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War of the Ring

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The name War of the Ring refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see War of the Ring (disambiguation).
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War of the Ring
Osgiliath (1) · Fords of Isen · Isengard · Hornburg · Osgiliath (2) · Dale · Siege of Gondor · Pelennor Fields · Black Gate · Dol Guldur · Bywater
Previous war: Corsair Wars
Next war: Unknown
War of the Ring
Beginning: T.A. 3018 (earlier fighting in Gondor)End: T.A. 3019
Place: Northwestern Middle-earth
Outcome: Free Peoples' victory; destruction of the One Ring, Sauron and Mordor; start of the Fourth Age; Arnor and Gondor reunited under restoration of the King of Gondor
Major battles: Sauron's attack on Osgiliath, Battles of the Fords of Isen, Battle of Isengard, Battle of the Hornburg, Faramir's defense of Osgiliath, Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Battle of the Morannon, Battle Under Trees, Fall of Dol Guldur, Battle of Dale, Battle of Bywater
Free Peoples of Middle-earth: Gondor, Rohan, Dale, Esgaroth, Erebor, The Shire, Lothlórien, Woodland RealmUnder Sauron: Mordor, Rhûn, Harad, Haven of Umbar, and Khand

Under Saruman: Isengard and Dunland
John Howe - Icon Mordor 1 small.pngSauron
"So we come to it in the end, [...] the great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away."

The War of the Ring was the great conflict at the end of the Third Age, named for the One Ring and the importance this had in the final outcome. The war was fought between Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor who wished to conquer Middle-earth as he nearly did in the Second Age, and the Free peoples, being a loose alliance of Elves and Men led by the Wise. Saruman was a third power based in Orthanc.

Sauron at all times held the military advantage in the War, due to his overwhelming forces; not only Orcs and Trolls, but Men of Harad and the East. His main immediate object was the overthrow of Gondor, his near neighbour and the strongest of his enemies. He had such forces at his command, though, that he was able to fight the war on many fronts, simultaneously attacking Dale, Erebor and the Wood-elves in the far north, and Lothlórien from his secondary stronghold at Dol Guldur. There can be no doubt that, had the Wise not achieved possession of the Ring, Sauron would ultimately have been victorious.

The policy of the Wise was based around the Quest of Mount Doom: a company of nine under the leadership of Gandalf travelled from Rivendell with the One Ring, with the hope of taking it to Orodruin in Mordor and there destroying it. Because the Ring held much of Sauron's native power, they realised that in unmaking it, they would also defeat its creator.

Saruman had claimed alliance with both the Wise and the Dark Lord, but was ultimately fighting for his own ends. In alliance with the Dunlendings, and having Orcs at his own command, his objective was the defeat of Rohan. Until late in the War, he held the advantage, defeating Rohan twice at the Battles of the Fords of Isen.




Sauron had been defeated in the War of the Last Alliance, but because of Isildur's refusal to destroy the One Ring, he was not entirely vanquished. He survived in spirit form, and the foundations of Barad-dûr were also not destroyed. Sauron's spirit wandered the wastelands of Middle-earth for over 1000 years, but eventually he rebuilt his power and became a threat once again. Around T.A. 1000, the Valar sent Maiar emissaries to Middle-earth to help the Free peoples against Sauron, however Sauron succeeded in destroying the Kingdom of Arnor, ending the line of the Kings of Gondor, and weakening the kingdom.

Smaug attacking Esgaroth

Years before the War, while Sauron was known as the "Necromancer" and abode in Dol Guldur, Gandalf was concerned about the weak state of the North. Smaug the Dragon had destroyed both the Kingdom under the Mountain and the town of Dale. About Erebor was desolation which Sauron might use to regain the northern passes in the mountains and the old lands of Angmar. Gandalf, seeing no hope in Thorin Oakenshield's plans of battle and war against Smaug, persuaded him that he should go secretly to Erebor to reclaim its treasure, and to take with him Bilbo Baggins of the Shire.[2]. Smaug was killed by Bard with information obtained by Bilbo Baggins, Erebor was retaken, and most importantly, the kingdoms of Erebor and Dale were re-established. In a small incident along the way, the One Ring was lost by Gollum and wound up in Bilbo's hands.[3]

During the Quest for Erebor, the White Council attacked Dol Guldur and the Necromancer withdrew. However, Sauron returned to his old abode in Mordor to reconstruct Barad-dûr and ten years after the fall of Smaug he sent three Nazgûl to reoccupy Dol Guldur. The White Council met for a last time in T.A. 2953.[4]

A year before the war, while Gollum was looking for his ring, he was taken to Mordor and interrogated by Sauron, who learned that the One Ring was in the possession of a "Baggins" in a place called "the Shire". However Sauron was led into thinking that the Shire was on the banks of the Gladden River.[5]

A messenger from Mordor visited King Dáin II and asked information on Bilbo and the Ring. Meanwhile, Gandalf reading Isildur's Scroll in Minas Tirith, also realized that Bilbo's Ring was the One Ring.[6]

Around the time the War begun, it is said that the Ithryn Luin had gained influence in the East and, thanks to their efforts, Sauron could not manage to gather as much people in his side.[7]

First conflicts

Battle in Osgiliath

Sauron decided to test Denethor II's strength and made an attack on Osgiliath on June 20 of T.A. 3018 which was the beginning of the War. It was also an opportunity of Sauron to make the appearance of the Nazgûl seem to be only part of his war policy against Gondor, in order to conceal from the Wise their true mission to hunt for the One Ring.[5] Boromir and Faramir managed to defend and destroy the Bridge in order to deny the enemy access to the western side of the river.

After the assault and under the leadership of the Witch-king, Sauron sent the Nine unclothed and invisible to search for the Ring .

About the same time the Elves of Mirkwood were attacked and during the fray, the captive Gollum escaped and would not be found nor by the Elves nor by Sauron's servants.

The following months, Boromir would seek counsel in Rivendell while Faramir led several Ranger attacks deep into Mordor-occupied Ithilien, ambushing enemy armies moving to the Black Gate.

The Ringwraith Khamûl was unable to find the "Shire" in the vales of Anduin. The Witch-king searched north and west for Gollum or the Shire. But plans were halted when Sauron received word of the prophecy in Gondor and the doings of the turncoat Saruman, and concluded that the Wise did not yet have possession of the Ring yet, as he feared. Black Riders arrived to Isengard around September 18, but Gandalf had escaped. Traitor Saruman fortified himself in Isengard and convinced the Witch-king that Gandalf alone knew where the Shire and the Ring was, and so the Nine passed into Rohan in search of him.[5]

There, they questioned Wormtongue, who, terrified, answered that Gandalf had passed through Rohan, where the Shire was, and even that Saruman had lied to them. The riders were divided into four pairs, and the Witch-King went with the swiftest to Minhiriath. Along the way they captured several spies of Saruman, and found charts and maps of the Shire. They sent along the spy to Bree, warning them that they now belonged to Mordor, not Saruman.[5]

In September 22 they came to Sarn Ford. Although the Dúnedain Rangers were guarding the crossing, their chieftain Aragorn II was away and the Riders captured the ford, killing many of the Rangers. The Witch-king sent Khamûl and three Riders into the Shire while he went east with the others and then returned to watch the Greenway.[8] A Rider came to Hobbiton at nightfall, but failed to capture Frodo who departed that same day.[5]

Saruman, caught now between both sides as a known traitor to both, implemented a strategy of attacking Rohan, endeavoring to kill the King's son Théodred, sending spies to waylay Frodo Baggins on his flight from the Shire, and dispatching raiding parties on likely routes a company of the Ring might take to Gondor. During the fall of that year, some Ruffians were sent to the Shire to gain control of the region, collecting the crops and suppressing any dissent.

File:Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring - The Council of Elrond.jpg
The Council of Elrond, a pivotal phase of the War.

In October, Frodo came to Rivendell and during his arrival, the Black Riders were temporarily neutralized and the Ringwraiths were forced to return to Mordor to regroup. Some days later, the Council of Elrond was called, where it was decided that the only way to be free of Sauron and the Ring was to cast the Ring into the Crack of Doom in Mount Doom. Frodo surprised everyone, including himself, by declaring that he would take the Ring[6]. The team who would travel to Mordor departed Rivendell in December.[8]

Saruman's Part in the War

File:1st Battle of Isen.jpg
The aftermath at Isen

Months later, Saruman entered the War, his main aim being to get rid of Théodred and Éomer and have full control of Théoden. On February 25, T.A. 3019, he sent his forces to attack Rohan's army (commanded by Théodred and Grimbold) at the Isen. Dunlendings, Wolfriders and Uruks clashed against the Rohirrim in the First Battle of the Fords of Isen with orders to slay Théodred at any cost. Elfhelm arrived only to avenge Théodred's killer and take the dying Prince away from the battle.[9]

File:Matt Stewart - The horn of Boromir.jpg
Boromir attempts to protect the hobbits from Saruman's Uruk-hai

The next day while the Company of the Ring was in the Emyn Muil thinking whether to take the Ring to Minas Tirith or go directly to Mordor, Orcs from Isengard attempted to capture the Ring-bearer; but instead they took Merry and Pippin as prisoners.[10] Éomer hearing of the descent of the Orcband set out from Eastfold against Théoden's orders and overtook them outside Fangorn Forest, unknowingly setting the hobbits free.[8][11]

Having heard the news about Théodred's death, Erkenbrand, who became the commander of Rohan's western armies, gathered the forces of Grimbold and Elfhelm to assault Isen once more in the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen (March 2). Though they had a force of about 2000 men and had constructed a shield wall to hold off the enemy, Saruman's forces overcame them and scattered the retreating Rohirrim across Rohan.[9][12]

Saruman's victory would not last; he did not know that on the very same day, Gandalf had healed Théoden from Wormtongue's influence. In the meantime, the Ents after ending their long Entmoot, decide to go to Isengard and battle Saruman.[8]

The next day (March 3) seeking to take the fight away from his people, Théoden brought around a thousand horsemen to the Fords of Isen along with any others in Edoras. Among this force were Éomer, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. On their way they found Ceorl who reported a defeat to the Fords; Théoden then redirected his troops to Helm's Deep, which was commanded by Gamling in his lord Erkenbrand's absence. Against overwhelming odds, they fought the Battle of the Hornburg for two days against Uruk-hai and Dunlendings, until the Deeping Wall was breached and all seemed lost. The surviving horsemen rode out to meet the hordes of Isengard.[12]

The Wrath of the Ents

At that moment, Gandalf returned, bringing with him Erkenbrand and many other soldiers from Westfold. They attacked the army from the rear, driving the attackers back into a forest of Huorns. Saruman was attacked by a march of Ents in the Battle of Isengard who drowned all the valley.[13]

After the defeat of Saruman, Pippin looked in the Orthanc-stone and saw the Eye of Sauron; Gandalf believed that seeing the Hobbit, Sauron would imagine that the Ring-bearer was caught by Saruman's Orcs and that they could make good use of the delay caused by this confusion.[14] The protagonists of the War separated, anticipating Sauron's attack on Minas Tirith. Gandalf set out for Minas Tirith taking Pippin since he would not be safe. Théoden set out from the Hornburg for Harrowdale while Aragorn set out with the Grey Company to Dunharrow and took the Paths of the Dead. Théoden would come to Dunharrow.

Sauron Strikes

On March 10 fumes from Mordor veiled the Sun in an attempt by Sauron to disparage or misguide his enemies. The veil blacked out most of Gondor and Rohan who observed that day as The Dawnless Day.

The Nazgûl set off

Along with the Darkness, a host from Minas Morgul set forth toward Minas Tirith, as witnessed by Frodo, Sam and Gollum who passed the Cross-roads. Later Orcs from the Morannon took Cair Andros and passed into Anórien.

The Rohirrim mustered their Riders and rode from Harrowdale, while Aragorn led the Dead Men and the Grey Company, across the river Ringló.

While preparing against Gondor, Sauron also begun campaigns to conquer Wilderland, activating his armies stationed in Dol Guldur and eastern allies. This would bring the eastern half of Middle-earth entirely into his dominion.

On March 11 Orcs from Dol Guldur attacked Lórien and Eastern Rohan. The next day the invaders of Rohan are utterly defeated by Ents.

In Gondor, Denethor II sent Faramir to Osgiliath to intercept the Morgul-host and two days later he retreated to the Causeway Forts; but the next day he was wounded seriously while Pelennor was overrun. The Siege of Minas Tirith began.

The climax of the War

On March 15 three simultaneous battles occurred.

In Rhovanion, an army was sent to destroy the realm of Thranduil and a second assault against Lorien was made. After a long battle under the trees, and great ruin of fire[15] the Orcs were defeated on both fronts on the same day.

Aragorn, after enlisting the help of Army of the Dead, and other Rangers of the North, Gimli, Legolas, Elladan, Elrohir and many reinforcements from southern fiefdoms of Gondor, attacked the Corsair fleet at Umbar, an assault he had also carried out decades earlier.

In Gondor, after the enemy passed Osgiliath, Pelennor outside Minas Tirith was overrun, despite the armies that gathered from southern Gondor already in the days before the battle. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields erupted until the Witch-king broke the Great Gate of Minas Tirith with Grond, when the Rohirrim reached Rammas Echor and joined the battle.

File:Anke Eissmann - The Black Serpent founders.jpg
Haradrim fight the Rohirrim in the Battle of the Pelennor

The combined army of Orcs, Haradrim, Men of Rhûn and Men of Khand, outnumbered them at least 10 to 1, but lost almost a third of their own forces. In the process King Theoden was killed, and the Witch-King was destroyed by Theoden's niece, Lady Éowyn of Rohan. When all seemed lost, a fleet of enemy ships with black sails arrived at the landings to the south of the Pelennor in the Rammas, but it was actually manned by Aragorn. As his army drove north a great part of Mordor's forces were pinned between Aragorn and Eomer's cavalry, and were "caught between the hammer and the anvil".

The battle of Dale

Meanwhile in the North, Easterlings crossed the Carnen, and King Brand was driven back to Dale. He gathered there with the Dwarves of Erebor, and engaged in the Battle of Dale against the Orcs at the feet of the Lonely Mountain for three days until (March 17) he fell alongside King Dáin Ironfoot. Many Dwarves and Men took refuge in Erebor and were besieged by the Easterlings. However news from the defeat at the Pelennor reached the Easterlings who begun to fail.

The end of Sauron

The next day it was understood that the army vanquished in the Battle of the Pelennor was only a fraction of Sauron's forces, and eventually Minas Tirith would not manage to withstand forever. The Host of the West marched from Minas Tirith to confront Sauron. During that course, Lórien was attacked for a third and last time by Orcs (March 22). After much destruction, the Elves repulsed them once again.

The Host of the West would meet Sauron's forces outside the gates of Mordor seven days later, hoping to divert their attention away from the Ring-bearer, who was nearing the end of his mission.

Fell beasts fly over the Battle of the Morannon

During the course of the Battle of the Morannon against Trolls, Orcs and Men, the eight remaining Nazgûl attacked the army of the West. The Eagles of the Misty Mountains, led by Gwaihir arrived and attacked the Ringwraiths. When all hope seemed lost, Frodo failed his mission: he claimed the One Ring for himself, and Sauron was suddenly aware that Frodo had the ring and was standing on the Crack of Doom. Realizing that his enemies meant to destroy his ring, Sauron immediately sent the Nazgûl away from the battle to Mount Doom to intercept Frodo. However, the One Ring was destroyed before they arrived. The hosts of Mordor, suddenly without direction, hesitated until Sauron's power was overthrown.

The Nazgûl were all destroyed as they flew over Mount Doom just as it underwent a gigantic eruption. Barad-dûr, the Black Gate, and the Towers of the Teeth collapsed to ruin. The Orcs and other creatures of Sauron were completely directionless with the Dark Lord's demise and were easily decimated by the army of the West and the Easterlings eventually threw down their weapons and surrendered. [16]

Two days later, Bard II and Thorin III Stonehelm drive the enemy from Dale.[8]

The fall of Dol Guldur

On March 28 with Celeborn at their head, Elves crossed the Anduin in many boats and stormed Dol Guldur. Galadriel came after them in the Fall of Dol Guldur, throwing down the walls of the fortress and laying bare its pits, so that the forest was cleansed. Thranduil cleared all the orcs and foul beings from North Mirkwood.[8]

The Scouring of the Shire

The War did not end with the defeat of Sauron, for Saruman fled northward after the capture of Orthanc, and established himself in the Shire, bending the Hobbits to his will by threat of violence and the persuasive power of his voice. The return of Frodo Baggins and his companions from the coronation of King Elessar and the reunification of Gondor and Arnor, led to their arrest by the Shire-hobbits but they talked their way out.[17]

A small group of Ruffians was encountered, and Pippin declared the return of the King to them, and the message that emissaries were on their way. When he was scoffed, he declared himself the emissary, as he was not released from Elessar's service yet. The group was routed, but managed to get a message to a bigger contigent in Waymeet.[18] 20 Men marched from Hobbiton towards Bywater, and 200 Bucklanders and Cottons answered the call of Captain Merry's horn.

The Battle of Bywater

The Men walked up Bywater Road, to the point where Farmer Cotton was standing and found themselves heavily outnumbered. Their leader fell by arrows as he tried to strike at Merry. The rest surrendered. Pippin had set up a rebellion in Tookland, and returned with one hundred Tooks when the larger group of Men from Waymeet arrived the following day and walked straight into a defensive pocket set up by Merry. Merry and Pippin charged from the eastern bank, and Merry killed the leader.[18] Nearly seventy Men were killed and twelve were taken prisoner, while nineteen Hobbits died and about 30 were wounded.

After their victory the Hobbits marched on to Bag End, where they found Sharkey. It was not Lotho as had been thought, but rather Saruman who revealed that his servant Gríma killed Lotho. Gríma cut Saruman's throat in a rage for years of oppression and abuse, but was himself shot by Hobbit archers. As the spirit of Saruman rose from its bodily form, it was blown away by a wind from the West; Manwë did not want him back.[18]

This battle is considered to mark the end of the War.


"You were born at the end of a great age, Elanorellë"
Samwise Gamgee, Sauron Defeated, The Epilogue
Main article: Fourth Age
Darrell Sweet - Aragorn finds the White Sapling, signifying a new era

The consequences of the War were "apocalyptical" for the Westlands of Middle-earth. The status quo of many entities were restored, or even radically changed after centuries. Not only the millennia of Sauron's dominion were permanently brought to an end, but the relationships of peoples and races were redefined. It is also notable that during the War many personalities died (Denethor, Theoden, Brand, Dain), and brought their descendants into the aftermath.

The major effect of the war however was that with the destruction of the One Ring, the Three Rings that had maintained the realms of the Elves in Middle-earth lost their power, and the Elves began to leave for the Undying Lands; significant Elves who marked the history of the Westlands for millennia, like Galadriel and Elrond departed, setting stage for the Dominion of Men.


The downfall of Sauron brought the restoration of the long-awaited line of Kings of Gondor, the restoration of Arnor and simultaneously the reunification of the two kingdoms; after of centuries of nomadic wandering the Rangers of the North had again a kingdom and the Gondorians had a king. This King was Aragorn II a descendant both of Isildur and Anarion; furthermore, his marriage with Arwen reunited the lines of Elrond and Elros since the First Age.

Other political repercussions were the strengthening of the relationships between the Kingdom and Rohan, new relationships with the Ents (who now occupied Treegarth, former Isengard), the Woses and the Hobbits, now known as free peoples. On the Elven New Year, Celeborn and Thranduil renamed Mirkwood as Eryn Lasgalen and Celeborn took the southern part below the Narrows, naming it East Lórien. The wide forest inbetween was given to the Beornings and the Woodmen.

Calendrical impact

All the above events made historians to mark the years following the War as the end of the Third Age.

Another calendric change was the New Reckoning which replaced the Stewards' Reckoning, and the introduction of Cormarë, a holiday on March 25 that commemorated the fall of Sauron.[19]


The Fleet of Harad by Darrell Sweet

Sauron and his Allies

Free Peoples



  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Quest of Erebor"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Riddles in the Dark"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Hunt for the Ring"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "Last Writings"
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Great Years"
  9. 9.0 9.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Breaking of the Fellowship"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Riders of Rohan"
  12. 12.0 12.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Helm's Deep"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Flotsam and Jetsam"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Palantír"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "Mount Doom"
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "Homeward Bound"
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Scouring of the Shire"
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix D, "The Calendars"