Most women own a few pairs of earrings and have had their ears pierced at some stage. But earrings haven’t always been the same accessories that we wear today. In this post I explore some of the history behind our treasured jewellery and where it has popped up across the world over time.

Today we mostly associate earrings with women, but they were once the favoured accessories of men. Throughout history we have seen depictions of men wearing jewellery, especially earrings, in paintings and carvings that have survived the test of time. Originally, Egyptian and Assyrian men often used earrings to symbolise their status in the higher classes. Having precious metals so obviously on display showed wealth and power.


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However, they haven’t always been a status symbol of those higher up such as in ancient Rome where earrings were worn by slaves and in ancient Greece where they were adorned by prostitutes. At the same time however, wealthy ladies would wear earrings inlaid with pearls and precious stones to accessorise and set themselves apart. So the type of earring one wore was once very important in identifying your status and class in society.

It goes back a lot further than that too. Men have been wearing earrings as early as the Bronze Age as exemplified in a 5,000-year-old body recovered in the Italian alps and Europe’s oldest mummy which were both discovered with holes in their ears. You can also find evidence of earrings in the tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as holes for the accessories in his death mask. It’s clear that earrings were the first form of ‘body modification’ and longer lasting pieces of jewellery, making them a significant part of history.

In fact, during the Minoan civilization which was active in Crete during the Bronze Age (200-1600 BC), many people wore gold, silver and bronze hoops which continue to be a staple for jewellery boxes across the world today.

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Similarly, the founder of Buddhism, Siddhārtha Gautama, is depicted with stretched ears from wearing heavy earrings to show off wealth and power before he abandoned them after achieving enlightenment. Even earlier in history, Persian warriors were wearing earrings during the Achaemenid dynasty which perhaps was a symbol for battle or protection.

During the medieval period in the West, men used earrings to depict certain things about their lives and personal history. An earring in both ears indicated that a man was the last of his line, so he was allowed to sit out of wars to preserve his family. In other periods, earrings were common with pirates who would wear them to symbolise surviving a shipwreck. Of course, earrings were also just fashion statements. Great men throughout history, such as William Shakespeare, have been painted with earrings as part of an everyday getup.

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Earrings are not just a status symbol or beautiful accessory either, as earrings have long since been associated with positive effects. People have believed that evil spirits can enter through orifices such as the ears or nose, but wearing jewellery and amulets in these areas would protect the individual. As mentioned in previous articles too (THE HISTORY OF SAPPHIRE), people around the world have used gemstones for healing and in medicine and just like sapphires were used to treat eye ailments, it was believed earrings could improve eyesight and reduce headaches.

Whilst earrings have remained popular in Eastern jewellery, they have moved in and out of fashion over time in the West. Today, they are popular across the globe and a beloved accessory of both women and men. Having earrings is usually a rite of passage for many young women too, making them one of the most significant pieces in a jewellery box. So, whether you have a history with your earrings or not, there are certainly some interesting stories today that we have about our hoops and studs.