Is there any data in Tolkien (books/letters/etc..) to explain why there were precisely 9 Men rings and 7 Dwarf rings and 3 Elf rings? (the latter assumes that Sauron planned the number of Elvish rings to be 3 before he was thwarted by Elves making the rings themselves)

Was it because of the amount of tribes/kings he needed to deal with? Some magical/power limitations? Magical properties of numbers 9 and 7 (ala 7 Horcruxes)? A whim of Sauron's?

UPDATE: Looks like 3 and 7 are explained in the answers (3 elf lords and supposedly 7 Dwarf houses, though nobody provided canon proof).

What was NOT explained was why there were 9 Man rings?

  • If 9 was a meaningful amount, why?

  • If it was merely "19-7-3" leftover, then why were there 19 total non-One rings made?

  • 6
    Any particular reason for a bunch of DVs? As the accepted answer shows, the question is quite answerable (as the question itself guessed, there were 7 Dwarf houses, so 7 wasn't random, and since the decision to take the 3 was the Elves', that left 9 to Sauron to give to Men). Dec 28, 2012 at 18:55
  • 4
    The 3 Elven rings were never taken because Sauron never knew about them! The reason your getting so many down votes is probably because your thinking and question phrasing is very muddled. Dec 29, 2012 at 12:01
  • 3
    Sauron absolutely knew about the Three; he just had no hand in their making.
    – chepner
    Aug 12, 2015 at 19:19
  • 1
    Maybe he had an elvish vision of his future and knew he would die in 1973? o.O
    – ASH-Aisyah
    Sep 21, 2016 at 13:39
  • 1
    That's how many slots they had on their characters to equip the rings back then. That went downhill all the way to two since then.
    – void_ptr
    Sep 21, 2016 at 15:40

6 Answers 6


Advance Warning: Speculative Answer

7 houses of the Dwarves goes way back in The Silmarillion tradition, so it seems obvious that there is one ring for each such house, although I don't believe Tolkien ever wrote anything that would confirm that.

As for the Elves, and again it's speculation, but the elemental associations of the 3 rings (Fire, Water, Air) chime nicely with the last resting places of the 3 Silmarils - one in a fiery chasm, one thrown into the sea and one borne in the skies by Eärendil. Whether there's any meaning intended in that, or whether it's pure coincidence, I don't know.

There were also 3 kindreds of Elves, but — obviously because the Vanyar were off in Valinor — the initial division of the Elven rings didn't match those.

That's about all I can say, and given the nature of the question I believe that a speculative answer is the best you'll get on it, as the full reasons for those numbers is something that Tolkien would have never written about.

  • 1
    Yes, the three Elven rings were Narya, Ring of Fire, Nenya, Ring of Water and Vilya, Ring of Air. Dec 28, 2012 at 14:57
  • 2
    This makes some sense, if the 7 Dwarf houses (hey, I thought just occurred to me: seven dwarfs! :) and 3 Elvish kindreds already existed before the plot. But what about the 9 for mortal men? 19 rings is an odd number to make up. Was Tolkien just winging it? :P
    – Andres F.
    Dec 29, 2012 at 0:49
  • 16
    20 rings, not 19. You're forgetting One.
    – Mike Scott
    Dec 29, 2012 at 9:55
  • 1
    Could you please provide more details (quotes) on "7 houses of the Dwarves goes way back in the Silmarillion tradition" part? Thanks! Dec 29, 2012 at 11:56
  • 7
    @MikeScott sigh NO, 19 rings were made by the Elves and 16 were taken back by Sauron. The Elves never made the One Ring, Sauron made that himself to control all the others. Dec 29, 2012 at 12:04

Speculative Answer

The first thing you have to remember is that Eregion and Moria had a very close relationship in this period.

The second thing is that Sauron had come as Annatar "The giver of gifts". I suspect the following happened.

  1. The Noldor of Hollin, feeling the first effects of weariness and being reluctant to return to Valinor, looked for a solution to the problem. Celebrimbor forged the (second) Elfstone/Elessar in this period as a partial solution

  2. A bunch of rings were forged of varying potency (the lesser rings) but the technology wasn't quite right;

  3. Annatar/Sauron turned up and offered his assistance to perfect the Ring Lore via the Rings of Power. 3 for the elf-kings (Gil-galad (Lindon), Galadriel (Hollin), Círdan (Grey Havens) - 7 for the (at the time) closely allied dwarf lords (the 7 houses of the Dwarves).

Note that the Dwarfs of Moria had a legend that Celebrimbor gave Durin the ring directly, not Sauron. This is very significant.

This makes 10 and this is likely all that the Elves had planned. Men (apart from far away Númenor) were regarded as barely civilised and not trustworthy for such power. Also, the Noldor's purpose was to prevent the decay of time which only affected the dwarves and eldar.

We then know that Sauron double-crossed them and made the one. He also then made the nine so his rings balanced numerically the elf-forged rings. (possibly with the unwitting assistance of the Mírdain). He gave all these to men because they were the easiest to manipulate via the One Ring's domination.

This then explains why there are 20 Rings of Power and why they were split 3-7-9-1.

  • 2
    Do you have canon confirmation for the critical bullet points (only 7 houses of the dwarves, and the fact that Sauron made 10 more rings specifically to counterbalance 7+3)? Or is the last one the "speculation" part that you referred to in the first line? Dec 29, 2012 at 11:52
  • 3
    1) and 2) are canon. 3) is speculation.
    – WOPR
    Dec 29, 2012 at 13:08
  • 8
    3) is very good speculation. It seems more than coincidence to me that Sauron made exactly the same number of rings. Jan 22, 2013 at 17:51
  • 'He also then made the nine so his rings balanced numerically the elf-forged rings.' Not true. In earlier drafts yes he did make the Rings of Power but in the end he only created the One and the elves made all the others.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 15, 2018 at 1:18

One possible out-of-universe explanation is the significance of the number 9 in Norse mythology. A particularly apt example from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_in_Norse_mythology:

Odin's ring Draupnir releases eight golden drops every ninth night, forming rings of equal worth for a total of nine rings.


None of the Rings of Power were originally intended for Men. They were all meant for Elves. Sauron’s plan was to ensnare them and rule them through the Rings of Power.

By the time he left Eregion, he had helped them forge 16 rings: the Seven and the Nine. That implies these rings were made in two sets: the Nine first, then the more potent Seven. After he left, Celebrimbor and the other Mírdain forged the Three alone. Elrond describes the Three negatively: “not … weapons of war or conquest”, which would seem to describe the Nine; “not [for] strength or domination or hoarded wealth”, which might be the powers of the Seven. Then he describes the Three positively: for “understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained.” The things he describes negatively are attributes Sauron valued: he’d find them useful in his servants. It’s difficult to imagine how “understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained” would be of any interest to Sauron, “Base Master of Treachery …, faithless and accursed”.

The greatest of the Seven was given to the King of Khazad-dûm: the Dwarves claimed it was given by Celebrimbor, his friend and ally; later, the Elves were not certain. I think the gift of Celebrimbor more likely, since he was probably trying to hide them from the advancing army of Mordor. Nenya he sent to Galadriel, whom he and the Mírdain had driven out of Eregion after Sauron-Annatar cozened them; Narya and Vilya he sent to Gil-galad. It made sense for him to keep the other 15: while the Noldor didn’t dare wear them while Sauron wore the One, they might be still find a way to make them useful as weapons of war.

Sauron’s doling the remaining six of the Seven to the other Dwarf-houses could be wicked inspiration from Celebrimbor’s giving one to Durin’s Folk. Three of the Nine went to Númenóreans, leaving six to ensnare king and warriors from other nations of Men, though I suspect the Númenóreans were ensnared last: it pays to know how the Rings affect other races, and Sauron could raise up his own allies (Khamûl the Black Easterling is the only Nazgûl Tolkien names) before trying it on your enemies. Men probably fell quickly, as Gandalf told Frodo: “sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the dark power will devour him.” The Dwarves proved more frustrating; it is interesting that the Ring of Durin’s Folk was the last recovered, just as it was the first given.

But we are no closer to why there are Seven and Nine rings in two separate sets. There are Seven Vices as opposed to Seven Virtues: maybe the number Seven is somehow related to that notion. But Nine? The US Army uses “nine principals of war” (Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity), but it is unlikely Tolkien, an Englishman, was referring to that. For what other reasons he might have chosen Seven and Nine for his numbers of Rings?

  • Absolutely he wasn't thinking of that.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 14, 2018 at 22:52
  • To clarify my comment: it has nothing to do with the US army. Though I have no reason to believe Norse mythology has any relevancy either... Certainly nothing like that suggested in HoMe to my memory.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 14, 2018 at 22:59

There were originally 19 –

The Elves of Eregion forged many rings, including nineteen Rings of Power. But Sauron had deceived them, for he made the One Ring for himself, which was the master of the rest.

However Sauron's plan failed: the elves discovered his plot and discarded their Rings until they could be shielded from his influence. Sauron then waged war upon the Elves. He captured all the Rings of Power except three.

7 were given to the Dwarf Lords and 9 to Human Kings – 

The Rings of Power were the masterwork of the elven-smiths of Eregion headed by Celebrimbor who was descended from Fëanor. The impetus for their creation came from Sauron, who could at that time still assume an appearance fair enough to deceive the Elves. A total of nineteen Rings of Power were forged by the Elves, sixteen of which Sauron had a direct hand in creating. The greatest three Rings Celebrimbor crafted alone. Many other lesser rings were made, described in the The Silmarillion and by Gandalf, though they were generally considered as having been mere essays in the craft; practice, as it were, for the smiths. Sauron, however, planned to use the Rings to dominate the remaining Elves of Middle-earth. In accordance with this, he secretly forged the One Ring in the fires of Orodruin, seeking to bring all the rings and their wearers under his sway. However, when Sauron put the Ruling Ring on his finger, the Elves were immediately aware of him and took off their Rings. Furious at this turn of events, Sauron came against the Elves with open war and demanded that the Rings be given to him. Fortunately for the Elves, they were able to hide the greatest Three, but Sauron recovered the other sixteen. These he then gave to mortals; to Dwarves and Men. Seven he gave to Dwarves, but Nine he gave to Men, knowing that they would most easily bend to his will.


  • 6
    But my question was, why were there 19 made by the Elves? And why were they allocated 7+9 of the 16? Dec 28, 2012 at 13:36
  • 4
    There's no explanation why 19 were created, but there is explanation for how those 19 were allotted. 3 were kept by the Elves which leaves 16, of those 16, 9 were given to Human Kings, which leaves 7 which were given to 7 Dwarf Lords. Dec 28, 2012 at 13:39
  • 8
    That's not an explanation, that's a count. Why weren't 15 given to human kings? Or 7? Dec 28, 2012 at 13:42
  • 1
    Because there were only 9 Human Kings. It's likely the 19 rings were originally made all for Elves who were immortal. One of the affects of the rings was to lengthen life span which would not have affected the Elves (being immortal) it was never intended that the rings be given to mortals such as humans and dwarves. Dec 28, 2012 at 13:45
  • 2
    @DVK Neither does the answer you've selected as being the correct answer – that one doesn't even mention the 9 rings given to the Human Kings! It's explicitly stated in canon that the most were given to Human Kings because they were the easiest to control as given in my answer. Dec 29, 2012 at 11:56

There were five wizards. It would be consistent if five rings were envisaged for them, i.e., 1-3-5-7-9. Also might tie into the disappearance in the east of Alatar and Pallando.

  • 7
    How does the five wizards, given none of them were around in the first place at the time of the making of the rings, affect the fact there were 19 non-One Rings of Power.
    – Edlothiad
    Nov 19, 2017 at 21:58
  • The timing is the flaw, and any way around it seems a stretch. For example, Sauron was, like the Istari, a being of the Maiar order, and might have been aware from the start of forces to be brought against him at a later time. Or, there was another making of rings later. None of which seems supportable by written evidence. The idea only struck me because of the "missing" number in the 1-3-7-9 series. It would also be nice to fill in stories about the missing wizards - and - the rather skimpily explained turn of Saruman. Not complaining, just idly imagining. Nov 20, 2017 at 2:18
  • 2
    Well unfortunately we look for answers supported by written evidence, which is why your answer may not have taken off too well.
    – Edlothiad
    Nov 20, 2017 at 6:22
  • @Edlothiad Of course it doesn't :) As for the OP: what are you on about with missing wizards? If you mean the two (which indeed you even name) that are only briefly talked about in the Letters and the Unfinished Tales those aren't exactly missing they're just not relevant to the story as they weren't in the same region (which you also cite) of Middle-earth. Anyway your idea is completely wrong. As for Saruman you can find more on that in UT and also HoMe but unfortunately with such a large universe with its own mythology things are bound to be omitted...
    – Pryftan
    Jul 14, 2018 at 23:04

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