Knowledge Centre > Jewellery History > History

The earliest traditions of betrothal ring giving

Ancient Romans invented the engagement ring

Byzantine betrothal ring, circa 7th 8th century AD. Hatton garden
Byzantine betrothal ring, circa 7th-8th century AD.
Ref: 26372

To find the earliest examples of rings associated with romance, it is necessary to go back thousands of years to the Ancient Greek civilisation. Whilst there is no direct evidence that the Ancient Greeks wore rings specifically related to a betrothal or marriage ceremony, there do exist however a number of rings which symbolise the matters of the heart such as the Hercules Knot which may have been worn as a talisman or lucky charm, reminding the owner of the giver’s affection for them.

Have you ever wondered why it is traditional to wear your betrothal ring on the fourth finger of your left hand? This gesture actually has its origins in the Ancient Egyptian world where it was believed that the 'Vena Amoris' or 'vein of love' ran from the third finger of the left hand directly to the heart, making it the perfect finger for such a ring.

The Ancient Romans are credited with the invention of the engagement ring. As far back as the 1st century AD onwards it was typical to hold a betrothal ceremony called a sponsalia during which the groom presented his future bride with a ring known as 'annulus pronubus', made from iron to signify strength and permanence. As time went by these rings began to be crafted in gold with engravings and decoration, such as clasped hands- the original form of the fede ring-, portraits of the couple and intaglios depicting Cupid.

In the year 860, Pope Nicolas I decreed that a ring was a 'requirement' to signify engagement and he stipulated that it must be gold to show the formal financial intention behind the union. So before the end of the first millennium, the gold engagement ring was synonymous with our Western wedding tradition.

The Byzantine period then marks an important change in betrothal rings. Christianity came to prominence and a new concept (one which we still hold to today) was born of having three rings in the nuptial proceedings- one engagement ring for the woman and two wedding rings, one for each party. Moreover these rings show the adjustment in the perception of marriage- it was no longer just about the couple, now they were also joining in eyes of God. This concept is translated to the engravings on these early betrothal rings which often detail the two facing profiles of the couple with Christian symbols in between.

Interested in the very beginnings of engagement ring giving? Choose something a little more unusual and present your loved one with a truly unique and extremely rare ring bursting with history.

Ancient Roman Cupid intaglio ring, circa 2nd century AD.  Hatton Garden
Ancient Roman Cupid intaglio ring, circa 2nd century AD.
Ref: 27619
front view Early Byzantine gold marriage ring, circa 4th century AD. berganza hatton garden
Early Byzantine gold marriage ring, circa 4th century AD.
Ref: 26279
Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram

Email: | Opening hours: Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-4pm | All Stripe currencies supported

Connect with us

Berganza on Facebook Berganza on Instagram Berganza on Pinterest Berganza on youtube Berganza on linkedin

Signs up for regular emails on our new acquisitions, news and features:
Updated 20/07/2024 at 2:17PM

© Berganza Ltd 2024