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How did Aragorn and other Rangers make a living? Were they employed by some kingdom? If so, which one?

Or if not, did they just eat what they found/hunted in nature? In that case, was the motivation of all of them to do their job purely altruistic?

In short, how did the lives of the Rangers work?

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    The Dúnedain of the North might have had some financial/material backing from Rivendell. Oct 19, 2021 at 18:51
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    I don't think this is ever addressed directly. Two possibilities, though. (1) The witch-king didn't hold Fornost for long. It may be that some gold was still there when Earnur took it back. (2) Killing monsters in Eriador seems to be quite profitable. Consider the hoards that Thorin & co. found in the troll cave, and that Tom Bombadil retrieved from the barrow. Oct 19, 2021 at 22:23
  • @Ian Thompson gold and other treasure is only of value if there is someone who will take it in trade for food and supplies. To the best of my memory, no such person or group is mentioned in LOTR or any other writing by Tolkien. So ny answer must be speculative Oct 20, 2021 at 15:50
  • @DavidSiegel --- Bill Ferny sells Bill the pony for twelve silver pennies. Oct 20, 2021 at 17:09
  • @Ian Thompson Quite true, but there is a difference between one pony and enough food to feed two dozen rangers or more, day in and day out, not to mention clothes, swords, and other gear and supplies. I have to wonder hoe much surplus a village such as Bree (and the lands about it) would produce. By the way, I rather suspect that a "silver penny" is intended to be the same coin as the ancestor of the of the English schilling, or perhaps the old English penny, which was ultimately derived from the Roman denarius, which was a silver coin. Oct 20, 2021 at 17:30

4 Answers 4

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After the Witch King overran Arthedain and Fornost, Aranath took the title "Chieftain of the Dunedain" rather than making a claim for the kingship (Appendix B LotR). So as far as we know, the remaining population of the north kingdoms, now referred to as the Dunedain rather than Arnorians, still lived there in the region around Fornost, including the area north of Bree that the hobbits called Deadman's Dike. It's on the map in the back of LotR. The two dozen or so rangers that Aragorn went haring about with were not the entire population. They were presumably the ones who could be spared from farming/hunting/householding/etc. The rangers' suppression of orcs and other marauders protected their own long-term homes and families as well as the hobbit settlements at Bree and the Shire.

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    So is your answer that the other Dunedain pay them?
    – Harabeck
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:45
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    I doubt very much that anyone, anywhere, in the Third Age was living in a cash economy. Most people probably had little need for cash. OK maybe the Rangers had a tab at the Prancing Pony, but other than that what kind of cash expenses were you thinking of?
    – Ethan
    Oct 20, 2021 at 16:27
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    @Ethan There were references to coins of various sorts in Bree. Some other places like the Shire, Gondor and the Dwarven settlements may have used them too. But yeah, there isn’t much reason to think the Rangers of the North would have really cared for that sort of thing. Oct 20, 2021 at 20:29
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    Gold coins? Here is the description from The Hobbit when Bilbo first saw Smaug: "Behind him where the walls were nearest could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes, swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed." When the dwarves talked of the great hoard they spoke of weapons and mithril mail, gems and jewel-studded goblets. After the battle of the five armies, they divided shares of "all the silver and gold, wrought and unwrought". No coins are mentioned.
    – Ethan
    Oct 20, 2021 at 23:24
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    @Ethat --- In the hardback edition of the Hobbit there is an illustration of this scene, drawn by Tolkien himself. There do appear to be piles of coins, but it's hard to be 100% certain. It is certain that Thorin & co. took jars of gold coins from the trolls, though. Oct 21, 2021 at 10:26
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The Rangers of the North, the remnants of the rulers of Arnor and after that the rump state Arthedain, still are the government of the kingdom. They defend the remaining residents because that's always been their role.

That they've been forced from ceremonial power does not relieve them of their obligations.

To be the king does not just mean everybody bows to you. It means you have them under your protection. Hereditary sovereignty, under systems where it is in place, is both a right and a responsibility.

If they're to fulfill their mission they have to create a way for themselves to get enough to eat. It's nobody's job but their own.

If they fail they will have, effectively, conceded defeat and abdicated.

That they haven't is the only way Aragorn has any claim to the throne of the reunited kingdom.

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    While this answer has very good content, it's not really good as an answer. The question was, how did they make a living, but all I know from here is that they did have to make a living. Which is, to be honest, kind of valid on any sentient thing and has no information content.
    – Neinstein
    Oct 20, 2021 at 9:39
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    To be the king does not mean you have people under your protection. It means that you have recognized supreme right to use violence and force your will (possibly within certain bounds, if it's a constitutional monarchy or an elected monarchy). The view of the subjects being under the king's protection is propaganda. Kings sometimes protect their subjects, but fundamentally they oppress and abuse their subjects. I mean, IRL, not necessary in Tolkien's mythology :-P
    – einpoklum
    Oct 21, 2021 at 8:30
  • @Neinstein Thanks. I seem to have fallen into the trap of answering the body of the question rather than its title. I addressed whether some kingdom employed them, in that it wasn't necessary. The obligation is theirs, not somebody else's, by which I also addressed their motivation. It isn't to contribute the max to their 401(k)s. I did not address how, after a poorly defined payday, they are able to trade a medium of exchange to the corner grocer for a couple of raw chickens, some potatoes, and some carrots. That's what it would have taken to answer the question in the title instead. Touché.
    – Lesser son
    Oct 22, 2021 at 3:27
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The description of Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 9, At the sign of the Prancng Pony, says something about the Rangers.

In those days no other Men had settled dwellings so far west, or within a hundred leagues of the Shire. But in the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin. They were taller and darker than the Men of Bree and were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to undertsand the languages of beasts and birds. They roamed at will southwards, and eastwards even as far as the Misty Mountains; but they were now few and rarely seen. When they appeared they brought news from afar, and told strange forgotten tales which were eagerly listened to; but the Men of Bree did not make friends with them.

So if you assume that statement is totally correct, you should get a copy of a good map of Middle-earth and daraw a north-south line though Bree. Obviously the Dunedain and rangers of the north would not have any settled dwellings on that line or west of it.

And it was also claimed that no other Men beside the Bree-men lived within a hundred leagues (300 miles) of the Shire. The Shire's northern, southern, and western borders are not very clearly marked, but you could take a point on the eastern border of the shire and draw a 300 miles circle or half circle around it. Any place east of the Bree longitude and outside of the Shire circle would be a place where other Men, including Dunedain, could have settled dwellings.

In the southeast Dunland was outside the Shire circle, and inhabited by Men, the Dunlendings, so possibly some Dunedain rangers had settled homes outside of Dunland but close to it. And on the northeast there was a large section of Eriador outside the Shire circle. That was wild country, home to trolls and other evil creatures, but maybe instead of scaring the Dunedain away it attracted them, thinking that living there would make it more convenient to fight those evil creatues.

There is some evidence contradictory to the claims about where Men lived.

The Return of the KIng, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, tells how after the fall of Fornost in TA 1974, King Arvedui fled to the northern tip of the Blue mountains, and hid in old Dwarf mines.

...but he was driven at last by hungar to seek the help of the Lossoth, the Snowmen of Forochel.

A note describes them:

They are a strange, unfriendly people, remnant of the Forodwaith, men of far-off days, accustomed to the bitter colds of the realm of Morgoth. Indeed those colds linger still in that region, though they be hardly more than a hundred leagues north of the Shire. The Lossoth house in the snow, and it is said they can run on the ice with bones on their feet, and have carts without wheels. They live mostly, inaccessable to their enemies, in the great Cape of Forochel that shuts off the north-west the immense bay of that name, but they often camp on the south shore of the bay at the foot of the Mountains.

So that region is beyond the 300 mile radius from the Shire. Is it farther east than the longitude of Bree?

The Middle-earth maps show the Blue Mountains coming to a northern end in a cape. There is a bay to the east of that cape, and then another cape with another body of water beyond it. Some maps of Middle-earth label the bay between the two capes as the Ice Bay of Forochel, but it has been stated that is an error, and the eastern cape is the Cape of Forochel, and the body of water east of it is the Ice Bay of Forochel.

And it is possible that at least part of the Cape of Forochel where the Lossoth mostly lived was east of the longitude of Bree.

And it is possible that the Lossoth had no settled dwellings, east or west of the longitude of Bree.

And it is possible that the Lossoth became extinct in the 1,043 years between the Death of Arvedui in TA 1975 and Frodo's journey to Bree in TA 3018, even though the description of them was written in the Red Book after 3019 and uses the present tense.

I note that Tolkien as a translator may have read his information about the Rangers on a very different page at a different time than reading about the Lossoth, and might not have wondered if there was any contradiction.

In the year TA 2980 Argaorn met Arwen in Lorien, and they were engaged. Aragorn then went on to his home in Rivendell, where his mother Gilraen lived. A few years later:

After a few years Gilraen took leave of Elrond, and returned to her people in Eriador; and lived alone; and she seldom saw her son again, for he spent many years in far countries.

The last time Aragorn visited her, she said she would die soon, having no hope left, and she died before the next spring in TA 3007, aged only 100. And I suspect that a middle aged or elderly Dunedain woman would live "alone" in her own house in a permanent village, or have her own tent in a wandering camp, instead of having no neighbors at all.

The statement that Gilraen left Rivendell to return to her people in Eriador gives the impression that Eriador doens't include Rivendell.

The Return of the KIng, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, Eriador, Anor, and the heirs of Isildur, says:

Eriador was of old the name of all the lands between The Misty Mountains and the Blue; in the south it was bounded by the Greyflood and the Glanduin that flows into it above Tharbad.

The Glanduin flowed west from the Misty Mountains to the Greyflood river.

So Rivendell is within Eriador. But Dunland is not, and any hypothetical settlements of the Dunedain near Dunland would be outside of Eriador. Maybe some Dunedain did live near Dunland outside the borders of Eriador.

But Gilraen's people did not. They might have lived just north of the Glanduin or else in the northeast of Eriador.

So it is possible that the Dunedain did have settled dwellings, somewhere in Eriador, and did do some farming, presumably using methods and techniques which would not produce large fields and other clear signs of cultivation.

For example, they might have planted fruit trees and nut trees in forests mixed with other trees. And I believe that some Eastern Indians in the USA planted corn between trees in forests.

And they might have raised sheep and cattle and goats.

And possibly they would plant crops and leave them untended and go off to hunt and gather and only return when it was time to harvest their crops, like many groups of American Indians did.

Or possibly they had no settled homes, or maybe different homes for different seasons, and were nomadic, hunting and fishing and gathering, and possibly driving their hypothetical herds of cattle, sheep, goats, etc. with them.

By the way, The Hobbit indicates that there might possibly have been Men with settled dwellings fewer than 300 miles from the Shire at the time.

During the encounter with trolls one of the trolls says after they came down from the mountains they ate a village and a half. Presumably the surviving half of the second village fortified themselves, or else fled in terror.

And that was in TA 2941, 77 years before 3018. Depending on whether those villages were more or less than 300 miles from the Shire, they might have been the last villages left within 300 miles of the shire.

And if those villages were villages of Dunedain, the other Dunedain might have been especially determined to form search parties to track the trolls down so a expedition could be formed to kill them. Of course they would have been almost as motivated to find and destroy the trolls if the villagers were non Dunedain but secretly under the protection of the Rangers.

So Thorin's party may have saved the Dunedain and their eleven-year-old chieftain Aragorn a lot of trouble and worry about the trolls. Something which An Unexpected Journey could have shown.

[Aragorn was not told his real name or his ancestry until he was 20. Presumably the Dunedain were ruled by a regent until then. But he might have heard about the troll attacks and attempts by the rangers to track down the trolls.]

I also note that at weathertop, The Fellowship of the Ring, book I, Chapter 11, "A Knife in the Dark", Aragon said:

I don't know if the road has ever been measured in miles beyond The Forsaken Inn, a day's journey east of Bree, some say it is so far, and some say otherwise.

And I am not certain whether that would be an active inn (operated by hobbits and not Men I presume) named The Forsaken Inn, or an abandoned inn which people called "the forsaken inn".

But I guess that it probably marked the location of a settlement of Men or hobbits which had been abandoned, probably in the lifetime of Aragorn.

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Regarding food, Aragorn, and presumably the other Rangers, could certainly get some food by foraging, as noted in chapter 11 of The Fellowship of the Ring:

'There is food in the wild,' said Strider; 'berry, root, and herb; and I have some skill as a hunter at need. You need not be afraid of starving before winter comes. But gathering and catching food is long and weary work...'

The Rangers could also count on some support from the Elves of Rivendell, where Aragorn was raised and to which he often returned. However, it seems likely that the Rangers relied at least partly on a civilian population of their own people for support. Michael Martinez has a long and interesting article about the Rangers, in which he says:

Tolkien actually made a note, now filed among his papers at Marquette University, which stated that Aragorn’s people lived in the Angle, between the Bruinen and Mitheithel rivers. The Mitheithel river, as it turns out, does lie about 100 leagues (or 300 miles) east of the Shire.

In another article, Martinez cites a passage from The Peoples of Middle-Earth in which Tolkien refers to Dunedain living in "a hidden fastness in the wilds of Eriador".

Martinez also speaks to the motivations of the Rangers:

Furthermore, by maintaining the Rangers, the Dunedain continued to assert a royal claim to all of Eriador.

That is, Aranarth seems to have realized that if he simply abandoned Eriador, his descendants would never have the legal authority to re-establish the Kingdom of Arnor. But if at least some of the services of the Kingdom of Arnor were maintained by the Dunedain, then they would have the legal authority to re-establish their realm. The local populations, protected by the Dunedain, would have no reason to oppose the restoration of royal authority. It may even be that Aranarth consulted with Tharbad, the Shire, and Bree (and any other surviving communities) and shared his plan with them. And then, a thousand years later, people had simply forgotten the whole deal, except for the Dunedain.

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  • Nice find re. the note at Marquette. I'd always thought that Gilraen returning to 'her own people in Eriador' and living alone suggested the existence of a permanent Dunedain settlement somewhere. It's nice to see some new evidence. Oct 23, 2021 at 11:24

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