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  • Updated 2 April 2024
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Robbers of the North

A Dunlending name for the Rohirrim

At the end of the Third Age, the Dunlendings still held a centuries-long grudge against the Rohirrim. The land of Rohan had historically been a province of the South-kingdom of Gondor, and was granted to Eorl and his people in III 2510, thus creating the land of Rohan. In the process, Dunlendings dwelling in the western parts of the province were driven out, and so these people came to see the Rohirrim as 'Robbers of the North'. This grudge would have important effects across the history of Rohan.


The Dunlendings originated in the White Mountains, who departed from those mountains during the Dark Years of the Second Age and migrated northward. Some of these migrants settled in the western foothills of the Misty Mountains, giving rise to Dunland. After the founding of Gondor in the last years of the Second Age, the Gap of Calenardhon was closed to the Dunlendings, and so any eastward migration from Dunland became impossible.

This situation changed in the later history of Gondor. The population of Calenardhon dwindled, especially after the Great Plague of III 1635, and Gondor's watch on its western borders, far from its great eastern cities, began to fail. In the time of the Watchful Peace (III 2063 - III 2460) the guard was effectively abandoned, and the fortresses that had watched the Gap of Calenardhon fell into the hands of local chieftains. Now the Dunlendings began to move through the Gap and settle the lands of western Calenardhon, with the connivance of the garrison chieftains (who often had Dunlending blood themselves).

The Coming of the Rohirrim

While these lands eastward of the Gap of Calenardhon were nominally under the power of Gondor, the Dunlendings were able to build settlements there for several centuries, disregarded by the rulers of the South-kingdom. This situation changed radically in III 2510, after Sauron returned from the East and orchestrated devastating attacks against Gondor. Steward Cirion sent a desperate plea to the Éothéod, old allies of Gondor now dwelling in the far North, and the Men of the Éothéod answered. Led by Eorl the Young, they rode southward and saved Gondor from invading Balchoth. As a reward, Cirion granted then entire province of Calenardhon to Eorl and his people, including those western parts where the Dunlendings had settled over the preceding centuries.

Under the rule of Eorl, the new land (which would come to be known as Rohan) was troubled by further attacks from the east, and so the Dunlendings in the west were left undisturbed for a time. Eorl's successor Brego, however, turned his attention to these occupants of his western lands. At this time the Rohirrim were beginning to prosper and increase in numbers, and Brego began to drive the Dunlendings back across the river Isen and reclaim the western parts of his realm. Brego's successor Aldor the Old went further, forcing most1 of the remaining Dunlendings out of Rohan.

To the Rohirrim, this was simply a matter of reclaiming the land that was rightfully theirs, but the Dunlendings saw things differently, viewing the Rohirrim as interlopers who had driven them from lands they had held for centuries. So the Dunlendings began to refer to the Rohirrim as the 'Robbers of the North', forging an enmity that would last for centuries.

Aldor's expulsion of the Dunlendings proved far from permanent. At first they crept secretly over the border to make settlements in the valleys of the Misty Mountains above Isengard, but over time they became bolder. It was later discovered that the hereditary Lord of Isengard had mixed Dunlending blood, and was aiding the interlopers. By the time of Aldor's great-great-grandson King Déor, the Dunlendings were openly raiding the lands of Rohan, and the Rohirrim were forced to maintain a permanent force of Horsemen in the north of the land to watch for raiders. To make matters worse, the Dunlendings took control of the Circle of Isengard, whose impenetrable defences the Rohirrim could not hope to breach.

The Long Winter and Its Aftermath

Tensions between the Dunlendings and Rohirrim reached a crisis during the reign of Déor's grandson Helm Hammerhand. At that time a Man named Freca held lands along the river Adorn in the far west of Rohan. This Freca was thought to be partly descended from the Dunlendings, but also claimed to belong to a branch of Rohan's royal line. He rode with an escort to Edoras to demand the wedding of Helm's daughter to his son Wulf. Helm met this impertinence not only with refusal, but also with a powerful and fatal blow from his fist.

After Freca's death, the Dunlendings began to plan their revenge in earnest. Four years later, in III 2758, attacks from the east distracted the warriors of Rohan, and the Dunlendings seized their chance. Rohan was overrun, and Freca's son Wulf placed himself on the throne in Edoras. Meanwhile King Helm and people were driven to shelter in the deep valley that would become known as Helm's Deep, as the snows of the Long Winter descended on the land.

Helm Hammerhand and both his sons were lost in the war with the Dunlendings, but in the following year Helm's nephew Fréaláf led a daring raid on Edoras and overthrew the invader Wulf. With the aid of Gondor, the Rohirrim were able to re-establish their realm. Even Isengard was recovered from the Dunlendings, who abandoned their stronghold aftering been reduced to starvation by the Long Winter. So the Dunlendings were once again driven out of Rohan, and their hatred for the Robbers of the North grew even greater.

With Helm and his sons lost in the war, Fréaláf was the natural heir to the throne of Rohan, and he was crowned in III 2759. At his coronation, the Wizard Saruman appeared, bringing gifts for the Rohirrim and praising their prowess in battle. He persuaded Steward Beren of Gondor to grant him the Tower of Orthanc as his abode, and at the time this seemed a wise course. For many years, Saruman acted as a faithful ally to the Men of Rohan, offering aid as they recovered from the hardships of the Long Winter and the Dunlending invasion.

The War of the Ring

If Saruman had begun as a friend of Rohan, over time his ambition grew, and he dared to use the palantìr he had found in Orthanc, which allowed the Dark Lord to ensnare him. In III 2953 Saruman abandoned all pretence, claiming Isengard as his own domain, and beginning to build armies. He found the Dunlendings eager to join a campaign against their old foes, the Robbers of the North. Thus they joined with Saruman's Orcs and prepared for to invade Rohan (or, from their perspective, to recover their stolen lands).

Saruman put many of the Dunlendings to work as agents and spies, and it was these Men that he sent to establish his influence in the Shire and scout the lands about. Some of these were said to have Orc-blood in their ancestry (and one of these was encountered by Frodo Baggins and his companions as they passed through Bree). By no means all of the Dunlendings in service to Saruman were spies, however. Many were warriors, and they took part in the invasion of Rohan when it was launched on 24 February III 3019. That was the date of the First Battle of the Fords of Isen, in which Saruman's forces (including many Dunlending horsemen) attacked Rohan's western defences at the Fords of Isen. The defenders resisted that first assault, but King Théoden's heir Théodred was slain in the fighting, and this indeed was Saruman's primary aim in that initial attack.

Seven days later, Saruman's forces renewed their assault on the Fords, and this time they succeeded in breaking the defence. Now the way was open for the Dunlendings to enter the lands that they claimed as their own. Accompanied by their allies the Orcs, they began to march across Rohan, heading for its main western fortifications at Helm's Deep.

The army reached Helm's Deep as night fell on 3 March III 3019, where they found that the Hornburg was heavily defended. King Théoden had led his Riders there earlier the same day, and the keep and the Deeping-wall were now held against the invaders. Nonetheless, the Dunlendings and Orcs heavily outnumbered the defenders, and the ensuing Battle of the Hornburg was fierce. It was during this battle that the insult 'Robbers of the North' was hurled at the Rohirrim by the Dunlendings, who must at that time have thought themselves close to finally defeating their old enemies.

It was not to be. Though the Dunlendings and the Orcs won early victories in the battle, the Rohirrim gained reinforcements and were able to turn the tide. Saruman had told the Dunlendings that the Rohirrim were monstrous, and favoured burning their enemies alive. Nonetheless, many of them surrendered, and found that Saruman had been lying to them. Far from being burned alive, they were set to repairing the damage of the battle, and then released back to the hills of Dunland. Whether they continued to nurse their hatred of the Rohirrim after the War of the Ring, we are not told, but at least some of those who survived the Battle of the Hornburg came to view the 'Robbers of the North' in a new light.


Notes

1

King Aldor did not apparently drive every single Dunlending out of his land. In the chronicles of the time, it's said that he '...drove out or subdued the last of the Dunlendish people that lingered east of Isen.' (The Lord of the Rings Appendix A II, The House of Eorl, our italics). The word 'subdued' here suggests that some of the remaining Dunlendings chose to accept the rule of the Rohirrim, at least for a time, and apparently remained peacefully within the land.

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  • Updated 2 April 2024
  • Updates planned: 1

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