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Circular band of gold, silver, or other precious or decorative material usually worn on the finger, but sometimes on the toes, the ears, or the nose. The earliest examples were found in the tombs of ancient Egypt. In addition to being worn as adornment, rings have functioned as symbols of authority, fidelity, or social status. In the early Roman republic, most were made of iron, gold being reserved for persons of high status; but by the 3rd century BC anyone except a slave could wear a gold ring. The Romans are thought to have originated engagement rings, symbolizing a promise of marriage. In the Middle Ages, signet rings were important in religious, legal, and commercial transactions; memorial, posy, and keepsake rings served sentimental purposes; occult rings supposedly had magical powers; and poison rings had hollow bezels that could be filled with poison for the purpose of suicide or homicide.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ring, visit Britannica.com.