The Complete History of the Engagement Ring (part 2)
Roman and Greek History.
The word diamond comes from the Greek word “adamas” which means unconquerable. This is why many Roman and Greek soldiers wore diamonds into battle believing they held special magical powers to protect them and give them strength. The ancient Romans and Greeks believed that diamonds were tears from the Gods or splinters from falling stars. Plato even wrote about diamonds as being living beings, embodying celestial spirits.
While wedding rings were started by Ancient Egyptians, it is the Romans who started the custom that every wife would wear a ring to signify “marriage”. In the second century BC, Roman brides were most commonly given two rings to wear, a gold one which she wore in public and an iron one she wore at home while completing house duties. The Romans and Greeks agreed with the Egyptians that the 3rd finger on the left hand (not counting the thumb) had special meaning (Vena Amoris; the Latin term for a blood vessel that leads to the heart). This continued to be the finger where the wedding band was worn during Roman times and still is today, even though today we know this to be inaccurate. The Romans were less romantic in the giving of betrothal rings called “Anulus Pronubus” symbolizing strength and permanence. The difference between Roman and Egyptian wedding bands was they were also a symbol of ownership not just love. A ring was a way for a Roman man to claim his women. Not all Roman women and daughters had rights when it came to marriage and some had no choice in who they married. There was no such thing as proposals in Roman times. A Roman man normally showed interest or gestures to the father. (usually buying his daughters hand in marriage.) At that point the two would be wed and the rings would symbolize a legal or binding agreement. These Roman wedding rings often included a small carved key that was symbolic in protecting the husband’s heart. It is also believed that this key might also symbolize the unlocking of wealth. Romans were also believed to be the first to engrave their rings.
The Greeks were significantly more romantic. The ancient Greeks began the documented tradition of giving a betrothal ring in advance of marriage. This could easily be the beginnings of the traditional engagement ring. This ring given as a token of care, affection and even love, did not always mean that a marriage was imminent, but could be more merely a friendship or promise ring.
As time changes so did many of the traditions of the engagement ring. In Part three of my series you will learn how the custom and traditions evolved through the middle ages right up until today.
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