The Black Horses of Mordor

“Mounted upon a black horse, if horse is was; for it was huge and hideous,
and it’s face was a frightful mask, more skull then living head.”


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Little is known about the black steeds that came out of Mordor, in the latter part of the Third Age of Middle-earth. What sparse information has been preserved by historians, comes from entries found in the Red Book of Westmarch, that chronicled the War of the Ring found in the libraries of Minas Tirith, where copies were made by Peregrin Took. We know for instance, that the Nazgûl disguised as riders in black rode north to the Shire upon nine of these black steeds, from the gates of Minas Morgul. To all appearances they looked to be normal equine beasts, that men of that time would have ridden upon.

There were rumors in the North, that the Men of Rohan gave horses in tribute to Sauron, however these lies were proved false in the telling of the Red Book of Westmarch by Eomer, sister son to King Théoden of Rohan. Though it is believed, that Orcs from Mordor raided the eastern fields along the great River, always carrying off the black horses. These poor beasts were likely bred with other horses from out of the East and were prized for their stamina and speed. Sauron would have had great need for fast sturdy animals to run messages throughout the Land of Shadow.

Steed3We do know that some of these horses were seduced by the will of the Dark Lord through Morgul Spells, so that they might endure the mere presence of the Nazgûl, who induced terror on all free creatures found in Middle-earth. We also know the some of these beasts were bred with other creatures, vile and loathsome and changed forever by dark Sorcery, as was seen in the account of the Company, who stood upon the threshold of the Black Gate and endured the presence of the Mouth of Sauron. His steed was said to have been hideous. with a frightful mask, more skull than living head, where fire burned in its eyes and nostrils. More monster than living beast.

TolkienLegend3In the Library of Shadow, found in a deep defile east of Barad-dûr, written accounts of the Dark Lords breeding programs were found. East of Gorgoroth, lay a dark plain were thousands of these black steeds were housed and bred for the Dark Lord. Many of these poor beasts were taken to the breeding pits, deep within the Dark Tower, were they were subjected to terrible sorcery, creating ghastly creatures of evil intent, such as the brazen beast upon which the Mouth of Sauron rode to the Black Gate.

In the Red book of the Westmarch, we have descriptions of the Dark Steeds which the Nazgûl rode in their errand to retrieve the Ring of Power hidden in the Shire.

“The sound of hooves drew nearer. Just in time he threw himself down in a patch of long grass behind a tree that over shadowed the road. Then he lifted his head and peered cautiously above one of the great roots.
Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man. who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots were in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.
When it reached  the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with it’s head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise of someone sniffing to catch and elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.”

From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in the chapter ‘Three is Company’


Frodo, Sam and Gollum watched in horror as the Lord of the Nazgûl led a dark army out of the grinning gates of Minas Morgul.

Steed4As the terrible cry ended, falling back through a long sickening wail to silence, Frodo slowly raised his head. Across the narrow valley, now almost on level with his eyes, the walls of the evil city stood, and its cavernous gate, shaped like an open mouth with gleaming teeth, was gaping wide. An out of the gate an army came.
All of that host was clad in sable, dark as the night. Against the wan walls and the luminous pavements of the road Frodo could see them, small black figures in rank upon rank, marching swiftly and silently, passing outwards in an endless stream. Before them went a great cavalry of horsemen moving like ordered shadows, and at their head was one greater than all the rest: a Rider, all black, save that on his hooded head he had a helm like a crown that flickered with a perilous light. 

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’


During the siege Minas Tirith in the very darkest hour of the night, the great gates were broken and a deathly silence fell upon the ancient tower of the guard.

“In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.
All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dínen.
Steed2“You cannot enter here,” said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. “Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!”
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
“Old fool!” he said. “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!” And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the city, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of war nor of wizardry, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.”

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Siege of Gondor’


The company stood before the Black Gate of Mordor and offered challenge to the Dark Lord…

“There came a long rolling of great drums like thunder in the mountains, and they a braying of horns the shook the very stones and stunned the ears. An thereupon  the door of the Black Gate was thrown open with a great clang, and out of it there came an embassy from the Dark Tower.
At it’s head there rode a tall and evil shape, mounted upon a black horse, if horse is was; for it was huge and hideous, and it’s face was a frightful mask, more skull then living head, and in the sockets of it eyes and in it nostrils, there burned a flame.  The rider was robed all in black, and black was his lofty helm; yet this was no Ringwraith but a living man. The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said.
‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.'”

From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Siege of Gondor’


“But it is said when all was lost suddenly the Witch-king himself appeared,
black-robed and black-masked upon a black horse.”


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 Posted by at 6:57 am