According to TolkienGateway.net, Mordor's troops consisted of some 18,000 Easterlings and Haradrim, several Haradrim war Oliphaunts, and tens of thousands of Orcs just for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Estimates for the number of orcs are over 50,000, with the full army size at 75,000.

Sauron had over 60,000 orcs, trolls, beasts, and Easterlings in reserve back in Mordor. These forces were unleashed through the Black Gate at the Battle of the Morannon.

During the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Sauron also sent many Easterlings to fight in the Battle of Dale.

Sauron also lost several thousand orcs in the Fall of Dol Goldur, a few hundred in the Siege of Gondor, and a few hundred in the Attack on Osgiliath.

Adding those up, Sauron likely had at least 140,000 soldiers under his command.

How did Sauron feed an army that size?

The land in the western parts of Mordor was largely infertile, producing only sparse brambles. The southern part of Mordor, Nurn, was slighly more fertile, and moist enough to carry the inland sea of Núrnen. Nurn was made somewhat fertile because the ash blown from Mount Doom left its soil nutrient rich, thus allowing dry-land farming. And according to TolkienGateway.net, the inland sea of Núrn was salty, not freshwater.

He's not growing crops and planting gardens. Nor is there enough plant life in Mordor for grazing animals like sheep or goats. Nor was the water fit for irrigating crops.

We know orcs eat (and hate) maggoty bread, but prefer fresh meat:

enter image description here

So what did they eat?

As usual, I prefer answers with specific quotes from the books, but I will accept quotes from the movies. My policy is that "Quotes get Votes", meaning if you provide citations and exact quotes for your answers instead of unsupported speculation, I am more likely to vote for your answer.

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    By decapitating random orcs and saying Looks like Meat's back on the menu boys :P – Aegon Feb 21 '17 at 6:37
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    @Aegon Ah, but if orcs slayed their fellow soldiers for every meal, the army would soon dwindle. If a dead orc can feed 20 orcs for a day, then every day, Sauron's army gets 5% smaller. All Gondor would have to do is wait until Sauron's army was small enough to kill on a Sunday picnic. – RichS Feb 21 '17 at 6:41
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    I'm guessing they were hungry a lot and this is why they were so angry and stressed out. A good superfood meal and a stress ball would have helped a lot of them become more mindful and productive members of society... ;-) – Toby Feb 21 '17 at 10:05
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    The ring of power was lost for 2640 years. Sauron had a lot of time on his hands and he knew he'd eventually need to feed a sizeable army, so he made a lot of frozen dishes using his favorite recipes. Of course he had Mount Doom at his disposal, so thawing fifty thousand casseroles at dinner time was never a problem. – user100464 Feb 21 '17 at 15:36
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    You say you prefer book-based answers, but then include a quote from the films which appears nowhere in the books. Might be worth removing the gif and the "prefer fresh meat" claim, so as to reduce confusion? – Rand al'Thor Feb 21 '17 at 21:59

You're not the first to have asked this question; in fact Sam pondered the very same thing on the way to Mount Doom (RotK Book VI Chapter 2: The Land of Shadow):

'I don't like the look of things at all,' said Sam. 'Pretty hopeless, I call it – saving that where there's such a lot of folk there must be wells or water, not to mention food. And these are Men not Orcs, or my eyes are all wrong.'

To which the author notes:

Neither he nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Nurnen; nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands, from which the soldiers of the Tower brought long waggon-trains of goods and booty and fresh slaves.

So it was a combination of:

  1. Food grown in the fertile lands by the Sea of Nurn, and,
  2. Imported tribute from other lands.

Tolkien Gateway's statement that the Sea of Nurn was salt water appears to be a fabrication with no authorial warrant whatsoever. Read the books instead.

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    Maps in the books show the Sea of Nurn as having rivers flowing into it, but no outflow. Such seas are, in reality, salty. So it's a reasonable assumption by Tolkien Gateway, rather than a complete fabrication. – armb Feb 21 '17 at 17:16
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    @armb: Not necessarily. For instance Pyramid & Walker Lakes, in Nevada's Great Basin, are only slightly salty. The reason is that they had outflows in wetter times (over 10,000 years ago), and it takes a really long time to accumulate significant amounts of salt. – jamesqf Feb 21 '17 at 19:38
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    @jamesqf True. It is described as "bitter" in The Two Towers though. – armb Feb 21 '17 at 22:44
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    @ armb - no visible, above ground outflow. There are real lakes, such as Lake Naivasha, that has no visible outflows, but is not salty. It is assued to have an underground outflow, as discussed at books.google.ca/… – Scott Feb 21 '17 at 22:47
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    @armb: Yes, 'bitter', not 'salty'. Could easily have been a somewhat alkaline lake, or have carbonate minerals forming tufa deposits, like Pyramid. – jamesqf Feb 22 '17 at 1:02

In addition to the answer above, the only additional information I can add is some of Karyn Wynn Fonstad's maps from the Atlas of Middle Earth. These include climate maps showing the area around the Sea of Núrnen as being Semi-Arid and mostly plains and bottomlands.

enter image description here

The first image suggests that the land was Semi-Arid, and slightly further South, in Harad, the climate was more humid. The second image suggests that the area around the Sea of Núrnen, was surrounded by Plains and Bottomlands. Providing the ability for food to be grown in the surrounding area.

enter image description here

As an non-canonical aside, most of the plot of the game Shadow of Mordor occurs in Nurn

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    Adding additional information in addition :P – Penguin9 Feb 22 '17 at 9:08

Nurn was the name given to the southern regions of Mordor, more fertile than Gorgoroth in the north, in which the great inland Sea of Núrnen lay. The people who inhabited Nurn were Men and there may have been prisoners of war there as well. These people were enslaved by Sauron, working the soil around the sea of Nurn to feed Sauron's armies.

Further cited references Christopher Tolkien's Unfinished Tales and The Lord of the Rings: Readers Companion - Hammond and Scull (eds)

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I can't remember which of the four books it's from, but at some point, Frodo and Sam are sneaking by a couple of Orc guards who are discussing going into farming after the war.

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    Do you mean 3 or 6 books? Under no reckoning is there 4 books? – Edlothiad Oct 13 at 6:48
  • Four books could very easily refer to LotR + The Hobbit. – Eric Nolan Oct 13 at 9:32
  • Your answer mentions a possible option for feeding orcs after the war, but what about during the war? If you expand your answer to provide context about how farming plans for the future indicate food distribution during the war, and provide quotes from the books to support those, then your answer be better. – RichS Oct 14 at 18:22

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