Rhûn – the Lands of the Easterlings
Tolkien has written little about Rhûn, because that region is of minor importance for the plot in The Lord of the Rings. The following three items summarize his texts and therefore the arrangements presented later in this article are my inventions.
Rhûn’s extent: Rhûn (“east” in Sindarin) is a poorly delineated region east of Rhovanion. It stretches from the Inland Sea of Rhûn in the north to Mordor in the south. Several barbarian invasions of Gondor originate from here during the Third Age (e.g. in 490, 541, 1320, 1851, 1944, and 2510). The Shadow seems to have had great influence in Rhûn since the Second Age. South Rhûn is a prairie, whereas the north has a rougher topography with rivers and lakes as links between towns and settlements.
Rhûn’s rivers: River Running (the Celduin) flows from Long Lake 30 leagues as the bird flies (i.e 90 miles/150 km) south-south-east to the Sea of Rhûn. Its tributary the Carnen starts in the Iron Hills and flows 60 leagues south, before joining the Celduin. Both are used by riverboats all the way up to their sources.
Rhûn’s salty inland sea: This lake is about 40 by 60 leagues (21,600 sq mi or 60,000 sq km, thereby having a surface area comparable to Lake Victoria in Central Africa). Celduin’s serpentine lower stretch and the coasts of the Inland Sea are home to the most powerful political entities of northern Rhûn. However, only one of those is mentioned by Tolkien: Dorwinion, a land that exports wine to the wood Elves by river boats.
The Peoples of Northern Rhûn at the End of the Third Age
The “Easterlings” are in fact several unrelated peoples that are viewed as “alien” by the free peoples of Rhovanion and Gondor. But when it comes to technological and social development, they are at about the same level: iron-working, good ships, chain-mail and forts. However, the Easterlings possess an cultural stratum imprinted with “ideals” of the Shadow: ruthlessness, greed, despotism, intolerance – its source is of course Sauron’s long-lasting influence.
Since TA 2850, the Rodid people have become a major player in northern Rhûn, thanks to their good skills in warfare, sailing and trade. They have founded some new towns and subjugated several older belonging to other tribes and nations. Thus they have become an aristocracy ruling of a multi-ethnic confederacy. (Think of the Norse variags/rus of Gardarike in western Russia during the early Middle Ages, but add some orientalist features like pointed helmets, scimitars, turbans, and harems.) Their wooden towns are ruled by charismatic warlords and they consider their non-Rodid subjects as little better than thralls. The heart of a Rodid nation is a fortified coastal town. A powerful Rodid prince may be able to force other towns into subsidiary alliances, but such arrangements are frail and prone to break apart when that overlord dies.
The fortified stone city of Tvorchoz is located on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea. That is the terminus for the land-bound caravans from the far east. In this city, may trade routes intersect so a visitor will find plenty of exotic goods in its markets: spices, jewels, tools and weapons, slaves, etc. Tvorchoz is a merchant republic and it has resisted all Rodid subjugation attempts, sometimes by the force of arms and sometimes by the power of gold. Since the destruction of the Balchoth about five centuries ago, its ruling oligarchy belongs of the Sîris people and they see the Rodid as crude upstarts. The Rodid and the Sîris speak unrelated languages.
The coasts of the Inland Sea and the the valleys of the Celduin and the Carnen are home to numerous Mannish tribes, too many to be described here. Some are related to the Rodid, other to the Sîris and yet other to neither. But none is able to compete with these two peoples for power and influence and therefore hey usually end up as being vassals. And having the Rodid as overlords is commonly a heavy burden.
Shipping on the Inland Sea
The Celduin and the Carnen are slow and wide rivers that can be used by boats all the way up their sources and therefore they have become important trade routes. The salty Inland Sea is also a fairly calm body of water that provides plenty of fish. Many more rivers feed into it, but none have the dimensions of the Celduin.
The Rodid know how to build excellent river boats (similar to the knarr used by the variags when travelling on Russian river to Miklagård). They are propelled by sails or oars, depending on the local conditions.
There are no roads to speak of in northern Rhûn, so settlements are usually connected by waterways. The climate is favorable, too, so most winters the Inland Sea and the rivers stay free of ice. (The Easterlings execute a major military campaign in February and March 3019. That requires temperatures above freezing, since the available technology is insufficient for operations in harsh winter weather.)
The Cult of the Red Star
One Sauronic modus operandi is to create false cults that worship Darkness in different ways and use them as tools to ensnare men. He frequently tempts people with phony promises of immortality. Currently in northern Rhûn, the Cult of the Red Star serves that purpose. It is focused on the planet Carnil (i.e. Mars), which is proclaimed to be the “Eye of Darkness”, a manifestation of cosmic might.
The cult’s priesthood practice astrology to guide and mislead the princes and magnates who listen to their message. They are also skilled alchemists that brew medicines and drugs. They hint that those that pay close heed to the cult’s wishes may be rewarded by flasks with an immortality elixir. The medicines are frequently efficacious, but the promises of immortality are only lies.
On the other hand, the rich and powerful individuals around the Inland Sea are often cynical. It is so that some among them find it beneficial to acquire medicines by bowing to a temple altar and listen to some “friendly advice”, but afterwards they will often do as they please.
Part IV will be published on February 22.