Ruby in History

by Yuman Hussain

Ruby in history talks about the special place of ruby as a gemstone in historical perspective. It was a highly prized stone almost equally the diamond in value and beauty right from the beginning of the human civilization. Its virtues are mentioned in Bible and many ancient and medieval Indian and western texts and treatises.

Ruby known as the king of gems is considered to be a prized possession throughout the history of mankind. They are treasured by royalty and religious heads and held in awe by commoners over considerable period of time. There are several traditions and legends associated with ruby in history. Bible's mentions that the price of wisdom is above rubies signify the importance of rubies since antiquity. No wonder the appreciation for this beautiful stone has united people across the nations, continents and empires.



Ruby is mentioned as one of the twelve precious stones created by God when he created mankind. It is mentioned in "Lapidaire en Vers" of Philippe de Valois that Ruby, the lord of gems was given to Aaron on the command of Jesus Christ. It adorned the Aaron's breastplate and was symbol of Judah. Christian leaders also loved rubies right from the medieval period. During this period rubies were considered even more valuable than diamonds. In 16th century these were priced 8 times higher than other stones. Great Poets and authors from Chaucer to Shakespeare have written extensively in the praise of the ruby's beauty and brilliance.

Ancient Indian legends said that God first created ruby and later created man to possess it. India was seen as country of gemstones due to abundance of precious stones among the royalty. The word corundum is taken from the Sanskrit word 'Kuruvinda'. Ruby was given the name of 'Ratnaraj' literally meaning 'King of Gemstones' and 'Ratnanayaka' meaning 'Leader of precious stones'. Another name describing the beauty of the stone was 'Padmaraga' meaning 'Red as the Lotus'. Ruby as a gemstone was divided into different categories just like caste system by the ancient Indians. The oriental Ruby was a Brahman followed by Rubicelle as a Kshatriya; the Spinel was considered a Vaisya and Balas ruby as Sudra. The one who possessed the Pasmaraga or the Brahman Ruby considered to be safe from the evil eyes and enemies. His fortune said to be that of a king. It was also held that good quality stone should be preserved carefully to enhance their quality.

Ruby as a gemstone has captured the imagination of many civilizations and there are many myths surround this stunning stone. The kings and the emperors used ruby to decorate their insignia. The royalty favored rubies as they believed that it would ward off danger .The red color would darken and once the danger is past it would return to its original color. People also believed that ruby would act only in possession of right suitors. It was also held that the stone has power of fire which could even made the water boil. It was said to remove evil thoughts and influence the decisions and mental and physical health of the wearer. The dark colored and star rubies were considered as male stones and those lighter in shade were suppose to be female stones. Ruby had come to be associated with valor and courage. One legend says that ruby used to be implanted under the skins of warriors to help them face enemies bravely. Many ancient tribes used gems as a war weapons for its hardness.

Ruby has been derived from Latin word 'ruber' meaning red. It is associated with Tuesday, summer season and St Mathew. Ancient tradition says that ruby glows with inner fire so it was also known as glowing stone .According to ancient Chinese texts ruby was used for lighting the royal chambers. Hindu priests held that gemstones like rubies and emeralds lighted the homes of the deities. Greeks legends speak about huge rubies which were given to Heraclea by the female stork to lighten her room as a token of her kindness.

The history of ruby mining can be traced as early as 2500 BC. Burma's ruby mining areas have reported presence of pre-historic tools showing the fascination of people with gemstones. Sir John Mandeville in his fourteenth century treatise mentioned several virtues of the Ruby. According to him those who possess the brilliant specimen are assured of peace and harmony. They would be protected from their enemies and the stone would guide their houses and property. The treatise advised the wearer to set the ruby in a ring or a bracelet and for best results it should be worn on the left side of the body. Jean Tavernier a famous 17th century traveler had also written extensively on rubies in his well known travelogue 'Travels.' The ruby as a color of heart has also inspired passion and romance for centuries. It was also considered to have magical properties invoking good fortune for the wearer. Romans considered rubies as carbunculus. Ruby elixirs are mentioned in apothecary and medical texts having medicinal and curative powers.

Throughout history gems like spinel and garnet had been confused with ruby. Till 1800 red colored gemstones were called rubies. Many so called large precious rubies in the crowns of French and English monarchs had been turn out to be spinel instead. The most prominent being the "Black Prince's ruby" which adorns the English royal crown is a spinel. The other famous stone is Timur Ruby which is 352 carat red spinel is now with British monarchy. However there are some beautiful rubies in the history like Rosser Reeves Star Ruby (137 carat) at Smithsonian Institute, Edith Haggin De Long star ruby (100 carat) displayed at American Museum of Natural History and Edward Ruby (167 carat) in British Museum of Natural History.
Man's fascination for beauty has led to the love for precious gemstones. Ruby has and will always have a special place in the history of civilization due to its brilliant color, cut and fine features.

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