The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Forged between c. II 1500 and c. II 1600.
Almost certainly destroyed in the Fall of Barad-dûr, 25 March III 3019
Origins
Made by the Mírdain of Eregion under the tutorship of Sauron

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  • Updated 26 May 2008
  • This entry is complete

Nine Rings

Rings of Power Given by Sauron to Men

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Nine potent Rings of Power, each mounted with a gem, made by the Jewel-smiths of Eregion under the guidance of Sauron in his guise as Annatar. When the One Ring was forged, the other Rings of Power fell under its power as Sauron had intended, including the Nine. Celebrimbor and his people became aware of this and sought to withhold the Rings from Sauron. Their resistance led to the vicious War of the Elves and Sauron, in which Eregion came to an end, and Sauron captured most of the Rings of Power, including the Nine.

Sauron gained the Nine Rings in II 1697, and spent the next few centuries using them to draw nine powerful Men to his service. We know little about these Men, except that three of them were Númenóreans, and at least one, named Khamûl, was an Easterling lord. Each of these Men was given one of the Nine Rings, and through those Rings each was drawn into the Wraith-world, and their wills were completely enslaved by Sauron. So they were transformed into the Nazgûl, the Nine Ringwraiths.

The Ringwraiths first emerged in the middle of the twenty-third century of the Second Age. Given unending life by their Rings, they remained a terror in Middle-earth to the end of that Age and throughout the next, haunting the World for more than four thousand years. It was their leader, as the Witch-king of Angmar, who swept away the North-kingdom of the Dúnedain. In the later Third Age, the Ringwraiths paved the way for Sauron's return when they re-entered Mordor. In the years that followed, they captured Minas Ithil, and brought the line of the Kings of Gondor to an end.

The Nazgûl did not keep their own Rings, but rather Sauron held them (for more on this point, see Who Held the Nine Rings? below). At the end of the Third Age, they were almost certainly in Barad-dûr when it fell, and thus presumably destroyed. Even if they had somehow survived the destruction of the Dark Tower, the loss of the One Ring would have rendered them powerless.


Who Held the Nine Rings?

There has been some dispute about whether Sauron held all Nine Rings himself, or whether the Ringwraiths each carried their own. The main point of confusion seems to be a reference in The Fellowship of the Ring II 2, where Gandalf says, 'The Nine the Nazgûl keep'.

On its face, this seems to clearly suggest that the Nazgûl held their own Rings, but there are numerous other references to contradict this idea. To take a couple from The Lord of the Rings itself, Gandalf says elsewhere that '...the Nine [Sauron] has gathered to himself...' (The Fellowship of the Ring I 2) and Galadriel calls Sauron '...him that holds the Seven and the Nine' (The Fellowship of the Ring II 7).

Tolkien is even more explicit in sources outside The Lord of the Rings. In a letter written in 1963, he says that Sauron, '...through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills.' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, No 246). So, not only did Sauron hold the Nine Rings himself, this was necessary in some way to maintain his control over the Nazgûl. This also explains, incidentally, why the Ringwraiths' robes were not invisible: they themselves had been drawn into the Wraith-world, but because they were not actually wearing Rings of Power, their clothing and weaponry remained in the visible World.

From all this, it seems incontrovertible that Tolkien intended for Sauron to have reclaimed the Nine Rings from his slaves. In light of this, Gandalf's comment that 'the Nine the Nazgûl keep' can't be taken as literally as it appears, because clearly the Nazgûl did not keep the Nine themselves.

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