The purpose of the exchange of rings during the wedding ceremony is to signify to everyone in attendance that the bride and groom belong to each other. This exchange between the bride and groom takes place while they say their wedding vows which often includes traditional wedding vows such as to “have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer," etc. These vows date back to the 1500s, but the exchange of rings actually dates back to 6,000 years ago.
Ring Exchange Dates Back 6,000 Years
While the Ancient Egyptians didn’t wear wedding rings to symbolize marriage or commitment, papyrus scrolls and other relics which date back 6,000 years offer evidence of the exchange of braided rings crafted from hemp or reeds between spouses. Even back then, they believed the circle to be a symbol of eternity and the ring to be a symbol of perpetual love between spouses. They wore the rings on the third finger of their left hand because they believed that finger to be connected directly to the heart through the vein called the vena amoris which means "vein of love". This theory is also one of the reasons the engagement ring and/or wedding ring is placed on the ring finger today in western cultures.
Middle Ages Exchange of Rings
During the Middle Ages, the exchange of rings and a promise or vow constituted a legal marriage. However, monarchs were known to manipulate this practice to their advantage to get out of an unwanted marriage. This led to the custom of two rings -- an engagement ring and a wedding ring.
Today’s Ring Exchange
Today the ring exchange is a big part of the wedding ceremony. The introduction to the exchange of rings clarifies the symbolism and meaning behind the giving of the rings by the bride and groom.
Along with the exchange of rings at the wedding ceremony, the giving of the engagement ring is traditionally also an exchange with a promise. The first recorded giving of a ring with the promise of marriage is found in the first book of the Hebrew Bible and dates back to the late Bronze age. It was a nose ring.