The War of the Ring was fought between Sauron and the free peoples of Middle-earth for control of the One Ring and dominion over the continent. It took place at the end of the Third Age. Together with the Quest of Mount Doom, it is one of the overarching plot-lines of The Lord of the Rings.
The war was initiated by Sauron, who had gained strength since the end of the Second Age and sought the One Ring. During the War of the Ring, many thousands of Men of Rohan and Men of Gondor were killed. The overall number of combatants in the war is estimated to be over a million—tens of thousands from the side of the Free Peoples and hundreds of thousands from the Evil side. The war also signified the decline of the elves' power in Middle-earth, the rise of Men in the West, the restoration of the King of Gondor and Arnor and the start of the Fourth Age.
Battles were fought in Gondor, Rohan, Lórien, Mirkwood, at the Lonely Mountain and at Dale. These were primarily waged against Sauron's forces, but Saruman, a third contender, also had armies, who fought battles at the Fords of Isen and Helm's Deep.
The war ended after the Battle of Bywater and, shortly afterwards, the deaths of Saruman and Gríma Wormtongue. Towards the end of the War of the Ring, Elessar was crowned King of Gondor, and forgave the Men who had fought under Sauron, heralding a great renewal of cooperation and communication between Men, Elves, and Dwarves.
Origins of the WarEdit
According to Mithrandir, the War of the Ring had begun at the time Thorin Oakenshield met Bilbo Baggins in The Shire. Gandalf's reasoning is explained in the book Unfinished Tales. This is an excerpt from a narrative of Gandalf to Frodo set in a house in Minas Tirith. "You may think that Rivendell was out of his reach, but I did not think so. The state of things in the North was very bad. The Kingdom Under the Mountain and the Strong Men of Dale were no more. To resist any force that Sauron might send North to regain Angmar were only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills, and behind them lay desolation and a Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect." That is why Gandalf thought that he had to get rid of Smaug, and he chanced upon Thorin and Bilbo at different times, and saw the way to do it, which is told in The Hobbit.
Gandalf the Master StrategistEdit
Gandalf was to the Free Peoples of Middle-earth as a field marshal is to his army fighting on the field—a master strategist and tactician. As seen in the opening stages of The Fellowship of the Ring book and movie, Gandalf the Grey would spend many hours, searching, scavenging, and sifting out archaic maps and accounts in long-hidden archives strewn about Middle-earth. He would often carefully examine them, figuring out the best way to defeat the Enemy and marshal as many allies as possible to his cause.
We can presume that Gandalf spent much thought in strategy, before implementing his plans to maximum effect. He had been roaming Middle-earth for many years during the Third Age, before Sauron's power was at its apex. He might have had a 'hit list' of targets to neutralize that Sauron might use in the next war upon the Free Peoples. One of these targets was Smaug, as we see in The Hobbit.
Gandalf's adaptability and aptitude for strategy proved invaluable to his allies during the complicated web that was to prove to become the War of the Ring. As told in the Unfinished Tales, Gandalf had known for quite a while that Sauron's use of Smaug would virtually guarantee victory over his enemies, namely those of Gondor. He and his Dwarf companions thus set out to destroy Smaug, and bring the victory of the War of the Ring one step closer for the Free Peoples.
The objective of Sauron's grand strategy was to defeat the strongest of the nations that opposed him, Gondor, and to do so he would need to take the capital city and greatest fortress of Gondor, Minas Tirith. To this end, the war effort of Mordor was focused in the south in and around Gondor, in a strategy of divide and conquer. To keep Gondor's ally Rohan, on its northern border, from sending aid, Sauron promoted the rise of Saruman at Isengard to the west of Rohan. Thus all of Rohan's forces would be focused in the west trying to stem the tide of the Isengard attack, and none would be sent to Minas Tirith's defence. Meanwhile, Sauron sent the Mordor-allied Corsairs of Umbar to attack Gondor's populous southern coastal fiefs, which as a result sent only a fraction of their forces to defend Minas Tirith in northern Gondor, while the rest stayed on the coasts preparing for the Corsair assault. However, Sauron's divide and conquer strategy was ultimately foiled and a united front of Gondor and Rohan's forces faced Mordor.
- Main article: Fords of Isen
Although there had never really been peace, the War of the Ring started in Rohan when Saruman's troops crossed the Fords of Isen. Théodred, the son of the King Théoden, had mustered his forces on the fords in order to launch a surprise attack against the enemy. On February 23, 3019 he attacked the vanguard of the orcs marching out of Isengard. Reinforcements were quickly sent from Isengard however, and Théodred ordered a retreat. His forces retreated to an island in the fords, but they were soon surrounded and he was killed. Grimbold managed to hold the island, but would not have succeeded if Elfhelm had not come with reinforcements from Helm's Deep. Thus the first battle of the Fords of Isen ended in victory for the Rohirrim.
Now that the Marshal of the Westmark was dead, Erkenbrand took command of the Westfold. He placed Grimbold and Elfhelm at the Fords. However, they were unable to withstand the force of Isengard, and were surrounded. Though they successfully broke through the enemy's lines, they ended up scattered around the Westfold, giving Saruman clear passage into Rohan.
Meanwhile, Gandalf drove Gríma Wormtongue out of Edoras and went to gather Erkenbrand's scattered forces, advising King Théoden to move to the stronghold of Helm's Deep. The king and his forces arrived unmolested, but soon the fortress was surrounded by Saruman's troops. All through the night of March 3rd-4th a combined force of orcs and Wild Men from Dunland besieged Helm's Deep, and despite the efforts of the Rohirrim (aided by Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli) hope appeared lost. Believing Rohan was lost, Théoden decided to mount a final, suicidal charge against Saruman's forces. Unexpectedly, however, Gandalf arrived in the nick of time with Erkenbrand and the scattered Rohirrim, along with a forest of Huorns who had been sent to the battle by Treebeard. The orcs were trapped and utterly annihilated. The wild Men taken captive, however, were freed after swearing an oath of loyalty to Rohan and clearing the battlefield of the dead. (The mercy of this act amazed the captives, who had been told by Saruman that the men of Rohan were cruel and burned their captives alive.)
Days before, at an Entmoot in Fangorn Forest, the Ents, furious over the destruction Saruman had wrought upon the forest, decided to march on Isengard. They were to move up to Isengard and destroy it. By 3 March the destruction was completed, and the command of Isengard was taken by the Ent Treebeard. At Gandalf's request he sent a large herd of Huorns to the Battle of Hornburg, to aid the Rohirrim.
- Main article: Battle of Osgiliath
For over 3000 years, the realm of Gondor had held back the threat from the East. In time, the kingdom declined, and Sauron prepared to swoop in for the kill. Faramir, captain of Gondor, had divided his forces to many fronts. The two most important of these were in the island citadel of Cair Andros and the ruined city of Osgiliath. In a strict sense, the War of the Ring began with the Great Signal from Minas Morgul and the answering signal from Mount Doom, and thus the attack on Osgiliath was the first battle of the war proper. Sauron's two armies obliterated the fortresses, and Faramir was forced to retreat to the causeway forts, the last defence against the Morgul forces. Soon these too were destroyed, and only Minas Tirith remained.
- Main article: Battle of the Pelennor Fields
The attack soon began, as the Nazgûl hovered above and spread terror and confusion, and siege towers tried to take the walls but were all destroyed. After several repulsed attacks, the Gate of Minas Tirith was broken, and the Lord of the Nazgûl entered. He was first and only enemy to do so. All seemed lost — until six thousand Rohirrim, under King Théoden's command, came and somewhat relieved Gondor's defenders. Still, the battle was in doubt until Aragorn arrived with a large force out of South Gondor. The joint force of Gondor and Rohan then successfully defeated their enemies after an exhausting day of fighting. This battle resulted in the deaths of the Witch-king of Angmar, King Theoden, and Denethor, Steward of Gondor.
- Main article: Battle of the Morannon
The Battle of the Morannon was the final major battle against Sauron in the War of the Ring, fought at the Black Gate of Mordor. The Army of the West, roughly 6,000 strong, led by Aragorn marched on the gate and faced a vastly larger force as a diversionary feint to distract Sauron's attention from Frodo and Sam, who were carrying the One Ring through Mordor. It was hoped that Sauron would think Aragorn had the Ring and was now trying to use it to overthrow Mordor. Despite the seemingly impossible odds the Army of the West was eventually victorious, for when the Ring was destroyed, Sauron's forces fled or surrendered in dismay.
Northern Theatre Edit
Mordor's war effort was focused in the south against Gondor, but using his outstretched right arm Sauron attempted to flank the lands of the Free Peoples through Rhovanion, using orcs and allied barbarian nations of Men. In this theatre of the war (which had spread far across Middle-earth) Sauron's primary objective was to use the forces at his primary base of operations in the areas, Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood, to defeat Lothlórien, then pass the Misty Mountains (attacking Rivendell), and wheel around to take Rohan and Gondor from the rear. However, Dol Guldur had to deal with the threat of the Woodland Realm of Thranduil, and thus split their forces between the attack on Lothlórien and the one on the Woodland Realm. Sauron wanted to use his barbarian Easterling allies in a joint attack with the Orcs from Dol Guldur on the Woodland Realm, and then have this victorious army link up with the other ones attacking Lothlórien and defeat it. However, unfortunately for Sauron a strong Dwarf nation now existed at the Lonely Mountain thanks to the efforts of Gandalf, as well as the Dwarves of the Iron Hills and allied Men of Dale. Mordor's Easterling allies were tied up fighting the Dwarves of Erebor and Men of Dale, and never linked up with the Mordor forces assaulting the Woodland Realm, which in turn could not link up with those attacking Lothlórien, and the line held.
Bridging the gap between the northern and southern theatres of the war was the line of the River Anduin between Lothlórien and Gondor, running along the Rohan border. Orc armies peeling off from the assault on Lothlórien tried to enter Rohan via this route, while almost its entire army had left to fight at Minas Tirith, but the Ents of Fangorn forest counterattacked and drove the orcs back in a panic, and most if not all drowned while attempting to flee by crossing the river.
Dale and the Lonely MountainEdit
- Main article: Battle of Dale
As the war began, the Dwarves of Erebor refused to co-operate with Sauron in his hunt for the Ring. Therefore, Sauron sent an army of Easterlings to Dale. On March 17 they met the armies of the Dwarves and the Men of Dale. After three days of fighting, Men and Dwarves were overrun, Dale was sacked and razed to ash (the second, possibly third, time in a century) and sought refuge in Erebor. The defenses of the Lonely Mountain were prepared for the battle that would decide the fate of northern Middle-earth, and possibly even the War of the Ring itself.
The Easterlings hurled their full force at the allied armies, exploiting their dreaded heavy infantry force to punch a hole in the Dwarvish and Mannish lines. A furious melee ensued, evolving into a tempest of fire, dead and dying men, and the flash of steel. Both sides took horrendous losses, the Easterlings from the arrows, spears, and rocks cast from Erebor’s cliffs, and the Men and Dwarves from the scimitars and maces of the Easterlings. Finally, King Brand of Dale fell before the gate of Erebor, and King under the Mountain Dáin II Ironfoot fell as he was defending Brand's body.
The Dwarves of Erebor had learnt a crucial lesson from the devastation of Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies nearly a century earlier, a lesson bought with the blood of loved ones. They fortified all of the sides of the Lonely Mountain, preventing the breakthrough of orcs that nearly caused the loss of the Battle in the days of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield. The defenders knew with grim fatalism that there would be no Beorn and no Eagles to save them this time, and they were thus determined to fight to the last. Erebor was staged to become the Minas Tirith of the North, a ruthless battle of the will of the defender and the will of the aggressor.
The invaders from the east constructed siege works, battering rams, and assorted siege catapults to bombard their enemies into submission. However, despite all of their efforts, the great gates of the Lonely Mountain withstood the tidal wave of invaders from the East. Many Men and Dwarves made their escape to Erebor however, and were able to withstand the siege of the mountain fastness. When news spread about the victory in the South, the Easterlings became extremely demoralized and proceeded to scatter, while the sons of Brand and Dáin let their army out of Erebor to break the encirclement.
Lothlórien and MirkwoodEdit
On March 11 Lothlórien was first attacked from Dol Guldur. It was attacked two further times, on the 15 and the 22. When the Dark Lord had fallen, Celeborn led his army out of Lórien, and crossed the Anduin. Dol Guldur was captured and destroyed by Galadriel.
Thranduil of Mirkwood was also attacked from Dol Guldur, but in this, the Battle under the Trees, the Elven folk won a hard victory. After the destruction of Dol Guldur, Celeborn met Thranduil on 6 April, and as the shadow had passed, they divided Mirkwood and renamed it Eryn Lasgalen.
- Main article: Battle of Bywater
After the defeat of the Dark Lord, Saruman used the magic of his voice to convince Treebeard to release him from Isengard. He travelled to the Shire, where he replaced Lotho Sackville-Baggins as the Chief under the name Sharkey. Under his command Ruffian men entered The Shire and ruined it. They were defeated by Hobbits under the lead of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took in the Battle of Bywater on 3 November. The Hobbits headed to Hobbiton where Frodo ordered Saruman and Wormtongue to leave the Shire. Wormtongue however killed Saruman, before he himself was killed by the Hobbits and their arrows. With the death of the wizard Saruman, the War of the Ring finally ended and thus, the end of the Third Age.
Consequences and LegacyEdit
The War of the Ring had great influence on all of the lands of the northwest of Middle-earth. Most importantly it led to the restoration of the Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor as the Reunited Kingdom, under King Elessar Telcontar. The Steward of Gondor was dead, but he was succeeded by his son Faramir, who kept the office and was given the title Prince of Ithilien.
In Rohan the heir apparent, Théodred, was killed, and, during the Battle of Pelennor Fields, King Théoden died as well. He was succeeded by his nephew Éomer. In the Glittering Caves at the Hornburg, a Dwarven colony was established, and Isengard was given to the Ents.
In Dale, both King Brand and King Dáin II Ironfoot were killed, who were succeeded by their sons Bard and Thorin III Stonehelm. They sent their emissaries to the crowning of Elessar, and were in alliance with Gondor until their Kingdoms ended.
For the Elves, the final decline had begun. The bearers of the Rings left Middle-earth, and Lórien was eventually abandoned. The Elves of Lothlórien who did not depart over the Sea moved east to the southern third of Mirkwood, below the Narrows, which they named East Lórien. In Eryn Lasgalen however, Thranduil's rule continued, and they had peace. There was also an Elven colony in Ithilien. Many of the Elves of Rivendell departed over the Sea, and by Aragorn's death 120 years later, it was entirely deserted.
In the Shire life continued as it had prior to the war. It was declared a free land under the Sceptre of Annúminas, and Men were forbidden to enter it. The Westmarch was added to the Shire by King Elessar in SR 1452.
The different races of Men that had served Sauron suffered grievously at the hands of what appeared to be booty and loot just begging them to come; much of Harad's army was annihilated on the Pelennor Fields, slaughtered by the swords of Gondor and the lances of Rohan. The mighty Easterlings hastily retreated back to their homelands after Sauron's fall and fought several territorial wars with King Elessar over lands near the Sea of Rhûn, but ceased to be a threat altogether. While they were still a menace, much like a sleeping viper, they never troubled the Reunited Kingdom again.
Once the Fourth Age began the elves stopped having an active influence on the affairs of Middle-earth, having started fading away ever since the Third. The orcs never became a serious threat again, reduced to small bands of mountain brigands they were never more than a nuisance. All the Nazgûl and Gothmog were killed, with Sauron reduced and sucked into the Void. Wars would still be fought by the Reunited Kingdom and Rohan against the Men that had allied with Sauron, the Haradrim and Easterlings.
The Fourth Age of defeatEdit
The War of the Ring was unique from most wars; it was started directly because of the One Ring and much blood was shed over, in Boromir's words, "Such a little thing." Many intricate forces and people worked in concert to forward their causes during the war, whether it be for the whims of the Dark Lord or the Free Peoples. The War was very much a close-run thing; any small, infinitesimal factor or variable gone the other way would've proved disastrous for the other side. Had the Rohirrim deferred to arrive at the Pelennor Fields, and if Aragorn's ships were delayed, Minas Tirith would have almost certainly fallen to the voracious armies of the Dark Lord Sauron. It would've suffered the same fate as its sister, Minas Ithil, being converted into a formidable fortress citadel of the Dark Lord. With his most powerful enemy more or less out of the picture, Sauron would've then proceeded to crush his next opponents Rohan and the Elves of Lothlórien and Mirkwood.
Had the Easterlings under Sauron's fist triumphed during the Battle of Dale and the subsequent Siege of Erebor, they would've smashed through the Elves of Mirkwood in a massive assault and joined their brethren in Dol Guldur for a unified offensive against Lothlórien. While these Elves were nothing to sneer at, and Galadriel with Nenya would've wreaked havoc among Sauron's minions, the sheer weight of Sauron's forces would've eventually forced them to either fight to the last or flee across the Misty Mountains. With the threat to the north eradicated and with the Northern Theater closed, Sauron would've attempted to accomplish what his underling, Saruman, could not; subdue and conquer Rohan.
The horsemen of Rohan were a very valiant people and fighting blood ran through their proud veins, having emerged victorious in the struggle against Isengard. However, the brute force of the hundreds of enemy legions advancing on two axes, from the south from Gondor and from the east across the Anduin, would've proved too much for the spirited cavalrymen and their kingdom. The very last threats to Sauron's complete dominance of Middle-earth were Elrond's haven of Rivendell and Cirdan's maritime kingdom of Lindon.
Thus prepared, the forces of darkness would've advanced across Eriador like a coming tempest of fire. Entire legions of orcs would've scaled the Misty Mountains while their comrades-in-arms advanced through the unguarded plain in south Eriador. The Elves in Rivendell would be forced to flee, and the Shire and Bree would prove to be no match for the colossal steamroller of Sauron's armies wheeling through their lands. The Elves of Lindon might've put up a stiff fight before sailing on their prepared ships to Valinor, thus securing Sauron's complete dominance of Middle-earth. The Banner of the Red Eye would've flown from Rhun to Rivendell and from the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrin) to Gondor as Sauron and his minions set about their nefarious purposes, turning Middle-earth into Sauron's personal 'backyard'. Later, perhaps, Sauron might've declared war on the unknown kingdoms to the Far East and far south, beyond the borders of his allies in Rhun and Harad, possibly even Rhun and Hard themselves when the Easterlings and Haradrim were of no more use for Sauron.
Many adaptations of The Lord of the Rings include part of the War in some form or another.
There are several games that are patterned after the war: the Games Workshop 2005 Summer Online Campaign, for The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game; a board game published by Fantasy Flight Games called War of the Ring; a board and counter wargame called War of the Rings published by SPI in 1977 (which shows irrefutably strong influence over the Fantasy Flight version); The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring, a real-time strategy computer game published by Sierra Entertainment in 2003; the Battle for Middle-earth series of real-time strategy games published by Electronic Arts in 2004 and 2006; and a board and miniature wargame published by Nexus Editrice in 2004.
The War of the Ring is the title of the eighth volume of The History of Middle-earth. The War of the Ring was the title J. R. R. Tolkien wanted for the third volume of The Lord of the Rings, feeling that the title "Return of the King" gave away too much of the plot.
Known battles Edit
- Fight in Balin's Tomb
- Skirmish at Amon Hen
- Battles of the Fords of Isen
- Battle of Isengard
- Battle of the Hornburg
- Battle of Osgiliath
- Battle of the Pelennor Fields
- Battle of the Black Gate
- Battle of Dale
- Battle of Bywater
War of the Ring is also the name of several games based on the novel, including
- a board and counter wargame published by SPI in the 1977. Through two editions and various printings this game was available into the late 1980s
- a Real-time strategy computer game published by Sierra in 2003
- a board and miniature wargame published by Nexus Editrice in 2004 (translated and distributed in English version by Fantasy Flight Games) and reprinted in a new edition by Ares Games in 2011
- the Games Workshop 2005 Summer Online Campaign, for The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game
The War of the Ring is the title of the eighth volume of The History of Middle-earth.
The War of the Ring was the title J. R. R. Tolkien wanted for the third volume of The Lord of the Rings.