We’re about to go back even further in The Lord of the Rings timeline than ever before on the screen. The Second Age is calling, and you might need a quick refresher for the history of the mythology weaved by legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien. With, a timeline this rich and complex, it can be daunting for newbies and fans alike, so we’re here to make it a little more straightforward for you..
With The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power now here, we’ve pulled all the key events together in one epic Middle-earth chronology.
The main stories you know and love are all here. The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King (all set in the Third Age of Middle-earth) are present and accounted for, but we’ve also dipped in to the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and prequel/reference tome The Silmarillion to lay out what happened before. That should give you a few clues about what to expect in The Rings of Power, set in the Second Age of Middle-earth – Amazon’s handy interactive map (opens in new tab) will also give you a rough idea of what the world looks like at the time of the series.
In our The Lord of the Rings timeline (which is more than a match for the Star Wars and Star Trek timelines when it comes to complexity), we’ve focused on the events that are most pivotal to the movies and TV show – in other words, don’t expect a complex explanation of the Silmarils. And because Peter Jackson’s movies sometimes compress the chronology for pacing reasons, we’ve used the dates from Tolkien’s books as reference points to avoid confusion.
So join us on a trip through thousands of years of Middle-earth history. But be warned: there are likely big spoilers for The Rings of Power the further you get into the timeline.
The First Age of Middle-Earth
Slightly confusingly, Tolkien’s Middle-earth time-keeping during the First Age is split across the Years of the Trees (YT) and Years of the Sun (YS).
Years of the Trees
YT 1050: The supreme deity Eru awakens the first Elves and Ents, as well as the Fathers of the Dwarves. Varda (one of 15 Valar made by Eru) creates the stars above Arda, the world in which Middle-earth is based. The Valar live in Aman, also known as the Undying Lands.
YT 1080: Another Valar called Melkor (later known as Morgoth and effectively the Satan/fallen angel of Tolkien’s mythology) captures Elves, and tortures and corrupts them to create the first Orcs. Durin the Deathless builds the underground kingdom of Khazad-dûm, which will later become Moria.
YT 1100: Sauron (a Maia formerly known as Mairon who was originally created to help the Valar) helps his master, Melkor/Morgoth, breed more Orcs and Trolls from their fortress, Angband.
YT 1362: Future The Lord of the Rings icon Galadriel is born.
YT 1500: The Moon and the Sun are created. The Years of the Trees conclude.
Years of the Sun
YS 1: Comparative latecomers to Middle-earth are awakened for the first time.
YS 532: Future The Lord of the Rings icon Elrond is born.
YS 590: Morgoth is cast out of Arda into the Void. Sauron lays low for a while.
And so, the First Age of Middle-earth concludes.
The Second Age of Middle-earth
While we’re not sure how closely The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will adhere to Tolkien’s mythology just yet, this bit is bound to offer up plenty of clues.
SA 1: The Elven port city of the Grey Havens is founded.
SA 32: The human kingdom of Númenor (home of the long-living Númenóreans or Dúnedain) is founded by the Edain (“fathers of Men”) on an island raised from the Great Sea (which lies to the west of Middle-earth) by the Valar.
SA 500: It turns out you can’t keep a good minion down as Morgoth’s former sidekick, Sauron, makes his Middle-earth comeback.
SA 1000: Sauron begins construction on a Barad-dûr (AKA the Dark Tower), a purpose-built fortress in what will later be rebranded as the land of Mordor (where the shadows lie). Spectacular views of volcanic wastelands come as standard.
SA 1500: Nineteen Rings of Power are forged – three for the Elves, seven for the Dwarf Lords, and nine for mortal Men. They’re designed to carry “the strength and will to govern each race” but – perhaps inevitably – there’s a catch. Sauron taught Celebrimbor and the Elven smiths of Eregion the skills required to make the infamous jewelry, with an ulterior motive…
SA 1600: Sauron heads to Mount Doom in Mordor to craft an all-conquering “One Ring to rule them all”. Thanks to his impressive forward-planning, this One Ring has dominion over all the other Rings of Power and becomes a crucial weapon in his ongoing mission to conquer Middle-earth.
SA 1697: After the destruction of Eregion in the so-called War of the Elves and Sauron – where the Elves make a move to keep the three Elven rings (Vilya, Nenya, and Narya) out of the Dark Lord’s hands – Elrond builds the picturesque Rivendell, widely known as “the last homely house east of the sea”.
SA 2251: The Nazgûl (AKA the Black Riders, AKA the Ringwraiths, AKA the nine human ringbearers corrupted by the One Ring) are sighted for the first time.
SA 2800: Númenor starts to claim territory in Middle-earth.
SA 3209: Isildur, future ring bearer and vanquisher of Sauron, is born. Although Tolkien generally refers to them as “mortal men”, humans in this era frequently live for centuries.
SA 3261: King Ar-Pharazôn of Númenor takes Sauron prisoner, but the Dark Lord gradually uses his well-documented powers of deception and persuasion to earn a position as court advisor.
SA 3319: Under the influence of Sauron, Ar-Pharazôn attacks the Undying Lands of Aman. As divine retribution, Númenor is drowned in classic Atlantis-style. Most of its residents are killed, but a few survive to make new lives in Middle-earth.
SA 3320: Exiled from their sunken homeland, the humans of Númenor found the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor in the vast region of Middle-earth known – at this point – as Eriador.
SA 3430: A Last Alliance of Elves and Men is formed to make a final stand against Sauron and his forces. It’s an epic team-up between Elven high king Gil-galad and Elendil, a Man of Númenor who’s subsequently crowned the first High King of the Dúnedain. (As a result, he’s the ruler of Gondor and Arnor. He’s also Isildur’s dad.)
SA 3441: The war reaches its endgame on the slopes of Mount Doom. Seemingly at the height of his powers, Sauron kills Elendil and Gil-Galad, but Isildur refuses to accept defeat. Grabbing his old man’s broken sword, he cuts off the Dark Lord’s finger – and with it, the One Ring. Sauron’s physical form is obliterated, but his spirit lives on in the Ring. Isildur’s subsequent decision to keep the trinket for himself, rather than destroying it in the fires of Mount Doom, is one of the most pivotal in the history of Middle-earth – though, to be fair, the Ring does have an uncanny gift for self-preservation.
And so, the Second Age of Middle-earth concludes.
The Third Age of Middle-earth
This is the most familiar part of Middle-earth history! We’ve highlighted the bits that correspond to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – and, because so much happens so quickly in the latter, we’ve included months as well as years.
TA 2: Isildur’s reign as king is cut short when his party is attacked by Orcs near the Anduin river. He believes the One Ring will protect him by allowing him disappear, but the pesky band on his finger has other ideas. Proving it has a will of its own, the Ring slides off his finger, making its wearer visible to the attacking Orcs. After Isildur’s death, it settles onto the riverbed to be forgotten for millennia. Its story is not over, however…
TA 1000: Five Wizards (among them Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White and Radagast the Brown) are sent to Middle-earth to counter the growing threat of Sauron. Despite looking like old men, they’re actually Maiar spirits who were originally created to help the Valar.
TA 1050: The Harfoots, the nomadic ancestors of the Hobbits, cross over the Misty Mountains into Eriador, where they’ll later found the Shire.
TA 1601: The Shire is founded on the banks of the Brandywine river.
TA 1980: The Dwarves of Khazad-dûm (subsequently known as Moria) awaken a Balrog, an ancient evil dating back to the Years of the Trees. King Durin VI is killed and the Dwarves abandon their ancient fortress.
TA 2460: Now going under the alias of “the Necromancer”, Sauron takes up residence in the fortress of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood.
TA 2463: A Stoor-hobbit named Déagol has a birthday to forget on the Gladden river. When a big fish pulls him into the water, he finds the One Ring on the river bed, but the surprise gift quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. His cousin, Sméagol, is so captivated by the corrupting power of the jewellery that he kills Déagol to keep it for himself. After becoming a pariah among his people, Sméagol is cast out of town, and relocates to a cave in the Misty Mountains. Although the Ring prolongs his life for centuries, he’s a shadow of his former self, and becomes known as Gollum.
TA 2770: Smaug, a dragon with a passion for bling, trashes the human settlement of Dale, and takes control of Erebor, also known as the Lonely Mountain. The Dwarves who called it home leave to find new accommodation.
TA 2850: Gandalf realises the Necromancer is actually Sauron in a new guise.
TA 2941: The White Council – a think tank boasting Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, Radagast and (until he goes bad) Saruman – ejects Sauron from Dol Guldur. (While nearly a century passes between the identification of Sauron and his departure from Mirkwood in the books, The Hobbit movies compress these events into a matter of weeks/months.)
An ordinary Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins leaves the Shire on an unexpected journey to help Dwarf Lord Thorin Oakenshield recover the family silver (and gold) from Smaug. Along the way, he finds himself playing a game of riddles in the dark with Gollum, where the One Ring senses its moment of opportunity and slips itself into Bilbo’s possession. Gollum is somewhat miffed.
Smaug attacks Lake-town but is killed by Bard the Bowman. Forces of Dwarves, Elves, Men, Orcs and Eagles leap into action at the so-called Battle of the Five Armies.
TA 2942: Sauron arrives back in Mordor. Reports of a massive homecoming party are unconfirmed. Meanwhile, Bilbo Baggins returns to the Shire.
TA 2953: Having spent the previous 200 years in Isengard with the blessing of the Steward of Gondor, Saruman seizes the citadel for himself.
The Fellowship of the Ring
TA 3001: Bilbo Baggins celebrates his eleventy-first birthday (111) and marks the occasion by making a swift disappearance from his party. He passes the One Ring onto his nephew, Frodo.
TA 3014: Now under Sauron’s influence thanks to the Palantír in Isengard, Saruman starts to control King Théoden of Rohan.
TA 3018 – April: Gandalf realises the true identity of the Ring Bilbo found in Gollum’s cave, and tells Frodo he has to get it out of the Shire – especially as the Ringwraiths have now been unleashed to track it down.
September: There’s little sense of urgency, however. While the movie version of events sees Frodo departing almost immediately, around five months pass before he and his friends (Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc ‘Merry’ Brandybuck and Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took) leave on their long journey.
October: The four Hobbits have encounters with Tom Bombadil and a Barrow-wight that are traditionally excised from screen adaptations. However, nobody leaves out the bits where they meet Aragorn (known as Strider) in the Prancing Pony in Bree, or where Frodo gets stabbed by a Morgul blade on Weathertop.
When the gang finally make it to Rivendell, the Council of Elrond decrees that the One Ring must be taken to Mount Doom – where it was first forged – to be destroyed.
December: The four Hobbits and Aragorn are joined on their quest by Gandalf, the human Boromir, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli.
TA 3019 – January: As the Fellowship of the Ring reluctantly passes through Moria, Gandalf plunges to his death as he battles the Balrog the Dwarves had awakened a millennium before.
The Two Towers
TA 3019 – February: After Boromir is killed by numerous Orc arrows, the Fellowship fragments. Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard and the Ents, Frodo and Sam reluctantly hook up with Gollum, and Gandalf returns from the dead. (Although Boromir dies at the start of The Two Towers in Tolkien’s books, the event is shifted to the end of The Fellowship of the Ring in the movies.)
March: Now freed from Saruman’s malign influence, King Théoden takes the people of Rohan to the spectacular fortress of Saruman, to make a last stand against Saruman and his Orc forces.
The Return of the King
TA 3019 – March continued: The Ents march on Isengard and destroy Saruman’s base of operations. In Peter Jackson’s Extended Edition of Return of the King, the Wizard falls to his death, but in the books he survives to take revenge on the Hobbits in the so-called “Scouring of the Shire”.
The forces of Rohan, Gondor, Elves, and even a contingent of the dead unite to defeat the forces of Sauron on Pelennor Fields. Théoden’s niece, Eowyn, kills lead Nazgûl the Witch King in the battle.
Having survived a near miss with the giant spider Shelob, Frodo casts the One Ring into Mount Doom. It’s not all plain sailing to get there, however, as Gollum bites off the Bagginses’ finger before tumbling into the lava brandishing his “precious”. Sauron is destroyed.
May: Aragorn, Isildur’s heir, is crowned king of Gondor, and marries the Elf Arwen Undómiel.
TA 3021: Former Ring-bearers Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond catch a boat from the Grey Havens to the Undying Lands (aka Aman). In the books, Sam later joins them, having briefly carried the One Ring when he thought Frodo was dead.
And so, the Third Age of Middle-earth concludes.