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As depicted in the trilogy:

  • Sauron did not lead his army to Minas Tirith
  • He did not defend the gates of Mordor from Aragon's army

In fact, he was never physically involved in (any) battle ever since his duel with Isildur. In spite of noticing Frodo and Sam near the mountain of doom, he never really comes out (physically) to block them from destroying the ring.

Was he limited by his physical condition or he was not willing to battle without the ring? What was the reason?

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"In spite of noticing Frodo and Sam near the mountain of doom" ??? As I recall, Sauron was unaware of the Hobbits presence in Mordor right until Frodo donned the ring at the Crack of Mount Doom. –  The Evil Greebo Oct 3 '11 at 16:12
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Bonus trivia: When RotK was filmed, Aragorn was supposed to fight an embodied Sauron at the Black Gate. The troll was edited into the scene later. That would have been a pretty large inconsistency. –  Travis Christian Oct 3 '11 at 16:35
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Not like inconsistencies stopped them ... Faramir tempted by the ring, Arwen on the white horse, loser-elves at Helm's deep, etc. Indeed Sauron realized about the ring just minutes before it was destroyed, and as mighty as he was he could not just teleport there ;) –  Morg. Oct 6 '11 at 11:48
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@Morg Teleport? Well he could have and may be he will in George Lucas' version! :p –  check123 Oct 6 '11 at 13:30
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I'm pretty sure he needs a bit of Harry Potter's blood to complete the ritual and get his body back. –  Kalamane Oct 7 '11 at 2:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 33 down vote accepted

He had indeed already taken a physical form, at least to some degree, for he was the Necromancer mentioned in the Hobbit, whose realm bordered upon Mirkwood. But at that point he had not regained a large portion of his power and worked mostly in secret.

He also greatly feared two things. First, the return of Numenor's heir, Aragorn, and the sword reforged. Unlike in the movies, in the books Aragorn left Rivendell with the sword reforged from Narsil and did not hide who he was, though he didn't travel openly as such.

The second thing he feared was that his agents had not found the One Ring. While there still remained the chance his enemies had it or might find it before he did, he could not risk exposing himself directly while he was in his much weakened state. Had he gotten the Ring, he would very likely have not hid in Barad-dur while the Nazgul lead his armies against Middle Earth.

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Book 5, Chapter 4:

'Is Faramir come?' [Denethor] asked.
'No,' said Gandalf. 'But he still lived when I left him. Yet he is resolved to stay with the rearguard, lest the retreat over the Pelennor become a rout. He may, perhaps, hold his men together long enough, but I doubt it. He is pitted against a foe to great. For one has come that I feared.'
'Not – the Dark Lord?' cried Pippin, forgetting his place in his terror.
Denethor laughed bitterly. 'Nay, not yet, Master Peregrin! He will not come save to triumph over me when all is won. He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise, Master Halfling. Or why should I sit here in my tower and think, and watch, and wait, spending even my sons? For I can still wield a brand.'

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This could be a possibility. Note that the view is of Denethor (based on broader generalizations about behavior of kings) and not necessarily based on possible facts. –  check123 Oct 4 '11 at 4:40
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@check123: but I think Denethor is right here. He has a very pessimistic view of the things, in part due to Saurons manipulations through the Palantír. Would Sauron have shown it to him had he planned to lead his army to Minas Tirith himself? I think yes, as it would have left even less hope of standing the upcoming siege, and thereby further increased the likelyhood of Denethor giving up. –  leftaroundabout Oct 4 '11 at 10:42
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This quote is completely irrelevant. Denethor is nowhere close to being knowledgeable about Sauron (compared to the elves or the mayar, which know much much more) and the only thing he is expressing there is "omgnoez we're toast". No, Sauron would NOT have shown himself leading the armies to Minas Tirith, since that is complete utter nonsense ... Showing Denethor an army capable of destroying/taking MT without the need for Sauron or even all his military power is far more discouraging than the dark lord's physical presence (he is present in mind at the siege of MT, as the cloud / atmosphere. –  Morg. Oct 6 '11 at 5:44
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@Morg - I disagree with you on this one. The movie didn't pay Denethor the respect he deserves. He had the blood of a nearly pure Westernesse and had a stronger will than Sauruman, strong enough to use the plantir. He could bend his will far and wide, looking into the hearts of men and surveying his enemy. It was his knowledge of Sauron that caused him to despair. –  Christopher Dec 29 '11 at 6:17
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@Christopher I agree with you. The movie completely destroyed Denethor's character. He is still flawed but more ambiguous in the books; not a completely unlikeable character. And I think he was partly right about lords leading armies from their castles. But it was also true that Sauron was weakened and too fearful to come out and fight. –  Andres F. Feb 29 '12 at 19:57

Sauron had a terrible track record in personal combat. He was defeated by Huan, Isildur and even fled before the White Council from Dol Guldur. I think he was much more a 'behind the scenes / manipulator' than a combat juggernaut.

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+1 for noting Sauron's 0-3 record in personal combat. He also met the Numenoreans in person and surrendered immediately. He was physically demolished when Numenor was attacked. Another point is that in spite of Peter Jackson's rewrite, in the book it was Elendil & Gil-gilad that wrestled with and brought Sauron down (even while he was wearing The Ring!) Isildur cut the ring from his finger after the fact as Sauron lay defeated on the ground. His forces did much better when he was absent. –  vivaldi7 Oct 20 '13 at 1:19

At least in the movie, he had not yet attained a physical body. He needed his Ring, and the power he had poured into it, to complete his rebirth.

In the book, it was different - he had some physical form, but his powers were greatly reduced. He was still vulnerable, and could potentially have been killed. Why would he risk himself, when he knew (not thought, KNEW) that his armies were sufficient to the tasks at hand?

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@TGnat: In the movie, at least, he did not have a physical form. –  Jeff Oct 3 '11 at 18:37
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the movie has so many errors in it related to the lore, it can't be used as a reference into the lore. –  jwenting Oct 4 '11 at 6:42
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@jwenting: Maybe, but the movie is sadly what most people are familiar with - the books are dense, florid, and imposing if your only other 'literary' experience is Twilight and Harry Potter. –  Jeff Oct 4 '11 at 13:14
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The point of the feint with the (small) army is to convince Sauron that Aragorn has the ring. Only someone with a super-weapon would make such a brazenly suicidal move. If Sauron thought Aragorn had the ring, he wouldn't think his army was up to the task. –  Sean McMillan Oct 6 '11 at 14:23
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@Sean McMillan : no not exactly ... the point of the small army was just a very last diversion to give the hobbits every chance to succeed. Sauron would have known if Aragorn had the ring the instant the eye set on the army, so your assumption does not hold ;) - basically it was a suicidal move from an opponent who was done for anyway - it's not like camping MT would've given them much more advantage, if you take troops morale into account (much better to push your opponent right after a major win, even if you're going to lose). –  Morg. Oct 7 '11 at 9:35

Alright, lots of wrong answers here :

a) Sauron cannot be killed without destroying the ring

b) Sauron wasn't "that" weak at the time, he was confident that his armies would succeed (which they would have if the ring had not been destroyed, with ease, the armies of both the Minas Tirith assault and the Barad Dur siege being "not much" to him)

c) Sauron's power was more than decent when the siege of Barad Dur occurred and it does not seem (after the books) that even Aragorn + Gandalf could have defeated him (again, power here is far beyond just raw power, it's about his control over the other rings, including the power of the Nazgul themselves, the shadow, the eye, the fear, etc.)

d) Sauron disliked the presence of Aragorn as he saw in him the risk of a second Elendil / great alliance. This is much more related to his ability to bring light and protect Sauron's enemies from the paralyzing fear than to his relative combat potential (all of Aragorn's major wins against Sauron are leadership wins, convincing the Rohirrim, convincing the ghost army, etc.)

e) Sauron did not care about that fight, the foolish alliance army was going to be crushed in front of his gates so why even bother.

  • Also I don't know where or what, but someone said Gandalf and Sauron were both Maiar and should be more or less on the same level ..

Well that's just wrong . Sauron was probably the greatest of the Maiar, just as his master Melkor (Morgoth Bauglir) was the greatest of the Valar. For much weaker Maiar, just take a look at Radagast (lotr) or the Silmarillion/Unfinished Tales (much about weaker Valar in there too).

Among the Istari, it would seem that Saruman was once the most powerful, got replaced by Gandalf during his fall - and that there were other weaker Istari.

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+1 That is a good set of arguments. –  check123 Oct 4 '11 at 12:31
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"Sauron cannot be killed without destroying the ring" I believe it's said his soul cannot be destroyed without destroying the ring. In that case his physical body could be killed. –  Cody C Oct 4 '11 at 14:16
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He may not be able to be killed, but having his physical body destroyed sure did inconvenience him the last time. –  Jeff Oct 4 '11 at 21:01
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Didn't Sauron believe that Aragon possessed the ring, which was why he spent his attention fully upon Gondor? –  jonnyflash Dec 26 '11 at 20:01

yes indeed mitrandir (gandalf) and the other istari, including morgoth the valar's lieutenant sauron were maiar. even the balrog was a maiar. the maiars were lesser in power than the valar but also by no means were equal in power. sauron arguably was the mightiest maiar left after mmorgoth's the valar's exile when sauron took commmand of the remnants of morgoth's forces and manipulated the downfall of numenor, the escape of the cataclysm by the faithful dunedain to middle earth to create arnor and gondor. sauron survived and caused the smelting of the rings which caused the war of the great alliance in which the one ring was sliced off his finger diminishing his power for an age. during his rise again he went through several transformations, the witch king of angmar, the necromancer of dol guldur, and finally sauron of mordor. the valar seeing sauron rising again sent 5 maiar to middle earth to impede him, the istari or wizards. all of differing strengths with saruman initially commanding and the strongest. they were given one order, never to challenge sauron directly power vs power but to rally, inspire, and help the races fight. saruman broke that rule and was stripped of command and power while gandalf when resurrected received the mantle of "the white" supplanting and casting saruman down with newly appointed greater authority and power.

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I've said it before: it would take a better man than me to edit this. Or at least, a more patient man. Please use punctuation, and splitting your answer into paragraphs wouldn't hurt. You also shouldn't answer a question that is 2 years old with a previously-accepted answer, especially not to post something that is effectively a comment, rather than an answer. –  James Sheridan Feb 28 at 7:01
    
yeah, what @JamesSheridan said. Also, I can't see how you answer the question 'why didn't sauron fight in the final battle'?. –  LarissaGodzilla Feb 28 at 9:26
    
@JamesSheridan - I flagged it but it got knocked back. –  Richard Feb 28 at 23:00
    
@Richard: I flagged it myself. I'm surprised it was knocked back. –  James Sheridan Mar 1 at 9:11

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