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"The Map of Middle-earth" by John Howe
General Information
Other namesEnnorath, Endor
LocationArda, east of Belegaer
RegionsThe Westlands (Beleriand, Rohan, Gondor, Arnor, Mordor, Rhovanion, Forodwaith), Harad, Rhûn, Cuiviénen, Hildorien, others
People and History
InhabitantsMen, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Hobbits, Ents, others
EventsSleep of Yavanna, Battle of the Powers, Great March, War of the Jewels, Dark Years, Changing of the World, War of the Ring
GalleryImages of Middle-earth

The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!

Middle-earth (Q. Endor) was a large continent of Arda, situated between Aman to the West (across Belegaer), and the Land of the Sun to the East (across the East Sea).

Most of the history of Arda takes place in Middle-earth, and it was where the Children of Ilúvatar: the Elves and Men, came into being, along with the Dwarves.


The northern regions of Middle-earth as envisioned by Karen Wynn Fonstad in The Atlas of Middle-earth

Middle-earth is a large continent, a mass of land that occupies the central regions of Arda. It originally lay between two continents: Aman, the uttermost West, separated from Middle-earth by the ocean Belegaer, and the Land of the Sun, the uttermost East, separated by the East Sea.

In the Elder Days, the two large inland seas of Helcar and Ringil, created by the demise of the Two Lamps, were located to the north and south of the center of middle-earth.

The Westlands are the most well-known regions of the continent, and the only regions which have been mapped in great detail. Of the Westlands, the western portion called Beleriand was drowned at the end of the First Age and those who survived relocated to Lindon and Eriador, which was separated from Beleriand by the Blue Mountains. Another region of the Westlands was Rhovanion, separated from Eriador by the Misty Mountains.

The southern portion of the Westlands was around a large bay, including Belfalas the fief of Gondor, and Near Harad ("Near South").

During the Third Age before their decline, the sister kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor dominated the Westlands. Arnor was the northern kingdom of the two, and Gondor the southern.

Little is known about the East and South of Middle-earth, other than names such as Rhûn and Khand, found east of Mordor, and the Far Harad (Far South); although their size is unknown. Another name of the East was the Empty Lands.

Through the distant north-east of Middle-earth ran the Red Mountains, and to the distant south-east the Yellow Mountains, which mirrored the Blue Mountains and the Grey Mountains of the north-west and south-west respectively. The cradle of the Elves, Cuiviénen was located on the shores of the Sea of Helcar near the Red Mountains. In the far east between the Red Mountains and the Yellow Mountains were the Mountains of the Wind, and between these mountains and the easternmost shores of Middle-earth stood Hildórien, the cradle of Men. There was also a mythical Last Desert in the "East of East", however its status or existence during the later years was unknown.


This is the geographical history. For events happening in Middle-earth, see Timeline.
Early Arda

Aulë built the world amidst the Encircling Sea. To the North, the Valar set the lamp of Illuin, and to the South, the lamp of Ormal, and their light mingled in the middle of the continent, occupied by the island Almaren, the dwelling of the Valar.[1]

Arda was initially flat and symmetrical until a titanic struggle between the Valar and Morgoth created several seas and formed a landmass in the centre of Arda, the earliest form of what would later be known as the Great Lands of Middle-earth. Major geographical features of that landmass were two central inland seas: the Sea of Helcar in the north and the Sea of Ringil in the south. Around them, massive mountain ranges were formed, the Blue Mountains and Red Mountains to the north, and the Grey Mountains and Yellow Mountains to the south. The Mountains of the Wind were a smaller range in the East, located south of the Red Mountains and north of the Yellow Mountains.[2]

Eventually the Valar left the Great Lands for the Uttermost West, leaving Morgoth and his creatures in his fortress at Utumno, behind the Iron Mountains in the north of Middle-earth. Morgoth would later erect the Misty Mountains between the Blue Mountains and Red Mountains to hinder the Vala Oromë, who hunted his creatures.[3] During the Battle of the Powers, the Sea of Ringil would merge with the East Sea, separating Middle-earth from a new continent to its south-east known as the Dark Land. To the west the shores of the Great Sea advanced upon the land as well, forming the Great Gulf dividing the lands of Beleriand from the lands of the south.[4]

Karen Wynn Fonstad's drawing of western Middle-earth showing a deluged Beleriand adjacent to Eriador

During the First Age, the western side of Middle-earth was called Beleriand, stretching from the Ered Luin to the great ocean of Belegaer. On the northern edge of Beleriand were the fierce Ered Engrin, the Iron Mountains. Further north was the freezing Dor Daedeloth. Southwest of the Ered Engrin was Hithlum, separated from the coast of Lammoth and Belegaer by the Ered Lómin, and from the rest of Beleriand to the south by the Ered Wethrin. The woven wood of Doriath rested directly south of the Thangorodrim and Dorthonion, southeast of Hithlum. West of Doriath were Taur-en-Faroth and the Falas, and to the east was Nan Elmoth and Thargelion before reaching the Ered Luin. South of Doriath were first the Andram, then Arvernien and the Bay of Balar. East of the Bay of Balar and extending ever further south into the unknown lands were the Taur-im-Duinath and Ossiriand.

East of the Ered Luin was a land surrounded by four mountain ranges: the Ered Luin to the West, the Ered Engrin to the North, the Misty Mountains to the East, and some of the White Mountains to the South. Eriador was within these boundaries. Even further East, past the Hithaeglir, was the Great River Anduin, Palisor, and the East Sea.

After the First Age ended and Beleriand drowned, the geography east of the Ered Luin shifted. The Ered Luin themselves, now broken up and disfigured, marked the western border of Eriador, and thence Lindon and Belegaer itself. Eriador, now the Westernmost part of Middle-earth, was bordered on the East by the Misty Mountains, which stretched south to the White Mountains and the Bay of Belfalas. Across the Misty Mountains from Eriador was Rhovanion, which extended eastwards to the Sea of Rhûn and the vast lands of Rhûn beyond. Within Rhovanion were the great forests of: Mirkwood, Fangorn Forest, and the many-rivered area that became known as Gondor. Eastwards was the region of Mordor, bordered on three sides by mountains. Far north of Rhovanion was the icy Forodwaith, and where the Great Sea had advanced at its most there was the Icebay of Forochel.

The coasts of Middle-earth changed once more, in the cataclysm of the Downfall of Númenor. In many places the Great Sea advanced upon the land, but in others it shrank back. Lindon suffered a great loss of land at this time. While to the south, the eastern and southern shores of the Bay of Belfalas shrank back, pushing the city of Pelargir much farther inland. The Anduin river found new paths to the sea afterwards, forming the Ethir Anduin.[5]

Long after the Fourth Age, the lands had all changed their shape. The Hobbits were said to have lingered long after in the same north-western regions east of the Sea, in what was known as the Old World.[6]

Other names

The peoples called Middle-earth by several names. The Elves called the continent Endóre or Endor in Quenya, meaning "middle land"; the Sindarin word was Ennor, also used in the plural ennorath: "middle lands, lands of Middle-earth".

Other epithets of the continent were Hither Lands or Outer Lands in The Silmarillion,[7] contrasted to Aman beyond the sea. On Tolkien's earliest maps of Arda, the term "Hither Lands" was written across both Middle-earth and the southern continent that would eventually contain Harad. Lacking a definite name for this southern landmass, "Hither Lands" is occasionally used by fans.

In the Akallabêth it was also the Great Lands,[7], since it was so much larger than the island of Elenna. King Tar-Meneldur of Númenor also used the name Great Lands, and further Dark Lands in his speech to his son Aldarion.[8]

In verses such as the Song of Eärendil and songs of Galadriel,[9][10] it is referred to as the Hither Shores. The Hobbits envisioned Middle-earth as the Wide World.[11]

Other versions of the legendarium

In The Book of Lost Tales, Middle-earth was usually called the Great Lands. The name "Middle-earth" was never used until the writings from the 1930s.[12] Originally the name in the Lost Tales was Outer Lands, but Tolkien gave the name a different meaning, "lands West of the Great Sea", and amended it to "Great Lands".[12][13] Once is found the name Lands Without,[14] that is: "Lands without Valinor".[15]


Tolkien created Arda, especially Middle-earth, for his languages Quenya and Sindarin, especially the latter. To Tolkien, a scholar of the Anglo-Saxon language, Middle-earth was the English translation of the Old English word middanġeard. This word was transformed in the Middle English midden-erd or middel-erd, and the Old Norse Midgard. This is English for what the Greeks called the οικουμένη (oikoumenē) or "the abiding place of men", the physical world as opposed to the unseen worlds.[16]

The ancient peoples called the world "middle-earth", since it was imagined to be above the realm of the Giants and below the realm of the gods. However, in Tolkien's cosmology the name Middle-earth refers only to a continent, which (in the First and Second Ages) is set between two seas, Belegaer and the East Sea.

Henry Resnick quoted Tolkien as saying that, "Middle-earth is Europe".[17] However, Tolkien designed his maps to accommodate the mythology, conscious that they did not fit the ancient Earth as understood by contemporary archaeology and historical geology.[18][19]



The continent of Middle-earth is the primary setting of most of the stories in the legendarium. Although there are several stories that take place in Aman (such as some chapters of The Silmarillion) and Númenor (such as the Akallabêth and Aldarion and Erendis).

In the fandom, the term "Middle-earth" generally refers to Tolkien's secondary world, or fictional universe, including its pantheon and cosmology. Tolkien himself used the term loosely at times to refer to his creation.[20]

Being actually The Atlas of Arda

As a result, "Middle-earth" is used synonymously with "Arda" as a more recognisable term for titles such as The Complete Guide to Middle-earth and The Atlas of Middle-earth, while their scope is beyond the strict geographical definition of the continent of Endor. Even Christopher Tolkien, while publishing the early drafts and manuscripts of his father, titled the series The History of Middle-earth,[20] thus equating the term "Middle-earth" with the entire legendarium. Wikipedia pages are an example of this usage, with article names such as Elf (Middle-earth) and the (somewhat erroneous) Arda (Middle-earth).

The proper but technical term "Arda", first appearing in The Silmarillion[20], refers to the entirety of Tolkien's world, and is seen in the names of Encyclopedia of Arda or Ardalambion.

A frequent misuse of the term is the equation of "Middle-earth" with the mapped regions, as seen in the maps with Lord of the Rings. Actually, these regions are just the Westlands of Middle-earth: the north-western portion of the continent. How far Middle-earth extends to the East and the South of the map is unknown. Although Mordor is seen to the south-eastern corner of the map, that does not mean it belongs to the south-eastern Middle-earth, as there are presumably other lands to the east and south.[21] Karen Fonstad has attempted to reconstruct the entirety of the continent, beyond the Westlands, based on an early map by Tolkien.[22]

Middle-earth and the Old World

In the earliest drafts of the legendarium, The Book of Lost Tales, the mythology had more direct connections with our history: Littleheart compares the Fall of Gondolin with the fall of "Bablon", "Ninwi" and "Trui".[23] The Mannish language of Taliska was based on Gothic.[24] Britain was supposed to be former Tol Eressea that was driven towards the Great Lands, with Ireland (the Isle of Iverin) being a part that broke from it. The main character Ottor Wǽfre was intended to be the father of legendary figures Hengest and Horsa, who conquered England from the Guidlin, the Brithonin and the Rumhoth. In a later sketch, the Elves were from the region of Luthany before being pulled out of the mainland and becoming an island.[25]

Tolkien envisioned his stories to take place on our world, in an imaginary historical period that contains the essentials of northwestern Europe. He did not see his stories as happening on a "remote globe in 'space'", as was the case with other contemporary fiction.[26]

As for the later legendarium, The Shire was not only conceptually based on rural England,[27] but was also expressly stated to be "in this region",[19] "the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea".[28]

Experimental projection of the Westlands over Europe

Concerning the Shire, Tolkien stated that he intended it to correspond roughly to the latitude of Oxford, which would cause other Middle-earth locations to correspond (but not necessarily equate with) real-life locations. For instance, Minas Tirith would fall to about the latitude of Florence, and Pelargir and the mouths of Anduin to that of ancient Troy.[29] According to the annotations provided by J.R.R. Tolkien to Pauline Baynes, Hobbiton is again approximately at the same latitude as Oxford, and Minas Tirith is about the latitude of Ravenna. The bottom of the map is about the latitude of Jerusalem, and Umbar about that of Cyprus. Minas Tirith, being approximately 900 miles east of Hobbiton, is located near Belgrade.[30]

Based on this information, it was possible to make more correspondences, and even project the Westlands on a real map of Europe.[31]

Portrayal in adaptations

"...there is much else that may be told." — Glóin
This article or section is a stub. Please help Tolkien Gateway by expanding it.
The whole continent of Middle-earth as envisioned in Middle-earth Role Playing

Middle-earth has been depicted in a variety of adaptations of Tolkien's work, the most prominent of which have been the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies by Peter Jackson. Middle-earth has appeared in animation in Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings and Rankin/Bass' adaptations of The Hobbit and The Return of the King. Middle-earth has also appeared and in television series, such us The Rings of Power by Amazon. Middle-earth has also appeared in numerous video games such as The Lord of the Rings Online and War in the North and tabletop role-playing games like the Middle-earth Role Playing system by Iron Crown Enterprises.

Each adaptation has made changes, subtractions, or additions to Tolkien's creation, often adding new locations, creatures, or characters. For the most part, however, the overall geography and style of Tolkien's Middle-earth have been retained.

See also


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "V. The Ambarkanta"
  3. Robert Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, entry "Misty Mountains"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "V. The Ambarkanta"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "VI. The Tale of Years of the Second Age" p. 183
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue", "Concerning Hobbits"
  7. 7.0 7.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Index of Names"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife".
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Farewell to Lórien"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
  12. 12.0 12.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, "I. The Cottage of Lost Play": "Notes and Commentary", p. 21.
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part One, "III. The Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor": "Notes and Commentary", p. 81.
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "IV. The Nauglafring", p. 233.
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "Index", p. 370.
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 151, (dated 18 September 1954)
  17. Tolkien Journal II, 2 p. 1
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 169, (dated 11 September 1955)
  19. 19.0 19.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 "Middle-earth - Usage and misunderstandings", Wikipedia (accessed 20 June 2024)
  21. Robert Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, entry "Middle-earth"
  22. Karen Wynn Fonstad (1991), The Atlas of Middle-earth
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "III. The Fall of Gondolin"
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Quenya Phonology", in Parma Eldalamberon XIX (edited by Christopher Gilson), "The Comparative Tales", p. 22
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "VI. The History of Eriol or Ælfwine and the End of the Tales"
  26. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 183, (undated, probably written 1956)
  27. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 190, (dated 3 July 1956)
  28. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue"
  29. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 294, (dated 8 February 1967)
  30. The Guardian, 23 October 2015, "Tolkien's annotated map of Middle-earth discovered inside copy of Lord of the Rings". An analysis of the map may also be found in "Découverte d'une carte de la Terre du Milieu annotée par Tolkien pour Pauline Baynes" (in French, with deciphered annotations also being provided in English).
  31. Andreas Moehn, "A Meridional Grid on the Middle-Earth Map", Lalaith's Middle-earth Science Pages (accessed 20 June 2024)