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The Nazgûl appeared during the Second Age. Long after that, Númenor was destroyed along with Sauron's physical form, and relatively shortly after that, Sauron was again vanquished by Isildur and his physical form destroyed again. It took 1000 years for Sauron to reemerge and another 300 years after that for the Nazgûl to return, after which they all remained active, with Sauron still in control of the Nazgûl until they were all finally destroyed in the War of the Ring.

According to Tolkien in the answer to this question, Sauron held the Nine rings that controlled the Nazgûl. The answer also strongly suggests that their enslavement to Sauron was due to his possession of the Nine. But it doesn't go in to any more detail than that. We know of course that Sauron managed to retain control of the Nazgûl, though it took him 300 years after he reemerged in the Third Age to effectively command them.

How did Sauron hold the Nine after his body was destroyed in the Fall of Númenor, and after Isildur defeated him? If he lost the Nine, what happened to them, and how did he get them back?

  • Barad-dur was razed, IIRC, but it wasn't exactly plundered, what man or elf in his right mind would want a trinket out of that hell... – Radhil May 17 '17 at 0:18
  • Letter 211 is relevant, but doesn't fit perfectly: "Though reduced to 'a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended." – Neithan May 17 '17 at 0:37
  • I'd be surprised if a canonical answer exists. It's quite possible the Nazgul still have their Rings at the end of the Second Age, though -- they must have actually worn them for a very long time to become wraiths. Maybe Sauron only took them back when he re-gathered them in the Third Age. (For that matter, Gandalf thinks the Nazgul still have them - "The Nine the Nazgul keep".) – cometaryorbit May 17 '17 at 7:50
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    @Radhil: One would think they'd look for something as important as the Rings of Power, though. At that point, they'd definitively won and destroyed all but the foundations of Barad-dur - I don't think there was that much left to oppose them. – cometaryorbit May 17 '17 at 7:52
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    @cometaryorbit --- Gandalf's remark "The Nine the Nazgul keep" is probably a mistake. In the Shadow of the Past, he says that Sauron has them. Galadriel also thinks that Sauron has them, and there are many other quotes to support this (and also the fact that Frodo sees the Witch King's hands at Weathertop, but does not see a ring). – Ian Thompson May 17 '17 at 20:12
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We don't know

Tolkien doesn't address this, so one can only guess what happened to the Nine Rings. Here are some very likely possibilities of what happened to the Nine Rings.

Possibility 1

  • The Nazgûl had kept their Rings with them, prior to both of Sauron's defeats in the Second Age

It is possible that the Nazgûl had kept their Rings with them throughout the Second Age when Sauron was defeated by Ar-Pharazôn and Isildur. Hence, this would explain why the Rings were never lost.

2251 Tar-Atanamir takes the sceptre. Rebellion and division of the Númenóreans begins. About this time the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths, slaves of the Nine Rings, first appear.

In the year 2251 of the Second Age, the Nine Men who are given the Nine Rings become invisible and known as the Nazgûl. They had to have their Rings on them in order for them to 'transform'. As Gandalf notes:

'And if he often uses to Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings.

It is a speculation, but one could say that the Nazgûl had kept their Rings with them after Sauron's two defeats, and Sauron took the Rings back only at a later date.


Possibility 2

  • Sauron had brought the Nine Rings to Númenór upon his 'capture'

Another theory would be that upon his surrender to the Númenóreans, Sauron went back to Númenór with them and brought both the One Ring and the Nine Rings to Númenór with him. By this time (3262) the Nine Men would have transformed into the Nazgûl (2251), so Sauron could have taken the Rings from the Nazgûl already.

It is of course, proven that Sauron took the One Ring to Númenór with him.

Ar-Pharazôn, as is told in the 'Downfall' or Akallabêth, conquered a terrified Sauron's subjects, not Sauron. Sauron's personal 'surrender' was voluntary and cunning : he got free transport to Númenór! He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien - Letter 211

This would contradict my first possibility, but it is also likely. Sauron took the Nine Rings, along with the One Ring, with him to Númenór when he was taken as a 'prisoner'.


Overall, the first possibility seems the most likely. Why?

When Isildur vanquished Sauron at the end of the Second Age, the Nine Rings were not found upon Sauron- or Isildur would have took them as well. The only explanation for this would be that the Nazgûl had the Nine Rings in their keeping the whole time. It is likely that Sauron took the Nine Rings back from the Nazgûl upon his re-emergence in the Third Age.

We do know that the Nazgûl went into hiding upon Sauron's defeat, so it can be that they took their Rings into hiding with them.

3441 Sauron overthrown by Elendil and Gil-galad, who perish. Isildur takes the One Ring. Sauron passes away and the Ringwraiths go into the shadows. The Second Age ends.

  • What's also certain is that three of the Nazgûl were great lords of the Númenórean race. But I don't see how the letter contradicts the first possibility? Why do you suppose he had the Nine Rings too? I never got that impression and I don't see how the fact Sauron had the One (which is also in The Silmarillion which I'm sure you know) suggests that he also had the Nine (thus the Nazgûl couldn't possibly have them). – Pryftan Dec 11 '17 at 23:24

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