(usually טִבִּעִת, tabba'ath; δάκτυλος, occasionally גָּליל, galil, a circlet for the fingers, Es 1:6; Song 5:14, גָּב, gab, a rim of a wheel, Eze 1:18). The ring was regarded as an indispensable article of a Hebrew's attire, inasmuch as it contained his signet, and even owed its name to this circumstance, the term tabbaath being derived from a root signifying "to impress a seal." It was hence the symbol of authority, and as such was presented by Pharaoh to Joseph (Ge 41:42), by Ahasuerus to Haman (Es 3:10), by Antiochus to Philip (1 Macc. 6:15), and by the father to the prodigal son in the parable (Lu 15:22). It was treasured accordingly, and became a proverbial expression for a most valued object (Jer 22:24; Hag 2:23; Ecclesiastes 49:11). Such rings were worn not only by men, but by women (Isa 3:21; Mishna, Sabb. 6, § 3), and are enumerated among the articles presented by men and women for the service of the tabernacle (Ex 35:22). The signet ring was worn on the right hand (Jeremiah loc. cit.). We may conclude, from Ex 28:11, that the rings contained a stone engraven with a device, or with the owner's name. SEE ORNAMENT.
The ancient Egyptians wore many rings, sometimes two and three on the same finger. The left was considered the hand peculiarly privileged to bear those ornaments; and it is remarkable that its third finger was decorated with a greater number than any other, and was considered by them, as by us, par excellence the ring finger, though there is no evidence of its having been so honored at the marriage ceremony. They even wore a ring on the thumb. Some rings were very simple; others were made with a scarabaeus, or an engraved stone; and they were occasionally in the form of a shell, a knot, a snake, or some fancy device. They were mostly of gold, and this metal seems to have always been preferred to silver for rings. Silver rings, however, are occasionally met with. Bronze was seldom used for rings, though frequently for signets. Some have been discovered of brass and iron (the latter of a Roman time); but ivory and blue porcelain were the materials of which those worn by the lower classes were usually made. The scarabaeus was the favorite form for rings; in some the stone, flat on both faces, turned on pins, like many of our seals at the present day, and the ring itself was bound round at each end, where it was inserted into the stone, with gold wire. This was common not only to rings, but to signets, and was intended for ornament as well as security. Numerous specimens of Egyptian rings have been discovered, most of them made of gold, very massive, and containing either a scarabaeus or an engraved stone (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 2, 337). The ancient Assyrians seem to have been equally fond of similar ornaments. The same profusion was exhibited also by the Greeks and Romans, particularly by men (Smith, Dict. of Antiq. s.v. "Rings"). It appears also to have prevailed among the Jews of the apostolic age; for in Jas 2:2, a rich man is described as χρυσοδακτύλιος, meaning not simply "with a gold ring," as in the A.V., but "golden-ringed" (like the χρυσόχειρ, "golden-handed," of Lucian, Timon, 20), implying equally well the presence of several gold rings. SEE JEWEL.
The principal information we have about ancient rings is derived from Pliny. He says that Alexander the Great sealed all important documents in Europe with his own ring, and in Asia with that of Darius. He states that the Romans derived the custom of wearing rings from the Sabines, and they from the Greeks; hence there occurs no mention of Roman rings earlier than the reign of Numa Pompilius. The rings then worn were generally of iron, and sometimes engraved. In process of time silver rings were adopted by free citizens, and those of iron were abandoned to slaves. Gold rings could, in the earlier ages of the republic, only be worn by senators; and even in their case the use of the gold ring was to be confined to public occasions. Marius, in his third consulate, is said to have worn one habitually; but if this account be correct, it must have been a ring of some special kind, for more than a century earlier the equestrian order had the privilege of wearing gold rings, since Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, sent as a trophy to Carthage three bushels of gold rings, taken from the fingers of the Roman knights slain in the battle. It is clear that the equestrian ring was not allowed to be indiscriminately worn, for Horace informs us that he did so himself by the express permission of Augustus (Horace, Sat. 2, 7, 54). It may be that the passage in James's epistle refers to the equestrian ring as a token of Roman rank. The ring was generally worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, and Aulus Gellius gives as a reason for this that there is a vein from that finger running directly to the heart. To wear rings on the right hand was regarded as a mark of effeminacy, but they were not unfrequently worn in considerable numbers on the left. This was a practice among men of fashion at Rome (Martial, Epig. 11, 60), as it had been at Athens so far back as the age of Aristophanes (Aristoph. Nubes). Lampridius informs us that Heliogabalus, whose fingers were always covered with rings, never wore the same twice; and a part of the foppery of the age consisted in having rings of different weights for summer and winter. Wedding rings, often of large size, were in use among the Jews, and from them Christians have borrowed the practice; and the ring has from a very early period formed a part of the episcopal costume, as indicating that the bishop was wedded to his Church. So long ago as the Council of Toledo (A.D. 633), a deposed bishop was restored by returning to him his episcopal ring. SEE SIGNET.