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The real historical rings that inspired Tolkien's Rings of Power

BY Rebecca Batley

12th Aug 2022 Film & TV

The real historical rings that inspired Tolkien's Rings of Power

Ahead of the release of Amazon Prime's Ring of Power series, we take a look at the real historical rings that inspired JRR Tolkein's writing

“Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, 
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone.
Nine for mortal men doomed to die, 
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne;
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, 
One ring to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them;
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”

This famous epigraph written by J R R Tolkein in his epic fantasy Lord of the Rings was made known on a global scale by the smash hit film adaptations of the book trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.

Since their screening in the early 2000s, the book's popularity has soared, with an estimated 77 per cent of people now having seen the films or read the books.

In an attempt to cash in on this success in 2017 Amazon bought the television rights to Lord of the Rings for a huge $250 million and their developed series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere on the 2nd of September. It will be primarily based upon the appendices of the Lord of the Rings which are set thousands of years before the events of the book during which time the Rings of Power were forged, but what was the inspiration behind these iconic rings? 

The Vyne Ring

the Vyne ring inspired from the Rings of POwer poster
Image via Amazon's Rings of Power

It is no secret that J R R Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon history at the University of Oxford and much academic ink has been spilt speculating on what exactly inspired his creation of Middle Earth and its mythology. A lot of this interest has focused on the real rings that might have inspired Tolkien and there are several fascinating candidates.

In 1929 we know he was specifically asked, by his friend the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, to inspect a gold ring that had been found in 1785 near Silchester.

The ring is usually known today as the Vyne Ring after the 16th-century Tudor Palace near which it was found. It is made from 12 grams of gold, is 25mm wide and crucially bears the inspection “Senicianus - Live well in God.”

"Much academic ink has been spilt speculating on what exactly inspired Tolkein's creation of Middle Earth"

Mortimer Wheeler noticed a connection between this and a curse tablet that refers to the same god found at an excavation in Lydney, Gloucestershire which is inscribed “To the God Nodens, Silvianus has lost a ring…among those who bear the name of Senicianus to non grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.” He called upon Tolkien to investigate the connection and the potential linguistic origins of the terms.

Whilst there is no proof that the "cursed" Vyne ring was Tolkien's inspiration, the fact that we know he investigated the ring's origins surely suggests that it was in his mind when he was creating the Rings of Power

The Kingmoor Ring

golden rings from RIngs of Power
Image via Amazon's Rings of Power

Another candidate for the real ring is the Kingmoor Ring, which was discovered in 1817 and dates to the 8th-10th century, meaning it was created in the middle to late Anglo-Saxon period, the time to which Tolkien devoted his studies.

It is inscribed with bind runes that bear what appears to be a magical inscription, perhaps to ward off illness or evil spirits. Historian Dan Carlin says that when viewing the ring “it is not too hard to envision where Anglo-Saxon language expert J R R Tolkien found (his) inspiration.”

The last rune is inscribed on the inside rather than the outside of the ring and rather than its creator having simply run out of space, it has been speculated that it was deliberately designed in order to bring the inscription and its power into direct contact with the skin. Inspiration for the One Ring’s ability to make the wearer vanish when they put it on their finger perhaps? 

Rings in Old Norse mythology

old norse mythology
Image via Amazon's Rings of Power

Magical rings also occur repeatedly in Norse lore and Tolkien studied Old Norse, going so far as to attempt to rework the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun.

In Norse mythology, rings had great power. Odin wears the cursed or magical rings Draupinr and Andvaranaut the latter of which, in the Poetic Edda, brings about the doom of the heroic Sigurd at the hands of the Volsungs.

In the Norse Saga of the Ere-Dwellers men also swear their oaths on a ring, and the ring serves both as a magical binding and a means of communication between men and the gods.

"In Norse mythology, rings had great power"

Rings clearly had great significance and the large number of them found in Scandinavia, such as those of the Hon hoard prove they were often linked with oath-taking in reality not just in text. Tolkien knew this and perhaps was inspired to make his own rings, the link by which Sauron seeks to exert control over the inhabitants of Middle Earth. 

Perhaps we will never be able to prove beyond a doubt the precise inspiration behind Tolkien’s Rings of Power. Tolkien himself was deliberately vague, and perhaps that is a good thing. Part of the magic of Middle Earth after all is that it is a fantasy world, born of one man's imagination.

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