Today, the exchanging of wedding rings feels like a custom that has always existed. However, unions weren’t always marked in this way. The history of wedding rings can be traced back to the Roman era — although the concept of rings as a symbol of love stretches back even further. Throughout history, different cultures have approached romantic unions in their own way. However, some form of jewellery exchange has often been a common factor. So, let’s go right back to the beginning and find out where the tradition of wedding rings came from and how the custom of exchanging rings has evolved over the years.
Where Did the Tradition of Wedding Rings Come From?
It’s difficult to trace the exact moment when the idea of wedding rings came into fruition. Rings have been considered important and intimate pieces of jewellery ever since the Ancient Egyptian period. This culture was the first one known to exchange rings in the name of love — even if the rings did not necessarily represent a legal union. Egyptian “rings of love” were often crafted from leather or woven leaves. As their name suggests, they were presented to a loved one to demonstrate affection. According to the Egyptians, rings held powerful symbolism. Their circular shape was thought to suggest completeness and infinity, suggesting ever-lasting love. Signet rings and scarab rings were also regarded highly within Egyptian culture. However, these ring types didn’t necessarily hold romantic connotations.
It wasn’t only the Ancient Egyptians that held rings to such great importance. The Ancient Greeks are also known to have exchanged rings in a romantic context. They would primarily have exchanged rings featuring romantic iconography to lovers. For example, rings featuring Eros (the god of love) or his cherubs, Hercules knot rings, or rings bearing romantic inscriptions. Like with the Ancient Egyptians, there is no evidence that these rings were tied to official ceremonies like weddings, but they certainly represented love.
Wedding Rings in Ancient Rome
It wasn’t until the Ancient Roman era that the traditions of using wedding rings and engagement rings were cemented. After the expansion of Christianity during the 4th Century, it became commonplace to exchange rings as part of a wedding ceremony. During this time, grooms would present their wives with rings made from iron. This durable metal was believed to signify strength and permanence, representing the ever-lasting bond between the bride and groom.
A popular wedding ring design during the Roman era was the fede ring. This style comprised of a meal band featuring two hands holding each other at the top of the ring.
The Romans are also believed to have initiated the tradition of wearing your wedding ring on the further finger of your left hand — as we still do today. This was originally chosen as the ring finger because it was believed to contain the “vena amoris”, a vein that leads directly to the heart.
Renaissance Wedding Rings
After the Romans began the tradition, wedding rings can be found throughout history. In the Renaissance period, various different types of wedding rings became popular. For example:
Over the centuries, the custom of exchanging wedding rings has become more cemented in society. However, some traditions relating to wedding rings are more modern than you might think. For example, the custom of the groom wearing a wedding ring as well as the bride only came about in the 20th Century. Specifically, this custom became the norm during World War II, when husbands would wear wedding rings as a way to remember their wives when they were fighting overseas.
Traditions, both old and new, all add to the romance of these truly special jewellery pieces. Wedding rings are often simple and understated, but the meaning behind them speaks volumes.
Delilah Kealy-Roberts – Sales and Digital Assistant
Delilah joined the AC Silver team as a Sales & Digital Assistant in 2017 after completing her degree in English Literature at Leeds University. Delilah possesses a passion for jewellery and antiquities combined with an interest in blogging and social media.