One question often asked when talking about dwarves is… “what did they eat under their mountain?”
Well we know dwarves – especially in times of great riches – traded large quantities of food with men. To quote Thorin Oakenshield: “we never bothered to grow or find food ourselves” (-p28 – The Hobbit). To sustain a large population of dwarves however ocasional trade of food from the surface wouldn’t have been enough to prevent mass starvation underground. Which brings us to the question, what is there too eat in dark places of the world ?
Firstly we need to get a bit of an idea of how many dwarves we are feeding. At the end of the Third age dwarven numbers were on the decline, but judging by the dwarven armies, the fact that 1/3 is female and dwarves aren’t exactly rabbits when it comes to reproducing, numbers couldn’t have been much higher then 15.000 at any given time.
Let’s take the Lonely Mountain in 2760 of the Third Age, some ten years before Smaug attacked… The Halls of the Lonely Mountain would have been bursting with dwarven life, likely up to 8.000 dwarves around this time. So this amount of dwarves isn’t fed by the occasional food trade with the men, nor by the stray bat… it would take a food industry to keep them alive and thriving.
If we consider healthy dwarven males and women would eat about 1100 grams a day, And we take into account a population of 8.000, we need just over 3 million kilo’s (6,6 million Lbs) of food per year. If dwarves would rely on trade to feed their own then they would need about 13.000 wagons (230kg a piece) fully loaded with food each year, or about 35 a day. So, I believe it is safe to say there is no way Dale and the surrounding region could have sustained the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.
This creates a major challenge you might think… where do the dwarves find over 3 million kilo’s of food under a mountain ?
Is it even possible ?
Yes, it is… let me tell you how.
First thing you need to know is that bats are the corner stone of the dwarven food-pyramid. Bats are not just hunted on by chance, in order to sustain a dwarven population of several thousands, dwarven cities would have had several dozens of bat farms. Bats aren’t just usefull for their meat, in fact they would have been mainly used for their sh… uhm.. their droppings (guano). Yes you read it correctly, their droppings… which would have provided nutrition for a whole foodchain. The guano is food to countless creatures, including flies, beetles, bugs, millipedes, springtails, cockroaches, worms, mites and moths. These animals are in turn fed upon by the cave crickets, centipedes, scorpions, whip scorpions and spiders. And these provide food for small mammals (rats, cavemice), cavecrabs, frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes and turtles. The dwarves would have farmed many of these animals, sometimes growing them by the millions or billions, either as a direct food source or as food for the dozens of fish, frog and turtle farms found under the dwarven mountains. Bats even provide milk, indeed… bat milk… not going into the details on how they were milked, but trust me, it is possible.
Now in most temperate caves – climates found in most of dwarven caves of Middle Earth – dwarves run into the problem that it is too cold to support the amount of fauna needed to support their population. In order to sustain large amounts of life in caves, the micro climate inside the mountain needs to be warmer, verging on tropical. This allows the bats to breed faster, providing more droppings, which in turn allows the insect population to boom – ensuring a steady food supply for the fish and bat farms under the mountain.
Even in the colder subarctic climates of the Grey Mountains dwarves managed to create different inner climates in their Halls that allowed to sustain the food sources of their population. This is done mainly through creating lava chambers deep in the heart of the mountain and creating steam channels that lead to the various halls in the mountain. Their adapted mountain microclimate would have also provided for quite a few natural salt caves, which isn’t only handy for seasoning or keeping food. In case you believe living underground would be tremendously unhealthy… in our modern times people pay hundreds of dollars to spend a few hours in fake salt caves.
Also, their mirror systems allowed them to channel natural sunlight from openings in the mountain sides to every corner of the underground mountain, even allowing them to grow some vegetables (potatoes and carrots), northern grains and berries deep inside the mountain.
With all of the above in mind, the Lonely Mountain dwarves in our example would have been eating the following over the course of a year (some examples of dishes added there too – by the way these dishes actually exist – so for the squeemish… you’ve been warned)
* 1.190.000 kilo’s of batmeat (crispy fried batwings, batsoup)
* 1.120.000 kilo’s of fish and crab (boiled cavecrabs, cavefish cassarole)
* 146.000 liters of fishoil
* 890.000 kilo’s of bugs (crickets on a stick, cheesy beetle dip, millipede-paté)
* 657.000 kilo’s of snakemeat (snake hotpot)
* 340.000 kilo’s of spiders (fried spiders)
* 124.000 kilo’s of turtlemeat (turtle stew)
* 216.000 liters of batmilk – you would need to milk about 5800 bats for that each day – but still possible though
* 450.000 kilo’s of vegatables (rootpuree, cavepotato soup)
* 235.000 kilo’s of scorpionmeat (scorpion kebab)
* 389.000 loaves of bread
as you can see, no shortage of food in the mountain 😉
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and mushrooms! Don’t forget the mushrooms – baked, grilled, roasted or fried 🙂
Do I detect a Hobbit in the house ? 🙂
No, but I would arm-wrestle any hobbit for mushrooms 🙂
Fortunately I opened a pizza franchise just before Smaugy showed up.
Quite hmmm…interesting idea hehe. Indeed we are told often by Tolkien that Dwarves had well working symbiotic relationship with local communities of Men, Elves or Hobbits because they never bothered, if they could avoid it, with growing of finding food themselves. Dwarves of the Blue Mountains in Third Age would be fed by agriculture of Shire and Bree-land and whatever other people lived in Eriador, maybe Elves from Lindon, Erebor by Esgaroth (while trading hub they too had self sufficient agriculture, fields, pastures and herds around the shores of the Lake) and Dale and other inhabitants of the region, south along Celduin river, possibly east towards Iron Hills also lived people and who know maybe also Dorwinion and more friendly Easterlings of Rhun, Moria in Second Age was very powerful and local Edain that lived in Rhovanion provided lots of agricultural products.
In fact I seem to remember that in one essay it is said that Khazad-dum was almost an empire with large territory under their control, whole Misty Mountains was considered their territory too, local Men were in alliance. Grey Mountains after fall of Moria also seemed to have large population of Dwarves and there were Men living in the valleys ancestors of Rohirrim maybe. Moria itself is so vast and it was inhabited mostly by Longbeards or Durin’s Folk (refugees of two other clans from Blue Mountains also arrived there) so the numbers of dwarves in earlier ages would be significantly large than the declining population of later Third Age.
Dwarves certainly would be very far ranging traders, they crossed huge distances for their business transactions, transporting goods. But he possibility of their own production is interesting and it would seem in the earliest times the most necessary. We know also that Dwarves had some skills as hunters (Thorin was quite good with bow others of his company maybe not the best since they wasted many arrows, but they too tried to hunt, in fact they got few of those black squirrels but they turned out inedible, as Beorn said all that lives or grows in Mirkwood is ”queer, dark and savage” it’s hard to find food there though not impossible, Wood Elves hunted there regularly but they too traded with Men, they probably were also fishing from Forest River, maybe also Long Lake and Celduin, the Woodland Realm folk is said to cover large areas, they had their own raftsmen, harbours and villages at the river shores).
We are also told that there were many forests around the Lonely Mountain and the valleys were rich and fertile. Of course the underground ecosystems certainly exist but the method of gathering this sort of food is more fitting for Orcs, who don’t care how foul or disgusting the food and water is, they take all they can, though in their caves there were also many strange creatures of which they didn’t even know about. Nonetheless Great Goblin mentioned dark holes full of snakes to which he wanted to throw our heroes and the great bats, ”fastening vampire-like on the stricken” that aided Orcs in battle in huge swarms. Orcs too kept slaves for work and made raids for food and spoils from the vale of Anduin, they also must have supported themselves by foraging and hunting, underground lakes like the one where Gollum lived occassionally would provide fish (Great Goblin is said to often had a taste for them) and who knows maybe at nights they went out of their mountain homes to fish in the rivers above ground :).
We know that in later period of Third Age the folk of Moria begun to dwindle and many of it’s halls became empty, it might be understandable if to consider that the closest neighbours begun to dwindle themselves. Already in the half of Second Age Eregion fell, remaining Noldor either fled or joined with Lindon, the Imladris refuge was established, Galadhrim might have some contacts in those days there might have been contact with people up north in Vale of Anduin and Eriador and Hobbits that still lived around Gladden Fields (at least before the time of their great migration to Eriador around the year 1050 TA, though even after that time Hobbits would certainly be capable of providing trade opportunities) and with North Kingdom of Arnor when it was established at the end of the Second Age. The fall of Moria happened in 1980 TA and after most of the Durin’s Folk went north to Grey Mountains, some went east to Lonely Mountain including their king Thrain I the Old, son of slain Nain, grandson of Durin VI who also was killed by Balrog later known as Durin’s Bane. There is slight possibility that when trade was insufficient dwarves would try to fill their shortages with their own production. Who knows maybe the great shafts and windows on mountain-sides in the upper levels of Moria served not only to provide natural light and ventilation system, maybe it could serve well for sort of greenhouses or mushroom farms (though some can be grown in darkness) or other plants in aritficial gardens, however unlikely it sounds, I don’t know maybe :). Certainly there would be no problems with heating, forges and furnaces of the dwarves would bring enough to spread all over the underground city, water was in sufficient supply too, there is lots of it underground as seen by fellowship.