An engagement ring is a profound symbol of true love. The giving of an engagement ring is a tradition that is so ingrained in our society that its origins are often taken for granted. However, every tradition has to have been started at some point in history. In order to see how our modern engagement rings evolved we must take a trip to the ancient days of Rome.
The history of the engagement ring begins in earnest with the Roman Republic, well before the massive Empire was even formed. Pliny the Elder, one of Rome's most trusted historians and authors, recorded a lot of information about the engagement and marriage ceremonies that were held in Rome at the time he lived, which was roughly 200 B.C. In his writing he tells tales of honor, romance, and symbols that represent the ties created in a marriage.
The engagement ring was, at the time, actually designed to look much more like modern wedding bands, as it was a simple gold band. The more wealthy individuals would have been able to choose more elaborate rings, having them hand crafted by local jewelers.
While the basic structure was universally recognizable, each ring could be created with unique aspects that made the woman receiving it feel just as special as a woman receiving a specialized cut today would feel. Some of the customized elements of the Roman wedding ring included engravings of quotes about love or the names of the bride and groom on the inner portion of the ring. Others included engraved designs and patterns on the outer portion of the ring, so everyone could see that the groom had gone above and beyond the typical gifting of an ordinary ring.
The days of Ancient Rome is where we can find the origin of an engagement ring's placement on the third finger of the left hand that we still use today. At this time it was believed that there was a vein which went directly from the middle finger of the left hand to the heart. The placement of the ring over this alleged vein was created to symbolize the groom wrapping his love around the heart of his soon to be wife.
Although Ancient Rome is where we draw most of the history surrounding the modern engagement ring, it wasn't until much later that the use of diamonds came about. The diamond engagement ring was first recorded in the 1400s in Austria.
At this time, symbols of power and wealth were highly important in the courtship rituals of royalty and nobles. Austria's Archduke Maximillian reportedly gave his betrothed bride a diamond engagement ring which outshone all others that had been given before it. With this bold move, Maximillian created a new trend among the wealthier populations, as they strove to match his grandiose gesture of love.
As time went by, adding a diamond to the traditional gold band inherited from the days of the Roman Republic became the new norm.
Although the engagement ring has undergone a few minor structural changes since its recorded origins in the 2nd century B.C., the meaning behind it remains the same to this day. Its symbolic representation of the binding ties that hold two true lovers together in marriage and life continues today. The gesture of giving an engagement ring has been seen as one of the most romantic actions a man can take ever since the days of Rome, and that tradition certainly holds true today.