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Vyne Estate, Hampshire (Accredited Museum)
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When, in chapter five of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds something special amidst the ‘few wretched oddments’ in Gollum’s cave, we are told it is ‘One very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful. He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring." Could this ring, now on display at The Vyne in Hampshire, be the inspiration behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous text? Discovered in 1785 in a farmer's field in the Roman town of Silchester, this gold ring is engraved with the head of Venus and bears a Latin inscription which translates ‘Senicianus live well in God’. It was probably sold to the wealthy Chute family who lived nearby at The Vyne and were keen collectors. There it might have remained – just a curious archaeological find – were it not for the discovery, decades later, of a stone tablet at Dwarf’s Hill, a Roman site in Lydney, Gloucestershire. The tablet is inscribed with a curse from a Roman named Silvianus demanding the return of a ring stolen by Senicianus. The translation reads: ‘Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.’ In the early 20th century, the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler spotted the connection between the tablet and the ring. In 1929 he approached Tolkien, then professor of Anglo-Saxon literature at Oxford, to advise on the entomology of the god named in the curse. We can only speculate on how much the ring, the curse and the Gloucestershire landscape fueled Tolkien’s imagination but by the following year he was fully immersed in writing The Hobbit.
A Roman ring (see NT/VYN/V/2 for associate plaque)