History of Engagement and Engagement Rings

History of Engagement and Engagement Rings
People have been falling in love at least for as long as recorded history
History of Engagement and Engagement Rings
The history of engagement and engagement rings stretches back to Roman times, but develops out of the tradition of courtly love.
The ritual of engagement is both symbolic and highly practical. Whether the marriage is by choice or arranged, engagement allows time for a measured reaction and counsel from the larger community. Families of the groom and bride, as well as their broader community, are offered the opportunity to voice their objections, concerns or, more positively, actual plan and preparation for the wedding. An engagement that is successful provides a spiritual, financial and familial foundation for couples to be married.

Across cultures, engagement, betrothal and other forms of commitment to marry at a designated time extends back thousands of years. Scholars believe that the Egyptians first started the tradition of exchanging an engagement ring. Later, Greeks and Romans adopted the custom of offering a ring as a symbol of a binding promise. In a variety of pre-Christian religions, a simple wreath of interwoven rushes, or a small ring woven from the hair of the betrothed, were used to represent the future commitment.

People have, of course, been falling in love at least for as long as recorded history. But, it’s only been fairly recently that these feelings of attraction formed the basis for courtship, engagement, and marriage.

We cannot with historical certainty determine when the engagement ring became the standard gift of the promise to wed. The practice of a husband giving his intended an engagement ring may have begun in ancient Rome. Certainly, the exchange of rings in the marriage ceremony predates the giving of an engagement ring. Traditions related to engagement itself also existed long before the engagement ring became the most prevalent custom.

From European historical records, we know that future grooms from wealthy aristocracy, royalty, and the ruling classes gave engagement rings to their beloveds coinciding with the rise of courtly love traditions. The wealthy and privileged classes were more free to romanticize marriage, and extend it beyond its practical economic, political, and social purposes. The first documented use of a diamond to represent engagement was in 1477, by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in Vienna to the betrothed Mary of Burgundy. The act had wide influence across social classes, though it wasn’t until the 1800s that diamond engagement rings became widespread in Europe and America.
Though some scholars disagree, it may be that the engagement ring may be a custom that is distantly related to this payment of a bride price, similar to the custom of the bride's family paying for the expenses of the wedding -- derived from the expectation of providing a dowry. Customarily, the momentousness of marriage was marked by the level of material exchange of household wealth. The bride's family was expected to provide a dowry, which often represented a significant portion of her family's assets. The groom's family, in exchange, usually paid a somewhat lesser bride price.

Traditionally, in communities that had a definite class structure, marriages were arranged to preserve the status quo, a practice which continues even today in non-Western cultures. The engagement ring as a gift of love, roughly, has much to do with marriages of choice. This may be due to the fact that the giving of an engagement ring at the moment of the marriage proposal more emphatically signified the choice of the betrothed, and made the event both more romantic and more private. People have, of course, been falling in love as long as recorded history. But, it’s only been fairly recently that these feelings of attraction formed the basis for courtship, engagement, and marriage.

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