For context : I would like to know if it is plausible to build a realistic european medieval world where Sauron appears at some point

Sauron's army was one of the most powerful in Middle Earth in the Second and Third ages.

According to How large were Saruman's and Sauron's armies? Sauron's army consisted of 50,000 - 75,000 warriors, mainly Orcs, but also Trolls, Fellbeasts (~ dragons), Wargs (huge wolves) and Men (Haradrim and Easterlings with Mumakil (huge elephants)). I don't consider Nazgul here. We don't know the exact proportion of each of these creatures but, according to the linked question:

Mordor's troops consisted of some 18,000 Easterlings and Haradrim, several Haradrim war Oliphaunts, and tens of thousands of Orcs.

10% of Orcs ride Wargs. There are 9 Fellbeasts and several Trolls.

During the battle of Towton (29 March 1461), around 60,000 men fought in Yorkshire for control of the English Throne.

Now let's say that the men of the Towton battle decided to unite together when they find out that Sauron's army will be in Towton in less than 36 hours (i.e., 18:00 the following day). Sauron's army is coming from the South.

Surroundings of Towton

With their medieval knowledge, strategy and equipment, is there a chance to defeat Sauron's army?

By defeating I mean, at least, killing enough enemies to force Sauron's army to retreat.

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    $\begingroup$ 1461 AD is, at best, very near the end of the Middle Ages. Most people would consider it early Renaissance. A much more typical large-scale medieval battle was Hastings, 1066, when 2× 10,000 people fought for control over England. And medieval battles had a much smaller proportion of casualties than modern battles; the goal was not to kill a lot of enemy soldiers (which was quite hard to do given the limitations of the technology) but to force, physically, using muscle power, the enemy off the field and into a disadvantageous position. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Actually I chose this date because it is close to the end of middle ages ! I want the battle to occur when knowledge and equipment were the most advanced but still in the medieval period. $\endgroup$
    – user53220
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ Sauron's army was strong, but they lacked discipline. I know these might not match your timeline, but a few stories I think would make for useful reference material about ancient armies succeeding against difficult odds include: The Iliad, The 300 Spartans, and Josephus's account of the siege of Jotapata, which is in book 3 of the Wars of the Jews. That last account didn't end in victory for the underdog (Jotapata), but the strategies used by them were nonetheless clever, and the record shows they were remarkably effective. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like archers will be the big difference. $\endgroup$
    – Trevor
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ What about a "Byzantine" army at the height of its power. I note that after about 650 the "Byzantine" army sometimes used early flame throwers which could make the mumakil turn around and trample Sauron's warriors as they fled. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:34

8 Answers 8


As other pointed out, discipline can play in favor of the humans against Sauron's army.

However, don't forget the surprise factor: the first time the Roman army fought against war elephants their discipline went down the drain against the panic of seeing for the first time such animals.

In your case, if it is the first time that the human army (and their horses) sees Orcs & Co., (and I suspect it is like this since you talk about sudden appearance) and if they barely resemble the appearance they have in the movie, panic is almost guaranteed. Sum to this the fear of demonic like creatures instilled by religion, and you have the recipe for failure.

In short, my answer is:

  • If they have already experience of the enemy: possible
  • If it's their first battle against the enemy: almost none
  • $\begingroup$ Was there an even that a individual who gave a courageous speech won a war? or is it just strategy, experience in battle and... numbers? Like what we see in the movies. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 0:59

Presumably Sauron's forces would not have any logistics. How do you get supplies from Middle Earth to England?

Every day that passes after his arrival, his army will weaken. Without supply lines, 75,000 orcs and Haradrim will quickly eat all the food available to be scavenged and then will begin to starve. They'll then probably have great difficulty keeping order. Orcs are pretty unruly even when things are going well. They'll quickly start fighting amongst themselves, and soon enough Sauron will have a lot less than 75,000.

The Europeans have no answer to the fell beasts or Mumakil, so I believe Sauron would easily win an open battle fought immediately. But the Europeans have no need to fight him immediately. They could easily wait a few weeks, and soon enough the Mumakil will have all starved to death and ~40% of the orcs would have killed each other or deserted.

  • $\begingroup$ I doubt the Mumakil will starve. Elephants eat almost every type of plant and there wouldn't be any creatures that could drive them away from grass, shrubs, trees and growing crops. And there is probably no way to keep hungry elephants in an area where they have eaten all the food. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Can elephants dig food from under the snow? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander Yorkshire is only occasionally snow-covered in winter. Low-lying areas only have five to ten days per year of lying snow, and the climate probably wasn’t much different in 1461, after the mediaeval warm period but before the little ice age. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Orcs will eat the dead and hunger is an excellent motivator to push them to the next battle. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ Hunger is also a strong motive for them to kill each other. We even see this in The Two Towers when the orcs who captured Merry and Pippin fight amongst themselves over food. One orc gets killed in the fight, and the rest ate him. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 0:24

Sauron is thousands of years old. He spent much of that time fighting the Noldor, and other elves. A Noldor army of the size you describe would easily defeat any similar size army of Men, were they so inclined to do so.


They survived the breaking of the world. They fought in total darkness before the making of the Sun and the Moon. They had millennia of experience to draw from. Although they prefer more pastoral settings, we can't forget at the skill they had as artificers, enough to kill most of the dragons, drive away the Balrogs, etc.

And yet, they were ultimately not successful. The dragons were slain, the Balrogs driven into hiding, but the Orcs were able to successfully combat them. They have the physical capability to go toe to toe with Elves, and because of their lifespan, the numbers to overwhelm them.

Sauron toppled Númenor, with no army, just guile. The Númenorians were the very best of Men, who, if you recall, easily conquered the lesser Men and set up their empire. They lived longer, were stronger, and had better tools, than your Englishmen.

Yet they also were subverted and defeated. After all, Sauron is thousands of years old, and is just as good politically as he is militarily. He could easily put on a fairer face and talk to the Welsh and the Scots, who might not be broken-hearted about the shattering of English power.

EDIT: "put on a fairer face" is being used metaphorically here, not literally.

What Sauron has to want are no alliances. Technically, the Welsh and Scots are vassals of the English king, which means a messenger will arrive at some point to demand troops. Any possible reason to delay sending these troops will be eagerly grasped at. Scotland will be ok, because Scotland is solid mountains and bog and waterlogged earth. Wales...

English power is based on heavy calvary in the medieval period. Wooded mountains are a great deterrent to this kind of power. Mountains full of holes, but not full of Dwarves are no deterrent whatsoever to an army of Orcs. Sauron needs an energy source, would coal do? Perhaps. The outlook seems bleak for Wales.

There's been mention of discipline problems with the Orcs. This might be the case on their own, but in battle they follow Sauron's orders, out of fear at the very least, and surely they fancy their chances against a bunch of Men, who are not being advised by creatures with two thousand years and more of tactical knowledge.

Food won't be a problem, they are not farmers, they'll eat their dead, and your dead too. It's not like Sauron cares about their welfare after all. The people who need the cropland are actually the defenders, who presumably won't resort to cannibalism right away, I feel they probably would prefer bread and rabbit over roasted orc and troll.

Guerrilla warfare is problematic for the defenders. In real life Harald Godwinson had this idea. He'd fought a war in the north, against Harald Hadrada. William of Normandy's army arrived late in the year, and was not provisioned for a winter campaign. Send the men to take in the harvest, burn whatever they could not carry, let the Normans winter in tents and push them into the sea in the springtime.

William's response was to start pillaging, burning villages, killing the villagers, who were kids, women and old men. Terror tactics, and they were quite effective at forcing Godwinson to battle.

Of course the orcs would do this, and then instead of burning or burying the dead, they would be cooked and eaten. Terrifying for the victims ( Old men and their grandsons, tortured and roasted) and brutal for their mothers, who will be watching all this while "entertaining" the humans in Sauron's army.

Ugh. Nope, your soldiers will want to stand and fight. But...

If you are not an Elf or from Númenor, or from Gondor, then a horde of Orcs is a great calamity. LOTR has the orcs getting slaughtered by the dozen, and so we mistakenly think that they are pushovers. They are not, and most of your army will be farmers with pointy sticks and shields, woodcutting axes, maybe double padded shirts or maybe some frying pans beaten into breastplates, or some boiled leather.

Technological advantage? Certainly not. Longbows won't be at the elven level. Armour won't be at the dwarven level. No palantir for them, to coordinate over distance, and no undead lich kings on dragons who can map out your troop movements. Crossbows won't work against a horde of Orcs, who will be attacking at night, because they can see in the dark, and who are as comfortable below ground as the Dwarves, and can sniff out humans easily, because of their excellent sense of smell.

Really, the thing to do, regardless of the roasted sons and ravaged wives, is to run away. Run to Wales, or north to Scotland, get your best negotiators and clergy on a boat and send them to the continent to organize a crusade, assuming your world has a religion strong enough to command the princes of Europe.

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    $\begingroup$ Solid answer - one nitpick: during the Akallabêth, Sauron loses the ability to take on a fair form. From the Silmarillion: “...fell into the abyss. But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great and evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men...” $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 6:54

The late medieval period does have some advantages over the movie, mostly due to the rule of cool, that may give your medieval army the edge over Sauron though as others have pointed out the intimidation factor of facing off against creatures no one has ever seen before is still a significant factor.
In the movies most of the ranged combatants use bow and arrow where as in late medieval the arrival of the crossbow played an important part. Where bow and arrow can give a higher volume of fire with it taking less time to ready your next arrow after shooting however it lacks the penetration power that a crossbow brings to the table, and if we're facing off against brutish armored orcs and the like I'll take the weapon that can go through some armor instead of relying on perfect shots.
Also in the movies almost all of the humans use swords as their primary melee weapon, this would not the case in war times. Swords fit the rule of cool and were kept as backup weapons in war times, but in reality were not the best choice on a battlefield. Pikes and other pole-arms would be the primary weapons which could be important fighting against stronger orcs as pole-arms give much greater reach than swords, require less training to use effective and can be more effective against armor when using something like a halberd.
These weapons in combination would act similar to the spanish Tercio that dominated the 15th and 16th century using pikes and arquebus. This allows your human army to keep the orcs back while still inflicting damage of their own.

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    $\begingroup$ Although in general the crossbow was a great weapon, as user53220 is talking about the Battle of Towton during the War of the Roses focusing on them seems a little redundant. The archers at that battle were longbow men. Having said that there were also handgunners at the battle,bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-11810487 $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Sarriesfan Good point, without knowing specifically about the battle of Towton I answered based on technologies available during that general period. The English long bow would be a comparable substitute for crossbows still $\endgroup$
    – BKlassen
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ But the rule of cool works against you as well. With a crossbow, it's harder to stab a guy with your arrow/bold then shoot it at another guy behind. Just sayin' $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon that's not really against me, that's another example of movies going in favor of the rule of cool instead of the more practical/realistic response to have the archer drop his bow and draw a dagger or shortsword $\endgroup$
    – BKlassen
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 18:53

Humans have several advantages. They fight in formations and use strategy and tactics rather than a Zerg rush. In this case they also have the advantages of local knowledge of the terrain and people (likely the first notice they have of the advancing dark army is reports from fleeing peasants).

Assuming they have the right combination of knowledge, skill and resolution in the face of an unknown enemy, they can quickly move to take advantage of local terrain features to protect their flanks, and use skirmishers to harass and ambush the enemy formation, while providing accurate information about the enemy. While we know that Sauron's army isn't completely inept, they still need more time to figure out where they are, and won't have as many advantages trying to scout the English armies.

However, fighting unknown foes with completely different animals in the force (Wargs, Orcs and Elephants) is likely going to take a toll on the resolution of the English army as they see the force advancing on them, and the battle will largely hinge on how well the English can conquer their fear and adapt to the unfamiliar enemies. They could possibly withstand a zerg rush of orcs, but the cavalry will likely have difficulty with Wargs, and the advance of the war elephants could likely turn the tide given the lack of effective defence. IF the English had more warning and time, they could improve their chances by digging in and fighting from behind a wall or palisade of stakes driven into the ground, and improved their chances more by digging pits to hinder the mobility of the elephants (stepping into a hole and breaking their legs would help considerably, the screams of an injured war elephant are likely to unsettle the rest of the elephants as a minimum).

The likelihood of the English winning the first battle is very low, given the short proportion time and unfamiliar enemies, but if the English decide to withdraw and fight a running battle as they fall back to London, they will have a better chance of utilizing their advantages of terrain and local knowledge, as well as mobilizing further troops to bolster their numbers and harass the supply lines of the enemy.

Outcome: lose the battle but win the campaign.


Medieval armies were trained, orgainsed and disciplined which contrasts to Sauron's army which made up for their lack of discipline with raw strength.

Medieval armies also had heavy siege weapons such as the Trebuchet, Heavy crossbow, catapult etc. These were designed for attacking/defending fortified structures rather than Mumakil or Fellbeasts, but they carried a sigificant amount of force over a large distance.

On balance, I'd say a medieval army would, at the very least, be able to repel at least one attack.


I would say the army should employ scorched earth tactics. Sauron's army will lack supplies after a very short amount of time as long as the people scorch the woods/town etc. The Towton army could split into multiple regiments about 10000 strong each and outmaneuver Sauron as his army's only source of information are the fellbeast who wouldn't be able to fight an army on their own.

The wargs pose a bigger threat but with a 10000 strong army and some preperation you could beat the max. 6000 unorganized warg riders if they try to forage for food. Another fact is that warg are carnivorous which even further impacts there already sparse supplies.

This situation resembles Hannibal's campaign in Italy only that he had some supports from the Gauls south of Italy. The Romans scorched earth tactics worked till they decided change generals and to engage Hannibal. They proceed to get their a** kicked and afterwards tried to get the previous general to once again lead their remaining forces


Fabian Policy - Fabius Maximus, by carefully avoiding pitched battles, using hit and run/harassing tactics, foiled Hannibal's (of Carthage) attack on Rome (as mentioned above).

Even though Sauron's army contains creatures that will shock a medieval army, keep in mind they themselves are in a strange place. Easy pick'ens all over. Towns, villages..etc all kinds of loot that would be easy to overrun.

I think a medieval army could pick small fights and pull back, pulling chunks of Sauron's army with it, into a battle that they are not supposed to be fighting.

There would have to be disciplinarians in place just to keep its own army together, otherwise it would be like herding 75,000 cats across the country.

Much of this was already mentioned in the posts above, but I think taunting pieces of the army into ambushes, or baiting them with the promises of easy loot, harassing, burning food supplies, world war I style tank traps/ditches for the Elephants, basically any way to fight pieces of the huge undisciplined army.

Channeling them into tiny places like William Wallace did with the battle of Sterling Bridge. But run when too many of them show up.

I think Sauron would be very stressed by trying to keep his army from constantly running off to fight and loot.


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