It should be noted that Tolkien drew various inspirations from real life, and often mixed them together or swapped pieces. As such, finding one single inspiration for any single element of his work is hard to impossible, and is mostly a sign of insufficient research. Tolkien was not a copycat (unlike, e.g. Christopher Paolini) and would alter and shift around even the elements that he did use, but his work is based on actual history and historical events. Here, I will attempt to identify at least some of them, as a thorough research would take too much time.
Numenor = Atlantis
This is the most obvious one. Both are extremely advanced island kingdoms that had for long enjoyed peace and prosperity. But in seeking earthly, material goods both of them embarked on a road of imperialism, conquering and colonizing large parts of the world. Eventually, this brought on the wrath of divine beings (gods / God – Eru), and both islands were sunk in one day, with few survivors escaping and bringing knowledge and civilization to less civilized people (one theory uses Atlantis to explain similarities between Mesoamerican pyramids, early Egyptian pyriamids and Mesopotamian ziggurats – though the most likely explanation is inherent stability and utility of the shape). Aryan race, according to Theosophy, Ariosophy and Nazism, originates from Atlantis, much like superior Numenorean race originates from Numenor. Finally, one of names for Numenor used in the Third Age is “Atalante” – “Downfallen”. Numenoreans in the Third Age had diluted by intermixing with lesser peoples, similar to what had happened to people of Atlantis.
Numenor = Britain
Numenor also has parralels with British Empire. Numenoreans themselves share physical characteristics with Celts, primarily blue eyes, black hair and fair skin tone (the “black Celts” had those characteristics, probably Nemidians; Celtic group with mutations to allow for blonde and red hair appeared much later). Much like Britain, Numenor became a naval colonial power, and fought against enemies from the East, each worse than the last (Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Soviet Union for Britain, Mordor for Numenor), but was hardly benevolent itself. Gondor, an offshot of Numenor, suffered due to mixing with lesser peoples and insufficient number of indigenous children, much like had happened to Britain after 1945.
Minas Tirith = Vienna
Both of them were capital cities of states that had lost a lot of ground to Eastern worshippers of darkness (Orcs / Muslims) and were saved by a cavalry charge of Northern allies (Rohirrim / Poles). While Vienna was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, which claimed continuity from the Roman Empire, Minas Tirith was a seat of Gondor – a continuation of the Numenorean empire. Polish cavalry charge was the largest in history, and Rohirrim cavary charge likewise seems unrivaled in history of the Middle Earth. In fact, Rohirrim 6.000-strong charge is exactly one third the size of the Polish cavalry charge. Both cities were the key to gaining passage to the West after previous “keys” (Osgilliath / Constantinople) had fallen. Much like Poles were not alone in saving Vienna – German forces were also present – Minas Tirith was saved through cooperation of the Rohirrim relief force and the Gondorian territories not under immediate threat, whose forces arrived soon after the Rohirrim did. Besieging force was likewise multicultural, with Ottomans using slave soldiers from across the Empire, and Sauron’s forces containing human allies (Haradrim, Easterlings) in addition to his Orc hordes. Once the tide was turned, the garrison of Vienna sailed forth to attack the Ottomans in the open, which parallels the similar action of Gondorian garrison after the Rohirrim had arrived. Rohirrim arrived just as the Mordor forces had broken the city gates of Minas Tirith, and Mordor forces had to retreat to face the Rohirrim. Likewise, Polish forces had arrived just as the Kara Musrafa had broken walls of Vienna in several places, but the victory eluded him due to the last-minute charge of the Poles. Mordor host was led by Sauron’s second-in-command, the Witch King, while Ottoman host was led by the Grand Vezier. After the battle, Aragorn takes offensive through areas conquered by Mordor, just as Austrians took the offensive through Balkans.
Minas Tirith is known as the White City, and “Vienna” likely derives from the Celtic name Vindobona, which means “white base/bottom”. Vienna is a circular city, with circular walls that were later demolished to create the Ring Road; Minas Tirith is defended by a total of seven circular walls. Vienna had a system of beacons connecting it to other cities to call for help, which was not lit due to Leopold’s neglect.
Mustafa and the Witch King were both defeated by women. September 8-15 is the Octave of the Feast, as the birthday of the Holy Virgin Mary is on September 8. September 11, halfway through the feast, has a long history of ill omen to Muslim conqerors:
September 11, 1565: Great Siege of Malta ended with the destruction of 30.000 Turks by the knights of St. John and Sicilan armies
September 11, 1609: Muslim Expulsion from Spain was announced, thus ending the 800-year Muslim terror
September 11, 1683: Jan Sobieski arrived at the mountains of Kahlenberg and consecrated his troops to Mary. Day later, he annihilated Muslim armies laying siege to Vienna
September 11, 1697: Battle of Zenta, where 30.000 Turks were killed along with the Grand Vizier. As a result, Hungary and Transilvanyja were liberated from Islam, as well as half of the Croatian territory.
For this reason Muslims bombed World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Witch King was also defeated by a woman – Eowyn, on the same day that the Rohirrim arrived. Whereas Poles came with the Virgin Mary so to speak, Eowyn came with the Rohirrom.
Osgiliath = Constantinople
Both cities were the seats of large empires, and located on strategic waterways (Anduin / Bosphorus) which separated said cities into two parts. Osgilliath was completely abandoned by its populace with the Eastern half being in the hands of the Orcs, who eventually completely conquered it before attacking Minas Tirith. Constantinople of the 15th century was the only remnant of the old Roman Empire (ignoring Trebizond and some parts in the southern Greece), and its eastern parts fell into Ottoman hands long before the western parts did. And while it had a populace of over 500.000 at its greatest extent, it was mostly empty at the time when it finally fell – at the beginning of the siege there were only 50.000 people within the city, including refugees from the other areas. Osgilliath on the other hand was completely empty, with the Western part having become a fortress. Further, Osgilliath is located very close to Mordor, which bears resemblance to Anatolia.
Minas Ithil = Constantinople
However, another city has many similarities to Constantinople. Minas Ithil is the City of the Moon, while symbol of the city of Constantinople was moon. Minas Ithil became residence of the Witch King, while Constantinople became residence of the Ottoman Sultan. Minas Ithil, being on the border of Mordor, was the first defense of the Western lands against Mordor until it fell. Constantinople was the main defense of Europe againt Islam until it, too, fell under darkness. Minas Ithil was renamed into Minas Morgul after being conquered by Mordor, while Constantinople was renamed into Istanbul. After the fall, both cities were seats for the representatives of darkness – the Witch King and the Sultan. A host that attacked Minas Tirith marched out of Minas Morgul, while the host that attacked Vienna marched out of Istanbul.
Osgiliath – Budapest
Osgiliath being Budapest fits with Vienna as Minas Tirith and Istanbul as Minas Morgul. Osgiliath was abandoned and used merely as a fortress by both Gondor and Mordor, which is the same fate that fell upon Budapest after Ottomans conquered it. Both cities have rivers running through them which split them into two halves, and said rivers are the largest in Middle Earth and Europe, respectively. Both cities also happened to be seats of countries (Gondor and Hungary) until said seats moved to the West due to war danger (Minas Tirith / Vienna).
Arnor – Western Roman Empire
Much like Western Roman Empire, Arnor had fallen apart into multiple successor states before each of them finally collapsed under the pressure of external invasions, infighting and depopulation. In another parallel, Arnor had applied to help to Gondor, but that help came too late due to Gondor being preoccupied with its own problems.
Gondor = Eastern Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire
This depends on the timeframe. Early Gondor is certainly like the Eastern Roman Empire, prospering for the long time after the fall of the Western part (Arnor / Western Roman Empire), but eventually degrading under consistent attacks by the servants of darkness. It also gradually loses many technological secrets that allowed its earlier dominance (steel bows / Greek Fire), but still remains head and shoulders above neighbouring, less civilized peoples. Population of both ERE and Gondor suffered largely because of a plague, civil warfare and external invasions. Later Gondor is much like the Austrian Empire. It is under attack of forces that predominantly originate from the East (Orcs / Ottomans) and just when its capital city is about to fall, it gets saved by a cavalry charge of northern allies. Austria was part of the Holy Roman Empire, which believed itself a successor to the Roman Empire – much like Gondor was a successor to the Kingdom of Numenor. A province of Gondor, Ithilien, could be a parallel for Croatia of the time – a naturally beautiful land, but devastated by the constant warfare with most of it having been conquered by the servants of darkness, and most of the populace escaping to safer Western areas.
Numenor, Arnor, Gondor = Egypt
Arnor and Gondor also draw many elements from the ancient Egypt. Massive architecture (Argonath / Ramesses II statues etc.) as well as division into Northern and Southern kingdoms are obvious ones. Arnor and Gondor are descendant kingdoms (colonies) of Numenor, much like Egypt is theoretized to have some connection to Atlantis. Description of the crown of Gondor has some similarities with the tall white crown of the Upper Egypt. Denethor II, before his death, references the practice of mummification which has clear parallel to Egypt, as do the obsession with death as well as fascination with astronomy that are both described as being characteristic of Numenor as well as Gondor.
Mordor = Turkish (Seljuk, Ottoman) Empire
As noted, Mordor bears a close resemblance to Anatolia. It is also ruled by an angelic being who was corrupted by Devil (Melkor) that later falsely claimed to be a God, whereas Islam was founded by Muhammad, who falsely claimed to be a prophet of God. Sauron’s fighting Orcs are called “Uruk” in the Dark Speech of Mordor, which is similar to “Yuruk”, nomadic tribesmen used as auxiliary soldiers by the Ottomans. It was gunpowder and massive cannons which brought about the fall of the Constantinople, while in Lord of the Rings Saruman utilizes gunpowder (knowledge apparently having been gained from Mordor), while Sauron’s forces besieging Minas Tirith utilize some variant of Greek Fire. Tolkien’s Black Speech is also based on the Turkish language(s). His Elvish language of Quenya was based largely on Finnish language, and Ugro-Finnish people have some connection to Turks, just like Orcs are merely corrupted Elves in the Tolkien legendarium. Islam does not have culture of its own, it steals others’ culture and adapts it to itself, or destroys it if it cannot be adapted. Similarly, Orcs have no culture: they desecrate, vandalize and/or appropriate any high culture they encounter – Sauron wrote inscription on the One Ring in Elvish script, as he had no script of his own fit for such work. Tolkien himself has commented that Orcs are not inherently evil, and Elrond’s description of the War of the Last Alliance states that “every race” but the elves were to be found on both sides of the war. This means that at least some Orcs fought on the side of the Alliance. In the same vein, Turks were not inherently evil; rather, they did evil because they were brainwashed into following evil expansionist ideology – Islam. Uruk-Hai (a name meaning “second” or “new” Uruks) are described as “black-skinned”, which would point to Orcs being Turks or Arabs, as black peoples have adapted Islam only after it was brought by Arabs to North Africa. Much like Arabs and Ottomans, Orcs predominantly use curved scimitars, while Westerners – in both Lord of the Rings and real life – preferred longswords and straight blades in general. There is also racism amongst Orcs themselves, as was the case among various Islamic peoples. Orcs think nothing of beheading their enemies for fun and morale impact, which is a widespread practice of various Muslim armies through history (most recently, ISIL).
The Black Language itself however has many similarities to Hurrian (Hittite) language. Many words are exact parallels, such as “ash”/”she” – one, “-uk”/”-ok-” – fully, truthfully, and others. In Hurran, Sauron would mean “One who is armed”. This also fits with the above, as modern Turkish peoples are the closest people to ancient Hittites.
Rohirrim = Germanic tribes
Rohirrim came to the assistance of Gondor from far north, and were settled on the formerly Gondorian territory of Calenadhon as a pay. This is similar to an arrangement that the fading Roman Empire had with some Germanic tribes. In particular, Rohirrim seem to be based around Anglo-Saxons, being horse-based, with no urban culture, and light-haired. Rohirric language itself is based on Old English.
Rohan = Poland
If one accepts late-stage Gondor to be the Austrian Empire, then Rohirrim clearly take over the role of the Polish Kingdom. Much like Rohan, Poland of the time was largely landlocked country to the north of its main ally in the struggle against Eastern invaders with whom both countries shared borders. Much like Austria, Gondor bore brunt of the enemy attack, with help arriving from their Northern allies. Charge of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Pelennor parallels Polish charge at the Battle of Vienna. Rohan also had a long-standing alliance with Gondor, while at the time of Battle of Vienna in 1683. the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold forged the alliance with Poland in the Treaty of Warsaw of 1683., in which both sides promised to come to each others’ aid if their capitals were threatened.
Shire = England
Shire has a lot of similarities to the British Isles (except, obviously, being landlocked). It is rather green, and is positioned at relatively high latitude. When Arnor fell apart, Hobbits continued to respect old laws of the Kings. Similarly, when Rome pulled its legions out of British Isles, it was largely a peaceful process, legions having been recalled to defend other parts of the Empire, and the Empire itself having recognized its inability to actually defend the isles.
Elves = Scanadinavians
Elvish languages are mostly based on languages of northern Europe. Quenya itself is based on the Finnish language, but with large influence of Latin (and it indeed is Elvish Latin). Sindarin language however is based on the Welsh, a Celtic language. Intentionally or not, this draws an appropriate parallel as Numenoreans, who primarily spoke Sindarin, share Celtic physical characteristics.
Dwarves = Jews
Dwarven words are constructed to be Semitic, as stated by Tolkien himself. They are also master craftsmen and very active traders and merchants. Dwarves also ended up being dispossessed of their land by the people worshipping evil (Orcs / Muslims), and so ended up wandering the world and having to adopt languages of other nations. Much like the Jewish stereotypes (due to Jews having to be bankers in the Medieval times), Dwarves are described as easily falling victim to greed, especially when Rings of Power are involved (see below). However, they unite with Men of the West due to having a common enemy in Orcs (Muslims).
Harad = Africa
“Harad” and “Haradrim” are merely Sindarin terms for “South” and “Southrons”. Land of Harad however stretches well below the equator, as Aragorn notes that “I have had a hard life and a long; and the leagues that lie between here and Gondor are a small part in the count of my journeys. I have crossed many mountains and many rivers, and trodden many plains, even into the far countries of Rhûn and Harad where the stars are strange.”. Haradrim seen in the Two Towers is described as brown-skinned. Much like people of northern Africa, Haradrim used elephants in warfare. Also like many peoples who had converted to Islam, Haradrim followed a fallen Maiar, Sauron, viewing him as a God – that is, their evil was a result of ignorance.
Rhun = Persia, Eastern Europe
Rhun is to the east of Mordor, just how Persia was to the east of the Ottoman Empire. Rhun itself roughly corresponds to Asia, much like Western Middle-Earth corresponds to Europe, Mordor to Asia Minor and Harad to Africa. However, Easterlings are inspired by various cultures, all of them coming from the East. Variags are similar in name to Varyags, Variags or Varangians, the Vikings who ruled the medieval state of Kievan Rus and often attacked the Eastern Roman Empire. It was also said that during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a new group of Easterlings appeared who were bearded and used axes, which is a stereotypical description of Vikings. Wainriders on the other hand travelled in wagons, much like Hamaxobioi from the Greek sources or the Scythians. Hamaxobioi or Amaxobioi (Ἁμαξόβιοι) in the Attican spelling were Scythian people, from European Sarmatia, who lived in wagons. Sarmatians themselves were Iranian people, bringing back the connection with Persia.
One Ring = Riches
One Ring, once acquired, quickly becomes person’s treasure, his “Preciousss”. Person, like Aesop’s Miser, treasures the Ring and cannot let it go. Over time, the Ring changes person’s personality, such as turning Smeagol into a murderer. Ring’s influence causes person to deteriorate in moral, human and eventually physical aspects, becoming a slave to the Ring that feeds off said person. Person cannot abandon the Ring, and is always obsessed with thoughts of losing it. But in the end, the Ring serves only its master Sauron (Devil). This is clear parallel to effects that great treasure has on person; all these effects are also duplicated by lesser Rings of Power (Seven and Nine) which got corrupted by Sauron. And much like is the case with real people and their riches, acquiring said treasure in an immoral way significantly speeds up the entire process. Much like money is (and has been since long time) used for purposes of controlling people (debt, obsession…), so does the One Ring take control of the people who carries and uses him. When viewed in such light, Sauron could well be a banker, and Barad-dur would be Wall Street or a similar institution. Much like capitalists and bankers want to destroy nations, melt down different peoples and cultures into one generic whole, so does Sauron want to cover the entire Earth in his darkness. Whether this is intentional or not is unclear. Similarly, Saruman the White becomes Saruman of Many Colours, an uncanny resemblance to the modern “ideal” of multiculturalism and genocide through integration that is threatening to destroy cultural diversity which was always the driving force of human advancement. Soon after that, Saruman started promoting cross breeding between men and orcs. Tolkien (through Treebeard) describes mixing of Western people with Orcs that Saruman has done as “a black evil”.