Metal Detectorist’s Roman Hoard Linked to a Temple that Likely Inspired The Lord of the Rings
Two metal detecting enthusiasts made a “once in a lifetime” discovery when they unearthed a hoard of Roman bronze artifacts at an undisclosed location. The most exciting of the finds is an intact healing statue that has been linked to the Roman Lydney Temple. This is the same temple that inspired JRR Tolkien to add a key element to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The Licking Dog Hoard
The Guardian reports that the 4th century bronze hoard was discovered by Pete Cresswell and Andrew Boughton in Gloucestershire. Archaeologist Kurt Adams, the Gloucestershire and Avon finds liaison officer, calls the finely detailed healing statue of a standing dog “a unique find for British archaeology.” It is the only known sculpture of a licking dog dating to Roman times to be found in Britain.
The Roman ‘licking dog’ healing statue. (Eve Andreski/Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 2.0)
Speaking on the find, Mr. Cresswell said:
“It’s not every day you come across a hoard of Roman bronze. We have been metal detecting for a combined 40 years, but this is a once in a lifetime discovery. As soon as I realized the items were of historical significance I contacted the local archaeology team, who were equally excited by the find. It’s a great privilege to be able to contribute to local and British history.”
Apart from the dog figurine with its tongue out, the other bronze pieces appear to have been deliberately broken and hidden. Archaeologists believe that the hoard was tucked away by a metal worker who probably wanted to melt and recast the bronze.
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Romans in Gloucestershire
The licking dog statue has been found in a region that was a strong and important part of Roman Britain. Gloucester (Roman Nervia Glevensium or, less formally , Glevum) was probably founded by the Romans around AD 90-98 and was of the highest order of Roman towns, denoted coloniae. These were either completely new settlements or based on a previously established fort. The latter is the case for Gloucester, which was built on the site of a fort which was used as a post for the expansion of the Empire into Wales. The area was then allotted to the veterans of Legio II Augusta, according to the Association for Roman Archaeology (ARA). The town would then have been predominantly, if not exclusively, populated by Romans. After the removal of the military in AD 407, the town began to decline and would eventually be lost to the Anglo-Saxons in the sub-Roman period around the 5 th and 6 th centuries AD.
Visualization of 2 nd century Gloucester by Philip Moss (Gloucestershire Archaeology)
The Romans were in this area (and Britain generally) for over half a millennium. The area surrounding Glevum became heavily Romanized, with Roman towns (eg. Glevum, Corinium), many villas (some of which have been excavated such as Chedworth and Woodchester), forts and temples. One such temple found in the area is at Lydney Park Roman Camp, 20 miles (32 km) along the River Severn estuary. It is here we reconnect with the bronze dog statue.
Lydney Camp and Lydney Temple
The site of Lydney Camp was originally an Iron Age hillfort which was for a time mined by the Romans for iron ore around the 3 rd century. In the 4 th century, they built a Romano-Celtic temple dedicated to the Celtic deity Nodens, which is known due to inscriptions of the name found at the site.
The Celtic god, Nodens, is associated with healing, the sea, hunting and dogs – mainly due to representations of all of these aspects being found at the temple complex. The temple is thought to have been primarily dedicated to healing and includes a bath house. Nine dog statues or effigies have been found there, the most famous being the “Lydney Dog” Bronze. This dog iconography is representative of healing, as dogs were once kept in order to lick wounds and aid healing.
The Lydney dog was one among many dog themed artifacts found at the Lydney Temple or Temple of Nodens (Credit: ARA)
The reason the new licking dog bronze has been tentatively linked with this temple, is that it is the only healing temple known in the area. However, the statue could be indicative that there is a hitherto unknown healing temple or shrine to be found in the vicinity.
Tolkien at Lydney Temple
A point of interest worth mentioning whilst on the subject of Lydney Temple is the believed influence it had on that world-renowned fantasy-fiction about a ring quest by JRR Tolkien. In 1928-9, the author was invited to Lydney Park by the eminent archaeologists Sir Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa, who had been commissioned to investigate the site. At the time, Tolkien was invited in his capacity as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford in order to explore the origins of the name ‘Nodens’, as there was little record of this god other than at the Temple complex. According to historian and author Matthew Lyons, Tolkien’s article “is an extraordinary testament to his skill and erudition.”
Ruins of the Temple of Nodens at Lydney Park (Jeff Collins CC BY-SA 2.0)
Tolkien visited this place several times, staying in the rather splendid house and one imagines enjoying the grounds of the country manor. Besides the old local name for the location of the temple at what is now Camp Hill being ‘Dwarfs Hill’, it being riddled with tunnels from the mining and whispers of small people and goblins and the like in the area, Lyons sites two specific items related to the Temple that are thought to have brought about the ring element to the story.
The first item is a curse tablet that is from the temple. It reads as follows:
“To the God Nodens. Silvanus has lost a ring. He has [vowed] half its value to Nodens. Amongst all who bear the name of Senicianus, refuse thou to grant health to exist, until he bring back the ring to the Temple of Nodens.”
The curse invokes the support of Nodens to help Silvanus regain a ring that has somehow been lost to Senicianus. And so the second item comes in the form of the actual ring referred to, which is believed found in a church/farmers field in Silchester half way across the country! It is denoted as most likely the ring of the curse, as Senicianus had a fresh inscription of, ‘‘ Seniciane vivas in deo” (Senicianus, may you live in God).
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The Roman ring with Senicianus inscription (Credit: The Vyne © National Trust / Helen Sanderson)
It is interesting that the curse demands the ring should be returned to the place from whence it came (the Temple of Nodens). Although there is a leap from a ring with a curse attached to a ring of power such as appears in Tolkien’s epic, and there are other rings found in legends, such as those found in the Arthurian legends, Lyons argues that the ring story at Lydney, “may have simply caught his imagination and been buried away somewhere in his unconscious.” If so, it wasn’t buried for long, as in 1932, just a few years after his visits to Lydney Temple, The Hobbit, with its mysterious ring theme was finished.
Some of the broken artifacts found in the Roman bronze hoard. (Eve Andreski/Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 2.0)
The location of the recent Roman hoard find has not yet been publicized so the connection to Lydney Temple is currently sheer speculation. The hoard is currently being kept under controlled conditions at Bristol Museum whilst being photographed and recorded. Once analysis is completed, the findings will be presented at the British Museum. Experts expect to have a report ready by the end of this year.
Top Image: The recently unearthed ‘licking dog’ statue. (Gloucestershire County Council)
By Gary Manners