BBC has reported on the likely original source for Sauron's One Ring in J. R. R. Tolkien's stories. The history of the ring is complicated. It was found in a farmer's field near Silchester, in Hampshire, UK, in 1785. In 1929, with Tolkien's help, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler connected the ring to a curse tablet in a late Roman Celtic temple in Gloucestershire, 100 miles away. The curse tablet describes a stolen ring. The area around the temple was also awash in superstitions about elves and dwarves. It is commonly believed that this research helped inspire Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955).
Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976). Image Source: Wiki.
The ring in question is known as the 'Vyne Ring' or the 'Ring of Silvianus.' The ring bears the image of the goddess Venus, yet an inscription on the band refers to its bearer as a Christian. After it was discovered in 1785, the ring was probably sold by the farmer who found it to the Chute family at the stately house, The Vyne, outside Sherborne St John, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK. The family had an interest in antiquities.
In the 1920s, Sir Mortimer concluded that the ring had been stolen from a Roman Briton named Silvianus. He had been excavating the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Celtic deity Nodens at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire - not far from the Vyne. Nodens was the god of the sea, hunting and dogs - and at Lydney Park, he was also associated with the Roman god Mars. Incidentally, research into ancient gods was popular of the 1920s: Nodens also appears in H. P. Lovecraft's 1926 story, "The Strange High House in the Mist."
Nodens' temple at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, UK in the 1920s. Nodens was "equated with the Roman gods Mars, Mercury, Neptune and Silvanus, and his name is cognate with that of the Irish mythological figure Nuada and the Welsh Nudd." At this particular site, the Celtic god was equated with the Roman god Mars and referred to as 'Nodens Mars.' Image Source: Wiki.
A curse tablet was found at Nodens' temple in Gloucestershire, asking the god to take revenge on a thief who had stolen a ring. The tablet names the man who originally owned the ring, 'Silvianus,' and the thief, 'Senicianus':
- DEVO NODENTI SILVIANVS ANILVM PERDEDIT DEMEDIAM PARTEM DONAVIT NODENTI INTER QVIBVS NOMEN SENICIANI NOLLIS PETMITTAS SANITATEM DONEC PERFERA VSQVE TEMPLVM DENTIS
- 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 it is returned to the temple of Nodens).
The curse was caved on a lead tablet. Image Source: The History Blog.
Image Source: National Trust.
Image Source: National Trust.
The Vyne ring shows the strange and fluid overlapping of different religions which persisted in the late Roman period and after the Romans left the British Isles. The original bearer of the Vyne Ring was nominally Christian. But when his ring was stolen, he appealed to a Celtic god, housed in a Roman temple and associated with a Roman god.
Meanwhile, the ruins of Nodens' temple and the surrounding area became associated with even more ancient nature gods and other magical beings. Wiki: "Local folklore claims that, after the Romans' departure, the local people began to believe the ruins were the home to dwarves, hobgoblins or little people. According to Sylvia Jones, curator and tourism manager at the estate, 'It seems probable that Tolkien was inspired in some way by the folklore attached to the hill.'" It was from this perfect hybrid of coexisting beliefs that the different peoples in Tolkien's works likely grew. From Deanweb:
The site of Dwarf’s Hill at Lydney Park was riddled with tunnels and open-cast iron mines known as ‘scowles’. The labyrinth of tunnels in the hillside and local legend naming it as a habitat of the 'little people' may have inspired the notion of hole-dwelling hobbits. There are close similarities with Tolkien's Hobbiton and The Shire, which are said to describe an idealised version of rural England. It certainly seems probable that Tolkien was inspired in some way by the folklore attached to the hill.
Coincidentally the Roman God Noden was known, amongst other things, as the Lord of the Mines, not a far cry from The Lord of the Rings.
From medieval times Lydney residents forgot it had been a Roman settlement and thought the crumbling ruins were the homes of little people, dwarves and hobgoblins and were afraid of that hill. Tolkien would have also probably visited Puzzlewood which was only a few miles away. There in 1848 workmen had moved a block of stone and uncovered three earthenware jars containing over 3000 Roman coins. That ancient site's unique geology with its scowls and caves is today regularly used by film crews and together with nearby Clearwell Caves has been the setting for scenes from Merlin, Harry Potter and Dr Who.
Puzzlewood near Lydney Park. Image Source: Deanweb.
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