|Location||Eriador, on Bree-hill|
|Realms||Arnor, Cardolan, Independent|
Bree was settled in the early Third Age, in the realm Cardolan. Though the Princes of Cardolan claimed it, Bree continued to thrive without any central authority or government for many centuries. Bree was the most westerly settlement of men in all Middle-earth by the time of the War of the Ring.
The origins of the Men of Bree are obscure, but apparently they were a distant offshoot of the Dunlendings who had moved far to the North, and then were absorbed into Arnor. In any case, the Bree-landers managed to survive through the violent history of Middle-earth up to that point, and they were still thriving in Bree long after Arnor had collapsed and the memory of fallen kings faded into the grass. The Men of Bree were also the only Men in all of Middle-earth who lived with Hobbits on a daily basis: the population of the Bree-land had become a mix of Men and Hobbits, who had migrated from the east some 1,500 years before the War of the Ring. The ratio varied between each of the four townships of the Bree-land, but Bree itself had a sizable Hobbit population.
Bree was by its nature a trading community, due to being located at the major crossroads of the Great East Road. which ran from the Blue Mountains and the coast to Dale in the far East, and the old north-south road between Arnor and Gondor. The latter had fallen out of much use since the destruction of Arnor, and was more commonly referred to as the Greenway due to its disrepair. Trade had of course drastically declined in the thousand years since the final destruction of Arnor, but even at the end of the Third Age Bree remained relatively prosperous. As a result of its location on major trade routes, one could encounter travelers from all sorts of distant lands in a bustling Bree inn. The Rangers of the North also were known to stop in Bree for resupply.
Bree is the place where seemingly by accident, Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield met on March 15, T.A. 2941. They were both thinking about the same problem: the Dragon Smaug at the Lonely Mountain. The meeting led to the undertaking of the Quest of Erebor, which resulted in the death of Smaug and the finding of the One Ring by Bilbo Baggins.
In the night between the 29th and the 30th of September, T.A. 3018, Frodo Baggins met Strider at the largest inn in Bree, The Prancing Pony, owned by Barliman Butterbur. The inn was raided by servants of the Ringwraiths, forcing the retreat of Frodo and his companions.
Bree was raided by ruffians during the War of the Ring, leaving several Men and Hobbits dead. When Frodo and his companions returned in October 28, T.A. 3019, returned to Bree, it seemed like most of the worst had passed. Barliman Butterbur explained to the Hobbits that none of the Bree-landers ever realized how much the Rangers of the North had done for them, but after they all left (to fight in the War of the Ring in the south) all sorts of ruffians and highwaymen and wolves had encroached on the land. The Bree-landers had survived by throwing up some hasty defenses and posting watchmen, but trade had dropped off to almost nothing as they barricaded themselves within their town walls. The Hobbits assured Butterbur that Aragorn II, known to him as his former customer "Strider", had now been crowned King and would soon venture north to restore order.
Presumably, Bree was re-absorbed into the revived Arnor and Reunited Kingdom of Aragorn, with increased trade allowing Bree to become more prosperous than in generations.
Directly west of Bree were the Barrow-downs and the Old Forest. Bree was the chief village of Bree-land, a small wooded region near the intersection of the main north-south and east-west routes through Eriador. Bree-land was the only part of Middle-earth where Men and hobbits dwelt side by side.
Bree was on the south-western side of Bree-hill, and there were three villages in Bree-land in addition to Bree proper.
- Staddle was populated primarily by hobbits who made a living from light agriculture, of pipeweed, primarily. Staddle was on the south-eastern side of Breehill, sitting south of Combe and Archet. It was the only of the villages (other than Bree itself) visible from the Great East Road.
- Combe was populated primarily by Men, with some hobbits, all of whom made a living from agriculture. Combe was situated on the borders of the Chetwood and on the edge of Breehill, between the villages of Archet and Staddle.
The name Bree means "hill" in Brythonic, referring to the fact that the village of Bree and the surrounding Bree-lands were centered around a large hill. According to Tom Shippey, Tolkien was inspired by the actual town of Brill.
Portrayal in adaptations
- After leaving the Old Forest, the Hobbits appear in the Prancing Pony without delay or introduction. Merry does not go out for a stroll, and the rooms were raided by Ringwraiths rather than servants of them.
- Here too, Bombadil and the Barrow-downs were omitted. After taking a short walk through Bree, the hobbits enter the Pony. Merry goes out for a walk, and is found by Bob the ostler. Once again, it is the Ringwraiths rather than servants of them who raid the Pony.
- The role of Bree is greatly expanded, due to the interactiveness of the medium. It is the place where the Hobbits meet Strider, and the player shifts perspective. Strider searches the streets of Bree for Merry and materials to make decoys for (once again) the Ringwraiths to slash, while the streets are crowded with robbers and wolves.
- Frodo and his companions arrive at Bree almost immediately after the scene in which they leave the Shire. All are present in Strider's room when the Ringwraiths crash the gate, trample the gatekeeper, and raid the Prancing Pony.