Weapon & Armor systems; Tactical Styles in Middle Earth

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Alright, so our discussions about various weapons, armors, and battle tactics have spilled out into a bunch of different forum threads, so I am taking this opportunity to try and organize them. If anyone has any pet ideas which they would like to make certain get discussed, feel free to bring them up here even if they have been discussed elsewhere, just in case I miss them as I troll the forums.
 

Marielle

Well-Known Member
Ok, I think we need to do a bit better at keeping our threads organized. :) To be completely hypocritical, however, I'll just say this: crossbows do seem a bit mechanical for the elves, especially considering that they have lifetimes of men to perfect their skill in archery, mitigating the most obvious advantage of the crossbow. I do feel that men would be much more likely to pursue the technology, so I am going to recommend crossbows other than say, something like a gastraphetes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastraphetes), be a Third Age innovation. The complex internal mechanism of the gastraphetes seems to lend itself well to being a dwarvish invention.
I agree that the gastraphetes suits dwarves, and that true crossbows should be a later (and mannish) invention.

As for varied types of "Tatical Styles", I confess I'm no expert. I dabble in military and technological history, but my focus has always been political. So I'm only going to be able to give vague impressions... but that's never stopped me before!

This might not be to everyone's taste, but I think Morgoth's Angband military style has very little nuance or cleverness. He does have an active R&D Department, to borrow Corey's phrase, but it's more about making bigger and better monsters. He is clever and diabolical in his dealings outside of battles, with Hurin and Gondolin, and in gathering allies among the Easterlings, but his battle strategy seems to be "throw thousands of minions and dozens of very heavy things at my enemies"; he's more Machiavelli than Sun Tzu, at least to my mind. Morgoth should be, however, patient and very good at making sure his pieces are all in place before battle -- again, Machiavelli -- and he should never attempt to attack before he is confident he has the upper hand in firepower. But in battle itself, formations could be loose, or even fall apart completely once a charge begins, and orcs could fight more like individual warriors than a collection of soldiers (think Gothic "barbarians" versus Roman legion). This will mean they fall in greater numbers, but could also make any maneuvers they do pull off harder to detect. In orcish culture, a mindset could even develop that hiding behind shields, or attempting to rely on formations/your fellow soldier is weak or cowardly, encouraging orc to attempt even more rash solo attacks, to prove themselves to their peers and higher-ups, wrenching their way up the social ladder of Angband -- after all, who wants to be on the bottom of that?

Elves, in contrast, should quickly develop tactics for being outnumbered, sometimes overwhelmingly so. A focus on formations, support troops, and mobility makes sense for them. A dependence on one another could set up how devastating the betrayals at the Nirnaeth will be. On the other hand, this dependence and discipline would allow them to execute maneuvers like Hannibal's men did at Cannae. In other words, it would work against the orcs beautifully, if not for the Curse laid upon the Noldor...

Men, at least the Edain, could mimic elven styles of warfare, until the fallen Easterlings begin to fight more like hordes of orcs.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
so far... have we already talked about the early military of angband or the maiar armies if valinor?

i would be very intersted in your thoughts..
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I agree that the gastraphetes suits dwarves, and that true crossbows should be a later (and mannish) invention.

As for varied types of "Tatical Styles", I confess I'm no expert. I dabble in military and technological history, but my focus has always been political. So I'm only going to be able to give vague impressions... but that's never stopped me before!

This might not be to everyone's taste, but I think Morgoth's Angband military style has very little nuance or cleverness. He does have an active R&D Department, to borrow Corey's phrase, but it's more about making bigger and better monsters. He is clever and diabolical in his dealings outside of battles, with Hurin and Gondolin, and in gathering allies among the Easterlings, but his battle strategy seems to be "throw thousands of minions and dozens of very heavy things at my enemies"; he's more Machiavelli than Sun Tzu, at least to my mind. Morgoth should be, however, patient and very good at making sure his pieces are all in place before battle -- again, Machiavelli -- and he should never attempt to attack before he is confident he has the upper hand in firepower. But in battle itself, formations could be loose, or even fall apart completely once a charge begins, and orcs could fight more like individual warriors than a collection of soldiers (think Gothic "barbarians" versus Roman legion). This will mean they fall in greater numbers, but could also make any maneuvers they do pull off harder to detect. In orcish culture, a mindset could even develop that hiding behind shields, or attempting to rely on formations/your fellow soldier is weak or cowardly, encouraging orc to attempt even more rash solo attacks, to prove themselves to their peers and higher-ups, wrenching their way up the social ladder of Angband -- after all, who wants to be on the bottom of that?

Elves, in contrast, should quickly develop tactics for being outnumbered, sometimes overwhelmingly so. A focus on formations, support troops, and mobility makes sense for them. A dependence on one another could set up how devastating the betrayals at the Nirnaeth will be. On the other hand, this dependence and discipline would allow them to execute maneuvers like Hannibal's men did at Cannae. In other words, it would work against the orcs beautifully, if not for the Curse laid upon the Noldor...

Men, at least the Edain, could mimic elven styles of warfare, until the fallen Easterlings begin to fight more like hordes of orcs.
So, I consider myself an enthusiast of military history rather than an expert on it, so feel free to challenge me on things... IF YOU DARE!!!

More seriously though, I do agree that the forces of Angband will take a rather limited approach to battlefield tactics, attempting to overwhelm the enemy rather than outmaneuver him. The cowardice of the orcs is well-documented, and hardly surprising considering how they get stomped on in anything resembling equal numbers. The idea of having them crowd in behind their "tank" units seems to fit that perfectly.

I'm working on, amongst other things, battle - plans for the various major encounters. I want to pay particular attention to the Nirnaeth, because of our depiction of Maedhros as a master strategist. I want the plan to appear perfect but for the treachery involved.

so far... have we already talked about the early military of angband or the maiar armies if valinor?

We did work out the War to Begin All Wars and what that looks like in the Script Discussion for S01E13. We managed, I think, to create some order in the chaos that erupts when you add the Valar to a conflict. There are at least four Valar capable of creating an Extinction-Level Event on the spot, and that isn't including Melkor.

The War of Wrath will be a bit different, as it seems that the Valar will not be personally present, but what it lacks in raw power, it makes up in scope. It will likely be the largest single land battle ever filmed. I need to do some reading on any specific descriptions before I can commit to anything, but I do believe that the Vanyar should be using the highest level of armor and weapons that existed in the Middle Ages, using metals not available even to modern science. They take it all back with them, so I'm not really worried about it messing up our story later on.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
One thing I just noticed while reading about the Dagor-nuin-Giliath.

In describing the fear of the orcs upon meeting with the Noldor for the first time, the Professor says that their swords were "long and terrible," which we seem to be contradicting by giving them the xiphos. This is, however, a repairable situation, if we but give the orcs blades that are shorter, like the gladius, or the kopis.



True, the difference is not profound, but I think we might be able to get off on the technicality.

EDIT: Just wanted to point out that the bottom sword is indeed just a short xiphos, but it is about the size of a gladius and size comparisons were hard to come by.
 
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Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
he's more Machiavelli than Sun Tzu, at least to my mind. Morgoth should be, however, patient and very good at making sure his pieces are all in place before battle -- again, Machiavelli -- and he should never attempt to attack before he is confident he has the upper hand in firepower.
I personally found this an interesting comparison. Not many people seem aware of the fact that Machiavelli also wrote a book called "The Art of War," so as an Italian, I appreciate the reference. Of course, Sun also tells us that the best way to begin a fight is with your sword at your enemy's throat, but I can still see your point.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
Great discussion, which I will not interfere with at this point, except for the view that I find even the gastraphetes a bit too advanced for the First Age, Or maybe I just feel it's out of place somehow. I realise it is an old invention and should have its place, but I'm still reluctant. It does something to the feel of the battles. I want them to be as simple and brutal as possible. I understand they are similar to bows, and I may be irrational here, but I find bows do not imply engineering as much as the gastraphetes does. I don't know if I'm making any sense...
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Great discussion, which I will not interfere with at this point, except for the view that I find even the gastraphetes a bit too advanced for the First Age, Or maybe I just feel it's out of place somehow. I realise it is an old invention and should have its place, but I'm still reluctant. It does something to the feel of the battles. I want them to be as simple and brutal as possible. I understand they are similar to bows, and I may be irrational here, but I find bows do not imply engineering as much as the gastraphetes does. I don't know if I'm making any sense...

It is precisely their engineering that led me to suggest the dwarves. They have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to bows due to their reduced potential draw distance, so it makes sense that they might try to even the odds.

These are the same guys who figure out how to dig out Menegroth, after all.

As to the overall feel of First Age battles, they are certainly brutal, but I would argue that there is clear evidence of complex stratagems at play, suggesting anything but simplicity.

All of this said, I'm certainly not married to this idea, and will abandon it if faced with enough resistance. I just see it as a creative way our dwarves can mitigate their own disadvantage when it comes to ranged weapons. I can even see their secretive nature coming into play, never allowing the bows to fall into enemy hands, even at the cost of their lives.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
It is precisely their engineering that led me to suggest the dwarves. They have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to bows due to their reduced potential draw distance, so it makes sense that they might try to even the odds.

These are the same guys who figure out how to dig out Menegroth, after all.

As to the overall feel of First Age battles, they are certainly brutal, but I would argue that there is clear evidence of complex stratagems at play, suggesting anything but simplicity.

All of this said, I'm certainly not married to this idea, and will abandon it if faced with enough resistance. I just see it as a creative way our dwarves can mitigate their own disadvantage when it comes to ranged weapons. I can even see their secretive nature coming into play, never allowing the bows to fall into enemy hands, even at the cost of their lives.
Yeah I'm not rigidly committed to a gastraphetes divorce but I'd prefer First Age Dwarves to be close combat people. If they use ranged weapons such as the gastraphetes, they should come towards the end and be rather few.
 

ruth barratt

Active Member
You guys are teaching me so much I know next to nothing about military history!
One question that I have not relating to tactics is: Are we going to show an evulsion in not just the style of weapons but also in the way and the mats they are made from? so for instants from a low grade bloom iron to a higher grade steal? ( please correct me if I'm wrong on anything this is all from my very limited knowledge, Google and YouTube :p)
 

Marielle

Well-Known Member
I personally found this an interesting comparison. Not many people seem aware of the fact that Machiavelli also wrote a book called "The Art of War," so as an Italian, I appreciate the reference. Of course, Sun also tells us that the best way to begin a fight is with your sword at your enemy's throat, but I can still see your point.
I was appealing more to their cultural connotations than their actual works, I admit... Sun Tzu does say the "supreme excellence" is winning a war without committing any troops, but his Art of War is a masterwork of military strategy in a similar way as The Prince is a (ruthless -- unless you subscribe to the theory it's all sarcasm) masterwork of political strategy, and that's how the two thinkers have been remembered.

Great discussion, which I will not interfere with at this point, except for the view that I find even the gastraphetes a bit too advanced for the First Age, Or maybe I just feel it's out of place somehow. I realise it is an old invention and should have its place, but I'm still reluctant. It does something to the feel of the battles. I want them to be as simple and brutal as possible. I understand they are similar to bows, and I may be irrational here, but I find bows do not imply engineering as much as the gastraphetes does. I don't know if I'm making any sense...
I think a lot of ancient Greek inventions can feel "out of place" in a story set in "long ago time" -- they were quite brilliant, even if they didn't always put their devices to what we would think were practical purposes ;)

I do see the larger point, though, which I understand to be is suggesting that a battle featuring many archers and ranged weapons is harder to make appear "gritty", "messy", or desperate. I think we can have gastraphetes with the dwarves, and it's okay if they stand out, because the dwarves themselves don't really fit in very well, do they? But not for the whole of the dwarven army: like with men and elves, I think their basic troops are infantry, with supplemental forces serving as light infantry and ranged, and maybe a development of cavalry techniques among the elite? I'd like to mimic, as much as possible, the actual developments of military tech and theory, though I'm not sure we want every single stage: not sure we can get chariot warfare in there, for example.

It is precisely their engineering that led me to suggest the dwarves. They have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to bows due to their reduced potential draw distance, so it makes sense that they might try to even the odds.
Yes, this, exactly. I hadn't even considered the limitations of dwarven draw, but of course, that would have to be a concern.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Yeah I'm not rigidly committed to a gastraphetes divorce but I'd prefer First Age Dwarves to be close combat people. If they use ranged weapons such as the gastraphetes, they should come towards the end and be rather few.

I do believe that the dwarves would indeed have few archers. I simply caution against them having none or some of minimal effectiveness. Remember also that despite MovieGimli's assertion of dwarves being "natural sprinters" reduced foot speed would slow the onset of an infantry charge. Without a way to shoot back, the dwarves are extremely vulnerable to massed archery.

I do think, however, that the dwarves will master the use of shock troops and pike squares as a "hammer and anvil" tactic.

One question that I have not relating to tactics is: Are we going to show an evulsion in not just the style of weapons but also in the way and the mats they are made from? so for instants from a low grade bloom iron to a higher grade steal? ( please correct me if I'm wrong on anything this is all from my very limited knowledge, Google and YouTube :p

This is an issue that will plague us throughout the series. In our world, we see technology on a continuous upward trend, while medieval peoples had a distinct sense of the past being greater than the present. In a sense, this was true for them, as a great deal of past knowledge had been lost to dark ages.

One way that we can illustrate this, however is by utilizing some of the dark ages that Tolkien gives us. The near-annihilation of the First Age elves in Beleriand would certainly leave the survivors in a dark age until the Numenoreans come to the height of their power. There is also a dark age in the northern kingdom of Arnor when it disintegrates and the fragment states collapse. Even Gondor is in something of a dark age when we get there, not unlike the crumbling Byzantine Empire during the Renaissance (which may be why WETA took so many design cues from Byzantium.)

I do believe it was you, Ruth, who brought up the idea of Damascus Steel, and that seems a fantastic idea as a Second Age innovation. We do not use it today partially because the techniques of its manufacture were lost to time, but also because we do not need it. We are able to duplicate it's properties in other ways. I think similarly, when the Noldor arrive in Beleriand, they and the dwarves are able to create the kind of strong, flexible blades that Damascus Steel makes by using other methods and alloys. After the ruin of Beleriand and the collapse of the dwarven kingdoms of Nogrod and Belegost, those secrets are lost. Now, Khazad-dum has one answer, using alloys with Mithril. The Numenoreans might have another in the innovation of Damascus Steel, a technique which is once again lost by the time we reach the War of the Ring.
 
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Halstein

Active Member
Some sugestions of how armies could be organized.

Fully proffesional armies like Imperial Rome don't seem likely from Tolkien's writings. The advanced Elven kingdoms could theoretically manage this, and the forces of Angband. A more likely scenario would be along the Roman armies of the "Taktika"(9th c. AD), where there are a few profesional units around the capital, and the bulk of the army is made up of militia troops. The militia-men are serving as a heriditiary obligation, in return for tax-remission and some land. The militia is properly organised and trains regulary, so they are not untrained peasant-levies.

We can also have a more Medieval Western style of force. The rulers have a core of house-hold troops, and the rest are serving by obligation. The system considered used by the Anglo-Saxons by historians in Tolkien's days, were made up of the King/nobility's personal house-hold troops, the "selct Fyrd" of the Thegns (lower nobility/gentry), and the "general Fyrd" made up all free men. The "select Fyrd" was used for raiding and minor wars. The "general Fyrd" was called out for defence of the realm and major wars. This system is not considered what the Anglo-Saxon used historically by current historians, but that is of minor importance to our need, in my view.

Also the more primitive societies might be organised by mor tribal structures. Strong-men leaders with their retainers and family-members, and the free men voluntering/feeling obliged to come along (out of loyalty, peer-pressure, feel of obligation to the common good, fear of punishment, etc.)

This is just some ideas to work from.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Some sugestions of how armies could be organized.

Fully proffesional armies like Imperial Rome don't seem likely from Tolkien's writings. The advanced Elven kingdoms could theoretically manage this, and the forces of Angband. A more likely scenario would be along the Roman armies of the "Taktika"(9th c. AD), where there are a few profesional units around the capital, and the bulk of the army is made up of militia troops. The militia-men are serving as a heriditiary obligation, in return for tax-remission and some land. The militia is properly organised and trains regulary, so they are not untrained peasant-levies.

We can also have a more Medieval Western style of force. The rulers have a core of house-hold troops, and the rest are serving by obligation. The system considered used by the Anglo-Saxons by historians in Tolkien's days, were made up of the King/nobility's personal house-hold troops, the "selct Fyrd" of the Thegns (lower nobility/gentry), and the "general Fyrd" made up all free men. The "select Fyrd" was used for raiding and minor wars. The "general Fyrd" was called out for defence of the realm and major wars. This system is not considered what the Anglo-Saxon used historically by current historians, but that is of minor importance to our need, in my view.

Also the more primitive societies might be organised by mor tribal structures. Strong-men leaders with their retainers and family-members, and the free men voluntering/feeling obliged to come along (out of loyalty, peer-pressure, feel of obligation to the common good, fear of punishment, etc.)

This is just some ideas to work from.

We do have to be careful here to keep in mind how different the elves are from us. We established during the world-building session how small their sustenance requirements are. Granted Valinor is easier than Beleriand, but I think that amongst the Noldor at least, we are looking at a heavily militarized society, with far fewer resources diverted to non-martial pursuits than in most of the human cultures we will see.
 

ruth barratt

Active Member
This is an issue that will plague us throughout the series. In our world, we see technology on a continuous upward trend, while medieval peoples had a distinct sense of the past being greater than the present. In a sense, this was true for them, as a great deal of past knowledge had been lost to dark ages.

One way that we can illustrate this, however is by utilizing some of the dark ages that Tolkien gives us. The near-annilhilation of the First Age elves in Beleriand would certainly leave the survivors in a dark age until the Numenoreans come to the height of their power. There is also a dark age in the northern kingdom of Armor when it disintegrates and the fragment states collapse. Even Gondor is in something of a dark age when we get there, not unlike the crumbling Byzantine Empire during the Renaissance (which may be why WETA took so many design cues from Byzantium.)

I do believe it was you, Ruth, who brought up the idea of Damascus Steel, and that seems a fantastic idea as a Second Age innovation. We do not use it today partially because the techniques of its manufacture were lost to time, but also because we do not need it. We are able to duplicate it's properties in other ways. I think similarly, when the Noldor arrive in Beleriand, they and the dwarves are able to create the kind of strong, flexible blades that Damascus Steel makes by using other methods and alloys. After the ruin of Beleriand and the collapse of the dwarven kingdoms of Nogrod and Belegost, those secrets are lost. Now, Khazad-dum has one answer, using alloys with Mithril. The Numenoreans might have another in the innovation of Damascus Steel, a technique which is once again lost by the time we reach the War of the Ring.
It was me with the Damascus I like your idea for its use.

I would like it if we could keep the mediaeval way of think (and my own way) that the past has thinks to teach us and when we think we have come up with something new it's more of a re-finding of the knowledge.
Also we do have examples of this with thinks like Tamahagane (is that spelt right?) still being made in the same way and I believe it is still highly prized?
I could be very wrong of course and as always please teach me :D
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
It was me with the Damascus I like your idea for its use.

I would like it if we could keep the mediaeval way of think (and my own way) that the past has thinks to teach us and when we think we have come up with something new it's more of a re-finding of the knowledge.
Also we do have examples of this with thinks like Tamahagane (is that spelt right?) still being made in the same way and I believe it is still highly prized?
I could be very wrong of course and as always please teach me :D

"Jewel Steel" is indeed considered to be quite valuable, though that has much to do with its rarity, the time spent in its production, and the mysticism associated with it.

The intricacies of Japanese blade manufacture are well-documented, though many scholars argue that to be out of necessity due to the impurity of available iron.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I'm not sure we want every single stage: not sure we can get chariot warfare in there, for example.

Interestingly, I think we do see this in Unfinished Tales with the "Wainriders". Granted, the word Wain means wagon, but Tolkien specifically describes these Easterlings as having chariots there, so it might be alright for us to portray certain Easterling nations as having them.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
they have both, wagons and chariots...

both wainriders and balchoth are said to travel with great wagons, but the wainrider chiefs fight in chariots. it's not mentioned for the balchtrh but then again chariots do appear briefly in the lord of the rings, when frodoi has his vision of the menoif the east on amon hen.

but i'd say the chariot is a third age invention for the easterlings.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
they have both, wagons and chariots...

both wainriders and balchoth are said to travel with great wagons, but the wainrider chiefs fight in chariots. it's not mentioned for the balchtrh but then again chariots do appear briefly in the lord of the rings, when frodoi has his vision of the menoif the east on amon hen.

but i'd say the chariot is a third age invention for the easterlings.

Any reason why we would push the invention of such simple technology back so far? Chariots are an invention that predates the use of cavalry in battle, now elves skip chariots because of their aversion to wheels and their affinity with animals, but men don't have either of these things. It seems altogether credible that Men would use chariots before cavalry, though likely not the Edain because of the influence of the elves.
 

Marielle

Well-Known Member
Chariots go so far back as Middle Kingdom Egypt, if I remember correctly, which is around the 15th century BCE? And we know the Mycenaean Greeks had chariots (a fact remembered in Homer, even if it's adorably obvious he has no idea how they fought with them); I think we could safely have chariots used by some armies if we want to -- I was just throwing that out as an example of something not exactly prevalent in Tolkien, and I feel no need to force it in. If it makes sense for a particular people, however, I also would not be opposed to it.
 
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