John Ford

Ringing the changes: the social significance of finger-rings in Roman Britain

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

By studying finger-rings and the contexts where we find them, my research explores the different ways rings were used within Romano-British society.

Start Date: January 2015
End Date: January 2018
Theme: By studying finger-rings and the contexts where we find them, my research explores the different ways rings were used within Romano-British society.
Research discipline: Archaeology
Locations: Europe, UK
Staff member: Richard Hobbs
Department: Britain, Europe and Prehistory
University and department: Department of Archaeology, University of Reading
University supervisor: Hella Eckardt, John Creighton

What did rings in Roman Britain look like?

There are many different types of ring, some must have been more popular than others. This project will identify where rings were worn and how they changed over time.

What can finger-rings tell us about their owners?

Rings are made using a number of different materials, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and display a multitude of colours and images, even words.

How did people in Roman Britain wear their rings?

Using the few but important finds from graves, as well as depictions in artworks from the wider Roman world, it might be possible to find out.


About my research

Finger-rings are one of the most common object types from Roman Britain, yet they have been the subject of relatively limited research. They can be of intensely personal significance to their owners and continue to have relevance in modern societies today.

This project explores the significance of finger-rings to the people and culture of Roman Britain through the careful examination of the rings themselves and a study of the locations and contexts where they have been found.

This information will be gathered using data collected from The British Museum’s unparalleled collection of finger-rings, records from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and finds reports from excavated sites. The data will include detailed measurements, weights, the type of materials and techniques used, the design of the ring, the presence of settings, iconography or inscriptions, observations such as signs of use-wear or repair, and the location and type of deposit where the ring was found.

 

This gold finger-ring from Norfolk features a depiction of two clasped hands, an image that some have interpreted as a symbol of marriage.

 

A silver finger-ring found in Dorset set with a denarius of the Emperor Elagabalus, who reigned from 218 - 222 CE.

 

These two snake-headed rings, one gold and one silver, were found within a hoard from Tyne and Wear. Snakes were a popular symbol of healing and rebirth throughout the Roman world.


Aims of my research

My research aims to identify the types of finger-ring common to Britain during the Roman period and trace their development over time. How do rings from Britain compare to those outside the province? Are these changes linked to other developments in Romano-British society?

The study will explore whether or not it is possible to associate different ring types with people of a particular age or sex. What can rings tell us about the wealth and status of their owners? Were rings used to express certain regional or religious identities?

Studying their distribution, I will examine how different ring types relate to certain types of site and depositional contexts. Are some rings associated more with military sites? Were others popular as votive offerings?

My research hopes to shed some light on how finger-rings were worn. Was one hand favoured over the other? Were certain fingers used for certain types of rings? If so, why?