The engagement ring often appears to be a tradition as old as mankind itself. It's a sign of love that every woman expects to receive and every man expects to give. Whether it's diamond encrusted or a simple gold band, the engagement ring is a symbol that is as much a part of romance as the rose.
Where did it come from, though? The ring is a simple enough thing. Why, and where, did it become so closely entwined with the engagement?
Poetically enough, the origin of the engagement ring may be as romantic as any tale Shakespeare could contrive. The oldest known record of wedding bands is with the Egyptians, nearly five thousand years ago, when reeds were woven into rings and other ornaments for the women of those days. To the many of the ancient peoples, the circle was a symbol of eternity. Knowing this, could there be any more romantic a demonstration of love? No wonder that the ring has been a part of courtship for thousands of years!
It was not long before the material of which the ring exemplified the depth of love. The greater the sacrifice required to make or obtain the ring, the greater the love that went with it. The Romans, however, chose to make their rings from iron and are believed to have been the first to engrave them.
By the time Christians began to use rings in marriage, it was nearly 900 AD. They began to simplify the Roman ring, slowly diminishing the fanciful carvings. As one bishop put it, the simple design of the betrothal ring was a "symbol of the union of hearts." In later times, it was not unusual for engagement bands to have love poems inscribed on them. These, known as 'posy' rings, were popular even into the late Victorian era.
The first reliable account of an engagement ring being decorated with diamonds was in the late 1400s, when the Archduke of Austria, Maximilian, sealed his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond. After this, diamond rings were often given to loved ones by the upper class. However, it was not until the Victorian era that the diamond engagement ring was frequently given in a proposal. While the diamond ring was less popular in the early 19th century, today they are worn throughout the US.
Engagement rings, regardless of their style and design, are a timeless display of betrothal. Their history is as old as civilization, yet each one is a symbol of new romance.