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History of the Engagement Ring
12-09-2012, 01:26 PM

I just read somewhere that "The tradition of wearing gold rings as tokens of love on the third finger of the left hand began in ancient Egypt." Is that true?
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Ancient Marriage Traditions (long but hopefully not dull!)
12-09-2012, 01:50 PM

Hello everyone on the list! I work with part time on the marketing and history of jewelry, and they asked me this question in an effort to answer your post as comprehensively as possible! Talk about a great company who really cares about their customers and what they do- you can't go wrong!

In short they asked me whether the following series of statements were true, and then I replied. They then asked me to post my reply here, which I am obviously doing now!

They said: "The tradition of wearing gold rings as tokens of love on the third
finger of the left hand began in ancient Egypt, because gold, as the
substance of the sun was a potent symbol of eternity.
The ring finger was long thought to contain the vena amoris, the love
vein leading directly to the heart.
For the ancient Romans, the ring was a token of "earnest money," proof
that the groom could support the bride. Two rings were presented: one
at a betrothal ceremony and one at the wedding itself creating our
tradition of separate engagement rings and wedding rings.
Signet rings with engraved gold or gems were the most popular
betrothal rings in Roman times: they represented authority to act in
the husband's name, giving the wife equal authority. Some rings had
tiny keys attached symbolizing the family home and possessions.
Although diamond became the most popular engagement ring gem in the
nineteenth century, it isn't the only choice. The tradition in royal
families to choose colored gemstone engagement rings is more popular
than ever as more couples look for a unique ring with personal

My reply:


I can say for certain there is no evidence for any wedding traditions from ancient Egypt (as you know, since I am actually an Egyptologist by specialty I can say that with total authority). We know they got married, but there is no evidence for how the ceremonies actually took place. Hard to believe I know, but the Egyptians were very straight laced and victorian, it would have been frowned upon to record such a personal thing.

Also note the LATIN term for the vein of love- that is not Egyptian! Ancient Egyptians spoke and wrote in...well... ancient Egyptian! The latin speaking Romans came on the scene almost 3000 years after the Egyptians made their first pyramid- a longer span of time between us and the birth of Christ.

Whenever someone wants to prove the antiquity of something they claim it is from Egypt- its very frustrating. They didn't worship cats or any other animal for that matter- but don't get me started on that!!

As far as the Roman traditions, this is not my area of direct expertise so I could be wrong about what I am about to say. We have evidence that a ring (usually of a precious metal, often iron which was of course very elite at the time) was given to the woman to indicate possession, material promise, and financial security. But other than that I don't think we have further evidence.

Roman women were definitely second class citizens. Although a wife could be enabled on occasion to deal with economic issues in her husband's absence, the issuing of a signet would have been secondary to the wedding rings and not associated with the wedding proper.

As far as I know there is no evidence for rings with small charms affixed to them in the form of a key. Locks as we know them were not invented till pretty late, likely very very AD. Even if they did exist as far back as the ancient world, they were likely in the form of a "pin lock" which would have been made of a cylinder of wood with a "key" that would not look anything like what we are used to thinking of as a key . Those "keys" looked more like a matchstick or a whittled branch than a flanged piece of metal.

I totally agree with the statement about the colored gems. The use of a diamond in an engagement ring is so recent that it is sort of funny to hear it be called an "ancient tradition" if you are an ancient historian.


Last edited by pearleducation; 12-09-2012 at 02:10 PM.
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Junior Member
12-11-2012, 01:55 PM

Well, what you said is very, very interesting. I took a look around the Internet, and found this explanation about the modern tradition of giving diamond engagement rings. I am inclined to believe that this may be true. What do you think?
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