The Vyne ring or ring of Silvianus is a golden ring dating back to approximately the 4th century AD, discovered in 1785 by a farmer in a field not too distant from Silchester, in the British Hampshire. The piece of jewelry was once property of a Roman citizen named Silvianus, apparently stolen by someone called Senicianus; Silvianus set up a malediction against the thief through a curse tablet (tabella defixionis in Latin), found around 100 km (60 miles) away from where the ring had been recovered.
After the random recovery, the ring became property of the family Chute, perhaps after purchasing the item from the farmer, whose country house in Vyne, still in the Hampshire, is today property of the English National Trust.
In 1929, during the excavation of the site in the Roman temple of Nodens in Lydney, Glouchestershire, also known as “Dwarf’s Hill”, the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler found a curse tablet destined to the ring holder. While Wheeler and J. R. R. Tolkien were discussing the name of the god invoked in the malediction, the ring and its anathema could have very well been source of inspiration for the “One Ring” of the “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”.
Below: picture by Julian Nyča shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
The ring of Silvianus is wider of most rings as its diameter is 25 mm and 12 g heavy (1 inch and 0.4 ounches); these data suggests that the object might have been worn on top of a glove by a cyclopic finger. The shape is not perfectly rounded but instead it creates a dodecagon with one of its facet overlapped by a picture of the Goddess Venus. On one side of the square about the goddess there are the letters “VE” while on the other side you read “NVS”. When used as a seal, the head and the letters would appear in the right order:
The external side of the ring is engraved with the words “ENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE”. The expression contains two mistakes as there is a double “i” and the last word “de” is lacking of a “o”. The common Roman expression would go “VIVAS IN DEO”, meaning “living in god”.
The discovery of the Malediction
At the beginning of the 20th century a plate of copper was discovered (tavoletya defixiones) where Silvianus, owner of the stolen ring, casts a curse against the one who has taken the treasure from him. What’s the thief’s name? Senicianus, cursed until the ring is returned to the temple of God Nodens.
Below: picture by Simon Q shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
The content of the curse tablet says:
DEVO NODENTI. SILVIANVS ANILVM PERDEDIT DEMEDIAM PARTEM DONAVIT NODENTI. INTER QVIBVS NOMEN SENICIANI NOLLIS PETMITTAS SANITATEM DONEC PERFERA VSQVE TEMPLVM DENTIS
which translates approximately as:
“For God Nodens. Silvianus lost a ring and offered half of its value to Nodens. Amongst those who are named as Senicianus take away health from them until they will return the ring to the temple of God Nodens”.
The deity Nodens had Celtic origins and due to this Wheeler, in 1929, he turned to Tolkien in the capacity of professor and linguist at Oxford University. Certainly the archaeologist discussed the curse tablet in details and many people can see the resemblance between the ring, the Hobbit hill of the archaeological site of Lydney and in the curse made by Silvianus towards Senicianus the inception of an idea destined to become the most known fantasy saga in the world.
Tolkien was inspired by several tales and historical events not least by the story of the “Ring of Gyges” by Plato. The Hobbit was published in 1937 while The Lord of the Rings in 1954, many years after the discovery of the Ring of Vyne and the ancient malediction written in Latin language.