As far back as Ancient Rome, rings have been worn to show someone’s status. The lowliest citizen would wear bands of iron about their fingers to announce to the populace that they were freeborn and could not be sold into slavery. Further up the social scale, the more social standing a person had, the more valuable the metal that was used to make their ring. As time passed, it was decreed that all freeborn citizens would wear gold rings, freed slaves would wear rings of silver and slaves would wear rings of iron; simply by observing someone’s jewellery, you would be able to assess their social status.
Wedding rings were also used to this end; as well as showing that a person was married, they were also a good indicator of someone’s position within a household. Rings have also served practical purposes. From the Middle Ages, the King or Queen would be given a unique ring during their coronation. Made of gold and intricately detailed, this ring would be used to create the ‘Royal Seal’ used to keep important documents and private letters from being read. This idea was quickly taken up by anyone in a position of power and was used to keep secret military communiqués away from prying eyes. For the wealthy, a ring often was used to demonstrate their fortune and influence: the more elaborate and decorative the ring, the more powerful the wearer.
Wedding rings are not the only rings with some religious significance. The early Christians wore signet rings to identify their faith and bishops were given rings as part of their consecration. This tradition is continued today in the ‘Fisherman’s Ring’ given to a new Pope. This ring depicts a fisherman’s boat, with the name of the Pope set around it. It is used by the new Pope to attest his Papal beliefs and responsibilities and is destroyed upon his death. Rings are as popular today as they ever were but the reasons behind wearing them are often more to do with a person’s private or sentimental beliefs, rather than an announcement of some social ranking.