As I understand it, Gondor is the big country where a lot of important stuff happens.

Minas Tirith, with its series of walls going in circles, is simply the main city of Gondor. The capital if you will.

So why does Théoden say things which suggest that the city is called "Gondor"?

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

But... they are right there? They already are in Gondor. He should be saying: "To Minas Tirith! Attack!" or something like that.

The multiple different names for everything and everyone has repeatedly confused me throughout the books, as well as in Silmarillion, and led to an enormous amount of confusion in my head. However, I'm pretty sure that Minas Tirith is the city and Gondor is the country where the former is located. They aren't synonyms or words used by different peoples/species...

It would've made sense if he had shouted: "For Gondor!", "Ride for Gondor!" or "Fight for Gondor!", because that implies/says that they are coming to Gondor's rescue/aid, as in the nation/people, by defending their main city Minas Tirith. I was frustrated that he did not.

The "Ride to Gondor!" part partially ruins the rest of his speech for me, but perhaps this is another case of archaic English being misinterpreted by me...


Théoden is the king of the Mark of Rohan. An old kingdom ally of Gondor. The warning beacons were part of an agreement of mutual aid between kingdoms. Rohan is not part of Gondor.

Thus, the Rohirrim go to help the country of Gondor, not just the city of Minas Tirith (which yes, is an important part of helping Gondor, specially since the previous capital was abandoned centuries ago).

Théoden could have chosen a different term for its speech, but it would probably not had the impact of 'We are going to save the kingdom of Gondor' (which has typically been a much more powerful entity than Rohan).


“Gondor” standing for “Minas Tirith” is a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole, or (as in this case) the whole of something stands for a part.

The reason for choosing “Gondor” over “Minas Tirith” is that the former fits the rhythm and the latter does not. The speech consists of five lines of alliterative verse:

Arise, arise,     Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake:     fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken,     shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day,     ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now!     Ride to Gondor!

Alliterative verse has four stresses per line. I’ve marked the alliterating consonsants in bold, and the other (non-alliterating) stresses in italic. “Ride to Minas Tirith!” would put a fifth stress into the last line, spoiling the rhythm at what should be the climax of the speech.

Old English was the language that Tolkien studied and taught, and alliterative verse was the predominant form of Old English poetry. For example, the epic Beowulf consists of 3,182 alliterative lines. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien based many aspects of the culture of the Rohirrim on the Anglo-Saxons, and their songs use this Anglo-Saxon verse form. Tolkien included several other alliterative poems and fragments in The Lord of the Rings, including the lament for Théoden (V.3 “From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning”), and the song of the Mounds of Mundburg (V.6 “We heard of the horns in the hills ringing”).

Théoden’s speech in V.5 has echoes of Byrhtnoth’s speech in the poem The Battle of Maldon:

“Hige sceal þe heardra,     heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare,     þe ure mægen lytlað.”

“Resolve shall be the harder, heart the keener,
Courage shall be the more, as our strength dwindles.”

In particular “spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered” has a similar pattern of words to “hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre”. Like Théoden, Byrhtnoth inspires his troops to fight, although they are greatly outnumbered by the enemy, and is killed in the ensuing battle.

  • 1
    A very good answer! I had a similar answer in mind, but couldn't have put it down with anything nearing the eloquence you've used! – gktscrk Oct 4 '20 at 19:52

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