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This article refers to the Tower of Orthanc. For other namesakes, see here.

Orthanc was the black, impenetrable tower of Isengard built by the Dúnedain. By the Great Years and the War of the Ring, it was the seat of power of the Wizard Saruman. It stood in the center of the Ring of Isengard, a daunting defensive wall built by the early Men of Gondor.


"A great ring-wall of stone, like towering cliffs, stood out from the shelter of the mountain-side, from which it ran and then returned again... one who passed in and came at length out of the echoing tunnel, beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat hollowed like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim. Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful trees, watered by streams that flowed from the mountains to a lake. But no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman. The roads were paved with stone-flags dark and hard; and beside their borders instead of trees there marched long lines of pillars, some of marble, some of copper and of iron, joined by heavy chains, to the centre all the roads ran between their chains. There stood a tower of marvelous shape. It was fashioned by the builders of old, who smoothed the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one, but near the summit they opened into gaping horns, their pinnacles sharp as the points of spears, keen-edged as knives. Between them was a narrow space, and there upon a floor of polished stone, written with strange signs, a man might stand five hundred feet above the plain."
The tower as described by J.R.R. Tolkien

Orthanc was constructed out of four piers of stone and then hardened by an unknown process. No weaponry or magic that existed on Arda was known to be able to harm it. Until the Ents that besieged Isengard during the War of the Ring managed to inflict slight damage on the tower, but their efforts ultimately proved to be futile. When Gríma Wormtongue later threw the palantír of Orthanc from a high window, it fell on the stairs, causing the rail to snap and part of the staircase to break.

The only entrance to the tower was reached by a stair of twenty-seven steps, the door could only be opened with the Key of Orthanc. Above the door there was a balcony, and many tall windows higher up.[citation needed]


Second Age

Isengard army

Isengard after Saruman's treason, filled with his army, as seen in The Two Towers film

The exact date of construction of Orthanc and establishment of Isengard is untold; however it was likely built between SA 3320, the time of the establishment of Arnor and Gondor, and SA 3430, when the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was formed. Within the fortified walls of the tower was placed one of the palantíri, the Stone of Orthanc. Thus, Orthanc was now known as one of the seven towers of the Dúnedain, housing the seventh Seeing Stone brought back from Númenor by Elendil.

Third Age

Angrenost suffered greatly during the Great Plague of TA 1636, and the garrison steadily dwindled through the Age. Eventually the tower was closed and locked and its keys were taken to Minas Tirith to be kept by the Stewards of Gondor.

Saruman MattStewart

Saruman using his palantír in his chamber - by Matt Stewart, used in Magic: The Gathering

Eventually, in TA 2710 the hereditary Captains of the fortress died out, and, bereft of garrison, Isengard came under the control of the Dunlendings. While they held the fortress, using it as a base for attacks on the Westfold, they could not gain access to the impenetrable tower. Following the Long Winter of TA 2758, the Dunlendings were besieged and starved into surrender by the Rohirrim king, Fréaláf Hildeson. Then the Wizard Saruman put in an offer for the control of Isengard and both King Fréaláf and Steward Beren embraced the proposition with open arms. Thus, he was handed the keys to the tower as its warden on behalf of the White City. Saruman's offed had partially been motivated by the presence of a palantír in Orthanc, which he began using behind his allies' back.

After using the Seeing Stone, the Wizard was ensnared by the Dark Lord, becoming his vassal. Seeking to become a ruler of Middle-earth at Sauron's side or in his place, Saruman took Orthanc for his own in TA 2953. Having allied with the Orcs of the Misty Mountains and the Dunlendings, he began assembling an army around Orthanc to both invade Rohan for Sauron and hunt the Ring-bearer.

Pinnacle of Orthanc

Gandalf rescued by Gwaihir

In TA 3018, Gandalf rode to Isengard to take counsel with Saruman. It was then that the corrupted Wizard declared his true intentions: to rule together with the Dark Lord or usurp him. Gandalf refused Saruman's offer to join with Sauron or reveal the One Ring's whereabouts to him instead. Subsequently, Saruman held Gandalf captive on Orthanc's pinnacle until he told of the Ring's whereabouts or until Sauron won the War of the Ring. After many weeks of imprisonment, Gwaihir, the Lord of the Eagles, came and looked for Gandalf and bore him away.

300px-Ted Nasmith - The Wrath of the Ents

Battle of Isengard, depicted by Ted Nasmith

Only months later, the Ents of Fangorn Forest launched their attack on Isengard. By the next day, only the tower of Orthanc remained, as it was hewn of one piece of impenetrable rock, and the plains below had been completely destroyed, leaving a desolate land of water and mud. Three days after the battle, Théoden, Éomer, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli approached Orthanc past a desolation of wreckage caused by the Ents including a huge blood-ridden white hand, and climbed its stair. They parleyed with the Dark Lord's puppet, who remained inside the tower and spoke to them from a balcony above the door. After Saruman refused to cooperate and attempted to sway the Rohirrim riding with them, Gandalf expelled him from both the Order of Wizards and the White Council, breaking Saruman's staff. After the confrontation, Saruman's footman, Gríma Wormtongue—who was inside the tower at the time—threw the Stone of Orthanc at the party outside as a parting shot, missing both Gandalf and Saruman.

Orthanc, RD

Orthanc above a flooded Isengard - by Ralph Damiani

Several months later, Saruman was able to convince Treebeard to release him and Gríma, and Treebeard demanded and received the Keys of Orthanc from Saruman. He would hand them over to their rightful owner, King Elessar, when Aragorn later visited Isengard.

Fourth Age

One of Elessar's first tasks he had set was the restoration of Orthanc. He ordered that the palantír should be recovered and returned to the tower. Then Orthanc was searched and many secrets were revealed. It was clear that Sauron's puppet had been hoarding many ancient treasures and heirlooms during his time there. With the aid of Gríma, Saruman had acquired many jewels and heirlooms belonging to the House of Eorl. Soon a hidden door was found by Gimli and inside a casket they found two precious objects: one of which was a small gold case attached to a chain - this was used by Isildur to bear the One Ring; and second of which was the Elendilmir - the 'white star of Elvish crystal upon a fillet of mithril' that had been lost since Isildur's demise. Elessar received the Elendilmir with reverence and took it with him as he established his full kingship of Arnor. It was thus revealed that Saruman had found items worn by Isildur himself, and was speculated to have found and burned Isildur's bones as an insult.

Orthanc, Soni A Hender

Orthanc after Isengard's fall, by Soni Alcorn-Hender

Orthanc and the plains of Isengard around it remained part of the Reunited Kingdom. However, King Elessar granted the Ents complete self-governance of the area surrounding the tower. This new forest became known as the Treegarth of Orthanc.[citation needed]

Pinnacle of Orthanc

The Pinnacle of Orthanc was the summit of the tower. Its corners were razor-edged points with room for at least two men to stand. It was accessed by a flight of thousands of stairs, which Saruman would use to reach the top and observe the stars.

It was here where Saruman imprisoned Gandalf at the start of the War of the Ring, which caused him to be delayed in meeting with Frodo. He was rescued by the Great Eagle Gwaihir, sent by Radagast.[citation needed]


According to J.R.R. Tolkien, its name is both Sindarin for "Mount Fang", and Rohanese for "Cunning Mind". The latter is more likely to be its real meaning, as the word Orthanc is a real Old English word (Old English being the linguistic basis for Rohanese); the Sindarin name being no more than a poetic coincidence. In Old English, Orþanc means "cunning device", but Tolkien has said this is merely a coincidence.[citation needed]


Foreign Language Translated name
Amharic ዖርትሃንች
Arabic اورثانك
Armenian Որտհանծ
Belarusian Cyrillic Артханк
Bengali অরথ্যাংক
Bulgarian Cyrillic Ортанк
Catalan Òrthanc
Chinese (Hong Kong) 歐散克塔
Czech Orthank
Georgian ორთანქი (ორთანჩი)
Greek Ορθανκ
Gujarati ઑર્થન્ચ
Hebrew אורתאנק
Hindi ऑर्थैंक
Japanese オルサンク
Kannada ಒರ್ಥನ್ಚ್
Kazakh Ортанц (Cyrillic) Ortanc (Latin)
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Ортhанц
Macedonian Cyrillic Ортанц
Marathi ऑर्थँक
Mongolian Cyrillic Ортhанц ?
Nepalese ॐर्थन्च
Pashto ورتهانچ
Persian اورتانک
Polish Orthank
Russian Ортанк
Sanskrit ॐर्थन्च्
Serbian Ортанк (Cyrillic) Ortank (Latin)
Sinhalese ඕර්ථන්ච්
Slovak Orthank
Tajik Cyrillic Ортанч
Tamil ஓர்த்ஹந்ச்
Telugu ఓర్థన్చ
Thai ออร์ธังค์
Turkish Ortank
Ukrainian Cyrillic Ортанк
Urdu ارٹہانک
Uzbek Ортанч (Cyrillic) Ortanc (Latin)
Yiddish אָרטהאַנק
Places of Middle-earth and Arda

Middle-earth Locations:


Arnor | Dunland | Ettenmoors | Forochel | Forodwaith | Gondor | Harad | Ithilien | Khand | Lindon | Minhiriath | Mordor | Rhovanion | Rhûn | Rivendell | Rohan | The Shire

Forests & Mountains:

Amon Dîn | Amon Hen | Amon Lhaw | Caradhras | Emyn Muil | Erebor | Fangorn Forest | High Pass | Iron Hills | Lórien | Mirkwood | Mount Doom | Mount Gundabad | Old Forest | Orod-na-Thôn | Tower Hills | Weathertop Hill


Angband | Barad-dûr | Bree | Caras Galadhon | Dol Guldur | Fornost Erain | Hornburg | Isengard | Minas Morgul | Minas Tirith | Last Homely House | Tower of Amon Sûl | Tower of Orthanc | Osgiliath | Umbar | Utumno


Argonath | Astulat | Buckland | Cair Andros | Dagorlad | Dead Marshes | Enedwaith | Fords of Isen | Gap of Rohan | Grey Havens

The rest of Arda:

Aman | Burnt Land of the Sun | Dark Land | Empty Lands | Neldoreth | New lands | Númenor | Tol Eressëa


  1. The Return of the King, "Many Partings", "But the Tower of Orthanc now goes back to the King, to whom it belongs."