Former capital of Cardolan
Bridge in ruins
Bridge of Tharbad in ruins, by Rob Alexander

Map of Tharbad
Map of Tharbad
800 T.A. 38 000
1200 T.A. 47 000
1450 T.A. 30 000
1600 T.A. 32 000
1650 T.A. 17 000
1810 T.A. 11 000
1944 T.A. 8 000


Tharbad (S. "The Crossing Place") is an ancient Númenórean city that grew up where the North-South Road crossed the Gwathló river (Greyflood). It was originally the name given to a ford, high up along the once densely forested banks of the Gwathló. Fortified by men of Westernesse, Tharbad grew slowly into a metropolis which dwarfed any other urban center in Eriador. It was once the capital of the kingdom of Cardolan.


The area around Tharbad is flat and marshy, where sluggish waters tend to spread into fenland. The road approaches the river from either side along miles of raised causeway. Above Tharbad the river is forked, with both branches converging from out of a network of swamps, pools and eyots, where the only inhabitants are hosts of swans, and many other waterbirds.

Early History

In the early Second Age, huge fenlands north-east of Tharbad called Nîn-in-Eilph (S. "Swanfleet") were part of the Ñoldorin elf-realm of Eregion (S. "Hollin"). Aldarion the Mariner was first known man to navigate Gwathló so far upriver, when he met Galadriel. By II 1695, Númenorean explorers had charted the great river in ships of small draught and constructed a small harbour and advance base at the ford to exploit the local timber. It was captured and burned down by Sauron during his war against Elves, but in II 1700 Sauron and his army was routed and destroyed by a Númenórean expeditionary force led by Ciryatur, master of ships, and fort at Tharbad was rebuilt.

Subsequent centuries saw increased Númenórean colonisation at massive scale. Forests below Tharbad were devastated, and Númenóreans were obliged to build more forts to protect their ship-building yards and great wood-stores from the hostile local population. Indigenous tribes, called Gwathuirim (S. "Dwellers of the Shadow") and related to the folk of Haleth, were treated as enemies, and subjected to genocide.

As the might of the Númenoreans grew their interests shifted to more lucrative southlands, Tharbad was forgotten and remained as an obscure outpost of Westernesse in the north. Soldiers and colonists intermarried with local tribes and became men of Cardolan. During the Númenórean Civil War, both Tharbad and Lond Daer Enedh (the main Númenórean port in Eriador) supported the King's Men (Ârûwânai).

Tharbad grew into a township during the early Third Age, when it was incorporated into the kingdom of Elendil. A need had arisen to undertake the great works of drainage and dyke-building that would make a great port on the site where Tharbad stood. The ford was deepened to receive sea-going vessels, and the massive fenlands above it were extensively drained, until a much smaller Swanfleet was all that remained. Tharbad's new river-port was spanned by a bridge, the immense labour of which was shared by the North and South Kingdoms, and included a fortified town and haven about the great bridge over the Greyflood. These fortifications around the town were raised on great earthworks on both sides of the river. The Great South Road, which was built at the same time to connect the two nations, passed across the bridge via long causeways that carried the road to it on either side across the fens.

Tharbad and the Successor States

After Lond Daer Enedh fell in ruin, Tharbad became the only major port in Arnor. It achieved further importance after the decline of Annúminas and division of Arnor in to three Successor States in III 861. Tharbad became the capital of Cardolan, most populous of the three. At the end of the 9th century all foreign trading houses were transferred to Tharbad, and a building assigned to the Gondorian nation is specifically mentioned in 910.

Tharbad became the center of an entire national economy and the richest city in Eriador at the time. Tharbad's "Golden Age" was tightly linked to the wool trade and textile industry. Many foreign merchants were resident in the city. Ciramir Eärendurion, the Gondorian envoy, stated in 1403 that "hundreds of ships would pass in a day, 2000 carts entered the city each week, and Umbarean ships laden with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo".

Without a long-distance merchant fleet, and governed by an oligarchy of banker-aristocrats forbidden to engage in trade, the economy of Tharbad was foreigner-controlled, which made the city very international, with merchants and traders from Pelargir, Gobel Mírlond, and Umbar. Tharbad had a policy of toleration, which attracted a large community of dissenters from other realms in exile, but it was not a "free" city, since it had been constituted as the capital of Cardolan and was controlled by the royal house.

The revolution of 1412 erupted in violent riots, as in other parts of Cardolan. The regent Nimhir and princess Níriel were swept aside when Mablung, hîr Girithlin, sent an army to capture the city. When the Eighty Years' War (the First War of Cardolani Succession) broke out, commercial trading between Tharbad and the Gondorian ports became impossible. On 4 Hithui 1439, Gondorian soldiers plundered the city.

Tharbad became the capital of several popular revolts . In 1509, Elrion Celepharn, hîr Tinereb, captured it from Daeron Faerdor after a long siege, and as part of the terms of surrender its citizens were given two years to settle their affairs. Tharbad's banking was controlled for a generation by Arthedain, and Súduri at the mouth of Gwathló became the new international trading centre. After the Last War of Cardolani Succession (1582-1598), Tharbad became once again Gondorian trading outpost, ruled by an exarch (canotar), and a considerable garrison of soldiers, mariners and engineers were kept there until the end of the seventeenth century of the Third Age.

In 1663, the city was captured by Dunmen insurgents, but the citadel continued to be held by a Gondorian garrison under autherdir Uldor Otharin. During this attack the town was heavily damaged. In December 1664, after a gallant defence, Uldor made an honourable surrender. The city was, by then, only a shadow of its former glory, having reached the lowest point of its fortunes.


From about III 1150, it is incidentally recorded that a tribe of hobbits migrated to the fens above Tharbad, and spread onto the land along the Causeway south-east of the town over several centuries, but they left around III 1630 because "the land and clime of Eriador, especially in the east, worsened and became unfriendly".

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