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Ancient and Medieval Finger-Rings (and Gems)

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Ancient and Medieval Rings Discussion

A finger-ring is a circular object worn on the finger, usually just as an ornament. It can be a complete circle or penannular (with open ends); it can be a plain hoop, or have a bezel. Finger-ring designs can be simple and conservative, and so unstratified examples can be very hard to date.

References

Albersmeier, S. Bedazzled: 5,000 Years of Jewelry. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. (London & Baltimore, 2005).

Arrhenius, B. Merovingian Garnet Jewellery. (Stockholm, 1985).

Andrews, C. Ancient Egyptian Jewelry. (New York, 1997).
Boardman, J. Archaic Greek Gems. (London, 1968).
Boardman, J. Greek Gems and Finger Rings: Early Bronze Age to Late Classical. (London, 2001).
Boardman, J. & M. Vollen-weider. Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Finger Rings in the Ashmolean Museum, vol. 1: Greek and Etruscan. (Oxford, 1978).
Boardman, J. & D. Scarisbrick. The Ralph Harari Collection of Finger Rings. (London, 1977).
Campbell, M. Medieval Jewellery in Europe, 1100-1500. (London, 2009).
Church, R. Rings. (London, 2011).
Coarelli, F. Greek and Roman Jewellery. (Milan, 1966). PDF Online
Deppert-Lippitz, B. Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Dallas, 1996).
Edwards, C. The History and Poetry of Finger-Rings. (New York, 1855). PDF Online
Egan, G. & F. Pritchard. Dress Accessories: 1150-1450 AD. Museum of London. (Boydell, 2002).
Facsdy, A. Jewellery in Aquincum. (Budapest, 2009). PDF Online
Guiraud, H. Intailles et camees de Vepoque romaine en Gaule. (Paris, 1988).
Golani, A. & B. Sass. "Three Seventh-Century B.C.E. Hoards of Silver Jewelry from Tel Miqne-Ekron" in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 311 (Aug 1998). PDF Online
Hamat, A. "VTERE FELIX Inscribed Rings Discovered in Roman Dacia" in Sargetia VIII. (Deva, Romania, 2017). PDF Online
Henig, M. A Corpus of Roman Engraved Gemstones from British Sites, 2nd ed. BAR British series 8. (Oxford, 1978).
Hershkovitz, A.-S. Gemstones, Finger Rings, and Seal Boxes from Caesarea Maritima, The Hendler Collection. (Tel Aviv, 2016).
Hoffmann, H. & P. Davidson. Greek Gold, Jewelry from the Age of Alexander. (Mainz, 1966).
Kunz, G. Rings for the Finger. (Philadelphia, 1917). PDF Online
Lambert, S. The Ring. Design: Past and Present. (Crans-Prs-Cligny, Switzerland, 1998).
Ljudmila, R.-S. Roman Jewellery: A Collection of the National Archeological Museum - Sofia. (Sofia, 1991).
Marshall, F. Catalogue of the Finger Rings, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the British Museum. (London, 1907). PDF Online
Marshall, F. Catalogue of the Jewellery, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the British Museum. (London, 1968).
Megow, W.-R. Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus. AMUGS XI. (Berlin, 1987).
Munzen und Medaillen AG Basel, Sonderliste M, Werke Antiker Goldschmiedekunst, Sept. 1970.
Milovanivić, B. & N. Mrdjić. "Ring-Keys from Viminacium" in Journal of the Serbian Archaeological Society, Vol. 32. (Belgrade, 2016). PDF Online
Pollio, T. Ancient Rings: An Illustrated Collector's Guide. (Jefferson, NC, 2018).
Richter, G. Catalogue of Engraved Gems: Greek, Etruscan and Roman. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (New York/Roma, 1956).
Riha, E. Der rmische Schmuck aus Augst und Kaisaraugst. (Augst, 1990). PDF Online
Ruseva-Slokoska, L. Roman Jewelry, A Collection of The National Archaeological Museum, Sofia. (Sophia, 1991).
Scarisbrick, D. Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty. (London, 2014).
Scarisbrick, D & M. Hennig. Finger Rings, From Ancient to Modern. (Oxford, 2003).
Spier, J. Ancient Gems and Finger Rings: Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Malibu, CA, 1992). PDF Online
Spier, J. & J. Ogden. Rings of the Ancient World: Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman Rings from the Slava Yevdayev Collection. (2015).
Story-Maskelyne, M. The Marlborough Gems, being a collection of works in cameo and intaglio formed by George, 3rd [or rather 4th] duke of Marlborough. (London, 1870). PDF Online
Taylor, G. & D. Scarisbrick. Finger Rings from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. (London & Oxford, 1978).
Walters, H. Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Cameos, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the British Museum. (London, 1926). PDF Online
Wilkinson, A. Ancient Egyptian Jewellery. (London, 1971).

Websites

UK Portable Antiquities Scheme Finger-Rings - https://finds.org.uk/counties/findsrecordingguides/finger-rings/

Ring Riddles and Poems (Edwards Rings, p. 52)

I unite two people together and touch only one. What am I?

Though small of body, it contains
The extremes of pleasure and of pains;
Has no beginning, nor no end;
More hollow than the falsest friend.
If it entraps some headless zany,
Or, in its magic circle, any
Have entered, from its sorcery
No power on earth can set them free.
At least, all human force is vain,
Or less than many hundred men.
Though endless, yet not short, nor long;
And what though it's so wondrous strong,
The veriest child, that's pleased to try,
Might carry fifty such as I.

I. The Earliest Finger-Rings

Rings and other types of jewelry including necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, bangles and pendants have been discovered from the 3rd millennium BC Indus Valley Civilization. Finger rings have been found in tombs in Ur dating back to circa 2500 B.C. The Hittite civilization produced rings, including signet rings, only a few of which have been discovered. People in Old Kingdom Egypt wore a variety of finger rings, of which a few examples have been found, including the famous scarab design.

II. Uses of Finger-Rings

Although some rings were worn as mere ornaments or as conspicuous displays of wealth, many rings have symbolic functions concerning marriage, exceptional achievement, high status or authority, membership in an organization, and the like. Rings can be made to sport insignia which may be impressed on a wax seal or outfitted with a small compartment in which to conceal things. In myth, fable, and fiction, rings are often endowed with spiritual or supernatural significance.

III. Materials of Finger-Rings

Rings may be made of almost any hard material: wood, bone, stone, metal, glass, gemstone. Ancient metal rings were made with gold, silver, bronze, and even iron. Rings may be set with gemstones (diamond, ruby, sapphire, carnelian or emerald) or with other types of stone or even glass.

IV. Types of Finger-Rings

The typology of ancient rings can be very difficult to discern as to type and age as rings are rings; just a loop to go about a finger. Ring scholars have presented them by era and shape via line drawings of such by the band shape and not the intaglio. Such band shapes will be discussed further as noted below.

V. Cultures and Periods


Bronze Age

Iron Age

Egyptian Types

Mycenaean Period

Phoenician and Allied Ionic-Etruscan Types

Archaic Greek

Classic Greek

Later Greek

Graeco-Roman

Roman 

Late Roman 

Byzantine Era and later

Crusader Era - These rings are often confused with Byzantine from the same centuries as they overlap timewise. The most common of such are considered as Pilgrims rings.
Such rings were mass produced in the Holy Land and sold as souvenirs at religious shrines and other sites to pilgrims and crusader knights as well. Nearly all were inexpensive, cast from one band and then engraved.

 

Pilgram's ring - Double Maltese cross with a "crown of thorns" motif in the center of each cross; star and crescent moon. Hammered and engraved from a thin strip of silver. Silver alloy; 3.2 gm. Rare in such condition.



Medieval Era Rings and types


As noted above, these are types and shapes of Medieval rings, but not are not actually one piece casted.
Many of such Medieval rings were created in two parts; the bezel and band loop, and then soldered into one ring.

One thing to remember is that to our to our modern 21st century standards, such rings appear to be a flimsy, light-weight, and not worthy of the money. 
But to the Medieval peoples? They were treasure and well worth the price they paid for them.

Medieval Ring Typology into the following categories

Religious- 

13th-16th Cent the the 'Fleur-de-Lis' or Lily Flower was, and still is, the symbol of the Virgin Mary. The lily flower motif was a very important image throughout the Medieval era.


Copper Alloy; 20mm/1.5 This ring was fabricated in two parts; the bezel and band loop, and then soldered into one ring. The engraved bezel is 15mm.


Copper Alloy; 23mm/1.6  Another example of a ring that was fabricated in two parts; the bezel and band loop, and then soldered into one ring. The engraved bezel is 15mm.
On this ring, the Fleur-de-Lis', is engraved as a potted plant.



Copper alloy; 22mm/ 1.3gm. This is another example of a ca 16th-17th Cent ring, but in this case it was a one piece configuration, stamped and engraved on the bezel and about the band.


Copper alloy; 25mm/6.6gm Another a one piece configuration, stamped and engraved on the bezel and about the band with a raised bezel. ca. 12th-15th Century



Copper Alloy; 22mm/5.8gm. 14th- 17th century. Cast and engraved in a one piece configurationLong cross flanked by palm branches (?), crescent moon above to left; possibly Easter Palm Sunday symbiology? The thinness of the lower part of the band denotes that this was a precious ring to the previous Christian owner and was worn for many, many years.


Travelers Rings - Concerning such so-called Travelers Rings, accurate timing is difficult. These types of rings are also considered to be magic rings, as well, because they seem to have meaningful symbols; medieval people were superstitious and believed that things (health, crop, wealth, weather, cattle, security, salvation, protection against spirits, etc.) could be affected with talismans, spells, etc., therefore it is believed that these rings were made as protective or influential talismanic items. The true symbology seen on these rings has been lost to time although many appear to have engravings that may, or may not, represent rivers, mountains, forests and roads. Due to such conjecture, it has been suggested that such rings were worn by traveling merchants. Again, all this is simple theory from various scholars, not proven fact.


The shield-shaped bezel appears to feature a pair of wings to either side; between a river flanked my mountains? Perhaps the symbolism refers to flying over the rivers and mountains on the wings of eagles to a fast and safe destination? Most likely this ring was used by the traveling merchant as a signet to seal important letters and documents, or not. Copper alloy; 4.9gm. The band and bezel were cast as two parts, engraved, and then combined together. ca. 13th-15th Cent


The bezel on this ring is suggestive of a crossroads in mountains? Cast and engraved as one piece. Copper alloy; 4.8gm, ca. 13th-15th Century


On the bezel, an engraved crossroad within mountains about; to either side further engraved hash marks. At the lower part of the ring, a sun symbol with radiate signs to either side? Copper alloy; 5.3gm Cast as one piece and engraved. ca. 13th-15th Century


Concerning the symbology on the bezel...it could be a river, or maybe an over-lapping double "S'? Or the artisan who did the hand engraving just thought it looked pretty. Not over-thinking but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Copper alloy; 3.2gm. Constructed in two parts then combined. ca. 13th-16th Cent  


Magic Rings - Concerning medieval magic rings, accurate timing is difficult. These types of rings are called magic rings because they seem to have meaningful symbols; medieval people were superstitious and believed that things (health, crop, wealth, weather, cattle, security, salvation, protection against spirits, etc.) could be affected with talismans, spells, etc., therefore it is believed that these rings were made as protective or influential talismanic items.

Throughout the Medieval Era, citizens were highly religious, God-fearing and filled with superstitious dread that may have been cursed by dark sorcerers and magicians with mal intent. But fortunately for them, rings were created for them to wear to dispel such curses. Pollio notes such as "Demon Catcher" rings.



Copper alloy; 29mm/6.2gm The spider web on the raised bezel was meant to capture the curses/demons, but if that failed, the lands and grooves would make the curse simply slide away. ca. 14th-16th Century


Silvered Copper alloy; 27mm/6.1gm The spider web on the raised bezel was meant to capture the curses/demons, but if that failed, the lands and grooves would make the curse simply slide away. ca. 14th-16th Century


Medieval Zoomorphic Types -

Pollio, T. Ancient Rings: An Illustrated Collector's Guide page 125, noted such as these as a Mythical winged creature ca. 11th - 16th century
This is incorrect. The image is not a mythical winged creature...but just a common stork. In medieval times, as well as now, storks were a symbol of good luck, longevity, and when they returned to their nests it was Spring and time to plant your crops. Just as simple as that.  


Copper alloy 4.3gm Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century. Stork seen right, wing spread.


Stork on a lozenge shaped bezel facing to left, wing spread. Silver alloy; 7.6gm. Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century


Another Stork on a round bezel facing to left, half moon above. Copper alloy; 4.8gm  Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century


Stork on a round shaped bezel facing to its right, both wings spread and tail above; quarter moon above; decorated shoulders and band. Copper alloy; 4.9gm 
Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century


The hand-engraved bezel features a pair of wings spread in flight surmounted by an eight-pointed star; below, two crescent moons and a large single wing; on both sides of the band are what appears to be growing crops. The "wings, star, moons and growing crops" motif reflects the exact same symbolism found on similar rings, but just in a different manner as viewed by the craftsman who created this ring. Copper alloy; 9.8gm Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century


The hand-engraved bezel features a pair of wings spread in flight. Copper alloy; 5.0gm Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 15th- 16th century


The subject of the intaglio is a bull's head facing, ears and muzzle down, star between the horns. Most likely a Hungarian family crest and used as a signet for letters and documents. Copper alloy; 1.1gm. Cast as one piece and then engraved. Ca. 14th- 16th century

Armorial and Shield types - In the Medieval Period the right to display a coat of arms or other heraldic emblem was typically bestowed by a monarch or other sovereign authority. The devices were strictly regulated, and the use was limited to noblemen, knights and other retainers in royal service. Some designs became hereditary, and later appear as family crests.


Hungary, Arpad dynasty, ca. 11th-12th Cent. Constructed in two parts; the bezel was hand-stamped with lip about...and the band was then soldered to the bezel. This ring was certainly used as a signet to seal documents, letters, etc. This rare example shows zero signs of wear and must have been lost into the ground shortly after it was made. Silver alloy; 2.8gm.


Sword and Arm ring, also known as "sword in hand" or "arm holding sword", this heraldic device was used to convey the sense of temporal sovereignty and military domination. Such designs were utilized in Eastern Europe and the Balkans throughout the Medieval Period. Bezel engraved with raised arm, sword, star and crescent moons. Copper alloy; 9.1gm. Cast and engraved as one piece. c. 9th-13th Century. Ref/ Pollio, page 112.