"CURSED" ROMAN RING MAY HAVE INSPIRED
TOLKIEN'S "LORD OF THE RINGS"
A "cursed" Roman gold ring which may have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels has gone on display at a museum in Britain.
The new exhibition at The Vyne, now owned by the National Trust, raises the intriguing possibility that the Roman ring and the ring of power in the Tolkien books are one and the same.
The museum exhibit, created in conjunction with the Tolkien Society, tells the incredible story of this ring, the Roman tablet inscribed with a curse on the man who stole it, and its fascinating connections with Tolkien.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford before he found fame as an author, with the publication of "The Hobbit" in 1937, and the first of the Rings trilogy in 1954. He certainly knew the story of the curse and the ring, and was researching the subject two years before he began work on "The Hobbit."
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.
The ring is a strikingly odd object, 12 grams 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."
A few decades later 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.
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."
Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in 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.
Dr Lynn Forest-Hill of the Tolkien Trust said Tolkien's source was usually assumed to be literary sources, including the Niebelung legends.
"It is, then, particularly fascinating to see the physical evidence of the Vyne ring," he said, "with its links to Tolkien through the inscription associating it with a curse."
The ring is now on display with a first edition of The Hobbit and a copy of the curse – visitors are invited to vote on whether they are looking at the original of Bilbo's ring.