Ring - Encyclopedia

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'RING (O.E.' h y ing; a word common to Teutonic languages,' and probably cognate with the Lat. circus, Gr. KipKos or KpiKOS, Skt. chakra, wheel, circle, cf. also " harangue "), in art, a band of circular shape of varying sizes, made of any material and used for various purposes, but, particularly, a circular band of gold, silver or other precious or decorative material used as an ornament, not only for the finger, but also for the ear (see Earring), or even for the nose, where it is still worn by certain races in India and Africa. The word is also used of many objects which in structure take the shape of a circle or hoop, such as the tracheal rings, the circular-shaped bands of cartilage in the walls of the windpipe, the " annual rings," or concentric layers of wood produced each year in the trunks of trees, &c. In transferred senses " ring " is also applied to an enclosed space, whether circular, oval or otherwise: hence to the arena of a circus or hippodrome, the enclosure for a boxing contest, or to the place on a racecourse reserved for the bookmakers for the purpose of betting. A particular application in a transferred sense is that to a combination of persons in trade for the purpose of controlling markets, prices, etc.

In the art sense (see also Gem), the English and German " ring " corresponds to the Gr. SaKTUAtos, Lat. annulus, Fr. anneau. The enlarged part of a ring on which the device is engraved is called the " bezel," the rest of it being the " hoop." To decorate the human finger with a ring, if possible with one combining beauty, value and a distinctive character, was a widely spread natural impulse. At an early period, when the art of writing was known to but very few, it was commonly the custom for men to wear rings on which some distinguishing sign or badge was engraved (briamµov), so that by using it as a seal the owner could give a proof of authenticity to letters or other documents. Thus, when some royal personage wished to delegate his power to one of his officials, it was not unusual for him to hand over his signet ring, by means of which the full royal authority could be given to the written commands of the subordinate (cf. Gen. xli. 42; Esth. viii. 2). Among the Battas of Sumatra rings of a certain form are used to this day as passports.

The earliest existing rings are naturally those found in the tombs of ancient Egypt. The finest examples date from about the XVIIIth to the XXth Dynasty; they are of pure gold, simple in design, very heavy and massive, and have g P g Y Y usually the name and titles of the owner deeply sunk in hieroglyphic characters on an oblong gold bezel. Rings worn in Egypt by the poorer classes were made of less costly materials, such as silver, bronze, glass or pottery covered with a siliceous glaze and coloured brilliant blue or green with various copper oxides. Some of these had hieroglyphic inscriptions impressed while the clay was moist. Other examples have been found made of ivory, amber and hard stones, such as carnelian. Another form of ring used in the XIIth and subsequent dynasties of Egypt had a scarab in place of the bezel, and was mounted on a gold hoop which passed through the hole in the scarab and allowed it to revolve.

" To ring," in the sense of to make a bell sound, is a different word. It also appears in various Teutonic languages and is probably of onomatopoeic origin, and may be akin to Lat. clangor. In ancient Babylonia and Assyria finger rings do not appear to have been used. In those countries the signet took a different form, namely, that of a cylinder cut in crystal or other hard stone, and perforated from end to end. A cord was passed through it, and it was worn on the wrist like a bracelet. This way of wearing the signet is more than once alluded to in the Old Testament (Gen. xxxviii. 18, R.V., and Cant. viii. 6).

Within the limits necessarily imposed by its purpose the finger ring assumed a considerable variety of form, according to its date and place of origin.

In the Cretan and Mycenaean periods a characteristic form of ring had a broad flat bezel, not organically connected with the hoop, and having an incised design in the gold. The use of inset stones hardly occurs, but rings from Enkomi and Aegina of the late Mycenaean period have inset paste decorations.

The Phoenician type of ring was primarily intended to carry a scarab or scarabaeoid, usually in a box setting on a swivel, called for by the fact that the flat base of the scarab would be wanted for sealing purposes, but in wear would be most conveniently turned inwards. Strength being necessary, the hoop became massive. A similar arrangement of the signet-scarab is found attached to a twisted ring, which, from its shape, must have been meant to be suspended, and which is shown thus worn on some of the Cypriote terra-cottas.

The Greek ring of an early period has a characteristic flattened bezel, for an intaglio design in the gold. Such engravings attained great freedom and beauty in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. An alternative form was a swivel ring for a scarab or scarabaeoid, imitating the Phoenician shape. When the stone was flat and inset the bezel became a mass of metal to hold it securely.

Among the Greeks signet rings were very largely worn. In Sparta a sumptuary law was passed at an early time to forbid any substance more valuable than iron to be used for signet rings; but in other parts of the Hellenic world g P there appears to have been no restriction of this sort.

In some of the numerous tombs of Etruria and Kertch (Panticapaeum) in the Cimmerian Bosphorus gold rings of great magnificence have been discovered, apparently of the finest Greek workmanship.

FIG. I. 2 FIG. 2.

Fig. 1 shows a ring from the Crimea with a finely engraved scarabaeus in gold, with an intaglio engraving on the base.

Fig. 2, also from the Crimea, has a cornelian carved in lion form in place of the scarab, and has an intaglio figure on the base of a running lion.

FIG. 3. FIG. 4.

Fig. 3 shows a Greek ring with an incised design in a plain. bezel.

Fig. 4 is a ring from which the idea of a signet is entirely wanting.

Figs. 1-6, 8 and 9 are from Dr Robert Forrer's Reallexikon, by permission of W. Spemann, Berlin and Stuttgart.

The Etruscans used very largely the gold swivel ring mounted with a scarab, a form of signet probably introduced from Egypt. Some found in Etruscan tombs have real Etruscan Egyptian scarabs with legible hieroglyphs; others. gYP gothers, rings probably the work of Phoenician or native engravers, have rude copies of hieroglyphs, either quite or partially illegible. A third and more numerous class of Etruscan signet rings have scarabs, cut usually in sard or carnelian, which are a link between the art of Egypt and that of Greece, the design cut on the flat side being Hellenic in style, while the back is shaped like the ordinary Egyptian scarabaeus beetle. One from Etruria, now in the British Museum, is formed by two minutely modelled lions whose bodies form the hoop, while their paws hold the bezel, a scarab engraved with a lion of heraldic character. An alternative type of Etruscan ring (as in 5. fig. 5) has an incised design on the FIG.

gold bezel, or a flat stone set in the rigid bezel. In either case the Etruscan rings tend to extravagance in size and elaboration.

The Romans appear to have imitated the simplicity of Lacedaemonia. Throughout the republic none but iron rings were worn by the bulk of the citizens, and even these Roman were forbidden to slaves. Ambassadors were the first rings. who were privileged to wear gold rings, and then only while performing some public duty. Next senators, consuls, equites and all the chief officers of state received the jus annuli aurei. In the Augustan age many valuable collections of antique rings were made, and were frequently offered as gifts in the temples of Rome. One of the largest and most valuable of the dactyliothecae was dedicated in the temple of Apollo Palatinus by Augustus's nephew Marcellus (Pliny, H.N. xxxvii. 5). The temple of Concord in the Forum contained another; in this collection was the celebrated ring of Polycrates, king of Samos, the story of which is told by Herodotus; Pliny, however, doubts the authenticity of this relic (H.N. xxxvii. 2).

Different laws as to the wearing of rings existed during the empire: Tiberius made a large property qualification necessary for the wearing of gold rings in the case of those who were not of free descent (Pliny, H.N. xxxiii. 8); Severus conceded the right to all Roman soldiers; and later still all free citizens possessed the jus annuli aurei, silver rings being worn by freedmen and iron by slaves. Under Justinian even these restrictions passed away.

In the rings of the Roman period the decoration is no longer an accessory of the bezel alone. It modifies the form of the hoop, which may be polygonal or angular (see fig. 6). The ring here figured is set with an eye, as an amulet, capable of turning on a swivel.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries Roman rings were made engraved with Christian symbols. Fig. 7 shows two silver rings of the latter part of the 4th century which were found in 1881 concealed in a hole in the pavement of a Roman villa at Fifehead FIG. 7. - Roman silver FIG. 8. rings.

Neville, Dorset, together with some coins of the same period. Both have the monogram of Christ, and one has a dove within an olive wreath rudely cut on the silver bezel. These rings are of special interest, as Roman objects with any Christian device have very rarely been found in Britain.

Fig. 8 is a choice example of a gold key-ring of the Christian period, with good wishes inscribed in pierced gold work - accipe dulcis, multis annis (Brit. Mus.).

Part of FIG. 9. Part of FIG. 9.

Fig. 9 is a gold ring from Smyrna (Brit. Mus.) with seven incised intaglio medallions, with a figure of Christ on the bezel. Assigned to the 5th century.

Large numbers of gold rings have been found in many parts of Europe in the tombs of early Celtic races. They are usually spring. They are often of gold wire formed into a slight break, that is, in the hoop so as to form a rings. of very pure gold, often penannular in form - with a Celtic sort of rope, or else a simple bar twisted in an ornamental way. Some of the quite plain penannular rings were used in the place of coined money.

Throughout the Middle Ages the signet ring was a thing of great importance in religious, legal, commercial and private matters. The episcopal ring 1 was solemnly conferred upon the newly made bishop together with his crozier, a special formula for this being inserted in the Pontifical. In the earliest references to rings worn by bishops, there is nothing Episco- pal rings. to distinguish them from other signet rings. In A.D. 610 the first mention has been found of the episcopal ring as a well-understood symbol of dignity. It is clear that it was derived from the signet. It was only in the 12th century and onwards that it was brought into mystical connexion with the marriage ring. In the time of Innocent III. (1194) the ring was ordered to be of pure gold mounted with a stone that was not engraved; but this rule appears not to have been strictly kept. Owing to the custom of burying the episcopal ring in its owner's coffin, a great many fine examples still exist. Among the splendid collection of rings formed by the distinguished naturalist Edmund Waterton, and now in the South Kensington Museum, is a fine gold episcopal ring decorated with niello, and inscribed with the name of Alhstan, bishop of Sherborne from 824 to 867 (see fig. io). In many cases an antique gem FIGto. - Ring of Bishop was mounted in the bishop's ring, and Alhstan.

often an inscription was added in the gold setting of the gem to give a Christian name to the pagan figure. The monks of Durham, for example, made an intaglio of Jupiter Serapis into a portrait of St Oswald by adding the legend Capvt s. Oswaldi. In other cases the engraved gem appears to have been merely regarded as an ornament without meaning - as, for example, a magnificent gold ring found in the coffin of Seffrid, bishop of Chichester (1125-1151), in which is mounted a Gnostic intaglio. Another in the Waterton collection bears a Roman cameo in plasma of a female head in high relief; the gold ring itself is of the 12th century. More commonly the episcopal ring was set with a large sapphire, ruby or other stone cut en cabochon, that is, without facets, and very magnificent in effect (see fig. II). It was 1 See a paper by Edm. Waterton in Arch. Jour. xx. p. 224, also Cabrol, Dict. d'arch. chretienne, s.v. " Anneaux." FIG. 6.

FIG. I 1. -1 3th-century episcopal ring of Italian workmanship, of gold, set with a sapphire en cabochon. worn over the bishop's gloves, usually on the forefinger of the right hand; and this accounts for the large size of the hoop of these rings. In the 15th and 16th centuries bishops often wore three or four rings on the right hand in addition to a large jewel which was fixed to the back of each glove.

The papal " Ring of the Fisherman " (annulus piscatoris) bears the device of St Peter in a boat, drawing a net from "Ring of the water. The first mention of it, as the well-under the stood personal signet ring of the pope, that has been Fisher- found, occurs in a letter of Clement IV. in 1265.

man." After the middle of the 15th century it was no longer used as the private seal of the popes, but was always attached to briefs. After the death of a pope the ring is broken. A new ring with the space for the name left blank is taken into the conclave, and placed on the finger of the newly elected pontiff, who thereupon declares what name he will assume, and gives back the ring to be engraved (see Waterton, Archaeologia, 40, p. 138).

The so-called papal rings, of which many exist dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, appear to have been given by the popes to new-made cardinals. They are very worked, and set with a foiled piece of glass or crystal. On the hoop is usually engraved the name and arms of the reigning pope, the bezel being without a device. They are of little intrinsic value, but magnificent in appearance.

The giving of a ring to mark a betrothal was an old Roman custom. The ring was probably a mere pledge, pignus, that the contract would be fulfilled. In Pliny's time and conservative custom still required a plain ring of iron, wedding but the gold ring was introduced in the course of the rings. 2nd century. This use of the ring, which was thus of purely secular origin, received ecclesiastical sanction, and formulae of benediction of the ring exist from the 11th century. The exact stages by which the wedding ring developed from the betrothal ring can no longer be traced.

Gemel or gimmel rings, from the Latin gemellus, a twin, were made with two hoops fitted together, and could be worn either together or singly; they were common in the and leave me not " is mentioned by Shakespeare (Her. of Ven., act v. sc. 1). The custom of inscribing rings with mottoes or words of good omen dates from a very early time. Greek and Roman rings exist with words such as zxcAre, Xaipe, Kaah, or votis meis Claudia vivas. In the Middle Ages many rings were inscribed with words of cabalistic power, such as anam zapta, or Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the supposed names of the Magi. In the r7th century they were largely used as wedding rings, with such phrases as " Love and obaye," " Fear God and love me," " No gift can show the love I owe," " God above increase our love " or " Mulier viro subjecta esto." In the same century memorial rings with a name and date of death were frequently made of very elaborate form, enamelled in black and white; a not unusual design was consecrated at one time, usually when the sovereign touched patients for the king's evil.

Decade rings were not uncommon, especially in the 15th century; these were so called from their having ten knobs along the hoop of the ring, and were used, after the In some cases there are only nine knobs, the bezel of the ring being counted in, and taking the place of the gaude in a rosary. The bezel of these rings is usually engraved with a sacred monogram or word.

In the 15th and 16th centuries signet rings engraved with a badge or trademark were much used by merchants and others; these were not only used to form seals, but the ring itself was often sent by a trusty bearer as the proof of the genuineness of a bill of demand.' rings. At the same time private gentlemen used massive rings wholly of gold with their initials cut on the bezel, and a graceful knot of flowers twining round the letters. Other fine gold rings of this period have coats of arms or crests with graceful lambrequins. Poison rings with a hollow bezel were used in classical times; as, for example, that by which Hannibal killed himself, and the poison ring of Demosthenes. Pliny records that, after Crassus had stolen theold treasure from under rings. g the throne of Capitoline Jupiter, the guardian of the shrine, to escape torture, " broke the gem of his ring in his mouth and died immediately." The medieval anello della morte, supposed to be a Venetian invention, was actually used as an easy method of murder. Among the elaborate ornaments of the bezel a hollow point made to work with a spring was concealed; it communicated with a receptacle for poison in a cavity behind, in such a way that the murderer could give the fatal scratch while shaking hands with his enemy. This device was probably suggested by the poison fang of a snake.

A very large and elaborate form of ring is that used during the Jewish marriage service. Fine examples of the 16th and 17th centuries exist. In the place of the bezel is a model, minutely worked in gold or base metal, of a e re Y g rings. building with high gabled roofs, and frequently movable weathercocks on the apex. This is a conventional representation of the temple at Jerusalem.

Perhaps the most magnificent rings from the beauty of the workmanship of the hoop are those of which Benvenuto Ceilini produced the finest examples. They are of gold, richly chased and modelled with caryatides or grotesque figures, and are decorated with coloured enamels in a very skilful and elaborate way. Very fine jewels are sometimes set in these magnificent pieces of 16th-century jewellery.

Thumb rings were commonly worn from the 14th to the r7th century. Falstaff boasts that in his youth he was slender enough to " creep into any alderman's Ting thumb ring" (Shakes., Hen. IV., Pt. I., act ii. sc. 4). The finest collections of rings formed in Britain have been those of Lord Londesborough, Edmund Waterton (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the collection in the British Museum, which was greatly augmented in 1897 by the bequest of the late Sir A. W. Franks.


Licetus, De Anulis antiquis (Udine, 1645); Kirchmann, De Annulis (Schleswig, 1657); King, Antique Gems and Rings, 1872; Marshall, Catalogue of Finger Rings in the British Museum, 1907; Cabrol, Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne, s.v. " Anneaux "; articles of Waterton in Archaeologia and Archaeological Journal. (J. H. M.; A. H. SM.)

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