The Latin text of Natural
History XXXIII.6 this passage in available the University of Kansas.
To what absurd lengths Roman foppery and luxury could go is exemplified in the
following. There was about equal affectation in fashionable circles, as to all kinds of
raiment, furniture, etc.
It was the custom at first to wear rings on a single finger only---the one next
to the little finger, and this we see to be the case in the statues of Numa and Servius
Tullius. Later it became usual to put rings on the finger next to the thumb, even with
statues of the gods; and more recently still it has been the fashion to wear them upon the
little finger too. Among the Gauls and Britons the middle finger---it is said---is used
for the purpose. At the present day, however, with us, this is the only finger that is
excepted, for all the others are loaded with rings, smaller rings even being separately
adapted for the smaller joints of the fingers.
Some people thrust several rings upon the little finger alone; while others wear but
one ring upon this finger, the ring that carries the seal upon the signet ring itself,
this last being carefully shut up as an object of rarity, too precious to be worn in
common use, and only to be taken from the coffer as from a sanctuary. And thus is the
wearing of a single ring upon the little finger, no more than an ostentatious
advertisement that the owner has property of a more precious nature under seal at home.
Some too make a parade of their rings, whilst to others it is a decided labor to wear
more than one at a time; some, in their solicitude for the safety of their gems, make the
hoop of gold tinsel, and fill it with lighter material than gold, thinking thereby to
diminish the risks of a fall. Others again, are in the habit of concealing poisons beneath
their ring stones, and so wear them as instruments of death; so e.g. did
Demosthenes, mightiest of Greek orators. And besides, how many of the crimes that are
stimulated by cupidity, are committed by the instrumentality of rings!
Happy the times; yes, truly innocent when no seal was ever put on anything! At the
present day, indeed, our very food and drink even have to be kept from theft through the
agency of the ring. This of course is thanks to those legions of slaves, those throngs of
foreigners who are introduced into our houses, multitudes so great that we have to have a
nomenclator [professional remembrancer] to tell us even the names of our own servants.
Different surely it was in the times of our forefathers, when each person possessed a
single slave only, one of his master's own lineage, called Marcipor [Marcus's boy] or
Lucipor [Lucius's boy], from his master's name, as the case might be, and taking all his
meals with him in common; when, too, there was no need to take precautions at home by
keeping a watch upon the servants. But at present, we not only buy dainties that are sure
to be pilfered but hands to pilfer them as well; and so far from its being enough to keep
the very keys sealed, often the signet ring is taken from the owner's finger while he is
overpowered with sleep, or actually lying on his death bed.
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
West, pp. ??
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.