Here's how Sauron first rose to power, and how he was ultimately defeated before the events of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's fictional The Lord of the Rings tapestry is far deeper and more detailed than Peter Jackson's movie series, or even the original novels, might suggest. The author crafted an entire history for the world of Arda and the characters within it, the bulk of which has only ever been told in fleeting references, appendices or stories that were published posthumously.
The history of Middle-earth is divided into a handful of distinct ages. The events of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit take place within the Third Age, leaving a huge unexplored period prior to what readers and viewers experience first-hand. The First Age begins with the introduction of Men into the world - those hairy, corruptible mortals that would bring ruin and destruction to the beautiful mysticism of Middle-earth - and chronicles the struggle against Morgoth, the first Dark Lord and a predecessor to Sauron. This period ends with Morgoth's defeat and a restructuring of Middle-earth in terms of the landscape and species inhabiting it.
As the Second Age begins with fresh optimism, a new evil is lurking on the horizon - a threat that will span several ages and ultimately be defeated by the most unexpected of heroes. Here's how Sauron rose and fell during the Second Age of The Lord of the Rings.
Sauron Was Morgoth’s Lieutenant In The First Age
Like Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast, Sauron was one of the Maia, a group of powerful entities sent to Arda from above, each with their own specific characteristics and areas of expertise. Sauron was known as the Smith and was driven by a desire to create order out of chaos. In the First Age, he was attracted to the teachings and methods of Melkor, a fallen Valar who would later become known as Morgoth. Originally, Sauron served as a spy for Morgoth, posing as an ally to Middle-earth and reporting back to his true Dark Lord, but after declaring his true allegiance, Sauron effectively became Morgoth's trusted right hand.
It was during this period that Sauron initially cut his teeth as a war-monger, commanding foul beasts and magics against the Valar, the primordial race Melkor once belonged to. In the First Age, Sauron also waged a campaign against the elves, conquering their territories and expanding his reach in the name of Morgoth. However, Morgoth's faithful lieutenant was ultimately defeated by the wolfhound, Huan, who recaptured Tol-in-Gaurhoth in the name of the half-elf, Lúthien. Following this shameful loss, Sauron hid in Middle-earth, while Morgoth was finally defeated.
Sauron's Rise To Power And The Creation Of The Rings In The Second Age
After 500 years of peace in Middle-earth, Sauron began to make his move. Morgoth's former servant established a base of his own in Mordor and, another 500 years later, began building the infamous tower of Barad-Dûr that would host his massive eye in the centuries to come. While Morgoth sought to conquer and defeat, Sauron preferred to subjugate and control his opponents and 1200 years after the start of the Second Age, the corrupt Maia enacted a plan to bring all major races under his sway.
First targeting the most powerful of species, the elves, Sauron used his Maia skills as the Smith to aid Celebrimbor in creating three Rings of Power, posing as an ally by the name of Annatar. As explained in The Lord of the Rings, Sauron secretly forged a master ring that would allow him to control the lesser trinkets. Fortunately, not every elf fell under Sauron's sway, with the likes of Elrond and Galadriel remaining suspicious of his intentions, and when Sauron moved to betray the elves in year 1600 of the Second Age, his plans backfired and the three rings were moved out of the Dark Lord's grasp, triggering war between Mordor and the Elves.
Sauron also gifted rings to the Dwarves, and while they had not sensed the threat dwelling within their seven gifted rings, the magic bindings failed to bring the Dwarves under Sauron's control, thanks to their strong demeanor and stubborn resistance. Naturally, all nine men who held rings of power fell like dominoes, becoming the Nazgul, or Ringwraiths - some of Sauron's strongest warriors. Sauron's victory over men greatly diminished the power of the species within Middle-earth. With only the elves posing any worthy resistance, Sauron reached the peak of his power, covering almost all of the land in his darkness. This conflict led Elrond to establish Rivendell, which Sauron promptly held under siege, but after a century of fighting, Sauron was finally pushed back to Mordor following the Battle of Gwathló.
Sauron's Corruption Of Númenór And The Loss Of His Physical Form
Sauron once again lay dormant for over a millennium in the Second Age, secretly preparing another attempt to take over Middle-earth. Unfortunately, Sauron had got on the wrong side of a particularly powerful race: the Númenóreans. The isle of Númenór was a realm of men that sat apart from Middle-earth and those who lived there were more powerful than the men seen elsewhere in The Lord of the Rings. These people were unaffected by Sauron's influence thanks to their isolation and enjoyed longer lifespans than the average mortal. Unfortunately, their hubris and avarice was much the same.
As Sauron readied his armies once again, the Númenóreans heard of a Dark Lord who sought to dominate over all men and King Ar-Pharazôn traveled from Númenór to Middle-earth to take Sauron captive make him bend the knee. Unbeknownst to the Númenóreans, however, Sauron had been taken prisoner willingly, with designs to dominate this powerful force of men as he had previously with the Nazgul.
Over a period of years, Sauron began to flatter and manipulate his way into power within Númenór. Despite arriving as their prisoner, the Dark Lord soon became an influential adviser to King Ar-Pharazôn, and within 50 years had turned the island into a community of Morgoth-worshippers, with Sauron himself as the High Priest of the land. In an ambitious move, Sauron pushed King Ar-Pharazôn to attack the Maia's former homeland of Valinor and this would mark the beginning of his first downfall. Sauron's greed had overtaken his power and targeting Valinor finally drew the attention of Eru himself (the God of Tolkien's world), who sent a biblical flood to drown Númenór. Only a few men who hadn't fallen under Sauron's influence were spared, and these would go on to establish Gondor. Sauron, meanwhile, survived also, but was stripped of his physical form and retreated back to Middle-earth as a spirit.
Sauron's Defeat By The Last Alliance Of Elves And Men
Using the power of the Ring, Sauron was able to rebuild his body and forces following this crushing defeat. After a century spent recovering from the attack by Eru, Sauron was none too pleased to find that some of his enemies from Númenór had survived and made their way to Middle-earth, and Mordor launched an assault on the neighboring Gondor region. Once again, however, Sauron had bitten off more than he could chew and had acted before his powers were fully restored. This would be the second stage of his downfall.
While Sauron was gallivanting in Númenór, the elves of Middle-earth had not been idle, instead strengthening their forces in preparation for the Dark Lord's inevitable return. Although Sauron may have seen a fledgling Gondor as an easy target, its king forged a partnership with Gil-Galad, king of the elves, beginning the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. An 11-year war followed, the culmination of which is shown as a flashback at the outset of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring. Sauron's forces are overrun, forcing the villain to emerge from Barad-Dûr himself, and both King Elendil and Gil-Galad were killed in action around this time. Elendil's son, Isildur, took up his father's broken sword, Narsil, and cut away the Ring from Sauron's hand. Since the destruction of Númenór, the Ring had been the source of Sauron's physical form and without it, he is once again relegated to a spirit.
Isildur infamously refused to destroy the Ring, however, and this allowed Sauron to once again live on in ethereal form until he could gather enough strength to return once more in the Third Age, as told in The Lord of the Rings.