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Dates
Came into existence with the foundation of Rohan in III 2510
Location
Rohan, to the north of the White Mountains
Origins
The people of the Éothéod were led to the new land of Rohan by Eorl the Young
Race
Division
Culture
Family
Ruled by the House of Eorl
Settlements
The chief city of Rohan was Edoras; other notable settlements and fortifications include the former capital Aldburg, Dunharrow, Grimslade, the Hornburg, Underharrow and Upbourn
Pronunciation
Rohan is pronounced 'ro'han'
Meaning
Rohan means 'horse land'
Other names

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  • Updated 19 December 2023
  • This entry is complete

Horsemen of Rohan

The Rohirrim

The ancestors of the Rohirrim had been great horsemen throughout their history. The Men of Rohan descended from the Northmen of Rhovanion, who had ridden the wide plains eastward of Mirkwood in the middle years of the Third Age. The quality of the horses of the Northmen was famed, as was their skill in riding (and especially their ability to shoot arrows from a bow while mounted).

The horsemen rode the eastern plains for centuries as loyal allies of Gondor, but they were troubled by invaders and decimated by the coming of the Great Plague. Eventually the survivors removed from their old lands into the Vales of Anduin, and at this time they were first known as the 'horse people', the Éothéod in their own tongue. Eventually they moved on northward again, and founded a new land around the sources of Anduin (a land that itself came to be called the Éothéod) and there they remained for more than five centuries.

There were horses roaming wild on the northern plains, and there were those among the Men of the Éothéod who delighted in training them. One of these was a lord of the people named Léod, who attempted to tame a remarkable horse, but was thrown and died in the attempt. Léod's son Eorl succeeded where his father had failed, naming the mighty horse Felaróf. From that great steed came a line of extraordinary horses unique to this people, known as the mearas. It was from this line - through many centuries of descent - that Gandalf's horse Shadowfax would come.

The Coming of the Horsemen to Rohan

In the year III 2510, a desperate rider from the South named Borondir appeared at the court of Eorl. In times now long past, when they had dwelt farther to the south, the Men of the Éothéod had been good friends and allies of Gondor. Now Gondor found itself under sustained attack and in desperate need, and its Ruling Steward, Cirion, had sent his rider north to seek aid from Gondor's old allies. Eorl agreed, and mustered his horsemen ready for the long southward ride to Gondor's aid.

There followed the gruelling Ride of Eorl, at the end of which Eorl and seven thousand of his horsemen fell upon a force of Balchoth and defeated them in the Battle of the Field of Celebrant. Through this action, Gondor was saved, and Steward Cirion rewarded Eorl and his people richly. Gondor's wide green northern province of Calenardhon had few Gondorians dwelling within it, and was ideal for a people of horsemen, and so Cirion granted it to the Men of the Éothéod. Thus the land of Rohan was founded, with Eorl as its first King. The new name Rohan meant 'horse land', in recognition of the great skill in horsemanship of its people (who in turn were called Rohirrim, 'people of the horse lords).

The new land was ideal for the horsemen. Where this people had been restricted in their small land at the sources of Anduin, they now had rolling green plains stretching across a much wider range. Their numbers increased and their power grew, though the history of the land was not without setbacks. The worst of these came in III 2758, the year that the Long Winter began, when the Dunlendings descended on Rohan. Many of these had been dwelling in the western vales of the land when the Rohirrim came, but had been driven out by the early successors of Eorl. Now they descended on Rohan in numbers, and Gondor was unable to send aid. Through the winter that followed, Rohan was overrun, and the Dunlending lord Wulf sat on the throne in Edoras, the chief city of the land. The Rohirrim, however, were able to recover from their losses and reclaim their land.

The Military Disposition of the Horsemen

From the time even before they settled in Rohan, the basic military unit of the horsemen was the éored, a band of one hundred and twenty Riders. The full military force of the entire land was termed an éoherë, a Full Muster, which in principle consisted of one hundred éoreds (or twelve thousand Riders in total), but such an immense host was never actually gathered during the history of Rohan.

The Riders of Rohan were divided into three separate musters. One of these, the Muster of Edoras was drawn from the populous lands around the chief city of Rohan. Elsewhere in the land, the Muster of the West-mark was commanded from the Hornburg at Helm's Deep, while the Muster of the East-mark was led from the town of Aldburg in the Folde. Each of these three musters was commanded by a Marshal, the highest rank among the horsemen below the King himself. The First Marshal commanded the horsemen of Edoras, while the Second and Third Marshals were assigned as the needs of the time demanded.

The Horsemen in the War of the Ring

After the troubles of the Long Winter, the Wizard Saruman was given leave to dwell in Isengard on the western borders of Rohan. The Rohirrim were at first grateful for his presence, as he helped in the long recovery from the Dunlending invasion. By the time of the War of the Ring, some two hundred and sixty years later, matters had changed. Saruman's ambition had grown, and he had allied himself with Sauron. Far from helping the horsemen, he now laid plans to obliterate these longtime allies of Gondor.

The ability of the Rohirrim to counter this growing threat was blunted by Saruman's subterfuge. The King of Rohan, Théoden, fell under the sway of Saruman's agent Gríma Wormtongue, and so little was done to defend the realm. In September III 3018, Gandalf arrived at the gates of Edoras, having escaped his imprisonment by Saruman. Théoden sent him away, commanding him to take any horse, and at this time Gandalf first met Shadowfax. This swift steed was descendant of Eorl's horse Felaróf on which he had ridden from the North long ago. Mounted on Shadowfax, noblest of the horses of Rohan, Gandalf rode away northward.

By the following February, Rohan was at open war, and there was battle at the Fords of Isen. Still the weakened King did nothing, even though his own son Théodred had been slain in the fighting. It was only when Gandalf returned and broke Gríma's malign influence that Théoden came to himself and began to order the defence of his realm. Meanwhile the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen was fought, in which a great army of Orcs and Men broke the defence of the Fords and began to march across Rohan.

The rejuvenated King Théoden led his horsemen to meet the invaders at the Hornburg, a castle in the northern White Mountains that guarded the valley of Helm's Deep, where King Helm had sheltered during the Long Winter. In the Battle of the Hornburg, the Rohirrim had the victory, with the aid of the Ents of Fangorn who had also risen against Saruman in Isengard. Thus the Rohirrim were freed from threats to their west and were able to ride eastward to the aid of Minas Tirith.

Théoden urgently called a Full Muster of his éoherë, some six thousand armed Riders,1 the greatest gathering of the Horsemen of Rohan since the Ride of Eorl. These Riders set out on the long road to Minas Tirith, eluding the forces sent to slow their progress and arriving in time to join the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. They swayed the battle in favour of the defenders, and aided in breaking the Siege of Gondor. Many fell in that battle, among them King Théoden himself.

The King's heir was his nephew Éomer, formerly a Marshal of the Mark. After the Battle of the Pelennor, he divided his forces, sending three thousand away westward under the command of Elfhelm to deal with the elements of the enemy that still ranged through Anórien. The new King himself, with five hundred Riders and five hundred more soldiers who had lost their mounts, joined the force of Aragorn that set out for the Black Gate of Mordor.

At the Morannon, the Captains of the West faced foes in impossible numbers, but their purpose was not to defeat Sauron's Orcs, but to distract his Eye from the Ring-bearer as he made his secret way to Mount Doom. This tactic succeeded: as battle was joined at the Black Gate, the One Ring went into the Fire and its destruction brought down the Dark Lord and all his works. Thus the Horsemen of Rohan played a part in the overthrow of Sauron.

The Fourth Age

The new King Éomer made certain reforms to the military arrangements of the Rohirrim, so that after his time there was a permanent Marshal of the West-mark and of the East-mark. Though the Dark Lord had been defeated and Gondor saved, there were still many enemies left for the newly reorganised Horsemen of Rohan to face. We have few details of their campaigns in the Fourth Age, but we know that they rode to war with their allies the Gondorians, and defeated the former followers of Sauron in the sun-baked South and on the wide plains of the distant East.


Notes

1

We're given little direct detail of the armament of the Riders of Théoden, though they are described collectively as 'some six thousand spears' (Unfinished Tales Part Three II, Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan). When Eorl made his famous Ride, he had with him several hundred of the famed horsed archers of his people, and we know that Éomer had such bowmen under his command. Presumably some Riders with similar skills also accompanied Théoden but, if so, they are given no special mention.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 19 December 2023
  • This entry is complete

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