One Ring to Rule Them All: The Ancient Artifact That May Have Inspired Tolkien

The ring is now on display in the U.K.

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New Line Cinema / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s a golden ring. It’s inscribed with a mysterious message. It carries a curse.

Sound familiar?

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings will, of course, recognize the trinket as the One Ring: the magical item that grants Bilbo Baggins invisibility and later requires Frodo Baggins to go on a quest to destroy it. It’s made of gold, carries an inscription (“One Ring to Rule Them All, One Ring to Find Them …”) and brings bad things down upon the head of whoever carries it.

Fans of antiquity, on the other hand, may recognize a particular Roman ring found in Silchester, a Roman site in the U.K., in the 1800s. That particular ring is on view at the Vyne, a historic house in Basingstoke, England, beginning today. The exhibit — which also includes Tolkien memorabilia — raises the question if that particular ring actually inspired the author.

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It’s thought that the ring was found by a farmer in the late 18th century, who probably sold it to the landowners who lived at the Vyne until the house became part of the National Trust. It’s a large thumb-size gold ring inscribed “Senicianus Live Well in God” in Latin, and it matches the description on a tablet found at another British Roman site; the text is a curse upon Senicianus for stealing the ring. Which is where Tolkien comes in. As the Guardian reports, Tolkien is known to have researched the ring prior to The Hobbit’s 1937 publication: he was the professor asked in 1929 to help the archeologist figure out which god was invoked in the curse.

That said, it’s not as if the Vyne ring is the only cursed gold ring in history or mythology (see: the Ring of the Nibelung). But the new ring exhibit does have one thing possessed by no other contender for the title of Tolkien’s inspiration: a Tolkien-inspired tea menu to go along with.

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