word derived from the same root as ἀμφί
, meaning something
which goes round (cf. annus
), and used for a ring of any kind, especially
a finger ring. The old Latin name was ungulus.
In the earliest times the
ring was used, not as an ornament, but as a seal (Macrob.
Sat. vii. 13.12
). How ancient the custom of wearing rings among the
Greeks was can not be ascertained, though it is certain that in the Homeric poems there are no
traces of it. In works of fiction, however, and in those legends in which the customs of later
ages are mixed up with those of the earliest times, we find the most ancient heroes described
as wearing rings. But it is highly probable that the custom of wearing rings was introduced
into Greece from Asia, where it appears to have been almost universal (Herod.i. 195
). From Asia Minor to Greece proper the transition of fashion was
expeditious, and the signet, now for the first time worn mounted as a finger-ring, came into
universal favour among all the Hellenic population. This was a new method for securing the
engraved stone; for the original inventors of seal-engraving had worn, and continued to wear
down to the very close of their history (even to the date of the Arabian conquest), the
cylinder or the conical seal as the ornament of the bracelet or the necklace, etc. We have the
express statement of Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxiii.
) that the use of the finger-ring was introduced among the Romans from Greece. (See
King, Handbook of Engraved Gems
, pp. 12, 13.) In the time of Solon
), as well as the practice of
counterfeiting them, seem to have been rather common, for Diogenes Laertius (i. 57) speaks of
a law of Solon which forbade the artist to keep the form of a seal (σφραγίς
) which he had sold. There are allusions to counterfeit seals in
432; and Thuc.i. 132.
precious stones were called ἀπείρονες, ἄπειροι,
, the name of the gem being ψῆφος
, which was set in a bezel
(σφενδόνη, πυελίς, μάνδρα
). In later times rings were worn more as an ornament, and Suidas says (s. v.
) that some regularly loaded their hands with rings.
Greek women likewise used to wear rings (Thesm.
frag. 320, 12, Kock), but not
so frequently as men. The rings of women appear to have been less costly than those of men,
for some are mentioned which were made of amber, ivory, etc. Rings were mostly worn on the
left hand and third finger (Gell. x. 10
), but also on the little
finger (Lucian, Dial. Merer.
9, 2). Indeed, Pliny says (Pliny H. N. xxxiii. 24
) that they were worn first
on the third, then on the first, and finally on the little finger; and Macrobius (
Sat. vii. 13.15
), quoting CapitoAteius , says that originally they were
worn on any finger of either hand. But they do not seem to have been
Hand from an Etruscan Tomb, wearing Rings.
ever worn on the middle finger (digitus infamis
). An Etruscan
tomb exhibits rings on the upper joints of the fingers. (See illustration.)
The Lacedaemonians are said to have used iron rings at all times (Plin. H. N. xxxiii. 9
). The law does not appear to have ever attempted
in any Greek state to counteract the great partiality for this luxury; and nowhere in Greece
does the right of wearing a gold ring appear to have been confined to a particular order or
class of citizens.
The custom of wearing rings was believed to have been introduced into Rome by the Sabines,
who are described in the early legends as wearing gold rings with precious stones of great
beauty (Liv.i. 11
). Florus (i. 5) states that it was introduced
from Etruria in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, and Pliny derives it from Greece. At whatever
time rings may have become customary at Rome, thus much is certain, that at first they were
generally of iron, but often of stone (King, Antique Gems
, p. 176, ed. 1860);
that they were destined for the same purpose as in Greece—namely, to be used as
seals; and that every free Roman had a right to use such a ring. This iron ring was used down
to the last period of the Republic by such men as loved the simplicity of the good old times,
and it retained its place in the ceremony of betrothal. Marius wore an iron ring in his
triumph over Iugurtha, and several noble families adhered to the ancient custom, and never
wore gold ones (Plin. H. N. xxxiii. 12, 21
Rings with us are mainly associated with mar
Snake-ring. (British Museum.)
riage, an association borrowed from the Romans. As already mentioned, the anulus pronubus
was originally of iron, without a stone, and continued to be
so even to a late period (Plin. H. N. xxxiii.
); though Tertullian (
) says the marriage-ring was the one gold ornament that women
wore in the olden times. Wedding-rings with precious stones have been found on ancient
The ring of the Roman emperor was a kind of state seal, whose use was sometimes allowed to
persons acting as his representatives. The keeping of the imperial seal-ring (cura anuli
) was intrusted to a special officer.
Different families appear to have had distinct seals like our crests—e. g. Galba's
family seal represented a dog leaping from a ship; Pompey's ring bore the device of three
trophies; Augustus sealed with a Sphinx, afterwards with a head of Alexander the Great, and
finally with his own portrait, as did Hadrian. The Empire, in fact, is the grand era of
portraits on gems. In the art of engraving figures upon gems, the ancients far surpass the
best work of modern artists. See Gemma
Originally, among the Romans, the men only wore one ring and the women none, except that a
married woman wore that received at marriage. Later, the love of luxury led both men and women
to cover their fingers with rings. In one of the graves at Kertsch, a woman was found with
eight rings. Lucian (Gall.
chap. xii.), ridiculing the rich, speaks of sixteen
rings. Martial (xi. 59) tells of a man who wore six on each finger. Some even used different
rings for summer and winter, those for the latter season being too heavy for hot weather (Iuv.
i. 28, with Schol.). The materials used for rings, as seen by European collections, were iron,
lead, zinc, bronze, amber, ivory, silver, and gold. Rings were kept in a box called dactyliotheca
—a name also applied to a collector of rings. For
earrings, see Inaures