Battle of the Hornburg

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Battle of the Hornburg
Conflict: War of the Ring
Date: 3-4 March T.A. 3019
Place: Helm's Deep (especially the Hornburg)
Outcome: Victory for the Rohirrim

Rohirrim, Three Hunters, Huorns

Orcs of Isengard, Uruk-hai, Goblin-men, Half-orcs, Dunlendings

  • Unknown

About 3000 Rohirrim, a "forest" of Huorns

10,000 at the least


Heavy, but precise numbers are unknown

The entire force of Orcs; many Dunlendings slain, the rest surrendered

War of the Ring
Osgiliath (1) · Moria · Isen (1) · Rauros · Isen (2) · Fangorn · Isengard · Hornburg · Osgiliath (2) · Siege of Gondor · Mirkwood · Dale · Pelennor Fields · Black Gate · Dol Guldur · Bywater

The Battle of the Hornburg took place at the mountain fortress of the Hornburg in the valley of Helm's Deep in Rohan. Taking place over the night of the 3-4 March T.A. 3019, it saw the attacking Isengard-host of Saruman defeated by the Rohirrim led by Théoden and Erkenbrand.

Strategy and array


The army of Rohan consisted of 1000 cavalry forces from Edoras led by King Théoden. This force included Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Théoden's nephew Éomer. This army joined with Rohan's garrison of around 1000 at the Hornburg.

The army was reinforced by 1000 scattered Rohirrim troops from the Westfold rallied by the Wizard Gandalf and led by Erkenbrand. A forest of Huorns entered the valley independently, seeking revenge on Saruman's Orcs.


The army of the corrupted Wizard Saruman, amassed both in service and in competition of his Lord Sauron, consisted of his Orcs,[1] including his specially bred Uruk-hai[2] and Half-orcs[3], supported by Dunlendings[1][4]. It was mentioned to consist of "about ten thousand Orcs", with an unknown but far smaller number of Dunlendings.[5]



On March 3, seeking to take the fight away from his people, Théoden brought around a thousand horsemen to the Fords of Isen along with any others in Edoras. On their way they found Ceorl who reported a defeat to the Fords; King Théoden then redirected his troops to Helm's Deep, which was commanded by Gamling in his lord Erkenbrand's absence.


The forces from Isengard arrived at the valley of Helm's Deep in the middle of the night and quickly scaled over the first defence, Helm's Dike, and attempted to break down the fortress's gate with a battering ram. But Aragorn, Éomer, and some other Rohirrim attacked, through a postern gate on the side of the Hornburg, scattering the forces threatening the doors.

The Orcs and Dunlendings then raised hundreds of ladders to scale the wall. Aragorn and Éomer had to repeatedly move the defenders, who were getting weary, to repel the Orcs coming up the ladders and crossing the wall. However, some Orcs had crept in though a culvert which let a stream out of Helm's Deep, and while the defenders were busy with the assault on the wall, they suddenly attacked, having made it past the wall. The defenders quickly reacted and drove back the Orcs, and the culvert was blocked up under supervision by Gimli.

The Charge of the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep by John Howe

However, the enemies reentered the culvert and caused an explosion using a device of Saruman's. This made a wide hole in the wall, and the Isengarders could not be stopped. The defenders retreated to the Glittering Caves and to the Hornburg. Soon Saruman's forces used their blasting fire to gain entrance to the keep. At this moment, however, the horn of Helm's Deep was sounded, and after a moment a sortie led by Théoden and Aragorn rode forth, followed by men on foot from the keep, and the defenders of the caves, who made a break-out attempt and were driving the enemy out of the deep. Théoden and Aragorn cut through the Orcs and Dunlendings and arrived at Helm's Dike.

Both armies then noticed that many trees, Huorns, had moved to block a possible escape route for the Orcs. Then Gandalf, Erkenbrand, and a thousand men on foot from the Westfold arrived, and charged. The Dunlendings were so terrified of Gandalf that they could no longer fight. The Orcs lost control and ran into the trees, where the Huorns destroyed them. Thus, Rohan won the battle.


After the battle those Dunlendings who surrendered were given amnesty by King Théoden and allowed to return to home. The Rohirrim required that all hostilities cease, and that the Dunlendings retreat behind the Isen river again. The slain Dunlendings were buried in a mound of their own apart from the Orc carcasses. The next night those carcasses disappeared and the Death Down was left by the departing Huorns.[6]

Portrayal in adaptations

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:

The Battle of the Hornburg is turned into the climax of the second movie, and thus the build-up to it is altered significantly. Furthermore, this build-up is given far more prominence in the narrative in order to better set up the conflict as the film's third act climax. Considering the fact that Tolkien suggested cutting the battle completely in his commentary on Zimmerman's film script, it is probably given more prominence than he likely intended. This film-based battle is referred to as the "Battle of Helm's Deep,” a title which was never used by Tolkien but is often used by fans due to its occupying the chapter entitled "Helm's Deep."
The greatest differences largely stem from the events preceding the battle: in the book, the army of the Rohirrim seeks to confront Saruman's army at the Fords of Isen when they decide to redirect to the Deep, where the refugees of the Westfold have fled, and anticipate the forces of Isengard. In the film, the entirety of Rohan's people, men, women, and children, are relocated to the Deep for protection against Saruman's Orcs who also find and hunt them. In the book, only the women and children of Westfold are there. The Battle is given a sadistic and somewhat excessive weight as women and children hide in the Glittering Caves and the very existence of the Rohirrim is decided by the outcome. Indeed, as the battle in the film wears on, the Rohirrim even go to the extent of pressing young boys into the army, the horrific consequences of which are emphasized constantly as poorly-armed boys are visible in the background in various roles.
Another major difference is that Elrond, at the prompting of Galadriel, sends a contingent of Elven archers to reinforce the defence of the keep. It's unclear how Elrond, who was in Rivendell, was able to send an army of Lórien Elves, as well as have them arrive at the Hornburg before the battle started.
In the book, it is never made explicitly clear by what method the Uruk-hai cause the explosion that blasts a hole in the Deeping Wall, with Aragorn merely hinting at "some devilry of Orthanc". It's not clear whether this was some magical attack caused by Saruman from Orthanc (similar to the avalanche on Caradhras in the first movie), or some sort of invention of Saruman's. The movie explicitly shows that Saruman, fitting with his theme of misusing his knowledge to empower his armies with a sort of proto-Industrial Revolution, makes his own gunpowder and uses it to make blasting charges that the Uruk-hai then ignite.
In the movie, the thousands of troops of Saruman lay siege to the fortress, which is defended by around 300 men (many of whom were, in fact, depicted as children or elders, to add further anxiety and villainy to the events) which the Rohirrim could muster and the aforementioned Elven Archers. When Legolas says there are "300" Rohirrim there he may have meant at that time as more were fleeing to the fortress, because visually there are more than 300 Rohirrim appearing on screen in the battle. This reference to "300 against 10,000" was probably meant as a reference to the ancient Battle of Thermopylae. These forces suffer heavy losses, but hold out till dawn when Gandalf arrives with thousands of riders who finally turn the tide of the battle and send Saruman's forces into retreat. These riders are led by Éomer in the film, whereas they are led by Erkenbrand in the book.

2013 : The Lord of the Rings Online: Helm's Deep:

The Battle of the Hornburg is a key part of the Epic Storyline of this expansion.


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