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Both Morgoth and Sauron were Dark Lords. Did Tolkien express any opinion about which he considered to have the greatest power at the height of their careers (either in the books or any of the extended materials)?

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    This seems very opinion-based. What measure are you using to determine "power"?
    – Valorum
    Sep 20, 2014 at 9:39
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    I'm wondering if there is any references in the text that may give light on it. Perhaps Tolkien had an opinion.
    – a_a
    Sep 20, 2014 at 9:46
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    This isn't actually opinion-based at all - it's clear from just reading the Silmarillion that Melkor (as the tyrant of Utumno) was considerably more powerful than Sauron (in the late Second Age).
    – user8719
    Sep 20, 2014 at 11:32
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    ...on the other hand I'm almost certain it's a duplicate because I'm sure I remember providing another answer that touches on all of this, but I'm having trouble finding it at the moment.
    – user8719
    Sep 20, 2014 at 11:39
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    @DarthSatan - I'm doing VTRO Sep 20, 2014 at 13:47

8 Answers 8

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Morgoth is clearly more powerful than Sauron. This was not just an opinion but rather hard fact stated by Tolkien himself.

Morgoth is stated to be the first and most powerful of the Ainur. This puts him not only above Sauron (who is just a Maia) but actually even above the Valar.

Morgoth is not only the original Dark Lord (before Sauron assumed the title) he is also the main antagonist of Tolkien's entire universe. He created everything that is bad in Arda in the first place and is prophesied to return from his exile in the Final Battle, to once again wage a great war before his permanent defeat.

Sauron is stated to be Morgoth's greatest servant but in the end he is just that, a servant of a greater power, even if he later took over the mantle of Dark Lord.

He could not hope to match his master's power, certainly not at his peak. Morgoth grew gradually weaker which led to his eventual defeat. Sauron might have been closer to his master's power then, but that is just speculation.

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    Re: your last paragraph, Tolkien actually stated in one of the Myths Transformed essays in HoME10 that Sauron in the Second Age was more powerful that Morgoth at the end of the First.
    – user8719
    Sep 20, 2014 at 18:45
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    I think the question of whether one is asking about temporal power (i.e. in the material lives of people in the day-to-day) or spiritual power. Unquestionably Morgoth took part in making Arda in a fashion that Sauron (and, indeed most of the Ainur) did not. On the other hand, Sauron had a great deal of 'political' currency across many nations in Middle Earth after Morgoth had been exiled to the void. OTOH during Sauron's time in Numenor, he instated worship of Morgoth not worship of himself.
    – Lexible
    Sep 20, 2014 at 19:54
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    The text under discussion is quoted in this other answer. Basically while Morgoth originally had considerably more power, by the end of the FA he had spent it in dominating the land and its inhabitants, diminishing his "personal" power. Sauron in the SA hadn't gotten around to that yet.
    – Affine
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:48
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    "He created everything that is bad in Arda in the first place" – not everything. At least Ungolianth is a counterexample. Also, though Melkor certainly had his role in the bad deads that were commited by elves, dwarves and men, I'm not sure it's right to say he caused this evil. Sep 30, 2014 at 18:40
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    @nirgal You did explicitly ask for 'at the height of their careers'. I assumed that to mean, when they were most powerful respectively. Even if Sauron obtained some additional power through the One Ring, it would not have elevated him to the level of a Vala, let alone the (according to Tolkien) most powerful one of them all (although strictly speaking Morgoth doesn't count as one of the Valar, but he's in the same 'class' of beings). They were just to different. Even with the ring Sauron only surpassed a greatly weakened version of his master, but never his master at full strength. Oct 13, 2014 at 13:18
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There is no question that Morgoth at his greatest, in the Years of the Trees, was much more powerful than Sauron ever was. But to clarify Ron Meyers' answer, Tolkien more specifically said that Sauron at his greatest (the end of the Second Age) was greater than Morgoth at his weakest (the end of the First Age), and that the reason for this was that Sauron was more clever in the use of his power.

Morgoth spent his power in the 'brute force' method of attempting to control the very matter of Arda itself, e.g by creating the orcs, trolls, and dragons, raising the gigantic Iron Mountains, and changing the weather (the winters became colder in Beleriand as the power of Morgoth increased). By the end of the First Age Morgoth had spent so much of his power that he had become bound to his earthly form, unlike the other Valar, and could be physically harmed, as he was in the duel with Fingolfin.

Sauron, on the other hand, channelled his own power into charm and deception - hence the title "Sauron the Deceiver". He helped to forge the Rings of Power in order to bind to his command those he gave the rings to, he sent forth his will to sow fear and confusion in the minds of his enemies, and manipulated various peoples of men into serving him from the beginning of his rule. He also raised mountain ranges and altered the weather, but such means were not paramount to him.

Now, Morgoth had inadvertently laid part of the foundation for Sauron by creating the orcs and trolls, but Sauron still chose not to continue down that path and opted to focus on manipulating people's minds and desires instead.

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In Morgoth's Ring, a book compiled of Tolkien's notes on Morgoth, by his son, it states in Tolkien's own words that Morgoth is "Incomparably greater than the power of Sauron, concentrated in the One Ring." Instead of pouring his malice into a ring, Morgoth poured his into the creatures and Arda itself. Another quote is, : "The whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring."

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Darth is right in his reference. Tolkien did, in fact say (in "Myths Transformed"), that Sauron became more powerful, but I do not believe that he meant that Sauron was inherently more powerful. What I took this to mean is that Morgoth (once the most powerful, after Ilúvatar) expended his 'essence' in marring the earth. In other words, what Sauron invested into the corruption of a 5 cm ring of gold, Morgoth invested into the corruption of an entire planet, leaving his energy lesser.

Also, Sauron was cagier, more of a weasel - instead of fighting at Morgoth's side in the war of wrath, he hid and lived to fight another day. I think that Sauron (as literary "true evil" will), served his master as long as it suited him in being Morgoth's servant. I think he was able to avoid the 'diluting' of his spirit the way Morgoth (and the other Valar) did.

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Remember that Morgoth only realised he was diminished after he met with the Valar again. Keep in mind that Morgoth had Sauron in his fortress, and Gothmog too, but he never noticed his diminished strength around them. Plus Morgoth corrupted men to be like him, and we see they clearly have his traits.

What does this mean? Well, the Valar are suddenly standing in his way. He doesn't even try to fight them, nor was he initially willing to challenge Fingolfin. His pride - combined with an unhealthy dose of anger - can limit his powers and weaken him very much.

This means that if Sauron was truly capable of fighting and defeating Morgoth in a duel, Morgoth would tremble in fear and subdue him out of anger and fear. In my personal opinion, after finishing preparations for the dragon host to be able to fight, Morgoth was weaker than he had ever been. Remember that this was at the end of the First Age, so by now, Sauron was more powerful than Morgoth.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Can you supply any quotes that would support the argument that Melkor is so diminished that he couldn't stand up to Sauron?
    – DavidW
    Feb 25, 2021 at 17:36
  • Editing assuming "thraits" is a typo for "traits"
    – Spencer
    Feb 25, 2021 at 18:25
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Melkor is obviously the far greater power, even at his perceived weakest. It still took a full on assault by the powers to ensure Melkor's end and cast him into the void.

Sauron seemed to have greater relative power primarily because the power of the elves was ebbing and the world was far lesser than it was when Sauron's boss roamed Middle-earth. So much so that the powers of the West sent "cast" equivalent wizards to contend with Sauron and his plans instead of just sending any of the Valar to dispatch of Sauron, which would have saved innumerable lives. It was all seemingly part of a greater plan to test and temper man to stand and rule as the creator had planned.

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...among them Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwë and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Though Manwë is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.

Note the distinction between the Aratar and the Valar. Melkor is greater in power than any single member of the Aratar, who are greater than the remaining Valar (i.e. Vana, Tulkas etc.).

With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree.

Sauron is a Maia. Not even a Vala. Melkor is a Vala, and toe to toe, can take down any single member of the Aratar.

Melkor wins.

but he fell back into evil, for the bonds that Morgoth had laid upon him were very strong.

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The mythology:

Ilúvatar is god as in GOD type número UNO GOD. The Valar, of which Morgoth/Melkor was the greatest, were less than him in every aspect. I see them as similar to Greek style Olympians, though the Morgoth story is very Luciferian. They were almost invulnerable. The most notable exception being the several times noted Melkor fusing himself to middle earth creating his mortality through his use of power.

The Maia were assistants/children of the Valar and lesser power/they can and are occasionally killed but by great power at great effort. Sauron was greatest of the Maia, Olórin was the wisest (Gandalf). In Judeo-Christian terms these are arch angels. The Balrog are fallen ones. Each of the Istari (wizards) were Maiar. Tulkas was a special case - I have seen him listed as Valar and as Maia. Thor like had greater strength than Melkor.

Elves were the first children. They were basically the angels sent to prepare the world for the second children, men who are the heroes of the epic and were men.

To the elves much knowledge and power was given, particularly those born in Arda (mount Olympus).

The essential story line is as follows:

Melkor plants seeds of corruption in the first elves, then with Ungoliant (spider of pure evil) kills Finwë (father of Fëanor, creator of Silmarils, which are jewels of pure light) steals the Silmarils and kills the Trees of Light, then flees to Angband, his fortress on earth.

With Valinor despondent over the loss of the trees, Fëanor and his sons were incensed over Finwë and vow to not stop until the Silmarils are recovered and Morgoth is captured.

They kill Teleri elves to take their ships so they can sail to earth to get to Melkor, which angers the Valar, thus elves get little to no help battling Melkor. Elves arrive on earth and defeat Melkor's forces in the first great battle but aren't strong enough to capture Angband, thus they lay siege to the mountain fortress.

Long time of settling and elven kingdom building happens, Melkor creates dragons and becomes stronger, men emerge. Battle of unnumbered tears ends elven siege. Melkor is the unmatched power of Middle-Earth, but not strong enough to wipe out all the elves at once. From this battle epic tales of men spring forth throughout history. Elves have opportunities to turn the tide but the vow of Fëanor interferes in some way to block the path.

Beren and Lúthien: The woodsmen named Beren falls in love with elven princess of Doriath. To win her fathers approval he, with her aid, and the aid of Huan the hound take a Silmaril from the crown of Melkor. Beren in the end dies but Mandos can not bear Lúthien's heart ache and allows Beren to return in exchange for her immortality. Húrin, man hero of battle of unnumbered tears, and savior of elves was captured by Melkor. His torture was to live to see how Melkor tormented his son Turin. Túrin Turambar was Herculean hero, first to kill a dragon. But personal tragedies led to his suicide.

Túrin, son of Tuor, who I believe was Húrin's brother, was met by the Valar Ulmo, and sent to hidden the city of Gondolin to defend the king and his daughter. While he built defenses Melkor conquers Dagorth forest and Novgorod without Turin to defend it. Beren and Lúthien establish hidden woodland kingdom and have children. Turin wins the heart of the princess of Gondolin and they marry and have a son, Eärendil. The nephew of the king is jealous and betrays the secret of Gondolin's location to Melkor. The 4th great battle is the fall of Gondolin. Turin and his family flees through a secret escape.

Eventually Eärendil and the daughter of Beren and Lúthien, Elwing, both being of half elf, half man decent, is deemed a special marriage. They have two sons Elros and Elrond.

Eärendil destined to be greatest among elves urged by Ulmo to sail for Arda to ask for help from Valinor and elves that remained in Arda. Long journey sails, Arda hidden, many adventures, eventually finds and successfully gets help to come. A large host of elves return and the war of wrath begins. Great unleashing of dragon army my Melkor lead by Ancalagon the black dragon. Tides of battle turns when Eärendil wearing the Silmaril won by Beren returns to earth riding an eagle kills Ancalagon. Melkor is captured with a chain forged by Aulë, wielded by Tulkas, and banished to the void of space ending first age.

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    Holy wall of text batman! ;)
    – Mac Cooper
    Mar 3, 2015 at 11:11

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