I have just started reading The Lord of The Rings. I have caught up a bit on Middle-earth's history. I recently read the story that Elrond tells during the meeting in Rivendell (Fellowship).

Here's where I am getting confused: Isildur was the son of Elendil, the king. He cuts the Ring off Sauron, and instead of destroying it, keeps it as a token of remembering his father (at least, that is what Elrond says). Now, I have read a lot of backstory and watched videos on YouTube, that say that Isildur was a great king. In the movie, we see in the prologue that Isildur is riding his horse, and he gets attacked and killed. That is what Elrond says too.

What I want to ask is: is there a time gap between Isildur obtaining the Ring and him getting killed? The reason of doubt being, that his 'greatness' seems to limited to only winning the war (because he became king after that). I could be wrong, but what I believe is that Isildur obtains the Ring, becomes king, then after a few years in which his people and others term him as a great king, he is killed when he is returning from somewhere else. Am I right? Or is he only great because he won the war (in which case he is immediately killed)? Is there a time gap in Elrond's story?

  • 8
    Don't believe anything you see in the movies. IIRC, Isildur and his party were on foot when they were attacked.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 6, 2020 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


Isildur remained in Gondor for two years, instructing his nephew, Meneldil in being a king. This due to the fact Isildur's brother, Anárion died earlier, in the siege of Barad-dur. Isildur's death came when he finally decided to return to the northern kingdom of Arnor. He, like Elendil was technically high king of both kingdoms. It was only after his death that the rulership of the kingdoms split between the lines of Isildur and Anárion. He and his forces (including all of his adult sons, with just one child son remaining) were killed in an ambush by orcs while they were in the middle of that journey, at the Gladden Fields.

  • 11
    More details on this are given in Unfinished Tales.
    – Mary
    Jul 5, 2020 at 14:42
  • 5
    Elaborating on what makes Isildur a “Great King” would round off this answer and fully ask the original question which seems to have come from what made him such a great king if he died before he could rule for any time.
    – Edlothiad
    Jul 5, 2020 at 14:52
  • If I could quickly think of anything to quote explaining the great king reasoning I would add it, but I can only guess and my assumption is it is entirely due to the War of the Last Alliance, possibly combined with with being one of the first and his tragic end. Jul 5, 2020 at 14:57
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    @Edlothiad Agreed. However, I'd say he was deemed a great king because he only reigned two years after winning a decisive war. He didn't had time to spoil his legacy with a sexual affaire, impopular tax raises and racist policies against non-numenórean minorities. :D :D :D
    – Rekesoft
    Jul 7, 2020 at 9:02
  • 1
    @Edlothiad Do you think maybe the screenwriters confused "High King" with "great king" in an act of mental flatulence? There doesn't seem to be any reason to discuss the quality of Isildur's rule here.
    – Spencer
    Sep 4, 2021 at 14:25

Some people would say that Isildur was already a great man long before he became a king, and thus he became a great king when he founded his kingdom. And of course founding a kingdom makes Isildur one of the greatest kings of that kingdom.

When Isildur was a young man, and merely the oldest grandson of Amandil, the last lord of Andúnië in the island Kingdom of Númenor, Sauron the Dark Lord, who had surrendered to King Ar-Pharazôn, was rapidly gaining control of Númenor, converting the king and the people to worship of Sauron's old master, Morgoth, the first Dark Lord.

Isildur feared that Sauron would soon have the sacred White Tree of Númenor destroyed. So Isildur managed to sneak past the guards and cut off a fruit from the White Tree and bring it back to his family, which became the ancestor of the White Tree of Gondor, even though he was severely wounded in a fight with the guards.

This story is told in The Akallabêth, the story of the Downfall of Númenor, published with the Silmarillion in the book called The Silmarillion, according to Ian Thompson's comment.

The Appendixes to The Return of the King have a lot of historical information. Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, (i) NUMENOR, gives a brief history of the kingdom of Númenor during the Second Age of Middle-earth.

Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, (ii) THE REALMS IN EXILE, lists the kings of Arnor, heirs of Isildur, and the kings of Gondor, heirs of his younger brother Anárion.

Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, (iii), ERIADOR, ARNOR, AND THE HEIRS OF ISILDUR, gives a brief history of the region of Eriador, The Kingdom of Arnor, the three kingdoms that Arnor was later divided into, and the chieftains of the Dúnedain after the fall of the kingdoms, during the Third Age of Middle-earth.

Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings, (iv), GONDOR, AND THE HEIRS OF ANARION, gives the history of Gondor when ruled by the kings, and when ruled by the ruling stewards, until the Return of the King.

Appendix B, THE TALE OF YEARS, has an introduction and then gives the chronology of The Second Age and then The Third Age.

In Second Age (SA) 3262: Sauron is taken prisoner to Númenór.

SA 3262-3310 Sauron seduces the king and corrupts the Númenóreans.

SA 3310 Ar-Pharazôn begins the building of the Great Armament.

SA 3319 Ar-Pharazôn assails Valinor. Downfall of Númenór. Elendil and his sons escape.

[Note the Downfall was the literal downfall of Númenór into the ocean. Elendil and his sons and the remnant of the Faithful of Númenór escaped in nine ships.]

SA 3320 Foundations of the Realms in Exile, Arnor and Gondor. The stones are divided (ii, 203). Sauron returns to Mordor.

[Note. Elendil was the King of Arnor, and the High King of both realms. Isildur and Anárion were the co kings of Gondor. Osgiliath was the capital of Gondor, and Minas Itil (later Minas Morgul) was Isildur's city and Minas Anor (later Minas Tirith) was Anárion's city. The stones were the palantiri. Sauron was killed in the Downfall, but his spirit returned to Middle-earth, carrying the One Ring, and Sauron made a new body for himself, black in color and very hot.]

SA 3429 Sauron attacks Gondor, takes Minas Ithil and burns the White Tree. Isildur escapes down Anduin and goes to Elendil in the North. Anárion defends Minas Anor and Osgiliath.

SA 3430 The Last Alliance of Elves and Men is formed.

[Note. Gil-galad was the last king of the Ñoldorin Elves in Middle-earth, and ruled in the west of Eriador.]

SA 3431 Gil-galad and Elendil march east to Imladris.

[Note. Imladris is the Elven name for Rivendell.]

SA 3434 The host of the Alliance crosses the Misty Mountains. Battle of Dagorlad and defeat of Sauron. Barad-dûr is besieged.

[Note. It is said that some members of every species of people, and of every type of birds and animals fought on each side at the Battle of Dagorlad, except that the Elves all fought for the Last Alliance.]

SA 3440 Anárion slain.

[Note. Anárion was hit in the head by a stone thrown from the Barad-dûr.]

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

[Note. After being besieged for seven years, Sauron and a small group broke out from the Barad-dûr and headed for Mount Doom. Sauron's followers were all killed, and on the slopes of Mount Doom Gil-galad and Elendil fought Sauron, assisted by Cirdan, Elrond, and Isildur. Sauron was slain, but Elendil was killed and his sword Narsil broke under him as he fell. Gil-galad was burned to death by the black hand of Sauron, which was burning hot, perhaps when he tried to take the ring from it. Isildur cut the ring finger off of Sauron's hand to get the Ring. Círdan and Elrond advised Isildur to throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, but Isildur kept it as recompense for the deaths of his father and brother.]

[Note. Sauron's spirit did not stir again in Middle-earth for about a thousand years, when it began encouraging evil creatures to attack. And it may have taken Sauron centuries or millennia more to create another body for himself, a body which lacked a ring finger.]

Third Age (TA)

TA 2 Isildur plants a seedling of the White Tree in Minas Anor. He delivers the south-kingdom to Meneldil. Disaster of the Gladden Fields, Isildur and his three elder sons are slain.

[Note. Meneldil was said to have been the last man born in Númenór before the Downfall, and so should have been about 124 years old by TA 2, and had watched his father Anárion be co king of Gondor for 109 years before Sauron attacked. It is possible that Meneldil didn't see any need for Isildur to instruct him how to be king. I can't help suspecting that Meneldil and Valandil were not as friendly to each other as they should have been and are largely responsible for the relative lack of cooperation between Arnor and Gondor.]

[Note. There is an account of the Gladden Fields disaster in Unfinished Tales of Númenór and Middle-earth]

TA 3 Othar brings the shards of Narsil to Imladris.

TA 10 Valandil becomes King of Arnor.

[Valandil was born at least as early as 3434 when his father Isildur left him behind in Imladris, and so was at least 17 in TA 10.]

As you can see, Isildur and Anárion landed in Gondor with their followers, persuaded the inhabitants there to accept them as their rulers, and founded the kingdom of Gondor, and built it up politically as well as building at least three cities and other infrastructure. And they ruled Gondor, under the authority of their father Elendil the High King, for 109 years until Sauron attacked. And both Isildur and Anárion fought heroically and led with skill during the war with Sauron.

So many persons would think that co founding the Kingdom of Gondor and ruling it for 109 years, plus heroic deeds rescuing a sapling of the White Tree in Númenór, and in the war with Sauron, combined to make Isildur a great king.

  • 2
    Akallabeth, in the Silmarillion, has the story of Isildur taking a fruit from the White Tree. Jul 6, 2020 at 19:36
  • @Ian Thompson .Thank you. Jul 9, 2020 at 17:11
  • Meneldil, not Meneldur. Tar-Meneldur was the fifth king of Númenor (and Elendil's great-great-...-great uncle).
    – chepner
    Sep 4, 2021 at 16:00
  • (One-hundred-twenty-four-year-old Meneldil probably also didn't enjoy having to defer to his seventeen-year-old cousin, though one imagines it was probably a compromise given that Valandil had an equally valid claim as co-King of Gondor.)
    – chepner
    Sep 4, 2021 at 16:06
  • @Chepner Corrected. What a coincidence that you commented right before Ilooked at this post. Sep 4, 2021 at 16:06

There is a time gap, but not for the reason you state.

Isildur was already the king. According to the Tale of Years, the realms were founded in SA 3320, and the battle was over 100 years later in SA 3441.

(As for the actual time gap, as you will learn later in the book, Isildur spent some time in Gondor between the battle and his death.)

  • And his father, Elendil, was the high king of Arnor and Gondor at the start. Jul 5, 2020 at 14:40
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    This post seems to be lacking a lot of possible content and really only answer the title. Exploring what made Isildur a great king, more accurately displaying the timeline of when he ascended to the throne to when he died and providing quotes would all greatly help this answer.
    – Edlothiad
    Jul 5, 2020 at 14:53

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