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The Istari came to Middle-earth around the year T.A. 1000 (though the Blue Wizards may have arrived much earlier). The two that traveled to the East wore sea-blue robes, hence their name Ithryn Luin, the "Blue Wizards." Similarly the other wizards also became known by their colours, being referred to as "Saruman the White," "Gandalf the Grey," and "Radagast the Brown." It is not known if the colour had any special meaning concerning their rank, abilities or nature.

They were clothed in the bodies of old men, restricting their powers so that they would only assist the peoples of Middle-earth and not seek domination like Sauron had, who was also a Maia. They were charged by the Valar to assist the people of Middle-earth through persuasion and encouragement, not force or fear. By inhabiting the bodies of Men they also became susceptible to all of the weaknesses of a physical body: they felt hunger, pain, greed, sorrow, joy, and all other emotions and pains of Men.