In J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, Balrogs are powerful demons of fire and shadow that served the villain Morgoth in the First Age. After Morgoth’s defeat, the remaining Balrogs hid deep underground until they re-emerged in the Third Age to serve Sauron, Morgoth’s former lieutenant. Sauron rose to power in Mordor during the Third Age and created the One Ring to control the other Rings of Power. As one of the Maiar spirits corrupted by Morgoth, Sauron shared his former master’s goal of dominating Middle-earth. So when the Balrogs re-emerged in the Third Age, did they follow and obey Sauron as they had followed Morgoth thousands of years earlier?
Background on Balrogs
Balrogs were originally Maiar spirits seduced by Morgoth’s promises of power in the Years of the Trees, before the First Age. As demons of fire and shadow, the Balrogs were among Morgoth’s most feared servants. They possessed supernatural strength, speed, stamina, and the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. The Balrogs wielded flaming whips and swords, and some could unleash blasts of fire powerful enough to break down fortress walls. Their most feared trait was the aura of terror they exuded, which could paralyze enemies with fear. At the height of his power, Morgoth commanded as many as seven Balrogs, who acted as his elite shock troops.
The coming of the Elves marked the beginning of the First Age, and the Balrogs fought viciously during Morgoth’s wars against the Elven kingdoms. In FA 510, the Balrog lord Gothmog killed High King Fingon during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Sixty years later, another Balrog slew the Elven king Finrod Felagund in the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Perhaps the most well-known Balrog from the First Age was the flame of Udûn, who mortally wounded the Man Beren and killed the Dwarf King Durin VI in the early centuries of the Age.
Most of the Balrogs were destroyed in the War of Wrath that ended the First Age, when the Valar and their hosts intervened against Morgoth. The few Balrogs that survived went into hiding deep underground, especially in the mountains of the Misty Mountains and under the fortress of Morgoth built by Sauron in Mordor. There they remained dormant for thousands of years until awakened during the Third Age.
Sauron’s Rise to Power
After Morgoth’s defeat in the First Age, Sauron became the second Dark Lord of Middle-earth. Originally a Maia spirit in service to the Valar, Sauron was corrupted by Morgoth and became his trusted lieutenant. After his master’s downfall, Sauron repented briefly but soon returned to evil. In the Second Age, he deceitfully helped the Elves forge the Rings of Power, secretly creating the One Ring to control the others. With this Ring, Sauron established his power base in Mordor, becoming the Enemy of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.
In SA 3434, Sauron corrupted the human kingdom of Númenor. He allowed himself to be captured and brought back to Númenor as a hostage, quickly seducing many Númenóreans to worship Morgoth as a god. Sauron’s influence grew until he became the power behind Númenor’s tyrannical king Ar-Pharazôn in SA 3262. But when Ar-Pharazôn invaded Valinor, Ilúvatar himself intervened, destroying Númenor and diminishing Sauron’s power in SA 3319. Despite this setback, Sauron returned to Mordor and gathered his strength for renewed war against the Realms in Exile of the Númenóreans.
By the early Third Age, Sauron was ready for conquest. His forces overran Eriador in TA 1356. He captured Minas Ithil in TA 2002, renaming it Minas Morgul. But in TA 3019, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men defeated Sauron and Isildur cut the One Ring from his hand. Sauron’s spirit survived and slowly regained strength over many centuries. In disguise as the Necromancer, he resurfaced in Mirkwood in TA 2460 before being driven out. Finally, in TA 2941, Sauron openly declared himself in Mordor and sent the Nazgûl to reoccupy Minas Morgul. By the end of the Third Age, Sauron had regained much of his former strength and sought to conquer Middle-earth.
The Re-emergence of the Balrogs
As Sauron grew in power during the Third Age, the hidden Balrogs eventually began to stir and emerge from their long slumber deep underground. In TA 1980, a Balrog was awakened when the Dwarves of Moria delved too greedily and too deeply for mithril. This Balrog killed Durin VI and became known as Durin’s Bane. Other Balrogs may have reawakened around the same time as Sauron began openly declaring himself in Mordor. As demons of shadow and flame, the awoken Balrogs would naturally be drawn to serve the rising Dark Lord.
There are very few recorded encounters with Balrogs after their re-emergence in the Third Age. Gandalf first discovered Durin’s Bane in TA 2850, and the Dwarves of Moria suffered greatly from its presence. Years later, the Fellowship of the Ring disturbed Durin’s Bane again, and Gandalf battled the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Both fell into the abyss, but Gandalf returned as the more powerful Gandalf the White. The fate of other possible Balrogs in Middle-earth during the Third Age remains unknown.
Nature of the Balrogs
By their very nature, the Balrogs were malignant spirits wholly corrupted by Morgoth. As Ainur spirits seduced by Morgoth in the Years of the Trees, the Balrogs were bound to the first Dark Lord’s will. They comprised some of Morgoth’s most feared and vicious servants. Even after Morgoth’s defeat, the Balrogs remained as enduring symbols of primeval fire, darkness, and terror. They went into dormancy not out of any reforming of their ways, but merely as a means of survival when their master fell.
The power of the Balrogs came from their origins as Maiar spirits, albeit fallen and corrupted. Their powers included:
- Fire manipulation
- Darkness and shadow generation
- Fear projection
- Superhuman strength, speed, and durability
- Wings for flight
- Flaming weapons such as whips and swords
As Maiar spirits, the Balrogs obeyed and served Morgoth willingly. When Sauron emerged as the Dark Lord of the Third Age, the Balrogs would feel the same compulsion to obey and serve him that they felt for Morgoth. Sauron had served Morgoth faithfully for ages, so for the Balrogs, transferring allegiance from one Dark Lord to the other would come naturally.
Evidence For and Against Sauron Controlling the Balrogs
Though no definitive proof exists in Tolkien’s writings, there are clues both for and against the idea that Sauron held authority over the Balrogs in the Third Age:
Evidence That Sauron Controlled the Balrogs
- Sauron’s history as Morgoth’s trusted lieutenant, making it natural for the Balrogs to follow him after Morgoth’s defeat.
- Sauron’s growing power and declaration as the Enemy would draw the Balrogs to him.
- Durin’s Bane emerging around the time Sauron declared himself openly.
- The Balrogs’ inherently evil nature inclining them to serve any rising Dark Lord.
Evidence Against Sauron Controlling the Balrogs
- No explicit statements by Tolkien that Sauron commanded the Balrogs.
- The Balrogs were greater, more powerful Maiar than Sauron.
- Each Balrog may have awakened and emerged independently rather than being ordered to do so.
- The Balrogs served Morgoth out of devotion, which they may not feel for Sauron.
On balance, the implicit evidence leans toward Sauron holding power over the Balrogs if they emerged while he was the Dark Lord. But concrete proof is lacking in Tolkien’s writings.
How Many Balrogs Served Sauron?
In the First Age, Morgoth commanded seven Balrogs, or at least seven is the only number given. After the War of Wrath, only a few Balrogs survived and went into hiding. There is no definitive record of how many Balrogs may have reawakened and served Sauron in the Third Age. Known Balrogs include:
- Durin’s Bane, awakened in TA 1980 and slain by Gandalf in 3019.
- The flame of Udûn, slain by Ecthelion of Gondolin in the First Age.
- Gothmog, slain by Ecthelion in the First Age.
Other unnamed Balrogs perished in the First Age or during the War of Wrath. Since Durin’s Bane is the only confirmed Balrog appearing in the Third Age, it seems likely that very few Balrogs survived into later ages. Tolkien also diminishing power lies at the core of the mythology. The power of evil peaks in the First Age with Morgoth’s dominance. As the Ages progress, evil wanes while good grows stronger in response. This decline means Sauron would command far fewer Balrogs than Morgoth. Two to four Balrogs serving Sauron in the Third Age would be realistic.
Speculative Table of Balrogs Throughout the Ages
|Estimated Number of Balrogs
|Years of the Trees
This table speculates the declining numbers of Balrogs in Middle-earth based on Tolkien’s limited writings about them. Definitive numbers are impossible to know.
In summary, while no conclusive proof exists, circumstantial evidence suggests the hidden Balrogs would have served and obeyed Sauron once they emerged again in the Third Age. As a rising Dark Lord building on Morgoth’s legacy, Sauron would have attracted the revived Balrogs into his service, though far fewer in number than in the First Age. The Balrogs’ evil essence and origins as corrupted Maiar spirits would compel them to align with Sauron’s growing evil in Middle-earth. However, each Balrog followed its own agenda, only allying with Sauron rather than submitting to his will. In the end, the nature of the Balrogs and Sauron’s power argue they would have formed an alliance, if not outright obedience, between the old demons of the First Age and the Enemy rising to threaten Middle-earth once again.