from the unpublished draft of Tolkien’s Haradrim and the Medieval Construction of the Other
by Margaret Sinex

Astrology and medicine corroborated the theory of climatic determinism that, in the worldview of the European ethnographer, possessed such explanatory power. And while climatic determinism could account for the distinguishing characteristics of a race, we have also observed that certain features were shared among the target races  - the Saracens sharing their blackness with Ethiopians and their idolatry and enmity towards Christians with the Jews. Turning to the visual arts of the period, we will find that artwork in a range of media buttressed the ethnographer’s creation - that imaginary Saracen who was dusky, often ugly, sometimes deformed, and unusually large and strong (Strickland 173).

 The following works reveal the Saracen both distorted physically (composed of both human and animal parts) and also perverted spiritually (persisting in his idolatry and his devotion to the devil). He shares his role as Christ’s committed adversary with the equally imaginary Jew. It is hardly surprising then that a study of medieval art brings to light what Strickland calls a “common pejorative visual vocabulary” for the target races (Jews, Saracens, Tartars and others) when combined with other conventional identifying markers (173). Such markers are often items of clothing – the Saracen’s turban – and exaggerated physical features – prominent thick lips and large, often bulbous noses. And further, Strickland also discovers a telling consistency in artists’ use of color that aided the viewing audience in identifying the enemies of western Christianity:

Both yellow and red are colors that feature consistently in pejorative images of Jews, and both colors had contemporary associations with criminals and other social undesirables including Jews themselves once they were forced to wear the yellow badge of infamy in certain regions. (110)

 Strickland provides numerous illustrations of this color-coding practice. One representative example is a series of stained glass windows (c. 1479) from the St. Lawrence Church in Nuremberg that depict Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, ... Yellow predominates in these panels. ...

As in this example from Nuremberg, the illuminator of a series of early thirteenth-century illustrations from the Vienna Bible employs the same colors to identify the church’s foes. Yet here her adversaries are the Saracens as the accompanying moralizations make explicit.  These images illustrate events in 1 Kings 4 – 5 in which the Philistines seize the Ark of the Covenant from the Jews. In a curious but potent anachronism, the text substitutes Saracens for Philistines who “take the ark that they had conquered and put it in their mosque (mahommeri) beside one of their gods named Dagon” (quoted in Strickland 171). The moralizing text instructs the reader to equate these Saracens with devils and the ark with the church: “that the Saracens placed the holy ark beside one of their idols named Dagon signifies the devils who put the Holy Church, which they have stolen, beside one of their masters named Beelzebub” (quoted in Strickland 171).  Drawing attention to the Saracens’ skin color, Strickland observes: “the Saracen-devils bear the skin colors of infamy: red, yellow and black” (172). ...

Author, painter and calligrapher, Tolkien is no less consistent in the colors he associates with his Southrons than were the artists whose works Strickland cites. As his own choices demonstrate he was well aware of this color-coding as part of the negative visual vocabulary used for the target races in the medieval period. He employs the colors of infamy in every description of the Haradrim found in The Lord of the Rings.  Consider the description with which we began:

‘Dark faces. . . . They are fierce. They have black eyes, and long black hair, and gold rings in their ears; yes, lots of beautiful gold. And some have red paint on their cheeks, and red cloaks; and their flags are red, and the tips of their spears; and they have round shields, yellow and black with big spikes. Not nice; very cruel wicked Men they look. Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger. Sméagol thinks they have come out of the South beyond the Great River’s end.’ (TT,IV,iii,254; my emphasis)

We also find the same colors in an important passage (to which we will return at the conclusion) describing a fallen warrior of Harad at close range from Sam’s point of view:

He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword. (TT, IV,iv, 269; my emphasis)

                Even their great beast of war - the Mûmak - wears their identifying colors: “His upturned hornlike tusks were bound with bands of gold and dripped with blood. His trappings of scarlet and gold flapped about him in wild tatters” (TT, IV,v, 270 ; my emphasis).[4]

In his selection of colors for these allies of the Dark Lord, Tolkien adopts a key element of the visual artists’ vocabulary for designating the enemies of western Christianity. And yet, while his Haradrim adorn themselves with the colors of infamy, their faces do not reveal the exaggerated features often found in those of Jews and Saracens in medieval artwork. In fact, with their bold color contrasts, they are a handsome people, whose demeanor is marred only by their evident cruelty and pride. We should not be surprised to discover, however, that they do possess one aspect of the monstrous – a hint of gigantism. And this feature, like their gorgeous saturated colors, they also share with the imaginary Saracen who, as we have seen, was often portrayed as a giant in the English romances and in the French chansons de geste and crusader chronicles.


To convey the military challenge presented by these Saracen combatants, the poets rely on large alarming animals familiar to the European audience and capable of inflicting fatal wounds on the unwary – leopards, bores, bulls and elephants. By contrast, while Tolkien attributes gigantism to his Haradrim, the suggestion is subtle and oblique. Refer to what we have seen in previous literary discussion ? Obvious list: blackness, idolatry, devil-worship, impossibly huge proportions. This identification of the races of giants and Saracens is explained by an appeal to genealogy as a way of explaining their evil natures. This mode of explanation granted them the same progenitor – Cain.  

...  The French epic poets frequently present Saracens as giants, often emphasize their demonic natures and highlight the blackness and redness of their bodies.


Bulls and elephants coarseness sharpness of hair. One type of bodily distortion is overall size. Two passages imply that the Haradrim have attained an unusual stature among other races of Men. Gollum considers them: “Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger”(TT253). One of them is described as “tiny” but only because he is viewed from a distance “clinging” to the neck of a vast Mûmak. ... We see: “the body of a mighty warrior, a giant among the Swertings” (TT 269-270 check). This oblique suggestion of gigantism is the only distortion of their bodies.

In fact, apart from their unnatural size (and the military threat it poses) and their “very cruel, wicked” aspect, the Men of Harad are physically attractive. As we have seen in the passages cited above their hair is long and black. Further, they have taken pains to arrange and decorate it since it is “braided with gold.” Theirs is ordered unlike that of the French Nasier whose “bristling hair was as sharp as thorns” or that of Corsolt whose “big head is covered with bristling hair.” Some of the Haradrim have decorated their skin having red paint on their cheeks.” All of these need single quotes because they are G’s words. They share a love of ornamentation since they wear “gold rings in their ears” and the one fallen warrior Sam contemplates wears a gold torque. These are handsome pieces even in Gollum’s estimation. The Men of Harad are in fact physically spectacular and therefore all the more alarming as adversaries.

In addition, like the Men of the West, some Southrons wear corslets; they fight with swords, spears and shields, and they carry flags and banners into battle. Armor and weapons closer to the Men of Gondor and their allies – unlike the conventions Averagus club? Some note to Eglamour? Contrast with descriptions of Monstrous Races on maps naked with clubs and blunt implements Hereford. While hinting at their gigantism and  drawing on the figures of the giant Saracen and the Ethiopian Mahout, Tolkien refuses to burden the Haradrim with the physical deformities and exaggerated features of the XXXXXXX of Middle Ages.

Return to Critics Discussion

Excerpted and reprinted without permission solely for purposes of discussion on

[4] The description of the retreat from Osgiliath provides a further example: “Horsemen of the Enemy swept up. The lines of fire became flowing torrents, file upon file of Orcs bearing flames, and wild Southron men with red banners, shouting with harsh tongues, surging up, overtaking the retreat” (RK, V, iv,93; my emphasis).