The short answer is because of ancient Egyptians, who were the first to sport rings to mark their marriages.

Without pricey wedding rings, getting married is almost unthinkable in our modern age. Everyone knows that to show their love and commitment to their significant other, they will likely need to find a nice wedding ring. 

We place the ring on our ‘ring’ finger, which allegedly has a line of connection with the heart through the vena amoris or vein of love, according to ancient Egyptians. 

Ancient Egyptians were the first to use wedding rings 3,000 years ago, according to ancient hieroglyphics, which were written on paper scrolls. They believed that the wedding ring represents the bond between man and woman and also the heart and the finger. 

After three thousand years, while modern biology could not discover any trace of the vein of love between the heart and the ring finger in the human body, most of us continue to believe like old Egyptians that the ring must be worn to prove and protect true love. 

Greeks, later Romans and then others also adopted the Egyptian custom of wearing rings to signify their marital status after Alexander the Great’s transformative Eastern Expedition, which was instrumental in developing a new West-East synthesis between two distinct cultural and civilisational spheres.  

There is another similarity between ancient Egyptians and modern humans living in a capitalist age. If an Egyptian got a ring made with more expensive materials for his partner, then, it was believed that it would show greater love for a future partner. 

Despite its rich history, wearing wedding rings had been usually practiced by women until the past century. But after two disastrous global wars and other military conflicts in the 20th century, men seeking to keep their relationships alive during wars also began wearing rings. 

Rings, eternity and unknowns

Wedding rings have a circular shape symbolising eternity and timelessness in a relationship. Since ancient times, a circle has been thought to represent perfection and totality - the symbol of the eternal cycle of life. Unlike other shapes, a circle has no end point. 

When two people get married, it has long been thought of as the mature culmination of a relationship, reaching its own totality. As a result, the circular shape of the ring also represents the eternal nature of the romantic relationship. 

But there is also an open space in the middle of all rings. What does that symbolise?

A Byzantium (Eastern Roman) era gold marriage ring, which was dated around 6th–7th century. Greeks and Romans adopted  ancient Egyptian customs  of wearing wedding rings.
A Byzantium (Eastern Roman) era gold marriage ring, which was dated around 6th–7th century. Greeks and Romans adopted ancient Egyptian customs of wearing wedding rings. (Met Museum of Art)

It represents the unknown future of the relationship. While people get married in the hope that their relationship will be eternal, there are also a lot of uncertainties and challenges in front of them. 

But which hand? 

Across the world, most identify our fourth finger as the ring finger except some people like Jews, who will place wedding rings on the bride’s index finger during a traditional Jewish marriage. But this is not a standard practice for all Jews. Even most Orthodox Jews refuse to wear wedding rings at all. Currently, most Jews move the ring to their ring finger after the marriage ceremony. 

While there is almost a universal consensus on which finger the wedding ring rests, there are different approaches and widespread confusion over which hand should host the ring. 

Due to Britain’s religious traditions based on a 1549 prayer book, which said “the ring shall be placed on the left hand”, people in the UK and most of its former colonies like the US, Australia and Canada use their left hands to wear wedding rings. 

Most Catholic countries like France and Italy also use the left hand to wear wedding rings. But citizens of some other Catholic-majority states like Austria and Poland in Central Europe wear it on the right hand.

Regional and sectarian conflicts also have an effect on which hand should be used to wear wedding rings. In the Catholic part of the Netherlands, people use their left hand to place rings while non-Catholic Dutch prefer to wear their rings on the right hand. 

In Spain, while the whole country considers itself as Catholic, Catalans, which have a strong contingent of the population which seeks independence from Madrid, and the people of Valencia use their left hands to place wedding rings. In the rest of Spain, most people use their right hands to wear rings. 

Several European Protestant Christian-majority countries like Germany and Norway and some Orthodox Christian states like Russia, Serbia and Greece alongside some other Eastern European countries also use their right hand to sport their wedding rings. 

While the vast number of Muslims across the world currently use wedding rings, it’s not part of the Muslim religious marriage tradition. While wearing rings are not necessary for either loving or marrying for Muslims, if Muslim men want to do so, they should use silver-made rings, according to Muslim scholarship based on Prophet Mohammed’s teachings. 

Unlike men, Muslim women can still be treated by rings made of gold or other precious materials, according to Muslim understanding. 

Source: TRT World