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Began on 29 September IV 1; in Gondor, the Age was officially held to have begun on 25 March of the same year
Held to have begun with the final defeat of Sauron and the destruction of Barad-dûr
Other names
The New Age


About this entry:

  • Updated 27 June 2010 (VII 66?)
  • This entry is complete

Fourth Age

The centuries after the Downfall of Barad-dûr

The Ages of Arda

The last of the four ages chronicled by Tolkien, and the one about which least is known (including its length). The Fourth Age was held to have begun with the passing of the Ring-bearers over the sea from Mithlond on 29 September III 3021, though in Gondor it was reckoned as beginning on 25 March of the same year (that date being the second anniversary of the Downfall of Barad-dûr).

The History of the Fourth Age

Of the history of the Fourth Age we have little more than hints, and nothing at all of any substance after the second century of the Age. Most of what we know is restricted to the Shire and the Reunited Kingdom, which is natural as these two regions were the source of the histories of the Third and earlier Ages.

During this period, the Shire became more important in the wider politics of Middle-earth. By the edict of King Elessar, Men were banned from its borders, but it remained nonethless a part of the North-kingdom. The Thain, the Master of Buckland and the Mayor of the Shire were all made royal counsellors. When this arrangement was made in IV 13, these offices were all held by members of the Fellowship: respectively, Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee.

Across the wider lands, a peace descended, and though Elessar still at times rode against distant foes, for the people of the Two Kingdoms this was a time of prosperity and plenty. King Elessar himself gave up his life in IV 120, and was succeeded as High King by his son Eldarion. As time passed, the Shadow of Sauron became a distant memory, and strange cults and societies grew up in Gondor. These were the subject of Tolkien's abandoned sequel to The Lord of the Rings, entitled The New Shadow: the few pages of the story that he completed can be found in volume XII of The History of Middle-earth.

31 The Westmarch is officially incorporated into the Shire.
63 Death of King Éomer of Rohan; he is succeeded by his son Elfwine.
120 Death of King Aragorn II Elessar of Gondor; he is succeeded by his son Eldarion.
172 A copy of the Red Book of Westmarch is completed in Gondor by Findegil, the King's Writer. This is the last event chronicled by Tolkien.

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

Converting Fourth Age Dates

The Fourth Age raises a question that tends not to apply to the preceding Ages, in that the change from the Third Age to the Fourth leaves us with three different, overlapping calendars. The New Reckoning reset the year number at the beginning of the Fourth Age, but the Shire-reckoning continued without a break. What's more, we occasionally see years of the Fourth Age expressed in terms of the Third.

It's therefore necessary to find a consistent way to convert between the three dating methods. There are several points in The Lord of the Rings where Tolkien gives us the same date using various systems, so in principle it should be easy to make the calculation. A problem arises, however, because Tolkien uses two different conversions in different parts of the book.

Method A: Simple Continuation

Perhaps the obvious method would be to continue the count of years directly from the end of the Third Age into the Fourth, so the sequence of years would run III 3020, III 3021, IV 1, IV 2, and so on. Using this system, we can convert a Third Age date into a Fourth Age date by simply subtracting 3,021 (or to convert Shire years, we subtract 1,421).

This approach is supported by several cases in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings:

Method B: The Systems Overlap

A more involved approach is to consider the last year of the Third Age to also be the first of the Fourth. On this system, the count of years would proceed as III 3020, III 3021, IV 2, IV 3, and so on. In other words, both 'III 3021' and 'IV 1' refer to the same year. This idea is supported by another reference in Appendix D:

'...for purposes of record in the Kingdom Fourth Age 1 was the year that began according to the New Reckoning on March 25, 3021, old style'
The Lord of the Rings Appendix D The Calendars

This tells us explicitly that there was an overlap between the two systems, at least in official records. On this system, then, we would convert years of the Third Age to the Fourth by subtracting 3,020, and Shire years by subtracting 1,420.

Though this appears to be the 'official' calculation, there are actually fewer examples of it in practice to be found in The Lord of the Rings:

In Conclusion

This confusion of systems is also seen in the draft texts of The Lord of the Rings published in The History of Middle-earth (especially volume XII). Method B is stated as the 'official' mode of calculation, but in the actual text Method A is used more commonly.

For the purposes of conversion on this site, we use Method A (which is not only more intuitive, but has rather more references supporting it). This means, unavoidably, that a few conversions are in conflict with statements in The Lord of the Rings (for example, IV 172 translates as Shire year 1593, despite the clear statement in the Prologue that it was 1592). To maintain consistent conversions, the occasional discrepancy like this is unfortunately unavoidable.

Although we have no records of the later Fourth, or any following Age, Tolkien makes a brief allusion to the future of Middle-earth in a letter written in 1958: "I imagine the gap [between the Fall of Barad-dûr and modern times] to be about 6000 years; that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S[econd] A[ge] and T[hird] A[ge]. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh."

This note is especially interesting, as it gives some ground for bringing Tolkien's dating system up to date. The fact that we are 'at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh' hints strongly that Tolkien saw some important historical event as marking the recent (or imminent) end of the Sixth Age. Each of the three Ages we know about ended with a great war and the fall of a tyrant, and Tolkien was writing just thirteen years after the end of the Second World War: could there be a connection?

While this is circumstantial at best, it does seem to hint that perhaps the Downfall of the Third Reich was to the Sixth Age what the Downfall of Barad-dûr was to the Third. If so, we can 'reset' the calendar in 1945, which would be the first year of the Seventh Age. The letter quoted above, then, would have been written in VII 14, which explains Tolkien's reference to the change of Age, while the year 2000 would be VII 56.

It's important to stress that there's absolutely no direct evidence for any of this - it's just harmless speculation. We do know, though, that Tolkien was fastidious in calculating his dating systems: it's unlikely that he would have mentioned a change of Age if he didn't have solid reasons for doing so.


About this entry:

  • Updated 27 June 2010 (VII 66?)
  • This entry is complete

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