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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.


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).
Facsády, 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-Près-Céligny, 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 römische 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).


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



Late Roman 

Byzantine Era and later

Crusader Era

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


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.


Magic Rings - 

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

Armorial and Shield types