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This might be a silly question, but I've been thinking on it for a day or two. Can you provide me some help?

Since the Elves alone can live for more than 3000 years, is it possible that Middle-earth was over-populated?

I can think of two arguments why it wasn't:

  1. Firstly, the universe isn't as old as our Earth.
  2. Secondly, after some time the Elves would take the boats and leave as Frodo did at the end of the Lord of the Rings series.
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maybe the wars helped keep the population low. Or no elf boning. –  A.D Jan 14 '13 at 10:39
Keep in mind Tolkien's Elves seem to have a low sex drive :P –  Andres F. Jan 14 '13 at 21:38
We don't know about that, @AndresF. They might be doing it like pointy-eared bunnies (err... pointier-eared?) but not getting any results. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jan 15 '13 at 6:05
Actually we do. –  user8252 Jan 16 '13 at 19:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 33 down vote accepted

Elves live for thousands of years, but check out their birth rate. Longevity often comes at reverse corrolation to fecundity, and Middle Earth is no different. Elrond has been around for millenia, since the First Age, and he isn't even a grandfather yet.

Also, theoretical discussions of Malthusian mechanics in Middle Earth nonwithstanding, and without even getting into the topic of urbanization and/or the agricultural technologies needed to sustain population growth, Middle Earth is demonstrably not overpopulated, in the sense that anyone travelling through Middle Earth, in both The Hobbit and LotR, sees that it is mostly empty.

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Thanks so much for your answer.I noticed in the movies that is mostly empty but since i haven't read any of the books,I thought it might have been left out,but you covered me thanks. –  libathos Jan 14 '13 at 10:10
+1. Toward the end of LotR, when Gandalf is talking to Butterbur on the way back through Bree, it is specifically mentioned that there's plenty of room for whole new realms in the area. –  TRiG Jan 14 '13 at 10:36
And in the books and movie both, the company meets no intelligent life between Rivendell and Moria (or even Lothlorien, if you don't consider orcs and trolls intelligent and consider the balrog to not be alive). That journey took weeks if not months. –  jwenting Feb 12 '13 at 9:31
The fellowship haven't met any people because they specifically avoided them :), they travelled off main roads. Eregion after elves left it was never settled by men, but if the company ever wanted to go south to Gap of Rohan they would certainly meet lots of people: Dunledings, but I doubt the fellowship would be happy about that, those people can be rather hostile. –  fantasywind Jul 28 '13 at 15:18

In Tolkien's essay "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar" he address this issue directly. The Elves when they are young seek out spouses and usually have children. However after this is done they sort of lose interest in children and sex in general. They pursue other activities instead. It was sort of his way of solving this overpopulation problem.

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nice answer thanks –  libathos Jan 17 '13 at 7:59
But that doesn't solve the issue, that just compounds it. If elves typically have kids when they're young their birth rate would look about the same as a human population's, except nobody would die from old age. As long as every elf has an average of two baby elves in their life we'd be looking at an exponential increase, making them have those babies early in life only speeds up the process. –  jono Jan 30 '13 at 22:30
What does 'young' mean to an elf? 200? 1000? –  DJClayworth May 20 '14 at 17:00
@jono [Late comment but...] Yep, that's probably a huge issue in Valinor (doubly so what with limited real estate and absolute zero death rate), but fortunately the rampant genocidal wars in Middle-Earth meant that a) most Elves weren't having kids since "they preferred to only in safe/good times" and b) oodles of them were dying of being stabbed, left and right, so population growth of Elves in ME would definitely not look very similar to humans. –  Shisa Sep 28 '14 at 15:13

According to Laws and Customs of Eldar the elves's average number of children is four (rarely more, the absolute record is seven, sons of Feanor) and between one child and another usually there is gap of up to hundred years (so they could focus on rising one child at a time with exception of twins :). Also about their sexuality, ,,union of love is indeed great delight and joy for them" so it's not a problem of their sex drives but rather other natural ways of their lives (the greater part of strength is required for elves to bear children).

Their numbers though is hard to estimate, during the 17 years from Bilbo's party to War of the Ring many High Elves left Middle Earth (and most of those who stayed remained living in Rivendell, Lindon and Grey Havens respectively to the Fourth Age but no longer could sustain large armies, probably no more than to protect themselves at need), we know more about Wood Elves of Mirkwood, their number was in thousands (during the Hobbit Elvenking Thranduil took only one thousand warriors because he didn't expect battle and sought only to secure the Mountain for it's treasure, larger force must have stayed at the Woodland Realm for protection of it's borders), the same with Lothlorien they succesfully defended against Dol Guldur attacks and later led invasion on this fortress (and settled in southern part of Mirkwood calling it East Lorien, also in Lothlorien wood Caras Galadhon was the ,,chief dwelling" implying more than one). There are also references to other elvish clans of Avari living somewhere in the east (six clans listed by Tolkien by their names only).

As for other races, men were increasing in numbers and only suffered losses during wars, plagues that could wipe out whole communities and natural disasters, like great flood that destroyed city of Tharbad. Though Eriador was struck with such a plague and war with Angmar highly depopulated the region, many wide expense of lands were empty, even in late Third Age there were still scattered inhabitants. Besides such places as Bree the race of men lived also in lands of Minhiriath (,,a few secretive hunter-folk") and Enedwaith (part of it that lies near mountains, in Dunland and on coastlands ,,numerous but barbarous fisher-folk" especially in woods of Eryn Vorn) and somewhere in the wild are hidden settlements of Dunedain (some sources tell they live in the Angle south of Trollshaws).

Hobbits quickly increased in numbers especially in times of peace and plenty (Shire seems highly populated and hobbit families are usually very large, though absolute record in number of children belongs to Samwise Gamgee who had 13).

Rohan well we know only of two named large cities Edoras and Aldburg. There are also other named settlements in Rohan: Grimslade in Westfold (ancestral home of Grimbold), the Deeping Coomb ,,rich valley" near Helm's Deep is also home to many people, the valley of Harrowdale is very densely populated and there are two settlements which names were given: Upbourn and Underharrow. From Edoras and surrounding area Theoden brought to Hornburg about thousand armed men, so population was quite big, near the capital, besides this over one thousand men there must have been women, children, old who could not fight. Mainly Rohirrim lived in the valleys of White Mountains and some assume their number as a nation must have been below 100 000 (Wikipedia article estimates that total number of the Rohan's army was about 20 000 and usually soldiers numbers are exceeded by non-combatants, Gondor army is speculated to number total 30 000 men containing all forces from the coastlands and fiefdoms that sent only small part of their forces to Minas Tirith, Gondor also has lot more cities than Rohan so population of Gondor must be bigger than in Rohan)

Dwarves, there is no source showing how numerous was their race, one can assume they numbered many thousands from the Longbeards clan only (there are Seven Houses, Durin's Folk or Longbeards were most numerous, but the rate of birth is low due to small number of dwarf-women) the dwarves maintained many colonies: Erebor, Iron Hills, Ered Luin (Blue Mountains inhabited by three Houses, Longbeards that came with Thrain after Smaug's attack, Broadbeams and Firebeards that didn't go to Moria after the First Age ending with War of Wrath), temporarily in Dunland, settlements in Grey Mountains (abandoned due to the dragons from Withered Heat), later new colony in White Mountains in the Fourth Age. In the 17 years gap between party and War the ancient Great East Road was said to be filled with ,,dwarves..in unusual numbers" many of whom seems to be refugees from four eastern Houses and many Wandering Companies of elves traveled through Eriador. Hard to say much about their numbers or where their permanent settlements were (for example Gildor Inglorion mentioned dwellings of his people but it isn't sure if he meant Rivendell or some other place).

There are of course many other places and whole nations in the East, South, Rhovanion and in the far north (like Lossoth) in unspecified numbers.

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If anything, Middle Earth (at least the parts of it we have direct knowledge of) was severely underpopulated. Which is to be expected, bases on the general technology level (medieval) and the lack of urbanization and mass-production of goods.

There are few numbers given about the actual population in cities, but it's to be noted that there were also very few settlements around which could be described as "cities" even by medieval standards, and definitely none on the scale of a modern-day city; most of them were villages or small towns, and there were quite few of them around, too.

Granted, the neverending state of war wasn't so great for population growth, and, as noted before, elves had a very low birth rate; I think it can be safely assumed that things began to change after the War of the Ring, the downfall of Sauron, the return of the King and the subsequent peace. Not to mention the beginning of the "dominion of Man", which as a species has a definitely greater population growth rate.

Of course, it's also difficult to say anything at all about all the other places in Middle Earth than the northwestern continent, because we don't even have official maps for them and the people living there.

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Other things that are missing are farms. Outside the Shire there seem to be none. There are few to no roads for trade. The folks in Minas Tirith apparently ate rocks. –  Oldcat Nov 2 '13 at 0:15
@oldcat read this about the Pelennor: "The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner, fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin." –  chx Feb 26 '14 at 1:43
Funny, then, that the riders of Rohan and the Oliphants of Mordor rode right over that same field without striking a home, wall, stream or ditch then. And look at the size of Pelennor fields relative to the city. For subsistence farming a large area is needed to produce a surplus that could feed a city. –  Oldcat Feb 26 '14 at 1:59
Pelennor Fields surrounded by walls of Rammas Echor are very wide space much larger than the city, also there is the region of Lossarnach which has much fertile farming land and orchards (and it's relatively close to the city), it's also very populous rural area with much trade going on, Ioreth mentions ,,carriers coming to market" from Lossarnach that weren't able to come by due to war and blocked roads. –  fantasywind May 20 '14 at 16:23

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