According to the Lord of the Rings project, Saruman imprisoned Gandalf at the top of the tower, Orthanc on July 10th, 3018 Third Age.

The chief of the great eagles, Gwaihir, rescued Gandalf on September 18th.

When Gandalf arrives, we see no Uruk-Hai at Isengard, but by his rescue, there are plenty of Uruk-Hai. That means Saruman transformed Isengard from a garden into an industrial site and made an army in just 10 weeks.

How much time did it take Saruman make an Uruk-Hai army?

Were the Uruk-Hai already there before Saruman transformed Isengard?

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    Don't take the movie too literally. In the book, Saruman had been building the army for years. The transformation of Isengard was more a visual representation of the changes in Saruman's character, made specifically for the movie.
    – chepner
    Feb 25, 2017 at 0:00
  • 4
    @chepner The timeline is about the same for the book or movie. Gandalf arrives when Isengard is a garden and leaves when it is a weapons factory. That only takes place in just weeks. Can you give citations from the book which say Saruman was building an army for years?
    – RichS
    Feb 25, 2017 at 0:14
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    Isnt there a scene that shows the Uruk-Hai emerging from some kind of pod or am I confusing that with the warhammer 40k orks
    – revenant
    Feb 25, 2017 at 1:47
  • @revenant You are correct. I don't recall if that scene is in the book, but it's definitely in the movie. I had always taken it to mean that the Uruk-Hai were somehow "grown" artificially (and/or magically) and not born in the usual way.
    – Steve-O
    Feb 25, 2017 at 2:33
  • @RichS --- Appendix A part II (The House of Eorl): He then [TA2953] took Isengard for his own and began to make it a place of guarded strength and fear ... His friends and servants he drew then from all who hated Gondor and Rohan, whether Men or other creatures more evil. Feb 25, 2017 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


He didn't

All evidence is that Saruman had been building his army for a good many years prior to Gandalf's capture.

In the Council of Elrond we see that the industrialization of Isengard was already at an advanced stage by the time Gandalf was placed on top of the tower:

They took me and they set me alone on the pinnacle of Orthanc, in the place where Saruman was accustomed to watch the stars. There is no descent save by a narrow stair of many thousand steps, and the valley below seems far away. I looked on it and saw that, whereas it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges. Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service yet.

A possible date for this is given in the Tale of Years:

c. 3000. The shadow of Mordor lengthens. Saruman dares to use the palantír of Orthanc, but becomes ensnared by Sauron, who has the Ithil Stone. He becomes a traitor to the Council. His spies report that the Shire is being closely guarded by the Rangers.

Note 7 to the Palantíri essay in Unfinished Tales gives further evidence of an earlier beginning (with my emphasis):

The Council seems to have been unaware, since for many years Isengard had been closely guarded, of what went on within its Ring. The use, and possibly special breeding, of Orcs was kept secret, and cannot have begun much before 2990 at earliest. The Orc-troops seem never to have been used beyond the territory of Isengard before the attack on Rohan.

So to summarize:

Saruman had been building his army for possibly up to 30 years prior to Gandalf's capture, it wasn't the case that Gandalf was spectacularly unobservant, Saruman had actually kept this secret by breeding the Uruk-Hai in caverns underneath Isengard and not dispatching them outside of his territory. Saruman not only had the trust of everyone but the lush gardens of Isengard helped provide the perfect camouflage, concealing the army up until Gandalfs visit and imprisionment, it was only after Gandalf's capture that Saruman was open about his activities.

  • 4
    Please consider merging your accounts. You can do so using the instructions here. With just a single account instead of the 20-odd you have now, you'll be able to do things like edit any of your own posts without needing approval from others. I imagine you'll also have quite a lot of total reputation by summing across all your accounts, and that will give you more privileges on the site
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 25, 2017 at 13:40
  • 4
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    – Edlothiad
    Feb 25, 2017 at 13:41

While the book may differ in the movies Uruk-Hai are grown either with magic or as a natural process of their biology

Saruman likely just devoted all available land and resources to growing his army soon after Gandalf escaped

  • This is tangential to the real question about how much time it took Saruman to make an army.
    – RichS
    Feb 25, 2017 at 18:58
  • @Richs if you wanted to ask how long it took to build the army you should have asked how long it took to build the army your question as written ATM is How the army was built.
    – revenant
    Feb 25, 2017 at 23:26
  • Oh, I see your point. Yeah, I was really asking about the amount of time to create an army, not the exact process to create Uruk-Hai. I will edit the question to be clearer. Anyhow, I am not the person who downvoted your answer, and thanks for providing the info.
    – RichS
    Feb 26, 2017 at 16:49
  • @RichS de nada, also my previous comment came off a bit bit***** than it was meant to sorry.
    – revenant
    Feb 27, 2017 at 5:38
  • This is a great example of how screenwriters can "improve on" the work of published & respected authors. Shame on Tolkien for not thinking of this!
    – m4r35n357
    Jul 14, 2023 at 9:22

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