Origin of Wedding Rings
One of the universal symbols of marriage is the wedding ring. Not many people know how it came to be one but its history is actually quite a fascinating one. Even back in ancient times, rings were considered as an intimate piece that proves one’s status and a pledge of their love to another.
The first exchange of a wedding ring
The first wedding rings can be traced back as far as 4000 BC in Ancient Egypt. A formal exchange of rings between two people was recorded in ancient Egyptian. Papyrus scrolls (writings) featured couples exchanging rings made of hemp or reeds and were placed on the fourth finger of the left-hand which they thought was where the ‘vein of love’ ran directly to the heart. These rings were eventually replaced by either leather or ivory for better durability. They believed that the type of material used in wedding rings represented the wealth of the giver and the more expensive the material was, the more love was shown to the significant other.
It was also the Egyptian Pharaohs who first used the circle of the ring to symbolise eternity due to its shape – a circle has no beginning and no end. It also reflects the shape of the sun and the moon, which the Egyptians worshipped. They also believed that the open space in the middle of a ring represented a gateway to the unknown or a symbol of the future.
History of the wedding ring in Ancient Greek and Rome
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, it was only then that the Greeks adopted the tradition of exchanging rings as a show of love and devotion to their significant others. These rings held depictions of Eros the god of love or his cherubs. They also continued the practice of the fourth-finger rule, believing (like the Egyptians before them) that a particular vein that ran directly to the heart could be found in the left-hand ring finger.
The Romans called this vein the Vena Amoris (Vein of Love). Like the Greeks, the Romans also wore rings made out of leather, bone or ivory. However, it was in Ancient Rome where the trend of using precious metals in wedding bands first began. When the Romans conquered Greece, they started using iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies. The groom would present an iron/copper ring to his future bride and the durability of the metal would symbolise the permanence and strength of the couple’s bond.
Evidence also showed that Romans were the first to have engravings on their metal rings. Key motifs which symbolised that the wife now had control of the household were often placed on iron rings. Fede rings became very popular which featured engravings of two hands clasped together in love or agreement, as well as signet rings (used as personal signatures) which inspired some of the earliest known “betrothal rings” in Rome.
The wedding ring during the Medieval and Renaissance Period
Wedding rings became more personalised in the beginning of the Medieval period. During the Byzantine Empire, engravings of the couple’s figures were put on rings. When Christianity became the Empire’s official religion, wedding rings with depictions of the couple with Jesus or a cross between them were adopted in Christian marriage ceremonies. However many of these rings, especially ones which included heavy engravings were denounced by the Church as they were considered overly lavish. In replacement, plain wedding bands were used.
In the 15th century, ‘Posy rings’ rose in popularity. They featured short engraved verses from poems or scripture. Their design evolved over time from outward-facing inscriptions to inward-facing inscriptions to keep the message private and personal to the wearer. It is during these times that couples were starting to see the marriage as something intimate rather than simply as a legal agreement.
During the 16th and 17th century, Gimmel rings became famous. These are rings consisting of two interlocking parts and were used in marriage ceremonies. After a couple got married, each one would take one part of the ring to wear. The groom would take the ring and put it on the bride’s finger to bring together the matched set, signifying their union.
Contrary to earlier practices, jewelry was considered insignificant and impractical by Puritans in colonial America. Therefore, thimbles were used instead of rings. Puritan husbands gave these to their wives so they could sew clothes and textiles for their household and eventually saw off the tops of their thimbles to make rings.
Today, there are no rules when it comes to wedding rings. However, traditions from earlier times are still prominent to this day such as the wearing of rings on the fourth finger of the left-hand and the use of plain wedding bands. There are many various ways of presenting the rings and it will differ from region to region. It is up to the couple, now that they have more freedom, to choose what style suits them best.