previous next


A´NULUS or ANN´ULUS (δακτύλιος), derived from the same root as ἀμφὶ, meaning something which goes round (cf. annus; Corssen, Beitr. p. 316), was used for a ring of [p. 1.130]any kind, especially a finger-ring. This was originally called in Latin ungulus (Fest., p. 375; Plin. Nat. 33.10).

In the earliest times the ring was used, not as an ornament, but as a seal (Macr. 7.13.12). How ancient the custom of wearing rings among the Greeks was, cannot be ascertained; though it is certain, as even Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.12) observes, 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. (Paus. 1.17.3, 10.30.2; Eurip. Iphig. Aul. 154, Hippol. 862.) 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. (Hdt. 1.195; Plat. Rep. 2.359 E.) 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, &c. That this invention (sc. the finger-ring) should be ascribed to Prometheus, a Grecian hero, and its designation δακτύλιος a word of native origin (unlike those of many other personal ornaments, evidently of a foreign root: μανιάκης ψέλλιον, for example), are considerations going far to prove that this latest and most permanent fashion was purely an innovation of the Greeks. Besides this, we have the express statement of Pliny (33.4), that the use of the finger-ring was introduced amongst the Romans from Greece: “E Graecia fuit origo unde hic anulorum usus venit.” (King, Handbook of Engraved Gems, 1885, pp. 12, 13.) In the time of Solon seal-rings (σφραγῖδες), as well as the practice of counterfeiting them, seem to have been rather common, for Diogenes Laërtius (1.57) speaks of a law of Solon which forbade the artist to keep the form of a seal (σφραγίς) which he had sold. (Allusion to counterfeit seals in Aristoph. Thes. 432; Thuc. 1.132.) Whether, however, it was customary as early as the time of Solon to wear rings with precious stones on which figures were engraved, may justly be doubted; and it is much more probable that at that time the figures were cut in the metal of the ring itself, a custom which was never abandoned altogether. King (l.c. p. 3) agrees with Lessing, that the signet-ring was not worn by the Greeks till about the beginning of the Peloponnesian War; otherwise Herodotus (l.c.) would have mentioned the Babylonians wearing the signet suspended from their wrist or neck as a striking peculiarity, which he does not. Rings without precious stones were called ἀπείρονες, ἄπειροι, ἄλιθοι, ἄψηφοι, the name of the gem being ψῆφος or σφραγίς, which was set in a bezel (σφενδόνη, πυελίς, μάνδρα, funda, pala). In later times rings were worn more as ornaments than as articles for use, and persons now were no longer satisfied with one, but wore two (Plat. Hipp. Min. p. 368 C), three, or even more rings (Dinarch. in Demosth. § 36; D. L. 5.1); and Suidas says (s. v. σφραγίς) that some regularly loaded their hands with rings. Greek women likewise used to wear rings (Aristoph. Thesm. frag. 320, 12, Kock; Ter. Heaut. 4.1, 37 ; Hecyr. 4.1, 59; Poll. 2.155), 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, &c. (Artemid. Oneir. 2.5.) Rings were mostly worn on the left hand and third finger (παράμεσος, Plut. Sympos. Frag. 4.8; Gel. 10.10), but also on the little finger (Lucian, Dial. Merer. 9, 2). Indeed, Pliny says (H. N. 33.24) that they were worn first on the third, then on the first, and finally on the little finger; and Macrobius (Macr. 7.13.15), quoting Ateius Capito, says that originally they were worn on any finger of either hand. But they do not seem to have been ever worn on the second finger (digitus infamis). An Etruscan tomb exhibits rings on the upper joints of the fingers. (See cut on p. 132.)

The Lacedaemonians are said to have used iron rings at all times. (Plin. Nat. 33.9.) With the exception perhaps of Sparta, 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 (gemmati anuli) of great beauty (Liv. 1.11; Dionys. A. R. 2.38). Florus (1.5) states that it was introduced from Etruria in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, and Pliny (l.c.) derives it from Greece. The fact that among the statues of the Roman kings in the Capitol, two, Numa and Servius Tullius, were represented with rings, can scarcely be adduced as an argument for their early use, as later artists would naturally represent the kings with such insignia as characterised the highest magistrates in later times. But 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 retained its place in the ceremony of betrothal. Marius wore an iron ring in his triumph over Jugurtha, and several noble families adhered to the ancient custom, and never wore gold ones. (Plin. Nat. 33. § § 12, 21.)

When senators in the early times of the republic were sent as ambassadors to a foreign state, they wore during the time of their mission, and on public occasions afterwards, perhaps, gold rings, which they received from the state; in private they wore their iron ones. (Plin. Nat. 33.11; Isidor. Orig. 19.32, 3.)

Rings with us are mainly associated with marriage, 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. Nat. 33.12); though Tertullian (Apol. 6) says the [p. 1.131]marriage ring was just the one gold ornament women wore in the good old times. Marriage rings with precious stones must also have been used, as such are found on ancient figures (Rossbach, Hochzeitsdenkm. p. 27). The ring was an earnest given by the bridegroom for the fulfilment of the contract of marriage (cf. pignus, Juv. 6.27; Dig. 24, 1, 36.1), as we may see from the fact that in mere mercantile contracts a ring was often given as a pledge (Dig. 14. 3, 5.15; cf. Ter. Eun. 3.4, 3).

The practical purposes for which rings, or rather the figures engraved upon them, were used by the Greeks and Romans, were the same as those for which we use our seals. Besides this, however, persons, when they left their houses, used to seal up such parts as contained stores or valuable things, in order to secure them from thieves or slaves (Arist. Thesm. 415 sqq.; Plat. Legg. 954; Athen. p. 34 a; Plaut. Gas. 2.1, 1 ; Cic. Fam. 16.2. 6, de Orat. 2.61, 248; Martial, 9.88; Mayor on Juv. 14.132). The housekeeper used to carry a seal for this purpose (Arist. Eq. 948; Plut. Alex. 9); and we have still remaining rings with a key

Ring with Key attached. (British Museum.)

attached. The ring of a Roman Emperor was a king of state-seal, and the emperor sometimes allowed the use of it to such persons as he wished to be regarded as his representatives (D. C. 66.2). The keeping of the imperial seal-ring was entrusted to an especial officer (cura anuli, Just. Hist. 43.5). The signs engraved upon rings were very various, as we may judge from the specimens still extant: they were portraits of ancestors, or friends, subjects connected with mythology or the worship of the gods; and in many cases a person had engraved upon his seal symbolical allusions to the real or mythical history of his family. (Cic. in Catil. 3.5; de Finib. v. 1; V. Max. 3.5, 1; Suet. Tib. 58.) Like our crests, different families seem to have had distinct seals: e. g. the seal of Galba's family was a dog leaping from a ship's prow (D. C. 51.3). Sulla thus wore a ring with a gem, on which Jugurtha was represented at the moment he was made prisoner (Plin. Nat. 37.8; Plut. Mar. 14). Pompey used a ring on which three trophies were represented (D. C. 43.18), and Augustus at first sealed with a sphinx, afterwards with a portrait of Alexander the Great, and at last with his own portrait, which was subsequently done by several emperors. (Plin. Nat. 37.10; Suet. Aug. 50; D. C. 51.3.) Hadrian's seal had his own image on it (Spart. Hadr. 26). The Empire is the grand era of portraits on gems. See the interesting discussion in King, Handbook, pp. 53 ff., who quotes Ovid, Ov. Tr. 1.7, 5, and many other instances.

The principal value of a ring consisted in the gem framed in it, or rather in the workmanship of the engraver. The stone most frequently used was the onyx, on account of its various colours, of which the artists made the most skilful use. The elder Scipio was the first Roman who wore a ring with a sardonyx (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 37.85). The Greek engravers of the best times had contented themselves with the sard, banded agate, and amethyst as the materials for

Reversible Ring. (D. and S.)

their art. The Romans attacked the more precious stones in spite of their hardness--the ruby, the sapphire, and the amethyst (King, l.c. p. 40). Besides rings having a seal-stamp on them, we find camei also. (Senec. Benef. 3.26; Plin. Nat. 37.173.) We have many rings with inscriptions on them--χαρά, χαρὰ τῇ φορούσῃ, ἔτη χίλια ζήσῃς (Becker-Göll, iii. p. 280)--presents given to girls (Mart. 8.5); and these “motto-camei” are very common from Diocletian's time (King, Handbook, p. 77). Indeed in the wearing of rings the Roman ladies do not seem to have been wanting (Tert. Apol. 6); and in one of the graves at Kertsch a woman was found with eight rings. We know that the ring followed the wearer in death (Propert. 5.7, 9). In the art of engraving figures upon gems, the ancients in point of beauty and execution far surpass everything in this department that modern times can boast of. The ring itself, in which the gem was set, was likewise in many cases of beautiful workmanship.

The stone and its setting sometimes revolved on an axis, having on one side a figure in relief, on the other an intaglio. Sometimes the rings were spirals, resembling serpents, like many of our bracelets; and we find rings of chased gold with each side ending in a serpent's head. Originally among the Romans men wore only one ring and women none, except the one which a bride received from the bridegroom (Isidor. l.c.); but with the increasing love

Snake-ring. (British Museum.)

of luxury and show the Romans covered their fingers with rings (Quint. Inst. 11.3.142; Petron. 32). Lucian (Gall. 100.12), ridiculing the rich, speaks of sixteen rings. Martial (11.59) tells of a man who wore six on every finger; and of another (11.37) who had a ring of such a monstrous size that he recommends him to wear it on his leg instead of his finger. Some even used different rings for summer and winter, those for the latter season being too heavy for hot weather. (Juv. 1.28, with Schol.; cf. Dennis, Etruria, i. p. 476.) Clement of Alexandria (Paedagog. 3.11, pp. 288-9, ed. Potter) says men are not to wear the ring on the joint (ἐπ᾽ ἄρθρᾠ, for this is feminine, but to place it on the little finger at the root: for so the hand will be freest to work, and the signet will not easily fall off. And our seals (he goes on) should be a dove or a fish or a ship scudding before the wind, or a musical lyre which Polycrates used, or a ship's anchor. We are not to delineate the faces of idols; nor a sword, nor a bow, following as [p. 1.132]we do peace; nor drinking cups, being temperate. Many of the licentious (he tells us also) have their lovers or their mistresses engraved on their seals. Thus, contrary to our modern custom, rings appear to have been worn on the joints of the fingers; and if more than one was worn on one finger, the rings were placed on different joints, not worn together and touching each other,

Hand from an Etruscan tomb, wearing Rings.

as with us. This is exemplified in the accompanying cut from an Etruscan tomb. The materials used for rings, as exemplified in European collections, were iron, bronze, gold, silver, lead, zinc, amber, and ivory. Rings, especially among the Greeks, were often regarded as talismans (Aristoph. Pl. 884). For famous rings with magic powers, compare that of Gyges (Plat. Rep. 359), Chariclea (Heliod. Aeth. 4.8), Eucrates (Lucian, Philopseud. 17), and more in King, Handbook, p. 134 foll. Rings were kept in a box called dactyliotheca, a name also applied to a collection of rings. (Mart. 11.59, 14.123; Plin. Nat. 37.11.) On earrings, see INAURES.

JUS ANULI AUREI. The Roman gold ring appears to have been originally a military distinction given for success in dealing with the enemy. This may be seen from the formula for the most part preserved in Cicero, and which has been restored as follows (Verr. 3.80, 187): “Quando tu quidem in praelio in bello iure militari nunquam mihi defuisti, omnibusque in iisdem periculis et in legatione et in praetura et hac in provincia versatus es; ob eas causas hoc anulo aureo te dono:” --and also from the fact that it. was the praetor or provincial governor (Cic. Verr. l.c.) who bestowed it (cf. Acron on Hor. Sat. 2.7, 53; Suet. Jul. 33, 39). As is natural with such distinctions in a militant state, it came to be bestowed on the chief civil magistrates, and we find it in rather early times belonging to the nobiles, and like many other distinctions transmissible to their descendants. (Liv. 9.46, 12 ; Plin. Nat. 33.18.) It did not belong to the senators as such (Plin. Nat. 33. § § 12 and 21); but, military distinction as it was originally, the most distinguished military class naturally obtained it, and thus we find that the flower of the knights, the equites equo publico--those. whom Livy (23.12, 2) styles eorum ipsorum primores, and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.36) trossuli--must have had this badge, else the story of the bushels of rings taken from the Romans who fell at Cannae, which Mago emptied in the senate at Carthage, would be extravagant exaggeration. The tribuni militum also wore gold rings, according to Appian (App. Pun. 104). Such a distinction showed that these knights were regarded as attached to the nobiles, and forming with them the aristocracy. The rest of the knights, those equo privato, at all events as early as B.C. 171, must be considered as not having this distinction, and being in class-antagonism to the rest of the knights; for these latter, the primores civitatis, when Claudius was condemned by eight centuries of knights out of twelve, in sign of supplication, as we are told (Liv. 43.16, 14), laid aside their rings. But history shows us that the lower classes encroach upon the class distinctions of the higher, and these latter do not resist when there is need to conciliate or to fear the former. So that we may admit that during the following century this encroachment was going on, and that publicani and their sons began to appropriate this distinction of the ring (Lange, Röm. Alt. 2.163); and that by the time of Caius Gracchus the ring was virtually, though not formally, a class-distinction of the knights, though the senators also who were nobiles, or who had served as legati, had the privilege of wearing the anulus aureus. We say “virtually, not formally,” because all the knights even did not wear it as late as 90 B.C. (Plin. Nat. 33.21.) Etiquette no doubt did not prescribe it as necessary, and so there must have been many who objected to it as an exhibition of new-fangled ostentation. (Cf. Plin. l.c. about the Quintii.)

In the later times of the Republic, we hear of several instances of the anulus aureus being given by grant of the military commander or provincial governor. The grantee was always supposed to have the requisite census, or else it was given him by the grantor. (Cic. Ver. 3.80, 187.) The gift of the ring was equivalent to elevation to knighthood, and brought with it all the privileges granted to the knights by the Aurelian and Roscian laws. Sulla gave it to the actor Roscius (Macr. 2.10); Balbus, the quaestor at Gades, to another actor, Herennius Gallus (Cic. Fam. 10.32. 2); Verres to his scribe, Maevius (Cic. Ver. 3.80 184,). But, by the way Cicero speaks of this latter case, we cannot suppose that the bestowal of knighthood was very common or much abused under the Republic.

More extensive and worse-bestowed no doubt were the special grants during the Empire, when the emperor, as holding the imperium, had the right of bestowing the ring at will. Many who were unworthy, both by birth and character, obtained it--Icelus (Suet. Galb. 14), Asiaticus (Tac. Hist. 2.57), Hormus (Tac. Hist. 4.39), &c. But really it was by encroachment, only half-heartedly opposed, that the abuse spread. The equestrian census had been fixed at 400,000 sesterces, and this qualification was requisite for one to serve in any of the first three decuries of judges under Augustus. (See JUDEX and Walter, Gesch. des röm. Rechts, § 353.) Free-birth was always presupposed, and the money was the requirement principally insisted upon. But the increasing influence and wealth of freedmen under the early empire enabled many of them to attain the dignity of the anulus aureus. Augustus had given it to Vinius Philopoemen, to Menas (Suet. Aug. 27, 74), to Antonius Musa, to Vedius Pollio (D. C. 53.30, 54.23); but so many more had assumed it without warrant that a decree of the senate was passed in the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 23) enacting that no one who had not the qualifications of (1) the census, (2) birth of free father and grandfather, could be a knight or could wear the ring; and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.32) justly regards this as the [p. 1.133]final establishment of the equestrian order. The ring was lost by loss of the census (Mart. 2.57) or by conviction for some crime (e. g. Arellius Fuscus for false accusation, Plin. Nat. 33.151). Again the Lex Visellia (A.D. 24) punished those freedmen who usurped the privileges of ingenuitas (Cod. Just. 9, 21; 11, 31; 10, 32. 1). [On the question of the date of this law, see Walter, l.c., note 25.] Yet none the less did the encroachments continue. Four hundred men who had usurped the ring and the privileges of knighthood were deprived of their goods by Claudius (Plin. Nat. 33.8). Even those who had not the requisite census encroached; and this is the burden of complaint in the Flavian writers that not only any “son of a peak-snatcher,” if he have the census (Juv. 3.157 ff.), but even those who have not the census, assume the equestrian privilege of sitting in the first fourteen rows in the theatre; and hard and ineffectual work Leitus and Oceanus, the box-keepers, had in endeavouring to turn the intruders out (Mart. 3.95, 10; 5.8, 12; 25, 1 ; 27, 4). So the ring practically ceased to be the symbol of either wealth or birth; and finally positive law, which follows in the wake of usage, under Hadrian enacted that the ius anuli aurei attested merely that the wearer was to be considered freeborn, and in the case of a freedman did not impair the rights of his patron. The patron had to give his consent to the freedman getting the ius anuli. Women too got the right (Dig. 40, 10, 6, 3, 4). The sole privilege the ius anuli now brought was that of obtaining office (Capit. Macr. 4). In fact, as the Vatican Fragment (226) says: “Jus anulorum ingenuitatis imaginem praestat salvo iure patroni patronique liberorum.” And when this was established by law as all that the privilege of the ring really meant, the competition for it died out, and in Justinian's time all free men could legally wear the gold ring (Isid. Orig. 19.32).

During the early empire it had been brought about that certain positions in the army should lead to the equestrian dignity, and enable the holder to proceed on the equestrian career, which might result in his obtaining one of the higher procuratorships. One of these was the tribunatus legionis. Thus Juvenal says (7.88) of Paris: “Semestri digitos vatum circumligat auro,” which means “the ring (i. e. equestrian rank) won by six months' service.” (See Mayor's note.) [Full details on this point will be found in the chapter of Hirschfeld's Verwaltungsgeschichte, entitled, “Die procuratorische Carrière.” ] But by Hadrian's time, as we saw, the gold ring did not carry with it equestrian dignity. It was only a sign of quasi-ingenuitas, and as such was given to all the soldiers by Septimius Severus, A.D. 197 (Herodian, 3.8, 5). The soldiers at all times appear to have worn the iron ring (App. Pun. 104).

For innumerable examples of class-ornaments (such as swords, spurs, &c.) gradually coming to be used by all classes promiscuously, by encroachment, in spite of interdicts, see Herbert Spencer, Ceremonial Institutions, chapter ix., who alludes there to the ius anuli aurei. (Fortunius Licetus, De Annulis Antiquis, Utini, 1614, 1645; Kitsch, De Annulorum origine, Lips. 1614; Kirchmann, De Annulis, Slevici, 1657; Curtius, De Annulis Syntagma, Antverp. 1706; Hermann, Griech. Antiqu. iv.3 p. 197; Böttiger, Sabina, ii. p. 157 seq.; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 1.306 ff.; Gallus, 2.21, 3.243 ff.; King, Handbook of Engraved Gems, 1885; Burmann, De Jure Annulorum, Traj. ad Rhen., 1734; Lange, Röm. Alterth. 2.8, 163; Marquardt, Privatleben, 680 ff.; Daremberg and Saglio, s. v.)


hide References (60 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (60):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 10.32.2
    • Aristophanes, Plutus, 884
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 432
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.195
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.30.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.17.3
    • Appian, Punic Wars, 15.104
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 9
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.132
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 5.1
    • Cicero, Against Catiline, 3.5
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.184
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.187
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 27
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 33
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.57
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.39
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 50
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 74
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 39
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 58
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.12
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.21
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.32
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.36
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.11
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 46
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 14
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 11, 3.142
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.10
    • Plutarch, Caius Marius, 14
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.5
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.7
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.59
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.123
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.57
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.10
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.95
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.12
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.25
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.8
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.5
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 9.88
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.1
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.5
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: