Middle-earth Is Just Too Old

"But I thought,' [Frodo] stammered [...] 'I thought that the fall of Gil-Galad was a long age ago'"

Frodo is not the only one to notice that Middle-earth, the setting of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", and some of its inhabitants are quite old. This is a common observation, and it is often accompanied by comparisons like "meeting Elrond is like meeting someone who has witnessed the fall of Troy". There is just one problem with most of these comparisons: they make Middle-earth and Elrond look much younger than they actually are, as a comparison between the chronology of the second and third ages of Middle-earth as given in appendix B of The Lord of the Rings with the chronology of our world (with a focus on Europe and Britain) reveals.

Some notes on chronology

Comparing the chronologies requires to establish a common reference point between the Shire Reconing (SR) and our chronology (CE). The Lord of the Rings is set in some fantasy pseudo european pseudo middle age, so the date of the War of the Ring should correspond to some date in the European high or late middle ages. There are a few incidental observations we can use to anchor our chronologies:
  • There were no cannons used during the War of the Ring (SR 1419), but there are hints at the use of gunpowder during the battle of Helm's Deep. One of the earliest plausibly attested usees of cannons and other gunpowder weapons in history of Europe was the [Ext. Link]Battle of Crécy in CE 1346. So SR 1419 seems to be slightly earlier than CE 1346.
  • On the other hand, there is a mechanical clock on the mantlepiece in Bag End after Bilbo's farewell party in SR 1401. The earliest known [Ext. Link]mechanical chamber clock in Europe was given to the Duke of Burgundy in CE 1430. From then it would have taken some time for a luxury good like that to move down to the mantelpieces of the landed gentry, so we could conclude that SR 1401 is considerably later than CE 1430.
Combining the two observations we can conclude that we are probably less than a century off in either direction if we assume that the SR and CE chronologies coincide. (This does of course ignore the fact that an argument from technological progress is suspect if it refers to a world where six or seven thousand year old swords like Glamdring are still viable weapons of war. Any six thousand year old weapon at Crécy would have been made of flintstone, not elven steel.)

The Table of Centuries

Our worldMiddle-earth
CE 15thFall of Constantinople and discovery of AmericaThe War of the Ring and the return of the king.SR 15th
CE 14thThe black death kill a third of the population of Europe. France and England fight the Hundred Years' War.Smaug is driven out of Erebror and the Ring is found by Bilbo.SR 14th
CE 13thGhengis Khan unites the Mongols. Fourth to nineth crusade.Thrain is imprisoned in Dol Guldur. The White Tree in Minas Tirith dies.SR 13th
CE 12thSecond and third crusade. Treaty between Saladin and Richard the Lionhart. First universities founded.Bandobras Took defeats Orcs. Smaug takes Erebror.SR 12th
CE 11thSchism between eastern and western Christendom. Norman conquest of England. First Crusade.Tobold plants 'pipe-weed' in the southfarthing.SR 11th
CE 10thVikings settle in northern France. The Kingdom of England becomes a unified state. Otto I is the first German king to become Holy Roman Emperor.The Rohirrim settle in Calenardhon.SR 10th
CE 9thVikings continue to invade Britain. Establishment of the Danelaw.Sauron returns to Dol Guldur. Deagol finds the Ring. Osgiliath ruined.SR 9th
CE 8thVikings start raiding the coasts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Arabian expansion into Europe is stopped at the siege of Byzantium and the battle of Tours. Charlemagne is crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor.The Oldbucks occupy Buckland.SR 8th
CE 7thThe Anglo-saxon Heptarchy is established in Britain. Arabia is united under the prophet Muhammad. The Byzantine Empire looses large parts of its territory to the Arabs.Thorin I leaves Erebror for the Grey Mountains.SR 7th
CE 6thThe Eastern Roman Empire starts to expand into North Africa and Italy.SR 6th
CE 5thRome withdraws from Britain. Vandals take Carthage. Anglo-Saxons settle in Britain. The Western Roman Empire collapses.The Nazgûl take Minas Ithil. The reign of the Steward begins. Gandlaf drives Sauron out of Dol Guldur.SR 5th
CE 4thEmperor Constantine adopts Chrstianity. The Roman Empire is permanently split into an eastern and a western part.The North-Kingom ends. The Witch-king comes to Mordor. A Balrog appears in Moria.SR 4th
CE 3rdCrisis of the Roman Empire after the assassiniation of emperor Severus Alexander. Reforms of the empire under Diocletian.Gondor retakes Umbar but looses its eastern territories.SR 3rd
CE 2ndRome attains its greatest expansion under Trajan, the second of the "Five Good Emperors".SR 2nd
CE 1stRome controls most of western and southern Europe (including Britain), North Africa and the Near East and enjoys a period of prosperity under the emperors of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties.Founding of the Shire. The Great Plague. The King's House is moved to Minas Anor and Mordor is left unguarded.SR 1st
BCE 1stRome gains direct or indirect control over all lands around the Mediterranen. End of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire.Gondor defeats the Haradrim.TA 16th
BCE 2ndRome finally defeats Carthage in the Third Punic war and starts to expand into North Africa and Greece.The Witch-king invades Arnor. War of the Kin-strife in Gondor. Rebels take Umbar.TA 15th
BCE 3rdThe domiance of Carthage over the western Mediterranean starts to dwindle after the First and Second Punic Wars.Orcs increase and the Nazgûl reappear.TA 14th
BCE 4thConquests of Alexander and establishment of the Hellenistic states.TA 13th
BCE 5thBattle of Marathon. The reforms of Pericles start the golden age of Athens.The wise discover an evil power in Dol Guldur. Fallohides and Stoors cross west over the Misty Mountains.TA 12th
BCE 6thBabylon captures Jerusalem. Cyrus II establishes the Persian Empire and conquers Babylon.Gondor reaches the height of its power. A shadow falls on Greenwood.TA 11th
BCE 7thThe earliest surviving complete copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh is collected by the library of Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. Assyria falls to the Neo-Babylonian Empire.Gondor takes Umbar.TA 10th
BCE 8thRome is founded. First Olympiad. Neo-Assyrian Empire is at its peak. Greeks colonize the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts.Division of Arnor.TA 9th
BCE 9thCarthage is founded. Beginning of the Iron Age in Europe.TA 8th
BCE 10thEarly Iron Age in the Near East. Establishment of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.TA 7th
BCE 11thSaul and David are kings in Israel. Destruction of Troy VIIb2Gondor defeats the Easterlings.TA 6th
BCE 12thInvasions by the Sea-Peoples in the eastern Mediterranean. Traditional date for the Trojan War. Beginning of the Late Bronze Age collapse. Collapse of the Hittite empire. Destruction of Troy VIIb1. End of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Collapse of the Mycenaean civilization.Minas Anor is rebuilt.TA 5th
BCE 13thRamses II rules in Egypt.TA 4th
BCE 14thAmarna-period in Egypt. Tutankhamun reastablishes the old religion.Birth of Arwen UndómielTA 3rd
BCE 15thEgypt controls the area from the 4th cataract to the Euphrates. Founding of the Hittite New Kindom and beginning of the Hittite empire.Wedding of Celebrian and Elrond. Birth of Elladan and Elrohir.TA 2nd
BCE 16thMycenae starts to dominate the nortern Peleponnesus. Founding of Athens according to legend. Founding of the Hittite Kingdom. Beginning of the New Kingdom in Egypt.Isildur slain on the gladden fields.TA 1st
BCE 17thEruption of Thera. [Ext. Link]Nebra sky disk. The [Ext. Link]Y and Z holes mark the last structual activity at Stonehenge.War of the Last AllianceSA 35th
Downfall of Numenor. Founding of Arnor and Gondor.SA 34th
BCE 18thBeginning of the Nordic Bronze Age. Stela of Hammurabi.
Ar-Pharazôn seizes the Sceptre of Numenor and take Sauron as prisoner.SA 33rd
BCE 19thBeginning of the Minoan Old Palace period.
Repentance of Tar-Palatir. Civil war in Numenor.SA 32nd
BCE 20thThe last woolly mammoth goes extinct on Wrangel island.
SA 31st
BCE 21stBeginning of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. Last modifications of the bluestone circle in Stonehenge.
Ar-Adûnakhôr takes the Sceptre.SA 30th
BCE 22ndFall of Akkad. Gilgamesh epic is written. End of the Old Kingdom in Egypt.
SA 29th
BCE 23rdAkad becomes the largest city in the world.
SA 28th
BCE 24thSargon of Akkad conquers Mesopotamia, founding the Akkadian Empire.
SA 27th
BCE 25th[Ext. Link]Skara Brae is abandoned.
SA 26th
BCE 26thConstruction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Beginning with the Stonhenge 3 phase timber structures are replaced by circles of stones.
SA 25th
BCE 27thBeginning of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. [Ext. Link]Gilgamesh probably ruled some time between 2800 and 2500 BCE.
Pelargir is founded as a haven of the faithful Numenoreans.SA 24th
BCE 28thThe Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in south-eastern Europe [Ext. Link]disappears, possibly due to a Proto-Indo-European invasion or ecological collapse.
Division of the Numenoreans begins. The Nazgûl appear.SA 23rd
BCE 29thBeginning of the Early Dynastic Period I in Sumer.
SA 22nd
BCE 30thTroy is founded.
SA 21st
BCE 31stA first circular bank and ditch is built at Stonehenge. Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
SA 20th
BCE 32nd[Ext. Link]Iry-Hor, a pre-dynastic ruler of Egypt, may be the earliest historical person known by name. Skara Brae is built on the Orkneys.
Numenor starts to conquer the coasts of Middle-earth. Sauron extends his power east.SA 19th
BCE 33rd
Tar-Minastir drives Sauron out of Eriador.SA 18th
BCE 34th[Ext. Link]Ötzi is kiled in the Italian Alps.
Sauron forges the One Ring. War of the Elves with Sauron, who destroys Eregion and overruns Eriador.SA 17th
BCE 35thPictographic proto-writing develops toward proper writing in Sumer.
Guided by Sauron, elven smiths learn to forge rings of power.SA 16th
BCE 36th
SA 15th
BCE 37thMonuments like Maiden Castle and Windmill Hill are built and abandoned in England.
SA 14th
BCE 38thBeginning of the Hebrew calendar.
Sauron wins the trust of the elves of Eregion. Numenor starts to create permanent havens in Middle-earth.SA 13th
BCE 39th
SA 12th
BCE 40thStart of the Naqada culture in Egypt and the Uruk period in Mesopotamia.
Sauron settles in Mordor and starts to build Barad-dûr.SA 11th
BCE 41st
SA 10th
BCE 42nd
SA 9th
BCE 43rd
The Noldor found Eregion.SA 8th
BCE 44th
The first Numenorean ships return to Middle-earth.SA 7h
BCE 45thThe early Proto-Indo-European language [Ext. Link]develops.
Sauron begins to stir in Middle-earth.SA 6th
BCE 46th
Elros dies.SA 5th
BCE 47th
SA 4th
BCE 48thApproximate beginning of the [Ext. Link]Cucuteni–Trypillia culture.
SA 3rd
BCE 49th
SA 2nd
BCE 50th
Lindon and the Grey Havens are founded. Elros becomes king of the Edain in Numenor.SA 1st
BCE 51th
End of the First Age.
One should keep in mind that Elrond was born some time before this.

This page is a comment on session 128 of Corey Olsen's [Ext. Link]Exploring the Lord of the Rings.

Florian Hars <florian@hars.de>, 2019-01-18 (orig: 2019-01-18)