How a cursed Roman ring may have inspired Tolkien to use a magic ring of power as the symbol of evil in Middle-earth.
“One Ring to rule them all!”
The Ring of Silvianus is a real-life golden ring that originated in Rome during the Fourth Century and according to ancient legend was cursed!
“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,” recounts The Guardian. (via IGN)
A tablet found at a site in Gloucestershire known locally as Dwarf’s Hill bore an inscription that revealed that a curse had been placed on the golden ring. The Guardian: “A Roman called Silvianus informs the god Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: ‘Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.'”
HistoryToday goes on to say that…
“Sometime in the late fourth century a Roman by the name of Silvianus visited the Celtic temple dedicated to a healing god, Nodens, located on a hill above the River Severn at Lydney in Gloucestershire. During his visit (and possibly while Silvianus was bathing in the temple’s elaborate baths), his gold ring was stolen. We know this because two lead curses were excavated in the ruins of the temple in the early 19th century. According to these curses Silvianus believed that the thief was called Senicianus and he offered half the value of the ring to Nodens, who was asked in return to withdraw good health from the culprit.
The lead curses and numerous other artefacts found over the years at the temple languished in a private museum on the estate until 1928, when the young but ambitious archaeologists Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa were invited by the owner, Lord Bledisloe, to clarify the history of the site. Over two summers the Wheelers worked at Lydney and asked various experts to assist in the research. Two of these were fellows of the same Oxford college, Pembroke: R.G. Collingwood, the archaeologist and philosopher, who worked on the epigraphy; and J.R.R. Tolkien, the professor of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature, who sought to explain the identity of the deities, including Nodens, which he equated with the Celtic god Nuadha.
So much is well known. But these years were also significant because 1928-29 was the period during which The Hobbit was taking its final shape. How much was Tolkien influenced in writing his fantasy by his exposure to the archaeological excavations, to the Wheelers and to Collingwood? Was it Collingwood who introduced Tolkien to the Lydney project and the story of the stolen ring?”
Although Tolkien does not mention Collingwood in his published letters, the two men shared interests outside their academic specialities. These included the poet Francis Thompson and a scholarly enthusiasm for fairy tales, so there was every reason for them to have had more than a passing acquaintance. If Collingwood knew Tolkien as an outstanding etymologist and philologist, Tolkien would have known Collingwood as an authority on Roman inscriptions. Indeed in his Roman Britain and the English Settlements (1936) Collingwood credits Tolkien for his help in other matters: ‘My colleague Professor J.R.R. Tolkien has helped me untiringly with problems of Celtic philology.’ Later, in his discussion of the pre-Roman goddess of the hot springs at Bath, he again credits Tolkien for defining the grammatical form of the Celtic name ‘Sulis’.
Remarkably the stolen ring was actually discovered not in the lifetime of Silvianus but in 1786, in a field close to the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum, or Silchester, nine miles south of Reading and 100 miles east of Lydney. It is now on display at The Vyne, a National Trust property near the Hampshire town of Basingstoke.
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