Great Plague

From Tolkien Gateway
Great Plague
Event Information
Other namesDark Plague
LocationRhûn, Rhovanion, Gondor, Eriador
DateT.A. 1635-7; effects visible for the next 200 years
ResultPossibly hundreds of thousands of deaths
ParticipantsSauron, Easterlings, Northmen, Woodmen, Kelvar, Gondorians, Dunlendings, Dúnedain of Arnor, Hobbits
DescriptionPlague from Rhun, spreading north, west and then north

The Great Plague, also known as the Dark Plague, was a deadly plague that spread out of the east into Rhovanion, Gondor, and Eriador during the Third Age. The mortality rate of the epidemic possibly numbered in the hundreds of thousands as it killed untold numbers of people and animals.[1]


The effects of the plague; more intense color shows worse effect (based on interpretation in the Atlas of Middle-earth).

The Great Plague began beyond Mordor in Rhûn. It was believed by historians to have been caused by Sauron as the plague coincided with a Shadow deepening in Mirkwood, foretelling his return in the unguarded Mordor and the reappearance of evil things.[1]

During the cold winter of T.A. 1635, the plague was brought by dark winds to Rhovanion. The Northmen suffered great casualties since they were less skilled in the art of healing than Gondor was. After the plague had passed, more than half of the folk of the Kingdom of Rhovanion had been killed along with their horses.[2] The plague also hit the enemies of Gondor, who otherwise could easily have overwhelmed the weakened kingdom. Though this didn't affect Sauron, as he could wait.[1]

The plague first reached Gondor in T.A. 1636, just a couple of years after King Minardil had been killed at Pelargir by the Corsairs of Umbar. It was devastating in Gondor; Calenardhon and Osgiliath were especially hit hard, with Calenardhon being nearly completely abandoned[3] and Osgiliath suffering the highest casualties outside of Rhovanion. Many fled the city and removed to Ithilien and Anórien, and Minas Anor became the King's seat. The casualties were so high that the fortresses guarding Mordor were abandoned as the troops were recalled.[1] The new king, Telemnar, was killed along with his children, many others of the Dúnedain, and the White Tree of Gondor.[4] Coming two centuries after the Kin-strife, this further destroyed the people of Gondor.[1]

From there the plague spread west and then north, desolating many of the lands in Eriador.[4] Dunland suffered less than most, due to having little contact with other regions.[5] However, the plague gained strength as it went north, and Cardolan, Minhiriath in particular, was hit especially hard. The joint garrison of the North and South Kingdoms at Tharbad ceased to exist.[6] The last of the Dúnedain of Cardolan died on the Barrow-downs, and evil spirits from Angmar and Rhudaur entered the realm.[7]

While The Shire suffered greatly,[4] the plague lessened as it passed northward until the northern part of Arthedain was scarcely affected,[7] still being capable of defending Fornost Erain from Angmar.

The plague marked the beginning of the desolation of Eriador,[4] where the population of Men continued to decline for the rest of the Age.[8] The exact date that the plague ended is not known, but for the next two centuries, Gondor, as well as its allies and enemies, did little but try to regain strength.[1]

Portrayal in adaptations

2015: The Lord of the Rings Online:

The Great Plague is revealed to be an evil of Sauron, created by his chief poisoner Lhaereth the Stained. Various versions of it were tested in Rhûn before a suitable variant was unleashed onto the lands in the west. However, despite the devastation it brought, the plague was deemed a failure by Sauron for not being deadly enough, and Lhaereth fell out of his favor for many years hence. It is revealed that the Rangers of the North could heal those affected by the plague with Kingsfoil. After the downfall of Sauron, the player works with two Rangers to stop Lhaereth from unleashing a new and improved variant of the Great Plague.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "The Realms in Exile", "The Southern Line: Heirs of Anarion"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan", "(i) The Northmen and the Wainriders"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Palantíri"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Appendix D: The Port of Lond Daer"
  7. 7.0 7.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "The Realms in Exile", "The Northern Line: Heirs of Isildur"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "X. Of Dwarves and Men", "Notes", #59
Preceded by:
Major events of Middle-earth
T.A. 1635 - c 200 years later
Followed by:
Watchful Peace