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Dates
The first Dark Lord Melkor entered Arda at its beginning, and was expelled from the world in I 590; the second Dark Lord Sauron ruled from c. II 1000 to II 3441, and from c. III 1000 until his final downfall on 25 March III 3019
Origins
Melkor was the greatest of the Ainur; Sauron was a Maia corrupted to Melkor's service from the earliest times
Race
Divisions
Settlements
Melkor ruled from Utumno and later Angband; Sauron ruled from Barad-dûr in Mordor and Dol Guldur in Mirkwood
Title of
Melkor and later Sauron
Other names

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About this entry:

  • Updated 18 June 2022
  • This entry is complete

Dark Lord

A title of Morgoth, and of his servant Sauron

The title used for the chief and master of the dark forces in Middle-earth. It was first applied to Melkor (later called Morgoth), the most powerful of the Ainur, who played a part in the creation of the world and sought to master it after its making. Morgoth was defeated by the Valar in the War of Wrath, and for the first few centuries of the Second Age, there was no Dark Lord in Middle-earth. Eventually Sauron, who had been a lieutenant of Morgoth during the First Age, rose to take his mantle and become Dark Lord in turn.

The First Dark Lord: Melkor Morgoth

Melkor was a being of immense power - said to have been the most powerful of all the dwellers in Arda - who entered the world at its beginning and sought mastery over it. In ancient times he struggled against the Valar, destroying or twisting all that they achieved in the forming of the young world. At the time of the coming of the first Elves, the Valar made war against Melkor to protect the newly awakened Children of Ilúvatar, and in the Battle of the Powers they overthrew Melkor's great northern fortress of Utumno and took its master back to their land of Valinor as a captive.

Melkor was held in the Halls of Mandos for three ages. For those thousands of years the world had no Dark Lord; the people of the Undying Lands dwelt in bliss under the Light of the Two Trees, while Middle-earth enjoyed peace under starlit skies. At the end of his ages-long term of imprisonment, Melkor was pardoned by Manwë, but though he pretended to have reformed for a while, his true dark nature quickly revealed itself. Through his machinations he destroyed the Two Trees, stole the Silmarils that held their Light, and fled back into Middle-earth. He established himself in his old fortress of Angband in the far North, and from there he began to extend his power as the newly returned Dark Lord, sending out waves of Orcs against the Elves of Beleriand.

The Grey-elves of Beleriand resisted the Orcs, but before long only Doriath - the land of Thingol defended by the Girdle of Melian - and a few walled refuges stood against Melkor's armies. Melkor indeed came close to re-establishing himself as a true Dark Lord in Middle-earth, but for the sudden Return of the Noldor. Seeking vengeance for the slaying of his father and for the theft of the Silmarils, Fëanor led the greater part of his people back from Aman into Middle-earth. Soon battle was joined, and the Noldor swept away the rampaging Orcs and curtailed Melkor's power. Before setting out on the journey back to Middle-earth, Fëanor had given Melkor a new name, Morgoth the Black Foe, and it is by this name that the Dark Lord was afterwards known.

Fëanor himself was slain in the fighting that followed his return, and did not live to see the Dark Lord contained. His people, though, succeeded in holding Morgoth within Angband for a period of centuries. This Siege of Angband lasted until I 455, when rivers of fire suddenly burst out of Angband and spread southwards across the plains. There followed the Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame, in which the Siege was swept away and the Dark Lord began to extend his power across Beleriand and its realms.

The Elves rallied against this great defeat, and in I 472, seventeen years after the Dagor Bragollach, the Dark Lord found himself confronted by the massed armies of Eldar and Edain from across Beleriand. Morgoth had made preparations for this combined attack, but nonetheless he came close to defeat. Certain of the Men within the forces of the Fëanorians were secretly committed to Morgoth, and at the crucial moment they changed sides, attacking their former allies. Thus the Dark Lord was ultimately victorious, and his foes were swept away. From this point on, there was little to prevent Morgoth from conquering all of Beleriand.

After Morgoth's victory in the Nirnaeth, little of the former power of Elves and Men survived in Beleriand. The Dark Lord occupied the northern lands and began to move southwards against the surviving strongholds. The Havens of the Falas fell just a year after the great battle, followed by Nargothrond and even the Hidden City of Gondolin. Doriath, too, fell during this period, though Morgoth played no direct part in that disaster. By the end of the year I 510, less than forty years after the Nirnaeth, there were no great nations of Elves left anywhere in Beleriand. The survivors escaped to a last refuge at the Havens of Sirion, but the ultimate victory of the Dark Lord seemed unavoidable.

At this time, Morgoth seemed on the point of becoming Dark Lord over the whole of Middle-earth. Most of the Men east of the Blue Mountains were already under his power, and the Elves and Edain who survived in Beleriand had been driven back to hidden shelters by the shore. On the point of absolute victory, however, Morgoth suddenly found himself facing a new enemy from beyond the Sea. The Dark Lord had imagined that the Valar in the West had abandoned Middle-earth, but Eärendil had succeeded in making a desperate voyage to the Blessed Realm, where he convinced the Powers to come to Beleriand's aid. Utterly unforeseen by the Dark Lord, a huge force appeared out of the West to challenge his power.

The War of Wrath that followed wrought utter destruction on the lands of Beleriand, and by the end of the War most of that region had been consumed by the Great Sea, but the Dark Lord was defeated and the Silmarils recaptured. After this second defeat of Morgoth, the Valar allowed him no opportunity for further betrayal. The Dark Lord was not merely imprisoned, but was cast out of the world altogether, and sent beyond the Walls of the World to wander the Outer Void. According to prophecy, he would remain there for long ages, but eventually he would find a way to return as the world reached its end in the Dagor Dagorath.

The Second Dark Lord: Sauron

Before the War of Wrath, Sauron had been the greatest of Morgoth's servants, and had a part to play in much of the evil that his master committed in the Elder Days. With the fall of the first Dark Lord, Sauron put on a fair form and surrendered himself, seeking clemency from the forces of the Valar. Eönwë, the Maia who led the host of the Valar, was a being of the same order as Sauron, and did not possess the power to pardon a peer. Instead he demanded that Sauron return with him into the West, but Sauron feared the judgement of Manwë the Elder King. Rather than abandon his power, he concealed himself in Middle-earth while Eönwë and his followers returned to Aman.

It is evident how strongly Sauron feared that the Valar would return to seek him out: he remained in hiding for centuries after Eönwë's departure from Middle-earth. Gradually and carefully, he began to reveal himself, going among the Men of the East of Middle-earth and bringing them under his power. The Elves of the western lands were only dimly aware of Sauron's resurgence, but they recognised at least that a servant of Morgoth was at work in the world. Gil-galad spoke of these fears in a letter to King Tar-Meneldur of Númenor that would have been written in about the year II 880. Even at that date - nearly nine hundred years after Morgoth's defeat - Sauron was perceived only as a dim rumour, showing just how slowly and cautiously he was working to establish himself as a new Dark Lord.

As the first millennium of the Second Age approached its end, Sauron saw that the power of the Númenóreans might grow great enough to challenge him, and so he established a realm for himself in Middle-earth as a stronghold. He chose a mountain-fenced land eastward of Anduin, which gained the name of Mordor, the Black Land. Behind his mountains, the Dark Lord began the building of a mighty Dark Tower, the immense fortress of the Barad-dûr.

At this time, Sauron still retained the power to change his form, and he used this power as part of a scheme to bring the Elves under his dominion. Taking on a fair shape and naming himself Annatar 'Lord of Gifts', he went to the Elves and offered to teach them. In Eregion he found eager pupils, and gave them the knowledge they needed to make Rings of Power. Sauron's secret purpose was to use these Rings to exert control over their bearers through a Ruling Ring that he forged for himself in Mordor's Fire-mountain of Orodruin. Unknown to Sauron, the Elves had made Three Rings for themselves that were free of his direct influence, and through these Three Rings they were able to discern the Dark Lord's plan.

With his plans revealed, the enraged Sauron saw centuries of scheming wasted as the Elves evaded his domination. No longer able to achieve his ends through subterfuge, he instead resorted to open warfare, leading an army out of Mordor and into Eriador. In the War of the Elves and Sauron that followed, Eregion was destroyed and most of the Rings of Power were captured by the Dark Lord. The Three Rings, however, had been sent far from Eregion, and survived Sauron's invasion. Any further advance by Sauron into Eriador was checked by the intervention of the Númenóreans, who had sailed to Middle-earth to help the Elves push the Dark Lord's army back into Mordor.

The western lands of Middle-earth were thus closed to Sauron, and so he began to extend his dominion into the East and the South. It was at this time that Sauron truly became a 'Dark Lord', ruling over many wide eastern lands as a tyrant, and being worshipped as a god by the Men of those lands. As the centuries passed, his growing power began to threaten the peoples of the Westlands once again. This period of Sauron's greatest power was known to western Men as the Dark Years, and to the Elves these were the Days of Flight as many of them sailed away from the Dark Lord's spreading influence in Middle-earth.

During this period, Sauron named himself Lord of the Earth, and not without reason. His power spread far to the East and the South, enforced by the monstrous creatures of his former master Morgoth, and also by the Nazgûl, Men that he had ensnared with captured Rings of Power. At this time, few indeed still stood against the Dark Lord: resistance was concentrated among the remaining Elves of northwestern Middle-earth, and the Men of Númenor, far away across the Great Sea.

In Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn the Golden was King. The navies and armies of Númenor were beyond anything even the Dark Lord could muster, and Ar-Pharazôn thought to use them to challenge Sauron. The King sailed to Middle-earth and marched on Mordor, demanding Sauron's surrender. Witnessing the overwhelming might of the Númenóreans, Sauron saw greater benefit in guile than force of arms, and so the self-styled Lord of the Earth gave himself up to Ar-Pharazôn as a hostage.

Using the power of his Ring, Sauron gradually gained influence over the King and most of his Council. With Sauron's guidance, the King began to worship the former Dark Lord, Melkor, and Sauron hinted that Ar-Pharazôn could gain immortality if he challenged the Valar in their own land. This was a lie set to drive the Númenóreans to their doom, and it succeeded beyond Sauron's greatest expectations. Ar-Pharazôn set out with an immense fleet to invade Valinor itself, and this brought about the Downfall of Númenor, in which the island kingdom was lost forever beneath the waves of the Great Sea. Sauron had been on the island when it was overwhelmed, but as a Maia of great power he was able to survive and to return to Middle-earth. There, he took on a terrible new form within his Dark Tower of Barad-dûr.

When Sauron returned to Middle-earth, he had been away in Númenor for nearly sixty years, and he found that his power had been diminished during that time. The realm of the Elf-king Gil-galad had grown greater than it had been, and two new kingdoms had arisen. These were Arnor and Gondor, lands founded by Númenóreans who had escaped the Downfall. The Dark Lord grew slowly in strength for over a century, until at last he was ready to strike. A force passed out of Mordor and descended on Isildur's city of Minas Ithil, capturing it and forcing Isildur himself to flee. This was a decisive victory, but it set a chain of events in motion that would lead to disaster for Sauron.

With Minas Ithil in his hands, Sauron's force moved westward towards Osgiliath on Anduin. This proved a harder challenge, and the city was defended tenaciously by Isildur's brother Anárion. For three years a state of stalemate existed, until the Dark Lord became aware of a new threat. Isildur had escaped to his father Elendil in the North, and was now returning with a vast army of Men and Elves. Sauron met that army on a plain northwestward of Mordor, and there was fought the great Battle of Dagorlad between the Dark Lord and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. There were dreadful losses on both sides, but Sauron was defeated and driven back into his Dark Tower.

The armies of the Last Alliance entered Mordor and besieged Sauron in Barad-dûr. This Siege of Barad-dûr lasted no less than seven years, until at last a single combat was arranged to bring the Siege to an end. On the slopes of Mount Doom, Sauron fought with the lords of Elves and Men, Gil-galad and Elendil, and in that combat all three fell. Elendil's son Isildur took the One Ring, cutting it from the hand of the fallen Dark Lord. As an ancient being older than the world, despite Sauron's defeat and the loss of his Ring, he was not destroyed, though he was reduced to a disembodied spirit for many years.

The Third Age: Sauron Returns

The War of the Last Alliance marked the end of the Second Age and the beginning of the Third, and the new Age dawned on a world free from the dominion of a Dark Lord. Centuries then passed in relative peace, but eventually rumours began to emerge of a dark power at work in Middle-earth. Its nature was uncertain (the Wise at this time suspected only that another servant of the first Dark Lord was arising, as Sauron had in the Second Age, and that this might be one of the Nazgûl).

By about the year III 1100, it was known that this power had established itself at Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood. From that fortress a Shadow crept over the trees of the forest, and those who had served Sauron in the Second Age were drawn to Dol Guldur. The unknown being at the heart of the Shadow was in fact Sauron returned, though at this time he was known only as the mysterious 'Necromancer'.

Over the next thousand years, the Shadow continued to lie on Mirkwood, but the Necromancer of Dol Guldur did little to threaten the world beyond his fortress. Eventually the Wise began to suspect that the Necromancer might indeed be Sauron returned.1 Gandalf went to Dol Guldur to seek the truth, but the Dark Lord, not yet ready to reveal himself, abandoned his fortress for a time and escaped into the East.

Sauron spent more than four centuries in the East (the people of the western lands, being free of his dread for a while, called this period the Watchful Peace). We have few details of the Dark Lord's deeds during this time, but he seems to have re-established his hold over the Easterlings who had followed him during the previous Age. In the year III 2460 he returned to the Westlands, re-establishing himself at Dol Guldur with renewed forces. It was at this time2 that the Wise formed the White Council to oppose the Dark Lord.

For the next several centuries, Sauron made few overt moves, but his creatures began to spread through the Misty Mountains and beyond. Orcs were sent into the mountains to block the passes and to take control of the deserted Dwarf-city of Moria. Some of these even raided into Eriador beyond the mountains, penetrating at least as far as the Shire. The Dark Lord's plans were set back somewhat by the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs, in which the Dwarves slew many of the Orcs of the Mountains, but the passes remained dangerous throughout the rest of the Third Age.

In the year III 2850, nearly eight hundred years after his previous journey into Dol Guldur, Gandalf once again entered the Dark Lord's fortress. There, he discovered conclusively that the lord of that dark keep was indeed Sauron returned. He urged the White Council to attack immediately, but Saruman opposed this, and the Council took no action at that time. It would be nearly a century before the White Wizard finally agreed3 to join the White Council in a direct assault against Dol Guldur. The Dark Lord had foreseen this move, however, and had made preparations. At the time of the attack, he abandoned his tower in Mirkwood, and re-established himself in his old land of Mordor.

The Dark Lord in the Dark Tower

The Dark Lord moved quickly to refortify the land of Mordor, raising once more his Dark Tower of Barad-dûr. Soon after his return, the Fire-mountain of Mount Doom, which had been dormant while he was absent from the land, burst into new fire. Now Sauron had recovered much of what he had lost at the end of the Second Age, but still his Ruling Ring was lost to him. That Ring held much of Sauron's own power, and he urgently sent out his servants to seek for it.

As the Dark Lord, the power of Sauron drew all evil things in Middle-earth toward his Dark Land of Mordor, and among these creatures was Gollum. Gollum had acquired the Ring long ago, and had borne it in the dark beneath the Misty Mountains for centuries, until he lost it to a Hobbit wandering the darkness. He knew that this Hobbit was named Baggins and came from a land known as Shire, and the Dark Lord wrung this information from him. Now that Sauron had a clear idea where his Ring might be found, he gathered his Nazgûl and sent them northward on an errand to find 'Baggins' and recover the treasure that he had stolen.

The Dark Lord's strategy was not solely based around recovering his Ring. He began to raise armies, assembling Orcs by the thousand and summoning his old worshippers from the East and the South. Thus he built an unstoppable force to challenge Gondor. Gondor was at this time the last surviving realm of the Dúnedain in Middle-earth, and with its fall, the western lands beyond would be open to absolute conquest.

When Sauron judged that his strength was great enough, even without the Ring in his possession, he began the Great War of the Ring. His power was indeed overwhelming, and he was able to attack his enemies on multiple fronts over a period of just a few days. In the far North, his forces went against Thranduil's Woodland Realm, and also against Erebor, the Kingdom under the Mountain, where its defenders were besieged. Further south, he launched waves of assault against Lórien, though these attacks were repulsed. His main force, led by the Witch-king, crossed Anduin and directly attacked Gondor's chief city of Minas Tirith, in an action that became known as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Though the Dark Lord sent hordes of Orcs and Men from across his dominions against Minas Tirith, the Men of Gondor and their allies were able to hold, and ultimately to push back the assault. They then set out from Minas Tirith to launch an apparent counter-attack, marching against the Black Gate of Mordor, but the Dark Lord still commanded overwhelming numbers, and expected to easily defeat the small Gondorian force. Nonetheless, he first offered to accept the Gondorians' surrender, establishing himself beyond question as a Dark Lord over all of Middle-earth. His terms were rejected, and the Gondorians prepared to face a battle that they could not hope to win.

In that moment of the Dark Lord's ultimate triumph, however, he became aware of a dreadful and unforeseen threat. His Ruling Ring had been found, and had been secretly carried into the heart of his own land. Now deep within Mount Doom, it was on the point of its destruction, and being infused with Sauron's power, that destruction would also spell the end of the Dark Lord and all that he had built. He sent his Nazgûl speeding towards the Fire-mountain to recapture the Ring, but they were too late. The Ring went into the Fire in the heart of the mountain and was consumed, bringing the reign of the last Dark Lord to an end.

The Future of the Dark Lords

With his Ring consumed by the Fire of Orodruin, Sauron's power failed. As a being older than the world itself, he could not be utterly destroyed, but he was reduced to an impotent spirit of malice. With Sauron's native power thus diminished, the world was freed from the last of the incarnate Dark Lords.

According to prophecy, Sauron would not be the last the world would see of the Dark Lords. His master Melkor will eventually return into Arda from the Void, and a great battle will take place on the plains of Valinor. This Last Battle will see the destruction of the Sun and the Moon, but at last Melkor will be overthrown and Arda renewed. This prophecy states that the first Dark Lord will also be the last to trouble the world, and Arda will be remade, free of the influence of the Darkness that had troubled it throughout its former Ages.


Notes

1

It is not explained precisely why the Wise would take a thousand years to form their suspicions about Sauron. The Tale of Years entry for the year III 2060 says simply 'The power of Dol Guldur grows.' (The Lord of the Rings Appendix B, The Tale of Years). Though this seems rather abstract, it was enough to raise the suspicions of the Wise, and to persuade Gandalf to risk a visit to Dol Guldur within three years. It seems that the Necromancer must have done something at this point in history that drew attention to his power, though we have no hint about what that might have been.

2

The timing of the foundation of the White Council presents some difficulties. The Tale of Years seems unequivocal on the point, listing III 2460 as the year the Watchful Peace ended with Sauron's return to Dol Guldur, and III 2463 as the explicit date of the White Council's formation. It is slightly confusing, then, that the history of Gondor in Appendix A (iv) describes the Watchful Peace as the time '...during which Sauron withdrew before the power of the White Council...', which would seem to involve the Council affecting history four centuries before it was formed. Presumably, what's meant here is that Sauron withdrew before the power of the Wise who would go on, in the future, to form the White Council. Indeed, the main reason for his departure was Gandalf's investigation of Dol Guldur, and Gandalf would go on to become an important member of the Council.

3

Saruman's decisions at this time were later discovered to be due to his wish to recover Sauron's lost Ring for himself. At first, he had hoped that the Ring would attempt to find its way back to its master, and thus reveal itself. He therefore wished for Sauron to remain free for a time, but when it became clear that Sauron knew where the Ring was likely to be found, and was searching for it himself, Saruman urgently agreed to an attack that would drive the Dark Lord away. In the event, all these machinations were moot. Sauron's One Ring had long ago been carried beneath the Misty Mountains, far from the place where both Saruman and Sauron believed it to be. It was discovered in the dark beneath the mountains by Bilbo Baggins in the same year that the White Council launched its attack on Dol Guldur.

See also...

Ainur, Aiwendil, Aman, Ancient Darkness, Angainor, Angband, Angrist, Awakening of Men, Balrogs, Barad-dûr, Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Belegûr, Belegurth, Black Country, Black Foe of the World, [See the full list...]

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 18 June 2022
  • This entry is complete

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