|Byzantine Signet Ring|
The history of the wedding ring isn't clear cut. No one is certain of the origin of the "finger ring" but it is speculated that they originated in ancient Egypt as the signet or seal evolved into a signet ring, a portable seal and display of authority. Later history shows that wealthy Egyptian women wore ornamental finger rings including the famous scarab design. Rings grew more common and complex during the middle kingdom. Over time Egyptian styles were supplanted by Greek and Roman rings during the Ptolemaic dynasty.
In the ancient writings of Pliny the Elder (23/4-79 CE) he said, "It was the custom at first to wear rings on a single finger only – the one next to the little finger, and this we see to be the case in the statues of Numa and Servius Tullius. Later it became usual to put rings on the finger next to the thumb, even with statues of the gods; and more recently still it has been the fashion to wear them upon the little finger too. Among the Gauls and Britons the middle finger – it is said – is used for the purpose. At the present day, however, with us, this is the only finger that is excepted, for all the others are loaded with rings, smaller rings even being separately adapted for the smaller joints of the fingers."
In Rome, laws were passed to govern the wearing of finger rings. Pliny goes on to say that the Emperor Tiberius required that people who were not of free descent be required to own a large amount of property before they could have the right to wear gold finger rings. Later the Emperor Severus gave soldiers the right to wear gold rings, and then extended the right to all free citizens. Silver rings were worn by freed slaves, and in Imperial Rome, gold, silver, and iron finger rings were worn in accordance with social class.
|Ancient Roman iron betrothal ring|
Along with rings tying a person to their social class, the Romans were also the first to wear rings that tied them to their spouse. However, unlike today, the ring was not slipped onto the ring finger at the wedding ceremony, but more an engagement ceremony called a Sponsalia. The groom slipped the iron ring (annulus pronubis) on the bride's finger as a pledge of fidelity. Rings were originally placed on the fourth finger because the ancient Greeks believed a vein in that finger led directly to the heart – the "vena amoris." Today we call this finger the ring finger.
With the ring in place, the bride would say, "Nubo," meaning "I veil myself," which signified she was promised to a man. The ring was also a symbol to the bride's family of his commitment and his ability to support his bride financially. Much later, the ring became part of the marriage ceremony.
Some suggest that the binding aspect of the ring for betrothal ceremonies came about from an older superstitious practice in which the man bound the woman he loved with cords around her waist, wrists, and ankles to be sure her spirit would be held under his control. This pagan superstition did not deter early Christians from adopting the use of the betrothal ring, though some Christians today question whether or not a Christian should wear a wedding ring for that reason and others. In the book Christian Dress and Adornment by Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., he suggests that even a plain wedding band could "fall in the category of the inappropriate ornaments of gold and pearls mentioned by Paul and Peter" (1 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:3), and for these reasons question whether or not a Christian should wear a wedding (or any) ring.