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Who held the One Ring the longest?

The One Ring is a central plot element in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. Forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, the One Ring gives its wearer power to dominate the other Rings of Power and enslave the peoples of Middle-earth. Throughout the novel, the Ring passed between many bearers, some possessing it for longer periods of time than others. But who held the One Ring the longest?

The One Ring’s History

Sauron originally forged the One Ring in the Second Age to gain control over the other Rings of Power that had been made. After losing the Ring in battle, it remained hidden for thousands of years until it was discovered by the hobbit Déagol. His friend and relative Sméagol later murdered him to take the Ring for himself.

Sméagol possessed the One Ring for nearly 500 years, using it to extend his life unnaturally as he hid in the Misty Mountains. His extensive ownership corrupted him into the wretched creature Gollum. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins accidentally found the Ring in Gollum’s cave and took it back to the Shire.

Bilbo kept the Ring in his possession for 60 years until he left it behind for his heir Frodo Baggins. Upon learning that it was the One Ring of Sauron, Frodo embarked on the quest to destroy it in Mount Doom. He bore the Ring as Ring-bearer for the next 18 years leading up to its destruction.

Timelines of Major Ring Bearers

Here is a timeline showing the approximate dates and lengths of time some notable Ring bearers possessed the One Ring:

Bearer Date Acquired Date Lost Length of Possession
Sauron c. SA 1500 SA 3441 About 1,941 years
Isildur SA 3441 TA 2 2 years
Déagol TA 2463 TA 2463 Moments
Sméagol/Gollum TA 2463 TA 2941 478 years
Bilbo Baggins TA 2941 TA 3001 60 years
Frodo Baggins TA 3001 TA 3019 18 years

*SA = Second Age, TA = Third Age

Gollum’s Long Tenure

Based on the timeline, the character who possessed the One Ring the longest was Gollum. Originally the hobbit Sméagol, he obtained the Ring in 2463 of the Third Age. His possession lasted nearly 500 years until Bilbo took the Ring in 2941.

This extensive amount of time allowed the One Ring to utterly corrupt him, transforming him into the wretched, cave-dwelling Gollum. His unnaturally long life was sustained by the Ring’s power as he obsessively used it to catch food and hide from sight. No other individual came close to holding the Ring for such a duration.

Sauron originally forged the Ring and kept it for about 1,941 years until losing it in battle. While a significant length of time, it was less than half of Gollum’s tenure. Isildur and Déagol only held the Ring briefly before it came into Sméagol’s hands. Bilbo and Frodo possessed it for 60 and 18 years respectively, which was minor compared to Gollum’s nearly five centuries.

Therefore, based on the timeline of major Ring bearers, Gollum unambiguously held the One Ring the longest. His 478 years of possession deeply corrupted him and set the stage for Bilbo and Frodo’s later quest to destroy Sauron’s powerful weapon.

Why Gollum’s Long Tenure Matters

Gollum’s centuries holding the One Ring may seem like a mere historical footnote, but it has deeper narrative significance for The Lord of the Rings story:

  • It shows the Ring’s corrupting influence over long periods of time, foreshadowing what could happen if someone like Sauron reclaimed it.
  • It transforms Sméagol into the threat that pursues the Ring and from whom Bilbo and Frodo must escape.
  • It makes Gollum’s role essential as he ultimately perishs destroying the Ring, even after centuries of possession.

Additionally, Tolkien uses Gollum to represent the dangers of obsession, greed, and isolation – corrupting influences that the Ring could amplify. His tenure sets up and reinforces these themes that run throughout the novel.


Gollum’s nearly 500 years holding the One Ring represents the longest tenure of any character in The Lord of the Rings. No one else comes close to possessing Sauron’s Ring for such an extensive duration. His prolonged ownership warped Sméagol into the slinking, conniving Gollum and set up key events in the epic quest to destroy the Ring. While many bore the dangerous Ring, none held it as long as the corrupt hobbit Gollum.