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This article is about the town in Rhovanion. For the MERP supplement, see Lake-town (book).
J.R.R. Tolkien - Lake Town (Colored by H. E. Riddett).jpg
"Lake Town" by J.R.R. Tolkien
General Information
Other namesEsgaroth
LocationWilderland, on the Long Lake
DescriptionTown built on wooden stilts over a lake
GalleryImages of Lake-town

Lake-town, also known as Esgaroth, was a town of the Lake-men in Wilderland.

Description[edit | edit source]

The town was constructed entirely of wood and stood upon wooden pillars sunk into the bed of the Long Lake, as a protection against enemies, especially the dragon Smaug who dwelt nearby in the Lonely Mountain.[1] A few huts and buildings stood on the shore.[2] The Lake-men had woods, fields, pastures and cattle on the shore.[3]

Lake-town was situated on the west side of the lake, a bit north[4] of the mouth of the Forest River in a calm bay that was formed by the shelter of a rock promontory, which protected the town from the swirl of the Forest River. A long wooden bridge connected the town to the land. Guards were stationed in a hut at the landward head of the bridge. At the lakeward end of the bridge the town was protected by gates.[2] The bridge to the land could be thrown down to protect the town.[3]

The central market square of the Lake-town. Art by Henning Janssen

Lake-town had a market-place, wherein there was a round pool[2] that was connected to the lake by a waterway for boats;[3] it was surrounded by wooden quays with steps and ladders that led down to the water. The greatest houses of Lake-town were around this market-place. They included a great hall where the Master of Lake-town held a feast.[2] The edge of the town was occupied with quays and, again, ramps, which descended to the water.[5][6]

History[edit | edit source]

It is not known when Lake-town was built. The name Esgaroth is mentioned on Thrór's Map, and is said to be an older name, known while Smaug was younger[7]. When Bilbo Baggins came to the town, he noticed old pilings of a (possibly older) greater town along the shores when the waters sank in a drought.[2] It is possible that an original Esgaroth was destroyed sometime in the past, and the later Lake-town was its remnant.[6]

Lake-town was inhabited by the Lake-men.[1][8] It is possible that some of them were the descendants of the survivors of the former kingdom of Dale, like Bard the Bowman, whose ancestor was its last lord, Girion, whose wife and child had fled down the Running River[3]. However as the years passed, Smaug was forgotten and children even doubted about his existence or the tales of older men who sometimes had seen him flying.[2]

Abusing Hospitality by Henning Janssen

In the autumn[1] of T.A. 2941[9], Thorin and Company escaped from Thranduil's halls and Thorin followed by Fíli, Kíli and Bilbo decided to enter the town and speak to the Master. The Dwarves were welcomed warmly because the Lake-men were eager to have the King under the Mountain return. The Dwarves and Bilbo were hosted, rested and pampered before being sent with boats to the ruins of Dale to confront the dragon.[2]

The Black Arrow by Lída Holubová

Some days later, however, the town was attacked by Smaug and set on fire by his fiery breath, but Bard the Bowman, who had indirectly learned of a weakness in Smaug's armour, slew the dragon with the Black Arrow. The town was wrecked by the dragon who had burnt it, fell dead on it and sunk in the lake. However, at least three quarters of its inhabitants escaped to the lakeshore with boats and camped there. The population was angry with the Master who had fled the town soon during the attack in his great gilded boat, praised the courage of Bard and his killing of the dragon and wanted to make Bard, who was descended from Girion, the king of the town. The Master replied that Girion had been lord of Dale, but not the king of Esgaroth and that the people of Lake-town had always elected masters from among the older and wiser among its population. The Master suggested that Bard should go back to his own kingdom in Dale and that those that wish could go with him. He also directed the anger of the population towards Thorin and his company by suggesting that they had woke the dragon who ruined the town and that they should demand compensation from them for the damage and a reward for the help that the population had given to them. Bard responded that this was no time for important plans of change and that he still served the Master, but would consider going north after a while with any who wanted to follow him. Bard sent messengers to king Thranduil to ask for aid. Thranduil sent ahead supplies by water down the Forest river and marched to them with an army of Elves. Many Elves helped to build huts for the people of Lake-town on the shore as a protection against the coming winter. Then the armed men of Lake-town and an army of Elves marched to the Lonely Mountain.[3]

Bard told Thorin that he still served the Master of Lake-town and that Smaug had destroyed Lake-town and asked Thorin whether he had no thought about the misery and the sorrow of the people of Lake-town. However, Thorin refused to negotiate under the threat of an armed force at his gate and said that he would consider them as foes an thieves as long as an armed force stayed in front of his gate.[8] When an army of Dwarves from the Iron Hills arrived and Bard refused to allow them to go to the mountain, the dwarves started to attack and arrows flew, but Gandalf stopped the opponents and told them that Orcs and Wargs were coming. As a consequence, the Dwarves allied with the Men and the Elves against the Orcs and Wargs and the Battle of Five Armies began.[10]

After the battle, some of the population of the Long Lake followed Bard to rebuild the town of Dale and to resettle the kingdom of Dale. Bard gave much gold to the Master of Lake-town to help the people of the ruined city of Lake-town, but the Master ran away with most of the gold and starved to death in the Waste.[11] Lake-town was rebuilt north of its original location,[11] because the population feared to go near the dead body of the dragon in the water at the original location.[12] The new Master was wiser and very popular, because he got most of the credit for the prosperity due to trade up and down the River Running.[11]

By the time of the War of the Ring, the kingdom of Dale under king Brand reached far to the south and east of Lake-town[13], but it is not recorded if Lake-town remained independent or if it became a part of the kingdom of Dale.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The name Esgaroth was seemingly not given a clear etymology in any of J.R.R. Tolkien's later writings. A manuscript written after The Lord of the Rings states that Esgaroth was "not Sindarin (though perhaps Sindarized in shape)" or was "not recorded in Sindarin", similarly to the name Galion.[14]

J.R.R. Tolkien mentioned in a letter that he wrote on 14 december 1937 shortly after the publication of The Hobbit that Esgaroth, Elrond and Gondolin have escaped out of his own mythology with its consistent nomenclature and organized history.[15]

In earlier manuscripts from up to the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938 with additional entries up to 1940 or 1941[16], at least two meanings and etymologies of the name Esgaroth appeared:

  1. "Reedlake" followed by ", because of reed-banks in west", deriving from the Ilkorin Elvish word esgar meaning "reed-bed".[17]
  2. "[?]strand-burg" from esgar "shore" (not given any designated language, but published in a hastily written entry for the Elvish root SKAR2).[18]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit | edit source]

2013: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:

Lake-town is portrayed much larger than in Tolkien's illustrations, not built on a single square ramp, and having many 'blocks' and canals. It is run by a heavily corrupt Master, aided by Alfrid. While the other Dwarves set out for Erebor, Kíli, Fíli, Dori and Óin stay behind with Bard's children Bain, Sigrid and Tilda to tend to Kíli's arrow wound. Orc raiders assail the town, but they are repelled by the Dwarves, Legolas and Tauriel. Tauriel heals Kíli with athelas.

2014: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies:

The town is destroyed by Smaug, who attacks it as revenge for helping Bilbo and the Dwarves. The remaining Dwarves escape on a barge with Tauriel's help. Bard (with Bain's help) kills Smaug with a windlass. His falling corpse kills the Master and all on his barge.

2018: The Lord of the Rings Online:

The rebuilt Lake-town is a major travel point for adventurers in the North, situated further up the Lake from the old Lake-town. The watery ruins of Esgaroth-of-old (the former Lake-town) are still intact on the Long Lake, with the Bones of Smaug resting on the remains. A band of brigands pilfer the location for valuables as well as Smaug's Bones.

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Barrels Out of Bond"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "A Warm Welcome"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Fire and Water"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, drawing of Lake Town where the raft is moored to the shore south of the city
  5. The bridge and some ramps are visible in Tolkien's drawing.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Karen Wynn Fonstad (1991), The Atlas of Middle-earth, The Hobbit - Lake-town
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Inside Information"
  8. 8.0 8.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Gathering of the Clouds"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age", entry for the year 2941, p. 1089
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Clouds Burst"
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Last Stage", end of the chapter
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Fire and Water", last page
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings", p. 229
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 54
  15. Letter_to_G.E._Selby_(14_December_1937)
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", introduction
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", p. 356, entry "ESEK"
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Addenda and Corrigenda to the Etymologies — Part Two" (edited by Carl F. Hostetter and Patrick H. Wynne), in Vinyar Tengwar, Number 46, July 2004, p. 14
Route of Thorin and Company
Bag End · Green Dragon · The Shire · Lone-lands · Last Bridge · Trollshaws · Trolls' cave · Rivendell · High Pass · Front Porch · Goblin-town · Goblin-gate · Eagle's Eyrie · Carrock · Beorn's Hall · Wilderland · Forest Gate · Elf-path · Mirkwood · Elvenking's Halls · Forest River · Lake-town · Long Lake · River Running · Desolation of the Dragon · Ravenhill · Back Door · Lonely Mountain · Great Hall of Thráin