The King of the Mountains, leader of the Dead Men of Dunharrow, made the oath (which later he broke) upon the Stone of Erech, a great black stone brought by Isildur from Numenor. This makes no sense to me.

The Dead Men of Dunharrow weren't from Numenor, so why would Isildur make them swear an oath upon something that has no inherent meaning to them? Especially considering the fact that the oath was to serve Isildur and oppose Sauron, who they used to worship, swearing on a stone that is only significant to people other than themselves seems pointless.

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    Why were atheists forced to swear upon the Bible for the longest time in court? My guess, they expect swearing up a pseudo-magical item to make you unable to lie or something. – Theik May 22 '15 at 6:23
  • @YohannV. That's only in the USA though, there are plenty of countries where people also have to swear on religious items in courts where it's not part of the constitution. – Theik May 22 '15 at 12:08
  • @YohannV. That's just arguing semantics as the bible is supposedly sacred because of its divine origins and as such, magical. So replace pseudo-magical with pseudo-sacred in my first comment and the exact same principle applies. – Theik May 22 '15 at 12:15
  • @Theik your first comment was about magic that make you unable to lie, I'm talking about respect of something sacred for all. – Yohann V. May 22 '15 at 12:19
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    @YohannV. nothing is sacred to everyone. – Wad Cheber May 22 '15 at 16:01
up vote 6 down vote accepted

A Brief History of Swearing an Oath on Objects

The practice of swearing an oath while laying hand on an inanimate object can be traced back centuries. Most commonly, we think of the Bible in such cases, but that is only because of a tradition that the English court started in the 12th Century. Long before that time, it was common for a knight to swear by their honor and/or sword, or for a regular person to swear by whatever deity they held dear. The object being sworn on was typically determined by whichever party asked for/demanded/initiated the swearing part. Whichever side wanted the swearing would choose an object sacred to THEM, but not necessarily both parties.

The general idea behind this concept was that if a person broke their oath, they would be punished by whatever superstitious conceit was included in the ceremony. If a person swore by their honor, for instance, then later broke the oath, it was expected that the other party would make the dishonor known. A businessman, for example, would find his reputation as an oath-breaker preceding him to other towns or regions. A knight who swore by his sword would be risking the integrity & strength of his blade if he broke the oath - something the notoriously superstitious warriors of early history would not want.

Similarly, a 13th-Century court manuscript from England states the idea behind using the Bible to swear in witnesses:

By placing a hand on the book and then kissing it, the oath-taker is acknowledging that, should he lie under oath, neither the words in the Bible nor his good deeds nor even his prayers will bring him any earthly or spiritual profit.


But why the Stone of Erech?

To answer your question more concisely, we don't know exactly WHY Isildur chose the black stone for the swearing ceremony. It was obviously an object held sacred to the Numenorean people, and may have even had magical properties that aided Isildur in his curse.

Also, it's important to note that Isildur did NOT bring the stone specifically for the oath. The stone was originally a souvenir of Numenor that they had brought with them and planted in the ground as a memorial. Years later when the Kings met Isildur at the Hill of Erech, the stone was the only standing stone large enough to meet and/or swear on. It may have been a completely random choice by Isildur based on where they were, or the meeting may have deliberately taken place at the Stone of Erech for that very purpose.

As for the stone itself, we don't know much about it, simply that it was a large spherical stone, buried halfway in the ground and polished to a high sheen. The only real description we have of it can be found in Return of the King during "The Passing of the Grey Company":

...upon the top stood a black stone, round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground.

Lord of the Rings Online depicts the stone as very large, three times the height of a Man:

enter image description here

This depiction seems overly large compared to Tolkien's description. Most fans have interpreted the text to mean that the exposed portion of the stone is roughly 3 meters tall (the height of a man), while others believe that comparison refers to the entire, unburied stone (meaning that the exposed portion would be only waist-high). Either way, the Stone would obviously function as a permanent landmark - something large enough to go on maps and assumed to be around for centuries if not millennia.

  • I'm still a bit puzzled by the decision to use the stone, but your answer is a good one. +1. As far as the size of the stone, Tolkien says it is about 6 feet in diameter, and the lower half is buried in the ground. The stone as depicted in the image you included in your answer is roughly 3 times too big. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 21:17
  • Another thing that I have trouble with is the idea that Isildur brought the stone from Numenor, presumably on a boat. That would be a very difficult undertaking, even if the stone is, as Tolkien described it, 6 feet in diameter. If it was already spherical when they put it on the ship, it would be extremely dangerous- the only thing worse than a boat bearing too much weight is a boat bearing too much weight and the weight is rolling around the hold. If the stone was the size we see in your picture, I don't think any boat at the time could even carry it. – Wad Cheber May 23 '15 at 21:33
  • I just need to point out that I see no problem in bringing the stone from Numenor. If it is, as you say, 6 feet in diameter, it wouldn't be taller than a man. The ship would probably have the technology of at least a viking ship but probably something like a 16th century vessel. Just by building a wooden box around the stone it could easily be held in place during the voyage. Just tie the box down with ropes. Even if the stone weighed several tons, it wouldn't really be much for the ship to carry. – Niffler May 25 '15 at 11:29
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    The Numenoreans built boats of town size on occasion: "a vision came to him [of a vessel] like a castle with [...] great sails like clouds, bearing men and stores enough for a town." (Him = tar-Aldarion) – Yorik May 26 '15 at 15:07
  • Isildur did not bring the stone from Numenor in a BOAT, he brought it from Numenor in a SHIP! A SHIP. – M. A. Golding Jun 6 '15 at 4:05

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