Did Sauron make any sort of promise or guarantee to Saruman to gain his fealty? Did Saruman consider himself an equal to Sauron?

He seemed to control a reasonable Orc army, but were they actually independent or ultimately under control of Sauron?

  • Sarumans orc recognized Saruman as their only masterthis is demonstrated when Merry & Pippen were kidnapped & the Uruk-Hai ignored Saurons orders that the hobhits be brought to Barad dur & acknowledged that Saruman who fed them man flesh was their one true lord & master.
    – turinsbane
    Aug 13, 2016 at 7:51

11 Answers 11


Saruman knew that without a Great Ring of his own he was no match, power against power, for even a Ring-less Sauron. But he had concluded that the West no longer had any hope of resisting Sauron. If he could not defeat Sauron himself by making his own Great Ring or (better yet) finding Sauron's, then he thought the smart thing was to become Sauron's ally — with the long-term plan of using his own ability to persuade and manipulate to become the power behind Sauron's throne. As Saruman said to Gandalf,

"A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. [...] As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it."

— from "The Council of Elrond", The Fellowship of the Ring

Whether Saruman was really capable of pulling that off, as he believed he could, is another story. But at the least, that policy would have bought him time to continue his efforts to make his own Great Ring and/or locate the One Ring.

Sauron, for his part, was merely following his usual policy of dividing his enemies. One of the Elves of Lothlórien remarks, "Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him." The original distribution of the Rings to the Dwarf lords and to Men was another example of the same general divide-and-conquer policy.

Gandalf suggested that Sauron used both promises and threats when dealing with Saruman through the Palantíri: "he [Saruman] has been persuaded from afar, and daunted when persuasion would not serve." ("The Palantír", The Two Towers).

Not that Sauron's promises ever worked out well for anybody but him. Gorlim bargained with Sauron to reveal Barahir's hidden camp if he could be re-united with his wife Eilinel:

Then Sauron smiled, saying: "That is a small price for so great a treachery. So shall it surely be. Say on!"

Now Gorlim would have drawn back, but daunted by the eyes of Sauron he told at last all that he would know. Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead. "Nonetheless I will grant thy prayer," said Sauron; "and thou shalt go to Eilinel and be set free of my service." Then he put him cruelly to death.

— from "The Tale of Beren and Lúthien", The Silmarillion

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    +1. Tolkein seemed to imply that Saruman justified his alliance with Sauron as being the only way to truly stop him. Whether he believed it to help him sleep nights or he was lying to persuade Gandalf to ally himself with Saruman, I suppose we'll never know.
    – Neil
    Jul 5, 2011 at 12:36
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    In the drafts of an uncompleted letter, Tolkien suggested that Saruman did believe it. Wizards "were also ... thus involved in the peril of ... 'fall', of sin if you will. The chief form this would take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends ... To this evil Saruman succumbed." Evidently Saruman still held to the good ends, at least at first, but had become a "the ends justify the means" kinda guy -- "deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order" as he said to Gandalf.
    – MLP
    Jul 5, 2011 at 14:34
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    (contd.) If Saruman believed he was at least as powerful, why even consider serving Sauron to become over time his eminence grise? Anyway, consider Gandalf's words in Fangorn: "Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been" and later "I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still." And Gandalf had a Ring and knew Sauron did not.
    – MLP
    Jul 6, 2011 at 14:52
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    I don't think Saruman was ever close to making a ring of power comparable to that of Sauron, and he didn't look like he had plans to take one of the three either. Saruman would have been able to overpower Sauron had he had the one ring at his hand.(not really a bright idea since the ring is Sauron) The three were far less powerful than the one, just as the 9 were practically useless in comparison to the three.
    – Morg.
    Oct 6, 2011 at 5:55
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    @KonradRudolph: Gandalf thought so; he said, "Isengard cannot fight Mordor, unless Saruman first obtains the Ring." IIRC this was in his conversation with Pippin at the beginning of ROTK. Jan 20, 2014 at 11:54

They were both using each other. Saruman had full control of his army, which is why the Hobbits were being brought to him (because they maybe had the ring), instead of immediately to Sauron (who at the time of their capture, they were much closer to). I don't think they liked or respected each other at all, but each side was needed to destroy the Men in their areas (Saruman to Rohan and Sauron to Gondor). Once the Men were defeated Sauron most likely would have marched on Saruman (and probably would have owned him). Gandalf uses this argument, that Sauron doesn't care about Saruman, when he realizes that Saurman had changed sides.

  • Sauron taught Saurumon the secrets of ring-making. I'd say there was at least some sort of closer connection between the two - at the very least, teacher and pupil.
    – Jeff
    Jul 4, 2011 at 18:21
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    @Jeff Sauron did not teach Saruman the secrets of ring-making. In fact, there is no evidence Saruman was able to craft rings of power at all. He studied ring-lore on his own, however.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 11, 2014 at 21:36
  • @AndresF In LoTR, it says Saruman had made his own ring. So this leaves open the possibility that said ring was a Ring of Power, and that he may have learned things from Sauron (i.e. some of the things Sauron taught Celebtimbor), although it's more likely he learned from his own research.
    – Spencer
    Jan 11, 2022 at 17:26
  • @Jeff Its also a manipulation tactic, to promise power, when really you just want to use and abuse the person. Case in point is Anakin and the Emporer.
    – Sydenam
    Jan 12, 2022 at 22:38

Clearly Saruman considered himself equal to Sauron, and capable of taking over his position. After all, they were both Maiar. Saruman has learned everything he could about the Rings of power, and he tried to take hold of the One Ring. This is the reason that his Orcs were to bring the 2 captured Hobbits directly to him without delay. He hoped/believed that one of them had the One Ring. He planned to take the One Ring, make it his own and rule in Sauron's stead. Of course Sauron had made promises to Saruman, because he also wanted only one thing - to get back his Ring. In the mean time, Sauron used the Palantíri to control Saruman and see what he's doing. I don't think any of them really trusted the other to make good on their promises.


Saruman was certainly weaker than Sauron; Tolkien confirms this in the Istari material in Unfinished Tales:

And Curunír 'Lân, Saruman the White, fell from his high errand, and becoming proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.

Since both were in origin Maiar of Aulë they undoubtedly knew each other in the origin of Arda, and each would have been well aware of the other's relative power.

The quoted passage also clarifies Saruman's motive: he had originally intended to remove Sauron and take his place, but ultimately Sauron dominated and controlled him.

The words of Sauron (via Pippin) in The Palantír demonstrate that Sauron was aware of this plan, aware that Saruman intended to have the Ring for himself, but nonetheless felt capable of dealing with this situation:

'It is not for you, Saruman!' he cried in a shrill and toneless voice shrinking away from Gandalf. 'I will send for it at once. Do you understand? Say just that!'

This is supported by Letter 246 which imagines a confrontation between a Ring-bearing Gandalf and Sauron; there's no reason to suppose than a Ring-bearing Saruman would be any different:

It would be a delicate balance. On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and expenditure of will in dominating inferiors. If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.


Saruman did NOT consider himself equal to Sauron, he was afraid of him and thought he had a chance to overpower his master if he took the ring, which was more or less correct.

When he lost the opportunity to get the ring, he realized that all was hopeless and his last chance was to be Sauron's ally.


Okay, maybe this is just me connecting too many dots, but... Sauron and Saruman were both Maiar under Aulë. Surely they knew each other, and they may have either been friends or rivals. (They seem to be the more prominent Maiar under Aulë, considering how much Tolkien talks about them in comparison to any others, and why wouldn't the best in Aulë's house know each other?) Some people see them as brothers, which might not be entirely off for the type of relationship. Tolkien did initially make Eönwë, a Maia under Manwë, Manwë's son. So the idea of that kind of relationship between Maiar in a Vala's house may have stuck, even though the formal “blood” relationship didn't.

So maybe Saruman, in a way, did see himself (as a Maia, not Istari) as equal to Sauron, though Sauron was clearly the best of Aulë's house. With that said, perhaps Sauron thought of Saruman as a pesky younger brother that he could use to accomplish little things (regardless of whether they agreed with each other or not), but he probably would have "cared" more about Saruman than, say, an orc captain.

So would Sauron treat Saruman as just some random pawn? Not likely. But as others said, Sauron did eventually find out that Saruman wasn't working for him entirely. (They both seem to be similar in that sense of deception, so maybe that goes in the direction of "takes one to know one.") So while they may not have been equals, and Sauron didn't see Saruman as just another disposable tissue to blow his strategic nose on, they did have a connection (and likely, some history) with them both being Maiar.

So yes, he probably did care about Saruman to some extent, but in the end, Sauron only cares for himself. No squishy warm fuzzies from the Lord of the Rings.


Sauron and Saruman were both trying to get the ring, in The Two Towers, in the chapter "The Uruk-Hai", The orcs of Mordor mentioned that a "winged Nazgûl waits us", implying that the Nazgûl was waiting for them. But the Uruk-Hai of Isengard started an argument saying that the must bring the hobbits (wrong hobbits!) to Saruman, so they went in a quarrel of who to bring the hobbits to. This isn't the strongest evidence, there is a lot more efficient evidence in Unfinished Tales:

'I came across,' said the evil voice. 'A winged Nazgûl awaits us northward on the east-bank.'

'Maybe, maybe! Then you'll fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugbúrz, and leave us to foot it as best we can through the Horse-country. No, we must stick together. These lands are dangerous: full of foul rebels and brigands.'

'Aye, we must stick together,' growled Ugluk. 'I don't trust you little swine. You've no guts outside your own sties. But for us you'd all have run away. We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man's-flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose. I am Uglúk. I have spoken.'

Clarification: Lugbúrz is what Orcs and Uruk-Hai (at least the Uruk-Hai of Cirith Ungol) call Barad-dûr.


Saruman certainly did not consider himself equal to Sauron. He started out as a good guy – Gandalf’s boss, but he came to believe that Sauron would defeat them all, and wanted to be a captain of Sauron, which is the only way he believed he would stay alive.

He began to breed the Uruk-hai in service to Sauron and to betray the Men. When he is nearly ready to put his plan into action, Gandalf suddenly shows up one day and informs him that they have found the One Ring. Suddenly, Saruman sees a way to defeat Sauron: by claiming the One Ring for himself. He imprisons Galdalf and sends the Uruk-hai out to capture the Hobbits because he knows one of them has the Ring.

I have always thought that Saruman was a good guy initially, but through despair, betrays everyone in an attempt to save himself. Suddenly, the One Ring seems within his grasp, and he begins to try to claim it and then defeat Sauron, thereby setting himself up as the one in power.

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    There's nothing sudden about Saruman's plan with the One Ring: he began searching for it in the Gladden Fields as early as 2851. Gandalf does not in fact inform Saruman that it is found, he must have figured this out by himself by the time ("c.3000: His spies report that the Shire is being closely guarded by the Rangers"). In fact, Gandalf only comes to Isengard because Saruman lurks him there (sending Radagast as a messenger) in order to extract from him the exact knowledge of the Ring's whereabouts. Nov 9, 2013 at 0:47

Sauron knew Saruman was a traitor.In unfinished tales it says how Sauron became aware of Sarumans treachery and double dealing,but concealed his wrath and bided his time preparing for the great war in which he planned to sweep all his enemies into the western sea.


Sauron the Deceiver was no fool, he knew what Saruman wanted most was his ring, to dominate for himself. Originally, it's believed he truly feared Sauron and thought that the Dark Lord would eventually destroy all who opposed him in Middle-earth.

It's not clear, to me anyway, if he allied out of fear of Sauron, or in the hope of acquiring the One Ring for himself. Either way Sauron would've just destroyed him at some point if he got the ring back; Saruman getting the Ring is another story though.

Sauron knew using Saruman to breed fighting Uruk-Hai would be great help in destroying Rohan so he could focus all his servants' power on destroying the last true kingdom of Men in Gondor. If he succeeded in all of this it's likely he would then destroy Saruman due to not really needing him anymore and not having any possible rivals in power despite being considerably more powerful than Saruman even without the Ring.


Saruman did not consider himself equal, when he was discussing the rule of Middle-earth, he always called him master, but he did consider himself equal because he also mentions the Army of Isengard and the Army of Mordor as if they were equal, and he talks about the two towers in the same way, but the most crucial piece of evidence is mainly the fact that he called him his lord.

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    Lol that only happens in the movies he doesn't call him Lord in the books.
    – turinsbane
    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:27

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