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St. Valentine of Rome and Ancient Roman Romance

Ancient Roman Agate Cameo of Venus - Goddess of Love
Ancient Roman Agate Cameo of Venus - Goddess of Love

The story of St. Valentine of Rome is subject to much speculation, but it is believed to date back to the rule of Emperor Claudius II (AKA Claudius Gothicus), who reigned from 268 to 270 AD. It is said that "Claudius the Cruel" wanted all the young men to form his formidable army and thought that love would keep them from being willing to fight, so he banned all marriages. This may not be the case; perhaps only Christian marriages were banned during his reign since Christians were persecuted during this time.

Whether for his faith or for helping Christian couples to marry, St. Valentine of Rome, the patron saint of lovers was stoned and then beheaded. His skull was later decorated with flowers and placed in a golden-framed reliquary where it remains on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.

The Skull of St. Valentine of Rome in a Golden Reliquary
The Skull of St. Valentine of Rome in a Golden Reliquary

How did the ancient Romans express their love during St. Valentine of Rome's time? Let's take a look at how love and marriages have changed since those times. Back in ancient Roman times, the minimum age for marriage was just 14 for boys and 12 for girls, and marriages were often arranged while children were still in infancy. Much like today, an ancient Roman wedding involved two willing partners, a contract, a ceremony at an altar, and an engagement ring. The deal was sealed with either a dowry paid by the bride's family that may have included land, jewelry, clothing, and other property. In the event of a divorce, the dowry would be returned. Ancient Roman jewelry during the time of Saint Valentine of Rome would have consisted of gemstone cameos, beautiful gold filigree work, and gemstone inlays.

It is said that the engagement ring was introduced by the ancient Greeks or Romans. Though unlike modern engagement rings, the ancient Romans wore unembellished iron bands. The elite would have owned gold engagement rings that they could show off in public. Sumptuary laws did not allow the lower classes to wear gold, though some had their rings gold plated. Iron was a symbol of strength and the circular shape of the ring represented eternity - perhaps the iron ring as a symbol of a marital contract is where the word "ironclad" came from.

It is also said that some ancient Roman brides had an everyday iron ring and a gold ring just for show. There were beliefs that magnetized rings were beneficial and protective, so some wedding rings were magnetized or contained lodestone; a natural magnet. While modern engagement and wedding rings are given as symbols of love, the Roman rings more likely indicated ownership. Roman men did not wear wedding rings, in fact, rings were not exchanged at all during the marriage ceremony, so the engagement ring was also the wedding ring. The marriage itself was sealed with a kiss, just as it is nowadays.

Ancient Roman Ring with Clasped Hands
Ancient Roman Ring with Clasped Hands

An interesting aspect of ancient Roman marriage was that gifts presented between spouses were considered the property of the giver upon separation or divorce. Thus, jewelry could have been returned to an ex. As Roman wealth increased and artistry developed, engagement and wedding rings became more elaborate with engravings, intaglios, cameos, and carved clasped hands. The ancient Roman bride wore braided hair, a special yellow veil, and a robe that was belted with a Hercules knot. Insults were hurled at the happy couple for good luck, and attendants carried the bride over the threshold of her new home, into her new married life.

As you can see, while some customs of love and romance have changed, others remain the same as during ancient times. After all, love itself is timeless, as well as the gemstone jewelry that wear to celebrate it.

We at GemSelect, hope you enjoyed reading this article, and whether you're single, married, or something in between, we wish you a very happy Valentine's Day for 2018!

  • First Published: February-08-2018
  • Last Updated: November-06-2018
  • © 2005-2021 all rights reserved.
    Reproduction (text or graphics) without the express written consent of (SETT Company Ltd.) is strictly prohibited.
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