Finders, keepers, as Gollum might say.
Two thousand years ago, a great bustling Roman city was mysteriously abandoned. No-one knows why all the other Roman cities were adopted and survive, yet this one simply crumbled and was covered by earth two thousand years ago.
It’s just muddy farmland now. And in 1785, a farmer was ploughing when something caught his eye.
It was a ring.
A gold ring. A treasure from the lost city of Calleva Attrebatum. And when it was cleaned up it was found to have an inscripton on it. “Seniciane, vivas iin de”, it says. Senicius, live in God. The spelling is unconventional.
The story of how the ring got to a house ten miles away is not told. It is assumed the farmer sold it to the prosperous family who lived at The Vyne, Basingstoke. But there it has sat ever since, until some bright spark realised that the cult following created by the film versions of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit would come a long way to see something like this.
Their reasoning? JRR Tolkien knew all about this ring. And about the chance find which reveals it to be accursed.
Eighty miles from The Vyne, in Lydney, Gloucestershire, there is a great old mound which locals have feared for a thousand years. Dwarf’s Hill is riddled with tunnels and open cast mines. Locals have for centuries believed it is inhabited by little people; dwarves and hobgoblins.
Sited in the estate of Lydney Park, it has a rather enchanted air itself, masquerading on a sunny day as Middle Earth.
But once it was a Roman settlement, and in 1929 the renowned archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler was busy excavating a temple found there. The temple was dedicated to the Roman God Nodens.
Aka: Lord of the Mines.
So one day Sir Mortimer’s team were digging and they found a tablet. It was inscribed: “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 eminent archaeologist is said to have made the connection between the tablet and the ring at the Vyne, and called in Tolkien to help.
The author was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University at the time. He was asked by Wheeler to investigate the etymology surrounding the ‘Nodens’ in the curse. He even wrote a chapter for Wheeler’s subsequent book.
The provenance for Tolkien’s complex mythology is a constant subject of debate. He acknowledged the greek tale of Oedipus and the Finnish Kalevala as influences and scorned the ‘fundamental unreason’ of Celtic folklore. But nowhere, to my knowledge, is there any shred of a word from him about the influence on his stories of this old Roman ring and the curse on which he must surely have worked.
Is it The Ring?
Time has stubbornly refused to tell.