18

With reference to material from the books as quoted in this question, it appears Aragorn's army gained the upper hand. Although Sauron sent the Nazgul to turn the tide, the Eagles arrived in time to keep the air battle in check. The battle ended prematurely because of the destruction of the One Ring.

Considering the current state of the battle at that point, is it possible for Aragorn's army to emerge victorious against Sauron's army if the battle is allowed to run its course (ie. if the Ring was neither destroyed at Mt Doom nor recovered by Sauron before the battle's end)?

Edit: I feel like people aren't seeing what I'm looking at. I'm referring to this passage quoted in an answer for the question I linked earlier:

Against the Host of the West was arrayed all of Sauron's hordes of orcs, Trolls, and barbarian Mannish allies such as the Easterlings and Southrons (Haradrim). An exact count is not given of the number of Sauron's forces, but it is said that they were "ten times and more than ten times" greater than the Host of the West, making it a force of at least 60,000. Sauron's forces surrounded the Armies of the West on three sides, with the Easterlings on the left flank, the Orcs held the center, and the Haradrim on the right. The Armies of the West always had cohesive stability within their center and kept the Enemy from breaking through by force of numbers. The solid infantry squares of Gondor infantry beat off their inferior Orcish opponents while the Rohirrim cavalrymen staved off the archers of the Harad. The small force of Easterlings launched a quick attack before being repulsed by the armies of Gondor and Rohirrim while the larger Haradrim force slowly retreated to the hills. By now, pressure had eased off of the flanks of the Armies of the West, who smashed into the lines of the Orc-host, slowly beating them off and forcing a retreat back through the Black Gate (though not without suffering sizable losses of their own).

If the army of Mordor, after emptying the land of his dark host, still ends up in retreat before Aragorn's advance, does it not mean that the odds of victory is actually more than negligible if the battle is permitted to play out with the Ring neither destroyed nor returned? The Army of the West is no longer outflanked, the Orcs couldn't hold the line, the Nazgul were focused on the Eagles.

  • Considering how many times Saruman's forces were repelled in the Battle of Hornburg, another battle the forces of evil would have won without outside intervention, I think Orcs and Easterlings just scare easily. The good guys keep pushing them back, but they never actually seem to lessen in number. – DaaaahWhoosh Nov 20 '15 at 14:58
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    I think you've been misled by that other question. The quoted text is from lotr.wikia.com, which seems to be basing its various details on the movie, not the book. There is no indication in the book of the Haradrim or the Orcs retreating, and certainly no suggestion that the outnumbered defenders left their relatively safe hills to drive the forces of Mordor back through the Black Gate. – Tim Pederick Nov 20 '15 at 15:23
  • Indeed. In fact, in the book, the Host of the West is pretty much just being crushed when the Eagles arrive, and only the destruction of the Ring suddenly turns around the fortunes. – leftaroundabout Nov 20 '15 at 16:30
31

I hesitate to say "no", but it seems incredibly unlikely. From Return of the King (emphasis mine):

The Captains mounted again and rode back, and from the host of Mordor there went up a jeering yell. Dust rose smothering the air, as from nearby there marched up an army of Easterlings that had waited for the signal in the shadows of Ered Lithui beyond the further Tower. Down from the hills on either side of the Morannon poured Orcs innumerable. The men of the West were trapped, and soon. All about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies. Sauron had taken the proffered bait in jaws of steel.

Return of the King Book V Chapter 10: "The Black Gate Opens"

And (emphasis mine):

All about the hills the hosts of Mordor raged. The Captains of the West were foundering in a gathering sea. The sun gleamed red, and under the wings of the Nazgûl the shadows of death fell dark upon the earth.

Return of the King Book VI Chapter 4: "The Field of Cormallen"

The probability of any army defeating a force more than ten times its size is, while not quite zero, exceedingly low.

  • 18
    In ancient battles, surrounding your enemy was often a battle-winning move by itself, even if your own forces were outnumbered... with an army ten times the size that of your enemy, you'd have to try very hard to lose in such a situation. – evilsoup Nov 19 '15 at 18:27
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    But to be fair Aragorn had many mighty men with him. Like his fellow Dúnedain: “If these men are your kin, Milord Aragorn, thirty of them are a force not to be measured by its number”. Tolkien’s heroes often have superpowers. I mean … Fingolfin – who’s just an elf – fights Morgoth – a Vala – on even terms! – Michael Nov 19 '15 at 21:17
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    Keep in mind also that the whole plan was for the battle to be a diversion to let Frodo finish his mission. They wanted Sauron to think they had the ring. Without the ring, the attack on Mordor was a suicide mission, so the fact that they were attacking was meant to make Sauron think they must have had the ring to attempt something so foolish. – Lucien Stals Nov 19 '15 at 23:52
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    @Michael True, but there's also a consistent theme of decline; the amount of Big and Awesome decreases as a function of time, and everything tends towards the mundane. Aragorn's Dúnedain seemed impressive to Théoden, but they don't hold a candle to the might of Númenor or the heroes of the First Age – Jason Baker Nov 20 '15 at 0:01
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    @LucienStals True but, to my mind, irrelevant for the purpose of this question. There's a difference between not expecting to win a battle and not being able to – Jason Baker Nov 20 '15 at 0:02
15

It's been years since my most recent reading of the books. Unfortunately, I don't have access to them now, so can't provide quotes. However, my recollection is that nearly all the leaders on Aragorn's side - including Gandalf - considered it a hopeless cause in terms of expecting to win the battle on the battlefield. They were vastly outnumbered, many of their troops were not well trained, and they were weary, having already fought a big battle. So, to answer your question: No, Aragorn's forces were not going to win ... or if you want to go Nate Silver, they had a very, very small chance of winning.

The point of challenging Sauron's forces at the Black Gate was to make Sauron believe they had the One Ring, since if Aragorn (or Gandalf or another strong being) had the Ring and wielded it, they would have a chance to win the battle in spite of the numbers; however, Sauron's actions show that he would still challenge them, hoping to use his superior numbers to re-capture the Ring. Thus, the attack on the Black Gate was a feint by Gandalf and Aragorn to keep Sauron's attention - and forces - outside Mordor long enough to allow Frodo and Sam (with unintentional help from Gollum) to complete the task of destroying the ring.

11

It certainly was never the plan to win this battle by military means. At Tʜᴇ Lᴀꜱᴛ Dᴇʙᴀᴛᴇ,

[said Gandalf]...‘This, then, is my counsel. We have not the Ring. In wisdom or great folly it has been sent away to be destroyed, lest it destroy us. Without it we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail tough it be.
‘As Aragorn has begun, so we must go on. We must push Sauron to his last throw. We must call out his hidden strength, so he shall empty his land. We must march out to meet him at once. We must make ourselves the bait, though his jaws should close on us.

and

’I do not counsel you to leave the City all unmanned. Indeed the force that we lead east need not be great enough for an assault in earnest upor Mordor, so long as it be great enough to challenge battle.

So, the alliance was fully aware that they would scarcely be able to win the Battle of the Black Gate, but had to fight it nevertheless in hopes of helping Frodo this way to destroy the Ring.

  • Not planning to win doesn't mean you won't have a chance to actually win, which is what I'm asking. It's possible for their expectations to lose to be wrong - not Gandalf's first time being wrong anyway. Look at the edit I added to my question. It certainly didn't read like they were hopelessly outmatched at all. – thegreatjedi Nov 20 '15 at 10:26
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    @thegreatjedi: of course things could have ended up different from everybody's plans. But if Gandalf's reckoning of the alliance's military power vs. Mordor's had been so much too pessimistic, then Sauron wouldn't have attacked the Host at all, he'd just left them before the gate to starve. The only way the West could have won in battle is by some secret weapon that Sauron could not just have seen marching towards him across the desert. And they did't have such a weapon, that's what Gandalf knew. (Ok, there's the Eagles; but they alone couldn't have turned the battle either.) – leftaroundabout Nov 20 '15 at 16:41
-1

I think all answers will be opinion based - but in terms of precedent, one could assume that like the Battle of Dagorlad - Sauron have would entered the fray himself (in his less than coporeal, weakened state but still attempted to intervene none the less, if, as the purpose of the ruse was, to make Sauron think Aragorn had the ring)

  • 2
    Since I placed this under the assumption that Sauron would not yet recover the Ring, this is actually one of the few things that will certainly not happen. Without the Ring, Sauron was severely weakened - it took millenia before he could even restore a corporeal form by the time of the Hobbit, and by the time of this battle, he was still not strong enough to fight. In other words, he poured so much of his essence into the Ring that its sudden loss meant that, to this day, his well being is still "on cooldown" – thegreatjedi Nov 19 '15 at 16:43
  • fair enough but I might disagree - he was strong enough in the form of the Necromancer to rumble with Gandalf. I'm not saying he would have been full corporeal and decked out in armor but he could have found a way to intervene on some level I suspect if it was dire enough. – NKCampbell Nov 19 '15 at 16:48
  • In the movies he rumbled with Gandalf. That didn't happen in the books though. Unless I'm misremembering, in the books, Gandalf went into the fortress of Mirkwood and then got out himself, without being caught. – Andy Mercer Nov 19 '15 at 17:46
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    Gil-Galad didn't cast down or defeat Sauron - that was Isildur and subsequently (and permanently) Frodo. Also - how do you get better after being killed? Sauron wasn't truly defeated until the ring was cast into Mt. Doom. As @thegreatjedi said, he lost much of his essence and power but was still in existence after the loss (but not destruction) of the One Ring. – NKCampbell Nov 19 '15 at 20:04
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    @Nathan K. Campbell That was one way to read it I suppose, but I always read as Gil-Galad and Elendil defeating Sauron, while dying in the process and Isildur merely cut the Ring from his fallen body. – suchiuomizu Nov 20 '15 at 4:28

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