History

The history behind wedding rings

It would hardly be a wedding without the exchange of rings. Wedding rings are a time-honored tradition and are considered the ultimate symbol of love and devotion in marriage.

But have you ever wondered who thought up this tradition? As it turns out, wedding rings date back thousands of years.

Curious? Read on to learn the fascinating history behind wedding rings.

The first wedding rings

Image of old wooden rings attached to string in the shape of a heart
Credit: Zwilling330/ iStock

Wedding rings are certainly not a new phenomenon. The first known wedding rings date back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. These rings were rudimentary by today’s standards and made from materials like hemp or leather, but like today’s rings, they formed a circle. It’s said that the shape is a symbol of eternity, celebrating the forever union of the couple.

The ring finger

Woman with her hands around a mans shoulders, with a ring on her finger
Credit: C.Mae Design/ iStock

Why wear the ring on the third finger of the left hand? The lore behind this tradition is that there is a vein that goes right from the heart to that particular finger, the vena amoris. While this has been debunked, the tradition lives on.

The evolution of wedding rings

Two wedding bands on top of wood
Credit: momcilog/ iStock

The addition of rings to the wedding ceremony dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. At that time, a ring was part of the dowry suite.

Yup, originally, the wedding ring was part of the betrothal process. It used to be that agreeing to get married was just as important as the actual wedding. Betrothals came with their own series of traditions and rules.

At this time, the ring was less a dazzling love object and more like a “bride price.” It was seen as a pledge of fidelity before the union was official.

The modern wedding ceremony

Close up of a man in a tuxedo and woman in a white dress, with their hands together and rings shown
Credit: Csondy/ iStock

So how did we get from early-day betrothal rings to exchanging wedding rings? Most likely, the passage of time simply caused the traditions to condense and evolve.

Over the years, the marriage process has become much more personal, as opposed to involving elaborate transactions and dowries and family alliances. Over time, aspects of betrothal and marriage became more intertwined and overlapped.

While engagements are still common, betrothal ceremonies are not. However, the engagement ring remains a common tradition.

A ring for the groom is a fairly new addition. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that they became customary.

Interesting wedding ring facts

Photo of Irish claddagh ring
Credit: jclegg/ iStock

Here are some interesting facts about wedding rings that you may not know:

  • In Ireland, a common style of wedding ring features an ornate crown-topped heart. It’s called a claddagh ring, and the image is symbolic of friendship, love, and loyalty.
  • In Turkey, puzzle rings are a traditional wedding ring style. These unique rings are made of many interlocking pieces and can be hard to put back together if removed.
  • In India, it’s common for married women to wear toe rings.
  • When it comes to engagement rings, diamonds are still the most popular pick, and through the years have only increased in popularity.
  • Not all engagement rings have a diamond, though. Different stones may be chosen for their pretty color or for their symbolism and meaning. For example, a sapphire represents loyalty; aquamarine represents courage and communication.
  • A pearl engagement ring is rumored to be bad luck. Why? Its shape resembles a tear.

Put a ring on it

Man putting a rose gold ring on a woman's finger
Credit: Kostyazar/ iStock

While it’s easy to take wedding rings for granted as part of the marriage process, it’s fascinating to learn the history of how they came to be. From being part of an elaborate dowry to becoming a decorative and symbolic love object, the tradition of wedding rings has certainly changed over the years.