The Men of the Sea: Part I

The first of an article in two parts I had written a while back …

The Númenórean fleet and the voyages throughout Arda

1.0 Introduction

The Númenóreans were, without any doubt, not only the greatest mortal beings, but also the finest mariners in the Second Age. Their skills in the building of ships and Seatheir voyages across the vast seas of the world were unsurpassed by any other race. This article will give a glimpse into the workings of their fleet and how it was organized. Also, it will look into the innumerable navigations that the men of Númenor undertook throughout the wide oceans. I shall be looking mainly at a span of 1523 years: from the first Númenórean ships to arrive in Middle-Earth, until the death of Tar-Minastir, when they began “failing” as a race.

This article contains many references that are appropriately dedicated to Aldarion, one of the Kings of Númenor, and probably one of the greatest Númenórean mariners. In the ‘Unfinished Tales’, not only does Tolkien give us descriptions of the voyages he made, but also how the different havens around the island worked and what the fleet of Númenor consisted of.

Tolkien himself described the Númenóreans as being “the Men of the Sea” giving us a clear idea how much they loved and where closely connected to the waters of Arda.

 2.0 The Númenóreans’ sea-fairing desire

The ‘Unfinished Tales’ is the best source from where we can gather all sorts of material about Númenor which we wouldn’t find in ‘The Silmarillion’ or in any other of Tolkien’s works. In fact, the section dedicated to the Second Age starts off with the chapter ‘A Description of Númenor’, and in it is found all relevant geographical information concerning the island.

Within the pages of this chapter we find a very interesting and explanatory paragraph which sums up a description of the Númenórean’s liking for the sea and a quick account of the main events which I shall be discussing soon:

“Beyond all other pursuits the strong men of Númenor took delight in the Sea…From the fisherfolk were mostly drawn the Mariners … there were shipwrights among them who had been instructed by the Eldar; and by their own study and devices they improved their art until they dared to sail ever further into the deep waters … seafaring became the chief enterprise for daring and hardihood among the men of Númenor…”

From this passage we learn that seafaring was deep within the hearts of the people of Númenor and thanks to the teachings of the Eldar and their own ideas they managed to build a fleet and sail unexplored seas for hundreds of years..

The ‘Akallabêth’ (the account of the Downfall of Númenor) found at the end of ‘The Silmarillion’, contains a similar paragraph about the island’s inhabitants and I include it here for further clarification:

“Above all arts they nourished ship-building and sea-craft, and they became mariners whose like shall never be again since the world was diminished; and voyaging upon the wide seas was the chief feat and adventure of their hardy men in the gallant days of their youth.”

seas 2

2.1 Havens around Númenor

A haven, in simple terms, is some sort of refuge, a safe place where to stay. In this instance, a haven also refers to a harbour or port – an area where ships are kept safely from the power of the sea.

Throughout the chapter ‘A Description of Númenor’, we learn that the island had several havens upon its coasts – to be more precise, three main harbours were to be found on Númenor. The following quotes give us a clear description of where each of these was to be found and there appropriate names that were given to them by the inhabitants:

“Three small bays it had [the area known as Andustar] … the northernmost of these was called the Bay of Andúnië, for there was the great haven of Andúnië (Sunset)…”

Of Andúnië we also find reference in the Akallabêth in this short phrase: 

“Of old the chief city and haven of Númenor was in the midst of its western coasts, and it was called Andúnië because it faced the sunset.”

Quoting once again from the ‘Unfinished Tales’ here follows the description of another haven:

“Between the promontories of the Andustar and Hyarnustar was the great Bay that was called Eldanna, because it faced towards Eressëa … at the centre of the Bay of Eldanna was the most beautiful of all the havens of Númenor, Eldalondë the Green; and hither in the earlier days the swift white ships of the Eldar of Eressëa came most often.”

Sea 3

From this chapter we only learn about two of these havens, whilst the other is mentioned in the next chapter of ‘Unfinished Tales’. From what we can see gather, both harbours were to be found on the west side of the island and one of the reasons for this was due to the dealings between the Númenóreans and the Elves of Eressëa, whom they would often bring gifts out of the Undying Lands to provide to the mortal beings.

At this stage we also read about how the Númenóreans used to get their wood to build their mighty vessels:

“From the days of Tar-Aldarion there were great plantations in the Hyarrostar to furnish timber for ship-building.”

As we shall see when tackling the next chapter of ‘Aldarion and Erendis’, this event will be more clear as we are given explanations on how and why these plantations occurred. Also in this chapter we get to know about the third haven in Númenor:

 “…Rómenna, where was the chief haven of Númenor, the greatest shipyards, and the most skilled shipwrights…”

– ‘Unfinished Tales’: “Aldarion and Erendis”

Unlike the other two havens, Rómenna was situated to the east of the island and this will, later on, prove to be the main harbour from which ships departed to sail on long voyages to Middle-Earth and beyond.

2.2 The Ban of the Valar

Númenor is known as being the ‘Land of Gift’ as it was given to the Edain by the Valar at the end of the First Age for all their efforts fighting against Morgoth. They wereNumenor 1 also given a longer life span, which allowed them to develop into a more advanced society than the lesser men of Middle-Earth.

Although out of all this, the Valar had given them one limitation, that is, not to sail to the West and reach the Undying Lands. As we are told in the Akallabêth : 

“the Lords of Valinor forbade them to sail so far westward that the coasts of Númenor could no longer be seen;” 

This was the price they had to pay in return for their higher status as mortal beings. This Ban both helped their achievements but also proved to be their doom. For being given restrictions to sail to the West, they were free to travel all others seas to the East, allowing them to explore uncharted lands far beyond Númenor:

“… the voyages of the Dúnedain in those days went ever eastward and not westward, from the darkness of the North to the heats of the South, and beyond the South to the Nether Darkness and they came even into the inner seas, and sailed about Middle-Earth and glimpsed from their high prows the Gates of Morning in the East. And the Dúnedain came at times to the shores of the Great Lands …”

– ‘The Silmarillion’: “Akallabêth”

Tolkien also wrote about this Ban in one of his letters and this is what he had to say:

 “…being men of peace, their courage is devoted to sea-voyages. As descendants of Eärendil, they became the supreme mariners, and being barred from the West, they sail to the uttermost north, and south, and east. Mostly they come to the west-shores of Middle-earth …”

– Letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman (1951) 

2.3 The First Voyage to Middle-Earth

It is said, both in the ‘Unfinished Tales’ and in Appendix A of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that the first Númenórean ships appeared on the coasts of Middle-Earth in the year 600 of the Second Age:

 “When six hundred years had passed from the beginning of the Second Age Vëantur, Captain of the King’s Ships under Tar-Elendil, first achieved the voyage to Middle-Earth. He brought his ship Entulessë (which signifies ‘Return’) into Mithlond on the spring winds blowing from the west…”

– ‘Unfinished Tales’: ‘‘A Description of Númenor’’

We are told that the lesser men living by the western shores of Middle-Earth were at first afraid of these majestic people, but soon found out that the ‘Men of the Sea’ were friendly and thought them much about things they did not know.

2.4 The Guild of Venturers

EarendilDuring Tar-Meneldur’s reign, the Guild of Venturers was set up – a meeting place for all the finest mariners in Númenor. It was also useful for keeping records of all their voyages and would have possibly been a sort of training guild from which new mariners where recruited and thought the art of voyaging and shipbuilding.

“Aldarion son of Meneldur … formed the Guild of Venturers, in which were joined all the tried mariners of Númenor;”

– ‘Unfinished Tales’: ‘‘A Description of Númenor’’

In the following chapter, we find two other quotes referencing the Guild. The first explains what has already been said about who formed part of the Venturers.

 “… he [Aldarion] formed the Guild of Venturers, that afterwards was renowned; to that brotherhood were joined all the hardiest and most eager mariners … and Aldarion they called the Great Captain.”

– ‘Unfinished Tales’: “Aldarion and Erendis”

 The next quote provides insight into the exact location of the Guild:

 [Aldarion] had a ship built that should serve as his dwelling-place; he named it therefore Eämbar, and at times he would sail in it from haven to haven of Númenor, but for the most part it lay at anchor off Tol Uinen: and that was a little isle in the bay of Rómenna… Upon Eämbar was the guildhouse of the Venturers, and there were kept the records of their voyages …”

– ‘Unfinished Tales’: “Aldarion and Erendis”

2.5 Númenórean Tradition

Considering the dedication and passion towards the sea, the people of Númenor would have created specific traditions and customs relating to their sea-voyaging art – specifically in giving mariners embarking on a voyage, a proper farewell. We find such instance, once again, in the chapter of ‘Aldarion and Erendis’:

 “when a ship departed from Númenor over the Great Sea to Middle-earth a woman, most often of the captain’s kin, should set upon the vessel’s prow the Green Bough of Return”

This phrase gives us an interesting insight into how these people used to look at sea-faring and the prospect of seeing the return of their ships safely back to their shores.

References:

‘The Silmarillion’

‘Unfinished Tales’

(In the next part of the article I’ll be dealing with Aldarion’s sea voyages and the eventual decline of Númenor)

(Images taken from http://www.john-howe.com and all copyright belongs to the artist)

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12 thoughts on “The Men of the Sea: Part I

  1. Thanks for directing me to this post! It was a pleasure to read so detailed an article on one of Numenor’s most distinctive characteristics.

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