Disclaimer: As you might guess from checking the References section, I am not JRR Tolkien, and I do not own any of the referenced works! I am merely playing in his world.
The Decline and Fall of the Noldor in Middle-earth: why the Noldor realms are gone when the silvan/sindarin culture of Mirkwood continues to thrive.
Authors: Aiwen of Minas Tirith, Ivorwen of dol Amroth
Date: Yavie 173, Proceedings of the Royal Historical Society of Minas Tirith
An exploration of why the Noldor declined faster in Middle-earth than other elves, and a comparison of the kingdom of Mirkwood with realms ruled by the Noldor. There is also some discussion of the impact of the War of the Jewels during the First Age. We argue that the decline and fall of the Noldorin realms during the Second and Third Ages is due in large part to factors other than Sauron's enmity towards them. These factors include a low birthrate due to restrictive laws and social mores, and emigration to Valinor.
Introduction: Who were the Noldor, and where are they today?
The Noldor arrived in Middle-earth approximately 7250 years ago, with the rising of the Moon and Sun. They created a system of realms united under a High King. It was the most powerful force of the time that was not serving Morgoth. Today they are gone, for all intents and purposes. A few individuals integrated into other societies, speaking other languages, and often not completely Noldor by blood, are all that is left of them.
Beyond those few individuals, there are legends and histories in mortal libraries, some ruins, music, and rare artifacts of great beauty currently being appreciated by other peoples.
Meanwhile, the silvan elves and the sindar still have a major kingdom in Mirkwood, plus very small realms in the Gray Havens and Edhellond. Why the difference?
Methods and Results: Demographics and Life Tables
Life tables were compiled for the House of Finwe, using Bilbo Baggin's Translations from the Elvish (1419 TA), and some additional histories of Middle-earth assembled by Pengolodh (SA 1697). Unfortunately, we were unable to print the life tables using the Society's printing press, and so they are not shown here. Aiwen still has them, and will mail you a copy on request. Information on Noldor not in the House of Finwe was too incomplete to provide much useful information, especially after the end of the First Age, which is why only the Finwean descendants were included. Statistical analysis was not done due to small sample sizes.
Maglor Feanorian was not included in the tables for the Second Age and beyond, as he has not been involved in any elven society since the first age, and his final fate is not known. Elladan and Elrohir were last seen shortly after their sister's death, and said they were planning to leave for Valinor in the next couple of years.
Despite the limitations of the data, several things are noticable:
1) The extremely high death toll due to violence in the First Age as compared to the Second and Third. FA: 17violent deaths/27people, not including suicide or unknown fates. SA 2/6 people. TA/Early 4thA 0/6
2) The shortage of births in all eras. FA 6 births, SA 1, TA/early 4thA 3.
3) The population drain toward Valinor in the Third and Fourth Ages. FA 0, SA 0, T/early 4thA 5.
Violent Death in the First Age:
During the First Age, the overwhelming cause of decline in population of the Noldor was death by violence in the War of the Jewels.
This war took a horrific toll on everyone in Beleriand. The War of the Jewels is not often discussed in Gondor today due to it having ended nearly 6,700 years ago, before even the founding of Numenor. It was a terrible war. Sauron, whom Gondor knew as the Enemy, was but the servant of Morgoth, the enemy of that time. Morgoth was by every account the most terrible evil Arda has ever faced.
The free peoples of those days lost the War of the Jewels, and it was through the intervention of the Valar and an army of elves from Valinor in the War of Wrath that Morgoth was finally defeated. The War of Wrath left the majority of Beleriand beneath the waves, and the shattered remnants of once-mighty peoples huddled along the new shores of the sea. When kingdoms fell, loss of life was often great. Contrary to Findegil (169 FA)'s claims, this was true of all, not just the Noldor kingdoms. According to Bilbo Baggin, (3019 TA), more than half of Cirdan's people were slain or enslaved when Eglarest and Brithombar fell.
The Second Age began with peace and calm. Most of the edain had left to start new lives in Numenor, and the elves built up a new kingdom on the shores of the sea under the young High King of the Noldor, Ereinion Gil-galad. The Second Age ended in the War of the Last Alliance, with the House of Finwe extinct in the male line and the title gone into abeyance. There were only two deaths in the House of Finwe during the Second Age. The big problem was the lack of births. There was one birth and no marriages among the descendants of Finwe during an Age that was over 3,400 years long, and the single birth was a half-Sindar girl child who was not in the direct male line.
In the Third Age, the Noldor were nearly a spent force. The Grey Havens/what remained of Lindon rarely acted in concert with Rivendell and Lorien, while Mirkwood more or less ignored everyone else and they returned the favor.
Unfortunately, little remains in the way of hard numbers as to how many people died during any of these wars. The records are only reasonably reliable for the House of Finwe, and the numbers are too small for statistical analysis to be of much use. A few things may be noted beyond the death toll from war, however.
Low Birth Rates as a cause of decline
There are very few births. There are not enough to replace losses due to deaths, and to people leaving for Valinor. As best we have been able to discover, this is true of the Noldor across all time periods, and of all social classes. Why were there so few births? Part of the problem may simply be elvish biology: the total number of children elvish women are capable of bearing is limited. The highest number on record is Feanor and Nerdanel's seven sons. In addition, elves attach very deeply emotionally to their spouses, to the point that killing one risks the other dying of grief, as recorded by Pengolodh in his paper on the Laws and Customs of the Eldar (SA year unknown). Even among silvan elves where remarriage is not forbidden, many elves never take another partner if their spouse dies.
Among the Noldor and most Sindar, remarriage is only permitted if the dead spouse decides to, or is forced to, remain in Mandos for the rest of eternity, Pengolodh (SA year unknown). Even when this is the case, remarriage is frowned on and very rare. The only case written in the histories is that of Finwe, who married Indis the Fair after his deceased wife Miriel refused to leave Mandos.
In Middle-earth, the Valar cannot be reached to allow remarriage, so remarriage is effectively illegal under all circumstances. Given the high death toll from the wars, this means many elves sundered from their mates, and not having children.
Low birth rates also stem from the wars and perils on Middle-earth in another way, as according to Finrod Felagund (FA 409), the eldar avoid marrying and having children during wartime. Since Morgoth or Sauron were known to be present in Middle-earth during most of the time the Noldor were present, this likely reduced the birthrate in all save the most peaceful of times.
Valinor as a population sink:
During the first age, this was exacerbated by the many elves who left their spouses behind in Valinor. Examples given by Bilbo Baggins (3019 TA) include Fingolfin and Feanor. Curufin, Maglor, Caranthir and Angrod may be in similar situations, although we have not been able to confirm this. In the Second and Third, it was exacerbated by situations in which one person left for Valinor while the other remained behind. The most famous examples would be Elrond and Celeborn, who stayed in Middle-earth long after their wives sought Valinor.
People leaving for Valinor was not an issue in the First Age, as the exiled Noldor were not permitted to return to Valinor. However, every time there was a war in the Second and Third Age, significant numbers of people would flee Middle-earth. One of them was Pengolodh, the foremost loremaster since Feanor. He left during the War of the Elves vs. Sauron.
The sundering of elven marriages by death or distance, and the effective ban on remarriage, means a large portion of the elvish population wasn't having children, and the situation got worse during every war with every married elf that died or fled.
Among the silvan elves, who make up the vast majority of the Mirkwood population, remarriage was not forbidden (Aiwen, 168FA), and this allowed additional children to be born. Also, Mirkwood is a long way from the sea, unlike Lindon, which was the main Noldor kingdom. That was right next to the ocean.
This meant heading to Valinor was much easier for the elves of Lindon, and exposure to sea-longing more common. Critically, Mirkwood has a tendency to get cut off from the sea when times are very bad, such as during the War of the Elves vs. Sauron. This means that people can't flee when things are at their worst. Lindon was impossible to cut off from the sea, and leaving would have been a constant temptation.
This was made worse yet again by the fact that the Noldor came from over the sea, and had many cultural memories of Valinor. In some cases, such as Glorfindel or Galadriel, they had individual memories of Valinor, and according to Frodo Baggins (3021 TA), a tendency to get homesick.
This led to a much larger drain of population over the sea west than in Mirkwood.
Meanwhile, Sauron seemed determined to either control or kill the Noldor. This led directly to the destruction of Eregion, and massive elvish casualties among the Noldor and Noldor-ruled Sindar in the War of the Elves vs. Sauron.
During the third Age, Sauron did set up in Dol Guldor, in southern Mirkwood for quite a long time. While here, he caused large problems for both Mirkwood and Lorinand. As Findegil states (169 FA), Lorinand was actually on the verge of dissolution when Celeborn and Galadriel arrived there and reorganized things. This would seem like an unmitigated boon, and a strong support for the theory that the Noldor's fall was caused simply by Sauron's greater interest in crushing them. However, consideration of this must not ignore that Lorien was abandoned entirely at the end of the Third Age.
Side-effects of the Elven Rings
To understand why Lorien was abandoned just when Gondor was being reborn, we need to talk about the role of the Rings of Power in the final fall of the Noldor in Middle-earth. Frodo Baggins (3021 TA) states that Galadriel was the bearer of Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. She used its power to help her defend Lorien from both Sauron's minions and the ravages of time. As long as the power of the Rings endured, Lorien became almost a living vision of Valinor itself.
With the One Ring destroyed at the end of the Third Age, the price of this became dramatically obvious as Nenya's power failed. At some point well before 121 FA, Lorien was deserted. Many went west to Tol Eressea, notably including Galadriel. Others went to Rivendell or East Lorien with Lord Celeborn, while Lord Elrond and many of his folk went west for the same reason as Galadriel's did. Elrond bore Vilya, which according to Frodo Baggins (3021 TA), he used to protect Rivendell from enemies, and to maintain memory of things forgotten in the wider world. Again, Rivendell paid a steep price, though at least it wasn't abandoned within a few years.
Meanwhile, Mirkwood had never had a Ring of Power, and Thranduil continues to rule today. His son Legolas founded a small realm in Ithilien, although Legolas left for Tol Eressea in 120 FA .
The Noldor realms in Middle-earth declined and fell for more reasons than Morgoth and Sauron's enmity alone. Low birthrates associated with restrictive marriage laws, emigration to Tol Eressea, and reliance on the Rings of Power also played significant roles.
1 Aiwen of Minas Tirith, 168 FA. A comparison of marriage customs of Mirkwood and historical Noldor. Proceedings of the Royal Historical Society. 312 pp20-26 (Imaginary)
Aiwen of Minas Tirith 166 FA unpublished letters exchanged with Galion. (Imaginary)
Baggins, F. 3021 TA The Red Book of Westmarch. Transcribed for the Minas Tirith library by Findegil, King's Writer. (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit)
Baggins, B. 3019 TA Translations from the Elvish (The Silmarillion)
Felagund, Finrod 409 FA Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth. (Morgoth's Ring 303-366)
Findegil, 169 FA. Proceedings of the Royal Historical Society 311 pp 5-11 (taken from Unfinished Tales pg 316)
Pengolodh, SA 1,697-1,700? History of Middle Earth (The History of Middle-earth)
Pengolodh HoMe, Laws and Customs Among the Eldar, (The War of the Jewels pg 207-?).
A/N: I made life tables for the House of Finwe, but ffdotnet will not display them. It will also not indent, so please forgive my imperfect attempt at APA format!
Dates in this paper are taken/extrapolated from the Tolkien Gateway timelines, except a few cases where I found dates in the primary sources.
I think I have just officially exceeded my prior level of geekiness.