A term used in Middle-earth for the period of Sauron's power there. For the first five centuries of the Second Age Sauron had remained hidden, but in the latter part of the first millennium of that Age his power began to grow. In about II 1000 he established himself in Mordor and began the building of his Dark Tower. Now he became a Dark Lord in his own right, gathering the creatures of his former master Morgoth under his command and spreading his power, and so the Black Years began.
Over the next centuries many Easterlings and Southrons fell under the Dark Lord's control, and he sought to seduce the Elves with Rings of Power, forging his own Ruling Ring to command all the others. This plan failed, leading to a vast invasion of the Westlands that saw Eregion fall and all of Eriador come under the yoke of Sauron. The Dark Lord was beaten back by the Númenóreans, though he still controlled wide regions of Middle-earth from his stronghold in the Dark Land of Mordor. It was during this time that the Elves of Middle-earth began to leave in great numbers, making their way to the last remaining Elf-realm of Lindon and sailing from there into the West.
For the next thousand years Sauron built his power still further, bringing great lands in the East under his control, while the Númenóreans established defences of their own along the coasts of Middle-earth. It was at one of these, Umbar, that the proud Númenórean King Ar-Pharazôn landed in II 3262. He demanded the submission of Sauron, and Sauron capitulated, allowing himself to be taken as hostage back to Númenor. Once there he subverted the Númenóreans and ultimately brought about the Downfall of that realm.
Sauron himself escaped the Downfall and returned to Mordor in II 3320. There followed the War of the Last Alliance, in which Elves and Men followed Gil-galad and Elendil to a last great confrontation with the Dark Lord. After seven years of war, Sauron was overthrown and went into the shadows, bringing an end to the Second Age and also the Black Years of his rule in Middle-earth.
The point at which the Black Years started is unclear, if indeed it can be narrowed down to a single point in time. The beginning of this period is tied to Sauron's rise during the Second Age, but this in itself covers more than a millennium from his first stirring to his establishment of Mordor and then to his direct assault on Eriador. This latter event, which happened in II 1697, seems to mark his abandonment of guile and his emergence as the second Dark Lord, so it is taken here (rather arbitrarily) as the beginning of the Black Years.
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