Sauron was one of the mightiest of the Maiar and the most trusted servant of Morgoth up until the First Age. After the War of Wrath, Sauron became his own master and sought to conquer Middle-Earth. In the Third Age he became known as "the Lord of the Rings" after creating the One Ring to control the Rings of Power. Sauron was destroyed on March 25th, T.A. 3019 following the destruction of the One Ring.
Sauron was a Maia known by the name Mairon1
and created by Ilúvatar before the Music of the Ainur and the creation of the world.2
He was one of the Ainur who entered into Eä where he became one of Aulë's people.3
He was soon drawn to the power of Melkor and swore allegiance to him.4
Sauron soon became Melkor's most dangerous and trusted servant.4
Melkor appointed Sauron to be the commander of Angband, a great fortress in the north-west of Middle-earth.5
After the Siege of Utumno and the capture of Melkor Sauron managed to escape capture by the Valar.
Melkor was chained in the Halls of Mandos for three ages.5
After Melkor's release he destroyed the Trees of Valinor, stole the Silmarils and fled back to Middle-Earth.6
When learning of the theft of the Silmarils, Fëanor cursed Melkor and named him Morgoth.7
Sauron once again became Morgoth's servant and was set in command of the rebuilt Angband.8
There Sauron had likely been breeding Orcs and other foul creatures, waiting for his master's return. After Morgoth's return not much is known of Sauron's deeds until the end of the Siege of Angband.
Sauron was become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment. He took Minas Tirith by assault, for a dark cloud of fear fell upon those that defended it; and Orodreth was driven out, and fled to Nargothrond.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
In F.A. 457, after the fall of Fingolfin in Dagor Bragollach, Sauron launched an attack on Tol Sirion and besieged its watchtower Minas Tirith.9
After the capture of the island, Sauron took the tower to dwell in and began breeding wolves with evil spirits, werewolves, and thus the island became known as Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the "Isle of Werewolves".
Among the people resisting Morgoth was Barahir and his twelve companions. Rumours of their heroic deeds spread far and wide and Sauron was given the task to find and kill them.10
Sauron captured one member of the company, Gorlim, and promised to reunite him with his lost wife Eilinel in return for information. When Gorlim betrayed the location of Barahir Sauron revealed that Gorlim's wife was dead. Sauron kept his promise and let Gorlim suffer a horrific death, thus reuniting him with his wife. He then set after Barahir and his followers and killed all of them but one. Beren, son of Barahir, had been sent on a mission by his father and was therefore unnoticed by the servants of Morgoth.
Beren swore an oath to avenge the death of his father and fought the servants of Morgoth with great success.10
Sauron set out with an army and sought for Beren but was still unable to find him. It was not until Beren set out with Finrod and ten companions to reclaim the Silmarils that Sauron was able to capture him. The company were brought to Tol-in-Gaurhoth and imprisoned in a dark pit. There they were devoured by one of Sauron's werevolves until only Beren remained.
In this dark moment, Lúthien came to the bridge of Tol-in-Gaurhoth with Huan, the Hound of Valinor.10
Lúthien began singing a song so powerful the very island trembled. Sauron knew his reward would be great if he brought Lúthien to Morgoth and sought to imprison her. Not knowing of Huan's presence Sauron sent wolves, one by one, to capture Luthien. After all wolves had been silently slain by Huan Sauron sent out Draugluin, sire of the werewolves of Angband, and his battle with Huan was fierce. Draugluin managed to flee back to Sauron and, with his dying breath, warn him of the danger. Sauron now took the form of a great werewolf and attacked Lúthien but Huan sprang upon him. Despite Sauron's strength, he was unable to defeat Huan in battle and Sauron eventually agreed to give up Tol-in-Gaurhoth in return for his freedom. Sauron took the form of a vampire and fled to the forest Taur-nu-Fuin.
After the War of Wrath and the downfall of Morgoth, Sauron feared the wrath of the Valar and took a fair form.4
However, when Eönwë ordered him to travel to Valinor to receive the judgement of Manwë he fled and hid in Middle-Earth.
Sauron lay dormant and hidden for many years and worked his evil through Men in the east and south of Middle-Earth.4
Around S.A. 1000, Sauron choose Mordor as a stronghold and built Barad-dûr.11
He sought to persuade both Men and Elves to follow him and put on a fair disguise.4
Sauron called himself Annatar, Lord of Gifts, and befriended the Elven smiths of Eregion around S.A. 1200.11
He taught them in crafts and magic, something he himself had learned as a pupil of Aulë, and the Elves forged many Rings of Power using his council.4
In secrecy, in the fires of Mount Doom Sauron forged the One Ring, one that would control all others and bend them to his will. However, the moment Sauron put the Ring on his finger the Elves became aware of his treachery.
"Now the Elves made many rings; but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last. And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
The War of the Elves and Sauron followed and Eregion was destroyed.4
It was only with the help of the Númenóreans that the Elves and Dwarves were able to push back and Sauron retreated to Mordor. The Elves were only able to save three of the Rings of Power from Sauron. Sauron gave seven rings to the Dwarves and nine to noble Men in attempt to ensnare their bearers. While the Dwarves proved difficult to master the Men fell, one by one, and became the Nazgûls. It is believed that some of these Men were of Númenórean blood.12
The Númenóreans saw Sauron's increasing power and came to Middle-earth with a great fleet and challenged him.12
Seeing that he could not defeat the Númenóreans with military strength Sauron allowed himself to be taken as a hostage to Númenor by King Ar-Pharazôn. In Númenor he convinced Ar-Pharazôn to take him as his personal advisor. Sauron was able to corrupt the Númenóreans and convince them to lead an attack on the Valinor. This caused Ilúvatar, the supreme God, to intervene and drown Númenor and permanently separate Aman from Middle-Earth. Sauron escaped from the depths and fled back to Mordor, where he slowly rebuilt his strength during the time known as the Dark Years. After this, Sauron was not able to assume a fair shape.
A few faithful Númenóreans were saved, including Elendil, and they founded new kingdoms in Middle-Earth.12
These Men, led by Elendil, allied with the Elves of Lindon and fought against Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance towards the end of the Second Age.4
They besieged Barad-dûr for seven years until in S.A. 3441 Sauron himself came forth. Sauron battled with Gil-galad and Elendil who were slain as they cast down Sauron. Isildur, son of Elendil, then took up the hilt of his father's broken sword and cut the One Ring off Sauron's finger and claimed it for himself. Sauron was unable to hold physical form without the power of his Ring and perished.
After the end of the Second Age, Sauron was unable to take physical form for many years.4
Sometime around T.A. 1000, Sauron reappeared and came to the southern parts of Greenwood the Great from the east.13
It was also around this time the Istari appeared in Middle-Earth. Around T.A. 1050 a shadow fell on Greenwood, and men began to call it Mirkwood.14
Sauron choose the hill Amon Lanc ("Naked Hill") in southern Mirkwood as a place to build his fortress Dol Guldur.15
The hostile entity of Mirkwood was called the Necromancer and was generally believed to be one of the Nazgûl.14
However, the Council of the Wise, especially Gandalf, feared it might indeed be Sauron.4
In T.A. 2063, Gandalf went to Dol Guldur but the Necromancer, not yet powerful, fled to the east.14
This marked the beginning of the Watchful Peace.
In T.A. 2460, Sauron returned from the east and again took up residence in Dol Guldur.14
After trying to persuade the White Council to take action against the Necromancer, Gandalf entered Dol Guldur in secrecy in T.A. 2850 discovering that the Necromancer was in fact Sauron. Gandalf informed the White Council in T.A. 2851 and urged an immediate attack on Dol Guldur. This was overruled by Saruman who had learned of the presence of the One Ring near Gladden Fields and sought to claim it for himself. He believed the Ring would reveal itself as Sauron's power grew.
It was not until 90 years later, in T.A. 2941, that the White Council decided to lead an attack on Dol Guldur.14
Sauron had predicted the attack and fled to Mordor, where the Nazgûl had prepared for his return. There he finalized the reconstruction of Barad-dûr and openly proclaimed himself only ten years after this. Sauron bred an army with Orcs and allied with me of the south and east.
After the capture of Minas Ithil in T.A. 2002 by the Nazgûl, Sauron had come in possession of its Palantír, the Ithil-stone.14
He used it to communicate with Saruman, who was in possession the Osgiliath-stone, and was able to ensnare him. Sauron also attempted to ensnare Denethor II, the steward of Gondor, but appears to failed, although he was able to influence Denethor.16
Sauron's spies managed to capture Gollum and interrogated him about the One Ring under torture.14
Sauron found out that the Ring was in possession of Bilbo Baggins in the Shire. In T.A. 3017, Sauron set Gollum free hoping that he would lead him to the Ring.
On 20 June, T.A. 3018, Sauron attacked Osgiliath.17
This is commonly seen as the beginning of the War of the Ring. The purpose of the attack was both to test the defenses of Gondor and hide the true reason of the appearance of the Nazgûl, to search for the One Ring.18
However, unbeknownst to Sauron, Bilbo Baggins had left the Ring to his nephew Frodo who in turn had joined the Fellowship of the Ring on a quest to destroy it.
On March 5, T.A. 3019, Peregrin Took looked in the Orthanc-stone and was seen by Sauron who believed him to be the Ring-bearer.19
The next day, Aragorn used the stone to reveal himself to Sauron.20
Sauron drew the conclusion that Aragorn was in possession of the Ring and sent an army commanded by the Witch-King of Angmar to overthrow Minas Tirith. This battle became known as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Although Sauron lost the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, he had enough military strength to conquer Gondor in the long run.21
This led the commanders of the West to lead an attack on the Black Gate in an attempt to divert Sauron's attention and buy Frodo time to complete his quest.
"If it is destroyed, then he will fall, and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed."
- Gandalf predicting Sauron's fate if the Ring is destroyed - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, The Last Debate
On March 25, T.A. 3019, Frodo reached the Cracks of Doom, Sammath Naur, but was unable to resist its power and claimed for himself.22
In a desperate attempt to possess the Ring, Gollum seized it but fell into the fire, thus destroying One Ring. With "a roar and a great confusion of noise"
the One Ring was unmade and most of Sauron's power with it.23
Sauron's departing spirit towered above Mordor like a black cloud, but was blown away by a powerful wind from the West. With Sauron's defeat, Barad-dûr crumbled and his armies lost heart and were easily defeated.
There are no detailed descriptions of Sauron's appearance throughout Tolkien's works. In the beginning, as a Maia of Aulë, he assumed a fair form but likely changed after he became the servant of Morgoth.3
In the Silmarillion, Gorlim, was brought into "the dreadful presence of Sauron"
and it says he was "daunted by the eyes of Sauron"
When fighting Huan, Sauron assumed the form of a werewolf before changing to that of a serpent and then back "from monster to his own accustomed form"
After the War of Wrath, Sauron took a fair form again and repented his evil deeds in fear of the Valar.4
In the Second Age, he appeared in fair form as Annatar in an attempt to ensnare the Elves of Eregion.
At the end of the Second Age, he appeared in fair form for the last time when corrupting the Men of Númenor.12
He appeared "as a man, or one in man's shape, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature"
and "it seemed to men that Sauron was great, though they feared the light of his eyes. To many he appeared fair, to others terrible; but to some evil."24
Sauron permanently lost the ability to change form in the Flooding of Númenor.
After the Downfall of Númenor, Sauron's form was "an image of malice and hatred made visible"
Isildur recorded in his writings that Sauron's hand "was black, and yet burned like fire"
and that Gil-galad perished from Sauron's heat.
The Eye as a symbol for Sauron is mentioned several times in the Lord of the Rings and is the most common image associated with Sauron. In the chapter the Depature of Boromir
in the Two Towers, Aragorn mentions that the Orcs of Mordor use the red eye as a symbol and are not allowed to use or speak Sauron's name.25
"But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel
Frodo had a vision of the Eye in the Mirror of Galadriel, see above, and Sam and Frodo had another vision when in Mordor, see below. These appear to be visions of Sauron and not true manifestations of his form.
"One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye, and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision removed. The Eye was not turned to them: it was facing north to where the Captains of the West stood at bay, and thither all its malice was now bent, as the Power moved to strike its deadly blow; but Frodo at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Mount Doom
When outside the Black Gate, Gollum describes Sauron to Frodo and Sam as having "only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough" suggesting that Sauron has a physical body.26
Further evidence of a physical body can be found in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
. In letter 144 Tolkien writes this of Sauron's return in "the year 1000 of the Third Age, when the shadow of Sauron began first to grow again to new shape."
In letter 246 Tolkien describes Sauron's appearance in the Third Age with: "Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic."