Many of you may be surprised that the “diamond” engagement ring is a fairly recent practice. The Betrothal (Truth) Ring, was first worn by the ancient Romans on the third finger of the left hand. This stems from the Egyptian belief that the vein from this finger leads straight to the heart, the “vena amoris” or vein of love. As chance has it, the oldest recorded exchange of wedding rings comes from ancient Egypt, about 4800 years ago. In early Egypt, the ring was linked with the supernatural, a never-ending band linked with eternal love.
The Betrothal ring was usually a plain iron hoop which was replaced with one of gold for more formal occasions. The Romans inscribed their rings as early as the 4th century A.D. Later, the ring’s acceptance by a young lady was a binding, legal agreement and the girl was no longer free.
Rings were used to symbolize the unification between two people in the middle ages as well. Less affluent people would use Fede or faith rings to represent their union. Fede rings were typically in the form of two clasped hands.
The church also had an influence on the significance of the ring. In the ninth century Pope Nicolas made a gold ring a prerequisite for any groom to present to his fiancée as a gesture of the grooms ability to take care of his wife as well as a sign of prosperity. Pope Innocent III made a comparable requisite in 1215 when he declared that rings could consist of unlike metals, including iron and silver, and should be given and worn through longer engagement periods.
Posey rings (poetry) or love rings were popular during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries in England and France as lovers’ gifts and wedding bands. The posies were originally written on the outside, moving to the hidden inside of the ring in later (mid 16th Century onwards) times.
Today we have an endless variety to choose from and rings are worn on different hands in different countries. In Europe many wear them on the right hand. In the U.S. most wear them on the left, closest to the heart.