), derived from the same root as ἀμφὶ,
meaning something which goes round (cf.
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.
In the earliest times the ring was used, not as an ornament, but as a seal
). 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.
; Eurip. Iphig.
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.
; 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,
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
), 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
), 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
) would have mentioned the
Babylonians wearing the signet suspended from their wrist
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
which was set in a bezel (σφενδόνη, πυελίς, μάνδρα,
). 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.
frag. 320, 12, Kock; Ter. Heaut.
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.
2.5.) Rings were mostly worn on the left
hand and third finger (παράμεσος,
), but also on the little finger (Lucian, Dial.
9, 2). Indeed, Pliny says (H. N.
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
. § §
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.
Rings with us are mainly associated with marriage, an association borrowed
from the Romans. As already mentioned, the anulus
was originally of iron, without a stone, and
continued to be so even to a late period (Plin.
); though Tertullian (Apol.
6) says the
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,
p. 27). The ring was an earnest given by
the bridegroom for the fulfilment of the contract of marriage (cf. pignus,
; Dig. 24
), as we may
see from the fact that in mere mercantile contracts a ring was often given
as a pledge (Dig. 14. 3
; cf. Ter. Eun.
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.
954; Athen. p. 34
2.1, 1 ; Cic. Fam. 16.2.
, de Orat.
2.61, 248; Martial, 9.88
; Mayor on Juv.
). The housekeeper used to carry a seal for this purpose
948; Plut. Alex.
); 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.
). The keeping of the imperial seal-ring was entrusted to an
especial officer (cura anuli,
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
1; V. Max. 3.5
; Suet. Tib.
.) 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.
; 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,
pp. 53 ff., who quotes Ovid, Ov. Tr. 1.7
, and many other
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
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
these “motto-camei” are very common from Diocletian's time
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
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.
, with Schol.; cf. Dennis, Etruria,
i. p. 476.) Clement of Alexandria
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.
Chariclea (Heliod. Aeth.
4.8), Eucrates (Lucian,
17), and more in King,
p. 134 foll. Rings were kept in a box called
a name also applied to a
collection of rings. (Mart. 11.59
; Plin. Nat.
.) 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
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.
) who bestowed it (cf. Acron on Hor. Sat.
2.7, 53; Suet. Jul. 33
). 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
; Plin. Nat.
.) 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
whom Livy (23.12
styles eorum ipsorum primores,
and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.36
--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,
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,
Claudius was condemned by eight centuries of knights out of twelve, in sign
of supplication, as we are told (Liv. 43.16
), 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
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
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.
(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.
given it to Vinius Philopoemen, to Menas (Suet. Aug.
), to Antonius Musa, to
Vedius Pollio (D. C. 53.30
); 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.
) justly regards this as the [p. 1.133]
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
. 1). [On the question of the date of this law, see Walter,
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
; 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
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
). The sole privilege the ius
now brought was that of obtaining office (Capit.
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
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
chapter ix., who alludes there to the ius anuli aurei.
(Fortunius Licetus, De
Utini, 1614, 1645; Kitsch, De Annulorum
Lips. 1614; Kirchmann, De Annulis,
Slevici, 1657; Curtius, De Annulis Syntagma,
Hermann, Griech. Antiqu.
iv.3 p. 197;
1.306 ff.; Gallus,
2.21, 3.243 ff.; King, Handbook of
1885; Burmann, De Jure Annulorum,
Traj. ad Rhen., 1734; Lange, Röm. Alterth.
680 ff.; Daremberg and Saglio, s. v.)