What's the meaning of sat at the head of the party

Gandalf sat at the head of the party with the thirteen dwarves all round: and Bilbo sat on a stool at the fireside, nibbling at a biscuit (his appetite was quite taken away), and trying to look as if this was all perfectly ordinary and not in the least an adventure. The dwarves ate and ate, and talked and talked, and time got on. At last they pushed their chairs back, and Bilbo made a move to collect the plates and glasses.

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

"Head of the party" is not an idiom according to my research, unless party refers to a political party. It's probably a metaphor.

1 Answer 1


A party can be a group of people assembled for some reason. To sit at the head of something, e.g. a table, is to sit at one end so that everyone can see and hear you. It implies seniority, leadership, or host status.

In this diagram, person A sits at the head of the table, and person B at the foot of the table.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Clear as crystal. Thank you! Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 12:58
  • Although it's debatable which end of the table is the head and which is the foot. I'd guess that the head is the end closer to the kitchen? Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:53
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    @DarrelHoffman The head is the end of the table which gets served first. Then those on either side are served, working down the table, and those near the foot get served last. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 21:09
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    @DarrelHoffman It's often made clear simply by the status of the various people - the higher status will be nearer the head. Of course, this is only relevant in those cases where people care about status.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 21:23
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    @DarrelHoffman - check out the meaning of 'below the salt'. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 22:57

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