Today, we use the phrase “green wedding rings” to mean environmentally friendly rings made of recycled metals and ethical diamonds. But did you know that the first wedding bands were actually green?
Unlike engagement rings, which are relatively recent, wedding rings are super ancient. Often accredited to the Romans, the practice of wearing rings made of precious metals to commemorate marriage actually dates back to ancient Egypt. Before this, pre-history humans tied cords of braided grass around their mate’s ankles, wrists and waist.
The First Rings
Historians estimate that the first wedding rings date back 3,000 years. For the Egyptians, the circle was a symbol of eternity, and the exchange of rings signified the couple’s commitment to love each other forever. Papyrus scrolls also suggest that before the rings were made of metal, the Egyptians exchanged rings made of reeds.
When the Romans invaded Egypt, they adapted this tradition of using metal rings. However, while the ring symbolized love for the Egyptians, it represented purchase for the Romans. In the higher classes, Roman men paid the father of the bride for her acquisition. During the marriage ceremony, the presentation of a wedding ring signified a change of hands. The wife now belonged to the husband.
Wedding Rings in the West
Wedding rings didn’t make their way to Christian marriage ceremonies until around 860. Highly decorated, these rings were simplified in the 13th century at the behest of the Church. Like their Egyptian precursors, Christian wedding rings became a “symbol of a union of hearts,” as stated by Bishop Durant. Unlike today’s rings, however, which are worn on the “vena amoris” (fourth finger on the left hand), early Christian ceremonies placed the ring on the third finger in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Wedding rings are still a hugely important part of the marriage ceremony, albeit with a few changes. While the Greek Orthodox Church introduced wedding bands for the groom as early as the 1300s, the tradition didn’t catch on in America until WWII. Men who married in wartime exchanged rings with their beloveds as a way to bring a memorandum of love with them to the battlefield.
Today, not only do the bride and groom both wear wedding bands, but many care about the ethical merits of their rings. With the increasing popularity of environmentally and socially conscious rings, it’s nice to know how green the roots go.