The Barrow-downs (Sindarin: Tyrn Gorthad) were a hilly area near Bree, in Eriador, that served as a graveyard for the kings of Arnor and the Edain. Initially the region was inhabited by the Edain during the First Age; the first Men in Middle Earth who fought during the War of Wrath. When the
came they settled in the region and upon Elendil’s arrival the Barrow-downs were brought into the Kingdom of Arnor. During this time it became marked with large tombs and barrows for the Kings of Arnor. Arnor broke up and was ultimately destroyed by Angmar, under the Witch-King. Cardolan (The Arnorian splinter kingdom where the barrows are located) became a refuge for the
fleeing south from Angmar’s conquests, they were eventually defeated and the area became desolate. In order to ensure the
could not re-establish Cardolan or hide in the Barrows, the Witch-King cursed the land and sent Wights to haunt the region. During the Third Age the Barrow-downs are feared by the men of Bree and the hobbits of the Shire. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin ventured into the Great Barrows during their quest to Rivendell. After leaving Tom Bombadil’s House they got lost in the great fog and were captured by the Wights. They awakened in one of the dark tombs, surrounded by old treasures and the chanting Wights. Frodo awoke first, broke free of the Wight’s spell, and sang Tom Bombadil’s song. Tom Bombadil broke into the tomb, banished the wights, and helped Frodo carry his companions out. He then gifted the Hobbits each a dagger from the barrows, which to them was long enough to be a sword. These swords were made by the
of Arnor. The barrow-blades would serve the hobbits throughout their quest. During the Battle of Pelennor Fields the Witch-King’s armor would be undone by Merry stabbing him in the back, as only a blade of Westernesse (Númenórean) work could destroy his armor. Pippin would slay a troll during the Battle at the Black Gate. Sam lost his sword in Cirith Ungol but recovered it from Gandalf. Frodo remained with Sting.
“They heard of the Great Barrows, and the green mounds, and the stone-rings upon the hills and in the hollows among the hills. Sheep were bleating in flocks. Green walls and white walls rose. There were fortresses on the heights. Kings of little kingdoms fought together, and the young Sun shone like fire on the red metal of their new and greedy swords. There was victory and defeat; and towers fell, fortresses were burned, and flames went up into the sky. Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind.’ Stone rings grinned out of the ground like broken teeth in the moonlight.
The hobbits shuddered. Even in the Shire the rumour of the Barrow-wights of the Barrow-downs beyond the Forest had been heard. But it was not a tale that any hobbit liked to listen to, even by a comfortable fireside far away. These four now suddenly remembered what the joy of this house had driven from their minds: the house of Tom Bombadil nestled under the very shoulder of those dreaded hills. They lost the thread of his tale and shifted uneasily, looking aside at one another.”
– Tom Bombadil telling the Hobbits about the regions of Eriador. Fellowship of the Ring,
In the House of Tom Bombadil