In Tolkien's writings, dwarves are practically always (to my knowledge) pictured as living in underground halls, inside mountains, etc. We never hear about dwarves working fields and pastures, or even hunting or foraging for food. So where did their food come from? Although they did do a lot of trade with elves and men, I doubt their sole dependance on food was from that, especially as the trade was subject to good relations and politics.

Is there anything in Tolkien's writings to suggest where the dwarves received their food?

  • 10
    I'd suggest you reward that last line to ask "is there any evidence that suggests a source of food" as the question as it stands is asking for opinions ;) Jun 22, 2015 at 7:29
  • 36
    Visiting hobbits at tea time.
    – Fruitbat
    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:51
  • 1
  • 11
    @Rigas In The Hobbit, he dwarves nearly starved to death in Mirkwood. That's pretty good evidence that they need to eat. For more construct-like dwarves, see the Mostali from the RuneQuest RPG.
    – LAK
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:37
  • 1
    The 13 dwarves eat Bilbo out of house and home in the beginning of The Hobbit, so they clearly need to eat.
    – Jason K
    Jun 27, 2016 at 19:42

6 Answers 6


But when they were cooked these roots proved good to eat, somewhat like bread; and the outlaws were glad of them, for they had long lacked bread save when they could steal it. ‘Wild Elves know them not; Grey-elves have not found them; the proud ones from over the Sea are too proud to delve,’ said Mĭm.

‘What is their name?’ said Turin.

Mĭm looked at him sidelong. ‘They have no name, save in the dwarf-tongue, which we do not teach,’ he said. ‘And we do not teach Men to find them, for Men are greedy and thriftless, and would not spare till all the plants had perished; whereas now they pass them by as they go blundering in the wild. No more will you learn of me; but you may have enough of my bounty, as long as you speak fair and do not spy or steal.’ Then again he laughed in his throat. ‘They are of great worth,’ he said. ‘More than gold in the hungry winter, for they may be hoarded like the nuts of a squirrel, and already we were building our store from the first that are ripe. But you are fools, if you think that I would not be parted from one small load even for the saving of my life.’

Tale of The Children of Húrin

Dwarves knew how to farm, hunt and forage on their own, but they soon took advantage of their neighborly relationships.

There dealings between Men and the Longbeards must soon have begun. For the Longbeards, though the proudest of the seven kindreds, were also the wisest and the most farseeing. Men held them in awe and were eager to learn from them; and the Longbeards were very willing to use Men for their own purposes. Thus there grew up in those regions the economy, later characteristic of the dealings of Dwarves and Men (including Hobbits): Men became the chief providers of food, as herdsmen, shepherds, and land-tillers, which the Dwarves exchanged for work as builders, roadmakers, miners, and the makers of things of craft, from useful tools to weapons and arms and many other things of great cost and skill. To the great profit of the Dwarves. Not only to be reckoned in hours of labour, though in early times the Dwarves must have obtained goods that were the product of greater and longer toil than the things or services that they gave in exchange - before Men became wiser and developed skills of their own. The chief advantage to them was their freedom to proceed unhindered with their own work and to refine their arts, especially in metallurgy, to the marvellous skill which these reached before the decline and dwindling of the Khazad.

The History of Middle-earth: X - "Of Men and Dwarves"

  • 5
    A good answer, but it's worth remembering that Mim was a petty-dwarf and not a true dwarf. Culturally, they were quite distinct groups. So he may be of limited value as an example.
    – Bob Tway
    Jun 22, 2015 at 13:30
  • Yet I think this demonstrates that dwarves did forage part of their food.
    – algiogia
    Jun 22, 2015 at 14:11
  • 1
    @Maksim: "They had come to Mĭm's house, Bar-en-Nibin-noeg, which only ancient tales in Doriath and Nargothrond remembered, and no Men had seen." ..."it had been deepened and bored far under the hill by the slow hands of the Petty-dwarves, in the long years that they had dwelt there, untroubled by the Grey-elves of the woods." Just FYI. :) The history of the Petty-dwarves is unfortunately kind of mysterious. This is actually almost all we know, aside from them being hunted by Elves like animals, and them being the castoffs of the Dwarves.
    – Shamshiel
    Jun 22, 2015 at 22:39
  • 3
    @user867: Yes, Thorin claims that in his time Erebor was so filthy rich they didn't have to grow or find food for themselves.
    – Shamshiel
    Jun 23, 2015 at 0:53
  • 1
    Anyone else get the clear impression that those roots were the first potatoes ever eaten by men?
    – Werrf
    Feb 15, 2017 at 21:24

I don't see any reason to doubt, as the question does, that their sole dependance was on trading. On the contrary, the two the (former) Dwarf kingdoms we see up close - Moria and Erebor - had large settlements just outside, of Elves for the former and Men for the latter, and it is clear there was a huge amount of trade between them. The same is probably true of the Iron Hills kingdom as well.

  • 3
    I doubt that they would be entirely dependent on trade. It's just that farming & herding (or foraging) would be very low-status occupations among them, and so hardly ever mentioned in tales. After all, does LOTR have anything to say about the garbage collectors or sewer workers of Minas Tirith?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 22, 2015 at 19:05

While this is a very old question, new information on Middle-earth agriculture has just been published in The Nature of Middle-earth, Part 3, "V: Note on Elvish Economy":

The Dwarves had an agriculture - which in early times they practiced when isolated and unable to buy grain etc. by barter. They had invented a "plough" of some sort - which they dragged as well as steered themselves: they were tough and strong - but they did not delight in such labor by necessity.


In The Hobbit Thorin mentions that the Dwarves of Erebor at the very least traded for their food which as he says "never bothered to grow or find for find for ourselves." [pg 37]


One possible source of food (other than trading) is fish.

Gollum moves into the bottom of the misty mountains and eats fish from the underground lake, and as Kazad-dûm is in the same mountain range it's not a huge jump to suspect there were also sources of fish there.

  • Umm, not quite the same part of the mountain range, so there's a very high chance it's quite a big jump. (From the Atlas of Middle Earth)
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 16, 2017 at 11:51
  • @Edlothiad that map shows them being in the same range?
    – user46509
    Feb 16, 2017 at 11:52
  • I never said they weren't in the same range. I said they weren't in the same part of the range, indicating that they are quite far apart, as you can see, and therefore their underground system could be vastly different. Leading your "not a very big jump" to possibly being a massive jump, although I myself don't know, hence leaving it as a possibility.
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 16, 2017 at 11:54

Dwarves could get some of their nutritional needs by growing fungi in dark caves.

And they could probably also grow more familiar crops underground.

Remember when Gimli sings the song of Durin in Moria?

There light of sun and star and moon,
in shining lamps of crystal hewn,
undimmed by cloud or shade of night,
there shone forever, fair and bright.

Gimli is saying that the Dwarves of Moria had artificial lighting in their underground halls. Thus it is possible that they grew food in underground farms using artificial grow lights, possibly powered by atomic energy.

And when Sauron invaded Eregon the Gates of Moria were shut. Certainly the west gates, and perhaps the east gates as well, if Saruon besieged Moria on the Dimrill Dale side also. The Dwarves would not be able to go outdoors to farm in the valley or trade for food. This should have lasted for decades or centuries until Sauron's threat ended.

The Dwarves of Moria should have grown their own food indoors under artificial lighting, and possibly even chemically synthized their food, using technology which was lost by the time of Gimli.

I expect that the orcs of the Misty Mountains may have sometimes had similar technology.

And of course the underground civilization of Angband which eventually supported armies of millions of orcs must have had a vast population supported by Morgoth's magic or advanced technology.

  • But fungi require some sort of organic matter - e.g. dead trees or roots - from which to obtain the energy for growth. Growing plants under artifical light requires much higher intensity light than is needed to see - especially as dwarves should have evolved very good night vision. So maybe Moria ran off a fusion power plant.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 23, 2015 at 18:06
  • Thanks for the answer, but it was highly speculative. Although my question originally ended with "what do you think" I was really hoping for people to find something in Tolkien's works about the matter. Tolkien dwarves growing and harvesting fungi in their caves seems like something out of an entirely different book by a different writer.
    – Maksim
    Jun 23, 2015 at 20:06
  • Maksim - I don't think that my answer is very speculative. Gimli's song says that the Dwarves of Moria had some type of of artificial light. If it was technology and not magic, the lights may have been electrical and the electricity may have come from some type of atomic energy source. How else could the Dwarves of Moria feed themselves for years, decades, or centuries when surrounded by Sauron's forces. Jun 24, 2015 at 5:13
  • Maksim - My answer doesn't seem speculative when compared to the Silmarillion saying that Morgoth's orc armies filled the plain south of Angband, which was hundreds of miles wide, in the Great Battle. If the Simarillion exaggerated their numbers by millions of times it would still be conservative to estimate that the underground (and under ice cap?) realm of Angband supplied millions of orc warriors. They must have been supported by magic or high technology. Jun 24, 2015 at 5:27
  • 1
    Hold on how would any race in middle earth be capable of using atomic energy?
    Sep 1, 2021 at 21:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.