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The Meaning of Wedding Rings

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

Take a good look at how the wedding band is said to come to be and see why it's so very important in defining marriage.

As an officiate this topic is very dear to me. As a newly engaged woman, this concept is important for me to understand. As a mother, the tradition is a valuable one to share with those I brought into the world.

History and Origin of the Ring

When researching the subject it is very common to find the wedding band has grown graciously in importance from its Mythological roots.

The Ring is documented as far back as the Ancient Egyptian era.

The scrolls present beautiful images of vowing to a mate with a ring; smooshed metals molded to form and lovely patterns that twist and roll. These rings were not the typical ring we see now days. A ring would be made out of braided plant materials, bone or ivory and held symbolism of eternal and perpetual love. The Egyptians are said to be the know for placing strong meaning on the Circle/Loop shape for having powers which are never ending, therefore represent the eternal connections of the soul. The loop having no beginning and no end acted as the doorway to the future and connection through the past. Placing a ring on another indicated a supernatural foundation for the relationship being destined and continuing throughout all time, known and unknown. This is also the period when wealth is noted. The material from which a man made a ring was indication of his level of wealth although less important than the actual offering itself. The more expensive the material, the more love shown to the receiver; the value of the ring demonstrated the wealth of the giver and his ability to take care of her. I would imagine that although a man could take on many wives he would be limited by his ability to provide, as a ring also indicated a man had taken responsibility for the woman's happiness. If your wives were not happy then you were not a successful husband. An ancient Egyptian woman was considered to have married if she took her belongings from her parents’ house and moved them and herself into the home of a man. There are records of parents using the occasion to transfer property to the bride or the groom but there are no other signs of anything approaching a ceremony or a party (the ring was the symbolical indication a marriage had taken place).

Scholars have long relied on surviving marriage contracts and art work for help in getting information on Egyptian marital law. Such contracts undoubtedly tell us what was legal, but too often they have been used to draw blanket conclusions, overlooking the possibility that such contracts were drawn up expressly to alter what would normally have happened. Just as the state did not get involved in marriage, it showed no interest in who got divorced. Either party could initiate a divorce and the reasons, if any, for the marital breakdown were irrelevant. Written divorce agreements do exist, and it is possible that a woman seeking to remarry would need to show such a document to her future husband before he would allow her to move in with him. Divorce was simple enough, but the division of assets presented the only real problem. The ex-wife was entitled to take whatever personal items she brought with her---clothing, jewelry, cook-ware, etc.---and, of course, married women always retained separate ownership of land, buildings, slaves, etc. that they possessed before the marriage. What happened to divorced women who lacked such income producing property? They must have been the majority, but we do not know. The understanding of the connection never ended between the two they would physically go separate ways. There are hints that ex-husbands had to continue providing support until remarriage, but in the absence of that they would presumably have had to rely on family. Ancient Egyptian marriage was a social and economic arrangement, not a legal one. Beyond these three points Ancient Egyptian marriage does not seem to have been very dissimilar to that in most English speaking countries today. The entire love process represented by a single ring!

This was all 5,000 years ago!

Affection between two young people did not bond their relationship in the next era therefor the betrothal and nuptial rings were used as seals and symbols of ownership and wealth in the Ancient Roman and Grecian Times with a bit more emphasis on authority and possession.

There were laws formed governing marriage in ancient Rome, including the acquisition of parental consent before a marriage, and a minimum age for marriage(puberty). Marriages were required to have a meeting of the fathers of the young couple, basing the marriage on their interests in expanding a business or forging an alliance between the families, with little concern about what the groom thought of the situation and so came about the custom of giving a wedding ring or Pronumbum (later a token gold ring) and with it 'all his worldly goods'. Oh, the dresses began to increase in importance as the women showed off during ceremony/parties, great story there. The ring surprisingly enough was not presented to the bride during the actual ceremony while all decked out, however, but after she had been lifted over the threshold of her new home. Interestingly enough, a man could marry a woman by winning her, through competition, as a prize. Beside that, the presentation of the ring denoted the confidence placed in her by her husband and was a token that henceforth she should share all that he possessed. Contrary to appearances, women had quite a freedom – they could even demand payment from their husbands for being wives. It was popular among men to look for a rich widow (building up wife’s fortune was husband’s duty). On the other hand, a married Roman could easily find a woman from a lower social class and have an official relationship with her, including having children. Such cohabitation's were widely approved. The only difference between the marriage and cohabitation (without a ring) was the fact that children from such relationship were not full citizens and did not inherit their fathers’ money. The marriage was an investment and the evidence of consensual agreement was the ring.

The rings took on a more hefty feel in these years as well, Roman betrothal rings were made of iron and gold built to be long lasting. They symbolized strength and permanence of the bond, the wedding ring symbolized a contract. It is also said that the Romans were the first to engrave their rings and the first to take martial commitment serious. Divorces were easily arranged, not involving authority yet came at a hefty price. The man would have to pay back, in cash, the remaining dowry money to his wife’s parents plus support her during the transition. Divorces were granted on a few grounds; for example, if the wife could not bear children deemed as incapable of completing the marriage ceremony process and deliver heirs. To divorce and re-marry for inheritance, as a business arrangement basically. She was also allowed all of her original belongings and parents and friends could re-enforce this, even when authorities had no interest. Interestingly enough the divorce rate raised in the 2nd century BCE when women got the right to apply for divorce and began more actively participating in social and political life and the exchange was returning the ring. Divorce happened when a wife committed adultery, divorce was legally required and she was seen as tainted for lack of monogamy. Also divorce was accepted when they simply both agreed to move on. Remember this is the time men took only one Wife at a time, a man could have one wife (or he could have one concubine but he could not have both. If the woman were legally ineligible to be a wife or if she were of a lower class than the man she could be a concubine) and so long as that ring was on her finger a Greek man did not discuss with others their wives. They dared not even give their names outside their close family circle of the woman when they truly loved them. They did not want to attract unwanted attention from unrelated males. These men practiced respect and the lady who they respected was said to wear their