Ring (Ang. Sax. hring), a circular ornament worn on the finger. The finger ring has been more intimately associated with the most important interests of life than any other ornament. In ancient times it was a symbol of authority, and power was delegated by means of it. When " Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand," he intrusted to him the government of Egypt. Ahasuerus gave his ring to Haman as his warrant for exterminating the Jews; and when he ordered Mordecai to write letters annulling the decree, he took the ring from Haman and gave it to him to seal them with. Signet rings and rings for ornament were worn by all classes of the ancient Egyptians. Many gold ones have been found in the tombs, and some of silver and of bronze, the latter mostly signet rings. Those worn by the lower classes were usually of ivory or of blue porcelain. The favorite rings of the rich were plain circlets of gold, bearing either a scarabseus or a stone engraved with the name of some deity or king, or with a sacred emblem and legend. Frequently many were worn, sometimes two or three on each finger and on the thumbs.
Among the Hebrews the signet ring was an indispensable article of dress, and was perhaps handed down from father to son as a mark of rank and authority (Luke xv. 22). The Hebrew ladies wore rings adorned with precious stones, valuing most those set with rubies, emeralds, and chrysolites. As Homer makes no mention of rings, they are supposed to have been introduced into Greece from Asia subsequent to his time. In the days of Solon every freeman wore a signet ring of gold, silver, or bronze, and it does not appear that the right was ever restricted to any class of the Athenians. At a later period rings were set with precious stones, and were worn as ornaments, some persons displaying several on each hand. Women wore ivory and amber rings. Among the Lacedaemonians only did the law attempt to repress the luxury of wearing gold and jewelled rings, and every Spartan took pride in the use of a plain iron ring. - According to Pliny, the Romans derived the custom of wearing rings from the Greeks, but Livy ascribes its introduction to the Sa-bines, and Florus to the Etruscans. At first all rings were of iron, and such continued to be worn by many noble families as a distinguishing mark after gold rings had come into common use.
For a long time not even the Roman senators wore rings of gold, but they were given to ambassadors at the public expense as a part of their official dress, to be used only on ceremonial occasions. Afterward the privilege was extended to senators, to chief magistrates, and to those of the equestrian order, who were said to enjoy the jus annuli aurei or jus annulorum. After the battle of Cannae Hannibal sent to Carthage three modii of gold rings which had been stripped from the fingers of the slain Roman knights. Under the empire the right of granting the annulus aureus was assumed by the emperors, and even magistrates and governors of provinces conferred the privilege of wearing it upon inferior officers and those whom they desired to honor. In the reign of Tiberius many protected themselves from the consequences of the infraction of certain laws on the plea that they wore the gold ring, in consequence of which an ordinance was passed directing that it should be worn only by freemen whose fathers and paternal grandfathers had possessed a property of 400,000 sesterces. Aure-lian gave the right to all the soldiers of the empire, and under Justinian every citizen was entitled to it.
With the increase of luxury the Romans, like the Egyptians and Greeks, covered their fingers with rings, wearing one on each joint, not excepting even the thumb. According to Martial, Charinus wore 60 rings, or six on each finger. Fops had rings to suit the seasons, light ones for summer and heavier ones for winter. The Romans introduced from Egypt the custom of engraving animals on their signets; afterward the portraits of heroes and of princes took their place; and later, indelicate symbols were frequently displayed. Rings were often of immense value; that of the empress Faustina is said to have cost $200,000, and that of Domitia $300,000. Plain rings were worn originally by the Romans on either hand, but when gems were added they were worn on the left hand. The Jews wore the signet ring always on the right hand, on the middle or the little finger; but with the Egyptians the fourth finger of the left hand was the ring finger. - The early Christians adopted the use of rings. At first they wore simple circles of ivory, bronze, iron, or some other cheap material, and great numbers of these have been found in the Roman cemeteries; but soon this custom degenerated into such an abuse that the fathers of the church, particularly Tertullian, Cyprian, and Jerome, were obliged to inveigh with severity against the prodigality of rings of gold and precious stones.
Many of the Christians adorned their rings with symbols connected with their faith, such as the cross, the monogram of Christ (fig. 1), the fish (I ; see Cross), the dove, anchor, ship (fig. 2), palm branch, etc.; some with the portrait and name of Christ, or the images of the apostles or saints; and others with simple religious phrases, among the most common of which was VIVAS IN DEO or Spes In Deo, Rings to be used as seal rings alone were fitted with a plate of metal, which usually bore the owner's name together with some sacred symbol. This often took the form of the bottom of a sandal or of the human foot (fig. 3), an outgrowth probably of the ancient tradition which made this image the symbol of possession. Among the rings found in the catacombs are some with a key, and some with both a key and a seal (fig. 4), the latter for both locking and sealing a casket. A ring was worn by the early Christian bishops, and the custom still prevails in the Roman church. At the consecration of a bishop, this ring, called the episcopal or pastoral ring, is blessed and put upon the fourth finger of his right hand, as a sign of his alliance with the church.
Pope Gregory IV., who was elected in 827, in his work Be Cultu Pontifi-cum, says the ring is not put on the left hand, because it would seem to give credence to the pagan notion that a vein ran directly from the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart; but on the more worthy right hand, which gives the holy benedictions. The episcopal ring is always of gold set with an unengraved precious stone, usually an amethyst, but sometimes a sapphire, ruby, emerald, or crystal. In 1875, in the course of excavations in the chapter house of Durham cathedral, England, sapphire rings were found in the coffins of the bishops Ralph Flambard, who occupied the see from 1099 to 1128, Geoffrey Rufus, who died in 1140, and William de Sancta Barbara, who died in 1152. The ring of a cardinal is set with a sapphire. The seal ring of the pope is of steel, and is in the keeping of the cardinal chamberlain or chancellor; since the 15th century it has been used for sealing the apostolic briefs. On the death of a pope his ring is broken, and a new one is made for his successor. In England it is customary for sergeants at law on being sworn in to present gold rings to the law officers, certain other officials, and those who come to the inauguration feast.
In 1737 1,409 rings, of the value of £773, were given away on the occasion of the admission of 14 sergeants. Rings were also formerly given away at weddings. Edward Kelly, the famous alchemist of Queen Elizbeth's days, is said to have given away at the marriage of one of his maid servants gold wire rings to the value of £4,000. It was with a golden ring that the doge of Venice wedded the Adriatic on Ascension day, casting it into the waters with these words: "We espouse thee, O sea, as a token of our perpetual dominion over thee." - The wedding ring is supposed to be of Roman origin, and to have sprung from the ancient custom of using rings in making agreements, grants, etc. It was usually given at the betrothal as a pledge of the engagement, and its primitive form was probably that of a seal or signet ring. In Germany it has been common for the wife to wear the betrothal ring after marriage, and the husband the wedding ring. Widows formerly wore the wedding ring on the thumb, as an emblem of widowhood. Betrothal rings were frequently exchanged in ancient times by lovers. Gimmal, jimmal, gimbal, or gimmon rings are twin (gemelli) or double rings, made of gold wire twined together; but sometimes three and four rings were thus joined.
It is also believed that the Romans originated the custom of giving rings with mottoes or posies engraved on them to their lady loves. In the 14th and 15th centuries the posy was usually inscribed on the outside of the ring, but afterward on the inside. Among the most common posies on old rings are the following: "Let lyking laste;" "Let us share in joy and care;" "I like my choice;" "A faithful wife preserveth life;" "Love and live happy;" "United hearts death only parts;" "I'll win and wear you;" "In Christ and thee my comfort be;" "This and the giver are thine for ever;" "Knit in one by Christ alone;" "As God decreed, so we agreed." Sometimes stones are so arranged as to form a posy, the first letter of each being read like an acrostic, thus: L apis lazuli, O pal, V erde antique, E merald. - Many superstitions have been connected with wedding rings. The once prevalent notion that an artery or nerve extended from the ring finger to the heart is of very ancient origin, and is probably due to the Egyptians. It has been thought too that the wedding ring is possessed of curative powers, and some persons still believe that a stye on the eyelid will disappear after being rubbed with a gold ring.
Other rings than wedding rings were also used to cure diseases; a gold ring was supposed to be efficacious against St. Anthony's fire, and one made of silver collected at the communion was good against convulsions and fits. They sometimes owed their virtue to the stones with which they were set: thus diamond was believed to be an antidote against all poisons; ruby changed its color if any evil was about to befall the wearer of it; sapphire and the bloodstone checked bleeding at the nose; amethyst was an antidote against drunkenness; coral hindered the delusions of the devil; topaz cured and prevented lunacy; and the toadstone was considered a sovereign remedy against many disorders. Rings were also believed to possess magical virtues and to be full of occult significance. Plato records that Gyges, king of Lydia, possessed a ring which rendered him invisible when the stone was turned inward. The same story is told of Midas, the mythical king of Phrygia. The Arabians have a book called Salcuthat, which treats of magic rings. Among them is mentioned Solomon's ring with which he sealed up refractory jinns in jars before they were cast into the sea. Magic rings were manufactured in great numbers in Athens, and endowed with whatever charm the purchaser required.
The Gnostics engraved ring gems with mystic symbols, names, monograms, and legends, which were supposed to have peculiar values; and in the early ages the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on rings were deemed to be preservatives against the plague. Rings were sometimes made hollow to contain poison. Hannibal died of poison which he carried in his ring. The ring of Caesar Borgia had a slide within which he is said to have carried the poison that he sometimes dropped into the wine of his guests; and it is said that his father Alexander VI. possessed a key ring which had a concealed poisoned needle within it, and which, when he desired to rid himself of a person, he gave him to unlock a casket.