Tolkien Mysterious Ring

On April 2nd 2013, an ancient Roman gold ring are putting on display at The Vyne, Hampshire (now owned by the National Trust). The ring, which was found in a field in Silchester, Hampshire in 1785, believed to have inspired JRR Tolkien to write "The Hobbit." It is linked by a name inscribed on it to a Roman tablet - Senicianus. The ring is larger than an average ring (diameter of 25mm and weighing 12g) and is believed to date from the 4th century was in the collection of the Chute family – which for generations was interested in politics, collecting, and antiquarian research – for centuries before the house came to the National Trust in the 1930s. This ancient artifact is also inset with an image of the goddess Venus, and lay forgotten in the library of the National Trust property for several years.

The ring was probably found in 1785 by a farmer ploughing a few miles away within the walls of Silchester, one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country – a town which flourished before the Roman invasion, was abandoned by the 7th century and was never reoccupied. There are no details of exactly when it was found, but historians assume the farmer sold it to the history loving wealthy family at The Vyne. It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem and a Latin inscription reading: "Senicianus live well in God".

 The mysterious gold ring inscribed in Latin

A few decades later (early 19th century) and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up. At Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarf's Hill, a tablet with an inscribed curse was found, also featuring Senicianus. Written on it was a plea from a Roman called Silvianus, asking Nodens, the god of the Lydney temple, to return a ring, stolen by Senicianus, and placing a curse of ill health on the thief. The translation reads: "To the God Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring ... among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens."

Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in JRR Tolkien in 1929 to advise on the odd name of the god – and also spotted the connection between the name on the curse and the Chute family's peculiar ring. It seems that Senicianus only got as far as Silchester before he lost his booty.

Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, started writing The Hobbit within a year of learning of the ring in 1929. He visited the Temple of Nodens on a number of occasions. The area around the temple was known as Dwarf's Hill, believed to have been an Iron Age fort containing mines which some suggest was the inspiration for the dwarves in The Hobbit.

How the ring came to reside at The Vyne is unknown but the owner, Chaloner Chute, included information about the ring in his history of the building in 1888.

Referring to the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s work, expert Dr Lynn Forest-Hill (the education officer for the Tolkien Society) said: “Exhibition visitors can decide for themselves: is this The One Ring?"


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