The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
First emerged c.I 3001
Origins
Complex and uncertain: see 'The Descent of the Northmen' below for details
Race
Settlements
Primarily in the northern Vales of Anduin: at least some later travelled south to settle in the land that would become known as Rohan
Other names

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  • Updated 3 October 2007
  • Updates planned: 2

Northmen

The ancestors of the Rohirrim

Encyclopedia of Arda Timeline
Years of the Trees First Age Second Age Third Age Fourth Age and Beyond
Primordial Men
Edain
Men of Darkness
House of
Bëor

House of
Haleth

House of
Hador

Northmen

The intricate and uncertain descent of the Northmen. It is seems unlikely that the Northmen were actually derived from all the sources shown here, but evidence can be found to support each of these four different lines of descent. See 'The Descent of the Northmen' below for fuller details on this topic.

The Men of the north of Middle-earth, and especially those that dwelt about the upper reaches of the Vales of Anduin, from whom the Rohirrim were descended.


The Descent of the Northmen

The origins of the Northmen are difficult to pick out with certainty. Their ancestors seem to have come from various different sources, suggesting that they originated as a conglomeration of different, related peoples, rather than descending from a single source.

For the most part, they seem to have derived from peoples who were closely related to the original Edain, but did not cross the Blue Mountains into Beleriand. In a sense, they can be seen as a Mannish equivalent of the Silvan Elves, who also broke away from a great westward journey at this point. Appendix A I (iv) to The Lord of the Rings tells us that the Northmen '...were the nearest in kin of the lesser Men to the Dúnedain (being for the most part descendants of those people from whom the Edain of old had come.)'

So, on a close reading, we have two sources of the Northmen here: those who shared a common ancestry with the Edain, and those who didn't (because if they only shared descent with the Edain 'for the most part', then it follows that some of them must have come from other stock).

In Unfinished Tales there's an even more specific comment: 'The Northmen appear to have been most nearly akin to the third and greatest of the peoples of the Elf-friends, ruled by the House of Hador.' This gives us a third source, because the Northmen described here don't simply share a descent with the Edain: they're more closely related to some than others, which places them actually within the family tree of the Edain. These people almost seem to constitute a 'fourth House of the Edain' who failed to follow the people of the other three across the Mountains.

Finally, Faramir offers yet another explanation in The Two Towers IV 5. Speaking specifically about the Rohirrim, he indicates that they originated '...not from Hador the Goldenhaired, the Elf-friend, maybe, yet from such of his sons and people as went not over Sea into the West, refusing the call.' So, here we have ancestors who were not merely related to the Edain, but actually descended from them - in particular, from those who did not join the general exodus to the newly founded Númenor.

Did Tolkien mean for all these varying explanations to stand? Possibly not: they certainly read more as variations on a evolving idea than distinct conceptions. On the other hand, as three of them come directly from the text of The Lord of the Rings, it is hard to dismiss them.

In fact, it is not completely impossible to reconcile the various accounts, but to do so we need to imagine the original Northmen as a coalition of peoples: partly related to the Edain, partly not, and being joined later in their history by those more directly related to the House of Hador. Even that isn't an ideal solution: for instance, if the Northmen were a mingled people like this, how could Faramir identify which of these strands was the precise origin of the Rohirrim? Still, if we are to reconcile all the various accounts, it is difficult to imagine another possible explanation.

Notes

1

It is difficult to identify exactly when the Northmen split from the other Mannish peoples. The date given here, roughly the three hundredth year of the First Age, ties in with the crossing of the Blue Mountains by the people who would become the Edain. So, this is a likely date for a split between the first of the Edain and the original ancestors of the Northmen.

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