The ‘One Ring’ from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is an iconic element of pop culture known to readers throughout the globe. Yet there exists a relic which may bring truth to this fiction; the Ring of Silvianus, a cursed Roman ring thought to have inspired the literary legend.
The Ring of Silvianus is currently located in The Vyne, a mansion in Hampsire, England where it initially went on public display in 2013. It’s thought to date from around the 4th Century AD and was unearthed in a Silchester farm field in 1785, not surprising considering the town’s Roman origins. Yet what’s really fascinating about this ring is it’s bizarre history.
The ring was originally the possession of a Roman soldier named, you guessed it, Silvianus. He visited baths dedicated to at the Temple of Nodens, a Celtic god, yet while he was there his ring was supposedly stolen. Silvianus claimed the culprit to be someone called Senicianus and appealed to the god for justice following. At the Temple he left a monetary offering and crafted a lead plate defixio (commonly known as a ‘curse tablet’) upon which he inscribed:
Devo Nodenti Silvianus anilum perdedit demediam partem donavit Nodenti inter quibus nomen Seniciani nollis petmittas sanitatem donec perfera(t) usque templum [No-] dentis. Rediviva.
Translated this reads:
To the god Nodens: Silvianus has lost his ring and given half (its value) to Nodens. Among those who are called Senicianus do not allow health until he brings it to the temple of Nodens. (This curse) comes into force again.
A later inscription placed on the ring itself reads “SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE” or “Senicianus, may you live with God“, providing a link between the two artifacts.
Tolkien’s Link to the Ring
So how does Tolkien factor into the ring’s history? Well, the curse tablet would remain undiscovered until the 19th Century and it wasn’t until 1929 that archeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler made a connection between the two relics. To confirm this link, he wrote to his colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. As Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, Wheeler hoped he could help him identify the meaning of the name “Nodens” mentioned in the tablet’s inscription.
It’s highly likely, though unconfirmed, that Wheeler would have mentioned the Ring of Silvianus during their discussions, especially after Tolkien visited the Temple of Nodens to investigate the mystery. To add to this, the Tolkien Society had a hand in setting up the ‘Ring Room’ at Vyne which displays a first-edition copy of The Hobbit alongside the curse and ring. There’s even a Middle-Earth inspired playground on the mansion’s grounds.
While there is a lack of clear evidence linking the Ring of Silvianus to Tolkien’s ‘One Ring’, the two seem to share many similarities; from their inscriptions to their cursed statuses. Also, Tolkien would start writing The Hobbit within a year following his conversations with Wheeler. Regardless of whether this link is fact or fiction, one thing’s for sure, cursed rings might not only be the products of fantasy after all.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, then you should definitely check out the UK-based Hobbit-Hole available for rent!