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Old 12-09-2006, 12:21 PM   #1
Menelvagor
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How could the Nazgul take Minas Morgul?

This question belongs to the far history of LotR, but I think it is worth to be discussed:

It is said in the appendices that the Nazgul occupied Minas Ithil (and the Palantir located there) after a long siege, almost 1000 years before the time of LotR. I wonder how Gondor at this point could lose a fortress that was probably not much less mighty than Minas Tirith was at the end of the Third Age. Some years before this happened, Gondor was able to utterly defeat the Nazguls' realm of Angmar in the North sending only a small fraction of its whole army. From where did the Nazgul take the troops at this time, to fight a battle that must have been comparable to the siege of Minas Tirith that is reported in LotR? This must imply that Mordor was full of Orcs already at this time, but if this is true, why did Sauron and the Nazgul wait for more than 1000 years until their final attack to Gondor? Is this not an inconsistency in the whole plot (or did Shelob play some role in turning Minas Ithil to Minas Morgul)?

By the way, please excuse that I cannot give exact quotations here, since I only have (German) translations of the books. But I know and like Tolkien's books for more than 25 years, and so I have decided to take part in your discussions...
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Old 12-10-2006, 12:27 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Menelvagor
By the way, please excuse that I cannot give exact quotations here, since I only have (German) translations of the books. But I know and like Tolkien's books for more than 25 years, and so I have decided to take part in your discussions...
Don't worry, you are not the only one here who can't quote directly, I, for example, have only Czech translations (hello, neigbor )

But to the question you posed. My opinion is this - just opinion, nothing more, but I hope another perspective might help to solve this out. So, I was thinking like this: Minas Morgul was taken, but I don't necessarily think it was taken by Orcs at the time (or, there might have been Orcs present, but not as an army I think - maybe just some raid here, some raid there... whatever). Had it been open warfare, Gondor would probably strike out and deal with it (as you pointed out, it was some 30 years after they defeated Angmar). I confess that I have no idea how they did it, but if I look to the Appendices as you mentioned - ah, the unexact quotation comes, please if someone has original, post it here, I'd like to know how much I have strayed from the original *lol*:
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Originally Posted by Appendix A, 4, translated to English from p.300 in the Czech version of Return of the King, second edition by Mladá fronta 1993; translation by Legate of Amon Lanc
"It was during the reign of king Eärnil, as was revealed later, when the Witch-King on his flight from the North came to Mordor and there he assembled the other Ringwraith whose leader he was. But it was not until the year 2000 when they came out of Mordor through the pass of Cirith Ungol and besieged Minas Ithil. They captured it in 2002..."
(and so on )

The Witch-king came to Mordor and he assembled the other Ringwraith - no Orc mentioned. I'm not saying that there were none (but maybe...?), but it seems that they were not so important for this. And they = ringwraith, came out of Mordor, and they (also as Faramir says) have taken Minas Morgul. It was the Ringwraith who have done the most important part of the job, I guess similar as to when Osgiliath was taken when Boromir and Faramir were there (FotR, Elrond's Council, Boromir speaks of "black rider" (Witch-king) and "wherever he came, both men and horses were as driven by madness").
What confuses me, is the "siege" part - I just can't imagine nine nazgul standing in front of the gates of Minas Ithil for two years. My point of view is like that: the nazgul and some Orc started to trouble the surroundings of Minas Ithil, more of a guerilla war, much like the later Rangers of Ithilien, and in 2002, they finally - somehow by sneaking in there, or by treachery - got inside Minas Ithil, and in the horror and panic the Nazgul caused most of the inhabitants have fled or were slain. I know this is not good, but it is all that I can think of.

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Originally Posted by Menelvagor
(or did Shelob play some role in turning Minas Ithil to Minas Morgul)?
I don't think Shelob had something to do with it. She was not joined with Sauron (as very nicely described in the TT on the parallel with the cat). It is written that the Ringwraith have come to Imlad Morgul through Cirith Ungol, but there is no mentioning of "taking Shelob along". So she probably was there for herself, as before, and as after. Just don't think Tolkien would go for it. Nevertheless, it is an interesting thought.
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Old 12-10-2006, 01:25 PM   #3
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I think Legate's guess is as good as any. We aren't really told of any details (besides what Legate has quoted in Appendix A - which is all that's said in my published version)...The Witch-King gathered the other Nazgul in Mordor and laid siege to Minas Ithil.

If it was a siege for two years we'd assume there was an army involved as well...as I agree it doesn't make sense that 9 Nazgul would be outside the gates for two years.

As Legate also mentions Boromir credits the Witch-King with being the most influential in Gondor losing the western half of Osgiliath:
Quote:
...;but it was not by numbers that we were defeated. A power was there that we have not felt before.~The Council of Elrond
And that power was as Boromir would call...'The Black Captain.'

There's not really much more to add, except I don't think this 'siege' would be comparable to that of the siege of Minas Tirith. Eventhough if it did last longer, there probably wasn't a great amount of forces involved. A description of Mordor during King Hyarmendacil's reign in T.A. 1050 is this:
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"Mordor was desolate, but was watched over by great fortresses that guarded the passes."~Appendix A: Gondor and the Heir's of Anarion
This would be referring to Minas Ithil, then it falls in T.A. 2002.

I don't think it was a huge battle at all, there was probably relatively low amount of forces involved. As after the fall of Minas Ithil, it is pretty much ignored. Nobody suspects anything, the Council of the Wise don't think Sauron has come back until over 50 years later (T.A. 2060)...that is when the Council of the Wise begin to start watching out for Sauron more, as the siege upon Minas Ithil seems to be rather passed off as 'unimportant.' And people don't start worrying about Sauron until half a century later.

After Sauron returns Mordor's forces start growing exponentially and assaults upon Gondor start renewing. My guess is that after Sauron's fall, there was some watch put around Mordor to see if Sauron would come back. But after some many years of 'inactivity' and Mordor being 'desolate,' plus with assaults from Angmar and Dol Guldur, that seemed to grab attention more than out in the 'desolate' Mordor. So, watching Mordor became less important as to watching Angmar and Dol Guldur.

That's just when the Witch-King slips away out of the North, gathers the Nazgul and launches an assault on Minas Ithil, taking it 2 years later. Even after that, the Council of the Wise and others still don't think much of it it seems.
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Old 12-10-2006, 02:22 PM   #4
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I'd like to point out that Minas Ithil was a walled city not a fortess, it is of course often is refered to as the tower, its most prominent building and the mark of the city. So it might not be as difficult to take by force as Minas Tirith which was built as a outpost/fortress (not so much as a city), guarding the Northern and Western approach to Osgiliath. So tacticaly, it would probably be easier to lay siege to and take.
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Old 12-10-2006, 02:37 PM   #5
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The siege lasted two years? Then I'm not surprised that Minas Ithil was eventually taken, as conditions must have become unbearable for those besieged. Presumably they must ahve had a significant supply of food to last that long, but other factors such as disease would have a terrible impact.

Though you'd have thought that even had it been under siege then Gondor might have been able to send an army up there to fight off the challengers and relieve the city? This must mean that either Gondor were depleted in resources or their attentions were being divided and resources not being made fully available to relieve Minas Ithil.
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Old 12-10-2006, 04:11 PM   #6
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Or as I believe Tolkien mentioned (through one of his characters, perhaps Boromir?) that the watch on Mordor faltered. Presumably the forces were simply not there to deal with this attack...
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Old 12-10-2006, 07:05 PM   #7
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im not sure if this will make any diference but how many men were there guarding minas ithil
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Old 12-14-2006, 03:56 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by CSteefel
Or as I believe Tolkien mentioned (through one of his characters, perhaps Boromir?) that the watch on Mordor faltered. Presumably the forces were simply not there to deal with this attack...
As far as I remember, Boromir never volunteered such information. He was very proud that Gondor was the guardian of the west lands, as he and his kingdom held the eastern front against mordor. Following one of his very proud speeches at the Council of Elrond, I believe Aragorn then countered with the fact that the nine Ringwraiths were riding well beyond Gondor's borders, openly searching for the ring in the western lands. Thus Boromir's foundation for such pride is not as sturdy as he believes. To this (if my memory serves me right) he never really responded or even acknowledged.

Or is that even what we were talking about...

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Old 12-15-2006, 05:46 PM   #9
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I'm a little confused about what Boromir88 said about this-
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the Council of the Wise begin to start watching out for Sauron more, as the siege upon Minas Ithil seems to be rather passed off as 'unimportant.' And people don't start worrying about Sauron until half a century later.
Wouldn't the Wise be concerned about this--a full assembly of the Nine, on the doorstep of Mordor, besieging one of the chief cities of the South? Especially since they're 'watching out for Sauron more'. I don't really know myself, I mean, all we have to analyze are a couple dates and vague references. Perhaps the answer was Numenorean pride:"We've got this Minas Ithil thing managed. Gondor can solve its own problems!"
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Old 12-16-2006, 09:37 AM   #10
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Perhaps the Nazgul "haunted" Minas Ithil into desolation? That might explain why the Nazgul might not have been recognized as such at the time. The people didn't know what they were, there were just these horrible spirits that came to trouble them. The population might have left for no other reason than they were scared off.

Admittedly, this is a bit difficult to reconcile with the connotations of the word "siege" but it is also difficult to reconcile the Witch-King fleeing defeat able to raise an army from an area that was repeatedly described as desolate and empty for a long time previous and then besiege the city for two years without the power that just defeated him in the north doing anything to relieve a city of their own kingdom.
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Old 12-17-2006, 11:49 AM   #11
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Tolkien it is like that!

tolkiens writing style has always been a little mystical always giving the reader the outline of the story then leaving it to the reader to fill in the other parts.and thats what makes lotr so special!!!
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Old 12-17-2006, 03:26 PM   #12
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Old 12-18-2006, 01:11 PM   #13
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Recall that the fortresses were built to keep Mordor influences
inside that land. Therefore they presumably had been constructed,
and provisioned, for a longterm policy not only of watching but
combating efforts to retake them. One assumes there had to be a
prolonged effort both of some of the nazgul and orcish/mannish
forces to gradually wear down remnants of Mordor military forces
left there, given the historical connections of Gondor with Minas Ithil
especially. It is curious that the ithil stone wasn't evacuated in time,
which seems to suggest a quick investment of Minas Ithil, which is
apparently in conflict with a subsequent two year siege---the extent
of which indicates at least some Gondor individuals of strong will and
character staying there, (perhaps secret exits/entrances used by
Gondor not unlike those at the back of the Caves of Aglarond and
the paths alluded to to escape from Minas Tirith into the White
Mountains)?
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Old 12-18-2006, 06:24 PM   #14
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Quote:
It is curious that the ithil stone wasn't evacuated in time,
which seems to suggest a quick investment of Minas Ithil, which is
apparently in conflict with a subsequent two year siege
I think this reinforces my idea about the haunting strategy. It indicates a lot of confusion and a failure to understand what was happening.
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Old 12-18-2006, 07:49 PM   #15
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I am like the rest quite pussled by this question.

Gondor was strong so how could the Nazgul take it at all and why was it not re-conqured again?

Of course the Nazgul could have taken the city using the element of suprise or something cunning like The Spanish Incuisition and Boromir. But Tolkien tells us that there was a 2 year siege. . .now this implies that the Nazgul most have had a major military force as it takes a bit more than 9 wights and 1 spider to succsesfully lay a siege. Where did they get this force? It does not seems like there was many orcs in Mordor. . .I kind of figured it was men from Harad they used, but somehow I think Tolkien would have told us that.

How on eart could Gondor allow a 2 year seige on one of their major cities where one of the seeing stones were placed? No other war could have been more imperative!? and 2 years should be long enough to gather an army to defeat the Nazgul. Unless the Nazgul was to powerfull for any army when together, but then why did they not take all of Gondor?

Could it be that this is actually a part of the storry Tolkien did not think through?
I am led to belive that he just wrote down some nice story with out thinking down in detail that would fit with the overall picture. I know this is very unlike Tolkien, but I can think of no other possibility. It just doesn't add up.

Sorry for using so much space on saying nothing. . .
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Old 12-19-2006, 04:06 AM   #16
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No problem, I think you just summarized it for all of us. I fear this thread might stay unsolved (please, add this question to the list, right below that Balrog and Wings thing). I have only one more thing to add. Why on Earth can't we write a letter to Professor?!?!?!!!
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Old 12-29-2006, 03:14 PM   #17
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I guess this is one of Tolkien's rare plot holes. I think what he does wrong here is that he intends for the story of the city's fall to be vague and unexplained, by not telling us what happened and so allowing us to come up with our own theories, but then he goes and uses very specific terms like 'siege' and 'two years' that leave us caught somewhere in the middle, unable to make up our own version or find a canon explanation.

I think it's actually fairly easy to explain the 'siege' term - the eastern lands of Middle Earth and the great wastes that lay beyond it were full of monsters and evil people that could be probably be swayed by the combined power of the Nazgul, and used as a makeshift army that allowed for a proper attack. I could see that happening.

What really confuses me is how the city itself fell. Perhaps if the attack had been sudden and the city seized before anyone had a chance to react, then it would be plausible, but the fact that it took two years seems very odd. Why didn't Gondor send reinforcements? Two years is more than enough time to gather a sizeable force to relieve the defenders. We could assume that the army that took Minas Ithil was too strong to be defeated by any Gondorian army, but then you end up wondering why such a mighty army didn't just take over all of Gondor, if it couldn't be defeated by the Gondorians' combined forces.

The idea that the Gondorians didn't see the city as all that important sounds very strange. One of the greatest cities of the south, and an important tactical base, being attacked by all the nine Nazgul? That would surely be a cause for serious concern.

Also, why did it take that long to subdue the city at all? In a battle, every single second counts for something important, so what could have taken two years to occur? And how did the defenders stay alive for so long? What was their food supply?

I suppose this is just one of those things that we'll never know...
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Old 12-29-2006, 09:44 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir Kohran
Also, why did it take that long to subdue the city at all? In a battle, every single second counts for something important, so what could have taken two years to occur? And how did the defenders stay alive for so long? What was their food supply?
I think that the answer actually lies in your question. What could have taken two years to occur? and on the other hand, two years is far too long for a siege, food supplies may last for a few months, but I wouldn't think much more than that.

So here is my theory:

The nine Nazghul, along with a few other creatures of evil persuasion, started haunting the areas around Minas Ithil. Now, since there is not an army camped outside, all the might of Gondor might not do much of a difference. Furthermore, if Gondor did not have the resources to spare to launch a "turn every stone, search every cave" kind of attack to find them, it's likely that they would have sat there and hoped for the best, doing small skirmishes if they happened to find a specific hot spot. But this kind of warfare probably had negative effects on the population of Minas Ithil, psychological warfare if you need to give it a name. Eventually the population would flee, until the city would be weakened and no longer a "strong point" for Gondor. Once that happens, it is possible that the Nazghul, leading a smaller army recruited during those two years, would have been able to take the city.

That explains the two-year long "siege" and also how the Nine (with some help, but not necessarily a huge army) were able to take Minas Ithil.
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Old 12-30-2006, 05:28 AM   #19
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Thumbs up I think Farael got it.

This is what I had in mind and so far it seems the best alternative, if no one comes up with anything better. It was not possible to bring an army of Easterlings through Ithilien since it remained settled for a long time after this, and also "they came out of Mordor through the pass of Cirith Ungol", and I doubt an army larger than Shagrat's squad could pass through Cirith Ungol. So I agree with Farael's explanation of the term "siege", and I also cannot help but remember the movie "Aliens" in connection with this - you know, a colony full of people, but when a recon team comes to find out why there has been no contact, they see only empty corridors...
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Old 01-02-2007, 05:43 AM   #20
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Well for a siege af course you do need a big army, certainly considering it must have beaten all reiforcements that Gondor send to defend Minas Ithil, which af course if it was a massive siege would have happened. Now after being beaten a few deccenia ago, the Witch King could not have gotten a army big enough to lay a siege upon Minas Ithil, it was simply immpossible.

But af course it isn't immpossible that they have taken Minas Ithil, as explained in other posts they could have well taken Minas Ithil by haunting or something simulair.

Now that leaves us with 2 options, or Tolkien misused the term 'Siege' or this is one of his very few mistakes/ subject he hadn't thought through.
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Old 01-02-2007, 09:44 AM   #21
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Hmm...an interesting subject.

I think the discussion so far has neglected (unless I've missed it, which is quite possible) the effect of location. Minas Ithil is basically in Mordor, and the pass that it guards is rather narrow, giving those who sieze it a distinct advantage. Taking this into consideration, I think the term siege fits in quite well. The Nazgul, and whatever army they may have assembled over the course of time, could easily hold such a pass from any returning force of Gondor's while they are sieging it.

A secondary idea to this is that the siege was not on-going in the sense of a constant pounding. With Mordor being 'desolate', I think that the siege could very well be off and on as the Nazgul and their army can manage it. Even if Gondor's army is in short supply of available troops, any force of them is enough to at least deal with orcs. So while Gondor may send small replenishing units of soldiers to garrison in Ithil, the length of the siege, and a potential off and on again nature would in time subdue it.

Yet another side to the location idea is that Ithil is not in Gondor proper. Historically, occupying armies have a very hard time holding a place their people may not care for, considering when it is outside of the homeland. What is there for Ithil to offer, besides as a bastion of defense? And with Sauron himself gone for so long (or at least not on Gondor's doorstep), there may not be enough concern to warrant funneling soldiers to Minas Ithil.

On the question raised by food supply: Barad-dur held out in a siege for seven years, if I recall correctly. Orcs need food too. So then, if a seven year siege can be enacted and maintained, and the defenders can resist it well enough, why not a two year siege at Minas Ithil? It would certainly have fewer mouths to feed.

Anyway, I'm probably ranting and may have gotten off-topic. So I shall retire.
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Old 01-02-2007, 12:02 PM   #22
Amras Oronar
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Why not a 2 year siege? because all the armies the Witch King gathered were destroyed by a fractions of the Gondorian armie 30 years ago... no matter how small that pass is, Minas Ithil is a big city, and it seems very unlogical that the Witch King can get a army big enough to defeat Gondor, because why would he then have not gathered that troops in Angmar?

And about the motivation, Minas Ithil is still locatted on the Gondorian side of the mountains, it is defintly Gondor, and no matter how much it is on Gondor's border, it was a major city, it just wouldn't make sence that Gondor would just do practicly nothing to keep one of their major settlements...
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Old 01-02-2007, 12:17 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Amras Oronar
Why not a 2 year siege? because all the armies the Witch King gathered were destroyed by a fractions of the Gondorian armie 30 years ago... no matter how small that pass is, Minas Ithil is a big city, and it seems very unlogical that the Witch King can get a army big enough to defeat Gondor, because why would he then have not gathered that troops in Angmar?

And about the motivation, Minas Ithil is still locatted on the Gondorian side of the mountains, it is defintly Gondor, and no matter how much it is on Gondor's border, it was a major city, it just wouldn't make sence that Gondor would just do practicly nothing to keep one of their major settlements...
Yes, but the Angmar armies appear to have been relatively self-sufficient. And it is logical that that would be the case, as Mordor is rather far from Angmar. To gather up troops and march them through hostile territory just to assemble them for a northern war would be a disaster. Also, any sighting of Mordor's armies marching north would give the Gondorians reason to assail and crush Sauron once again.

Ithil may indeed be 'Gondorian', but it does not reside in Gondor-proper. By that, I mean in the heartland, not the periphery of its territory. Logistically, it would be difficult when under siege to supply Ithil properly with enough troops and materials. While let-ups in the siege (which seemingly would have to occur based on the amount of time it took) would provide moments to re-supply and garrison the city, Gondor would not be able to effectively control the terrain as it would need to. The terrain easily obstructs such activity, giving the siegers a tactical advantage. And if the siegers can control the mountain passes effectively (and it could very well be done with a small number of troops), then that gives the Nazgul yet another hand up in victory (as well as the fear they themselves bring to the table).
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Old 01-02-2007, 12:28 PM   #24
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White-Hand

Well as said before, Mordor at that time is to be discribed as 'Desolate' I think if there was a big host able to withstand Gondor's might, I think it might be described somewhat different.

And even if by the hand of suprise as well the Nazgul were having the advantage, there would just be no way Gondor would allow the Nazgul to take Minas Ithil. It was about there biggest city, even if the Nazgul would retrieve a small host from Mordor, it wouldn most certainly not be able to defeat all the might of Gondor, which it AF COURSE would use against a assualt upon one of there 3 biggest city's?
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Old 01-02-2007, 12:35 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Amras Oronar
Well as said before, Mordor at that time is to be discribed as 'Desolate' I think if there was a big host able to withstand Gondor's might, I think it might be described somewhat different.

And even if by the hand of suprise as well the Nazgul were having the advantage, there would just be no way Gondor would allow the Nazgul to take Minas Ithil. It was about there biggest city, even if the Nazgul would retrieve a small host from Mordor, it wouldn most certainly not be able to defeat all the might of Gondor, which it AF COURSE would use against a assualt upon one of there 3 biggest city's?
I'm not saying the Mordorian forces were large. I am only saying that any force of orcs, no matter the size, would be able, under the competent commanding of the Witch-King, to hold a small piece of terrain and maintain a long siege. Due to the distance from Gondor, and having to cross Osgiliath and march into mountains that are less than pleasant, it becomes increasingly more difficult for Minas Tirith to direct a war against the besieging forces of the Nazgul, who are more at home in the terrain, as would be their troops.

And Gondor (as in the King) may very well would not want to lose or give up Ithil. But that is irrelevant if they could not do anything. And while Gondorian armies may have helped smash Angmar thirty years earlier, that was thirty years earlier. A lot can happen to a kingdom and its armies in that amount of time.
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Old 01-02-2007, 03:21 PM   #26
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CaptainOfDespair you bring an interesting point to the argument, but I don't believe that Gondor would have given up Minas Ithil because it was far from the Gondorian mainland. We can all agree that Ilithien was part of "Gondor Proper"... Not to mention Osgiliath. Yet between Mordor and Minas Tirith there were no strong points, or fortresses, other than Minas Ithil. To hold Minas Ithil meant to have the upper hand in controling Ilithien and the roads to Osgiliath, to loose it was to give the upper hand to the forces of Mordor (as it wound up happening).

While it is a good point that Minas Ithil was amidst a desolate land in the far end of the land of Gondor, it was guarding a very rich land, and one of Gondor's main cities, so I don't think how any half-competent ruler would have given up Minas Ithil freely.

Furthermore, the assambling of even a small army of orcs (or evil men or any other living creature for that matter) was also complicated by the fact that, as mentioned many times before, armies need food. As far as I know, at that time Mordor was fairly empty, so I am guessing that the fields by the sea of Rhun were either inhabited or the few orcs or humans there were concerned with their own survival to send food to an army camped at the mountain passes.
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Old 01-03-2007, 11:29 AM   #27
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Despite Ithil's importance, a good leader would not simply toss unit after unit against a siege that they have no hope of winning. Due to the variety of potential factors concerning the siege, and that it was in the end won by the Nazgul, I think it is safe to say that Gondor did not put much fight into keeping the stronghold. Had it been a major war/battle, I think Tolkien might have mentioned more than it just taking two years to fall to the Witch-King.

And on the topic of competent rulers, was the Gondorian King at the time of Ithil's fall an intelligent, wise leader or a fool? We do know that the Wiki taunted Earnur into confrontation at Minas Morgul almost 50 years later (obviously not a wise move). Perhaps the line of the Kings was in decline, and they were becoming foolish. Sort of like Denethor at the end of his life...

Again, on the topic of food, it is very easy for the besieging force to have food, at least for in the initial stages of the assault. Why would the Witch-King, who is quite clearly a competent commander at least, not prepare for the siege ahead of time? I do not think he would simply return the Mordor to siege Minas Ithil without first gathering supplies and forces.

I also feel it would be quite easy for the Nazgul to assemble an army in Mordor. While Gondor had in recent memory beaten Angmar, Ithil had languished under the Great Plague. This reduced the effectiveness of the garrison, culminating in the lapse on the watch of Mordor. With Mordor being so desolate, and perhaps the garrison being reduced significantly, Gondor could not afford to send out detachments into the wastes to search for a gathering enemy, if they even knew about it.
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Old 01-05-2007, 04:09 AM   #28
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I’d like to follow along the same lines laid out by CaptainofDespair.

To set the background, I’d like to clearly demonstrate that the Númenórean fortresses built to guard Mordor had been deserted, abandoned, or their garrisons reduced to levels unable to defend them long before the Nazgűl launched their attack on Minas Ithil in III 2000.

RotK, “Appendix A”, “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion”:
Quote:
Atanatar Alcarin son of Hyarmendacil … loved ease and did nothing to maintain the power [of Gondor]. The waning of Gondor had already begun before he died, and was doubtless observed by its enemies. The watch upon Mordor was neglected.
Atanatar Alcarin reigned III 1149–1226.

Ibid.
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...in the reign of Telemnar, ... a deadly plague came ... out of the East. The King and all his children died, and great numbers of the people of Gondor, especially those that lived in Osgiliath. Then for weariness and fewness of men the watch on the borders of Mordor ceased and the fortresses that guarded the passes were unmanned.

Later it was noted that these things happened even as the Shadow grew deep in Greenwood, and many evil things reappeared, signs of the arising of Sauron. It ... may well be that the opening of Mordor was what [Sauron] chiefly desired.

…Tarondor, … who succeeded [Telemnar], … removed the king’s house permanently to Minas Anor, for Osgiliath was now partly deserted, and began to fall into ruin. Few of those who had fled from the plague into Ithilien or to the western dales were willing to return.
Telemnar died in III 1636 after reigning only two years.

Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, says of this period that,
Quote:
...the forts on the borders of Mordor were deserted, and Minas Ithil was emptied of its people; and [the Nazgűl] entered again into the Black Land secretly...
Elrond says in FotR, “Council of Elrond”, that
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the watch upon the walls of Mordor slept, and dark things crept back to Gorgoroth. And on a time evil things came forth, and they took Minas Ithil and abode in it…
Essentially, the Towers of the Teeth, Durthang (at the extreme northwestern interior of Mordor), and – it would seem – Cirith Ungol were manned, if at all, by skeleton, token garrisons inadequate to the tasks assigned to them..

From RotK, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”
Quote:
…was … an eastern outpost of the defenses of Ithilien, made when, after the Last Alliance, Men of Westernesse kept watch on [Mordor.] But as with Narchost and Carchost, the Towers of the Teeth, so here too vigilance … failed, and treachery … yielded up the Tower to the Lord of the Ringwraiths…
We are not told when Narchost and Carchost were retaken by the forces of Morgul, but the implication is that this took place before the Tower of Cirith Ungol was seized by the Nazgűl. RotK, “Appendix A”, “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion” says that Narmacil II was killed in III 1856 fighting the Wainriders, and in what Tolkien appears to intend to seem a marginal note of a scribe (because it is placed in square brackets), the text reads, “At this time it is thought that the Ringwraiths re-entered Mordor.” This section of the appendix also says that, “In III 1944 King Ondoher and both his sons, Artamir and Faramir, fell in battle [with the Wainriders] north of the Morannon, and the enemy poured into Ithilien.” It might have been around this time that the Towers of the Teeth fell to Gondor’s enemies, perhaps in the guise of coming under the control of the Wainriders, which while quite a problem militarily and in terms of public morale in Gondor, would seem less threatening than if the captains of Gondor realized that the Nazgűl controlled the Towers. But exactly when capture of Narchost and Carchost took place is not mentioned in the Tale of Years (“Appendix B”), or anyplace else, including in the History of Middle-earth series, as far as I know.

I think this shows that the lesser Númenórean fortresses guarding Mordor – Narchost, Carchost, Durthang, Cirith Ungol, and probably others, were either abandoned or militarily ineffective well before III 2000. In addition, the city of Minas Ithil had been severely depopulated, so that most of the folk still in it were probably the soldiery required to man it at some low level of operation and their families; while nearby western Ithilien, from which any immediate reinforcements would normally have been drawn and a counterattack rallied in earlier days, was deserted.


Next, I would like to tackle the contention that Minas Ithil was a “walled city not a fortress.” The purpose of Minas Ithil was to control access to Ithilien and Anduin through the pass over the Ephel Dúath into Mordor. In The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, Tolkien says that
Quote:
Isildur and Anárion ... [built] strong places ... upon either [side of Osgiliath]: Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow as a threat to Mordor; and to the westward Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun, at the feet of Mount Mindolluin, as a shield against the wild men of the dales.
A walled city is not “a threat to Mordor,” but a military fortress is and is intended to be a threat to one’s enemies. Unfinished Tales, “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields”, footnote 11, specifically refers to Minas Ithil as a “fortress” and states the purpose of its construction:
Quote:
Isildur had sent [two of his sons] to man his fortress of Minas Ithil, lest Sauron should … seek to force a way through Cirith Dúath (later called Cirith Ungol)…
I hope that settles the question of whether Minas Ithil was a “fortress” or not.


Now, on to a plausible scenario for the attack, investment, and fall of Minas Ithil.

Sauron’s commanders had taken the city from Isildur in their initial assaults on Gondor in II 3429, and Isildur was forced to retreat. At least some of the Nazgűl must have been in the city and all along the pass during this period, and so some of them must have already been familiar with the city and its environs.

On page 181 of War of the Ring in the chapter “Journey to the Cross-roads”, there is a map labeled “Minas Morghul [sic] and the Cross-roads” showing the cross-roads where Frodo, Sam and Gollum encountered the statue of the king with the fallen head, the road to Minas Morgul, and the Straight Stair (first, steep stair) to Cirith Ungol. I believe this is the basis of Karen Wynn Fonstad’s map in Atlas of Middle-earth, “Path to Cirith Ungol”, which is easier to read. Both maps show old Minas Ithil slightly to the south of the main road, which runs along the bottom of the main pass over the maintains. (The path Frodo & Sam took with Gollum’s guidance was not the main path, but a secondary, narrower, and more treacherous one.) Fonstad reminds us that, “at one point, Frodo could see the Morgul-road in a ravine far below,” and alongside the road ran once-beautiful Ithilduin, the stream that became the polluted Morgulduin. Moreover, the city itself was about a mile from the road “as the crow flies,” but about 2 miles by the twisting road; and it was two or three miles across a ridge that concealed the city from the west unless one walked or rode up the road into the pass at least a mile or more.

With few men at the Tower of Cirith Ungol and the likelihood that the Dúnedain rarely if ever ventured into Shelob’s Lair, it would have been possible for a few of the Nazgűl with a small escort (a few dozen at the most) to slip through Torech Ungol and down the stairs north of the pass. If the Nazgűl were careful and meticulous in their planning, they should have been able first to seize the Tower of Cirith Ungol by treachery – that meant an inside job for which they could select the timing; temporarily close off the narrow western mouth of the ravine from which the pass exited; and then march a force down the road from the Mordor side large enough to block the southern side-road to Minas Ithil from the main road and construct some sort of defensive work across the mouth of the ravine to prevent reinforcements from getting through. Fonstad shows the length of the main road from the Tower of Cirith Ungol to the issue of the pass from the mountains to be about 20 or 25 miles: a distance that might be covered in one day of forced march. The length of time any small “special operations” force on the western end would have to terrorize and fight defenders from Minas Ithil and travelers from the west until the main body of the assault force arrived to hold the western entrance to the pass would then be kept to a bare minimum.

In fact, in Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, Tolkien confirms that this took place very swiftly:
Quote:
in the days of Eärnil [the Nazgűl] ... came by night out of Mordor over the passes of the Mountains of Shadow, and took Minas Ithil for their abode...
All this indicates that the Ringwraiths took the defenders of Minas Ithil off-guard and by surprise. The garrison in Minas Ithil may already have been insufficient for an attack of any importance from Mordor: that, too, seems to be implied by the text. Because they could not merely escape but had to hold the city, the Minas Ithil garrison was unlikely to launch a counterattack into the valley against superior numbers, so that the Nazgűl had only to control access to the western end of the narrow pass to prevent relief from arriving from Osgiliath or Minas Anor, and they must have had sufficient forces at their command for this purpose: I estimate that would require no more than 1500-2000 soldiers, and perhaps considerably fewer even than that. (300 Spartans and 700 Thespians held the Pass of Thermopylae against the entire Persian army for three days.) Essentially, the besiegers would have to completely control the western four or five miles of the narrow road, including the approach road to Minas Ithil. Since the line of the attack was long but very narrow, depth in their position made the Nazgűl’s forces strong, particularly if they could rapidly erect barriers to improve their defenses.

Because there were no longer significant numbers of Dúnedain living near the pass or in the surrounding territory, their numbers having been severely reduced by plague and the economy of the region damaged by the severe depopulation of Osgiliath, any substantial relief force would have had to come from Minas Anor. It took Aragorn and the men he led to the Morannon in RotK over a day to march to Morgul Vale from Minas Tirith; though no doubt they could have made it in one day were they determined to do so; however, it may be that Eärnil II was not immediately prepared to respond, and if he sent out a response in size the next day, it might already have been too late: simple defenses would no doubt have been brought by Morgul army when they first came, and in the ensuing days, trenches and ditches could be dug across the road, stakes planted to prevent cavalry charges, and walls erected on the other of the trenches and ditches, so that unless the invasion was thrown back in the first few days, it would become exponentially more difficult for Gondor to dislodge them.


A word about Shelob. Shelob had apparently been in her lair since before II 1000, when Sauron began the construction of Barad-dűr. (Two Towers, “Shelob’s Lair”: “...she was there ... before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dűr...”) Sauron found her useful, and called her his cat, and like a cat, she didn’t care a whit about whether he liked her or not. However, she would probably permit the Nazgűl to pass through along with some orcs (or evil men), particularly if one or two were left for lunch – a fate that probably awaited many of the defenders of Minas Ithil captured at the end of the siege. In any case, the Dúnedain probably consciously avoided her and Torech Ungol, especially since they had not been able to get rid of her in the 2000 years since Minas Ithil had been built. It is likely that they did not maintain patrols to the Stairs leading to her lair, and a small group including one or two Nazgűl could slip through without being noticed by the garrison of Minas Ithil. (I am fond of the notion that a few of the Nazgűl did this to cut off access to the western end of the pass, but there is in the texts no evidence for this at all, as far as I am aware.)


By this point, there was simply no way for Gondor to affect the outcome of the siege from the East. They could not get into Mordor at all after losing control of the pass, save by scaling the mountains in very small groups. Carchost and Narchost were probably already under the control of the Nazgűl, so the Morannon was closed to the Dúnedain. The Morgul forces could resupply and reinforce themselves at their leisure from the eastern end of the pass: not that Mordor or the Morgai were particularly pleasant places, but there was Nurn to the south and east, and food and supplies could be brought by caravan across the vast interior of Mordor from southern Rhűn and Khand.

Maps of Mordor show that Gorgoroth occupied only the northwestern quadrant of that land. Nurn is clearly in the southern region with its great inland sea, but the eastern region not cut off from Nurn might also have been arable: there are two rivers flowing from the Ered Lithui and the spur of mountains extended south from them to the Sea of Núrnen. I suspect that most of the foodstuffs required by the attackers for the siege came from Nurn or from eastern Mordor, all of which would reasonably seem to be arable to some extent. It is about 175-185 miles from the north-eastern shores of the Sea of Núrnen to the Tower of Cirith Ungol, probably 10 days journey or less. If necessary, a caravan could travel about 450 miles from southern Rhűn to the Tower of Cirith Ungol, about 22-23 days travel; or about 530-560 miles from central Khand to Cirith Ungol, which might have taken around a month. By comparison, in Unfinished Tales, “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields”, Isildur hoped to march over 300 leagues from Osgiliath to Rivendell (footnote 6; that would be 900 miles, using Tolkien’s convention of 3 miles to a league, approximately the distance a soldier can march in an hour) in 40 days with his escort of “Dúnedain, tall men of great strength and endurance, … accustomed to move full-armed at eight leagues a day ‘with ease’…” (footnote 9).

The one great advantage that the Dúnedain possessed was their communication by means of the palantíri. The fact that there was a palantír in Minas Ithil must for Sauron have been one of its most attractive features: the Witch-king had failed to capture any of the palantíri of Arnor. However, even with the unquestionably valuable intelligence that the palantíri must have provided, the captains of Gondor had no means of making use of what they learned by means of a force of any significant size, because they could not get to Minas Ithil to break the siege except by the road or over the mountain ridge that cut it off from western Ithilien; and an effective attack on the Morgul forces operating within the interior of Mordor was out of the question: the Nazgűl controlled the road through the pass. It then became a matter of reducing the defenders of Minas Ithil as their food supplies ran out: two years would be about right for an important fortress in a wealthy kingdom.

Even in modern times, sieges can last for extended periods: for example, the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s lasted nearly 4 years; the Siege of Leningrad in World War II lasted almost 29 months; Gibraltar has been besieged at least 14 times since the Middle Ages: the last, called the Great Siege, began in 1799 and lasted 3˝ years. I think it is reasonable to assume that Denethor would provision Minas Tirith at least as well as the British provisioned Gibraltar: Hirgon the errand-rider of Gondor told Théoden that Minas Tirith had a “very great store long prepared” against a siege of that city (RotK, “Muster of Rohan”). Gamling told Théoden that he and Erkenbrand had “great store of food, and many beasts and their fodder” at Helm’s Deep (Two Towers, “Helm’s Deep”). Minas Ithil should have been well-provisioned, too, given its importance, even if its garrison were small, a shadow of what it had been in the days of Isildur and his sons.

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Old 01-05-2007, 05:17 PM   #29
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Where does it say that Minas Ithil was retaken by Gondor after its initial capture in Second Age, 3441?

It seems everyone thinks that the "siege" was continuous, despite the word "siege" implying obvious constant pressure.
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Old 01-05-2007, 06:21 PM   #30
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A couple of thoughts…

Quote:
Next, I would like to tackle the contention that Minas Ithil was a “walled city not a fortress.
The two are not mutually exclusive.

Quote:
And on the topic of competent rulers, was the Gondorian King at the time of Ithil's fall an intelligent, wise leader or a fool?
The king was Earnil II who was far from incompetent.

Quote:
The garrison in Minas Ithil may already have been insufficient for an attack of any importance from Mordor: that, too, seems to be implied by the text. Because they could not merely escape but had to hold the city, the Minas Ithil garrison was unlikely to launch a counterattack into the valley against superior numbers, so that the Nazgűl had only to control access to the western end of the narrow pass to prevent relief from arriving from Osgiliath or Minas Anor, and they must have had sufficient forces at their command for this purpose: I estimate that would require no more than 1500-2000 soldiers, and perhaps considerably fewer even than that. (300 Spartans and 700 Thespians held the Pass of Thermopylae against the entire Persian army for three days.) Essentially, the besiegers would have to completely control the western four or five miles of the narrow road, including the approach road to Minas Ithil. Since the line of the attack was long but very narrow, depth in their position made the Nazgűl’s forces strong, particularly if they could rapidly erect barriers to improve their defenses.
While your tactical sense is sound, I must disagree with a few key points. First of all, three days is nothing like two years.

Second, while just for the sake of discussion I’ll go with the idea that the Nazguls’ army outnumbered the defenders (for future reference, a point I am not conceding) I doubt this army could have been strong enough to hold back the might of Gondor indefinitely if it were applied in that situation, certainly not for two years. Even heavily defended places will fall, even if it is costly, to sustained pressure without relief. We are back to the same problem of where was the Nazguls’ army to come from and how was it supplied.

Quote:
I suspect that most of the foodstuffs required by the attackers for the siege came from Nurn or from eastern Mordor, all of which would reasonably seem to be arable to some extent.
Whether they were arable and whether they were occupied at the time are two different things. Even if they were occupied the occupation was recent and possibly had not reached the self-supporting stage. Military campaigns require large stockpiles of everything. The real problem is where those came from.

Quote:
The one great advantage that the Dúnedain possessed was their communication by means of the palantíri.
An interesting factor indeed, one that leads me to the conclusions that A) the king and his council must have had some idea of what was going on and B) that they would be willing to pay a pretty heavy price to get the palantir back. I think that if they had believed that a substantial military campaign was in order they would have done it. And Gondor’s power was still sufficient to do this. Remember that the reason why the Witch-king was back in Mordor in the first place was because Gondor had reached up and kicked him out of Angmar. I find it impossible to believe that the Witch-king had an army at Minas Ithil the size of the one he had at Fornost and Gondor was able to crush the Angmarian army from afar.

I believe, given the seemingly conflicting information we possess, something unorthodox happened at Minas Ithil and I think a “haunting” is by far the most reasonable explanation which is in line with what we know. The critical factor in my view is that the Gondorians didn’t understand what was happening and hauntings are good for that sort of thing.
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Old 01-05-2007, 06:59 PM   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
Military campaigns require large stockpiles of everything. The real problem is where those came from.

I find it impossible to believe that the Witch-king had an army at Minas Ithil the size of the one he had at Fornost and Gondor was able to crush the Angmarian army from afar.
They (the stockpiles) could come from anywhere. Rhun seems likely, and surely the Witch-King could 'persuade' the Easterlings and Wainriders to give him what he needed in the way of supplies, as well as providing themselves as troops. I don't see it being very hard to slip supplies through the back-door of Mordor, either.

On the size of the army, I agree with you Kuruharan. But that does not mean the Nazgul-led force could not be effective. War is not fought on paper, and to think that numbers alone make the difference is a lapse in judgement. And one must also take note that Angmar's defeat was already in the past. The power of Gondor could very well have waned in that time just enough to leave the army incapable of responding properly to the situation.

And, why would the Nazgul haunt Minas Ithil? The Witch-King had been humiliated by Gondor before. It makes more sense for him to want to take revenge in a rather violent manner. And from the Witch-King's campaigns in Angmar, we see that he prefers to cause destruction and death, razing entire areas as the army passes. Haunting Ithil after he had taken it is more than reasonable, since that is adding insult to injury, to turn it into a den of evil.
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Old 01-05-2007, 09:17 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
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Originally Posted by Alcuin
Next, I would like to tackle the contention that Minas Ithil was a “walled city not a fortress.
The two are not mutually exclusive.
I did not say they were mutually exclusive. This was in response to an earlier post expressing the opinion “that Minas Ithil was a walled city not a fortess [sic]”.

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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
…three days is nothing like two years.

Second, while just for the sake of discussion I’ll go with the idea that the Nazguls’ army outnumbered the defenders (for future reference, a point I am not conceding) I doubt this army could have been strong enough to hold back the might of Gondor indefinitely if it were applied in that situation, certainly not for two years. Even heavily defended places will fall, even if it is costly, to sustained pressure without relief. We are back to the same problem of where was the Nazguls’ army to come from and how was it supplied.
During the first three days, Gondor should have had an easier time dislodging the Morgul invasion. The longer the Nazgűl’s invasion force was in the pass, the more difficult it would become for Gondor to force them out of position.

“Even heavily defended places will fall … to sustained pressure without relief,” you say. That is true: the Morgul forces had a continuous link to their bases of supply; but the garrison of Minas Ithil was isolated, and eventually it did fall. No reinforcements could get into Minas Ithil, nor could food or military goods; for the Morgul army, however, whatever its size, it could be reinforced at will from the Mordor end of the pass, and it could be freely resupplied and re-equipped without interference or interruption. Besides orcs, as CaptainofDespair has observed, there were also Wainriders and men of Khand and Harad that the Nazgűl could use to prevent Gondor from accessing the first few miles of the pass.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
…A) the king and his council must have had some idea of what was going on and B) that they would be willing to pay a pretty heavy price to get the palantir back. I think that if they had believed that a substantial military campaign was in order they would have done it. And Gondor’s power was still sufficient to do this.
No doubt they had an excellent picture of the tactical situation, and they had far superior communications, having no impediment to their lines of communication with Minas Ithil; however, they had no way to take advantage of their intelligence, unless you can demonstrate how Gondor could effect a military operation in Mordor or the eastern end of the Ithil pass without resort to the Ithil pass or the Morannon.

You say that “they would be willing to pay a pretty heavy price” to defend Minas Ithil, and I agree: but once the Morgul force was entrenched along the entire western approach to Minas Ithil, the “advantages” for Gondor would be much akin to those enjoyed during World War I by armies attacked heavily entrenched positions: very poor prospects indeed. It would seem that most of the Nazgűl were there as well, and anytime a breach began to form in the Morgul lines, I suspect one or more of them would join in the fray.

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Originally Posted by Kuruharan
…the Witch-king was back in Mordor in the first place was because Gondor had reached up and kicked him out of Angmar.
An oversimplification of the events surrounding the defeat of Angmar. The Witch-king was defeated because in his pride after having seized Fornost, slaughtered everyone in the city, and seated himself on the ancient throne of Arnor, he went out to meet his enemies without good information on the size and disposition of their force. I have posted this before in other places, but perhaps it is useful to repost it here:
This is how I interpret the material concerning the end of the kingdom of Angmar in Return of the King, “Appendix A”. I prepared a sketch to more easily describe the situation I think Tolkien has laid out for us.
  1. Círdan, leading the combined forces of Lindon, the surviving Dúnedain of the North, and most of the expeditionary force of Gondor, approaches Fornost from the Hills of Evendim. (Big red arrow)
  2. The Witch-king, whose army has occupied Fornost, leads his forces out to confront them between Lake Nenuial and the North Downs. (Big blue arrow)
  3. The two armies engage. As Angmar’s lines begin to waver, Eärnur leading the cavalry of Gondor charges into the battle from the north. (Thin red line headed south).
  4. Angmar is defeated. The Witch-king leads a retreat in haste towards Carn-Dűm, with Eärnur and the cavalry of Gondor in hot pursuit. (Thin blue and red lines headed towards Carn-Dűm.)
  5. Before the Witch-king and his remaining forces can reach their city, a force from Rivendell led by Glorfindel cuts off their retreat. (Thin red line from Rivendell) What is left of the army of Angmar is utterly destroyed. The Witch-king alone escapes into the night.
The Witch-king had no use for an army the size of that he possessed at Angmar. It could not be inserted into the pass to any positive effect: which is exactly why even a large army from Gondor would be of less effect: only the front lines of the two armies could fight, and all the advantages would accrue to the Morgul side. The whole reason Isildur constructed Minas Ithil was to control western end of the pass, which Gondor did for 2000 years until the Nazgűl were able to cut off the citadel and invest it: all the garrisons along the border were undermanned and unprepared, as I showed in the first five citations in post #28.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kuruharan
I believe, given the seemingly conflicting information we possess, something unorthodox happened at Minas Ithil and I think a “haunting” is by far the most reasonable explanation which is in line with what we know. The critical factor in my view is that the Gondorians didn’t understand what was happening and hauntings are good for that sort of thing.
I don’t find any conflicting information: it is extremely sparse, but I do not see any internal conflicts or counterindications. The text is quite clear that the Nazgűl led a force that descended upon Minas Ithil by surprise, invested the citadel, and took it after a two-year siege. This is repeated in more than one place in the corpus. There is no mention of anything that hints of “hauntings” – that was what took place in the Barrow-downs of Cardolan, and it is also well-attested in many places in the corpus. Had he intended the events at the two places to be similar, I cannot see why Tolkien would say in RotK, “Appendix A”, “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion” that
Quote:
It was … in the reign of King Eärnil (II) … that the Witch-king escaping from the North came to Mordor, and there gathered the other Ringwraiths… [In III] 2000 … they issued from Mordor by the Pass of Cirith Ungol and laid siege to Minas Ithil. This they took in 2002, and captured the palantír of the tower.
That seems to me a simple and straightforward statement. To my mind, it does not constitute a “plot hole” or require any kind of supernatural events, though given that the attacking force was led by the Nazgűl, I imagine there might have been a few “supernatural events.” But this operation could have been conducted by any well-led, well-prepared, well-disciplined army under the circumstances. I agree with this remark earlier in the thread,
Quote:
Originally Posted by Farael
That explains the two-year long "siege" and also how the Nine (with some help, but not necessarily a huge army) were able to take Minas Ithil.

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Old 01-07-2007, 09:41 AM   #33
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They (the stockpiles) could come from anywhere. Rhun seems likely, and surely the Witch-King could 'persuade' the Easterlings and Wainriders to give him what he needed in the way of supplies, as well as providing themselves as troops. I don't see it being very hard to slip supplies through the back-door of Mordor, either.
That is a long supply line if I ever saw one. Long supply lines equal inevitable problems and delays even under the best of circumstances (and I can concede that transport across Mordor certainly would not have been encumbered by things like the enemy activity and bandits that often plagued supply lines in this day and age). Still, you have things like broken transports, the need for the transporters to eat a chunk of the supplies, considering the derelict state of Mordor I would assume bad roads, all sorts of stuff. Gondor was actually in a much more favorable logistical position.

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And one must also take note that Angmar's defeat was already in the past. The power of Gondor could very well have waned in that time just enough to leave the army incapable of responding properly to the situation.
I kind of doubt that. The time involved was not that long and there is no plague or famine or other massive population reducing event mentioned during that time.

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It makes more sense for him to want to take revenge in a rather violent manner. And from the Witch-King's campaigns in Angmar, we see that he prefers to cause destruction and death, razing entire areas as the army passes.
I think in this case the issue is what he was capable of doing rather than what he wanted to do.

Quote:
Besides orcs, as CaptainofDespair has observed, there were also Wainriders and men of Khand and Harad that the Nazgűl could use to prevent Gondor from accessing the first few miles of the pass.
Minor point: Hadn’t the Wainriders been completely broken 56 years before this though?

Anyway, on to the big stuff…

Quote:
That is true: the Morgul forces had a continuous link to their bases of supply; but the garrison of Minas Ithil was isolated, and eventually it did fall. No reinforcements could get into Minas Ithil, nor could food or military goods; for the Morgul army, however, whatever its size, it could be reinforced at will from the Mordor end of the pass, and it could be freely resupplied and re-equipped without interference or interruption.
As I pointed out above, I’m not sure this is the case. Just a glance at the map indicates that Gondor was in a better logistical position because their supply lines were shorter. In a protracted campaign of attrition of the type you are proposing, I think Gondor would have had the decisive advantage, therefore, I don’t think that is what happened.

Quote:
No doubt they had an excellent picture of the tactical situation, and they had far superior communications, having no impediment to their lines of communication with Minas Ithil; however, they had no way to take advantage of their intelligence, unless you can demonstrate how Gondor could effect a military operation in Mordor or the eastern end of the Ithil pass without resort to the Ithil pass or the Morannon.

You say that “they would be willing to pay a pretty heavy price” to defend Minas Ithil, and I agree: but once the Morgul force was entrenched along the entire western approach to Minas Ithil, the “advantages” for Gondor would be much akin to those enjoyed during World War I by armies attacked heavily entrenched positions: very poor prospects indeed. It would seem that most of the Nazgűl were there as well, and anytime a breach began to form in the Morgul lines, I suspect one or more of them would join in the fray.
For one thing, the advantage conferred to the defender by entrenched positions was not anything like as great in this style of warfare as they were in World War I. (Actually, given the particular style of warfare described in Middle-earth, I prefer the term “fortified” and will use that.) Assuming that the Mordorian forces had walled off the western end of the pass, even in depth, all the Gondorians would have needed to do was employ conventional siege tactics to breach each layer of fortification. While this could be costly, given the logistical advantages of Gondor I think they would have succeeded had they tried this.

Quote:
It would seem that most of the Nazgűl were there as well, and anytime a breach began to form in the Morgul lines, I suspect one or more of them would join in the fray.
True, but the Witch-king’s presence didn’t turn the tide at Fornost and their power was reduced in daytime and their master’s power had not grown as great at that point as it did later.

Quote:
An oversimplification of the events surrounding the defeat of Angmar. The Witch-king was defeated because in his pride after having seized Fornost
Perhaps, but the rest of your explanation, interesting as it is, is an overcomplication of the point I was trying to make. My point was that Gondor was able to fling an army sufficient to crush Angmar (no small feat) about 1000 miles away from its home base (also no small feat) and yet a mere 25 years later Gondor couldn’t muster the strength to defend one of its primary cities. I find this impossible to swallow if conventional tactics are all that is considered.

Quote:
which is exactly why even a large army from Gondor would be of less effect: only the front lines of the two armies could fight, and all the advantages would accrue to the Morgul side.
It depends on what you are wanting to do. If one is just wanting to grind it out, than a meeting of the front lines is all that is required. But I don’t think a Thermopylaesque battle in the pass is what would have happened anyway (a situation where I think the Gondorians would have won in the end anyway, just like the Persians did). I think it would have been more of a siege.

Quote:
I don’t find any conflicting information: it is extremely sparse, but I do not see any internal conflicts or counterindications. The text is quite clear that the Nazgűl led a force that descended upon Minas Ithil by surprise, invested the citadel, and took it after a two-year siege.
I’m afraid that the words “take by surprise” followed by “two-year siege” used regarding the same event have a rather jarring effect in my brain.

Also, see the bit about Gondor’s potency in 1975 and then their apparent utter impotence in 2000-2002. This just does not compute.
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Old 01-07-2007, 03:49 PM   #34
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Well, I was going to post something rather similar to what Kuruharan has said about the supply lines... sending food and equipment over hundreds of miles of (at best) deserted, if not full of bandits, terrain is no easy task (and no, the fact that the Nazghul are "baddies" does not mean that they won't be attacked by bandits. There are quite a few instances of orcs attacking other orcs and ultimately benefitting the "Good" people, not the less the massacre of the tower of Cirith Ungol which allowed Sam and Frodo to escape).

But there is another side to this matter. Reinforcements. I believe we have all agreed that the Nazghul did not have a huge army. Furthermore, if they could not gather a huge army, how could they find reinforcements? As Kuruharan mentioned, Gondor could easily besiege the Nazghul fortifications and bide their time. Two years is a lot of time, and yet not enough time for the Nazghul to build a fortress out of thin air. Best case scenario, they'd have a wooden pallisade with a big ditch and stakes to prevent a cavalry attack. All nice and dandy, but I'm sure Gondor could get a catapult or two. Just keep on shelling them, they can't replace their losses. Furthermore, as I mentioned, their fortifications are not likely to have been made of stone... thus easily breakable by a good solid chunk of rock flung by a catapult. And don't ask me where they'd get rocks from, they are near a mountain range!!!

Furthermore, it seems we are forgetting one little thing. There are still some forces in Minas Ithil, so the Nazghul would have been fighting a battle in two fronts. At any point in time, and with the help of the Palantir which made comunications easy, the Gondor forces could attack the Nazghul on two fronts... the main force would start an attack, and at the heaviest point a smaller force from Minas Ithil could attack the enemy at their rear. Say, give the Nazghul a month to get their fortifications in place, shell them for a day or two and then attack them in two fronts. A determined attack on two fronts would dislodge any army... the catapults would negate the "fortifications" (or some of them anyway) and furthermore, they'd cause at least some losses that the Nazghul could not replace.
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Old 01-07-2007, 04:00 PM   #35
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Just a glance at the map indicates that Gondor was in a better logistical position because their supply lines were shorter. In a protracted campaign of attrition of the type you are proposing, I think Gondor would have had the decisive advantage…
However long the Morgul lines of supply, Minas Ithil had no lines of supply at all: that was its problem. The Morgul army could be resupplied and reinforced almost at leisure; but not so Minas Ithil: no loss it sustained could be replaced. I am not “proposing” that there was a “protracted campaign,” I am relying upon Tolkien’s multiple assertions that the city was besieged for a long period. The exercise is not to negate what he wrote, but to explain it, is it not?

I agree with you, Kuruharan, that the military posture of Gondor is unlikely to have deteriorated in any significant way between III 1975 when Arnor collapsed and III 2000 when the siege of Minas Ithil began. The problem was, I think, that the Dúnedain of Gondor were first unprepared for any attack at all, believing that having vanquished both the Wainriders and the Haradrim, they faced no risk of attack; and in the second place, they had no idea what tactical problems they faced in combating the Ringwraiths.

Eärnil lacked the insight and experience to deal with the Nazgűl, something the commanders of Arthedain possessed in spades; Arthedain lacked the means to defend itself from the assault of Angmar, and Gondor was slow to come to its aid, when timely assistance might have saved the struggling kingdom. In this way the words of Malbeth the Seer came true (RotK, “Appendix A”, “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion”),
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...a choice will come to the Dúnedain, and if they take the one that seems less hopeful, then your son will change his name and become king of a great realm. If not, then much sorrow and many lives of men shall pass, until the Dúnedain arise and are united again.
I think the import is that Arvedui and his captains among the Northern Dúnedain possessed the experience, skills and insight their kinsfolk in Gondor lacked to break the siege; but they were dead or scattered.

As for some of the unique problems conflict with the Ringwraiths might entail, consider these points as a beginning:
  • The Ringwraiths could move invisibly through the lines to spy upon their opponents.
  • The Ringwraiths could move invisibly through the lines to attack or assassinate their opponents.
  • The Ringwraiths could terrify their opponents. Tolkien says, in fact, that this was their primary advantage, and that they had not other particular physical advantages, aside from invisibility.
  • The Ringwraiths possessed Morgul-knives, a weapon apparently well-known to the Northern Dúnedain, well enough that Aragorn knew about them and how to deal with them 1,000 years later. The effect of these weapons must have been frightening and demoralizing to the soldiers of Gondor.

As for what you regard as the ineffectiveness of Witch-king in the North, I recall that Angmar had besieged and taken Fornost, apparently slaughtering the inhabitants when it fell, annihilating the greater part of the Northern Dúnedain. The Elves of Lindon were present at the battle on the plain between Lake Nenuial and the North Downs, including Círdan, who is named as the commander of the combined army of the Elves and Dúnedain. Círdan also helped Arthedain repel the Angmar army in III 1409. I think Elves were less susceptible to the fear exuded by the Nazgűl as well, perhaps, as their weapons. In any case, I believe Tolkien indicates that the reason the complete victory of the allies over Angmar was because the Witch-king erred in coming out into the plain to meet their attack rather than waiting for them to approach Fornost, which he held: it seems that he might have been more successful had he waited for them there.


Quote:
If one is just wanting to grind it out, than a meeting of the front lines is all that is required. But I don’t think a Thermopylaesque battle in the pass is what would have happened anyway (a situation where I think the Gondorians would have won in the end anyway, just like the Persians did). I think it would have been more of a siege.
It was a siege! My reference to Thermopylae has to do with defending a narrow pass: an advantage accrues to a smaller force in command of a pass: the front lines are compressed, and a well-trained, well-prepared, well-led group can often fend off repeated attacks from a much larger force because it is impossible for the larger force to bring its numbers to bear.

You are in error about the Persian victory at Thermopylae. Xerxes never broke the Greek blockade of the pass despite repeated frontal assaults. The Greeks were betrayed by Ephialtes of Trachis, who is remembered as one of the great traitors of history. He led the Persian infantry by a “secret” way over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind. In the case of Minas Ithil, the “secret way” was through Torech Ungol, but that was under control of the Nazgűl who first seized the Tower of Cirith Ungol by treachery, besides any difficulties the Dúnedain would have faced from Shelob.

You are correct about the word “fortification” to describe what the Morgul army probably did to secure their positions. I think you are overlooking the outcome of any fortifications, however: they would give the Morgul army the same tactical and strategic advantages over any counterattack by Gondor that Gondor’s fortifications enjoyed against attacks by Mordor or the Haradrim or the Easterlings. It was a strategic reversal of monumental proportions and a disastrous loss for Gondor.


Quote:
I’m afraid that the words “take by surprise” followed by “two-year siege” used regarding the same event have a rather jarring effect in my brain.
I don’t understand your point. The initial attack was a surprise, and a two-year siege followed. Tolkien makes it perfectly clear that Gondor abandoned or severely undermanned all its fortresses along its border with Mordor, partly out of a lack of manpower, partly no doubt because they believed there was no one in Mordor that could launch such an attack, and particularly because they had just defeated the Haradrim and, as you point out, “the Wainriders been completely broken 56 years before.”

I don’t believe Gondor was “impotent” in III 2000-2002. They were surprised, indicating that they were unprepared: they let their guard down, literally. I believe they were unable to break the siege of Minas Ithil because of topography, the same advantage that made Minas Ithil a strategically important fortress; and because they were facing the Nazgűl for the first time themselves and lacked the insight and experience to deal with them.

Tolkien’s explanation makes perfectly good sense to me.

-|-

Farael, I found your post after I finished posting.

I cannot imagine that “bandits” would interfere with the Nazgűl’s operations – not more than once, anyway: the consequences were too severe, and the folk of Mordor worshipped Sauron. Attacking a supply caravan intended for the Nazgűl should be tantamount to a religious taboo for them. Besides, it isn’t whether the Nazgűl had difficulty resupplying and reinforcing themselves, but that they could resupply and reinforce, while Minas Ithil could not. Nurn was at most ten days away, and it isn’t as if the Nazgűl launched their assault without considerable preparation.

There could never be very many troops on the front line for either side of a battle in the pass. Karen Wynn Fonstad’s map in Atlas of Middle-earth and Tolkien’s sketch in War of the Ring indicate that there was at least one severe turn in the road in the mouth of the pass, and possibly two: getting a large catapult to the front line, manning it, and preventing the Morgul force from launching an attack on it before it was ready must have presented some difficulties. Catapults in the real world were rarely dragged or wheeled into position, but generally assembled either from scratch or from pre-constructed machines disassembled and transported to where they were needed. It is not as if Eärnil’s engineers could do this without being observed, giving the Nazgűl an opportunity to respond; and since they could respond without being seen, I think that gave them a considerable advantage.

As for the force besieged in Minas Ithil, the text says that the population of the city had been devastated by plague and never recovered. We know that Gondor had already abandoned its posts along the border. I think we can safely assume that Minas Ithil had a very small garrison for its size and importance.

Any counterattacks launched from Minas Ithil, unless successful in breaking the siege, would leave the citadel in a weaker position. If the garrison were small to begin with, as it seems to have been, then launching a counterattack would be a risky proposition. They might have tried it in concert with an attack on the mouth of the pass, since they had excellent communication with the army of Gondor outside; but again, I think that Dúnedain of Gondor lacked the insight and experience to deal with the Nazgűl.

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Old 01-07-2007, 06:01 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Alcuin
The problem was, I think, that the Dúnedain of Gondor were first unprepared for any attack at all, believing that having vanquished both the Wainriders and the Haradrim, they faced no risk of attack; and in the second place, they had no idea what tactical problems they faced in combating the Ringwraiths.

Eärnil lacked the insight and experience to deal with the Nazgűl, something the commanders of Arthedain possessed in spades;
This seems to be the key--the Dunedain of Gondor were simply not prepared for an assault of this kind by the Nazgul. A conventional assault (with Orcs, for example) would have been unlikely to have succeeded. And as Alcuin has said, the Arthedain had considerably more experience in this department, plus they had the aid of the Elves. In the end it was Glorfindel who drove off the Witch King...
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Old 01-08-2007, 04:55 PM   #37
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I think i have read somewhere that the Nazgul have some power to influence or take control of people. Couldent they just turn the city people agaisnt them selves. Then in the end wouldent the nazguls just have to walk in.
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Old 01-08-2007, 06:23 PM   #38
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However long the Morgul lines of supply, Minas Ithil had no lines of supply at all: that was its problem.
But not in the sense of Gondor being able to launch a relief expedition. To me that is the issue at play here; why Gondor does not appear to have sent a considerable relief expedition at least on the scale of the armada they sent to the north. I’m not the least bit surprised that Minas Ithil would fall because it was cut off from supplies. It is a truism of warfare that a besieged stronghold will ultimately fall if not relieved.

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The exercise is not to negate what he wrote, but to explain it, is it not?
That is what I am trying to do.

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The problem was, I think, that the Dúnedain of Gondor were first unprepared for any attack at all, believing that having vanquished both the Wainriders and the Haradrim, they faced no risk of attack; and in the second place, they had no idea what tactical problems they faced in combating the Ringwraiths.
But they had two years to learn. This is plenty of time to assemble, equip, and dispatch a significant relief effort.

Quote:
Eärnil lacked the insight and experience to deal with the Nazgűl
I don’t believe this description of him lines up with his description in the book.

Quote:
· The Ringwraiths could move invisibly through the lines to spy upon their opponents.
· The Ringwraiths could move invisibly through the lines to attack or assassinate their opponents.
· The Ringwraiths could terrify their opponents. Tolkien says, in fact, that this was their primary advantage, and that they had not other particular physical advantages, aside from invisibility.
· The Ringwraiths possessed Morgul-knives, a weapon apparently well-known to the Northern Dúnedain, well enough that Aragorn knew about them and how to deal with them 1,000 years later. The effect of these weapons must have been frightening and demoralizing to the soldiers of Gondor.
I doubt they could assassinate while being invisible. I think they had to have a form to be able to do things like that.

As for the terror they generated, I don’t think that at this time it would have been as great as it became later. As I said in my above post, their master was still rebuilding his power. Also, it does not seem to have done much for the Angmarian forces at Fornost.

You also seem to be conveniently forgetting that the Gondorians gained successful experience fighting against Nazgul commanded forces at Fornost. Nothing breeds confidence like success.

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In any case, I believe Tolkien indicates that the reason the complete victory of the allies over Angmar was because the Witch-king erred in coming out into the plain to meet their attack rather than waiting for them to approach Fornost, which he held: it seems that he might have been more successful had he waited for them there.
True, but the terror he inspired doesn’t seem to have done him much good. For some reason he did not choose to appear until it was too late. (As an aside, I’ve never been particularly impressed with the military ability of the Witch-king, but that is a topic I’ve discussed elsewhere.)

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You are in error about the Persian victory at Thermopylae. Xerxes never broke the Greek blockade of the pass despite repeated frontal assaults. The Greeks were betrayed by Ephialtes of Trachis, who is remembered as one of the great traitors of history.
*groan* Oh please! A win, is a win. It doesn’t matter how it comes.

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a well-trained, well-prepared, well-led group can often fend off repeated attacks from a much larger force because it is impossible for the larger force to bring its numbers to bear.
Have any Mordorian forces ever impressed you as being well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led? They are the ones who rely on numbers. It could possibly be argued that such tight fighting in the pass would work to Gondor’s advantage because they would have the better soldiers.

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I think you are overlooking the outcome of any fortifications
You mean their aggravating propensity to fall to sustained pressure if not relieved? No, I have that outcome firmly in mind, along with the nagging issue of where did the volume of supplies for the allegedly substantial Mordorian forces come from.

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I don’t understand your point. The initial attack was a surprise, and a two-year siege followed.
I don’t see how it could be clearer. If the initial attack was a surprise, the fact that there was a two year siege indicated that the initial attack was a failure. The two year siege would give Gondor ample time to assemble a relieving force if that was their inclination and I believe it was in their power and they would have done so if it was a conventional military challenge.

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Tolkien’s explanation makes perfectly good sense to me.
Tolkien gave no real explanation, hence the lively discussion.

I’ve also had another thought. Earlier CaptainofDespair mentioned that the Witch-king would be in the mood for a violent and quick victory. His later behavior at Minas Tirith gives some indication of what he liked to do in war. Yet this is exactly the sort of thing that did not happen. It was a loooong drawn out process.

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I think i have read somewhere that the Nazgul have some power to influence or take control of people.
I don’t recall reading that before. Maybe I missed something.
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:24 PM   #39
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About the "invisible" Nazghul attacking and killing their foes... there was one little detail. While the Nazghul might be invisible, their swords are very much real. A walking sword is likely to be seen. Sure, they COULD carry along just a smaller weapon and kill one or two people... but how long until they are cornered and attacked (even if you can't see them, if enough people gather around a spot and hack away they are bound to hit some mark)

And it seems we forget that the Nazghul were very much "killable" (meaning, they can be killed). The seer said that the Witch King would not be killed by a man (but he was killed by a Woman and with a Hobbit drawing an "assist") but the other eight might have been killed. I'm not sure they'd dare to attack an army by themselves. Sure, they might kill ten people each... but eventually they will be found, cornered and ultimately killed.

With regards to the catapults, keep in mind that the Gondorian army could also fortify their positions... Dig a trench, put up a palisade... and THEN assemble the catapults. Even if the Nazghul have catapults themselves, they can get out of catapult range and then engineer stronger catapults. They have two years to do so. On the other hand, we have all agreed (I believe) that the Nazghul had limited resources, so how likely are they to be able to build new catapults and the like? or for that matter, how likely were they to have catapults at all? I think we are all discussing a siege that the Nazghul did not mean to break by force... So why bring along complicated machinery if you are going to sit and wait them out anyway?

Furthermore, about the bandits in Mordor not daring to disturb the plans of the Nazghul... I think it is a clear theme in Tolkien's work that the efforts of the bad guys were never concentrated, unless clear orders came from a higher-authority. And even then, there is a lot of dissension and discontent among the ranks. At this point in time, the only authority high enough to command ALL bandits would have been Sauron himself, who we all know was not back in Mordor and commanding the peoples there. Therefore it is possible (if not likely) that the supply caravans would have been waylaid by bandits that fought for no other than themselves, as we see they often do.

Finally, while Minas Ithil could not re-supply until the siege was lifted, the forces from Gondor COULD and MUCH more easily than the forces from Mordor (if they could re-supply at all, which I'm not conceding since I still think they couldn't). In my opinion, if Gondor had had a mind, they would have lifted the siege for they had the numbers, better supply routes, better fighting skills and they had some experience, for even in these times the peoples of Gondor were likely to live longer than 30 years, were they not? The defeat of Angmar, with a fraction of Gondor's forces, had not happened THAT long ago at all. Therefore the question is "why didn't they do it?" rather than "why couldn't they do it?".

So I still stand by my theory, even though your arguments are perhaps better expressed than mine. I blame it on English being a Second Language, or my science background rather than Literature

If Minas Ithil was besieged, without a large force (for we all agree that there was no large force in Mordor available at this time) and yet Gondor did not lift the siege it is because it was in some way "unconventional". To me, it'd be better explained by a haunting and guerrilla-type warfare (For example, like Faramir did before the War of the Ring) to discourage the garrison and small population at Minas Ithil than by a conventional "YOU (supplies and reinforcements) SHALL NOT PASS" siege.
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Old 01-09-2007, 02:10 AM   #40
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In the Two Towers, doesn't Faramir mention something about treachery having been Gondor's greatest foe in the long wars with the Enemy?

I think treachery could have very well helped yield up the Tower to the Nazgul--and all the more demoralizing if so.
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