Friday, February 22, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #65: The History of Wedding Rings

The Valentine’s Day engagement season has just ended, but thanks to a Facebook glitch, we’re still seeing all those pictures of engagement rings rolling by as if they were posted two minutes ago and not last week. Congratulations on your engagement, sweetheart, but we all die alone.

I've been in an existentialist funk lately.

1) According to this website that must be legit because it has a picture of a lady in an old-timey wedding dress on it, the ancient Egyptians used the symbol of a ring or circle to express the endless nature of the love between a man and his woman. I had no idea the ancient Egyptians were so cheesy. I just thought they were all into building pyramids and abusing slave labor. I probably shouldn’t get my history from The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston.

The Egyptians wore wedding rings on their left ring fingers, because they believed that a vein ran from that finger directly to the heart. This belief found its way into first Greek, then Roman culture, and is still espoused by people with a poor understanding of anatomy today.

2) The earliest “betrothal” rings were made from leather, hemp, ivory or bone. By the time of the Roman Empire, iron rings were in fashion. In those days, only women wore wedding rings, and it was a rare man who would trust his wife with a valuable gold or silver ring.

Well don't you feel special now.

3) Gimmal rings, which became popular in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, consisted of two or sometimes three rings that interlocked to form one. When a couple got engaged, each partner would wear half the ring. On the wedding day, they’d put them back together again and the bride would wear it as her wedding ring. If the ring had three parts, a witness to the engagement would wear or carry the third part as proof that he could vouch for the couple’s intentions. Gimmal rings eventually gave way to puzzle rings, which have anywhere from three to 12 (12!) interlocking hoops.  The idea was that if the wearer removed the puzzle ring – say, to cheat on her husband – all the loops would fall apart and she would be unable to get the ring back together before the hubby came home and had her stoned to death. I think that insults the intelligence of the average adulteress, especially considering that a typical “business trip” in the Middle Ages probably lasted upwards of a year.

"Shit, I knew I should've just fucked him with the ring on."

4) While wedding rings may have started out as a symbol of love with the ancient Egyptians, and become a mark of ownership among the ancient Romans, by the time of the Middle Ages they were a part of the exchange of valuables that took place in marriages between people of means. Marriage contracts were made out of economic necessity (of course you knew that; you’re so smart) and exchange of valuables at the ceremony was a fulfillment of the terms of the contract. For hundreds of years, husbands received a pouch of gold or silver coins at the wedding ceremony and wives received a valuable and often ornate gold or silver ring.

Like this one.

5) The wearing of rings by both partners in the marriage didn’t become common until the mid-20th century after American jewelry manufacturers decided that this “men don’t wear rings” shit was bogus. They began marketing wedding rings to men in the 19th century, but before the Great Depression, only 15% of married men wore a ring. Thanks to improved marketing campaigns and the Second World War (which apparently made men want to wear rings to feel connected to their wives back home), by 1950, wedding rings for men were commonplace, with 80% of married men sporting one.

No word on how many of them take it off when they're out of town.