The race of Men in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth books, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, refers to humanity and does not denote gender. They are distinct from the various humanoid races, though some, like Hobbits, are human in origin, and others are thought by some characters to be human, such as the Wizards (who are really of another race).
The Elves call the race of Men Atani in Quenya, literally meaning "Second People" (the Elves being the First), but also Hildor (Followers), Apanónar (After-born), and Fírimar or Firyar (Mortals). Less charitably they were called Engwar (The Sickly), owing to their susceptibility to disease and old age, and their generally unlovely appearance in the Elves' eyes. The name Atani becomes Edain in Sindarin, but this term is later only applied to those Men who are friendly to the Elves. Other names appear in Sindarin as Aphadrim, Eboennin, and Firebrim or Firiath. Being the second born race of Middle-earth, men are generally stronger than Elves, but have worse coordination and reflexes.
In Tolkien's writings, Man with an initial capital letter refers to any human being (atan in Quenya) and man with a lowercase m refers to an adult male of any race (nér). Legolas, for example, may be correctly called a man but not a Man.
The race of Men is the second race of beings created by the One God, Ilúvatar. Because they awoke at the start of the Years of the Sun, while the Elves awoke at the start of the First Age during the Years of the Trees, they are called the Afterborn by the Elves.
Men bear the so-called Gift of Men, mortality. Elves are immortal, in the sense that even if their bodies are slain, their spirits remain bound to the world, going to the Halls of Mandos to wait until they are released or the world ends. Elves are tied to the world for as long as it lasts. When Men die, they are released from Arda and its bounds and depart to a world unknown even to the Valar.
Although all Men are related to one another, there are many different groups with different cultures. Here below follow the short descriptions of the most important groups of Men in the First, Second and Third Ages.
The most important group in the tales of the First Age were the Edain. Although the word Edain refers to all Men, the Elves use it to distinguish those Men who fought with them in the First Age against Morgoth in Beleriand. Those Men who fought against Morgoth in the First Age were divided into three Houses.
The Second House of the Edain was led by one Haldad and later by his daughter Haleth and settled in the Forest of Brethil. The House called itself the House of Haleth after their matriarch.
The Third House of the Edain, which became the greatest, was led by Marach and later his descendant Hador, and they settled in Dor-lómin. This house was known both as the House of Marach and the House of Hador.
They were led to this island by Elros with the help of his father Eärendil, who sailed the heavens as the bright star of the same name. Once there Elros became the first king of Númenor as Tar-Minyatur and the Edain became known as the Dúnedain (Sindarin for Men of the West). The kingdom of Númenor grew steadily in power, and the Dúnedain became the noblest and highest of all Men on Arda. Allied to the Elves, Númenor fought against Morgoth's lieutenant Sauron.
Now that the Men of the West had become powerful, they came to resent the Gift of Men, death. They wanted to become immortal like the Elves and enjoy their accumulated power for all time. The Númenóreans turned away from the Valar, began to call the Gift of Men the Doom of Men and cursed the Ban of the Valar which forbade them to sail west beyond sight of Númenor or to enter Valinor. In Ar-Adûnakhôr became the first king of Númenor who took his royal name in Adûnaic, the language of Men instead of Quenya, the language of the Elves. This led to civil war in Númenor.
The people of Númenor were divided into two factions: the King's Men, who enjoyed the support of the King and the majority of the people. They favoured the Adûnaic language. The minority faction, the Faithful, were led by the lord of Andúnië, the westernmost province of Númenor, remained friendly to the Elves and favoured Quenya.
Sauron, who by the second millennium of the Second Age was nearly defeated by the Elves, took advantage of the division. He surrendered to the last Númenórean King, Ar-Pharazôn, and worked his way into the King's counsels. Ultimately, Sauron advised him to attack Valinor and claim immortality. This he foolishly did, and as punishment Númenor was swallowed by the sea. However, some of the Faithful escaped and founded the twin kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.
The Men of Gondor gradually mingled with other groups, such as the Northmen. This led to the civil war called the Kin-strife, when Eldacar, a man of mixed descent and the rightful heir to the throne, was challenged by Castamir, who was of pure Dúnedain blood. Eldacar was forced into exile, and Castamir, called the Usurper, took the throne. After a decade Eldacar returned with allies from the North and defeated Castamir. However his sons and many of his followers managed to escape to Umbar.
Also counted among the Men of Gondor were people coming from its provinces and fiefdoms who were not of Númenórean descent. Some of these Men had darker complexions; prominent among them were Forlong the Fat and the Men of Lossarnach who reinforced Minas Tirith before the siege of the city began.
The Faithful were not the only Númenóreans left on Middle-earth when Númenor sank. When Númenor grew in naval power, many Númenóreans founded colonies in Middle-earth. In the second millennium of the Second Age, there was an exodus of Men from an overcrowded Númenor: the King's Men, who wanted to conquer more lands, and the Faithful who were persecuted by the Kings. The Faithful settled in Pelargir and the King's Men settled in Umbar. When Númenor was destroyed, the remaining King's Men became known as the Black Númenóreans and remained hostile against the Faithful of Gondor.
From their ranks, Sauron recruited Men who would become some of the nine Ringwraiths in the second millennium of the Second Age. Umbar was conquered by Gondor in . However, very little in known about the Ringwraiths and where they came from and some where to said, to have been from the lands east and south of Mordor.
Among the Black Númenórean race was the wicked Queen Berúthiel, wife of Tarannon Falastur, King of Gondor.
During the Kin-strife of Gondor, the defeated rebels of Gondor fled to Umbar. Umbar became the hated enemy of Gondor. They mingled with the Black Númenóreans and became known as the Corsairs of Umbar.
Castamir's faction took with them a large part of Gondor's fleet, thus weakening Gondor and strengthening the naval traditions of Umbar. Gondor later conquered Umbar again but lost it again soon after.
By the time of the War of the Ring, the Corsairs had mingled with the Haradrim, becoming a mixed people where Númenórean blood was mostly gone. During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a combined fleet amounting to "fifty great ships [of Umbar] and smaller vessels beyond count" was raiding the port city of Pelargir in Lebennin, but these were captured by Aragorn and the Army of the Dead, and were sailed to Minas Tirith to relieve the siege of the city.
When Elendil founded the Kingdom of Arnor its borders were quickly extended towards the river Greyflood, and Gondor likewise extended up through Enedwaith. In Enedwaith and Minhiriath lived a group of Men related to the House of Haleth, and they were known as the Dunlendings. They had lived in the great woods that covered most of Eriador, and when the Númenóreans started to chop these woods down to build their ships in the Second Age, the Dúnedain of Númenor earned the hostility of the Dunlendings. Although the two peoples were related, the Dúnedain did not recognize them as kinsmen for their language was too different. The Dunlendings later became bitter enemies of Rohan after the people of Rohan moved into their territory and founded their kingdom.
The Men of the Mountains, who were cursed by Isildur and became the Dead Men of Dunharrow, were related to the Dunlendings.
The Men of Bree were also descended from the Dunlendings.
Further east of Umbar lived another group of Men, the Haradrim, the Southrons or Men of the South. They were dark-skinned Men and waged war on great Oliphaunts or mûmakil. Hostile to Gondor, they were subdued in by Hyarmendacil I.
Both Umbar and the Harad were left unchecked by Gondor's waning power by the time of the War of the Ring, and presented grave threats from the south. Many Haradrim fought with Sauron's forces in Gondor in the war. However, Tolkien strongly hints that they, as well as the Easterlings, were at worst deceived and at best unwilling pawns to Sauron.
Most Men who fought in the armies of Morgoth and Sauron were called Easterlings, who came from the region around the Sea of Rhûn in the East.
In the First Age, some tribes of Easterlings offered their services to the Elvish kingdoms in Beleriand; the strongest among them were Bór and Ulfang (called the Black), and their respective sons. This proved to be disastrous for the Elves in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad when Ulfang and his clan switched sides and defected to Morgoth, while Bór and his sons died bravely fighting on the side of the Eldar.
After Morgoth's defeat, Sauron extended his influence over the Easterlings, and although Sauron was defeated by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men at the end of the Second Age, the Easterlings were the first enemies to attack Gondor again in . They were soundly defeated by King Rómendacil I but invaded again in T.A. 541 and took revenge by slaying King Rómendacil. Rómendacil's son Turambar took large portions of land from them. In the next centuries, Gondor held sway over the Easterlings. When Gondor's power began to decrease in the twelfth century Third Age, the Easterlings took the complete eastern bank of the Anduin except Ithilien crushing Gondor's allies, the Northmen.
The Easterlings of the Third Age were divided in different tribes, such as the Wainriders and the Balchoth. The Wainriders were a confederation of Easterlings which were very active between T.A. 1856 and 1944. They were a serious threat to Gondor for many years, but were utterly defeated by Eärnil II in 1944. When Gondor lost its royal dynasty in T.A. 2050, the Easterlings started to reorganize themselves and a fierce tribe called the Balchoth became the most important tribe. In 2510 they invaded Gondor again and conquered much of Calenardhon, until they were defeated by the Éothéod, coming to Gondor's aid.
Until the War of the Ring the Easterlings did not launch any invasion. In the war, they were amongst the fiercest warriors deployed at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Sauron.
The Northmen were composed of two principal groups. First, not all the Men who remained east of the Blue Mountains and Misty Mountains were tempted by Morgoth or Sauron. They were joined after the War of Wrath by those of the Edain who did not wish to travel to Númenor (similar to how, at the end of the First Age, various Eldar remained and went east, becoming lords of the Silvan elves). The Northmen who dwelt in Greenwood the Great and other parts of Rhovanion were friendly to the Dúnedain, being for the most part their kin, and many of them became Gondorian subjects. The Men of Dale and Esgaroth were Northmen, as were the Woodmen of Mirkwood, and the Éothéod, who became the Rohirrim; the Beornings were likewise counted as Northmen.
Another group of Men were the Woses. They were small and bent compared to other Men. They lived among the Folk of Haleth in the First Age and were held as Edain by the Elves, who called them Drúedain (from Drûg, Halethian name for them, plus Edain). At the end of the Third Age, some Woses lived in the Drúadan forest (named for them) in Rohan, small in number but experienced in forest life. They held off Orcs who strayed into their woods with poisoned arrows. Through a grievous misunderstanding, they were hunted as beasts by the Rohirrim.
In the War of the Ring, they were vital in securing the aid of the Rohirrim in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields; they guided the host unseen through the forest, and thus the Rohirrim were able to surprise their enemies. In gratitude, Théoden pledged to stop hunting them.