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When answering " What are the main reasons the elves did not show up in force to defeat Sauron? " I tried to find some info but nothing was easily googlable.

How many elves were there in Middle Earth by the time of LOTR events?

  • Lots. Lots and lots. Quite a few in fact. – Valorum Jun 7 '15 at 15:33
9

There are no solid numbers, but Tolkien did say this in Letters:

It may be noted that at the end of the Third Age there were prob. more people (Men) that knew Q., or spoke S., than there were Elves who did either! Though dwindling, the population of Minas Tirith and its fiefs must have been much greater than that of Lindon, Rivendell, and Lórien.†

Tolkien excludes the Elves of Mirkwood (he says in this letter they speak a silvan language), but this is certainly a remarkable statement of the number of Elves remaining in Middle Earth: only very educated Men of Gondor would have known Sindarin or Quendi, and of course there are many, many more Men who do not live in Minas Tirith or its fiefs. Indeed, given the size of the army Gondor was able to field (which would naturally be larger than the number of educated Men) in the War of the Ring, this suggests to me that Rivendell, Lindon, and Lorien put together may comprise no more than a few thousands of elves!

  • I'm not sure it's fair to say only very educated Gondorians would know Sindarin. Numenoreans have a long history of speaking Elvish, and Frodo sees several of Faramir's rangers speaking it. Sindarin names for people and places are still quite common as well: not just naming people after ancient heroes (Ecthelion, Mablung), but Gandalf is known by an Elvish term, and cities were still being renamed in Sindarin meaningfully long after most contact with elves had ceased (Minas Ithil > Minas Morgul). Though Quenya is probably quite rare. – Nolimon Nov 5 '18 at 15:59
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There were a number of known Elven residences at the end of the Third Age. These had wildly varying numbers of Elves. The ones we know about are:

  • Rivendell. As a small town, probably held less than 1,000 Elves.
  • Lórien. A substantial area, could hold anywhere between 1,000 and several tens of thousands of Elves. I'd estimate somewhere around the lower part would be reasonable, so maybe 1,000 - 10,000 Elves at the most.
  • Mirkwood. Encountered in The Hobbit, this seems to be the largest remaining Elven Kingdom and could hold substantial numbers. I'd estimate up to 50,000 Elves but it could be much lower.
  • Lindon and the Grey Havens. We're never really given an indication of how many reside here, but enough lived there to be remnants to transport Sam over the Sea when his time came.

So as you can see it's really a guessing game. These estimates are based off the size of either location and the number of Elves we see in them.

This site provides comparisons with human numbers on Earth at various points, and demonstrates a case could be made for any total. I'd imagine not more than a couple of hundred thousand, scattered across the world and mostly distancing themselves from it but probably less.

My point is roughly there isn't a basis for any numbers - you can pick your numbers and justify them as you want. The above are my best estimates.

  • 2
    what is the basis for the estimated #s in bullet points? (1000/10k/50k)? Thanks – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 25 '12 at 22:47
  • Also, i'm looking for realistic average, NOT "how many total could theoretically fit into known elvish territory". After all, at the end of the book, there are zero left, and the territory didn't change – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 25 '12 at 22:48
  • 1
    At the end of the book there were still Elves in Middle-Earth, both those that intended to leave and those that would "dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten", to quote Galadrial. I've updated the answer with the reasoning behind my estimates, but I'm not going to claim they're right. – dlanod Jan 25 '12 at 23:15
  • I was hoping for some data out of extra materials by Tolkien, or C.T's publishings... Not claiming that there's any extra material to be had, just a hope :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 26 '12 at 12:19
  • I did go looking for references, especially for those locations I called out specifically, but if Michael Martinez couldn't find any, I suspect I'm not going to have any luck. – dlanod Jan 26 '12 at 20:06
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It's always pointed out in the books that the bit of Middle Earth we see in the books is only a small part of the total. Many elves never reached the western regions of Middle Earth seen in the books or film. So it's possible that the populations seen may only represent a minority of the total. Still, unless there are huge kingdoms never mentioned, the total can't be large.

2

No numbers were given, so we can only guess. Apart from dlanod's reasoning based on the size of the main congregations of elves, there were also wandering groups like the one the company encountered on their travels through the Shire. How many of these there were and of what size (I'd guess a group of more than half a dozen to a dozen would be too large to remain unnoticed in their passing) is also unknown.

Going from dlanod's deductions and rounding up we can assume several tens of thousands of elves remaining in Middle-earth by the end of the 3rd age, and a good portion of those taking the ships from the Grey Havens during and after the events narrated in the Lord of the Rings.

  • I'm not sure... at least the group of Gildor that the hobbits meet in the Shire seems to be only temporarily abroad: "'This is poor fare,' they said to the hobbits; 'for we are lodging in the greenwood far from our halls. If ever you are our guest at home [which seems to imply that this must be somewhere in Middle Earth], we will treat you better.'" – leftaroundabout Jan 26 '12 at 10:35
  • true, but we don't know how many such groups there were, or how large they were. What we do know is that during the late stages of the 3rd age they increased in numbers as more and more elves migrated towards the Grey Havens to take ship. – jwenting Jan 26 '12 at 12:33

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