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This is a fairly straightforward question. In The Two Towers, it is revealed that Sauron pays his armies. When Merry and Pippin are abducted by Orcs, the Orcs argue about what to do with them. An Orc from Mordor suggests bringing them to a nearby Nazgul, and another Orc scoffs, saying:

"Maybe! Then you'll fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugburz [Lugburz is the Dark Tower of Sauron]..."
-The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 3: "The Uruk-Hai"

This made me wonder how he got the money to pay them - did he use magic to make it appear out of thin air, or is it the accumulated rewards of centuries of pillaging, or does some sort of commerce, trade, and enterprise take place in Mordor? For my actual question, I'm only asking about the business, commerce, and trade aspects of this issue (not about making money appear, or pillaging, or even levying tributes and taxes on Mordor's allies and neighbors).

So again, does Mordor have a true economy, i.e. businesses, trade, commerce, shops, commercial manufacturing facilities (i.e., not just slaves making weapons, etc), and so on?

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    I imagine you can extrapolate from what Saruman (Sharkey) did to the Shire. To the umpteenth power. – Joe L. May 12 '15 at 2:05
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    @MattGutting When Merry and Pippin are captives, the Orcs argue about what to do with them. One mentions a winged Nazghul, and another gets suspicious: "Maybe! Then you'll fly off with our prisoners, ad get all the PAY and praise in Lugburz [Barad-dur]" – Wad Cheber May 12 '15 at 17:48
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    @Mooz: Doesn't seem that the Orcs, or at least some of them, are all that enamoured of Sauron. For instance, at the end of The Two Towers Sam overhears Shagrat & Gorbag, the Orc troop leaders, talking about how even the "Top Ones" can make mistakes, and planning to slip off on their own after the war, if it goes well, "...somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses", "like old times". – jamesqf May 12 '15 at 17:57
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To my knowledge (believe it or not) this issue never comes up in the novels. Perhaps Tolkien thought it would be obvious, or maybe he thought it wasn't relevant.

There has been quite a lot written on this topic, though none of it really backed up by anything but speculation. However, they all come to basically the same conclusion: Sauron must have been trading with someone.

There was a region in Mordor (Núrn, in the south) that was fertile enough to grow food to "feed Sauron's armies", run by slave labor. So he wouldn't need to import much food. The rest of Mordor, on the other hand, was a barren wasteland, but it was full of mines. Sauron forged all of the weapons and armor for his armies from the mines in Mordor.

Most likely, Sauron had trade agreements with the nations in the South and East (e.g. the Haradrim) to sell them, either ore, smelted metal, or fully forged goods. In addition, Sauron's rise to power lasted decades before the world at large knew who he was, meaning he could have traded with even the western countries for a while, building up a war chest.

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    no hint of businesses. The only income to Sauron that is ever mentionned are the heavy tributes he asks from his vassals and conquered lands. – Joel May 12 '15 at 2:26
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    And plunder, of course. – Joel May 12 '15 at 2:30
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    See also The Last Ringbearer – Jason Baker May 12 '15 at 3:00
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    @JasonBaker, nice. – Paul Draper May 12 '15 at 6:07
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    @maguirenumber6 - Conan! What is best in life? ... – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 12 '15 at 15:14
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The only proof of possible existance of trade relations of Mordor with other lands is this little reference:

'Then you do not pay tribute to Sauron?' said Gimli.

'We do not and we never have.' said Éomer with a flash of his eyes; 'though it comes to my ears that that lie has been told. Some years ago the Lord of the Black Land wished to purchase horses of us at great price, but we refused him. for he puts beasts to evil use. Then he sent plundering Orcs, and they carry off what they can, choosing always the black horses: few of these are now left. For that reason our feud with the Orcs is bitter.

If Sauron considered purchasing horses from Rohan then I don't see it's impossible that he indeed had trading contacts with other, more likely to cooperate, realms and peoples (he could use proxies for example so to not reveal himself as well in style of Saruman's business dealings with Shire). Sauron ruled ever growing empire and there were many wars of conquest waged in the East and South, he had enough resources and riches to build a trading empire if he ever wanted, hell Sauron accumulated lots of mithril (paid in tribute by Orcs and they plundered it from Moria), but of course he could also take anything he wanted by force or intimidation or simply ordering his subjects to provide things in form of tribute, tolls, taxes etc.

Also even Orcs seem to like money as in actual minted coins, Azog who was independent 'orc-king in Moria' had a purse of coins:

Nár stooped to take the head, but the voice of Azog said:

'Drop it! Be off! Here's your fee, beggar-beard.' A small bag struck him. It held a few coins of little worth.

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Hard currency is a relatively modern concept from a Middle Earth point of view. "Pay" may have been . . .

  • prestige (higher rank)
  • better job (less chance of early death)
  • better quarters
  • more wives/mating rights
  • more time off.

What does an Orc want with gold (other than for adornment and prestige)? Where can he "spend" it? Orcs would have been paid in things Orcs want, I reckon every Orc dreamed of being "High grand torturer" with a large harem and many slaves.

This is pure speculation and I have nothing to back this up with

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    A couple of Orcs discuss the possibility of running away from Mordor and robbing people for a living. It sounds like they do like money – Wad Cheber May 27 '15 at 16:23
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    @WadCheber: This is true, and the Trolls from The Hobbit waylaid travellers and stole their gold, weapons & other stuff (and ate the travellers). – Binary Worrier May 28 '15 at 8:37

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