Making Mordor’s Economy Work

April 24, 2013 in Editorial


We at Centives are massive Lord of the Rings fans, and keep a flaming log nearby in case of ringwraith surprises. But there has been something that has bugged us for a while.

Where did the orcs get their food from?

Mordor was an ashen wasteland where we never see any plant life (save for the odd tree in the dead swamp), let alone fields full of crops. Old volcanoes are good for making soil fertile, constantly erupting ones are not. But somehow the orcs were eating. How? To get food, the black lands must have been trading with an outside power.

Assuming that the Dark Lord was importing food from abroad, something must have been exported in return. True, Sauron may have forced Easterlings/pirates/dwarves/hobbits to bring him victuals for nothing, but you can only threaten so much with an army that someone else feeds.

Balance of trades

We’re going to go ahead and say that Middle Earth’s economy is roughly comparable to 14th Century England. For reference that’s the time of the Hundred Years War, the Black Death and Bannockburn.

If Mordor was trading something, then we imagine that this would be swords. Sauron had both mines and forges, and so supply should not have been an issue. A medieval sword cost around 6d (6 pence) each. We got in touch with expert Hector Cole, master arrowsmith and archaeological ironworker, who gave us some ideas about medieval sword manufacture.

Six smiths produce ten swords per day


6d (6 pence) per sword


60d revenue per day

Bearing in mind that within Mordor itself there isn’t an economy; it’s a command system governed by Sauron and his Nazgul. So mining and manufacture costs aren’t monetary, and all 60d can be spent on other things. Like…

Food. Feeding an army isn’t easy. One option for mass consumption is pig;

A hog roast can feed about 100 at a sitting.

Assuming 3 meals per day this is 33 orcs per pig

A medieval pig cost 2 shilling (24 pence) each

So 100 orcs can be fed for 72d per day

So to keep 500 orcs fighting, around 35 orcs are needed to be smithing, and about 1 orc smelting.

Thus for Mordor’s economy to work, constant wars would be needed to keep up the demand for weapons, so that Mordor could trade them for food. This raises the question of how moral it would be for Sauron not to start wars. Due to the requirements of smithing and smelting, about 7% of orcs would be involved in ‘civilian’ roles. When considering firewood, building, and particularly mining, this figure would become much higher.

This is a lot of swords being made per year. Perhaps instead of weapons, Mordor could make farming equipment in its forges. Then to trade it would need a farming people, living quiet lives, who make lots of food but would never go down a mine or do something so unexpected as become a blacksmith.


So those are our thoughts on Mordor. At least 7% were civilians. Which makes us less cool with *SPOILER* that massive earthquake at the end of Return of the King. Though, read on for the peculiar case of Mordor’s agrarian sector.

The Case of Nurn

This is for those who, whilst reading the above article, wanted to cry out “but what about Nurn! It’s the place that feeds Mordor’s armies! Nurn!” 

mordor and nurn

In the literature, Nurn is referred to as having land fertile enough to feed the legions of Sauron. So by all means, perhaps the Dark Lord’s armies are fed by this land. But we’re not so sure for the following reasons:

1)      Orcs farming seems odd at best. All medieval states suffered from famine and crop failure, and this was when peasants put every ounce of their skills into providing food for their own families. What a mess an orc would have made of crops we can only imagine.

2)      Forced labour is pretty inefficient when it comes to farming. 33% less efficient in the case of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire (14th century).

3)      As Merry and Pippin are being taken to Isengard (yes, we know, not Mordor, but still) the orcs complain that “we ain’t had nothing but maggoty bread for 3 stinking days”, suggesting that they are used to a meat diet, which has been interrupted for their hunt.

4)      Transporting a quarter-ton of wheat by sea is 14 times cheaper than by land (per mile). Importing makes sense.

5)      Look at an orcs mouth. They are not creatures made for bread.

6)      Admittedly, Nurn may have been animal grazing, not crop growing. But unless there were very favourable prevailing winds, Mount Doom would be an issue. Crops can tolerate up to 10cm of volcanic ash, animals as little as 1mm.

For our rather detailed references, assumptions and further thoughts, click here.

If this article was your sort of thing, then take a look at our Greatest Hits, and check out our answer to the question of who was the better investment, Bilbo or the Hobbit, or take a look at the population of Panem. And we always love hearing from our readers; by commenting below, emailing us, or: