Great Plague

From Tolkien Gateway
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Great Plague
Other namesDark Plague
LocationHarad, Gondor, Eriador, Rhovanion, Rhûn (possibly)
DateT.A. 1635-7; effects visible for the next 200 years
ResultPossibly hundreds thousands of lives incl. half of the population in Rhovanion
ParticipantsMen of Darkness, Gondorians, Dúnedain of Arnor, Hobbits, Woodmen
DescriptionPestilence from south of Mordor, spreading north, west and then north

The Great Plague, also known as the Dark Plague, was a disastrous pestilence that killed untold numbers of people, possibly hundreds of thousands. The plague was brought from the east by an evil wind. It coincided with a Shadow deepening in Mirkwood and the reappearance of evil things.[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 in the east beyond Mordor, and hit Rhûn and Rhovanion. After it had passed, more than half the folk of the Kingdom of Rhovanion had been killed[2]. The Plague also hit the enemies of Gondor, who otherwise could easily have overwhelmed the weakened kingdom. But this didn't affect Sauron, who 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; Osgiliath was especially hit hard, 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 kin, many others of the Dúnedain, and the White Tree of Gondor.[3] Coming two centuries after the Kin-strife, this further destroyed the people of Gondor.[1]

From there the Plague spread west and then north, making Eriador desolate.[3] Dunland suffered less than most, due to its self-isolation.[4] However, the Plague gained strength as it went north, and Minhiriath (the southern part of Cardolan) was hit especially hard. The joint garrison of the North and South Kingdoms at Tharbad ceased to exist.[5] The last of the Dúnedain of Cardolan died on the Barrow-downs, and evil spirits from Angmar and Rhudaur entered the realm.[6]

While the Shire suffered greatly,[3] the plague lessened passing northward until the northern part of Arthedain was scarcely affected.[6] Arthedain still defended Fornost Erain to the north.

The Plague marked the beginning of the desolation of Eriador,[3] where the population of Men continued to decline for the rest of the Age.[7] The exact date the plague ended is not known, but for the next two centuries, Gondor (as well as its enemies) did little but try to regain strength. Historians believed that the Plague was caused by Sauron as the Shadow deepened in Mirkwood, foretelling his return in the (now unguarded) Mordor.[1]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit]

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 Rhun 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, improved version of the Great Plague.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 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. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Appendix D: The Port of Lond Daer"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "The Realms in Exile", "The Northern Line: Heirs of Isildur"
  7. 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