Prelude to the War
During the late years of the Second Age, Sauron hatched a plot to finally humble the Númenóreans. He seduced their King, Ar-Pharazôn, and persuaded him to take a vast fleet into the West to make war against the Valar themselves. The response was even more overwhelming than Sauron had imagined, and the entire island of Númenor was consumed by the Sea, forcing Sauron to escape back to Middle-earth in disembodied form. Re-establishing to Mordor, he found a handful of survivors of the Downfall beginning to found a new nation on his western borders, and he began to make plans for a final revenge on the the last of the Númenóreans.
The War Begins
It took Sauron time to recover his strength and gather his armies. He drew forces from the East and South into Mordor, including Black Númenóreans. In II 3429, one hundred and ten years after the Downfall, he was finally ready to launch his assault on the Gondorians. The first strike of the War was against Isildur's fortress of Minas Ithil, which guarded Mordor's western borders. This Sauron captured, but Isildur and his family were able to escape by ship, sailing down the Anduin to its Mouths, and then by sea northward to seek aid.
Meanwhile Sauron continued his assault, attempting to take Osgiliath, but Isildur's brother Anárion was prepared for him. The forces of Mordor were driven back through Ithilien, and held at the line of the Ephel Dúath.
When Isildur reached his father Elendil in the North-kingdom, the High King took counsel with Gil-galad, lord of the Elves of Lindon. Elves and Men perceived that Sauron would defeat all the free peoples of Middle-earth unless they took a united stand, and so they formed the great alliance that history would know as the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
The armies of the Elves and the Dúnedain mustered in Arnor, and then marched east to Imladris, where further forces were gathered. Though the main host was composed of Elves and Men, other races also played their part. In particular, there are records of the Dwarves of Durin's Folk joining the alliance.
Bringing together this great host took no less than three years, during which other preparations were made (for example, a bridge across the upper Anduin was strengthened to allow the armies to pass that way). When the alliance set out, they crossed the Misty Mountains, passed over the Great River, and began the long march down the Vales of Anduin into the south. During the march their ranks grew even greater, as they were joined by Silvan Elves out of the Greenwood and Lórien.
During these three years, Sauron had made preparations of his own, sending out forces of his own ready to attack the alliance as it marched. However, when they saw the gigantic force marching against Mordor, Sauron's Orcs fled and hid themselves, and their master's plans came to nothing. One group of these Orcs remained concealed until after the War - a fact that would later prove disastrous.
The first major engagement of the War took place in II 3434 on the plain before the Gates of Mordor. The battle that followed was so fierce that it gave its name to that place: Dagorlad or 'Battle Plain'. The forces on either side were vast, and the battle was terrible (according to one account, it lasted for months). One contingent, the Silvan Elves of the Greenwood and Lórien, was cut off from the main army and driven into the Dead Marshes, and the slaughter that followed left ghostly visions in those Marshes that could still be seen an Age later.
Despite these losses, Elendil and Gil-galad (brandishing their great and famous weapons, Narsil and Aeglos) led the host of the Alliance to a victory over Sauron's forces, driving them back to the Dark Tower.
Having forced Sauron back into the Barad-dûr, the commanders of the Last Alliance besieged him there. They guarded the passes out of Mordor to prevent his secret escape, and encircled the Dark Tower itself. So began the long and deadly Siege of Barad-dûr that lasted seven years from II 3434 to II 3441.
Both besiegers and besieged suffered terribly during this time. Barad-dûr was not without defences, and Sauron sent out many sorties against his foes. Missiles of stone and fire were hurled from the walls of the Tower against the attackers, and it was one of these missiles that slew Elendil's younger son Anárion in the sixth year of the Siege.
In the seventh year of the Siege, II 3441, Sauron sought to bring it to an end by offering combat against the leaders of the Alliance2. That combat took place away from the main armies, on the slopes of Mount Doom; apart from the combatants (Sauron, Elendil and Gil-galad), the only others present were Isildur, Elrond and Círdan. In the combat that followed, Gil-galad and Elendil both fell (and the great sword Narsil was broken) but Sauron was also defeated, and his evil spirit abandoned his body. With the fall of Sauron came the end of the War, and also the end of the Second Age.
After the War
The War saw Sauron defeated, but not utterly destroyed, because his Ring - which contained a great portion of his power - remained intact. After the combat on Mount Doom, the Alliance forces had a great opportunity to destroy the Ring, and both Elrond and Círdan urged this course. Isildur, however, took the Ring for himself, a decision that would have disastrous consequences. Isildur himself would be slain by Orcs just two years after the War, and in that disaster the Ring he carried was lost in Anduin, setting the stage for the events that would unfold at the end of the Third Age.
In Mordor, the Dark Tower was demolished, but the power3 used in the making of its foundations prevented them from being destroyed. The Dúnedain ringed Sauron's realm with castles and watchtowers, and maintained a long vigilance to prevent the return of evil things into the Dark Land, though that land itself remained empty. This watch was maintained by Gondor until the year III 1640, when the Great Plague decimated its population and left Mordor unguarded.
Sauron himself remained long in the shadows, but he returned to the western lands after about a thousand years had passed. At that time the guard on Mordor remained, and he was still weak, so he created a new stronghold for himself in the south of Mirkwood. For many years he kept his identity secret, being known merely as 'the Necromancer', a strange dark power in the depths of the wood. Over the long years he recovered much of his ancient power, leading to the great War of the Ring three thousand years after the War of the Last Alliance.
II 3429 was the date of Sauron's sudden assault on Minas Ithil, the event that triggered the War. In fact, the Last Alliance was not itself formed until the following year, II 3430.
The terms of this combat are a little unclear. We might expect Sauron to have offered single combat - himself against a champion of the Alliance - but instead he seems to have agreed to face both the enemy commanders. This either shows supreme confidence in his own prowess, or illustrates his desperation to bring the Siege to an end (or, quite possibly, both).
Elrond told his Council that the foundations of Barad-dûr had been made with the power of the Ring, but The Tale of Years states that the building of the Dark Tower began some six hundred years before the Ring was forged. In a note quoted in Unfinished Tales Tolkien gives a slightly different version of events, suggesting that Sauron transferred a part of his power into the foundations as he later would into the Ring. It seems, therefore, that Elrond's reference to the power of the Ring meant 'power of the kind used to make the Ring', rather than the power of the Ring itself.
Aeglos (Aiglos), Amon Amarth, Arnor, Battle of Dagorlad, Black Master, Círdan the Shipwright, Dagorlad, Dead Marshes, Dead Men, Elf-kings, Elrond, Elves of Lórinand, Elves of the Wood, Great Siege, Hidden Land, [See the full list...]
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