Is there any evidence that Gandalf's maia origin was known to Sauron. Not many of the elves even knew (Cirdan, Galadriel and Elrond maybe)

This quote makes me think not.

'So!' said the Messenger. 'Then thou art the spokesman, old greybeard? Have we not heard of thee at whiles, and of thy wanderings, ever hatching plots and mischief at a safe distance? But this time thou hast stuck out thy nose too far, Master Gandalf; and thou shalt see what comes to him who sets his foolish webs before the feet of Sauron the Great. I have tokens that I was bidden to show to thee - to thee in especial, if thou shouldst dare to come.'

The Return of the King: The Black Gate Opens

Is there any evidence to show Sauron knew more? I'd like to think he would have changed his plans if he had known the truth.

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    This answer implies that Sauron shares his knowledge with his messenger, which is not necessarily a given.
    – corsiKa
    Jul 23, 2015 at 1:23
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    I agree with corsiKa; Sauron would not have wanted to suggest to his servants that there was any major threat to him; agents of the Valar would have been seen as very dangerous indeed, IMO. As for his plan, of the five sent only one really maintained his mission so perhaps Sauron's plans were not so bad.
    – Nagora
    Jul 23, 2015 at 10:12
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    @Nagora his servants knew the ring was abroad and that someone getting that was a risk. I don't see evidence to back up the assertion.
    – user46509
    Jul 23, 2015 at 10:34
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    @CarlSixsmith other than the text you quoted, you mean? The need for the ring was something he simply couldn't hide unless he looked for it alone.
    – Nagora
    Jul 23, 2015 at 10:37
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    It's also possible that the Messenger did know more about Gandalf's true nature, but chose to mock him by addressing him as an ordinary old man. Jul 23, 2015 at 20:09

6 Answers 6


If he thought about the Istari, especially Saruman and Gandalf, he imagined them as emissaries from the Valar, seeking to establish their lost power again and 'colonize' Middle-earth, as a mere effort of defeated imperialists (without knowledge or sanction of Eru). His cynicism, which (sincerely) regarded the motives of Manwe as precisely the same as his own, seemed fully justified in Saruman. Gandalf he did not understand. But certainly he had already become evil, and therefore stupid, enough to imagine that his different behaviour was due simply to weaker intelligence and lack of firm masterful purpose. He was only a rather cleverer Radagast - cleverer, because it is more profitable (more productive of power) to become absorbed in the study of people than of animals.

Myths Transformed; HoME 10

This paragraph from Tolkien seems to more or less say he knew the Istari were of Maia stock. From a personal point of view as well it would not be too hard for Sauron to guess they were at least Ainur, they were certainly not dwarves or men for the istari were immortal and aged ridiculously slowly, if i remember rightly some thought they might be elves but Sauron knows enough about elves to realise the Istari are not elves. The only logical option for Sauron to think they are is a Vala (Sauron thinks the Valar have basically given up on Middle-earth) or a Maia, aka an emissary of the Valar.

  • 1
    Perfect just what I was looking for
    – user46509
    Jul 22, 2015 at 19:23
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    Did the Istari age at all?
    – einpoklum
    Jul 23, 2015 at 7:19
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    @einpoklum yes. They aged but very slowly. Saruman originally had Black hair for instance and Frodo comments that Gandalf loked older and more care-worn in shadows of the past.
    – user46509
    Jul 23, 2015 at 7:40

The "Wise" most certainly knew, especially Cirdan who gave Gandalf the ring. It seems obvious that the other ringbearers should know as well. I would imagine that Glorfindel probably also knew. As for Sauron, it seems that he would have a pretty good idea about the power that lay within Gandalf as he had been watching him for many years. If this question is asking about when the Mouth of Sauron was addressing Gandalf, then certainly Sauron knew. If this question is more concerning the earlier time of when Gandalf was hunting the Necromancer, then perhaps there is more doubt.

They were both Maia and I would expect them to understand each other a bit if only from there time spent innumerable years before hand at least somewhat in each others company. However Sauron had to have understood also that there were at least some emissaries coming from the True West as he had to have been aware of Glorfindel as well from when he faced the Witch King of Angmar. I am of the camp that believes it is the same Glorfindel as from Gondolin. :D

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    Good point about Glorfindel being an earlier emissary +1
    – user46509
    Jul 23, 2015 at 13:56
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    Tolkien confirms Glorfindel of rivendell is glorfindel of gondolin
    – user31546
    Jul 23, 2015 at 17:59
  • You need to remember, though, that when the Istari arrived (TA 1000), Sauron had been reduced to a mere disembodied spirit. Cirdan met Gandalf &c in person. After they came ashore, they went into "stealth mode", so that when Sauron was re-embodied (ca TA 2060), they would have appeared only as the Wizards. AFAIK there's no sign that Sauron thought they were anything else.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 25, 2015 at 19:01
  • In various speculations on the arrivals of Glorfindel and the Istari, Glorfindel returns with Gandalf (or possibly the Blue Wizards), or meets him at the Grey Havens. It seems likely that regardless of the exact scenario, he knew who the Istari were.
    – chepner
    Jul 29, 2015 at 20:56
  • Didn't Sauron once have Gandalf as a prisoner at Dol Guldur?If so then of course he would've knew
    – turinsbane
    Aug 28, 2015 at 16:14

Logically, I think that Sauron can't have been fully aware of the nature & purpose of Gandalf, or indeed, of the other wizards. If he had, he would have devoted much of his resources to trying to kill or otherwise disable them. Yet Gandalf is able to wander about the West of Middle Earth unmolested, concoct various plots to block Sauron (as e.g. "The Hobbit" removing Smaug as a potential ally and replacing him with strong kingdoms of Dwarves & Men), even sneak into his fortress of Dol Guldur on a spying mission.

The same seems to be true of the others. Radagast is left free to do whatever he does, which well might have including opposing Sauron in various ways. Saruman spends years, perhaps centuries, building up his military-industrial complex at Isengard, which might have been used against the forces of Mordor. It's only much later, and through his own acts, that he's snared into acting somewhat in collusion with the Dark Tower.

If Sauron had really known their purpose, why would he not have moved against them? It can't be that hard to e.g. waylay one wandering wizard. After all, the goblins manage it in "The Hobbit".

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    Gandalf in the hobbit was different to Gandalf of lotr not in the sense their different characters but in sense the hobbit was a childs book and Gandalf is a mere wizard compared to the maia of the lotr gandalf and as for sauron knowing their purpose he probably didn't, but he still knew they were maia
    – user31546
    Jul 23, 2015 at 22:14
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    @user31546: No, Gandalf in "The Hobbit" is the same as Gandalf in LOTR, because Tolkien chose to use the former as a starting-off point. Of course we only see Gandalf as Bilbo sees him - in undercover mode, as it were - but even then, there are hints that his real business is much larger, as when he leaves the party before Mirkwood to deal with the Necromancer - AKA Sauron in disguise.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 24, 2015 at 0:39
  • The goblins waylaid Gandalf, sure. How'd that turn out for them? ;) You might recall that it took a balrog to actually kill him, and it took a balrog quite some time at that.
    – Adamant
    Apr 16, 2017 at 22:06
  • @Adamant: Actually kill him? Funny, in the rest of the book he seems quite lively for a dead person :-)
    – jamesqf
    Apr 17, 2017 at 4:31
  • @jamesqf - He was only killed temporarily. Eru sent him back to fulfill his mission.
    – Adamant
    Apr 17, 2017 at 4:42

Given that Sauron "controlled" Saruman via the palantir, and the effort he must have had to exert to influence a being as powerful as Saruman, and the information Saruman shared with Sauron on their mutual enemies, it seems definite that Sauron would have known about the true nature of Saruman and all of the Istari.

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    Sauron did not control Saruman.
    – user46509
    Jul 23, 2015 at 17:50
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    @CarlSixsmith True, but he did at minimum speed along his corruption and have him start to raise an army. I think the spirit of this answer is correct -- their communications would have given much away. Jul 23, 2015 at 19:55

I'm sure that the canonical answer is there but just in my logic: 1) They were together from their creation 2) They sang along to help create middle earth 3) The actual number of Maiar sent specifically to fight against Malkor/Sauron was so few in number.

I would find it highly improbably after Malkors defeat and Saurons retreat that it would be possible for Sauron not to know.


Of course he knew,the white council drove him out of Dol Goldur,Sauron was incredibly wise,possibly the wisest being on middle earth by the war of the ring,it's impossible for him not to have known and also Gandalf was once a prisoner of his,which is when Gandalf realized the necromancer was Sauron.

  • Sauron was not the wisest in middle-earth. He was powerful, but he wasn't super intelligent. He didn't know for certain that Galadriel held a ring of power for instance.
    – user46509
    Aug 28, 2015 at 16:22
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    The nazgul knew Galadriel had a ring of power,so it would stand to reason that Sauron would know,"Unfinished tales,the hunt for the ring"-The Lord of Morgul,seeing no better counsel,determined to seek northward hoping maybe to come upon Gollum as well as to discover the Shire.That this would prove to be not far from the hated land of Lorien seemed to him not unlikely,if it was not indeed within the fences of Galadriel.But the power of the white ring he would not defy,nor enter yet into Lorien.
    – turinsbane
    Aug 29, 2015 at 4:19
  • good point. But that conflicts with Gladriels claim in LOTR that he only suspects and doesn't know.
    – user46509
    Aug 29, 2015 at 6:32
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    You're interpreting that quote about defying the white ring completely wrong, the quote does not at all say the witch king knew galadriel held an elven ring but rather that he would not defy the power that was in lorien (which was down to the elven ring, which he did not know). Just thought id clear that up :)
    – user31546
    Feb 4, 2016 at 23:56

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