Meaning: Men of the West
Other Names: Númenoreans
Location(s): Arnor, Gondor (Númenor, Umbar, see below)
A note that the singular form of "Dúnedain" is "Dúnadan." A further note that "Dúnadan" is usually the adjective. As for the mysterious diacritical on the 'o' in Númenórean... it appears and disappears apparently at whim depending on the text. Perhaps this is one of those cases where Tolkien could not make up his mind.
"And setting their course towards [Rothinzil] the Edain came at last over leagues of sea and saw afar the land that was prepared for them, Andor, the Land of Gift, shimmering in a golden haze. Then they went up out of the sea and found a country fair and fruitful, and they were glad. And they called that land Elenna, which is Starwards; but also Anadûnê, which is Westernesse, Númenórë in the High Eldarin tongue. This was the beginning of that people that in the Grey-elven speech are called the Dúnedain: the Númenóreans, Kings among Men" (Silmarillion, "Akallabêth," 321).
"The Dúnedain alone of all races of Men knew and spoke an Elvish tongue; for their forefathers had learned the Sindarin tongue, and this they handed on to their children as a matter of lore, changing little with the passing of the years..." (Appendix F, RotK, 507).
"'Few now remember them,' Tom murmured, 'yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.'" ("Fog on the Barrow Downs," FotR, 142)
"In those days no other Men had settled dwellings so far west, or within a hundred leagues of the Shire. But in the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin. They were taller and darker than the Men of Bree and were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of beasts and birds" ("At the Sign of the Prancing Pony," FotR, 146).
"Pippin looked at [Beregond]: tall and proud and noble, as all the men that he had yet seen in that land..." ("Minas Tirith," RotK, 44).
"A tall man entered, and Merry choked on a cry; for a moment it seemed to him that Boromir was alive again and had returned. Then he saw that it was not so; the man was a stranger, though as like to Boromir as if he were one of his kin, tall and grey-eyed and proud" ("The Muster of Rohan," RoTK, 86).
"They took off their masks now and again to cool them, as the day-heat grew, and Frodo saw that they were goodly men, pale-skinned, dark of hair, with grey eyes and faces sad and proud. They spoke together in soft voices, at first using the Common Speech... and then changing to another language of their own. To his amazement, as he listened Frodo became aware that it was the Elven-tongue that they spoke... and he looked at them with wonder, for he knew then that they must be Dúnedain of the South, men of the line of the Lords of Westernesse" ("Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit," TTT, 338).
Before they were Dúnedain, they were the Edain of the three houses of Elf-friends: Hador, Haleth, and Béor. All of them sent men to aid the Valar and the Elves in the War of Wrath, and were given Númenor as a reward. After the Downfall, the Exiles, King's Men and Faithful alike, became lords of Middle-earth, settling along Anduin at Pelargir and the southern coasts as far as the Havens in Umbar. In Eriador, the original shipyard of Aldarion, Lond Daer, was a small settlement, little used for many centuries. In Unfinished Tales we are told that the Númenoreans tended to put ship to port at the Grey Havens. In later years, Gil-galad's people built Annúminas for Elendil at Lake Evendim, and Fornost was also settled.
The Silmarillion is explicit in noting that Númenoreans and Dúnedain are synonymous terms, meaning the same thing. Nevertheless, it seems more usual to call those living in Middle-earth post-Akallabêth 'Dúnedain' and to reserve 'Númenorean' for one born in Númenor. If this is so, it makes a certain sense, given that Sindarin was the most widely used elvish tongue in the Third Age. It should be noted also that whereas the Appendices of LOTR make Sindarin a scholarly tongue to the Dúnedain, Unfinished Tales gives a different view: Sindarin was a daily tongue for many, and it was among the aristocracy that the most care was taken to preserve it in its original form. For that matter, the above citation from TTT makes it clear that Sindarin as a daily language was one of the cultural traits that was still associated with the surviving Dúnedain, whether northern or southern.
By the Third Age, there was only one surviving Realm in Exile: Gondor. Not all of its people were Dúnedain by extraction, since Gondor had been established in areas already inhabited by different kinds of Men. As is usual in situations where a smaller, immigrant population rises to power over a larger, native one, intermarriage occured among the common settlers, though the upper classes seem to have attempted to keep a purely Dúnadan bloodline as much as possible. Nevertheless, it is noted in the Appendices that after Eldacar was restored to the throne after the Kin Strife, even the nobility and royalty of Gondor took less care to maintain a purely Númenorean bloodline. Eldacar himself was the product of a mixed marriage, and it was partly this that made others think him unsuitable as a king.
Arnor, the other kingdom where the Exiles settled, was reduced in the Third Age to the small and secret community whose most visible members were the Rangers. Given the fact that as compared to Gondor, there was not as significant a native population of Men in Eriador when the Númenoreans initially began settling there, and that initially, Elendil's people settled very close to Gil-galad's where other lesser Men feared to dwell, the Kingdom of Arnor seems to have maintained a purer genetic pool from the start. Through the wars, and as their numbers dwindled, the northern Dúnedain became isolated, until there was only one community of them left, hidden somewhere at a minimum distance of 100 leagues from the Shire. In this remnant, the line of Isildur was maintained from father to son, as opposed to Gondor where the royal line failed.
The only other Dúnadan population to survive into the Third Age was that people known as the Black Númenoreans. These were descendents of settlers around Pelargir (hence King's Men, most likely) and the southern fiefs of Gondor who were suborned and turned to Sauron's service. Umbar was their haven, and it is known that the Mouth of Sauron was one of their number. It isn't clear how large their population was, but there were enough to merit the name. We do not know whether they remained largely in Umbar or whether some families moved further south into Harad. If they did, they most likely set themselves up as rulers over the indigenous peoples there. When the Kin Strife erupted in Gondor, Castamir the Usurper's main support came from the peoples of Umbar and those around Pelargir. When he was slain by Eldacar, his sons and supporters withdrew to Umbar and set up an independent kingdom there. Although Gondor would recapture Umbar for a time, it ultimately proved unable to hold that land, and if Castamir's line was extinguished, there would still have been many Dúnedain in those lands who served Mordor.
In terms of looks, the citations above note features generally associated with the Dúnedain: dark hair, grey eyes, tall. For their part, the hobbits noticed also that there was to a certain extent a 'charisma' that Pippin at least seems to have associated with the people of Gondor at large: their pride and their nobility, as exemplified in Beregond, and in Denethor's subtlety, his power and pride. In this, Pippin was not alone: among its many notes to the "Tale of Aldarion and Erendis," Unfinished Tales notes that the Men of Eriador reacted very similarly when first they met the Númenoreans, perceiving them to be more like to Elves in their bearing and manner than to Men (note 3 after the Chronology).
Pride and Prejudice in Arda
The troubled history of the Dúnedain—their struggle alongside the Elves and Valar in the wars of the First Age, their elevation beyond other Men, their Downfall and return to Middle-earth in time to fight against Sauron in a second cataclysmic war in the Second Age, and their slow waning in Middle-earth in the Third Age—is an exemplification of the themes of loss and grief in Arda. In the case of the Númenoreans, "Pride goeth before the Fall" is quite literally enacted, as the King's Men grow ever more jealous of the immortality of the Elves and so ever more proud with less right to their pride at the same time. The final act of hubris was the sailing of Ar-Pharazôn against the land of Valinor, which ended with the sinking of Númenor.
The Third Age saw the fortunes of the Dúnedain waning steadily and more swiftly than before. They never again attained the heights that they had before the Akallabêth, either in terms of military might (and certainly not in terms of the sort of sea-going power that Númenor was in the end) or culturally. Faramir notes in The Two Towers that "[i]f the Rohirrim are grown in some ways more like to us, enhanced in arts and gentleness, we too have become more like them and can scarce claim any longer the title High. We are become Middle Men, of the Twilight, but with memory of other things" (364). As noted above, at least once in Gondor, prejudice against the notion of 'mixed blood' led to catastrophe and civil war, and it was the more ridiculous since, as the 'narrator' of the Appendices notes: "For no doubt [the waning of Dúnadan strength and longevity] was due above all to Middle-earth itself, and to the slow withdrawing of the gifts of the Númenoreans after the Downfall of the Land of the Star" (Appendix A, RotK, 407).
After Sauron's destruction in the Ring War, Gondor and Arnor and their people enjoy something of a renaissance under Aragorn and Arwen, but we don't know whether it outlasted their reign for very long. Fate, entropy, or Ilúvatar's inscrutable workings seems against any prolonged reversal of the trend of diminishment.