It is my understanding (please correct me if I'm wrong) that hundreds, if not thousands, of years passed between Isildur defeating Sauron, and Sauron's renewed rise to power.

Is there any detail in Tolkien's writing describing the comings and goings of Nazgûl in that period?

Wikipedia gives a very brief summary:

They re-emerged around T.A. 1300, when the Witch-king led Sauron's forces against the successor kingdoms of Arnor: Rhudaur, Cardolan and Arthedain. He effectively destroyed all the successor kingdoms, but was defeated in 1975 and returned to Mordor. There he gathered the other Nazgûl in preparation for the return of Sauron to that realm.

In 2000, the Nazgûl besieged Minas Ithil and, after two years, captured it and acquired its palantír for Sauron. The city thereafter became Minas Morgul, the stronghold of the Nazgûl. Sauron returned to Mordor in 2942 and declared himself openly in 2951. Two or three of the Nazgûl were sent to garrison Dol Guldur, his fortress in Mirkwood.

I was wondering if there were a bit more details, including at least references to where the Wiki information is contained (and hopefully additional details from letters/notes etc...)


3 Answers 3


The primary canon source for this is "The Tale of Years", published in The Return of the King, Appendix A. From here we can mostly reconstruct the movements of the Nazgûl from the overthrow of Sauron at the end of the Second Age through to Sauron declaring himself openly towards the end of the Third Age, and everything in the Wiki article can be traced back to here.

First of all, and following the overthrow of Sauron in Second Age 3441, we read:

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.

Tolkien never defines exactly what he means by "go into the shadows" here, so we must interpret that for ourselves; it's enough to understand that they became inactive at this time.

The next mention of the Nazgûl is in the entry for Third Age 1100 (all future entries are Third Age so I'll omit the qualifier) where we read:

The Wise (the Istari and the chief Eldar) discover that an evil power has made a stronghold at Dol Guldur. It is thought to be one of the Nazgûl.

Again, it's evident from this that the Wise were aware that the Nazgûl weren't destroyed, and had reason to suspect that one was at Dol Guldur, but they still haven't reappeared and that doesn't happen until we reach the entry for 1300:

Evil things begin to multiply again. Orcs increase in the Misty Mountains and attack the Dwarves. The Nazgûl reappear. The chief of these comes north to Angmar. The Periannath migrate westward; many settle at Bree.

Here we have the foundation of Angmar and the movement of the chief Nazgûl (who will shortly become the Witch-king of Angmar) is accounted for, but Tolkien doesn't say what happens to the other eight just yet. This doesn't happen until 1980 where we read:

The Witch-king comes to Mordor and there gathers the Nazgûl. A Balrog appears in Moria, and slays Durin VI.

The next event is the taking of Minas Ithil in the entries for 2000 and 2002:

The Nazgûl issue from Mordor and besiege Minas Ithil.

Fall of Minas Ithil, afterwards known as Minas Morgul. The palantír is captured.

Following this we see the following noted for 2063:

The Nazgûl remain quiet in Minas Morgul.

From here onwards the Nazgûl do nothing until Sauron's open declaration in 2951.

This therefore establishes the following timeline of the Nazgûl's activity:

  • From SA 3441 to TA 1300, when they had gone "into the shadows".
  • From TA 1300 to TA 1980, where it is stated that they had reappeared, but only the Witch-king's movements are accounted for.
  • From TA 1980 to TA 2063, when they were active in Gondor and Minas Ithil/Morgul.
  • From TA 2063 to TA 2951, when they are inactive in Minas Morgul.
  • From TA 2951 onwards when they became active again.

There's no record that I'm aware of during the inactive periods, so we can't say anything more.


The Encyclopedia of Arda states the Lord of the Nazgûl went to the far north and founded his own realm, where he gets his new-ish title from, the Witch-king of Angmar. After the dissolution of that realm (war and sickness) he traveled again to Mordor, where he summoned the other eight Ringwraiths to him.

(This doesn't answer what the other eight were up to, of course, but there is some kind of continuity for one of them at least.)

Then came the taking of Minas Ithil and the Ringwraiths' revenge on the line of kings of Gondor. The next nine hundred years passed... in preparation, I guess? I would think so, as the great armies of the Black Land had to have come from somewhere.

The Encyclopedia of Arda is pretty cool, but they're not as footnote-y as Wikipedia, so I don't know where all of the information comes from. A good deal of it is from the appendices in The Return of the King, and some comes from the Letters, that much I know.

So, same answer as the one you already have, but at least the link provides more detail, if not more in the way of references.


As far as I know, weren't the nine sealed in tombs? And that Sauron broke the seals and summoned them when he took charge of Dol Guldur.

  • 1
    As far as you know? Can you point at a quotation that supports this please?
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 13:46
  • 3
    This is what happened in the Hobbit films.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 13:48
  • 2
    As @Richard says - this is from the movies but it is not what happens in the books.
    – user8719
    Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 14:00

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