Sauron, as the titular Lord of the Rings, is Tolkien’s most famous Big-Bad. In the Legendarium’s main stories, Sauron is the Dark Lord conquering Middle Earth with his One Ring of power.
However, long before the events of The Lord of the Rings, there was another Dark Lord – Morgoth. Originally Melkor, the most powerful of the Valar, Morgoth was committed to corrupting Middle Earth and Valinor itself.
Sauron was Morgoth’s lieutenant, fighting for him during the First Age before becoming the second Dark Lord on his defeat. However, who was more powerful, Sauron or Morgoth?
Morgoth (Melkor), as a Valar, was a more powerful being than Sauron, a Maia. In a one-on-one fight or each with their respective armies in any age, Morgoth is undoubtedly the strongest.
However, both Dark Lords led significantly strong armies throughout Middle Earth – with this in mind, was there ever a time when Sauron was more powerful than his master?
Keep reading to find out if there is a scenario Sauron could have beaten Morgoth, and who was more powerful than Morgoth.
Could Sauron at His Most Powerful Have Defeated Morgoth at His Lowest?
It’s highly unlikely Sauron could have won against Morgoth at the end of the First Age.
Morgoth’s powers were waning but his army was enormous, including creatures such as dragons and balrogs that weren’t around to fight for Sauron (an interesting side note is how Sauron almost achieved this – Gandalf supported the Dwarves’ quest to the Lonely Mountain because he knew just how devastating it would be if Sauron enlisted Smaug).
Even with the power of Sauron’s One Ring against him, Morgoth would have won. His own dark essence was imbued with Middle Earth, meaning Morgoth could control volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Tolkien himself wrote that “Sauron was “greater”, effectively, in the Second Age than Morgoth at the end of the First”. However, he didn’t just mean military might and personal power. Morgoth was ultimately enslaved by fear and destructive hatred. He wanted to crush his enemies and destroy everything that was good in the world.
Sauron, at least at first, wasn’t interested in complete annihilation. He wanted to dominate and rule Middle Earth, by manipulating its people. In this politically nuanced context, Sauron was indeed superior to Morgoth.
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Who is More Powerful Than Morgoth?
As the most powerful of the Valar, Morgoth may seem unmatched. However, the being who has ever been more powerful than Morgoth is Eru Iluvater.
There are also two other beings who had the better of Morgoth in physical duels, Ungloiant and Tulkas. However, by the time these encounters occurred, Morgoth was already weakened by releasing much of his power into corrupting Arda.
Below we explain more about how Eru Iluvater is more powerful than Morgoth, and explain Morgoth’s defeats to Ungoliant and Tulkas.
As the God figure of Tolkien’s universe, Eru created Morgoth and all the Valar. When Morgoth played discordant themes in the Great Music, Eru praised his strength.
But he also pointed out that Morgoth– as a being of his own creation – had no original thoughts or actions that weren’t an extension of Eru himself. Morgoth did not appreciate his creator’s smackdown and hated him and the other Valar forever after.
Although Eru did not directly involve himself in the matters of Middle Earth, it was he who sent the Valar army that ultimately destroyed Morgoth at the end of the First Age.
Honorable Mention: Ungoliant
Ungoliant was an ancient being of Aman, who took the form of a giant spider. In the Years of the Trees, with the promise of great reward, Morgoth convinced Ungoliant to help him destroy the Two Trees of Valinor and steal the Silmarils.
Ungoliant drank the sap from the dying trees and grew even bigger, making Morgoth begin to fear his eight-legged ally.
The pair fled to Middle Earth via icy Helcaraxë. In reward for helping him, Morgoth had promised Ungoliant anything she desired to sate her hunger. Unfortunately for him, Ungoliant wanted the Silmarils. When Morgoth refused to serve them, Ungoliant set about strangling him with her web.
She would most probably have killed Morgoth, at least his physical form, if she had remained unchallenged. However, Morgoth screamed so loudly he woke the hibernating balrog force at Angband.
They rescued their Dark Lord and drove Ungoliant away, who went on to found a dynasty of giant hungry spiders in Middle Earth (including She-lob).
Though Ungoliant perhaps could have destroyed Morgoth’s physical form, she certainly was not more powerful that Morgoth. By the time Morgoth met Ungoliant, he was already much weaker after pouring much of his power into his creations.
At full strength, Morgoth would have comfortably overcome Ungoliant. Even though he may have lost one on one against Ungoliant, Balrogs under his power defeated Ungoliant.
Honorable Mention: Tulkas
Tulkas was the most physically strong of the Valar at the time of the War of Wrath, delighting in hand-to-hand combat and wrestling. When Arda was still forming, the mere arrival of Tulkas drove Morgoth away for a whole age.
Much later, during the War for the Sake of the Elves, Tulkas wrestled Morgoth to the ground and tied him up. He laughed in Morgoth’s face and led him in chains back to Valinor. Morgoth hated Tulkas, who returned his feelings and never believed in the Dark Lord’s later reformed character act.
However, by the time of the arrival of Tulkas to the world, Morgoth was already diminished in his power from corrupting the elves and earth. Also, Morgoth did not display his power in physical strength, rather through manipulation and corruption.
Even so, before Morgoth used much of his power to corrupt the world, he was surely the second greatest being in Arda, in almost all respects.
When Was Sauron at His Most Powerful?
Despite nearly conquering Middle Earth during the events of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron was actually at his most personally powerful in the Second Age. He peaked in power just after the creation of the Rings of Power.
Originally, Sauron – as a Maia – was able to shapeshift. This included “fair forms”, such as the gift-giver Annatar, who tricked Celebrimbor into making the rings. He had also amassed an enormous army, culminating in the War of The Elves and Sauron.
In the Siege of Eregion, Sauron fought with trolls and hundreds and thousands of orcs. He defeated the elves and killed Celebrimbor, conquering all of Eriador within a couple of years.
The tide soon swiftly changed with the Battle of the Gwathló, where nearly all of Sauron’s forces were destroyed by the elves. He fled back to Mordor and slowly re-amassed his power.
Sauron tried to use the men of Númenor to attack and conquer Valinor. However, this backfired when Eru responded by sinking Númenor beneath the ocean. Sauron’s physical body was destroyed and he was no longer able to able to shapeshift into deceptively fair forms.
Sauron still had the One Ring, however, and was able to rebuild his army in Mordor. By the time of the War of the Last Alliance, Sauron had both men and orcs fighting for him.
He slew the last King of Ñoldor and the High Kind of the Dúnedain but lost his strength when Isildur cut the One Ring from his hand.
In the Third Age Sauron once again amassed massive forces, breeding Orcs and enslaving Easterlings and the Haradrim to fight for him. He also had the Nazgûl, led by the Witch King, and Saruman and his Uruk-hai.
Critically, however, he lacked the One Ring and his own bodily strength. Despite having an enormous army at the final Battle of the Morannon, he was obliterated forever by the destruction of the One Ring.
When Was Morgoth at His Most Powerful?
Morgoth was the strongest of the Ainur, and at his most powerful before the First Age even began. He poured much of his essence into corrupting Arda, gradually diluting his power by letting “most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth”.
Despite the loss of personal strength, Morgoth’s military power towards the end of the First Age was undoubtedly epic.
Morgoth was strong enough to sabotage most of the Valar’s attempts at building Arda. He corrupted several of the Maia, including Sauron, and created the formidable fortresses of Utumno and Angband. Morgoth destroyed the two Great Lamps, after which the rest of the Valar returned to Aman.
With the full run of Middle Earth, Morgoth discovered the elves first. He enslaved and tortured many of them, creating orcs. The other Valar finally intervened at this, defeating Morgoth and imprisoning him in Valinor. He gradually worked his way back into a position of trust, only to steal the Silmarils and murder the Two Trees of Valinor.
The details of Morgoth’s military power during the War of the Jewels is formidable. Orcs, balrogs, trolls, and dragons all fought for him, with his most devastating attack being the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame).
The elves of Middle Earth were nearly obliterated by this attack, which included massive volcanic eruptions from the Iron Mountains.
Morgoth was finally defeated by the other Valar during the War of Wrath. The last battle saw him command an army of balrogs, werewolves, dragons, vampires, and millions of orcs – a much mightier army than Sauron ever commanded.
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