Engagement & Wedding Rings in the 13th Century

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As far back as the 13th century B.C., the Egyptians were giving wedding rings as a token of their commitment. It was not until the 13th century A.D. that both a wedding and an engagement ring were both given by couples in Europe. Today, the engagement ring is typically adorned with a precious gem, and the wedding ring is a flat band that sits below the engagement ring on the third finger of the left hand.

  1. 13th Century B.C. Egypt

    • In Ancient Egypt couples exchanged rings at their wedding as a symbol of permanence. The rings were traditionally made of hemp or reed. Because the ring was continuous, with no break or seam, it represented eternity. Metal rings were given during biblical times at the betrothal. These rings were made from valuable metal and were often the only dowry that a family could afford. The ring was worn on the third finger, now known as the ring finger, because it was believed that the finger contained the vena amoris, or the vein of love, which traveled directly to the heart.

    Ancient Rome

    • In Ancient Rome, a ring was a symbol of ownership. The rings worn on the fingers of Romans were symbolic of the ring used to carry the keys to their household. This included keys to their stable, food stores and basic rooms in the home. Members of the upper class had key rings and wore rings made from precious metal like gold, while members of the working classes had key rings and wore rings made from unadorned iron. When a man gave his wife a wedding ring it both marked her as his possession and symbolically gave her control over his household.

    Early 13th Century A.D. Europe

    • In the early 13th century Pope Innocent III commanded that there be a long engagement period between a betrothal and the actual wedding ceremony. During this period, rings were given as a sign of agreement to seal any marriage contract. Prior to Pope Innocent's order, only one ring was given, because the betrothal and wedding occurred in a very short time span. After the change was made, two rings were given, as the betrothal and the marriage were seen as two distinct contractual arrangements: the first, a contract between two families, and the second, a covenant between two individuals and God.

    Later Developments

    • The first jeweled engagement ring was given in 1477 by Austria's Archduke Maximilian. He presented a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy when their betrothal was finalized. During the 16th century the wedding ring was moved from the third finger of the right hand to the third finger on the left hand. This may have been as a symbol of woman's inferiority and subservience, since the right hand was known as the "hand of power." Men did not wear wedding rings until the second World War, when they began to wear plain gold bands as physical reminders of their wives back home.

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