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Saruman held Isengard from III 2759, though it is uncertain when he began to recruit Orcs into his service (see the text for a discussion of the likelihood of a date after III 2799); these Orcs were effectively destroyed after the Battle of the Hornburg, 3-4 March III 3019
Orc ultimately derives from an Old English word for 'demon'; the White Hand was a symbol used by Saruman
Other names
As inhabitants of Isengard, these Orcs were referred to as Isengarders by others of their kind


About this entry:

  • Updated 21 September 2021
  • This entry is complete

Orcs of the White Hand

Orcs in the service of Saruman

"We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat."
Words of Uglúk
from The Two Towers III 3
The Uruk-hai

Those Orcs who served Saruman the White, of whom at least some bore his emblems in battle. On their helmet, they wore a white metal S-rune, and the centre of each of their black shields was marked with the symbol of a small White Hand. At the time of the War of the Ring, it became evident that Saruman had been building forces of Orcs for some time, and he was able to field thousands of them for his invasion of Rohan.

It is not recorded how Saruman came by his Orcs, nor when he began to recruit them. Just a few decades after Saruman settled in Isengard, the defeat of the Orcs at the Battle of Azanulbizar in III 2799 sent many fleeing southward into Rohan. The annals of that land record that the Rohirrim hunted and slew these Orcs mercilessly, but it is possible that Saruman was able to bring some secretly into his service. It may be that his forces were swelled somewhat by Orcs sent directly from Sauron, but if so this would not have been until much later.1

However Saruman acquired his original Orcs, their numbers grew. Among them were Orcs of many sorts, including the powerful Uruk-hai, as well as many Half-orcs or Orc-men2 who were more able to withstand the Sun than most of their kind. Saruman built up these forces in utter secrecy, so that it was not until the War of the Ring that it became generally known that he possessed them. Even the Ents, who saw Orcs beneath their trees, did not connect those Orcs with Saruman until shortly before the War.

The Orcs of the White Hand took part in two main actions as part of the War of the Ring. One of these involved a band of Orcs led by an Uruk named Uglúk, which was sent eastward to intercept the Company of the Ring. These Orcs joined with others, both Mordor-orcs and Northerners from the Misty Mountains. They encountered members of the Company in a glade near Parth Galen on the banks of Anduin. There they slew Boromir and captured two Hobbits (Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took) and - after a heated argument among the factions - set out to return their prize to Isengard. They travelled as far as the eaves of Fangorn Forest before they were overtaken and slain by Éomer and his Rohirrim.

Uglúk's small band was important to Saruman's effort, as it had a chance of capturing the Ring, but it was only a minor element of his forces. The main army was reserved for an attack on Rohan itself, an attack that began on 24 February III 3019. Orcs of the White Hand were sent southward from Isengard, travelling down both sides of the river Isen to attack the defenders at the Fords of Isen. In the Battles of the Fords of Isen that followed, the Rohirrim were eventually driven away and the Orcs claimed the Fords, passing over them into Rohan itself.

The armies of Saruman - composed not merely of Orcs, but also Half-orcs and Dunlendings - continued on across the plains and turned southward toward Helm's Deep, the main western defence of Rohan after the Fords of Isen. They passed up the valley of the Deeping-coomb and assaulted the castle of the Hornburg, breaking the Deeping-wall and coming close to victory. Sudden reinforcements arrived to aid the Rohirrim, however, and the Orcs were driven into a mysterious dark forest. That forest had appeared in the valley after the Battle had begun, and was made up of Huorns brought by the Ents. Of all the Orcs of the White Hand who entered it, none emerged alive.



Saruman did not make contact with the Dark Lord until he dared to use the Orthanc-stone in about the year III 3000 (that is, some two hundred years after the influx of Orcs into Rohan, and less that twenty years before the War of the Ring). Given these timescales, Sauron can hardly have sent thousands of Orcs in secret to Isengard in time to fight in the War. So, if Saruman received any Orcs from Mordor at all, they can at most have helped to bolster his already considerable numbers.


The large number of Half-orcs among Saruman's forces implies that he was breeding his Orcs, and their Half-orc nature might suggest that he originally had a rather limited original population of actual Orcs.

See also...

Orcs of the Red Eye


About this entry:

  • Updated 21 September 2021
  • This entry is complete

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