Rings of Power: Sauron explained

The Rings of Power is set in a peaceful Middle-earth but the threat of Sauron looms large over the show. Here's everything you need to know about the Dark Lord

Sauron explained; Sauron in the Second Age

The Fantasy series, the Rings of Power, explores a somewhat different Middle-earth than the one we saw in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. It’s an era of peace when the elves, dwarves and men are in their ascendancy. All seems well, yet there are rumblings that Sauron, the last great enemy, is on the rise.

But who is Sauron? You may think you know if you’ve watched Peter Jackson’s fantasy movies, but there’s far more to this Dark Lord than meets the eye. He wasn’t always a towering demi-god in ebony armour. Once, he was a gentle Maia, not unlike Gandalf or Radagast.

So how did he become the cruel warlord we all know and fear? Well, it’s a long story that starts in the Undying land. Here’s everything you need to know about Sauron, and you don’t even have to crack open the Silmarillion. Warning spoilers ahead for the TV series Rings of Power.

Sauron’s early life

Sauron was the mightiest of the Maia and known amongst his people for his love of order and dislike of waste. During this time, he was known as Mairon, and under the tutelage of the Vala, Aulë the Smith, he became a talented smith and craftsman.

As the first Dark Lord Morgoth began to expand his power base, Mairon fell under his foul influence. Morgoth took advantage of Mairon’s perfectionism, using it to corrupt the mighty Maia, and the promise of power saw him rise to become the Dark Lord’s second in command.

Sauron explained; Annatar in The Rings of Power

Sauron in the First Age

During the First Age, when the Elves left Valinor and travelled to Middle-earth to defeat Morgoth, Mairon – now renamed Sauron – helped the fallen Vala in his conquest of Arda. He was known as the greatest of Morgoth’s servants and used his powerful magics and shapeshifting abilities to battle the enemies of his master.

Sauron’s most extraordinary power, however, was his cunning warcraft, and he conquered many lands in the name of Morgoth. His reign of terror came to an end when Sauron encountered Lúthien and her great wolfhound Huan. Huan humiliated the fallen Maia in battle, and Sauron fled.

Seemingly terrified of displeasing his master Sauron hid from Morgoth for the rest of the First Age. Then when the war ended with good triumphing over evil, he begged for the mercy of Valinor. Eventually, Sauron took advantage of the chaos of war and slipped away into the east, hiding from his enemies in the shadows.

YouTube Thumbnail

Sauron in the Rings of Power and Second Age

Sauron spent the next 500 years in hiding, licking his wounds. The Rings of Power TV series shows that he spent most of this time running from Galadriel and building out a power base in the Southlands/Mordor. He built the tower of Barad-Dûr and began amassing an army of foul creatures.

Not content with just corrupting the realms of men, Sauron sought to corrupt the elves who’d been instrumental in defeating his master Morgoth. To do so took the form of an elf and called himself Annatar, the Lord of Gifts. He then ingratiated himself with the elven smiths teaching them powerful enchantments and spells.

As Annatar, he befriended Celebrimbor and helped him forge the Rings of Power, a set of magical rings given to the mightiest races in Middle-earth. In the forge of Mount Doom, however, Sauron secretly created the One Ring, a powerful magical artefact that would allow the Dark Lord to dominate the other ring bearers.

Sauron explained; Sauron in the Second Age

Luckily not all of the elves had trusted Annatar, and they sensed his attempt to corrupt them. Unfortunately, not all were so lucky. The nine human kings who’d willingly taken Annatar’s gift of rings were brought under Sauron’s control and eventually transformed into the dreaded Nazgul.

Sauron fought many terrible wars against the elves during this period, establishing himself as the successor to Morgoth and the new Dark Lord. Using his Rings of Power, he conquered most of Middle-earth and eventually set his sights on Numenor, the mightiest human kingdom.

Taking on a fairer form once again, he corrupted the nobility of Numenor, turning them against the elves by exploiting humanity’s jealousy of the Eldar’s eternal lives. Eventually, he convinced the Númenóreans to worship Morgoth and openly court with Valinor. Unfortunately, Sauron’s ambitions outstripped even his mighty powers at this point.

Sauron explained: The One Ring

Eru Ilúvatar, the god of Arda, directly intervened, drowning the Númenórean island and wiping their armies from the land. As for Sauron? His physical body was destroyed, robbing him of his shapeshifting abilities and significantly weakening the Maia. Still, his spirit lingered thanks to the Ring, and he built himself a new body in Mordor.

With Sauron greatly weakened, the alliance of elves and men rallied their forces and attacked Barad-dûr. During the battle, Sauron took to the battlefield, and all seemed lost, but Isildur was able to cut the Ring from Sauron’s finger, destroying his newly minted body. Having been defeated once again, Sauron’s spirit fled east, but Isildur’s decision to keep the One Ring for himself meant the great adversary was not truly vanquished.

Sauron explained; Sauron in the Second Age

Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies and Third Age

Now a weakened spirit, Sauron spent millennia recovering his strength so he could finally crush his enemies. Eventually, he made Dol Guldur in Mirkwood his home, where he became known as The Necromancer.

Knowing the threat of Sauron wasn’t over, the Valar sent five Maia to Middle-earth to help the realm prepare for the dark Lord’s return. As Sauron hid in the world’s dark places, he marshalled his forces and waited for the One Ring – the weapon he needed to be whole again – to be found.

As Sauron healed, the Nazgul returned to the lands of Middle-earth, and they helped weaken the realms of men. Sauron also encouraged orc attacks and provoked the Easterlings to attack the western lands. Gandalf, one of the Maia sent to Middle-earth, watched this growing evil and suspected Sauron had returned.

Sauron explained; Sauron in the Third Age

He assembled the White Council, and this group dedicated to keeping Sauron in check drove The Necromancer from Dol Guldur. The council’s victory was a physics one. However, Sauron, at this point, was strong enough to openly declare his return and wage war on elves, dwarves, and humanity from Mordor.

So began the War of the Ring. Using his armies of orcs and corrupted men, he started a new campaign of conquest across Middle-earth. Sauron even learned the location of the One Ring from Gollum and sent his Nazgul to the Shire to capture it.

As the forces of good struggled to mount a defence Saruman, one of the Maia sent to protect Middle-earth, openly declared his loyalty to Sauron and set about corrupting the realm of men.

Sauron explained; Sauron in the Second Age

Sauron, however, made a miscalculation at this point. He became convinced that Aragorn, a descendant of Isildur, had the Ring and poured too much of his resources into attacking Gondor and Minas Tirith. This left Mordor lightly defended and allowed Frodo Baggins and his faithful friend Sam to slip into the evil realm.

As the Dark Lord marshalled his forces, Aragorn and the armies of good besieged the Black Gate of Mordor, and so convinced was Sauron that Aragorn had the ring he turned away from Mount Doom. This allowed Frodo and Sam to cat his ring into the volcano’s fires, destroying the One Ring.

As the ring melted, Sauron was defeated, and his armies fled. As a Maia, he could not die, but his power was gone, and the former Dark Lord was forced to exist as a wrathful but impotent spirit.

Sauron explained; Annatar in The Rings of Power

What are Sauron’s powers?

Sauron was a Maia like Gandalf and Saruman. He was described as one of the most powerful of his kin and a great smith capable of creating powerful magical artefacts. He had some control over fire and combined this ability with his forging skills to create dreadful weapons and fortresses. Most notably, he made the One Ring that boosted his powers even further, and Sauron was believed to be unstoppable with the ring in his possession.

His most used ability was shapeshifting, which he used to trick the Middle-earth races and for battle. Sauron was particularly fond of turning into a werewolf and actually earned the title ‘the Lord of Werewolves’. Sauron was also incredibly charismatic, able to charm almost anyone, a skill complimented by his ability to disguise himself.

If you love the history of Middle-earth, check out our list of the best Lord of the Rings characters or our guide to the best fantasy movies.