I know that The Lord of the Rings is located in Middle-earth and by the looks of clothes and props, we're looking at well before the 18th century.

What's the best guess at the time period that The Lord of the Rings was set in?

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    This question doesn't make sense. Middle-earth is not Earth. It is another planet, called Arda, of which Middle-earth is simply a part. There are other parts, like Aman.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 14:22
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    @benhowdle89: :) yay knowledge! However, if you were wondering when in earth-history we had technology like that in LoTR. That's roughly the 1000-1500 range. Maybe most closely the 1300's in England.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 14:30
  • @DampeS8N: subsequent comment exchanges moved to chat, starting here. If you'd like your messages deleted from the face of the web, flag them there.
    – user56
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 22:26
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    @DampeS8N But the wiki article says Middle-Earth was an imaginary part of Earth's past... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth Commented May 28, 2011 at 8:43
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    No it said that Arda is like earth and they call it earth, sorta like Earth Bending. Or when you say the Earth beneath your feet.
    – user6486
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 5:45

8 Answers 8


About 6000 years ago. But I don't think the exact details of when were at all important to Tolkien.

Tolkien had written multiple times that Middle-earth is located on our Earth. He has described it as an imaginary period in earth's past, not only in The Lord of the Rings (see Prologue and Appendices), but also in several correspondence letters, estimating the end of the Third Age to about 6,000 years before his own time, and in N.W. Europe (Hobbiton for example was set in same latitude as Oxford), though at times he would also describe elements of the stories as a kind of "...secondary or sub-creational reality" or "Secondary belief" in replies to letters.

From Middle-earth on Wikipedia

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    You can't really argue with the author now can you :-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 17:04
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    Sure you can! Haven't you heard about Jacques Derrida and the Death of the Author? ;-)
    – Martha F.
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 22:54
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    Yes, it's been my impression that the Third Age was "prehistoric" and would have ended no later than the start of the Bronze age in our (modern, human) history. The fact that various myths that echo the Third Age are "dated" to or created much later than this doesn't really matter since they were mere echoes of prehistory.
    – Wayne
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 17:36
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    @MarthaF. That was Roland Barthes. But okay … if the author doesn’t matter … :)
    – fuxia
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 1:22
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    It's worth remembering that Tolkien wrote LOTR/Silmarillion as a MYTHOLOGY, not as a HISTORY. So it's like asking when did The Odyssey take place? Or when was Beowulf born? With mythologies, "a long time ago" will suffice ;) Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 18:00

It was meant to be in this world, about 6,000 years ago. In Letter #211 Tolkien addressed this specifically (the asterisk is to the footnote, reproduced below):

I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap in time between the Fall of Barad-dûr and our Days* is sufficient for 'literary credibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known or surmised of 'pre-history'.

*I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S.A. and T.A. But they have, I think quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.

  • Conveniently for someone with JRRT's day job, 6000 years before present is about the time the Proto-Indo-European language is thought to have first arisen, so the period before that was a relatively blank space for him to fill with invented languages. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 20:41

I'm pretty sure that Tolkien intended his work to be a mythology of our ancient past. It has been speculated that if LOTR ends at the beginning of the 4th age, then we may currently be in the 7th age. That said, the length of an age is arbitrary and the events of the 3rd age do not fall anywhere in our own history. You could think of the 7th age as all of known human history. Anything older than that can only be considered myth.

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    This is true, I believe an influence for Tolkien and C.S.Lewis was a disappointment that England did not really have a 'real' mythology so they toyed with the idea of creating one. This did get mixed in with wanting to create a story to entertain his son, but also he pulled in things like Numenor which I think is reasonable to associate with Atlantis and Atlantean myth.
    – tonylo
    Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 2:44
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    I never got the impression that "ages" were measured in years or had anything like a standard length, so much as descriptions of fundamentally different stages of existence. We're at least in the 4th age now; I'd be interested to hear your sources about this being the 7th, that sounds quite fascinating. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 14:35
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    @MarkBeadles I wish I remembered where that idea came from. I get a lot of information from The Tolkien Professor.
    – TGnat
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:16

I figured the stories took place pre-Genesis (in the Gap-Theory gap) like Robert E. Howard's Conan- Hyborian Age.


Edit: please note that the question explicitly states the time frame from 'the real world' and makes references to film props etc. therefore what the author intended is not the question. The questions is purely concerned with where in the course of real history the films would be fit in.

If you wish to downvote, please feel free but could you also leave a comment so I know why?

Looking at the films Gondor is about 1450 and the shire is about 18c.

Please note this is based upon the full plate armour used by gondor's soldiers, orcs and elves (eg barbutes), the pole block tactics used by the orcs, the agricultural machines used in the shire and the crockery and cutlery used by hobbits etc.

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    Tolkien was definitely aiming for earlier than that, and I don't think the movies missed the mark by that far.
    – user56
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 16:42
  • It is not a judgement call, i am basing my comments on te ahown equipment.The armour used in gondor was full plate with maille which did not exist in that form until 15c. The machines and equipment in the shire came about in the industrial revolution in the 17 hundreds. Could you please point out where I am wrong?
    – Stefan
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 18:38
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    You are basing your answer as if the work took place during the normal course of European history. The author himself clearly stated that his works took place in a past history that was much earlier than 1450-1750 by a few thousand years. For example, orcs and elves did not exist in 1450, so it's not useful to claim that orcs and elves using plate armor puts it in 1450. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 14:33
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    The question references what the props and clothes looked like, not what the author envisaged. The question specifically mentions that we are looking 'way pre 18c' so it seems clear that the poster is asking which period in real history most closely matches the time period shown in the films, rather than which period in ME history. Hence my referencing the time period of the props shown in the film as did the poster.
    – Stefan
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:49
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    actually, while this is not a correct answer, this is one of the correct answers. I reckon the OPs intention was to know when it could happen in our reality, basing on deco/props - and this answer is quite good in telling that.
    – user24069
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 9:29

The Lord of the Rings took place about 9,300 years ago, give or take 500 years.

In 1960, Tolkien said that the year "Bel. 310" was 16,000 years ago.

If they [Men] awoke in VY [=Valian Year] 1050 that would give 40 VYs, or 5,760 Sun Years in which Melkor could have dealings with them and corrupt them, before his captivity. The Atani entered Beleriand in 310 Bel. That is in the 22nd Sun-year of VY 1498. Men had then existed for 448 VYs + 22 SYs: i.e., 64,534 Sun Years, which, though doubtless insufficient scientifically (since that is only – we being in 1960 of the 7th Age – 16,000 years ago: total about 80,000), is adequate for purposes of the Silmarillion, etc.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Awaking of the Quendi"

Carl Hofstetter notes that the year "Bel. 310" was 6,752 years before the end of the third age.

Therefore, if Men entered Beleriand in Bel. 310, and the First Age ended c. Bel. 600 (cf. XI:346), then that entrance occurred 290 + SA 3441 + TA 3021 = 6,752 years before the end of the Third Age.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Awaking of the Quendi", note 30

Adding on another 61 years brings us from 1960 to 2021.

16,000 - 6,752 + 61 = 9,309

Tolkien's 16,000 year estimate was probably rounded, so 9,300±500.

Note that some of the other answers quote a letter from Tolkien where he gave an estimate of 6,000 years. However that letter was written in 1958, two years prior to the text I've quoted. Also that letter is written in more ad-hoc style, without the precise calculations found in this text.


C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy was a collaboration, taking place in our universe. In fact, C.S. Lewis referred to Numinor several times over the course of his book That Hideous Strength, which was set in post-WWII England.

From the Prelude he writes:

Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the [manuscript] of my friend, Professor J. R. R. Tolkien.

According to the antagonists in C.S.Lewis' book That Hideous Strength, it would have been sometime before 110,000 years ago (before the beginning of the last glacial period).

In discussing Merlin, Frost states:

"What we have here," said Frost pointing to the sleeper, "is not, you see, something from the fifth century. It is the last vestige, surviving into the fifth century, of something much more remote. Something that comes down from long before the Great Disaster, even before primitive druidism; something that takes us back to Numinor, to pre-glacial periods."

Of course, these are the same folks that predicted that Merlin would join their side, and were subsequently devoured by their own future vivisection experiments; take what they say with a grain of salt. ;)

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    what does any of this have to do with Tolkien?
    – zipquincy
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 19:50
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    C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet series and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series began as a collaboration between Tolkein and Lewis. Both take place in the same universe. I answer as if this is common knowledge, which it is not...
    – S. Albano
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 23:20
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    @s-albano "take place in the same universe"? That's not how I remember silent planet series. They take place on Mars and Venus IIRC. How is this connected to middle earth?
    – zipquincy
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 16:23
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    Yes, it is not obvious unless you read the Prelude by C.S. Lewis. Elwin ('Elf Friend') Ransom, descendent of Aragorn, gets to sail the straight path to the undying lands in the first two books, and even gets to meet two of the Valar. In the third book, it is revealed that his journey has removed the non-interference requirement for the Valar on earth (existing since the destruction of Numenor). Dr. Ransom convinces Merlin to allow the Valar to be channelled through him so they can destroy a town that has been taken over by the Nazi-like organization, N.I.C.E.
    – S. Albano
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 21:26
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    @s-albano sounds like Lewis was writing fan-fic :) Did Tolkien endorse Lewis's work here (even if it started as a collab)? I would not consider this work to be LOTR canon.
    – zipquincy
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 16:05

Seeing how Lord of the Rings stems from Beowulf and the Nibelung saga as well as the Poetic Edda, 5th to 6th century would be a good guess.

The sword that was broken and remade, the cursed ring, invisibility, the dragon and his hoard, and the stolen goblet, and even many of the names (Gandalf, Balin, Durin, anyone?) stem from there.

  • It's not "invisibility"
    – juan
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 16:04
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    Well, the ring effectively makes the one who puts it on invisible to others, not much different than Gyges' ring (which incidentially was found in a cave and had a life of its own) or Alberich's invisibility cap (there's a cursed ring and a dragon hoard in the story with Alberich, too). I'm just saying that the key story elements are all there in the "stories of old".
    – dm.skt
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 16:16
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    These are real-world sources of inspiration, but Beowulf and other legends do not exist within the context of Tolkien's universe.
    – user56
    Commented Mar 3, 2011 at 22:34
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    5th adn 6th centuries are far too early for the plate armour, pole blocks, castles and agricultural machinary shown at the shire.
    – Stefan
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 13:38

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