Courtesy of the British Museum

Pagan gods. Although wearing a god on your finger may seem blasphemous, pagans often decorated their rings with images of their gods. In this example, busts of the deities Serapis (the Greco-Roman version of the Egyptian Osiris, god of the underworld) and Isis, his sister-wife, ornament the ends of the ring. Cross-hatched lines, probably in imitation of serpents’ scales, lead up to the busts. Serapis, at right, wears a modius (a tall cylindrical hat sometimes worn by gods in ancient art) and some kind of robe or cloak, depicted with incised lines. Isis, upside down at left, sports two feathers in her hair, and a spiraling lock tumbles down over each shoulder. The worship of Isis and Serapis was very common around the Mediterranean, particularly at Rome, but such pagan deities, and rings depicting them, were shunned by Christians. Dating probably to the second century C.E., this ring weighs about a third of an ounce, more than three times the weight of the simple ring with knobs (see photo of basic ring).

Following the scriptural injuction against personal ornaments of gold (1 Timothy 2:9 and James 2:2–4), the earliest Christians condemned the wearing of gold rings. However, Clement of Alexandria, a Church father of about 200 C.E., allowed some exceptions to the rule, as Cynthia L. Thompson explains in the accompanying article.