Books by J.R.R.Tolkien - Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire

Short Description:

A ''promontory fort', or small embanked hill-town, five acres in extent, was established at Lydney in or shortly before the first century b.c., and was subsequently, during the second and third centuries a.d., occupied by a Romano-British population, engaged to some extent in iron-mining. An intact iron-mine, not later than the third century a.d., has been partially explored. Soon after a.d. 364—7 a temple, dedicated to the otherwise unknown deity Nodens, was built within the earthwork, and with the temple, which was of unusual plan, were associated a guesthouse, baths, and other structures, indicating that the cult was an important centre of pilgrimage. About the end of the fourth century, the buildings were surrounded by a precinct-wall; but, later, they fell into decay, and the final phase of occupation, coinciding probably with the fifth and sixth centuries, is represented by a reinforcement of the prehistoric earthwork. Amongst the '•finds', the prehistoric pottery and brooches, the Roman bronze figurine of a dog, the hoard of small sub-Roman coins, and the post-Roman brooch are noteworthy.


Between the mouth of the Wye and Newnham-on-Severn, the Forest of Dean thrusts southwards towards the Severn along a series of irregular ridges and spurs, divided here and there by small streams. At Lydney, nine miles north-east of Chepstow along the Gloucester road, one of these spurs, a mile from the present shore and 200 ft. above it, commands a vista of luxuriant forest and spacious estuary which can scarcely be matched for beauty even in a county of pleasant park-lands. The spur is ranked by deep glens of which one contains (it is said) the first plane-trees introduced into this country from Italy ; and the whole deer-park, wherof it is now a feature, has been enriched by many generations of the Bathurst family with a great variety of timber, which flourishes upon the soft ferriferous limestone of the district.

At one time it seems that the spur was known popularly by the name of the Dwarf's Hill. ' When the estate was purchased by Mr. Ben. Bathurst in 1723, all this part was overgrown with bushes, but there were walls remaining about 3 ft. above the ground, particularly in a part called Dwarf's Chapel. . . . Many large coins and other antiquities were then found . . . many of which [Mrs Bathurst] is said to have sent to a friend in London.... '


J. R. R. Tolkien wrote an appendix to "Report on the excavation of the prehistoric, Roman and post-Roman site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire", contained within the 1932 edition of the "Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London". Some quotes from the article:

This name occurs in three inscriptions… d(eo) M(arti?) Nodonti… deo Nudente… devo Nodenti… donavit Nodenti… templum [No]dentis… The inscriptions most probably represent, therefore, a Keltic stem *noudont- (*noudent-?), provided with Latin case-endings. Now *noudont- (nom. *noudons>noudos>noudus, gen. noudontes, dat. noudonti or noudontai) is precisely the form required as the older stage of the (Old and Middle) Irish mythological and heroic name Núadu (later Núada),

But the fact that outside Ireland (where the name figures largely) Nodens-Nuada occurs only in Britain, in the west, in one place, and nowhere else in the Keltic area, never in Gaul, has led to the more likely conjecture that Nodens is a Goidelic god, probably introduced eastward into Britain… It is possible to see a memory of this figure in the medieval Welsh Lludd Llaw Ereint (‘of the Silver Hand’) – the ultimate original of King Lear...

The stem is extremely common in Germanic… there is in each of the chief older dialects a verb *neutan, in Gothic niutan (and ga-niutan), Old English neotan, Old Saxon niotan, Old High German nio3an (German geniesen), Old Norse nióta. In all these languages, and therefore perhaps in common Germanic, the secondary senses ‘acquire, have the use of’ are the usual ones.

These senses are none the less probably not original. In Gothic, the earliest recorded of the Germanic group and preserved in a form spoken at a time when Nodens’ temple possibly still had votaries, clear traces remain of an older sense. There ga-niutan means ‘to catch, entrap (as a hunter)’…
Whether the god was called the ‘snarer’ or the ‘catcher’ or the ‘hunter’ in some sinister sense, or merely as being a lord of venery, mere etymology can hardly say. It is suggestive, however, in this connexion that the most remarkable thing about Nuada was his hand, and that without his hand his power was lost. Even in the dimmed memories of Welsh legend llaw ereint we hear still an echo of the ancient fame of the magic hand of Nodens the Catcher.

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