I know that Tolkien served in World War I, in which more than 20 million died. And he also witnessed World War II, in which more than 70 million people died.

So why did Tolkien limit the number on both sides to thousands instead of millions?

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    Because an Orcish army of millions would have rolled over Middle-earth in a matter of hours.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 0:09
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    Why would you compare the numbers of soldiers in a fantasy army to those of the World Wars? Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 2:11
  • 15
    Development of synthetic ammonia in industrial farming. Communication and transportation used to move populations and troops. Gatling guns. Hand grenades. Tanks. Airplanes. Chlorine gas. Nuclear bombs.
    – Misha R
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 2:11
  • 6
    Related question: do we know the size of the area the orcs came from/reproduced in? Perhaps Middle Earth is just smaller than Modern Earth. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 14:00
  • 15
    Tolkien more than once insisted that his works were not allegorical, no matter how much readers have drawn parallels to real history. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 17:22

8 Answers 8


"Amateurs think tactics, professionals think logistics"

The above is a much-repeated quote because it is still relevant. Quite simply, in a pre-industrial setting it is not possible to field armies of millions because it is not possible to feed them.

The biggest pre-industrial army groups were around 100,000 individuals (for example, the Mongol thrust into Europe and the army Rome sent to fight Hannibal at Cannae). This was the upper limit of an army that could be supplied even when stripping bare of supplies the area that they conquered (Mongols) or fighting with very short supply lines (Romans at Cannae).

Tolkien had studied his history and knew the logistic challenges. The low magic setting of Middle-Earth did not provide magical creation of vast amounts of food, army-supplying bags of holding or teleport resupply from warehouses at home, so he kept the army sizes consistent with what his setting allowed.

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    Beyond that, there's nothing to suggest that Middle-Earth in the Third Age was particularly heavily populated.
    – user888379
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 0:34
  • 83
    And much to suggest that the population is quite sparse in most parts. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 4:15
  • 9
    The Persian army in the second invasion of Greece numbered more than a million according to contemporary sources. Modern historians doubt it for the reasons you name, but then they have to doubt everything or they wouldn't have a job. :) To be fair, even early historians thought the numbers were exaggerated - Gibbon quotes a late Roman historian that, upon seeing the huge numbers of refugee Goths, no longer doubts the Persian army numbers. But they did spend years organizing logistics and still had trouble with even just water and of course, food.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 9:44
  • 4
    the principal historian of the age most seriously affirms that the prodigious armies of Darius and Xerxes, which had so long been considered as the fables of vain and credulous antiquity, were now justified, in the eyes of mankind, by the evidence of fact and experience. Of course, the Goths were not organized as an army, and the census of them arrives at approximately 200k men w/ more than 1m persons total. Keeping them supplied and un-starving turned out to be a huge task; I don't think its absolutely crazy to say someone like Sauron could potentially have organized armies of millions.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 9:50
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    Sauron hardly invaded "the entirety of the northwest of Middle Earth". There were three attacks, in addition to Gondor: Erebor/Dale, Mirkwood, and Lorien. I can easily imagine a few tens of thousands in each overwhelming whatever local forces there were.
    – chepner
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:09

The Battle of Hastings had thousands of men, under 25,000 total even at the largest estimates.

The Battle of Tours had, estimated, about 50,000 at the most.

The Battle of Crécy and Battle of Agincourt had under 50,000 at the most.

In fine Tolkien used reasonable numbers for his forces based on similar forces in historical periods most resembling his.


Both of those wars were fought on a scale far exceeding the War of the Ring: a world population of over two billion in WWII, just under two billion in WWI, with many countries supplying combatants (and many non-combatants being killed with bombing raids etc), with half a decade of intense fighting in multiple theatres and fronts.

The War of the Ring was mostly fought over a shorter time period (just under a year: Appendix B has 20th June 3018 for Sauron attacking Osgiliath, and then 25th March 3019 for the destruction of the Ring) relatively localised (all the action happens in Gondor, just north around southern Mirkwood, and Dale), smaller regional population (major population centres of Minas Tirith, Lothlórien, Dale are are far cry from 20th-century London, Berlin, Tokyo, Rome etc). I should also add that the warfare seems to be largely unmechanised (Grond and siege weapons notwithstanding), and so with mostly hand-to-hand combat, it is quite difficult to kill tens of millions of people in only a handful of relatively short-lived battles, even if they are somewhat large.

Around the year 1000, the population of Europe is estimated to be ~56 million, and in 1500 only 90 million, and the west of Middle-earth, which is roughly a medieval society, seems less populated than medieval Europe.

To contrast, A number of people have tried to estimate the various populations of Middle-earth, Googling around I find this one looking at Gondor (and Rohan), which takes into account a relation with our world:

In many ways Gondor mirrors the medieval Byzantine Empire, both consciously (Tolkien even referred to Minas Tirith as such) and unconsciously, in terms of relative geography, age, level of civilisation, political structure, level of technology etc. Minas Tirith and Osgiliath between them even have great similarities to the ancient city of Constantinople. So, the Byzantine Empire is a good means of taking various parallels to Gondor. One would be the size of Minas Tirith. At its height Osgiliath would probably have had a population around 500,000 (equivalent to Constantinople at its height), but after long centuries of decline, plague and war, by the time of LotR the population of Minas Tirith would quite probably have declined to around 50,000, with the entire Pelennor and near surroundings supporting perhaps 100,000. Taking into account that the city was evacuated of women and children prior to Sauron's attack, the actual population during the siege may have numbered no more than 30,000, which again would map with the population of Constantinople at its fall.

and in a comment on a subsequent post

I haven't investigated the population of Mordor. I don't think there's enough scraps of information to produce more than a vague guess. Hundreds of thousands of slaves and hundreds of thousands of orcs and other creatures at its height certainly.

though it's not clear what this estimate is based on: the size of the army or more 'civilian' means (like availability of arable land, settlements etc).

So based on pure relative population sizes (even allowing for the fact some of these are rough estimates), there is no way to have tens of millions of combatants/deaths in the War of the Ring.

  • 1
    Sauron had "all the east" as his allies and vassals as well, not just Sauron.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 22:13
  • 2
    @Shamshiel sure, but 1) logistics to transport these armies are hard, particularly given the apparently unsettled nature of the countryside (one must carry more supplies) and 2) Sauron was indeed trapping a fly and taking the sting, but there comes a point where an army orders of magnitude larger than that of Gondor is wasteful overkill. Why send a force 1000 times larger than Gondor's, when most of those soldiers will never even see the combat front? Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 5:19
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    Oh yeah, I agree the force that attacked Minas Tirith, which I suppose to be slightly north of 100k, was more than sufficient. There was no need to send more, and what was overkill already would have been wasteful overkill with further logistical problems. But he was evidently readying them for reployment, probably mostly for cleanup and occupation. I wrote out an answer myself showing that Sauron was the victim of literal divine ordinance at Pelennor, the army he sent should have been overkill already. Maybe I should just post it, just felt pointless with so many answers.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 9:45
  • @Shamshiel thanks for posting your answer! Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 5:41
  • The logistic answers are certainly correct. Here's an excellent essay on how a Roman army fed itself: acoup.blog/2022/07/29/…
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 21:54

Considering the setting, millions of combatants would have been highly unrealistic. And while Tolkien was writing fantasy, his depictions of warfare were very grounded.

The millions deployed and killed in the World Wars would not have been possible without a host of technological advances far beyond the levels of technology shown in Lord of the Rings. For one thing, you need to even have millions of men of fighting age in the first place, which requires advancements in medicine, farming, housing, etc. But more to the point, you need to be able to feed, transport, and communicate orders to millions of people, which only became possible after the advances of the Industrial Revolution.

For point of comparison, The Battle of Grunwald is considered one of the largest battles of the Middle Ages, and occurred relatively late in the Middle Ages. But even at higher estimates, the total number of participants would have been around 60,000. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Grunwald

  • 2
    How interesting it would be if Mordor was in fact cultivated by Sauron to be far more lush and verdant than the rest of MIddle Earth...such that it would be enough to farm and feed his vast army of millions.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 22:16
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    But, in some ways, you can see LotR as an environmental allegory. The evil side always seemed to be despoiling the environment. I suspect Tolkien would have seen lush and verdant as incompatible with Mordor
    – Flydog57
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 23:40
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    @Flydog57 Maybe black, spikey scary looking plants that are edible for Orcs poisonous to humans? hah
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 1:59
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    @DKNguyen even then, without a railroad there'd be no way to get that stuff more than a day's march out of Mordor (or even gathered in any centralized place in sufficient time)
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 10:33
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    @DKNguyenThe physical geography of Mordor makes it almost inevitably arid rather than lush. It's surrounded by high mountains except to the East, and the ocean is to the West. Assuming the prevailing wind is from the West (I don't think that's ever stated, but implicit in various descriptions), then Mordor is in a seriously rain shadowed position. This may also explain why he doesn't get a huge amount of support from the East: there are hundreds or thousands of miles of desert or scrubland to cross in that direction.
    – nigel222
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 11:20

Tolkien did envisage large scale combat operations but not in the time period of the end of the Third Age (LOTR).

At the conclusion of the First Age, the War of Wrath was described as

and the challenge of the trumpets of Eönwë filled the sky; and Beleriand was ablaze with the glory of their arms, for the host of the Valar were arrayed in forms young and fair and terrible, and the mountains rang beneath their feet.

The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named the Great Battle, and the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count, so that Anfauglith could not contain it; and all the North was aflame with war.

But it availed him not.

The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth; and the uncounted legions of Orcs perished like straw in a great fire, or were swept like shrivelled leaves before a burning wind."

Anfauglith was a large desert region in the north of Beleriand.

Similarly, the arrival of the Númenóreans at Umbar and the War of the Last Alliance saw large scale combat.

'I remember well the splendour of their banners,' he said. 'It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever, and it was not so.'

  • However, the First Age had much more magic, which must have been what enabled this high-head-count armies. By the time of the Third Age the world is almost completely devoid of any sorcery, almost everyone lives their live without ever witnessing any (obvious) magic.
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 10:35

The West, Gondor and its allies, were few in number because Tolkien wanted to show them in a state of decay; the Elves were fading, and the Hobbits were a country people. There would have been no way to field huge armies out of the West given these constraints.

I would argue that Sauron did likely have a total military strength in the millions, consisting of the forces of Mordor and all his allies and vassals in the East. Sauron had spent centuries building his forces and all the civilized world except for the northwest of Middle-earth was to some greater or lesser degree under the sway of Sauron.

He didn't actually field larger armies in the realms we know because he didn't need to - the logistical problems outweighed any possible benefit. He was already sending out massive forces that outnumbered their enemies by a huge margin and which were sure of victory. Why send more?

Remember at the Siege of Minas Tirith and the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Sauron was hugely, catastrophically unlucky. It's almost as if God himself was plotting against him as part of some grand scheme.

  1. Sauron had to fire off the campaign earlier than expected, instead of carrying everything out according to plan, because Aragorn used the palantír to convince him that Aragorn was in possession of the One Ring, which was Sauron's only weakness.

Though if I had foreseen how swift would be his onset in answer, maybe I should not have dared to show myself. Bare time was given me to come to your aid.’

  1. Aragorn pulled an army of the Dead out of nowhere, using an unstoppable deus ex machina to wipe out Sauron's forces in South Gondor, which freed the residents to come to the aid of Minas Tirith

‘Ere that dark day ended none of the enemy were left to resist us; all were drowned, or were flying south in the hope to find their own lands upon foot. Strange and wonderful I thought it that the designs of Mordor should be overthrown by such wraiths of fear and darkness. With its own weapons was it worsted!’

... just in the very nick of time.

It was even as the day thus began to turn against Gondor and their hope wavered that a new cry went up in the City, it being then mid-morning, and a great wind blowing, and the rain flying north, and the sun shining. In that clear air watchmen on the walls saw afar a new sight of fear [thinking at first it was the Corsairs, and not Aragorn], and their last hope left them.

  1. The Rohirrim, instead of being cut off by the numerically vastly superior forces between them and Minas Tirith, are guided down secret paths by forgotten forest-men that bear an ancient grudge against both Sauron and regular Men.
  2. What do you know, the very weather, which was supposed to be under his control, conspires against Sauron, turning back his Great Darkness earlier than planned.

For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.

  1. And, of course, his nigh-invincible field commander, capable of destroying morale among the enemy and binding his allies under his unified will, was killed by two people who weren't even supposed to be there, wielding a weapon made by people who died out thousands of years beforehand just for this very purpose that they found in a hole a zillion miles away.

So consider the situation if any one of these unforeseeable factors had not occurred: Sauron successfully takes a extremely well-fortified city, which has been preparing for a siege for months, in two days. Clearly the force attacking Minas Tirith alone was vastly numerically superior to even the combined armies of Rohan and Minas Tirith, and very well-equipped for siege warfare. I think it's not unreasonable to expect that the force assaulting Minas Tirith, guarding the road, and pillaging the surrounding area outnumbered them by at around 10x, giving us a force somewhere in the 100ks.

But this was not the only active army in the field. Sauron's forces were at the same time assaulting South Gondor, Mirkwood, Lothlórien, Dale, and Erebor. In these cases too, Sauron seemed to be relying on overwhelming force and well-equipped troops.

At Pelargir, in South Gondor:

‘For my part I heeded them not,’ said Gimli; ‘for we came then at last upon battle in earnest. There at Pelargir lay the main fleet of Umbar, fifty great ships and smaller vessels beyond count. Many of those that we pursued had reached the havens before us, and brought their fear with them; and some of the ships had put off, seeking to escape down the River or to reach the far shore; and many of the smaller craft were ablaze. But the Haradrim, being now driven to the brink, turned at bay, and they were fierce in despair; and they laughed when they looked on us, for they were a great army still.

Lórien seems to have held thanks to the power of Galadriel, who only Sauron could have defeated:

Three times Lórien had been assailed from Dol Guldur, but besides the valour of the elven people of that land, the power that dwelt there was too great for any to overcome, unless Sauron had come there himself. Though grievous harm was done to the fair woods on the borders, the assaults were driven back; and when the Shadow passed, Celeborn came forth and led the host of Lórien over Anduin in many boats.

Mirkwood was attacked, and did make it out, but not in good shape:

In the North also there had been war and evil. The realm of Thranduil was invaded, and there was long battle under the trees and great ruin of fire; but in the end Thranduil had the victory.

Dale and Erebor were defeated, and Erebor besieged:

At the same time as the great armies besieged Minas Tirith a host of the allies of Sauron that had long threatened the borders of King Brand crossed the River Carnen, and Brand was driven back to Dale. There he had the aid of the Dwarves of Erebor; and there was a great battle at the Mountain's feet. It lasted three days, but in the end both King Brand and King Dáin Ironfoot were slain, and the Easterlings had the victory. But they could not take the Gate, and many, both Dwarves and Men, took refuge in Erebor, and there withstood a siege.

So, if not for totally unforeseen events, Sauron would have won a crushing victory in just a few days. His only enemies even halfway capable of projecting force would have been defeated, Erebor would have been besieged, and he could have reinforced the armies attacking Mirkwood and Lothlórien at his leisure. He didn't need any bigger armies than what he had.

But he did have them, in reserve. Denethor saw them, and Gandalf confirmed it:

To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving.

(Denethor, in "The Pyre of Denethor")

Nonetheless it cannot be doubted that when Denethor saw great forces arrayed against him in Mordor, and more still being gathered, he saw that which truly is.

‘Hardly has our strength sufficed to beat off the first great assault. The next will be greater. This war then is without final hope, as Denethor perceived. Victory cannot be achieved by arms, whether you sit here to endure siege after siege, or march out to be overwhelmed beyond the River. You have only a choice of evils; and prudence would counsel you to strengthen such strong places as you have, and there await the onset; for so shall the time before your end be made a little longer.’

(Gandalf, in "The Last Debate")

Gandalf's words reaffirm for us that Sauron's armies did not just outnumber the free peoples of Middle-earth, there wasn't even a contest, a hope of victory. Smaller armies defeat larger armies all the time! This is especially true in defensive and siege situations. They definitely don't fall in a few days! Consider the Siege of Constantinople, for instance - a very well fortified city, drastically undermanned, the defenders outnumbered 10 to 1, facing new cannon technology that made their invincible walls slightly less invincible. They held out for 53 days.

We also know that the army attacking Minas Tirith, which we estimated at the low 100ks, was not the largest that had left Mordor:

yet it was but one and not the greatest of the hosts that Mordor now sent forth.

...and that Sauron had spent centuries preparing for this war, mostly by getting the East together, and the past 67 years openly doing preparing for war. But again, Sauron did not need much more than he had in the field: at Minas Tirith he was badly unlucky, at Mirkwood he apparently suffered a hard-fought defeat, and everywhere else he was victorious, and he had troops in reserve to send out and deal with it.

Probably "all the East is moving", and the geography of Middle East, is intended to call to mind ideas like the Persian War - the massive, populous East versus the thin, liberty-loving West. At any rate, Sauron probably had these armies in the East that we did not directly see prepared mainly for mop-up and occupation.

All we can say for sure is Sauron's forces were so enormously vast even Gandalf said there was zero hope of the West winning any sort of military victory, and Denethor killed himself over it. I'd argue that sort of dominance could have only meant total military strength in the millions.

  • 1
    Good answer, though IMO you are overestimating the forces by a factor of 5 or 10. There's no way Rohirrim host of 3000 light cavalry would make a sizable dent in a siege force of hudreds of thousands of orcs, unless they were comparably very weak.
    – Edheldil
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 10:47
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    @Edheldil: Large parts of the besieging army were scattered around the area pillaging, guarding the road, foolishly destroying the outwall, digging trenches, and attacking the walls (the whole city was 'enclosed in a ring of foes), and they caught the besieging force by surprise. On top of that, Orcs generally are very inferior to Men or Elves in battle - including in this battle, where the Orcs are routed and the Men continued to fight. And in fact after the initial rout of the Orcs, the Rohirrim do not make much of a dent, and the battle quickly goes against them.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 22:09
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    @Edheldil: fortune had turned against Éomer, and his fury had betrayed him. [...] if the Rohirrim at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone, soon their case became worse; for new strength came now streaming to the field out of Osgiliath. There they had been mustered for the sack of the City and the rape of Gondor, waiting on the call of their Captain.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 22:09
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    @Edheldil: The Rohirrim were also undoubtedly greatly helped by the fact that their surprise attack coincided with the end of Sauron's darkness, further terrorizing the Orcs: darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. Panics like this have very frequently allowed small armies to absolutely destroy vastly larger ones as they routed!
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 22:21
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    @Edheldil: Also, there was 6000 Rohirrim mustered for the battle according to Theoden, and GBG, so that places the number of Haradrim facing the Rohirrim at approximately 20k. Since the Haradrim alone are obviously contextually inferior (alone) to the regular forces, let's assume at a minimum it's 2-1 for 40k Orcs in the plain. Already we have arrived at 60k on the plain facing the Rohirrim as a lower bound, and then we must add the forces in Osgiliath, guarding the road, around the walls, Saurons' non-Orc, non-Haradrim allies, etc.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 22:35

The thing that struck me over half a century ago when I first read LOTR was how depopulated the territory covered was. The Shire was a small agricultural enclave within a vast wilderness. The ancient roads were deserted. There was no commerce on the rivers. The only major city, Osgiliath, was abandoned. Mordor, Sauron's stronghold, was barely habitable. Middle-earth was much more sparsely populated than medieval Europe.

Why did Tolkien choose this setting? Who can say? It worked for him. But the logic then makes the scale of battles very small: there simply weren't enough people for anything else. Maybe that's the reason: the vast impersonal battles of the 20th century didn't match his storytelling intent.


Actually it is possible that there were millions of warriors and soldiers in the continent of Middle-earth, which of course extends far beyond the borders of the maps of Middle-earth, which only show the northwest part of the continent.

It is possible that some of the lands beyond the borders of the maps were large and very fertile, and were densely populated with Men and other people. So it is possible that Sauron commanded millions of warriors in total.

But how could Sauron get those vast armies thousands of miles to the places he wanted to attack? Most of the warriors and soldiers under Sauron's control may have lived thousands of miles away to the south and to the east.

The army which Sauron sent to attack Minas Tirith was so numerous, and so powerful, that Minas Tirith was certain to fall. Sauron didn't need to send any more warriors to make victory even more certain. Only two unexpected reinforcements for Gondor caused the army attacking Minas Tirith to be defeated and largely slaughtered.

More armies from the south and the east were constantly arriving in Mordor, so Sauron quickly assembled a new force of tens of thousands. When an army from Gondor marched to the gates of Mordor, Sauron sent an army ten times as strong out of the gates. That army would have wiped out the puny army from Gondor if the Ring had not been destroyed in the nick of time, making Sauron's warriors lose all hope and will to fight.

I note that Sauron sent other armies by other routes to distract his enemies while he invaded Gondor.

Saruman invaded Rohan from the northwest, and another army approached eastern Rohan and northern Gondor. That army blocked the road from Rohan to Gondor, and the riders of Rohan had to be shown a secret detour around that army to reach Gondor in time to save the day.

And at the same time a fleet from Umbar and Harad was raiding the coasts of Gondor to prevent any reinforcements being sent to Minas Tirith. Only the miraculous defeat of that fleet enabled reinforcements to be sent to Minas Tirith in time to save the day.

Gondor seemed doomed. But Sauron struck before he was fully prepared, because he believed that Aragorn had the Ring and would become a new Dark Lord unless Sauron defeated him first. So Sauron hurried up his attack before it was fully ready. Sauron would have had larger armies to attack Minas Tirith and Gondor if he had waited longer to prepare.

Furthermore, Sauron attacked other places at the same time that he attacked Rohan and Gondor. Sauron summoned armies from the east, who no doubt marched along several parallel routes hundreds of miles apart, Those armies attacked Lórien, and the realm of Thranduil's wood Elves, and the cities of Dale and Erebor.

King Brand of Dale and King Dáin of the Dwarves of Erebor were killed and their forces were defeated. The Men and Dwarves retreated into Erebor and were besieged there.

On March 25, the day Sauron attacked Aragon's army at the Black Gate of Mordor, his other armies also attacked Lórien, and Thranduil's Elves, and Erebor. But when the Ring was destroyed, and Sauron fell, and his will no longer controlled his warriors, they lost their purpose. The Elves of Lórien defeated one army in southern Mirkwood, Thranduil's Eves defeated another army in northern Mirkwood, and the sons of Brand and Dáin lead their warriors out of Erebor to defeat the army there.

And no doubt other armies which were marching north or west to serve Sauron became confused and purposeless, and their warriors scattered or turned around and went back home.

I can easily believe that Sauron was bringing a total of hundreds of thousands of warriors to northwest Middle-earth where his enemies were. Sauron probably planned to attack each of his enemies with at least 10 times as many warriors as they had, a total of at least a hundred thousand warriors, and planned to keep the majority of warriors he summoned, at least a hundred thousand, as reserves to send where ever his forces might be defeated.

And if all of Sauron's front-line armies had been defeated, and if he sent all his reserves to renew the attack, and those reserves were also defeated, Sauron could simply defend Mordor against attack while summoning new armies from Harad and Rhûn.

I find it easy to believe that Sauron and his vassal rulers had millions of warriors and many thousands of professional soldiers in the vast lands of Harad and Rhûn, and the purpose of those warriors was to keep Sauron's subject and vassals in line and crush rebellions.

So when Sauron decided it was time to prepare to invade northwest Middle-earth he began to increase recruiting and training and expanded the size of his armies by perhaps 10 percent, that 10 percent vastly outnumbering the total forces of his enemies in northwestern Middle-earth. And even that mere 10 percent would have been several times as many warriors as Sauron could have sent to the northwest of Middle-earth at any one time.

So it seems pretty certain that Sauron spent years and decades working on his logistics to increase the numbers of warriors he could send to attack his enemies. He built roads and bridges, transport ships and harbors for them. Sauron established vast farms along the invasion roads and vast storehouses to hold the surplus crops for decades. He had meadows planted with grass for the vast numbers of horses and other animals.

At least that is my theory.

The U.S. Army
During World War II about 16,000,000 personnel served in the U.S. Military. Approximately 11,200,000 or 70% served in the U.S. Army; 4,200,000 served in the Navy; and 660,000 served in the Marines.


Millions of US soldiers were transported across the oceans to serve overseas, and many of them fought in combat. But certainly many of them never saw an any enemy soldiers, and many never left the USA.

And it took an immense effort using modern organization and transportation to move as many US soldiers overseas as they did and to keep them supplied as well as they did. Sauron didn't have the advantages of 20th century transportation.

And of course, whatever the total number of troops Sauron actually had during the War of the Ring, the greatest armies in the past of Middle-earth had been vast.

When King Eärnil of Gondor sent his son Eärnur with an army to help the King of Arthedain in Third Age (TA) 1975, it was very impressive.

But when Eärnur came to the Gray Havens there was joy and great wonder among both Elves and Men. So great in draught and so many were his ships that they could scarcely find harbourage, though both the Harlond and the Forlond also were filled; and from them descended an army of power, with munition and provision for a war of great kings. Or so it seemed to the people of the North, though this was just a small sending-force of the whole might of Gondor.

So a thousand years before the War of the Ring, Gondor had a much larger army than it had during the War of the Ring, since Gondor's population, territory, and wealth greatly declined in the interval. And the army of Gondor in TA 1975 was much smaller and weaker than the army of Gondor at its peak a thousand years earlier than TA 1975, since the population, territory, and wealth of Gondor greatly declined between its peak and TA 1975.

When Ar-Pharazôn the Golden of Númenor invaded Middle-earth in Second Age 3261, his army was so vast that it dwarfed even the gigantic army of Sauron, which didn't dare to resist. And the Great Armament which Númenor built between SA 3310 and 3319 was far greater in numbers and power.

And back in the War of Wrath and Great Battle at the end of the First Age, Morgoth's army was incredibly huge.

Anfauglith was a plain, earlier called Ard-galen, north of the highlands of Dorthonion.

South of Ard-galen the great highland named Dorthonion stretched for sixty leagues from west to east: great pine forests it bore, especially on its northern and western sides.

Silmarillion Chapter 14 "Of Beleriand and its Realms".

Judging by the maps Ard-galen or Anfauglith was at least 40 leagues north to south. Assuming that a league was the usual three miles, Anfauglith should have been 180 by 120 miles, or 21,600 square miles.

There are 27,787,400 square feet in a square mile, and so there would be about 6.0217344 times 10 to the 11th power square feet in Anfauglith, or 602,173,440,000 square feet.

The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named the Great Battle, and the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count, so that Anfauglith could not contain it; and all the North was aflame with war.

But it availed him not. The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth; and the uncounted legions of Orcs perished like straw in a great fire, or were swept like shrivelled leaves before a burning wind."

Silmarillion Chapter 24 "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath".

Assuming that the orcs were arranged in a grid with 10 square feet (3.16 x 3.16) per orc, that would make 60,217,344,000 orcs.

If there were 100 square feet (10 x 10) per orc, that would make 6,021,734,400 orcs.

If there were 1,000 square feet (31.6 X 31.6) per orc, that would make 602,173,440 orcs.

If there were 10,000 square feet (100 X 100) per orc, that would make 60,217,344 orcs.

If there were 100,000 square feet (316.2 X 316.2) per orc, that would make 6,021,734 orcs.

If there were 1,000,000 square feet (1,000 X 1,000) per orc, that would make 602,173 orcs.

And I don't know much about the formations used by Morgoth's armies, but I think it is certain that Morgoth had millions of orcs mustered in Anfauglith, and possibly "billions and billions" of them.

  • 1
    "Gondor seemed doomed. But Sauron struck before he was fully prepared, because he believed that Aragorn had the Ring and would become a new Dark Lord unless Sauron defeated him first. So Sauron hurried up his attack before it was fully ready. Sauron would have had larger armies to attack Minas Tirith and Gondor if he had waited longer to prepare." But the ring serves Sauron only. Besides, the army of the dead would wipe out a larger army of Sauron. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 9:32
  • 2
    @MaykelJakson I don't have the exact quote right now, but I remember Gandalf saying something along the lines of "The Eye is trained towards Gondor right now, fearing what mighty one would come forth, wielding the Ring."
    – Righter
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:07
  • @Righter but in the movie in many occasions they keep suggesting that the ring wants to comeback to its master, and any other bearer will be consumed by it. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:53
  • 2
    @MaykelJakson, I don't remember the movies, but in the book, it's made clear that someone of sufficient willpower -- Gandalf, or perhaps Aragorn -- would be able to dominate the One Ring and turn its power to their own ends. Anyone of lesser strength might have some initial success, but would inevitably end up dominated by the Ring and carry it to Sauron.
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 22:07
  • 3
    @Mark Quite it is also said that one of sufficient will to dominate the ring would at the last be corrupted and effectively become Sauron. They handled this explicitly in the film version with Galadriel declining it.
    – Peter Wone
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 4:58

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