The Ring of Senicianus

There are many pieces of jewelry that live in museums, private collections, and more around the world. Many of these pieces are rings and several of these are Roman rings. Roman jewelry is a popular museum piece, as so many tell stories and let us learn more about the cultures that produced them. One of these rings, however, stands alone: The Ring of Senicianus. This ring is also known as the Vyne Ring and the Ring of Silvianus. It was stolen over 1,500 years ago and, according to legend, whoever steals this ring will be cursed by the gods.

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As the story goes, Silviaus was a Roman stationed in Gloucestershire in England. One day, he decided to visit the infamous baths of Nodens, a Celtic God of healing, the sea, and hunting. During his time at Nodens’ temple and the baths his precious golden ring was stolen from him.

The ring was quite large, which hints that it was meant to be worn outside of a gloved finger or on the thumb. It is about 1-inch in diameter and weighs 12 grams. It has ten faces and a square bezel engraved with a picture of venus. The ten gold sides were bare when Silvianus had the ring.

So, in anger and retaliation to the thief he went to the temple and created a lead defixio, also known as a curse tablet. Defixios ask the gods to perform a curse on a person or action. According to legend, he engraved (in Latin, but here’s the translation): “For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a gold ring and is donating one-half of its worth to Nodens. Of the man called Senicianus, permit no good health upon him until the ring is returned back to the temple of Nodens.”

The ring was found in the year 1785. It was discovered in a plowed field in Silchester, England. When it was found, “SENICIANE VIVAS IIN DE” proving that, perhaps, Silviaus was right and Senicianus did in fact steal his ring. It went into private holding and the official finding was not published until 1888, when its existence was published in Chaloner Chute. Then, in 1929, a link between the Silvianus curse tablet and what was then known as the Vyne Ring. We can thank Sir Mortimer Wheeler for that link!

Despite its theft centuries ago, it is currently the property of the National Trust and is on view at the Vyne Manner. It is said that this ring is the inspiration behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Series. This link is highlighted in Gollum’s actions toward Bilbo when…”he cried out in rage, “Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it; we hates it, we hates it forever!” Both Silvianus and Gollum knew who stole their rings and cursed them accordingly. Not to mention, Tolkien had a relationship with Wheeler. He had gotten in touch with Wheeler to learn more about the god, Noden. However, he got more than he bargained for when he learned of the ring. The Hobbit was written in 1937...less than 10 years after the link was made!


The Vyne © National Trust / Helen Sanderson