Rangers of the North
The vast expanse of Rhûn and Rhovanion are filled with nomadic tribes who have born the name “Easterling” through the years. Most cultures in western Middle-earth have only heard or used the word “Easterling” in the context of the wars that have periodically raged on the borders of Gondor. For many, the term carries with it an implied penchant for thievery and brutality. The fact is that the nomadic tribes of Rhûn vary greatly from one to the other. While there are tribes who should not be trusted, and who represent an immediate threat to the people around them, most shun violence and respect rights to property and territory. The vast majority of “Easterlings” are private, withdrawn individuals who favor the open plains and the closeness of family over the ways of sedentism and development. There is a general emphasis on free-will among the tribes, and a great reluctance to form alliances or super-tribal organizations which may impinge on their right to govern themselves.
Society and Culture
Generally speaking, Easterling societies are based on the herd. Easterlings are a pastoral people who travel with the animals upon which their livelihood depends. The material wealth of the tribes can be measured by the size of the herds that they claim and the expanse of territory over which they roam. Personal possessions are limited by the amount of material that can be transported by horseback or wain. Rather than being true nomads, most Easterlings live a semi-sedentary lifestyle in which the tribe moves several times a year between well-established sites that are chosen for their proximity to necessary resources. The cycles of migration followed by these tribes have been followed for decades and sometimes centuries. To the knowledgable, the ranges and campsites claimed by a tribe are well marked by totems, petroglyphs and other natural landmarks. When easterling tribes encroach on one another’s territory or resources, it is not out of ignorance.
The manner in which a tribe traces its lineage varies greatly between cultures. Most tribes hailing from Ulgathic roots trace their lineage through the female, though there are important exceptions. Since there is so little material wealth among the tribes to reinforce heritage through inheritance, identity and familial honor is of supreme importance to most easterlings. The distinctness of the family and tribal units is reinforced by linguistic differences that have arisen because of the sometimes vast distances that separate people. While most tribes can communicate effectively with their immediate neighbors, the Ulgath tongue has diverged wildly over the years, so that communication on the open plains is a constant problem.
Subsistence for most easterlings consists almost exclusively with the goods that can be extractedfrom the herd. Very little agriculture is practiced among the tribes. Vegetables and fruits in the easterling diet come from what can be gathered from the surrounding countryside. Where tribes exist near population centers, they generally take advantage of them to purchase metal tools and weapons, agricultural products, and luxury goods. Local population centers are also important as a place where herd surplus can be sold or bartered for other goods that the nomads cannot produce themselves.
At its root, easterling religion generally focuses around the themes of life on the plains. Natural spirits embodying the strength of the wind, the bounty of rain, the ferocity of weather (particularly lightning), and the strength of the animals upon which the tribe depends all feature heavily in the belief systems of the nomads. There is also a near universal reverence of heroic ancestors. This is particularly true of the Odhriags, who have inherited the practice of ancestor worship from their Aharic ancestors.
Since the easterling lifestyle is so mobile, religious practice necessarily focuses on elements that can travel with the people. Religious dance and festival are common to all the easterlings of Rhûn. Totems, amulets and portable shrines are also occasionally used in religious practice. Most tribes have individuals who are recognized for their spiritual gifts and act as mediums between the spirit world and the tribal commoners. The status of these individuals cannot be generalized among the tribes, for it changes to greatly from tribe to tribe and age to age. The nomads of Rhun tend to be a very superstitious people, and tribe mediums are very seldom ignored.
Sauron has played with varying degrees of success on the darker side of Easterling religions in an attempt to gain control of the tribes. Some cultures, such as the Odhriags, have largely succeeded in preserving their own independence in the face of these attempts. Other cultures have bent readily to the shadow and have done much through their history in aiding the cause of Mordor. By the mid-Third Age, most Easterling tribes are under the sway of religions that place them as servants of the shadow and enemies of the West.
Among the nomadic tribes of the eastern plain, mastery of the horse is nearly universal. Since the day of their entry into Rhûn, the tribes have travelled and fought on horseback. This factor has shaped the easterling choice of weapons and tactics in battle. The lawlessness of the open plain makes combat skill and training a necessary part of the nomadic existence. The plains are a perilous place, and one must be prepared to defend one’s family and possessions against bandits and predators.
Combat tactics lean heavily toward individual action and away from group formations and organization. While Easterling cavalry make excellent light scouts, they do not excel in set-piece battles involving large armies. Their flanking tactics and general unwillingness to commit decisively to a battle have given western armies problems over the years. The pattern of a western foe over-extending itself trying to bring an Easterling mob to battle has been repeated many times over the history of Rhûn. This brand of combat fits the Easterling mindset perfectly. A lack of ties to the land keeps Easterling warlords from committing their strength to defend or take any one landmark.
In personal combat, most Easterling warriors favor mounted lances and light swords with a long reach. Armor and shields are lightweight as maneuverability is most important to the Easterling way of fighting. Javelins and arrows are also favorite weapons of the Easterling warrior and are commonly thrown or shot from horseback. In fact, many pursuers of Easterling bands have learned the hard way that Easterling warriors are often as accurate with their short bows when riding backwards as when riding forward. Poison is also widely used among the tribes, giving opponents an added reason to be wary of Easterling projectiles.
While it may be safe to say that to the Men of the West, almost all Easterlings look alike, it is equally valid to say that Easterlings in no way think that to be true of themselves. As most are descended from the same bloodlines, however, they do share a number of similar physical qualities. Dark hair and eyes are predominant Easterling traits, while skin color ranges from the olive-tan of many of the Ulgath tribes to the dark and even greyish skin of the Asdriags and Odhriags. Most eastelings of Ulgathic descent tend to be short, averaging only 5’4" among males and 5’0" among females.
Clothing is extremely diverse and ranges from highly decorated to unbelievably mundane. Coloring is also a matter of divergence, as many Easterlings love to flaunt brilliant fabrics while others prefer not to attract the jealous eyes of their cousins. Jewelry is also on similar par with clothing, though most who choose to wear it prefer ornately carved and fashioned motifs displaying either sacred spirits, the visages of hideous beasts, or intricate geometric designs used to symbolize key religious concepts.