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What is Sauron? Appearance, Powers, History & FAQs Explained

What is Sauron? Appearance, Powers, History & FAQs Explained

Sauron is the primary antagonist throughout the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. At this time, Sauron is in relentless pursuit of the One Ring to regain his full power to conquer and dominate all other races.

However, far from being a new threat, Sauron’s legacy of evil stretches back to the earliest years of Middle Earth.

Throughout the ages, Sauron appears in many different forms, bearing different names and titles.

His earliest enemies knew him as the “Gorthaur the Cruel,” but he also terrorized the races of Middle Earth in the guise of “The Necromancer,” The Deceiver,” and, finally, as “The Dark Lord.”

What is Sauron?

Sauron is a Maiar – primordial spirit, created by the Valar to help shape the world. Sauron is also the eponymous ‘Lord of the Rings’, having created all the rings of power given to the Elves, Men, and Dwarves and the “One Ring.”

Painting of Sauron with the One Ring on his finger in Mordor
Image by Anna Podedworna

Sauron is the primary antagonist in the Second and Third ages of Middle Earth.

In the early years of Middle Earth, Morgoth corrupts Sauron, who becomes his second-in-command. After Morgoth is overthrown, Sauron steps in as the new Dark Lord.

He is not an elf but often disguises himself as fair and wise, making it easier to trick his foes and gain position.

The Sindar elves call him Gorthaur, meaning “dread abomination.” The name Sauron comes from the other Eldar, which means “the abhorred” or “the abomination.”

What Does Sauron Look Like?

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy portrays Sauron’s physical manifestation as a large, powerful, humanoid being in nightmarish armor. In his non-corporeal form, he takes the form of a powerful flaming eye atop the spire of Barad-dûr.

Sauron is a Maia, meaning he can shapeshift into any form. He took advantage of this fact to frequently change his appearance according to what is the most expedient, usually by appearing fair, noble, and beautiful.

Annatar and Sauron
Annatar/Sauron. Source

For example, as “Annatar” in the second, he made himself look fair to appeal to the Elves. We have the following description of how he appeared to the Númenóreans:

Upon that ship which was cast highest and stood dry upon a hill there was a man, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature…And it seemed to men that Sauron was great; though they feared the light of his eyes. To many he appeared fair, to others terrible; but to some evil.

The History of Middle Earth

At various times, Sauron also takes the form of other creatures, such as a werewolf, vampire, and serpent. The Silmarillion also describes him as having a “dreadful presence” and “daunting eyes.”

After being on Númenór as it was destroyed, Sauron’s physical was destroyed and with it his ability to shapeshift. A passage from the Silmarillion reads:

But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which he had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men

The Silmarillion, AKALLABÊTH, The Downfall of Númenór

Although we don’t get a direct description of what he looks like afterward, Tolkien describes him as much larger than any man and as a visible representation of hate and malice.

There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dûr, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.

The Silmarillion, AKALLABÊTH, “The Downfall of Númenór”

Sauron’s body also gave off immense heat that seemingly blackened his skin. So much so that he burned Gil-galad to death with his mere presence.

The movies portray Sauron in his physical form as a gigantic human-like being with terrible, evil-looking armor.

What is the Eye of Sauron?

The Eye of Sauron in the Third Age is the primary symbol of his coat of arms. The Eye of Sauron is also a metaphor that refers to the power and reach of Sauron’s regard, his vast spy network, and his relentless search for the One Ring.

The Eye of Sauron on in The Lord of the Rings

As Sauron’s “coat of arms,” so to speak, his armies march to war with the symbol of a red eye on their flags, battle standards, and shields.

It’s debated whether or not a physical manifestation of an eye exists in the books. There is only a single passage that seemingly describes the instant Sam and Frodo catch a momentary glimpse of a flaming red eye:

…rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr. One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed.

The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter II, “The Land of Shadow”

However, most agree that the eye is only a metaphor for Sauron’s powerful gaze that could horrify, dominate, or beguile others. The Simarillion references the power present in Sauron’s gaze or “eyes.”

…and the malice of the Eye of Sauron few even of the great among Elves and Men could endure.


The movie portrays the Eye of Sauron as a physically flaming eye that sits between the topmost spires of Barad-dûr.

Regardless, we know that the Eye is not a physical manifestation of Sauron himself, although he most likely controls it.

Sauron’s History

Sauron is one of the main antagonists throughout the history of Middle Earth, from its earliest days to Sauron’s demise at the end of the Third Age. He has a long and complicated history that begins with his corruption by Melkor and leads to him becoming the new Dark Lord.

Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.

The Silmarillion, Valaquenta, “Of the Enemies”

Before Being Corrupted

During the Years of the Lamps, Sauron lived alongside the other Maiar and the Valar in Valinor. He was one of the most powerful Maiar and served under the Vala Aulë the Smith.

In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people.

The Silmarillion, Valaquenta, “Of the Enemies”

From Aulë, Sauron became a master craftsman and smith. He was still completely uncorrupted during this time and loved order and perfection while hating anything wasteful.

Also read: Morgoth vs Sauron: Who Was More Powerful?

First age & before

Sauron in the First Age
Sauron in the First Age. Image by Gerwell

Although Sauron became corrupted by Melkor and served under him, he initially had very different motivations. Whereas Melkor wanted to either control or destroy Arda, Sauron wanted to establish ultimate order by dominating the minds of all its creatures for their own good.

While Melkor established his fortresses across Middle Earth, Sauron stayed with the Valar as a spy. However, he eventually openly declared his allegiance to Sauron and commanded the fortress of Angband as Melkor’s chief lieutenant.

During the first age, Sauron plays a significant role in the longstanding war against the Men and Elves of Beleriand.

One of his crowning achievements is capturing the Elven fortress of Tol Sirion, which he renames Tol-in-Gaurhoth (translation: Isle of Werewolves), and transforming it into his main base of operations.

However, in Beren and Lúthien, Sauron is defeated by Lúthien and the wolfhound Huan after he captures Beren and kills King Finrod. After this, Sauron fades into obscurity for the rest of the First Age, likely in hiding from Melkor’s wrath.

After the Valar defeats Melkor and drags him in chains to Valinor, Sauron seemingly repents and pleads for mercy from Eönwë and the victorious Host of the West. However, he refuses to return to Valinor to face judgment, instead hiding away somewhere in Middle Earth.

Secong Age & as Annatar

Sauron in the Rings of Power TV Series
Sauron in The Rings of Power (second age)

Sauron emerges once again during the Second Age in the year 1000 as the new Dark Lord. Sauron has used his absence to regain his strength, rebuild his armies, and establish himself in the land of Mordor.

During this time, Sauron begins his attempt to gain control over the other races of Middle Earth by forging the Rings of Power. He decides to start with the Elves, and disguises himself as an Elf with the name Annatar, which means “Lord of Gifts.”

Sauron teaches them about magic and crafting powerful and beautiful artifacts to earn their trust and admiration. Sauron’s encouragement leads to the Elves forging the Rings of Power.

However, unbeknownst to the Elves, Sauron simultaneously forges the One Ring in secret to rule over the Elven rings:

Now the Elves made many rings; but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last. And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.


The Elves discover his treachery and hide their Rings so Sauron cannot influence them. This incenses him, and he demands the return of all the Rings.

Sauron manages to regain sixteen of the Rings while the Elves are left with three. Sauron then distributes the Rings he regains to Dwarves and Men, knowing that they are easier to corrupt than the Elves.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne; In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”

One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them; In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”

This leads to the War of the Elves and Sauron during which Sauron conquers nearly all of Middle Earth. However, he is finally defeated by the Elves and Númenóreans and driven back to Mordor.

Sauron once again retreats to Mordor and starts rebuilding his strength.

Later in the Second age, the Númenórean King Ar-Pharazôn amassed a great army to deal with Sauron once for all. After seeing the great Númenórean host, Sauron’s army fled in terror, and Sauron allowed himself to be captured.

As a prisoner in Númenór, he begins to corrupt the Númenóreans, culminating in persuading them to invade Valinor in a hopeless quest for eternal life.

This leads to the Valar sinking Aman, the island home of the Númenóreans. Sauron is caught in the great flood, being physically destroyed, but his spirit feels back to Middle Earth. From here, he once again starts rebuilding his forces for war.

This triggers war once more between Sauron the Last Alliance of Elves and Men who fled Númenór before its destruction. Finally, Sauron is defeated a the Battle of Dagorlad, where the One Ring is cut from his finger by Isildur, the heir of Elendil.

Without the Ring, Sauron’s physical body is destroyed, and his spirit fled.

Third Age & As the Necromancer

Sauron in The Hobbit movies

Sauron lives on in non-corporeal form. For a long time, he bides his time and regains his strength in the abandoned fortress of Dol Guldur, where he becomes known as “the Necromancer.

Sauron never made an appearance during this time but commanded his forces through the Nine Nazgûl and other emissaries. However, he was eventually discovered by Gandalf and others who drove him out of Dol Guldur.

Back in Mordor, Sauron once again openly declares himself in the year TA 2951, which leads to the War of the Ring.

Although Sauron is the titular character of The Lord of the Rings, he never makes a physical appearance in the books. The movies only represent him physically through the Eye of Sauron.

However, Sauron is the main antagonist throughout the War of the Ring. He directs his forces through his ability to dominate lesser beings and thanks the Nine who act as his emissaries, agents, and lieutenants.

Sauron is finally defeated when Frodo and Gollum destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

What Are Sauron’s Power and Abilities?

Sauron’s primary powers are crafting, manipulation, and shapeshifting. Though it is not his primary strength, he is also a powerful fighter.

Sauron was always regarded as one of the “mightiest” Maiar. He was so powerful that, after Melkor seduces him, he immediately becomes his second-in-command.

and he became the greatest and most trusted of the servants of the Enemy, and the most perilous, for he could assume many forms


Under the tutelage of the Valar Smith Aulë, Sauron acquires tremendous knowledge regarding the shaping of objects. Later, he uses this skill to forge the One Ring as well as to erect incredible structures, such as Barad-dûr.

Sauron depicted with The One Ring

All Maiar were capable of taking any physical form they wish. However, Sauron is seemingly particularly adept at shapeshifting, using it various times to augment his powers or to beguile his enemies.

Sauron’s skill at deception and persuasion is so great that he even manages to fool the highly perceptive Elves. He even corrupts many of the Númenóreans to declare war on the Valar while acting as their captive.

Sauron not only takes different “human” forms but can shapeshift into beasts, like werewolves, vampires, or serpents. Even in his human form, Sauron is physically powerful enough to defeat many mighty Elves and Men.

Sauron was also powerful in his use of the “Voice.” Sauron defeated Felagund in a battle of “songs of power.”

Finally, Sauron had a particular talent for dominating and influencing the minds of other beings. Sauron wanted to use this power to dominate and order the entire Middle Earth according to how he saw fit.

Also read: Galadriel vs Sauron: Was Galadriel More Powerful than Sauron?

Why Did Sauron Make the Rings of Power?

Sauron created the Rings of Power as a way to gain control over the other races of Middle Earth. He secretly forged the One Ring as a master ring that gave him influence over other ring-bearers.

Sauron forging The One Ring
Sauron forging The One Ring

First, he instructed the Elves, including Celebrimbor, on how to create their own Rings of Power. However, in secret, he forged the One Ring which would give him influence and control over the others.

However, as soon as Sauron used the One Ring, the Elves discovered his plan and hid them. Sauron eventually took back many of the rings, either through the use of deception or force.

Sauron then handed them to leaders of Men and Dwarves who were not as wise or strong-willed as the Elves.

Ultimately, the Rings of Power helped Sauron destroy almost all the Dwarven kingdoms and thoroughly corrupt the nine kings of men.

What Happened to Sauron After the Ring Was Destroyed?

Once Frodo destroys the One Ring, Sauron no longer has the strength to manifest in Middle Earth. His spirit is sucked into the Void, making it impossible for him to return to Middle Earth.

Sauron destroyed at the end of The Lord of the Rings

Sauron had poured too much of his power and will into the shaping of One Ring, so he could no longer survive without it.

His control and dominion over the Orcs, Trolls, and other evil beings also disappeared. This caused most of them to panic and scatter in all directions without the will to continue fighting.