Full Index
People Index
Place Index
Creature Index
Thing Index
Event Index

The Thain's Book
An encyclopedia of Middle-earth and Numenor

The Palantiri

The palantir of Orthanc in the New Line film

Palantir - movieThe palantiri were Seeing-stones that could be used the gather information and communicate over great distances. Seven stones were brought to Middle-earth and they were used to help govern the far-flung realms of Gondor and Arnor. But over time many of the palantiri were lost and one fell into the hands of Sauron, who used it to spread deceit and despair among those who opposed him.

The palantiri were perfectly spherical with smooth, unmarked surfaces. They varied in size: the smallest were about a foot in diameter while the largest were too big to be picked up by one person. The palantiri were deep black in color when not in use and were made of an unbreakable glass or crystal substance. It was believed that they could only be destroyed by intense heat.

A palantir could be used to see distant places and events. A person looking into a palantir might see random, blurry images of far-away scenes. But if a viewer had a strong will, the palantir could be directed to show specific things. One could even zoom in to see small details.

A palantir could see through walls or other obstacles as long as there was sufficient light on the other side. The palantiri were also said to be able to show past events, though how such scenes could be retrieved is unclear. It may be that the images were those retained by the stones over years of viewing.

A palantir could also be used to communicate with another palantir. The palantiri did not transmit sound. Two people would communicate by thought via the stones and would hear one another's voices inside their heads. The palantiri were intended to be used to transfer only thoughts that were consciously and willingly shared, but someone with a dominant will could force another to reveal more than intended. In the long history of the palantiri, only Sauron is known to have misused the stones in this way.

Only two palantiri could connect at a time. A third palantir trying to contact an already occupied stone would find it blank. The exception among the palantiri in Middle-earth was the Stone of Osgiliath, which could survey all of the other palantiri at once.

The palantiri responded best when used by an heir of Elendil or an authorized deputy; others would find the stones difficult to control. The optimum viewing position was about three feet away from the palantir in order to see the largest, clearest images. A palantir also had to be properly oriented. Each face of the palantir looked in a specific direction; therefore to see westward one would look into the eastern face of the stone and so on. The palantiri were polarized and the axis from the top pole to the bottom pole had to point to the center of the earth.

The palantiri were made in the Undying Lands in ancient times by Feanor, the great craftsman of the Elves who also made the Silmarils. It is not known how many palantiri were originally made. At least one palantir remained in the Undying Lands - the Master-stone in the Tower of Avallone on Tol Eressea.

In the late Second Age when Sauron gained influence over Numenor, the Elves gave seven palantiri to Amandil, the leader of those who remained Faithful. Amandil's son Elendil rescued the Seven Stones from the Downfall of Numenor and brought them to Middle-earth.

The seven palantiri were distributed throughout the realms of Gondor and Arnor in the year 3320 of the Second Age. Elendil took three of the stones north to Arnor and placed them in Annuminas, the Tower of Amon Sul, and Elostirion in the Tower Hills. Elendil's sons Anarion and Isildur each took two of the palantiri and set them around Gondor in Minas Anor, Orthanc, Minas Ithil, and Osgiliath.

The palantiri were kept in guarded rooms in high towers. They were originally placed on round, black marble tables with depressions in the surfaces to fit the stones. Only the King and those authorized by the King were permitted to use them. Wardens were appointed by the King to guard each stone and to survey them periodically in order to give and gather news. But over time the Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor began to decline. Several of the palantiri were lost and the others fell into disuse and were eventually forgotten by all but a few.

Here follows an account of each of the Seven Stones:

The Stone of Osgiliath:
The Stone of Osgiliath was the chief and master of the seven palantiri in Middle-earth. It was one of the largest stones. The Stone of Osgiliath could survey all of the other palantiri and could "eavesdrop" on a communication between two other stones. It was kept in the Dome of Stars in Osgiliath. The Stone of Osgiliath was lost in the waters of the Anduin when the Dome of Stars was destroyed during the civil war of the Kin-strife in 1437 of the Third Age.

The Stone of Amon Sul:
The Stone of Amon Sul was the primary palantir in the North-kingdom of Arnor and the one that was used most in communication with Gondor. It was also one of the largest stones. The palantir was kept in the Tower on the hill called Amon Sul, or Weathertop. After the North-kingdom was divided into Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur, the Stone of Amon Sul became a source of contention among the three kingdoms. Arthedain retained possession of the Tower and Stone of Amon Sul, but Cardolan and Rhudaur contested this claim because Arthedain also had both of the other palantiri of the North-kingdom.

In 1409 of the Third Age, the Tower of Amon Sul was destroyed by the forces of the Witch-king of Angmar. The Stone of Amon Sul was saved and taken to Fornost. It remained there until 1974 when the Witch-king captured Fornost. Again, the Stone of Amon Sul was rescued and taken north by King Arvedui along with the Stone of Annuminas. But in 1975, Arvedui boarded a ship in the Icebay of Forochel and was lost at sea in a storm along with the two palantiri.

The Stone of Annuminas:
The Stone of Annuminas was kept in the capital of the North-kingdom and it was the palantir used by the King. At first, the capital was Annuminas, but the Kings later relocated to Fornost and the Stone of Annuminas was moved there. After the breakup of the North-kingdom, the Stone of Annuminas was in the possession of Arthedain. When the Witch-king captured Fornost in 1974 of the Third Age, the Stone of Annuminas and the Stone of Amon Sul were saved by King Arvedui, but both palantiri were lost at sea when Arvedui's ship sank in a storm on the Icebay of Forochel in 1975.

The Elendil Stone:
The Elendil Stone was kept in the tower of Elostirion in the Tower Hills. This palantir could not be used to communicate with the others but instead looked only west across the Sea. Elendil used the palantir from time to time to see Tol Eressea in the Undying Lands where the Master-stone was kept in the Tower of Avallone.

After the fall of the North-kingdom, the Elendil Stone was guarded by Cirdan and the Elves of Lindon. High-elves sometimes made pilgrimages to the Tower Hills to see the Undying Lands in the Elendil Stone. The Chieftains of the Dunedain were by right the lawful masters of the Elendil Stone, but apparently it was not used again by Men.*

On September 29, 3021 of the Third Age, Cirdan put the Elendil Stone on the ship carrying the Ring-bearers away from Middle-earth, and the palantir was returned to the Undying Lands from whence it came.

Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales states: "it is not known whether any of [the Dunedain], including Aragorn, ever looked into [the Elendil-stone]." But J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Road Goes Ever On: "After the fall of Elendil the High-Elves took back this Stone into their own care, and it was not destroyed, nor again used by Men." Tolkien also notes that the Elves who sing a hymn to Elbereth at Rivendell (FotR, p. 250) use the term palan-díriel - meaning "gazing afar" - indicating that these Elves had just returned from looking in the Elendil-stone.

The Ithil-stone:
The Ithil-stone was the palantir used by Isildur in his stronghold of Minas Ithil on the borders of Mordor. It was most closely in accord with the Anor-stone kept by Isildur's brother Anarion in Minas Anor across the river.

In the year 2002 of the Third Age, Minas Ithil was captured by the Lord of the Nazgul and was renamed Minas Morgul. It is believed that the Nazgul found the Ithil-stone and that it was moved to the Dark Tower for the use of Sauron, who returned to Mordor in 2942. At the time, however, the people of Gondor did not know what had become of the Ithil-stone. Some may have thought that the defenders of Minas Ithil destroyed the palantir so it could not be captured, though given the indestructible nature of the palantiri this was unlikely. Others no doubt realized that the Ithil-stone might be in the hands of the Enemy, but it was thought that there was no danger so long as Sauron could not contact the other two remaining usable palantiri - the Anor-stone and the Orthanc-stone. Thus these palantiri were not used for many years and were largely forgotten.

But in the years leading up to the War of the Ring, Sauron used the Ithil-stone against the holders of the other two palantiri. To Denethor - the Steward of Gondor in possession of the Anor-stone - Sauron showed images of the vast forces of Mordor that were poised to strike Gondor, causing Denethor to despair that Sauron could never be defeated. Saruman, who had the Orthanc-stone, was dominated by the superior will of Sauron and became a traitor.

On the night of March 5, 3019, Sauron looked into the Ithil-stone and saw the Hobbit Pippin Took, who was using the Orthanc-stone. Sauron mistakenly believed that Pippin was the Ring-bearer being held captive by Saruman. The next morning Sauron again used the Ithil-stone and was confronted by Aragorn, who revealed that he was Isildur's heir and that Narsil - the sword that had cut the Ring from Sauron's hand - had been reforged. Sauron felt fear and doubt, causing him to strike prematurely against Gondor and distracting him from the progress of the Ring-bearer toward Mount Doom.

After the Ring was destroyed on March 25, Sauron's realm fell into ruin. It is not known what became of the Ithil-stone, but it is thought that it may have been destroyed in the intense heat following the eruption of Mount Doom.

The Anor-stone:
The Anor-stone was held in Anarion's stronghold of Minas Anor on the western shore of the Anduin. It was most closely in accord with the Ithil-stone. After the fall of Minas Ithil in 2002 of the Third Age, the Anor-stone was no longer used because it was feared that the Enemy might be in possession of the Ithil-stone. Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard.

The Anor-stone became a closely guarded secret of the Stewards of Gondor. It was kept in the upper chamber of the Tower of Ecthelion on the highest level of Minas Tirith. The palantir was never again mentioned publicly or written about in public records, though the Stewards kept their own archives about the lore of the palantiri.

Denethor was the first Steward to dare to use the Anor-stone. When he began to do so is not certain, but it seems that it may have been immediately upon assuming the Stewardship in 2984. Denethor wanted to learn information to help Gondor as the threat from Mordor grew, but he was also motivated by jealousy of Thorongil, a captain who had been favored by Denethor's father Ecthelion. Denethor had apparently determined that Thorongil was none other than Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor. Denethor wanted to surpass Thorongil and his friend Gandalf in knowledge and he also wanted to learn what they were doing.

Denethor was strong-willed and confident in his powers, and as the rightful user of the palantir he was able to control and direct its visions for a time. He became aware of many things happening in Gondor and throughout Middle-earth. But eventually Denethor came in contact with the Ithil-stone held by Sauron. It required great strength to maintain control of the Anor-stone and keep Sauron from wrenching its gaze to the Ithil-stone. Denethor was able to do so at first, but the effort drained him and he appeared to age prematurely.

Sauron was never able to dominate Denethor's will, but in the end he led Denethor to despair by revealing the full strength of the forces of Mordor and showing him only selected images in order to convince Denethor that defeat was inevitable. After the death of Denethor's beloved son Boromir, Denethor's spirit was weakened, and when it appeared that his only surviving son Faramir had been mortally wounded, Denethor succumbed to despair.

On the night of March 13, 3019, Denethor went to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion and looked into the palantir. Sauron showed him a fleet of Corsairs' ships sailing up the Anduin from the south, and Denethor believed that end was coming for Minas Tirith. He did not know that in truth the ships were under the command of Aragorn who was coming to the aid of Minas Tirith. Denethor may also have seen the Ring-bearer imprisoned in the Tower of Cirith Ungol and concluded that Sauron had the Ring, not realizing that Sam Gamgee had taken the Ring before Frodo was captured.

On March 15, Denethor tried to burn himself and Faramir alive on a funeral pyre. Faramir was rescued, but Denethor burned to death holding the Anor-stone in his hands. Afterwards it was said that unless one had great strength of will to direct the palantir, it would only show Denethor's burning hands.

The Orthanc-stone:
The Orthanc-stone was placed in the impregnable Tower of Orthanc in the stronghold of Isengard on the western edge of Gondor. But the population in that area declined and in 2510 of the Third Age the land was given to the Rohirrim. Isengard remained a stronghold of Gondor, but the guard there became lax and the Orthanc-stone was unused.

In 2759, Saruman offered to take up residence in Isengard and maintain and repair its defenses. Beren, the Steward of Gondor, agreed. It is not known whether Beren took the Orthanc-stone into consideration in doing so, but he may have believed that the palantir would be safest in the hands of one of the Wise. Saruman knew that there was a palantir in Orthanc, for he had studied the archives of Minas Tirith. The Orthanc-stone was one of his primary reasons for moving to Isengard.

Saruman began to use the Orthanc-stone around the year 3000. At first he may have been able to control it and see far-off places and events, but he soon came into contact with the Ithil-stone and fell under Sauron's sway. Saruman's integrity had already been weakened by the abandonment of his moral principles in his quest to obtain power for himself, and he was thus vulnerable to domination by the superior will of Sauron. Before long, Saruman felt compelled to report to Sauron via the palantir. Saruman became a traitor to the White Council and to the free peoples of Middle-earth whom he was supposed to help in their struggle against Sauron.

After Saruman's forces were defeated at the Battle of Helm's Deep and Isengard was destroyed by the Ents, Gandalf and King Theoden of Rohan came to Orthanc to parley with Saruman on March 5, 3019. Saruman's lackey Grima Wormtongue threw the Orthanc-stone down from the tower and it was picked up by Pippin Took.

Gandalf took the palantir away from the Hobbit, but Pippin could not stop thinking about it. That night as they camped at Dol Baran, Pippin retrieved the palantir from Gandalf as the Wizard slept and looked into the stone. He was confronted by Sauron, who mistook him for the Ring-bearer and assumed he was being held captive by Saruman in Orthanc.

Aragorn then claimed the Orthanc-stone as the heir of Elendil and the rightful master of the palantiri. On March 6, he revealed himself to Sauron in the Orthanc-stone and showed him that Narsil - the sword that had cut the Ring from Sauron's hand - had been reforged. Then Aragorn was able to wrench control of the Orthanc-stone away from Sauron and he saw that the Corsairs posed a danger to Minas Tirith from the south. He chose to take the Paths of the Dead and was able to capture the Corsairs' ships and come in time to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Sauron was filled with fear and doubt after his confrontation with Aragorn and he was distracted as the Ring-bearer made his way toward Mount Doom.

After the War of the Ring, Aragorn, King Elessar, used the Orthanc-stone to survey his realm and his servants from afar, and it is said that he reinstated it in the tower of Orthanc.

Names & Etymology:
The word palantír means "far seeing" from palan meaning "far, distant wide" and tir meaning "watch, guard." The singular is palantír and the plural is palantíri.

Also called the Seeing-stones or the Seven Stones or the simply the Stones.


The Fellowship of the Ring: "Many Meetings," p. 250

The Two Towers: "The Voice of Saruman," p. 189-90; "The Palantir," passim

The Return of the King: "Minas Tirith," p. 19-20, 25, 29; "The Passing of the Grey Company," p. 53-54; "The Siege of Gondor," p. 88, 94-95; "The Pyre of Denethor," p. 129-133; "The Last Debate," p. 154-55; "Many Partings," p. 260

Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The North-kingdom and the Dunedain," p. 320-22 and note 2; "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion," p. 327; "The Stewards," p. 334-37; "The House of Eorl," p. 348

Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings: "The Tale of Years," p. 365, 367-68, 371

The Silmarillion: "Of Feanor and the Unchaining of Melkor," p. 64; "Akallabeth," p. 276; "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 291-92

Unfinished Tales: "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields," p. 276-77; "Cirion and Eorl," p. 301, 306; "The Hunt for the Ring," p. 354 note 14; "The Palantiri," passim

The History of Middle-earth, vol. V, The Lost Road and Other Writings: "The Etymologies," entries for PAL and TIR

The Road Goes Ever On, p. 65

All entries are Copyright © by the Thain from former tuckborough.net. Please contact me if you are Thain or know anything about how to contact the original author. 2003-2011, The Thain's Book - thainsbook.minastirith.cz - e-mail: thain at tuckborough.net