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Battle of the Hornburg

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Battle of the Hornburg
DateMarch 3, 3019 TA
Result Mankind victory
Flag of the Kingdom of Rohan No Border.svg Rohan (Mankind)
Fellowship of the ring
Escudo Isengard.svg Isengard
Dunland (Mankind)
Commanders and leaders
~2000 defenders, with 1000 more in relief force ~10000 orcs and men
Casualties and losses
Entire force destroyed or scattered
Gimli  (WIA)

The Battle of the Hornburg is a fictional battle in J. R. R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings. The battle pitted the forces of the Wizard Saruman against the Rohirrim under King Théoden, who had taken refuge in the mountain fortress of the Hornburg at Helm's Deep. The engagement is also informally known as Battle of Helm's Deep or simply Helm's Deep after that location. An account of the battle is recorded in the climactic chapter "Helm's Deep" of the volume The Two Towers.

The Battle[edit]

The Battle of the Hornburg commenced after nightfall on 3rd 'March' T.A. 3019, and continued overnight into the morning of the next day.


In the book The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, the size of the initial garrison at Helm's Deep for Rohan was nearly 1,000, but many more were coming into the fort from across Rohan. The estimated number of total Rohirrim defenders was 2,000[1] by the time Saruman's army arrived. Merry says that the force that left Isengard numbered 10,000 at least, most marching towards Helm's Deep and others heading off to the Fords of Isen. This number is later qualified by Gandalf: "I have about ten thousand Orcs to manage",[2] so considerably more than 10,000 when the Men of Dunland are added. Though the battle appears severely lopsided, as Uruk-hai were much better in battle than simple orcs, the defenders managed to hold the fort until a force of almost 1,000 men on foot[3] led by Gandalf along with a forest of Huorns arrived at dawn in the rear of the hosts of Isengard and surround the Uruks.


Théoden was released by the benevolent Wizard Gandalf from the influence of Gríma Wormtongue, his malevolent adviser. He then set out to the Fords of Isen, where his marshal Erkenbrand was fighting Saruman's forces. However, Théoden found out that his forces had been scattered. Gandalf advised him to take refuge in the Hornburg fortress of Helm's Deep, an area named after one of their kings. Gandalf then left on an unexplained errand. Théoden's army went to the area, where local people were commanded by a captain called Gamling the Old. Many of the forces there were very old or young. The women and children of Théoden's capital Edoras were safe in Dunharrow, led by the King's niece Éowyn.

The battle[edit]

The forces of Saruman, common Orcs and Uruk-hai, along with some orc-human hybrids (called "half-orcs and goblin-men" – which may have referred to or included the Uruk-hai themselves) and human Dunlendings, arrived at the valley of Helm's Deep in the middle of the night during a storm. Meanwhile, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf agreed to compete to see which one could kill the most orcs.

The attackers quickly scaled over the first defence, Helm's Dike, forcing the defenders there to fall back to the fortress. When the Orcs were close, the defenders drove them back with arrows and stones, but they managed to get close to the wall after multiple charges. They attempted to break down the gate with a battering ram, but a sortie led by Aragorn and Éomer scattered the forces.

The Orcs and Dunlendings then raised hundreds of ladders to scale the wall. Aragorn and Éomer repeatedly motivated the tired defenders to repel the Orcs coming up the ladders. However, some Orcs had crept in through a culvert which let a stream out of Helm's Deep, and while the defenders were busy with the assault on the wall, they were suddenly attacked from behind. This was repulsed and the culvert was blocked up under Gimli's supervision.

However, the enemies re-entered the culvert and blasted a wide hole in the wall using an ambiguous explosive device invented by Saruman, a "blasting-fire". Some defenders then retreated to the Glittering Caves, Éomer, Gamling and Gimli among them, while others including Aragorn and Legolas retreated to the burg itself.

Soon Saruman's forces broke through the gate and gained entrance to the fortress. At this moment however, Helm's horn was sounded, and a cavalry charge led by Théoden and Aragorn rode forth, followed by all the Rohirrim left inside. They cut their way through the Orcs and drove them back from the fortress walls.

Both armies then noticed that a strange forest had suddenly sprung up (actually the arrival of many Huorns) which blocked the escape route for the Orcs. Then Gandalf arrived on Shadowfax, with Erkenbrand and a thousand infantry – the remaining strength of the Rohirrim that had been routed at the Fords of Isen. They charged into the fray. The Dunlendings were so terrified of Gandalf that most of them dropped their weapons. The surviving Orcs fled into the "forest" of Huorns, where they were completely annihilated.

After the battle, those Dunlendings who surrendered were given amnesty by Erkenbrand and allowed to return home (much to their surprise, since Saruman had told them that the men of Rohan would burn all survivors alive). The Rohirrim required that all hostilities cease, and that the Dunlendings retreat behind the River Isen again and never recross while bearing arms. Before they were freed, though, the Dunlending captives were put to work in repairing the fortress.

Among the Rohirrim dead was Háma, captain of Théoden's personal guard and doorward of his hall (he plays a significant role in the previous chapter, "The King of the Golden Hall"). Háma had fallen defending the gate and the Orcs had hewed his body after he died, an atrocity that Théoden did not forget during the upcoming parley with Saruman. Gimli was wounded, but had killed 42 to Legolas's 41.

The "forest" of Huorns had disappeared the next morning, and the Orcs had been buried in an earthen-works hill known as "Death's Down".


The event is sometimes called the Battle of Helm's Deep, a title which was never used by Tolkien but which is often used by readers and other fans, this has led to the misconception that the term "Helm's Deep" refers to the fortress. Properly speaking, the fortress is the Hornburg (Anglo-Saxon = horn fortress) and Helm's Deep is the ravine behind it. In one of his letters regarding a proposed film adaptation, Tolkien protested the use of Helm's Deep, stating that, "the 'defence of the Hornburg' would be a better title, since Helm's Deep, the ravine behind, is not shown" (Letters, 210).


In Ralph Bakshi's animated film[edit]

The Battle of the Hornburg is a key part of Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated adaptation. However, it is never referred to by that name, or any other name. Bakshi incorrectly calls the fortress itself "Helm's Deep". As Gandalf says to Aragorn: "Halfway between Edoras and Isengard, there lies an old strong fortress that men call Helm’s Deep."

Some differences between the book and the film battles are:

  • Bakshi does not elaborate on different kinds of Orcs through dialogue (as is true for the whole film), though some Orcs are clearly visually different from others.
  • Aragorn and Gimli repel a battering-ram crew by themselves, instead of Aragorn and Éomer leading a sortie against the ram.
  • Directly after this sequence, the "blasting-fire" is used to breach the wall. It is turned into magical projectiles resembling comets coming from Isengard (Aragorn, seeing them, calls out "Fire of Isengard!"). While Tolkien does not give detailed descriptions, "blasting fire" is clearly different in the book (as Orcs are said to have "brought" it).
  • More importantly, Éomer is not present at the start of the battle. Gandalf rides off to find him and his Riders (and explicitly says so), and returns with them at the end.

Peter Jackson's "Battle of Helm's Deep"[edit]

The Battle of Helm's Deep in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Battle of the Hornburg is also a key part of Peter Jackson's film adaptation, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

In the context of the film, it is referred to as the Battle of Helm's Deep, and like Bakshi, Jackson identifies "Helm's Deep" with the fortress itself, whether by misinterpretation of the source novel or metonym. As Gríma says to Saruman: "Théoden will not stay at Edoras ... They will flee to Helm's Deep, the great fortress of Rohan."

In the movie, 10,000 of Saruman's Uruk-hai (with no orcs of other races, Dunlendings or wargs to accompany them) lay siege to the fortress, which is defended by around 300 Rohirrim (before the battle, Legolas states their strength to be "three hundred against ten thousand", but he may have meant at that time, as more were fleeing to the fortress). Soon after, however, a large group of the Elves of Lórien join the defences. Elrond, at the prompting of Galadriel, sends the Elves under the command of Haldir of Lórien to reinforce the defence of the keep. During the battle, nearly all of the Elves are killed, including Haldir. The defenders suffer heavy losses, but hold out until dawn, when Gandalf arrives with 2,000[4] riders led by Éomer, who finally turn the tide of the battle and send Saruman's forces into retreat. In the Extended DVD version, the Huorns make an appearance, massacring the fleeing Uruk-hai after the battle, but were absent from the theatrical cut.

Peter Jackson gave himself a cameo appearance as one of the Rohirrim; he throws a javelin at the Uruks. Producer Barrie Osborne has a similar cameo, as a Rohirrim throwing a rock down on them.

The film contains many differences from Tolkien's work, and several of these differences concern the battle. These differences include:

  • In an earlier scene, Gandalf is skeptical towards the Hornburg and suggests that the forces of Rohan should meet Saruman's army in the open field, an idea immediately rejected by Théoden. The opposite happens in the book: Théoden rides to reinforce Erkenbrand at the Fords of Isen; when it is learned that Erkenbrand was defeated and driven from the fords, Gandalf advises Théoden to divert his force to the Hornburg.
  • Before and during the battle, Jackson shows women and children of Rohan being sheltered within the Deeps, overseen by Éowyn. Later, he shows all boys able to carry weapons arming for battle. Aragorn comforts a boy named Haleth son of Háma (already dead at this point in the movie, but who dies before the gates of the Hornburg in the novel). In the text, the women and children of Edoras are sheltered at Dunharrow. However many of the folk from the Westfold had taken shelter in the Deeps after the defeat of Erkenbrand at the ford of Isen.
  • In the novel, the Orcs are temporarily delayed at Helm's Dike, while in the movie they march unhindered until they reach the walls.
  • In the novel, there are no other Elven archers besides Legolas present. Legolas merely wishes that they had a hundred archers of Mirkwood with them, and tells Gimli that his folk are busy with their own troubles. The Elves of Lothlórien and Mirkwood do withstand assaults by Sauron's armies; but these battles occur off stage. In his commentary on the Extended DVD version, Jackson said he wanted to show the sacrifice of the Elves in a visible fashion. Craig Parker, the actor who portrayed Haldir, suggested on his commentary his character was killed to show the consequences of battle as opposed to "boys running around hitting sticks together and wandering off at the end."
  • The ambiguous "blasting-fire" of the novel is interpreted as bombs containing a form of black powder, detonated by an Uruk carrying a torch with a glittering white flame.
  • Aragorn's parley is not featured. However, he and Gimli (whose height is used for comedic effect at the start of the battle) share a scene where they sneak through a side-door and he tosses the dwarf into a group of enemies who are battering down the doors to the keep.
  • The portrayal of Rohirrim reinforcements and Gandalf at the end of the battle differ; in the novel they are infantry led by Erkenbrand (while Éomer had fought at the Hornburg alongside Aragorn), whereas in the film they are cavalry led by Éomer. While Tolkien wrote that the Orcs were already demoralized by Théoden's cavalry charge before Gandalf arrived, the film encounter is somewhat more dramatic with the Orcs forming up an organized sheltron against the charging Rohirrim horseman but at last minute the Orcs' line falters after they are dazzled by sunlight.
  • At the end of the battle, Gimli wins the contest by 43 to Legolas' 42. In the novel the two of them share a light moment (a sign of their growing friendship after initial mistrust), where Legolas gives congratulations while Gimli complains that his axe was notched as his 42nd victim had an iron collar (Legolas, likewise, had one less kill in the book than in the movie, at 41). In the film (only in the extended edition), this is a comedy scene with Legolas shooting a dead Uruk and claiming a tie on the basis that it was moving, and then Gimli irately explaining that his axe was embedded in that Uruk's nervous system.
  • In the theatrical release, the elimination of the Orcs after Gandalf's charge is not seen. However, the Extended DVD Edition shows the Orcs fleeing into the "forest" of Huorns where they are promptly annihilated while the Rohirrim look on. In the novel, the Huorns' destruction of the Orcs is not realized until the next day.
  • In the novel, Treebeard and the Ents and Huorns go to war immediately upon the conclusion of Entmoot. In the film, they decide that the war is not their concern and Treebeard offers to carry Pippin and Merry to the edge of Fangorn. Pippin tricks Treebeard into taking them south by Isengard, where the Ent witnesses the mass clearing of trees by Saruman's forces, upon which Treebeard promptly calls the Ents and Huorns off to war.

In the original script of the film, Elrond and Arwen had gone to see Galadriel in person, and it was Arwen who led the Elves to fight alongside the Rohan defenders. Arwen's involvement was rejected after Jackson revised the portrayal of her character from a "warrior princess" to a role closer to that of the book, but the Elves remained part of the battle since Jackson liked the concept.[5]

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic Speculative fiction : Easterlings (First Age), Glaurung, List of places in The Chronicles of Narnia, Nandor (Middle-earth), Beregond and Bergil, Aerin, Ilmarë
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  • Middle-earth warfare


  1. K.W.Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1981, ISBN 0-395-28665-4 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png. p.132
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, (2nd edition, 1966), p.175; also J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien editor, Unfinished Tales, (1980), p. 363 states: "only Gandalf had full knowledge"
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers (2nd edition, 1966), p.147.
  4. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)", Ch. 23; Aragorn states that Éomer is heading north with 2,000 riders.
  5. The Two Towers: Extended Edition – From Book to Screen

External links[edit]

fi:Sormuksen sota#Ämyrilinnan taistelu

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