This is assuming that Gandalf did not have a sixth sense about Bilbo having a much bigger role to play in the quest; and ignoring the fact that Hobbits are generally more difficult to be detected compared to other races.

To try and support this question, I recently read a post on another site concerning Hobbits and crime which briefly describes a policing force in The Shire who are known as The Shirriffs. Although not a lot of serious crime occurs in The Shire (this is ignoring Saruman and his merry band of Ruffians), there are still a few instances where there were theft:

  • Vegetables being stolen from Farmer Maggot, particularly by our Merry and Pippin
  • Sackville-Bagginses stealing silverware

Also, Bilbo is related to the Tooks who were not seen as being "good hobbits":

Tooks were mainly of Fallohide Hobbit stock, and were more adventurous than the other Hobbits. They also had quite a reputation for unusual behavior, a quality not exactly valued by most hobbits. For this reason they were seen as less respectable, and for the same reason they were one of the richer clans.

So it seems that our dear friend Bilbo has blood from both adventurers and criminals, which could also explain his wealth to some extent.

The question: Is there any evidence to suggest that Bilbo did have a criminal past, hence why he was given the title "Burglar"?

  • 3
    Maybe that's just what his name means in his language. You know, baggin' strongly suggests unruly activities. Compare pocketin'.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 14:32
  • 2
    Well he was hired as one.
    – Virusboy
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 15:06
  • The books suggest he is exceptionally generous - hardly a trait I associate with burglars.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 0:37
  • 1
    I believe he prefers Expert Treasure-hunter
    – Bishop
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 18:15
  • 2
    user35594 - The Tooks may not be totally respectable by the standards of most hobbits, but the head of the Took family was the Thain, the hereditary head of state of the Shire, and thus the highest ranking member of Hobbit society. So it would be very hard to imagine a "better" (socially higher) family than the family of the Shire's very watered down version of a duke or a king. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 22:17

3 Answers 3


No. He isn't a burglar (by trade).

Gandalf is the one who identifies him as a potential "burglar" at the start of The Hobbit, spotting in him intelligence, pliability, an unusually adventurous soul (for a hobbit) and the ability of his people to move extremely stealthily:

"That's right," said Gandalf. "Let's have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.

It wasn't until he actual entered Smaug's hoard that he finally admits to himself (albeit jokingly) that he now fits the title...

His small hand would not close about it for it was a large and heavy gem; but he lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket. "Now I am a burglar indeed!" thought he. "But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it-some time. They did say I could pick and choose my own share; and I think I would choose this, if they took all the rest!


I have read The Hobbit and LOTR and checked the wiki just to be sure I was right. Althought Bilbo has ties to the Tooks he was an honorable person (or hobbit). He didn't steal. He DID however fit the job when the dwarves needed him. They needed someone sneaky to steal the Arkenstone from Smaug and to also aid their adventure. Hobbits are naturally quiet, sneaky people as their feet don't make a lot of noise when they walk. Only in The Hobbit was Bilbo a burglar.

  • 1
    Except that his theft of the Ring is also mentioned in LotR.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 0:39
  • As much as Smeagol likes to call Bilbo a thief, I don't think picking up something from the floor of an empty tunnel fits most folks definition of theft, or even requires mad skillz as a burglar.
    – tjd
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 2:32
  • 4
    @tjd Yeah, I've heard that one already. "Officer, I didn't steal the ring, I found it lying on the floor." Commented May 17, 2015 at 7:19
  • 1
    He stole lots of stuff from the elves and a small lake settlement: "carrying a loaf and a leather bottle of wine and pie that did not belong to him." Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 16:33

Yes. Bilbo is a thief. If you find a ring and 10 minutes later in the same location, in the same place, someone starts screaming I lost my ring and the ring you found is the same ring and you fail to return the ring --- that makes you a thief. Your retention of someone else's property, knowing who the owner is, and the certainty that the property is in fact in your hands, makes Bilbo a thief.

And, if you think about it, doesn't Smeagol answer the question, What have I got in my pockets --- by screaming about the ring? So according to the "game" that he and Bilbo were playing, Bilbo should have given him the ring back.

Of course, giving the ring back would have meant death for Bilbo, so we understand why he didn't give it back. And, of course, the terms of the riddle game is not binding when a loss means you die at the hands of a crazy Gollum. But, Bilbo is perhaps more of a thief than we realize and Gandalf is either correct about Bilbo when he chooses him --- or Gandalf has "made" Bilbo into a thief by characterizing him as one.

  • It's 'Bilbo', not 'Biblo', just BTW.
    – Mithical
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 13:36
  • That's an interesting point, although I don't think it points to a criminal past.
    – MadTux
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 15:26
  • Maybe it is logizomai ---- making someone into something by characterizing them as such. To be reckoned a "burglar" is to be made into a burglar. Bilbo has no criminal past that we know of ---- in fact, he is considered a most "respectable" hobbit.
    – biblo
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 14:45
  • Sorry, but I disagreed strongly with the “terms not binding” for the Riddle Game. They both knew the conditions and agreed to them — of course, though Bilbo cheated somewhat, Gollum accepted his quasi–riddle and later planned on violating his promise and killing Bilbo while invisible. Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 21:25
  • It's not as if Smeagol's claim to the Ring was all that legit in the first place. He did whack a guy to get it, after all.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 2:23

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