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Easterlings of the First Age
During the First Age, the term was applied to the sons of Bor and Ulfang, or the Swarthy Men, who came into Beleriand much later than the Edain, and who were for a part secretly in league with Morgoth.
Sons of Bor
Bor was a leader of Men who came into Lothlann, Beleriand, in the year 463. His sons were Borlach, Borlad and Borthand. Bor was welcomed by Maedhros, who gave him and his followers land north of the March of Maedhros, and south of it. Bor and his sons swore allegiance to Maedhros, and remained faithful, though he was told by Morgoth to betray the banner of Caranthir. All of them were wiped out during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.
Sons of Ulfang "the Accursed"
Ulfang also came in Lothlann, Beleriand, in 463, shortly after Bor. He was the father of Ulfast, Ulwarth, and Uldor. Ulfang was welcomed by the sons of Fëanor, and he and his sons swore allegiance to Caranthir. They were given lands to dwell in the north and south of the March of Maedhros. Ulfang and his sons were secretly in the employ of Morgoth, and betrayed the Eldar and Edain during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad in what is now known as the Treachery of Men.
Easterlings of the Third Age
The Wainriders were a confederation of Easterling tribes who were united by their hate of Gondor, fueled by the dark lord Sauron. Following the Great Plague which weakened Gondor, they started their attacks in 1856 (T.A.), defeating the Gondorian army and killing king Narmacil II. They rode in great wagons and chariots (which gave them their name), and raided the lands of Rhovanion, destroying or enslaving its people. Gondor gradually lost all of its possessions east of Anduin to them. The thirtieth king of Gondor, Calimehtar son of Narmacil, defeated the Wainriders at the Field of Celebrant, buying some rest for his land. However the Wainriders struck back in 1944, allying themselves with the Haradrim of Near Harad and the Variags of Khand. They managed to kill king Ondoher and all his heirs, but instead of riding on to Minas Anor and taking the city, they paused to celebrate. Meanwhile, general Eärnil of Gondor's southern army had defeated the Haradrim and rode north to defend his king. He came too late to rescue Ondoher, but managed to totally defeat the Wainriders. Eärnil was crowned king. After this defeat the might of the Wainriders was broken, and they retreated east. They still held Rhovanion, but never troubled Gondor again. It later turned out that their attacks were staged by Sauron to allow him to reclaim Mordor while Gondor's watch was diverted.
The Balchoth were a fierce race of Easterlings, who attacked Gondor while under orders of Dol Guldur. In 2150 they overran the plains of Calenardhon and almost destroyed the army of the Ruling Steward Cirion, but were defeaten by the Éothéod under Eorl the Young. Like the Wainriders they rode in chariots and wagons, and they may have been descendants of this people.
The Variags (in the real world, this is another name for the Varangians) were from Khand, and they first appeared in the West in 1944 of the Third Age, fighting alongside the Wainriders. They later appeared during the battle of the Pelennor Fields. Little was known about them, but they appeared to be a race of horse-men much like the Rohirrim, although they were fiercely loyal to Mordor.
With a little speculation, however, it is possible to discern some probable facts concerning Tolkien's 'Variags'; Firstly, they are decribed as "Variags from Khand", as opposed to simply 'Men of Khand' or 'Khandians'. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and as such would definitely have had detailed knowledge of the historical Variags, or 'Varangians', who were closely related to the anglo-saxons, the early english.
This is to say, that Tolkien would not have used this term lightly, and would have intended that they resemble in some way the Variags of history. What similarities are discernible,then? The only other detail available concerning the Variags of Khand is that they used axes in battle, just as did the Vikings (which is what Varangians were).
the Vikings of course, were germanic, and Tolkiens fictional germanic peoples, such as the Rohirrim or the Beornings, are 'Middle-men', which means basically good guys.
But Variags, unlike anglo-saxons, germans, rohirrim, Beornings, dunedain etc are NOT necessarily an entire people, just as the Variags of history were pirates, mercenaries and raiders that operated at long distances from their homelands and families back in scandinavia.
Perhaps then, Tolkiens Variags are renegade northmen: pirates and bandits, large, vicious, axe-wielding mercenaries of northman origins, exiles or wanderers onto the plains and wastelands of the east, who, in organized companies, are paid by the horse Lords of Khand or maybe even Mordor, to take their havoc elsewhere...
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