In an answer to the recent question Why was Gandalf Afraid of the Balrog of Morgoth?, it was stated that

A Balrog is a terror of the First Age. And something that was a threat in the First Age would be an unstoppable terror in the Third.

If this is true (and it seems to be based on the upvotes!), why was the Balrog not involved in the power struggle for Middle-earth?

Other Maia (e.g., Gandalf, Sauron, Saruman) are struggling for control but the Balrog (or Balrogs, if we accept the answers to this question) seem to be uninvolved.

  • 5
    First of all, the Balrog was trapped until TA 1980, when the Moria dwarves awaken Durin's Bane, a Balrog, which kills Durin VI, king of Khazad-dûm. Granted, that did leave 1000 years for him to struggle for power, but he must have somehow been kept. I would guess that because he was beholden to Morgoth, he would have had to wait to build his own forces (Sauron took a long time to build his forces). Perhaps the Moria goblins were the beginning of his rise to power
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:05
  • Ok, but doesn't that still leave like 1000 yrs of free-time to get in the fight?
    – DQdlM
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 18:09
  • 21
    This assumes Balrogs actually cared about power. Absent Morgoth's command, the Balrog may not have cared. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 1:31
  • 42
    How do you know the Balrog was unconcerned? In fact he was deeply worried about Middle Earth's decline: the lack of any decent wars, the dying out dragons and other monsters, young Balrogs not showing him any respect and calling him "Grandad", and no more heroes to kill. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 3:28
  • 4
    @TheMathemagician Hey, this is Tolkein, not Pratchett!
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:45

11 Answers 11


According to the timeline of events, the Balrog was trapped until 1980 Third Age (TA):

The Moria dwarves awaken Durin's Bane, a Balrog, which kills Durin VI, king of Khazad-dûm

The events of the Lord of the Rings occur primarily in 3018-3019 TA (including the fight and demise of the Balrog). So we have 1,038 years for the Balrog to struggle for power.

As best as I can tell, there is no canonical reasoning, but my guess would be that because he was initially beholden to Morgoth, he would have had to wait to build his own forces, as he would have to start from zero once he was freed. We can look at the timelines of Sauron's rises to power. Sauron was already Morgoth's chief lieutenant, and so he potentially had an easier time of raising forces.

After lying hidden and dormant for 500 years, he began revealing himself once more, and by SA (Second Age) 1000 he gathered his power and established himself in the land of Mordor in eastern Middle-earth and begun building the dreaded Dark Tower of Barad-dûr near Mount Doom. Sauron, like Morgoth, soon began raising massive armies of Orcs, Trolls, and possibly other creatures, as well as corrupting the hearts of Men with delusions of power and wealth, chiefly Easterlings and Southrons (the Haradrim). Although Sauron knew that Men were easier to sway, he sought to bring the Elves into his service, as they were far more powerful. By about SA 1500, Sauron put on a fair visage in the Second Age.

So this first rise to power took somewhere between 500-1000 years. If we look at the time line of events again, Sauron was defeated in 1700 SA and rebuilt, but even by SA 3263 (over 1,500 years later) was not powerful enough to challenge the Númenóreans. His final rise to power began in the Third Age:

In the Third Age, Sauron arose again in TA 1000, at first in a stronghold called Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery, in southern Mirkwood TA 1050. There, he was disguised as a dark sorcerer known as the Necromancer, and the Elves did not realize at first that he was actually Sauron returned. The wizard Gandalf went to Dol Guldur in TA 2063 in secret to see who it was that ran Dol Guldur but Sauron, sensing that his secret identity was about to be unveiled, had fled before him and gone into the East to hide; thus began the Watchful Peace. Sauron returned in TA 2460. Gandalf the Grey stole into Dol Guldur in TA 2850 and discovered the truth. Eventually, the White Council put forth their might and drove Sauron out in TA 2941.

So Sauron's rises to power took hundreds or thousands of years, and he at some points had a baseline to start from. The Balrog had nothing to begin with, so perhaps the Moria goblins were the beginning of his rise to power. Who knows what would have happened in the fourth age if he had remained unchallenged and had his powers growing until after the elves and Gandalf had left Middle-earth?

  • 7
    You mean "ONLY 1038 years"..To a Balrog, who was created before the beginning of the world, that is not even an eyeblink. Barely enough time to make tea for breakfast, much less plan the conquest of the Universe.
    – PcMan
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 11:45

There may be hints of an answer in the way Tolkien fitted the balrog into the story.

At one point, he had the Moria balrog under Sauron's direct control; sent from Orodruin to Moria specifically. The way this changed - and the description of the balrog as being a terror of the First Age (i.e. ancient times) - serves to distance it from the current tide of events and brings a somewhat deeper shadow into the story, with echoes of Morgoth and ancient evils always resurfacing (in parallel to Sauron rather than in step with Sauron).

The balrog awaits Morgoth's return and Dagor Dagorath. The other thing regarding the balrogs' power is that (like the earlier descriptions of Morgoth) they suffer from the remnants of a simpler storyline.

After The Lord of the Rings had clarified things, Tolkien has to rework the primitive notions of the First Age. Melkor must be made a great deal more powerful and the balrogs become primeval fire demons; much more limited in number, but vastly greater in power.

It is this demonic aspect that I feel the film (and most other depictions) miss. They were not supposed to have been beasts: even fiery beasts with horns. They are the kind of thing which should simply not have existed by the time of the Third Age: great demonic spirits totally removed from the physical plane, save by foul and forbidden rites to summon them forth.

  • 4
    In many ways it's a shame that the original description of the Balrog (given in HoME 7) didn't survive as it seems to bring out the "Thing That Should Not Be" aspect a little more (although it lacks in other respects). Although it's important to note that "power and terror seemed to... go before it" did survive, and that you're right about it not being a fiery beast - it was fiery because flames from the fissure it jumped over wreathed around it, but when first encountered it's not fiery and most subsequent descriptions focus on the shadow element
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 1:13
  • Cool answer. Thanks. Welcome to SE
    – DQdlM
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 1:53

I like to think the Balrog was something akin to the Dragon in The Hobbit. A very powerful creature, but if you left it alone, generally speaking it left you alone. I haven't seen any evidence that the Balrog was intelligent, which is a requirement for trying to take over the world.

Studying the Wikipedia article, there is evidence to indicate that the Balrogs were captains, and they ruled themselves, but they never seem to be the overall leader. Durin's Bane, the Balrog seen in LotR, seems to be content to control Moria, and doesn't seem to care about the events outside of Moria.

Bottom line, I just don't think the Balrog in Moria had any desire to compete for power. It seemed to be content to control Moria, and didn't seem to care about anything beyond that. There may have been some Balrogs which desired more, but I don't think the one in Moria was one of those.

  • 5
    Balrogs were maia just like Saruman and Gandalf of course they would've been intelligent they just don't appear to have ambitions for domination and power,eg when Melkor was imprisoned the first time they waited centuries until he returned,
    – turinsbane
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 10:03

Balrogs are not actually that powerful. In the Morgoth's Ring "Orcs" essay Balrogs are explicitly stated to be less powerful than Sauron. This is borne out by the fact that heroes of the First Age could defeat Balrogs (admittedly dying themselves in the attempt), but Felagund could not overcome Sauron. Even a restricted Olórin was a match for a Balrog.

So the answer to why the Balrog wasn't a power player is simple; it just lacked the intrinsic power to be one.

  • 9
    Just because they are less powerful than Sauron (a fact I would say is probably accurate) does not mean they could not be a power player. I would say that Galadriel and Elrond were significantly less powerful than Sauron, and probably much less than a Balrog, and they were still players.
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 31, 2013 at 5:03
  • 1
    I'd contradict the point about Galadriel and Elrond by referring you to the Istari essay in UT: "In Sauron's final overthrow, Elves were not effectively concerned at the point of action. Legolas probably achieved least of the Nine Walkers". By the Third Age the Eldar were on the wane and the Dominion of Men was beginning - G&E's "power" was more in preserving memories of the Elder Days and establishing safe havens rather than in taking any kind of overt action, so no - they're actually not players which invalidates the argument against.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:35
  • Yes, but had they been players, their power was less by their very nature, as they are Elves and Sauron was a Maiar
    – The Fallen
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:43
  • 12
    It doesn't fall out that cleanly. Not all Maiar are equally powerful for starters, so you can't just say someone was a Maia. Eonwe was mightiest in arms for example, and that includes the Valar. Galadriel was probably more powerful that the Balrog, based on the reasoning that Glorfindel and Ecthelion could kill Balrogs and Tolkien's statements that Galadriel and Feanor were the most powerful of the Noldor (thus ranking Galadriel well above Glor and Ecth). It's not less power, it's different power.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 0:11
  • 1
    You may be right.
    – The Fallen
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 4:04

Clearly the Balrog did interfere with Middle-earth to some extent. It destroyed the original Dwarf-kingdom in Moria and then Balin's expedition, it attacked the Fellowship, and it controlled an army of Orcs. However, it was reluctant to reveal itself openly. For example, it did not emerge from Moria and intervene in the final battle of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs; and Balin and his followers were able to live in Moria for several years before the Balrog and its followers killed them.

In general, the Balrog may have been afraid of attack by a stronger being or coalition of beings, so it remained hidden in Moria. This would be consistent with trying to slowly build up its power (as suggested by SSumner) or not caring what happened beyond Moria (as suggested by PearsonArtPhoto). Either way, this degree of caution implies a bit of strategic planning on the Balrog's part. I suppose a more reckless Balrog might not have survived the downfall of Morgoth in the first place.

More specifically, the Balrog might have been afraid of Galadriel; she was very close by and powerful enough to threaten it. It was not likely she would go hunting in Moria to find out what had killed the Dwarves, but a Balrog appearing in broad daylight would be another matter. Probably the Balrog abandoned its usual caution to attack the Fellowship because it sensed the presence of the Ring.

  • 3
    Is it really in any way implied that the army of orcs was in any way controlled by the Balrog, instead of simply coexisting there?
    – Peteris
    Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 23:09

My view is that the Balrog of Moria was afraid to draw attention to itself - it was in hiding, having survived the destruction of Angband only by fleeing and hiding. We'll probably never know Tolkien's true intention :-(.


This wouldn't be the first time that Balrogs stayed in their deep hiding places until they heard the call of their master -- however long that took. The timelines are a bit hard to read, but it appears to me that from Morgoth's first defeat, the Balrogs stay hidden in deep caverns for 400 years before he returns and summons them to his defense.


I think the answer is as simple as: it didn't serve the story for it to be a mover/shaker. Its job was to provide a credible way to take out Gandalf, allowing him to be redeemed and reborn, and Tolkien likely never looked beyond that.

It would certainly be cool to have an in-story answer, especially something canonical, but it would all be pure conjecture.

  • 8
    While true, answering something with "it doesn't fit the story" is kind of a cop-out. I assume the asker knows that, he is looking for an in-canon answer, preferably sourced, but conjectured if no sources exist
    – The Fallen
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 14:55
  • I would agree, in general, but I really think there is no better answer here. Commented Mar 31, 2013 at 12:20
  • 1
    On the contrary, I think there are at least 3 answers here that are good, plausible attempts at giving a good answer
    – The Fallen
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 0:47

LAK is right: the Balrog was hiding in Moria, from the Valar.

After the War of Wrath, the Balrog fled from Beleriand to Moria in order to escape the summons of the Valar, and subsequent judgment of ending up like Melkor, i.e. cast into the Outer Void.

So he didn't dare pop out of Moria even for one second to help Azog's army, at the front gates of Moria-- even though Dain was so terrified from one glimpse of the Balrog, that he told the Dwarves never to enter there again despite winning the Dwarf-and-Goblin war.

So the Balrog was hiding in Moria, and didn't dare leave; and he didn't get involved for fear of what happened last time, i.e. the Valar coming in and killing or capturing everyone. So he didn't draw attention to himself outside of Moria, fearing that the Valar would come and seize him.

Sauron, meanwhile, knew that the Valar would never come to help Men directly ever again, after they attacked Valinor, causing the Downfall of Númenor; and so he set up a loose alliance with the Balrog to allow his minions to live there and mine for mithril, possibly in exchange for his silence (i.e. blackmail; do what Sauron said, or else he'd inform the Valar he was staying in Moria. Sauron could have told the Balrog that he himself was pardoned by the Valar, but that they were still looking for the Balrog).

Sauron was Melkor's lieutenant, so he would obviously know the Balrog, Melkor's most powerful remaining servant, by name and have a prior working relationship with him where Sauron was his superior official. Sauron might fear the Balrog rivaling his power, so he'd tell him that the Valar were looking for him, but to just sit tight and he'd help keep him hidden in exchange for his cooperation.


There are a number of good points made in the other answers, but I think we also need to remember that creatures could diminish their very beings by repeatedly choosing evil ⁠— in the end, even the mightiest (e.g., Sauron and Saruman) would lose their bodies and turn into smoke blown away in the wind becoming powerless spirits of malice. Morgoth himself, the greatest of created beings, would through his self-diminishment wind up confined to a deformed physical body and nearly defeated by a mere Elf.

The Balrogs had been corrupted by Melkor before the creation of the world and followed him into the world after it had been created and had spent unmeasured time engaged in destruction while subordinate to Morgoth. Corruption isn't an on-off state and in their continued subordination to Morgoth they would have suffered continued loss of self-will. In time, the Balrogs must have lost all non-essential (from Morgoth's point of view) parts of their being, leaving them being not much more than the fire demon that the Fellowship encounters. (Think of it as having been driven hopelessly mad if you can't stand thinking of it as being lost in evil.)

So why didn't the Balrog try to dominate Middle-earth? It had shredded its being, its personality and everything but its power to destroy. It had become the Ainur equivalent of a very dangerous predator and simply no longer had the capacity to care about world domination.


I'd also note that conquering Middle-earth requires and army which must be fed, housed and armed, which requires an economy. Even Sauron needs that, though it's off-stage. Tolkien writes of

the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Núrnen; nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands, from which the soldiers of the Tower brought long waggon-trains of goods and booty and fresh slaves. Here in the northward regions were the mines and forges, and the musterings of long-planned war

If the balrog wanted to rule M-E, he had to either build up the infrastructure to field an army or take over an existing army. Neither option take any thing like a millennium.

So the balrog either didn't want to conquer M-e or was really quite inept. I lean to the former, see above.


I think the answer is simple and there are clues. The Earth was leveled when the Valar came for Morgoth for the last time. I believe this Balrog got caught under the Earth, and it just slept like dragons do. It remained hidden, knowing the fate of its master, and found itself fortunate to be missed. I say slept, because he didn't even come out to fight the Dwarves the whole time they were there, until hey uncovered him.

As far as Sauron goes: Sauron was #2 to Morgoth, and when he came to power he would have brought both the Balrog and Smaug to sway. Imagine if Erebor had not been reclaimed and Smaug came flying out upon Thranduil from Erebor, while the host of Moria, led by the Balrog, emptied out on Lothlórien, or joined Smaug against Thranduil.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Except, of course, for over 1000 years the Balrog did not sleep, but haunted Moria. Note that the second part of your answer is speculation, and not really answering the question; you should focus on the first part, which is responsive but could use a bit more work.
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 11:32

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