven are not recorded. What is known, however, is that Gondor was decimated by the disease, and took decades or centuries to recover its strength. During this long period the Corsairs continued to make bold raids out of the Haven of Umbar along Gondor's coasts.
Gondor was long in recovering from the Great Plague, and it was nearly two hundred years after the slaying of Minardil that Umbar suffered a response for its attacks. In III 1810 King Telumehtar, great-grandson of Minardil, led a force southwards against the Haven. Overcoming its defences, he achieved an overwhelming victory in which the last descendants of Castamir were slain. From that time on Telumehtar surnamed himself Umbardacil, 'victor over Umbar', and brought the Haven of Umbar back under Gondorian control for a time.
This time of renewed Gondorian control was brief indeed, and lasted no more than a few decades. Shortly after the death of Telumehtar Umbardacil, Gondor was assailed by a new threat from the East, the Wainriders. The attacks of these warrior Easterlings were devastating, and by III 1856 - just forty-six years after Telumehtar's victory in Umbar - all of Gondor's territories east of Anduin were lost. With Castamir's line now extinct, the Haven of Umbar fell under the power of the neighbouring Men of Harad, but its seaborne raiders continued to be known as the Corsairs until the end of the Third Age.
History: The Later Third Age
The Haven of Umbar is little mentioned in history for the next several centuries, though doubtless the Corsairs continued their raiding against Gondor during this time. The year III 2460 saw the return of Sauron from the East and the end of the period of the Watchful Peace, and after this time the Haradrim who ruled Umbar were Sauron's allies. From this time, then, the Haven of Umbar fell under the power of the Dark Lord. The raiding of the Corsairs turned to true attacks on Gondor's coasts, and the crystal monument to Sauron's ancient defeat was destroyed.
After nearly a century of preparation, the Men of Umbar were able to assemble three strong fleets, which they sent northward to harry the coasts of Gondor. One of these fleets passed so far north that it reached the mouths of the river Isen, at the far western extent of Gondor's lands. These attacks were launched during the Long Winter of III 2758, and no immediate response was possible, but in the following spring Steward Beregond was able to launch his own fleet, driving the ships of Umbar back to their Haven.
Though a full invasion had been beaten back by Gondor, the Corsairs remained a threat throughout the closing years of the Third Age. In the year III 2980 Gondor took the initiative and made a raid of its own against the Haven of Umbar. Led by Aragorn (in his guise as Thorongil) a small Gondorian raiding party entered the Haven by night and took the Corsairs by surprise. They succeeded in burning many ships as they lay at anchor in the Haven, and left the Captain of the Haven slain.
A little less than forty years later, the War of the Ring broke out in earnest, and the Corsairs of the Havens of Umbar played their part for their master Sauron. By this time they had evidently rebuilt a great part of their fleet, and they sent vessels filled with troops of the Haradrim to support Sauron's army besieging Minas Tirith. Attempting to sail up the river Gilrain,3 they were resisted by Angbor the Lord of Lamedon, and then surprised by the arrival of a force of the Dead led by the same Aragorn who had burned their fleet decades earlier. Thus the Corsairs' ships were captured, and instead of joining the attack on Gondor, they sailed instead to aid in its defence.
The failed raid on Gondor during the War of the Ring is the last we hear of the Haven of Umbar and its Corsairs. Their fate in the Fourth Age is unclear, but we do know that Gondor's new King went to war in the South of Middle-earth against the last of Sauron's surviving followers. Though Umbar is not specifically mentioned, it was one of the major allies of Sauron and an ancient foe of Gondor. We have little detail, but we do know that King Elessar succeeded in subduing his enemies, which strongly implies that the Haven of Umbar fell once again under Gondorian control during the early years or decades of the Fourth Age.
The origin of the name Umbar is said to have been forgotten by the end of the Third Age. For further commentary and speculation on its interpreation, see the entry for Umbar.
The placing of this monument raises some questions. We're only told that it was placed by the 'followers of Elendil' (The Lord of the Rings Appendix A I (iv), Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion), which might suggest the literal soldiers or servants of Elendil himself. During Elendil's life, however, the Haven was held by the Black Númenóreans, and it seems doubtful that they would have allowed their enemies to raise a monument on their lands. Rather these 'followers' seem to have been rather later in time, and the monument must realistically have been placed after Gondor's conquest of Umbar in III 933.
It's not completely clear what the Corsairs' mission was on the Gilrain, since there were no important fortresses or settlements beyond Linhir at its mouth, and it was far from the fighting on the Pelennor. In Minas Tirith, Gandalf observed that the attack would draw off many soldiers who would otherwise have helped in the defence of the City, and this indeed seems to have been the primary purpose of the Corsairs' raid on southern Gondor.
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