The Throne of the King

The Throne Room in Minas Tirith and Late Antique Ruler Ideology




Late antique palace architecture, Chrysotriklinos, Allegory and applicability, Sub-creation, Christ the King


A conspicuous feature of Tolkien’s description of the city of Minas Tirith in The Return of The King is the depiction of two thrones in the Great Hall; one empty throne reserved for the king, and one seat for the steward of Gondor. This paper aims to ascertain the late antique and mediaeval sources of inspiration behind Tolkien’s creation of the throne room in Minas Tirith. As a starting point, we shall compare the setting of the two thrones in Minas Tirith with a motive in Christian iconography, the hetoimasia, and its architectural expression in the Chrysotriklinos, the throne room in the Byzantine Great Palace in Constantinople. Next, we shall show that Tolkien intentionally obscured his appropriation of the Byzantine throne room to create a multi-layered image of rulership, in accordance with his aesthetics of applicability and allegory. In conclusion, we shall formulate some remarks on the interpretation of the association between the Byzantine Chrysotriklinos and the Gondorian Great Hall. As a form of Tolkien’s literary process of sub-creation, the description of the throne room in Minas Tirith serves to emphasise the significance of The Return of the King as a retelling of Christ’s restoration of the fallen world, placing the work of Tolkien in the context of a strong personal Catholic piety.