[identity profile] starbrow.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] b2mem
B2MeM Prompt and Path: Worldbuilding, Orange Path
Format: Meta
Genre: Essay
Rating: G
Warnings: Nothing that isn't in canon, pretty much
Characters: N/A
Pairings: N/A
Creator’s Notes: I've been thinking about this bit of meta for some time, after a discussion on FFA in which I was lamenting Tolkien's vagueness around food, trade, and what diplomatic relations might have been like in the First Age. And this essay is dedicated to the nonnie who was also interested in the subject!
Summary: My thoughts on what the regions of First Age Beleriand might have had for food, and what they might have traded with each other.

If you look at a map of Beleriand, roads are few and far between, settlements very distant from each other, or in some cases, cut off from the rest of the world altogether.

And yet there must have been trade, not just between the various peoples that lived in First Age Beleriand, but coming over from Eriador and lands beyond as well.

Let's take the land region by region, see what they might each have produced and what they might have traded.

Hithlum, as we discover in the Easterling years, is something of a trap, a land that is very difficult to get out of. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Fingolfin built Barad Eithel outside the Ered Wethrin. I'd venture to suggest that Hithlum, during the early years of the First Age, was green and fruitful -- the breadbasket of Beleriand -- but as time went on, the land slowly became poisoned by smog from Angband, and at the end of the First Age, everyone who could get out had fled south and west.

So what did Hithlum produce? Fish from Lake Mithrim, oats, barley, wheat, rye and pulses in the generous farmlands to the North, fruit trees, smallholdings that grew a variety of vegetables and fruits. Every household, Mannish or Elvish, had a kitchen garden with chickens, many beekeepers thrived, and farmlands stretched out behind the fortress of Barad Eithel over the Ered Wethrin, with small villages clustered here and there in more peaceful times. Cows and sheep grazed in the green meadowlands, goats thrived on the mountainsides. Peat was burned for fuel, as trees were precious and too few to waste.

Moving west to the coast, Vinyamar, too marshy to sustain much farmland save a few wild rice farms, survived mainly on fish, and traded up and down the coast. They were unfortunately mainly cut off both from most of the rest of Hithlum (certainly the rich farmlands of Dor-lomin and the lands near Lake Mithrim), and from lands further south beyond Mount Taras. Boats were their best option for trade, and they learned much from Cirdan. Voronwë's youth was spent traveling back and forth between Vinyamar, Brithombar, Elgarest, and Balar, meeting the various Avari and Sindar who lived in those lands, and developing a keen love of the Sea.

Cirdan's folk concentrated themselves near their cities of Elgarest and Brithombar, having learned through hard experience that it was well to be within running distance of a fortress when Orcs came attacking. This didn't stop them from having fields of grain, growing and cultivating fruit trees, and trading extensively both by land and water. Their main trade partners were Doriath, and once it was established, Nargothrond. Unlike the people of Hithlum, they favoured corn and rice as grains, and used whale-oil lamps rather than beeswax candles for light, when they needed it. They ate a lot of oysters, seaweed, fish of all kinds; they hunted whales, and cultivated lobster and crabs in artificial 'tidal' pools.

Doriath, situated as it was in the middle of a forest, had to get creative when it came to farming. Fortunately, they had a Maia to help them, and Thingol, who had taken the opportunity to learn all he could from the Valar when he'd visited Valinor. They used artificial light to grow some crops underground, but favoured nuts, meat such as venison, bear, duck, and goose, and plants that could grow in the shade such as parsnips, cabbages, carrots, lettuces, and peas. They liked their food a bit less bland than other areas and grew great quantities of wild garlic, horseradish, mustard, and onions. Potatoes also grew wild in the forests of Doriath, but were not discovered, except by the Petty-Dwarves. Some of the people of Doriath had a taste for insects, and some cultivated edible moss.

The Green-Elves, mainly wanderers and vegetarians, tended to eat what they could find growing wild. In East Beleriand, the Taur-im-Duinath contained many wild nut and fruit trees, and the Land of Seven Rivers was rich with mushrooms, fungi, ransom, seeds, moss, and the well-known elf cup, so named by the Men who entered Beleriand because they saw Green-Elves using them as dishes to hold food.

Nan Elmoth and Eöl traded almost entirely with the Dwarves, and a little with Doriath, shunning their neighbours in Himlad. However, for food, they were mostly self-sustaining, being only a small household in a rich forest, and a couple of hunter-gatherers, along with a small garden, was able to supply their needs for the most part. Most of Eöl's trade with the Dwarves was metal for swords and armour, which he then sold to Doriath for their border guards.

The Fëanorians in East Beleriand traded much among themselves -- wood and metalworking from Himlad, fish from Lake Helevorn, flax, other grains, and grapevines from Maglor's Gap and Thargelion, hunted meats and cultivated fruit from Estolad, horses from Lothlann. They also traded extensively with all other areas of Beleriand save Doriath and Nargothrond: gems and gold from the Dwarves, oceanic fish and whale products from Cirdan, grain, honey, beef, and mutton from Hithlum, even mushrooms and nuts from the Green-Elves, building ties with them that would last when the Battle of Unnumbered Tears wiped all their trade routes and food sources out utterly and left them destitute wanderers in Ossiriand.

Dorthonion and Ard-Galen, home of Angrod and Aegnor, seemed to have all the best of every region -- fish in the lakes, grassy plains ideal for grazing, forests of nut trees, pine trees, and fruit trees, deer, rabbits, bear, and all kinds of game birds for the hunting, a climate perfect for growing fields of wheat, oats, and flax. It was less wet than Hithlum, and more mountainous, but Ladros, especially, was ideally placed for all kinds of trading -- through the Pass of Aglon with Doriath and Himlad, with Himring, with Lothlann and Thargelion, with Hithlum. Unfortunately it was also basically within sight of Thangorodrim.

Nargothrond, far to the south, traded mainly with Doriath and Cirdan, now and again with Hithlum. They loved their wine, and grew grapes everywhere they could, ageing it to perfection in the cool wine cellars far underground. Nowhere else, even Thargelion, produced such good wine. The gardens of Nargothrond, permitted light, air, and even birds by a trick of the design, cultivated beans, vegetables, and berries. Taur-en-Faroth was well-named, for there Nargothrond's hunters would go and bring back deer, rabbits, wild boar, and especially game birds such as grouse and partridges. To the south of Nargothrond, a few settlements of farms cultivated various grains and flax for weaving.

And finally, Gondolin, which participated in no trade at all, and was entirely self-sustaining. As Lord of the Fountains, Ecthelion and his House were responsible for the elaborate system of plumbing, which not only saw to the needs of the people in the city, but irrigated the fields beyond with the wastewater. The House of the Golden Flower, led by Glorfindel, and the House of the Tree, led by Galdor, were respectively responsible for the fields and the forests in the plain of Gondolin. The House of the Golden Flower cultivated wheat, oats, and flax, fruit and vegetables of all kinds, and sunflowers, which were Glorfindel's especial favourite, but also useful for their seeds. The House of the Tree cultivated fruit and nut trees, managed the use of wood for furniture (the city itself was built out of stone and metal) and ensured that only coal was burnt in the great fires of the forges, never wood, for it was far too precious. The House of the Swallow, led by Duilin, practiced with bow and arrow to bring down geese, ducks, and other birds, and also kept cows, sheep, pigs, and goats for milk, meat, and wool. Every household in Gondolin kept chickens. To ensure the winters would not result in starvation, crops were rotated and two growing seasons took place each year. The city was managed to such a precise degree that after the first fifty years, when the city was fully complete, no more children were permitted to be born until after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, when that edict was lifted. (As a result, many of those killed in the Fall of Gondolin were young children less than forty years old.)

The maps might not show many roads, but trade thrived in Beleriand, and trade was often a symbol of a greater union between the peoples involved. Cirdan's people traded widely and freely with everyone, Doriath was almost as guarded in its trading as it was with allowing strangers to travel through its lands, and the Fëanorians established trade bonds that would serve them well, both with friends they already had such as their kin in Hithlum, and new friends like the Green-Elves and the Dwarves.
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