Counting Dwarves

Some weeks ago I asked everyone to throw some interesting Dwarven questions my way while my PC was in the shop… and to my absolute delight I received quite a few.  The following outstanding question came via email from Samir:

“How many dwarves would there have been around at the end of the third age?”

Thank you Samir. I have often wondered the very same, so I decided to dig into to this without delay. Truth be told I was already busy looking in to this very question some months earlier, while working on demographic models for the various Dwarven halls of Middle Earth (another related project I was working on).

Unfortunately we can’t hold a census, nor are their any written records on their exact numbers either. The easy answer here would be: “We have no idea, nor is there anyway to know”.

Those of you that have read a few of my articles here know I’m not too fond of easy answers; hence I did what any good dwarf would do… I started digging.

Now if we want to answer this question there are various factors we must consider, as these can impact the outcome to our question tremendously.

Factors such as:

* How many dwarves did Aulë actually create?

* How many children do dwarves have, how many dwarves choose to have children and at what age do dwarves have children?

* What impact do war and times of troubles have on their numbers?

* What impact does the availability of food have on their numbers?

* What interaction was there between the various halls of the dwarves?

Granted, some of these question might seem odd to ask when trying to answer our question at hand, but bear with me on this, as I believe that when we answer the above questions, or more accurately “try to make a somewhat educated guess on these questions”, we should see patterns appearing giving us a clearer picture on the number of Dwarves by the end of the third age.

* How many Dwarves did Aulë actually create?

This is one of the only questions we can answer without any doubt.  The Silmarillion tells us that Aulë (who the Dwarves call Mahal) created the seven fathers of the Dwarves and their six spouses before the awakening of the Elves.   Though The History of Middle Earth talks about the fact that Tolkien had plans to rewrite this piece quite drastically (adding many more Dwarves) he in the end never did.  So we can be sure that all Dwarves that roamed Middle Earth were in fact descendants of this first generation of 13 Dwarves.

Ted Nasmith's  Aulë and the Seven Fathers

Ted Nasmith’s
Aulë and the Seven Fathers

* How many children do Dwarves have, how many Dwarves choose to have children and at what age do Dwarves have children?

From the start, we can see something odd about the Dwarven population… it has more males then females.   This odd feature is apparently still in place well in the third age, in fact – using Gimli as our source – the gap between the sexes has become even worse: “It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people.” (From the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings).

I believe we must be extremely careful with this statement, as if we draw the wrong conclusions here; based on this quote, our end result could be way off.

Though this is the opinion of one dwarf, we have no reason to doubt our good friend Gimli here.  In fact he is one of the rare direct sources we have related to the customs of the Dwarves of the late third age.  So let us assume indeed that only 1 out of 3 is female.

Unfortunately fewer still will ever give birth, as less than one-third of all males ever choose to marry….

“For Dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights. The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less than one-third.”

Now, it could be argued here that Dwarven women would not need to marry to have children.

On that topic I would like to refer to the article on marriage customs.  Where the link between sexual relations and marriage is explained in more detail.    In short, if we follow Judaic customs and Tolkien’s own writings, having sexual relations would mean you are in fact engaged to be married, meaning that a pregnant dwarf is a married (or soon to be married) dwarf.

Now, if the above (less than 1 out of 3 dwarf women would give birth) would be a fixed rule we would have a major issue from the start, as that would mean that out of our 7 clans only 2 would have survived past the first generation.  We know from Tolkien’s own writings that this is not so. As he writes that in the Second Age 7 rings were given to 7 Dwarven kings.  Clearly indicating that all the seven clans survived well beyond the first generation and at the same time also indicating that this rule “less than 1 out of 3 dwarf women would give birth” is not a rule that applies to all ages and is likely to have been valid more for the Dwarves of the late third age then those of earlier ages.

Some of the Seven Kings of the Dwarves

Some of the Seven Kings of the Dwarves

Given the fact that Tolkien stated that the Dwarven population was on the decline by the end of the third age, we can be sure that at some point in the past it was in fact on the rise (otherwise there would likely not have been any population at all past the first 3 generations).

Tolkien gives us a very decent hint on one actual Dwarven population, be it extremely indirectly…

In the Silmarillion Tolkien mentions that the Dwarves of Belegost went to war along side the Elves and Men during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.  Though no direct number is mentioned as to the size of the Dwarven host, there are ways we can make a founded estimate – (Mythlore, Number 51, Volume 14, No.1, ‘The Kindreds, Houses and Population of the Elves During the First Age’, 1987; Mythlore ISSN:0146-9339, a detailed study of the numbers of Elves). From this 1987 article and from more recently published volumes of The History of Middle-earth (e.g.: Vol. XI, pp. 380-381, pp. 420–423; Vol. XII, p. 307, “two thousand full grown men”). relatively sound estimates can be drawn of the numbers of Elves, Men AND Dwarves.    

If we additionally consider that Tolkien stated that Dwarven females were fiercely guarded, it would be very unlikely that there were many Dwarven women in the army of King Azaghâl (as the risk too lose the valuable women folk would be far too high).  This study gives us a minimal number of male Dwarves of Belegost (this just being one of the seven clans), being 6.000.   With this number in mind and what we know about female Dwarven numbers, the total Dwarves of Belegost would have at least been 9.000.

Seeing that at that point in time no other major battles would have happened that impacted the dwarven clans, we are looking at (at least) 63.000 dwarves of all Seven Clans by the year 468 of the First Age.

From the time the second generation of Dwarves was born, till the time of this battle, over 4000 years would have passed. Now to achieve these population numbers in this period of time all Dwarven females that had chosen to marry (and had the chance to have children) would have had on average 6 children.  Taking into account also that most Dwarves would rarely get married before the age of 90.

* What impact do war and times of troubles have on their numbers?

In short… a devastating impact.

The history of the Dwarves is filled with battle after battle; the vast majority of those battles would have greatly impacted their numbers.

For example, the biggest battle of all Dwarven history, The Battle of Azanulbizar, wiped out half of all Dwarves alive at the time.   The battle of Sarn Athrad for instance almost killed all the Dwarves of Nogrod.  Tolkien often gives us a very clear overview of battles the Dwarves were in, and the impact some of those battles had.  In addition, dramatic events such as the arrival of Smaug at the Lonely Mountain, further desecrated Dwarven numbers (especially those of the Longbeards).

Ted Nasmith's Smaug the Destroyer

Ted Nasmith’s
Smaug the Destroyer

Taking the above into account and the previously mentioned slow population growth, we have a clear opportunity of estimating the Dwarven population in the third age.

We however have two problems with this… 1) Tolkien mentions next to nothing about the 4 clans in the East (Blacklocks, Stonefoots, Ironfists and Stiffbeards).  2) He also focuses almost exclusively on the battles and events where the Longbeards were involved in.

So when we ask ourselves “how many Dwarves were around by the late third age”, we can only base us on the Longbeard clan.  Seeing that this clan had a tremendous amount of devastating wars and battles in their history, we can assume that their numbers would likely be one of the smallest clans (with the exception of the Firebeards and Broadbeams perhaps – who saw their ancient halls of Tumunzahar and Gabilgathol ruined at the end of the First Age).

* What impact does the availability of food have on their numbers?

Little to none.   Unlike men Dwarves could suffer great hardships and still come out on top.  The best example of this is Khazad-dûm being closed off after the Sack of Eregion in 1697 S.A and being opened once again some 1700 years later.   No trade of food went into Khazad-dûm, so they were solely reliant on their own food supplies and whatever they could grow under the mountain.  They might not have flourished during this time, but at least they did more than just survive.  As the first thing they did when opening the gates of Khazad-dûm again, was go to war (The Last Alliance).

* What interaction was there between the various halls of the Dwarves?

Now this might seem an odd question at first when trying to calculate Dwarven population numbers.  However, the reasoning behind this question can have a tremendous impact on our outcome.  Let us, for the sake of an example, say that there was only one clan and all Dwarves lived in one Hall.  This would mean that the females that wished to marry would have more potential male mates outside of their own family.  This would result in potentially more births.  While if Dwarves would live in very small groups far away from other Dwarves, their potential mates could perhaps be limited. This could result in fewer births.  Now if the interaction between the various halls of the Dwarves would be high, this problem could be avoided, not impacting the maximum potential births.

Tolkien tells us that the females rarely traveled from their Halls and at the same time also tells us that Dwarven traders were a frequent occurrence in Middle Earth, meaning that (most likely the male) Dwarves traveled freely within the Western regions.   I say “Western regions”, as it can be believed that the Eastern clans rarely traveled west, due to great distances.  Another reason I believe the Dwarves of Eastern clans would rarely come to west can be found here: “But now Frodo often met strange dwarves of far countries, seeking refuge in the West. They were troubled, and some spoke in whispers of the Enemy and of the Land of Mordor.” (FoTR, The Shadow of the Past).

These “strange dwarves of far countries”, could not have been Longbeards, as these were frequently seen on the trade routes that passed through the Shire.  Hence must have been dwarves of the Eastern clans, and indeed these rarely traveled to the West.

Throughout Dwarven history the population numbers of the Longbeards would have been great enough to not be impacted by a limitation of potential partners.  This I believe changed drastically in 1981 T.A, when Khazad-dûm was lost and Durin’s Bane drove out the remnant of the Longbeards into exile.   From that moment on their history is one of woe and war, further impacting their already dwindling numbers.  Smaug dealt a further blow to their number and the Battle of Azanulbizar almost finished off their clan (in addition impacted all clans tremendously).  Directly after the Battle of Azanulbizar the amount of males would have likely been equal to the females, if not less.  Seeing that Dwarven females – who likely survived hidden away in their halls during the battle – only marry that one dwarf they have their heart set on, changes are quite big there were less births in the generations that followed these dramatic events.

Thorin at the Battle of Azanulbizar ® & ™ 2012 Warner Bros, Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Thorin at the Battle of Azanulbizar
® & ™ 2012 Warner Bros, Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

* Adding up what we know

Taking into account all the various factors mentioned above we can make a calculation on what the numbers of the Dwarves would have been like at the end of the Third Age – at least what Durin’s Folk is concerned.

This tells us that there were likely around 10.000 Longbeards at the end of the Third Age, the vast majority of which would have lived in the Lonely Mountain.  This number is in sharp contrast to the number that would have lived in Khazad-dûm in the mid third age, prior to the awakening of the Balrog, were we likely would have seen close to 100.000 Longbeards.

So, our calculation model seems to be very in line with Tolkien’s writings, where he says dwarven numbers were dwindling.

It is more difficult to say how many Eastern clan dwarves would have been around, however we do know that their Halls were often the target of dragons as well, in addition to all of them having suffered the same fate at Azanulbizar.  This leads me to believe their numbers were very close to that of the Longbeards, if not less.

The Firebeards and Broadbeams, who lived in the West alongside the Longbeards would likely have had fewer numbers that the Longbeards, between 1.000 and 3.000.  Unlike the Longbeards their halls were ruined at the end of the First Age.  The Dwarves of Nogrod (most likely the Firebeards) were likely the smallest of all clans due to the battle of Sarn Athrad in the First Age.

So if we add up our estimates of all 7 dwarven clans, there would have been between 50.000 and 60.000 dwarves in all of Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age.

About The Dwarrow Scholar

The Dwarrow Scholar first experienced the brilliance of Tolkien when he received a copy of The Hobbit from his uncle as a kid, reading it feverishly again and again. Some years on, when he got his very own walk-man (aye forget about tiny phones, this thing was a brick and played cassette tapes) he made his own little audiotape of The Hobbit, so he could listen to it on his bike on his way to school. Between reenacting the Battle of Five armies with 4 of his school friends (still feel sorry for the kid that had to be the Orc) and before the days of the internet, you would find Roy frequently in libraries trying to find all he could about Tolkien and his beloved dwarves. When Roy isn’t delving into Neo-Khuzdul or searching for lost dwarvish treasures on the net he’s enjoying time with his wife and son, re-reading his tormented Tolkien paperbacks, watching a good movie, learning new languages or playing a game of LoTRO or other dwarf related games.
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3 Responses to Counting Dwarves

  1. Pingback: About dwarven women and children | The Dwarrow Scholar

  2. RavensJewel says:

    First of all, please accept my compliments on your site – this is a really excellent resource for Dwarrow information and research! I would appreciate being added to your email list if possible.

    I have a comment on Dwarrow reproduction and a cultural question. Assuming that Dwarf women are as long-lived as the men (about 250 years), and that they have the dwarven equivalent of menopause (say, their last 50 years or so being unable to bear dwarflings) their reproductive years would run from their nineties through their 200th year. A spacing of 10 years between births would give them a maximum of 10-11 offspring, and allow them to raise their youngest children to adulthood before passing to the Halls of Mandos. Despite the fact that, culturally, they are not forced to marry, the genetic imperative would still be very strong, resulting, I believe, in a smaller percentage choosing to not marry than has been assumed so far in what I have read here and elsewhere – maybe 3-5%. Both genetic and cultural imperatives would also reward multiple offspring. Where conditions favored, the population would be well able to not just replace, but expand based on this calculation, even assuming the 33% ratio. The generation directly after great battles or disasters would be small due to the loss of spouses, but I think the generation following would tend to be far more prolific, subconsciously responding to the genetic replacement imperative. Thus the Firebeards and Broadbeams may have had greater numbers in the 3rd Age than your estimates.

    I would be interested to hear your opinion on this question: Assuming that Dwarrow women are indeed confined to their Halls, what is the cultural paradigm for their lives? Are they educated and active in their communities, developing and contributing their talents in crafts or management or accounting (somebody has to keep track of all the trading value!) until they marry and start having offspring?

    Or are they expected, like some populations of human females, to live in protected isolation in their father’s house until they are married, when they will go to the equally protected isolation of their husband’s home – and are held to a strictly reproductive role in terms of their participation in the community?

    If they are culturally participatory, your comment that the use of “marriage brokers” is rare makes sense. They would interact in business with the groups of (male) traders traveling from Hall to Hall and would (hopefully) be exposed to sufficient males that they could make an informed choice. If they are strictly isolated and their participation confined to reproduction, how would the marriage choice idea work?

    Obviously I have an “opinionated opinion” on this issue, but would be most interested to hear yours. Thank you for taking the time to read this – I know it is a long post!


    • Firstly, thank you for your extensive post, it was a pleasure to read.

      About the % of dwarves that chose not to marry. This is completely based upon Professor Tolkien’s writings, where he states that few dwarves wish to marry and fewer lady-folk is available and inclined to marry. It isn’t a random number, but based on those writings and also those of other “recorded” events (ruin of Gabilgathol and Tumunzahar, survivors moved to Khazad-dûm in S.A.40, etc..).
      My opinion to your question: “Assuming that Dwarrow women are indeed confined to their Halls, what is the cultural paradigm for their lives?” I believe that, inline with other writings of Professor Tolkien on the Hebrew influence in dwarven culture, that the female dwarves would have a role of “Balabusta”. Be careful not to confuse with with a negative derived form of the word in modern Western culture. The original Hebrew word: “ba’alat-habayit” means “mistress of the house”. In this role the female would not only manage and enrich the family ties, she would also care for, educate and guide the children upon their path to adulthood. In addition she would ensure the treasury of the family would be well kept and continues to grow; by advising her husband and male family members to go on profitable expeditions and trade ventures. In short, the Balabusta role of female dwarves is much more than a homemaker. It in fact is more of a financial consultant/ trade adviser / family manager / educator all rolled into one. It is very likely that the female dwarves teach the dwarven children “khuzdul” as their use of the language will not be as easily contaminated by outside influences (hence the minute change of the language through the ages).

      About your last point concerning the choice of a partner. As mentioned, dwarven females would not be confined to reproduction as is the custom with some cultures of men. In their Balabusta role they would be in contact with many male dwarves.


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