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The question as to how Orcs reproduce is one that has come up many times, and the answer is basically, as they are just corrupted Elves they do it in the traditional fashion.

For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar; and naught that had life of its own, nor the semblance of life, could ever Melkor make....

However, I do have a further question upon this. That being, quite how are Orcs so prolific in Middle-earth?

It seems established that Elves reproduce slower than Humans and less often. They're a dying race. I recall reading that their pregnancy lasts a year, and they can only reproduce for a brief spell when young by Elf standards (old by Human standards).

Orcs however... They're the complete opposite of Elves in Middle-earth. They're practically rats—infesting every dark corner in vast numbers. Their tactics revolve around Human (Orkish) waves.

Just how did a handful of captured Elves—it seems to have been just a small number rather than a significant chunk of the race—give rise to such a widespread race?

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    No question about the fundamental nature or origin of the orcs is going to have a satisfactory answer, since Tolkien never resolved these kinds of questions to his own satisfaction.
    – Buzz
    Oct 8, 2022 at 23:47
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    Why wouldn’t part of the corruption be that they reproduce faster than elves? Oct 9, 2022 at 2:09
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    You've answered your own question. The elves had few children because they weren't a passionate race, hence procreation was a rare event. Humans (and Orcs) on the other hand, are at it like knives and have lots of babies
    – Valorum
    Oct 9, 2022 at 5:48
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    q.v. Why don't elves have more babies?
    – Valorum
    Oct 9, 2022 at 5:55
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    I am not much knowledgeable about the LOTR, so I cannot provide a proper answer. But a shadow of an answer might be this: watch the movie "Idiocracy", if you did not watch it already. There, both the "orcs" and the "elves" are just people. Yet, the difference stands - the "orcs" multiply much faster than the "elves".
    – virolino
    Oct 10, 2022 at 9:50

1 Answer 1

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Because they are left unmolested for long periods of time. We can see this by looking at entries between wars in the Tale of Years (LotR appendix B).

For example, the beginning of the second age follows the War of Wrath, in which Morgoth's forces were destroyed. At this point, many elves have left Middle-Earth and the Edain are living peacefully on the island of Numenor. According to the Tale of Years, Sauron starts the building of Barad-dur around SA1000, but the war of the Elves and Sauron doesn't start until SA1693. There is nothing to indicate that anyone tried to disrupt the build-up of his forces. Six years later, Sauron defeats the Elves, but then the Numenoreans intervene. The entries for SA1700 and 1701 just say that Sauron is defeated and driven out of Eriador, but the History of Galadriel and Celeborn in the Unfinished Tales spells out the magnitude of the defeat:

In the Battle of the Gwathlo Sauron was routed utterly and he himself only narrowly escaped. His small remaining force was assailed in the east of Calenardhon, and he with no more than a bodyguard fled to the region afterwards called Dagorlad (Battle Plain) ... The army that was besieging Imladris was caught between Elrond and Gil-Galad, and utterly destroyed.

Thus the whole of Sauron's invading army is wiped out, but there is no record of any subsequent major fighting until the time of the Last Alliance with war starting in SA3429, more than 700 years after the Battle of the Gwathlo.

There is a similar pattern in the Third Age. According to the Tale of Years, the Nazgul reoccupy Mordor in TA1980 and seize Minas Ithil in TA2000. Between that time and the War of the Ring, the orcs of the Misty Mountains take a beating in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs [TA2793-2799] and at the Battle of Five Armies [TA2941], and there is some fighting between Gondor and Rohan on one side and forces of Mordor/Minas Morgul on the other. However (as was often the case), Sauron let the Haradrim, Easterlings and Corsairs do a lot of his dirty work [TA2475, 2510, 2758, 2885, 2901]. There is no record of Gondor making a major attack against Mordor or Minas Morgul during this time, and Sauron had plenty of time to build up a large force of orcs.

Gandalf remarks upon this in The Last Debate:

... he [Sauron] has not built up his power by waiting until his enemies are secure, as we have done.

That's a bit harsh when applied to Gondor and Rohan, since they lacked the strength to attack Sauron directly. On the other hand, much evil might have been averted if the Numenoreans had acted more agressively after the Battle of the Gwathlo.

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    There remains the question of what they can find to eat, particularly in devastated lands. Their orconomy seems unsustainable. Oct 10, 2022 at 0:17
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    @Valorum --- Unfortunately, the good side doesn't tend to take agressive action when Sauron is inactive, so what we have here is an absence of quotes: there are no records of anyone trying to disrupt the build-up of Sauron's forces because that did not happen. That said, there is a remark from Gandalf on precisely this point, and I'll edit that in when I remember its location. Oct 10, 2022 at 8:20
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    @InvisibleTrihedron --- "Neither he [Sam] nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm [Mordor] ... nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands." (The Land of Shadow) Oct 10, 2022 at 8:23
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    'Sauron had plenty of time to build up a large force of orcs' The "no big bosses" conversation between Gorbag and Shagrat suggests that, in the lead-up to the War of the Ring, Sauron didn't so much build up a large force of orcs as take control of an existing large (and militarised) population of orcs that had arisen without his involvement. Oct 10, 2022 at 11:18
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    @DanielHatton --- Without his direct involvement perhaps, but the Nazgul re-entered Mordor more than 1,000 years before the War of the Ring started. Oct 10, 2022 at 11:49

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