This post is another Middle-earth lore post. And its about the Men of Darkness again, but this time also talking about Haradrim and Corsairs of Umbar and the Variags of Khand.
This I intend to make a much larger post addressing common myths about the Men of Darkness in Middle-earth, and then providing other forms of enlightenment on the subject of these people.
Myth 1 – “The Men of Darkness are Black and/or Asian humans”
REALITY: Tolkien never described any of the Haradrim or any of the Easterlings as being black humans, nor did he ever describe them as any kind of white. He described them as having “swart” or “swarthy” skin, referring to a middle-ground skin tone. And no, he never described their eye shape either, and made no implication of them being evocative of East Asian peoples. Rather the Men of Darkness in Middle-earth are based primarily on North African and West Asian cultures from the Medieval Period. The Moors, Egypt, the Turks, the Timurids of Medieval Persia, and the Abbasids of Medieval Arabia. The Black hair & eyes and light brown skin that Easterlings, Haradrim, Variags and Corsairs all have in common all hint at a metaphor of Arabic humans
Myth 2 – “The Men of Darkness prove J.R.R. Tolkien was a racist”
REALITY: Has anyone ever stopped to ask themselves if Tolkien just meant to portray the people of Gondor and Arnor as arrogant and culturally insensitive? If anyone did they would find evidence indicating that in the Second Age these cultures of human started growing stronger, and built large cities with large stone walls – “And the Easterlings [and Haradrim] grew strong during this period, building many large cities walled with stone, and being armed [and armored?] with iron” – in other words, Tolkien did not see the Men of Darkness (M.O.D.) as primitive or savage, he saw them as capable of crafting with stone and iron for buildings and weapons respectively. He also wrote in, for these cultures’ gigantically complicated history, that their relations with the Free Peoples of Middle earth started with them being merchants with much to offer, especially to the people of Numenor. Then the King of Numenor at the time decided to start colonizing Swarthy Men’s lands and sacrificing their civilians – both genders, all ages – to the original Dark Lord Morgoth. The Swarthy Men then turned to Sauron for help because none of the other Free Peoples were willing to do anything to help the Swarthy humans. Not even the Dwarves that they learned linguistics from in the First Age, as indicated in lore by the following line from The Silmarillion – “and their tongues more like dwarf-speech than any elvish tongues”. And Sauron agreed to avenge them if they agreed to ally with him and prove their loyalty to him with action, and thus the Swarthy Men became the M.O.D. Even in the Return of the King book, evidence indicates that in the Fourth Age Aragorn had Gondor and Rohan make amends with the Swarthy Men’s kingdoms, and re-establish Trade Rights with them.
Arsenal in the Books vs Arsenal in the Movies
There are some moderate differences between how the Haradrim and Easterlings are armored & armed in the books and how they are equipped in the films.
Let us start with the Haradrim.
The Haradrim in the book wear all bright red clothes, have bronze scale mail shirts down to thigh for armor, and wield iron scimitars, iron-headed spears painted red, and iron-headed arrows with poison; while in the movies they had dark red clothes, densely woven bamboo armor, and weapons made of stone, bone, ivory and/or obsidian. Tolkien did not detail what kind of clothes they had other than cloaks, leading me to believe they had long trousers, long tunics with long sleeves, capes, and the turban-like pieces of head wrap called “Shemaghs”. The Mumakil, or Oliphaunts, as well differed slightly; while they seemed more like six-time-oversized modern elephants in the book, in the movie they opted to make them look like four-time-oversized prehistoric Mammoths with no wool. I prefer the latter take on the Mumakil, because it makes the M.O.D. seem more historic and more complicated.
Now we come to the Easterlings
In the book, Tolkien does not describe much other than their troop types and some of their equipment. He mentions they have long jagged spears and short jagged glaives, and also mentions ones with large axes. He also describes swordsmen on foot and archers on horses, and goes on to bring up large war chariots being in the Easterling arsenal. In the Two Towers book he describes them as “gleam of spears and helmets, and horsemen in many companies”. Somewhere in lore he describes them as being bearded. While in the movie the Easterlings have dark red clothes all over every part of the body you can fathom, and they have three-horned bronze helmets with T-holes and jagged bronze lamellar armor that has the scales bolted together instead of laced together. They even have steel halberds rather than bronze (or iron?) glaives like in the book. No movie Easterlings have horses or war-chariots, which to me is unfortunate. So when you merge the two source materials as the Rome Total War Alexander modification called Lord of the Rings Total War did so well, you get enough variations on the horsemen and charioteers and enough troop types in general to make for a solid legion.
Haradrim and Easterling conduct in Battle
When I think of a savage army, I think an army that rushes into fight with absolutely no strategy or tactics. I do not think of an army that “is strong and war-hardened and asks no quarter” like the Easterlings. I also do not think of an army that is, like the Haradrim, “bold men and grim and fierce in despair”. When I picture armies like this, I envision soldiers who are very brave, very well-trained and very well disciplined. For example, I picture these as the kind of warriors who would see some enemy facing his/her back to them, but would stay disciplined by engaging a closer-by, more immediate enemy before attacking the other as he/she turns around. I envision these as the kind of people who only do archery lessons with three arrows per day to know how to make every shot count, who learn to ride before learning to walk, who learn combat for the first 25 years of their lives, who have legendarily brutal training, who rely on such battle tactics as Bait & Bash and Phantom Army. Savage or primitive troops are definitely not be capable of boldness, grimness, ferocity, strength, elitism or fearlessness for that matter.
It is very difficult for me to give into the popular myths circulating about these two cultures. Overall, these human nations of fiction were and are extremely advanced even if generally less advanced than Gondor or any of the Elder races. Easterlings and Haradrim are not at all primitives or savages.
Thank you all for reading this large post,