10

When Fingolfin faced the Thangorodrim, apparently he didn't really know what to do, other than noticing that it would not fall from the voices of trumpets.

Did anyone (other than Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, corrupted Númenoreans and perhaps the Lost Tales version of the Elves of Gondolin) in The Silmarillion and the Lord of The Rings construct and use siege engines or other mechanic artillery?

Do we have any reference from the books for crossbows?

Were the explosives used in the War of the Ring to breach Helm's Deep and the Rammas Echor a new, evil invention, or were used before it?

  • 2
    I'm assuming you don't consider the films to be canon. – DBPriGuy Jan 19 '17 at 16:06
  • 3
    NO, I don't. The films have lot of siege engines, but I am asking about the books. – b.Lorenz Jan 19 '17 at 16:11
  • Hm. My guess would be that there was never any mention of the "good" people of middle earth using siege engines. Almost certainly not in LOTR, because siege works exist for the purpose of assaulting a fortified position, and the free people during the events of the books so rarely went on the attack (and when they did, they were fairly desperate affairs). It's possible there could be mention of some amount of siege equipment used in the assault of Morgoth's fortress in the First Age, so for anyone with the book on hand, I would look there. – DBPriGuy Jan 19 '17 at 16:17
  • Some siege engines could be used to destroy other engines, (like in the films in Minas Tirith) In the published Silmarillion, Angbad was never assaulted as conventional siege by the Eldar. Only Gwindor and his companions ran down the stairs, and got entrapped. (probably before the Gate could be closed after the retreating orcs) But we don't now much about the methods the Valar used to besiege Utomno and Angbad. (But it involved the throwing of a great dragon on the Thangorodrim.) – b.Lorenz Jan 19 '17 at 16:26
  • middle-earth.xenite.org/2013/12/02/… – ibid Jan 19 '17 at 19:54
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It is very unlikely that any of the good folk used advanced siege machinery.

In the books, there is little to no description of what a siege is in Tolkien's world. Even with Angband or Mordor's siege, there little more than mentions of "bolts".
The only time "catapult" or "ram" word comes into play is for the Gondor's siege, and it was laid by Sauron.

In his numerous depictions of good versus evil, it is indeed the bad guys who tend to use technology for war and domination. Most of the good folk, even dwarves, use their skills for creation, not destruction.

There is actually a very good reason in-universe for this: the old constructors made almost invincible fortresses.

Dwarves were safe from siege weapons inside the moutains. The ennemy have to dig their own tunnels, break the door or find some hidden passages to hope for any invasion.

The old Númenóreans were mighty constructors, as their legacy stand proof for: first quote is from Pippin, when narrating the Ent siege of Orthanc, second is before Sauron's catapults fired their wicked explosive projectiles.

(Pippin) Many of the Ents were hurling themselves against the Orthanc-rock; but that defeated them. It is very smooth and hard. Some wizardry is in it, perhaps, older and stronger than Saruman’s. Anyway they could not get a grip on it, or make a crack in it; and they were bruising and wounding themselves against it.
LotR, The Two Towers, ch. 9: Flotsam and Jetsam


At first men laughed and did not greatly fear such devices. For the main wall of the City was of great height and marvellous thickness, built ere the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile; and its outward face was like to the Tower of Orthanc, hard and dark and smooth, unconquerable by steel or fire, unbreakable except by some convulsion that would rend the very earth on which it stood.
LotR, The Return of the King, ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor


As for the Elves, most of them relied on subtlety and magic. Lorien's forest wasn't protected with stone walls; and before Doriath, the kingdom of Thingol, had some kind of magical mazes made by Melian, to protect themselves from the dark rule of Morgoth.

So what was the plan of "good folk" when laying siege to evil fortresses?
The answer is hunger:

But some answered: ‘While we yet live? How long? He has a weapon that has brought low many strong places since the world began. Hunger. The roads are cut. Rohan will not come.’
LotR, The Return of the King, ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor



As for your remaining question, I would say that the explosives were not entierly unheard of for anyone that studied military lore against Sauron.

Not only does Aragorn shout "Devilry of Saruman", he also points out that "[the orcs] have lit the fire of Orthanc beneath our feet".
Such explicit naming undoubtely means he's well aware of Saruman's trickery and where they come from originally.

Additionally, it can be noted that there is some reference to "a fire" for Morgoth's army:

Many now fled to the Havens and took refuge behind Cirdan's walls, and the mariners passed up and down the coast and harried the enemy with swift landings. But in the next year, ere the winter was come, Morgoth sent great strength over Hithlum and Nevrast, and they came down the rivers Brithon and Nenning and ravaged all the Falas, and besieged the walls of Brithombar and Eglarest. Smiths and miners and makers of fire they brought with them, and they set up great engines; and valiantly though they were resisted they broke the walls at last.
The Silmarillon, ch. 20

  • Did I remembered incorrectly, that in the Lost Tales Turgon had 'defense engines' in Gondolin? Or it counts at non-canon? – b.Lorenz Jan 19 '17 at 21:44
  • I do not recall any description of "engines" of any sort for Gondolin. I know that it means "hidden rock" in sindarin, so my guess would be the city relied on hidden path and secrecy as its main defense. – Tjafaas Jan 20 '17 at 12:24
  • Maybe weren't called engines, but I do remember for some machines throwing projectiles or fire or whatsoever on the Orcs. But I might remember incorrectly. – b.Lorenz Jan 20 '17 at 20:50
  • @b.Lorenz: Call the Unfinished Tales "semi-canon". They were written by JRRT, but were later reconsidered and changed. They are a useful guide to the evolution of his thinking and certainly can illuminate the books, but it's very dangerous to assume that material unique to Unfinished Tales remained canon. – Mark Olson Apr 2 at 2:17

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