Rings for the Finger – George Frederick Kunz



AMONG ancient gold rings, one of Egyptian workmanship is especially noteworthy for its size and weight as well as for its design. It is 1/2 inch in its largest diameter, and bears an oblong plinth, which turns on a pivot; it measures 6/10 inch at its greatest, and 4/10 inch at its least breadth.

On one of the four faces is the name of the successor of Amenhotep III, Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), who lived about 1400 B.c.; on another is figured a lion, with the inscription ” lord of strength ” ; the two remaining sides show a scorpion and a crocodile respectively. The weight of this massive ring is stated to be about five ounces and its intrinsic gold value nearly a hundred dollars. (1)

Some remarkably fine finger-rings were among the ornaments found by Ferlini, an Italian physician, when he unearthed the treasure of one of the queens of Meroë. These rings are now in the Berlin Royal Museum. Some of them are plain hoops to which movable plates are attached; others are signet rings. In a few specimens of the first-named class the plate is so large as to extend over three figures, the inconvenience to which this could give rise being partly obviated by joints in the plate, so that the fingers might be moved with greater facility.

1 Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, ” Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol, iii, p. 373

We hardly think that a design of this type is ever likely to become popular in our times.  Scarabs strung on wire so as to be worn on the finger were found at Dahshur by De Morgan. These belonged to the Twelfth Dynasty, to the time from Usertasen III to Amenemhat III (ab. 2660-2578 B.C.).

Stronger wire was used at a later time, the ends being thrust into perforations on the sides of the scarabs. In all these cases the scarab and the circlet, more or less well formed, were separate parts loosely put together. It was not until the Golden Age of the ancient Egyptian civilization that complete metal rings were made, in which both circlet and chaton formed one piece.

Rings of the Egyptian type, although strongly modified by Ionic or Phœnician art, were introduced into Etruria at a very early period, and probably thence into Latium. (2) At an even earlier date, at least 1200 B.C., scarab rings were worn in Cyprus, several examples having been found in sepulchres there, the scarab being made of porcelain strung on a gold-wire hoop.

The ancient rings in the British Museum offer examples of nearly all the different types favored in early times. (3) Some, from the Mycenœan period, exhibit a long shield-shaped bezel, convex above and concave beneath, across the direction of the hoop; others have a flat band decorated with plaited or twisted wire on which is set a bezel holding a paste.

Phœnician rings of the period from 700 to 500 B.C. present a variety of forms, some being swivel rings, the extremities of the rounded hoops passing into beads, in which are inserted the pivots of a scarab-setting; another type has elliptical hoops, either plain or ornamental, the scarab being in a filigree-decorated bezel; in still another, the lower part of the hoop is twisted into a loop, so that the ring can be worn suspended; there are also some plain, flat or rounded hoops, sometimes with the ends overlapping.

2 F. H. Marshall, Catalogue of the Finger Rings Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum, p. 50, Nos. 278-281 ; pi. vii, No. 281.
3 See F. H. Marshall, ” Catalogue of the Finger Rings, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum,” London, 1907, pp. xxxvii—xlix.

The Greek and Hellenistic periods, from the sixth to the second century B.C., furnish a large variety of forms, some copied or adapted from earlier ones and then independently developed. A rounded hoop tapering upward, with ornamental extremities, occasionally appears in fine examples, the ends of the hoop representing the lions’ masks ; the bezels are frequently of oval shape, and the shoulders of the hoop are often nearly straight; in another type while the outside of the hoop is rounded, the inside is facetted; sometimes there is a high convex bezel, bevelled underneath.

There are still a few swivel rings with scaraboids. In the Hellenistic period appear massive gold rings with square-cut shoulders and raised oval settings, in which a convex stone is placed. Still another type is an expanding hoop formed of two overlapping ribbons and with a convex bezel.

Etruscan rings assume various characteristic and peculiar forms, many of which are found among the Roman rings of a later period, indicating the derivation from the Etruscans of ring-wearing among the Romans.

One of these in the British Museum has a broad hoop ending in convex shields, a scarab being pivoted in the terminals; in others, the hoop is hollow, terminating in cylindrical ornaments, between these a scarab revolves on a wire swivel. A peculiar example has a grooved hoop, the ends being convex disks, in which is pivoted a scarab.

One of these Etruscan rings has a very large convex oval bezel, around the slope of which run a series of embossed figures. As an example of Roman art found in Egypt, we have a spiral ring of serpent form, either extremity terminating in a bust, of Isis and Serapis respectively.

The conjecture has been made that this ring, and others of the type, may have been intended to figure the reigning emperor and empress of Rome under the types of Isis and of Serapis, the latter a Grœco-Egyptian divinity as worshipped in Alexandria and in the Roman world,  though having a distinctly Egyptian form in the national pantheon as Asar-Hapi, or Osiris-Apis.

The rings of the type described have the advantage of being easily adapted to a finger of any size, since pressure at both extremities would enlarge the girth of the single spiral. (4) In his Etymologias, Isidore of Seville defines three of the types of rings worn in ancient times, the ungulus, the Samothracius and the thynnius. (6)

The ungulus was set with a gem and owed its designation to the fancy that the stone was as closely attached to the gold of the ring as a human nail (ungulus) was to the flesh of the finger. The Samothracian ring was of gold, but had an iron setting. Lucretius in the sixth book of his great philosophic and scientific poem, ” De Natura Rerum,” in speaking of the magnet to which he attributes negative and positive powers, of repulsion and of attraction, relates that when, in an experiment, Samothracian rings were placed in a brazen dish beneath which a piece of magnetic iron was moved to and fro, he had seen the rings leap up, as though to flee from an enemy.

The third type of ring was the thynnius, the name indicating, according to Isidore, that it was made in Bithynia, called at an earlier time, Thynna.

(4) Figured in Caylus, ” Receuil d’antiquités,” vol. ii, p. 310.
(6) Sancti Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi, ” Opera Omnia,” vol. iv, col. 702, Etymologias, lib. xix, cap. 32; vol. Ixxxii of Migne’s Patrologia Latina, Paris, 1850.