The earliest known use of wedding rings was in ancient Egypt. The ancient Greeks and Romans also practised the custom, perhaps explaining why it became so widespread in the Western world.
The circle was, and still is, considered to be a symbol of eternity, signifying the everlasting love of the couple. The origin of the custom of wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand also comes from these ancient peoples, who believed this finger had a special vein (the ‘love vein’), which connected directly to the heart.
The use of rings in relation to weddings has had other symbolic meaning over the centuries, beyond being a symbol of love. For example, in ancient Roman tradition, a ring was often given by the groom to the father of the bride, and served as a symbol of bride purchase. The giving of a gold wedding ring to a bride has also symbolised that her groom trusts her with his valuable property, only to be worn in public and not used during household work.
Fortunately in modern times, the connotations of the exchange of rings during a wedding are largely linked to love, sharing and equity, although of course individual couples can determine their own meaning.
For more information about ceremonies see Weddings and Handfastings