In April 2013, an ancient gold ring with a very special history emerged out of obscurity with much fanfare as it went on prominent display at The Vyne – a National Trust country house in Hampshire, England. The Ring of Silvianus gains its fame from being J.R.R Tolkien’s inspiration for the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings series. The story behind the Ring of Silvianus isn’t as epic as the One Ring’s, but it’s still quite remarkable.
The ring was discovered in 1785 and sold to the Chute family – owners of The Vyne. While writing the history of The Vyne, Chaloner Chute also catalogued the ring and its inscription “Senicianus live well in God.” Well-read archaeologists knew about the ring, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy about it. But, in 1929 Sir Mortimer Wheeler discovered a tablet at the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the god Nodens at Lydney, Gloucestershire. It was inscribed with an ominous curse:
For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one half [its worth] to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good health until [the ring] is returned to the temple of Nodens.
Wheeler drew the connection between the name inscribed on the ring and the name on the curse tablet. But one thing did puzzle him: who was Nodens? For help, he consulted with a Professor of Old English at Oxford University – Tolkien. It is thought that Tolkien used this cursed ring as inspirational materials when writing the Lord of the Rings series.
With help from the Tolkien Society, the ring is now the centerpiece of an exhibit at The Vyne, which also features a first edition copy of The Hobbit and a transcription of the curse found at the temple of Nodens.