Every so often you read a story about someone accidentally stumbling upon a historic artifact stuffed in their attic or buried in their backyard. Sure, it seems like the premise of a fairy tale, but these things do occasionally happen.
In 1785, while one farmer was plowing his field in Hampshire, England, he suddenly heard a strange noise. After a brief investigation, he laid his eyes on a gold ring that he’d accidentally run over with his plow.
What he didn’t know at the time was that he’d actually uncovered an artifact that would eventually inspire some of the greatest stories ever told…
Life is strange sometimes. One minute you’re just plowing your field and the next you’re finding an ancient artifact on your own property. So it goes, right? At least that’s how it happened for one farmer back in 1785.
While working on his field, the farmer suddenly heard an odd noise, as if he’d run over something hard. Concerned, he decided to see what had caused the sound. But when he knelt down to take a closer look at the dirt, he spotted something that made his mouth drop…
The farmer discovered a strange gold ring that he’d never seen before in his life. After picking it up and giving it a quick once over, he had no idea that he’d potentially just found an artifact that would inspire some of the greatest stories ever told.
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First, he noted that the ring was a signet, which are used to make seals. It was engraved with the Latin phrase “SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE,” which translates to “Senicianus live well in God.” It weighed 12 grams—about the same weight as a modern man’s gold wedding band—and was designed to fit only on a gloved finger. Though the farmer didn’t know it, the ring’s origins could be traced back to the fourth century, when a Roman man named Silvianus visited the Celtic temple of Nodens, a healing god. As he bathed there, his ring was stolen by an unknown thief.
Silvianus was said to have thought the burglar was a man he’d seen inside the temple named Senicianus. In response to this alleged transgression, Silvianus supposedly cursed the man out of anger.
After traveling some 100 miles away, it’s believed that Senicianus abandoned the ring in the town of Silchester. With no knowledge of this legend, the farmer who found it decided to keep the gold ring he’d found, hoping that one day he could sell it and become rich.
Eventually, the farmer sold the ring to a family living at The Vyne, a 16th-century country manor house outside of Hampshire, who’d taken a particular interest in its origins. After making the purchase, however, it remained in their library untouched. It was largely forgotten about until many years later, in 1888, when the then-owner of the home, Chaloner Chute, wrote about the item.
Meanwhile, a team of archaeologists were conducting a dig at the site of the old Nodens temple when they suddenly uncovered a plaque called “defixio,” or the “cursed tablet.” On it, the legend of Silvanius and Senacianus was detailed…
Also inscribed on the tablet was a quote, which roughly translated to: “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.”
Unable verify the authenticity of this story, the tablet would sit in the estate’s museum, untouched, for several decades. In 1928, however, a young archaeologist named Mortimer Wheeler and his wife, Tessa, were brought to the site to examine it. They worked at the site for two years before their investigation eventually led them to The Vyne and the ring.
The Wheelers sought the help in two Oxford University friends, whom they hoped could offer some insight into the story surrounding the ring. Remarkably, those men were none other than philosopher and archaeologist R.G. Collingwood and Celtic literature and Anglo-Saxon professor, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Naturally, it’s rumored that the two years Tolkien spent researching Silvanius, the thieving Senicianus, and their cursed ring inspired him to write The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings trilogy!
In 2013, The Vyne ring was moved from the library and placed on permanent display at the manor, alongside a copy of the tablet and a first-edition copy of The Hobbit. Thanks to their love of Tolkien’s work, The Vyne family is happy to teach visitors about the history of the original One Ring.
What an incredible find that farmer made. It makes you wonder what sort of other artifacts are sitting out there waiting to be discovered!
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