What is a Fibula?
A fibula (plural fibulae) is an ancient brooch. Technically, the Latin term, fibulae, refers to Roman brooches; however, the term is widely used to refer to brooches from the entire ancient and early medieval world that continue Roman forms. Fibulae were used to fasten clothing or, in some cases, purely for decoration. They followed the straight pin in evolution and were eventually replaced by buttons. They are perhaps most famous as the fastener on Roman military cloaks - the sagum and paludamentum. However, they were used centuries before Rome was founded and for centuries after it fell. They were used by Greeks, Persians, Phrygians, Celts, Germans, Slavs and many other peoples in addition to Romans. They were used by soldiers and civilians; by men, women and children. They can thus signify culture, tribe, sex, status or profession - though not always. They were used on robes, shirts and dresses as well as cloaks. One thing they were never used on was the toga, which was simply folded and draped and was not fixed by any pin.
Brief History of Fibulae
The first fibulae appear in Mycenaean Greece in the 12th(?) century BC and consist of a long pin looped back on itself with a small catch at one end. It resembles the simple safety pin still in use today - 32 centuries later.
Fibulae quickly spread through the Archaic Greek world and then to the peoples of Anatolia, the Balkans and Italy. A huge diversity of forms appeared, often delineating different cultures, peoples and tribes, though most were bow fibulae with spring mechanisms.
Fibula use appears to have declined among the Classical Greeks, the Hellenistic Greeks and the early Romans during the second half of the first millennium BC but they were widely used throughout the Celtic world.
Fibulae gained a new popularity among the Romans at the start of the Empire though most early Roman types appear to derive from Celtic or, in some cases, early Germanic types. The Roman military, and its associated civilian followers, helped spread different fibula designs throughout the Empire. The increasing use of foreigners, or “barbarians”, in the Roman military ensured that many Roman designs spread beyond the borders of the Empire as well.
Early bow fibula were made from one piece of bronze. The entire fibula from the catch, to the bow, to the spring, to the tip of the pin was created by shaping and bending a single piece of bronze with great expertise and skill. One-piece construction was rapidly replaced by the much easier to manufacture two-piece construction in the middle of the 1st century A.D.
Plate fibulae spread quickly throughout the Roman world. By the 2nd century AD their decorative potential was often enhanced through enamel-work or other fancy decorative techniques.
During the Imperial Roman era fibula use expanded among the Germanic and Sarmatian peoples to the north and northeast of the Empire’s frontiers.
Fibula use continued after the fall of the western Roman Empire among the Germanic peoples and with the Byzantine military. However, the later steppe nomads of the Turco-Mongol peoples did not adopt fibulae and instead used belt-sets as status symbols. In Western and Central Europe fibulae use declined as cheaper and simpler buttons replaced them for everyday use and as the use of burial goods disappeared.Fibulae remained in use in the early Middle Ages by the pagan Nordic and Baltic peoples. In the High Middle Ages “brooches” - basically plate fibulae - had a resurgence in popularity though they were by this time purely decorative.
These names can be related to a type-site, i.e. Alesia fibula, Hod Hill fibula or Nauheim fibula. However, it should be remembered that this site is not necessarily the origin point of this type, it is simply a site where such fibula were found and then included in a report. For example Hod Hill is in Britain though the Hod Hill fibula group originates in Gaul. Names can also be related to the appearance of the fibula. Sometimes this involves one simple term such as crossbow fibula or knee fibula. Other times it involves a longer more descriptive phrase such as Zoomorphic plate fibula. Sometimes foreign terms are used such as for the kraftig profilierte (German for "highly profiled," or "with a high arch") group. To further complicate matters there is no international agreement on names and they can differ in different languages.
In addition to names, fibulae can be described using catalog numbers from various typology studies. Over the years many different scholars have studies fibulae from specific sites or regions and organized them into groups using letters and or numbers. Individual types may have many reference designations. For example, the well known Aucissa fibula type (named after the word AVCISSA, thought to represent a Roman workshop, that appears on some examples of this type) is designated as: Almgren 242; Jobst 1; Böhme 8; Hofheim Va; Riha 5.2; Ettlinger 29; Feugere 22b2; Hull 51; Genceva 13, among others.
Fibula Design, Construction and Parts
There are three primary fibula designs - bow fibulae, plate fibulae, and penannular fibulae. Bow fibulae are the most common type and were made in all the time periods and by most of the cultures that used fibulae. Some post-Roman Germanic and Slavic fibulae consist of two flat plates connected by a short bow and are known as bow-plate or plate-bow fibulae.
Fibulae pins are either spring or hing types.
For details about basic fibula parts, designs, construction, materials see the Fibula Construction page.
Fibulae by Time Period
Most fibulae are from the Roman-era.
Fibulae by Culture or Major Group
Image: Penannular fibula (Quadrans Collection).
Identifying Your FibulaBefore trying to identify your fibula, you should first read the Fibula Construction page to learn basic fibula terms and the fibula parts so that you can better understand the descriptions.
To identify your fibula, first determine if it is a bow fibula, plate fibula, penannular fibula, or another type. If it is a bow or plate fibula, first examine the Roman bow fibulae and Roman plate fibulae pages. Most fibulae are Roman. If you don't find your type on those Roman pages, click the pages for fibulae of other cultures and look for a match.
The NumisWiki fibulae pages are a work in progress and far from complete. If you don't find your fibula type, you can post photos and a request for identification help on the Classical Numismatic Discussion Board.
Almgren, Oscar. Studien über nordeuropäische Fibelformen. (Liepzig, 1923). [In German, Studies of northern European fibula forms.]
Ambroz, A.K. Fibuly yuga evropejskoj chasti SSSR. (Moskva, 1966).
Bavdek, A., Radovan Cunja and Pokrajinski Muzej. S fibulo v fabulo: Con la fibula nella storia: fibule dall’Istria, dal Carso, dalla Carniola Interna e dall’Isontino tra preistoria e alto medioevo. (Koper, 2010).
Bayley, Justine and Sarnia Butcher. Roman Brooches in Britain: A Technological and Typological Study based on the Richborough Collection. (London, 2004). [In English. Huge study of metallurgy, manufacture and typology of Roman era fibulae from southern England.]
Beck, Heinrich, et al. Fibel und Fibeltracht. (Excerpt from the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde.) (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2000). [In German, a history of fibulae of the Germanic peoples. Little info on Roman era fibula but interesting for post-Roman Germanic fibulae.]
Beneš, Zdenĕk, Pavel Hornik and František Kašspárek. "Rozrušený soubor z pohřebiště a sídlištĕ z nebovid okr. Kolín" in Studia Archaeologica Suebica I, Olomouc, 2011.
Binding, Ulrike. Band 16: Studien zu den figürlichen Fibeln der Frühlatenzeit. (Rudolf Habelt, Bonn, 1993). [In German. Very detailed study of La tene (pre-Roman) fibulae in animal form or with animal features.]
Blinkenberg, Chr. [lindiaka V] Fibules grecques et orientales. (Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, Kobenhavn, 1926). [In French. Excellent study of fibulae from Greece and Asia Minor from their origins in the Mycanaean era to the end of the archaic Greek era. Very hard to find.]
Bohme, Astrid. "Die Fibeln der Kastelle Saalburg und Zugmantel" in Saalburg Jahrbuch, XXIX. (1973). [In German. Roman era fibulae found at the Roman forts of Saalburg and Zugmantel in southern Germany. These forts were in use from circa 90-260AD.]
Bojovic, Dragoljub. Rimske Fibule Singidunuma. Muzej Grada Bograda Serija - Zbirke i Legati Katalog XII. (Beograd, 1983).
British Museum. Guide to Anglo-Saxon Antiquities. (1923). [In English. Small finds and a few fibulae.]
Busuladžić, Adnan. "The Fibulae Collection from Mogorjelo" in Opusc Archaeol 32, 2008.
Collingwood R.G. and R.P. Wright. "The Roman Inscriptions of Britain" in volume II Instrumentum Domesticum, 1991.
Curta, Florin. "The Jägala Fibula revisited, or remarks on Werner’s Class IID" in Estonian Journal of Archaeology, 2012.
Curta, Florin and Andrei Gândilă. "Too much typology, too little History: A critical approach to the Classification and Interpretation of Cast fibulae with Bent Stem" in Archaeologica Bulgarica XV, 2011.
Dandridge, Pete. "Idiomatic and Mainstream: The Technical Vocabulary of a Late Roman Crossbow Fibula" in Metropolitan Museum Journal 35, 2010.
Davidson, Gladys R. Corinth XII : The Minor Objects. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. (Princeton, 1952). [In English. Huge catalogue of small finds from Hellenistic to Byzantine era including terra cota and metal figurines, metal dishes and furniture fittings, buttons, buckles, gems, stamps, etc.]
Egan, Geoff and Frances Pritchard. Dress Accessories: 1150-1450 AD. (Museum of London. Boydell, 2002). [ In English. Large catalogue of finds including buckles, strap ends, mounts, brooches, buttons, pins, beads, rings and combs.]
Exner, Kurt. "Die provinzialrömischen Emailfibeln der Rheinlande" in Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, 1941.
Fauduet, Isabelle. Fibules preromaines, romaines, et merovingiennes du musee du Louvre. (Presses de l'ecole normale superieure, Paris, 1999). [In French. Study of the fibulae in the Louvre’s collection from middle La Tene to Merovingian era.]
Genceva, Eugénia. Les Fibules Romaines de Bulgarie de la fin du 1er s. av. J.-C. à la fin du VIe s. ap. J.-C. (Veliko Trnovo, 2004). [In French. The Roman fibulae of Bulgariafrom the late 1st century BC to the end of the sixth century AD.]
Gergova, Diana. Früh- und ältereisenzeitliche Fibeln in Bulgarien. (C.H. Beck, Munchen, 1987). [In German. Typology of late bronze and early iron age fibulae found in Bulgaria. Does not cover La Tene or Roman era.]
Glogovic, Dunja. Fibeln im kroatischen Küstengebiet. (Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2003). [In German. Typology of late bronze and early iron age fibulae found in Croatia. Does not cover La Tene or Roman era.]
Gugl, Christian. Die romischen Fibeln aus Virunum. (Klagenfurt, 1995). [In German. Roman era fibulae found at the Roman fort of Virunum, at modern Maria Saal near Klagenfurt in southern Austria. This continuously inhabited site was capital of Roman Noricum in the 1st century AD.]
Guzzo, Piero G. Le Fibule in Etrurio dal VI al I Secolo. (Firenze, 1972).
Hattatt, Richard. A Visual catalogue of Richard Hattatt's Ancient Brooches. (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2000). [In English. The only commonly available English language book on fibulae. Good for basic identification and rough dating only.]
Hattatt, Richard. Ancient Brooches and Other Artifacts. (Oxford, 1989). Hattatt ABOA. [In English. The fourth book in Hattatt's series, which is perhaps the best reference for fibulas and small bronze objectc. This volume includes a "visual catalog" of line drawings from the four volumes.]
Hattatt, Richard. Ancient and Romano-British Brooches. (Sherborne, Dorset, 1982). Hattatt ARBB. [In English. The first book in Hattatt's series, which is among the best reference for fibulas and small bronze objects.]
Hattatt, Richard. Brooches of Antiquity. (Oxford, 1987). Hattatt BoA. [In English. The third book in Hattatt's series, which is among the best reference for fibulas and small bronze objects. A selection of Iron Age to Medieval brooches from the author's collection, with references to continental types as well as British, and notes on their manufacture.]
Hattatt, Richard. Iron Age and Roman Brooches. (Oxford, 1985). Hattatt IARB [In English. The second book in Hattatt's series. A selection of Iron Age to Medieval brooches from the author's collection, with references to continental types as well as British, and notes on their manufacture.]
Jobst, Werner. Die römischen Fibeln aus Lauriacum. (Wimmer, Linz, 1975). [In German. Roman era fibulae found at the Roman fort of Lauriacum, at modern Enns in Upper Austria. This fort was in use during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.]
MacGregor, Arthur. Ashmolean Museum Oxford: A Summary catalogue of the Continental Archaeological Collections. BAR 674. (Oxford, 1997). [In English. Fibulae and many other small finds from Continental Europe in the Ashmolean collection. Focussed on post-Roman “Dark Ages” material. Divided by country of origin and not by item type.]
Marin, Emilio (ed.). Longae Salonae (2 volumes). (Split, 2002).
Masyakhin, Vyacheslav V. "Roman Ribulae and Parts of a Belt-Set from the Zavetnoe Necropolis" in Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 15, 2009.
Mills, Nigel. Celtic and Roman Artefacts. (Buxton Press, Derbyshire, 2000). [In English. Part of the author’s series of books by and for English metal detectorists. Covers La Tene and Roman era fibulae as well a many other types of small finds. Very well illustrated in colour. Good into to many common types of antiquities.]
Papesa, Antiă Rapan. "Fibule seobe naroda s vinkovačkog podruǧa" in Starohrvatska Prosvjeta III serija, svezak 39, 2012.
Pröttel, M. "Zur Chronologie der Zwiebelknopffibeln" in Jahrb. RGZM 35, 1989, p. 347 - 372.
Riha, E. Die römischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979).
Riha, E. Die römischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst Die Neufunde seit 1975. (1994).
Sapoura-Sakellarakis, E. "Die Fibeln der Griechischen Inseln" in Prähistorische Bronzefunde Abt. XIV, Band 4, 1978.
Schmid, Sebastian. Die römischen Fibeln aus Wien. (Wien, 2010).
Shopland, Norena. Archaeological Finds: A Guide to Identification. (Tempus, 2005). [In English. Great guide. Covers prehistoric to 18th century finds. Focussed on UK but of value for much wider area. Includes pottery, glass, cutlery, axes, shoes, fibulae/brooches, pins, combs, dice, keys, pipes, thimbles, horseshoes, etc.]
Smith, R.A. British Museum Guide to Early Iron Age Antiquities: 1925. (Anglia Publishing, Ipswich, 1994). [In English. Guide to European pre-Roman small finds, including fibulae, in the British Museum. Reprint.]
Soupault, Vanessa. Les elements metalliques du costume masculin dans les provinces romaines de la mer Noire. IIIe-IVe s. ap. J.-C. BAR 1167. (Archaeopress, Oxford, 2003). [In French. Study and typology of late Roman (3rd-4th centuries AD) fibulae and buckles from the Eastern Balkans and Black Sea region. Best study of the famous late-Roman “crossbow” or zweikopf fibula currently available.]
Stanev, Aleksandr. Elementa na germanskiya fibulen kostyum na jug ot dunav. (Sophia, 2012).
van der Roest, Juan. Die Römischen Fibeln von “De Horden”, in Berichten van de Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek. 1988.
Ziera, Vlad Vintilă. Bemerkungen zu trako-getischen Fibeln. (2000). [Comments on Thracian-Getic fibula.]
Alphabetical Index of NumisWiki Fibula Pages