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Bow Fibula

Bow fibulae are one of the three classes of fibulae; the other two classes are penannular fibulae (class A) and plate fibulae (class C). Bow fibulae have a body set apart from the pin, usually in some form of an arc, giving the appearance of a bow, with the pin as the string (hence, the name). The body of the bow is generally long and narrow. While bow fibulae can be only decorative the gap between bow and pin means that many types can be used to fasten together a bulk of fabric.

A sample of bow fibulae types from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Bow Fibula Groups

Their are dozens of types, sub-types and varieties of bow fibulae, but all are included in one of six bow fibula groups. The groups are based on one-piece construction (entirely made from) one piece of bronze, or more than one-piece construction, the type of pin: spring or hinge, and the pin connection.

One Piece Construction, Spring Pin

One-piece Bow Fibula with Spring and Lower Tendon, c. 450 B.C. - Mid 1st Century A.D.

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. The pin extends from the end of a spring consisting of one or more loops, usually four. The spring tendon (the wire connecting the two ends of the spring wraps under the bow. The tension of the spring helps keep the pin in place. The wire foot (a-b below) is the most common pin catch/holder. The solid foot is a late development.

Spring with four turns and tendon below (1), wire foot (a-b), a sample of bow group B1 fibula (Riha group 1) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Bow Fibula with One-Piece Construction and a Spring Hook, c. Augustan - Mid/End 1st Century A.D.

Again, the entire fibula from the catch, to the bow, to the hook and plate, 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. The pin extends from the end of a spring. The tension of the spring helps keep the pin in place. The tendon (the wire connecting two ends of the spring) is held above the spring by a "spring hook." The hook holding the spring was an invention of the Augustan period, which did not go beyond the 1st century. Predominantly group 2 fibulae are open/framed foot, or perforated foot, but occasionally also solid foot.

Spring with four turns and tendon below (2), a sample of bow group B2 fibula (Riha group 2) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF
Two-Piece Construction, Spring Pin

Bow Fibula with a Spring Pin, c. Mid 1st Century A.D. - Late Roman Period.

One-piece construction was rapidly replaced by the much easier to manufacture two-piece construction in the middle of the 1st century A.D. The spring with spring pin remained in use until late in the Roman period, primarily in free Germania and the adjacent areas of the Roman provinces. The needle holders are not of uniform shape, which should be expected since the type was produced over a long period and large geographical area. The needle catches tend to be higher than other groups, some are tubular.

Fibula spring with axis pin (3.1 - 3.21), a sample of bow group B3 fibula (Riha group 3) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Bow Fibula with a Spring Sleeve, c. 1st Century A.D., Rare Later

The spring sleeve was a Gallo-Roman type predominantly of the 1st century. The type has two piece construction with a spring pin. The spring is covered with a sleeve which holds the spring, spring tendon  and pin in place and  but also hides the mechanical aspects of the fibula and improves the appearance. The type predominantly has an open/framed foot, or perforated foot, but occasionally also solid foot. In later times it was reused in a different form and in other areas (Limes, Danube provinces) for a few rare fibula types.

Fibula pin spring and spring sleeve (4.1 - 4.11), a sample of bow group B4 fibula (Riha group 4) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Fibulae with spring sleeve from Van Buchem, H. De Fibulae Van Nijmegen. (Nijmegen, 1941). PDF
Hinge Pin

Bow Fibula with a Rolled Sleeve Hinge, Early Imperial - Beginning of 2nd Century.

This type probably originated in Italy. It became the most popular form of closure for Roman provincial fibulae, and is characteristic of the bow brooches from the early imperial times to the beginning of the 2nd century. Outside the Roman Empire and after that time, this type of hing was seldom used. The sleeve hinge consists of a small sleeve at the top of the head which is forged from a square sheet metal plate and then rolled up. In a center-cut slot, the spiked needle is inserted and held by a shaft (usually iron) passing through the whole sleeve. At the ends of each of the Aucissa fibulae and their early successors were buttons holding the hinge axis; later, the hinge axis was clamped in the sleeve and needed no buttons. The needle always carries a thorn-like projection on its perforated oval plate, which beats against the head of the fibula and, by virtue of this resistance, causes the suspension to spring forth. The sleeve hinge is used exclusively in bow fibulae. The needle is primarily rectilinear, but bends hand in hand with the flattening of the bow to the outside to continue to leave enough space between the bracket and needle. For group 5, triangular to quadrangular (i-m below) solid plate needle holders are characteristic, but now and then they also have a simple perforation. The sleeve hinge is considered a typical Roman construction. The sleeve hinge fibulae are by far the largest group of Roman fibulae in terms of numbers.

Fibula pin hinge with a hinge pin sleeve (5), a sample of bow fibula group B5 (Riha group 5) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Bow Fibula with a Cast Tubular Hinge, c. End 2nd Century - Late Roman Period.

Around the end of the second century, perhaps in connection with a change in the production of fibulae, the tube hinge was introduced. It was the primary hing form in the Middle and Late Roman period. Like the hinge in general, this construction is limited to the Roman provinces. The hinge system itself functions like that of group 5. The hinge arms, however, are cast or well soldered and always larger than those of the sleeve hinge and lengthen and thicken over time: at the end are the massive or hollow cross arms of the onion button brooches. The pin is not held in place by lateral buttons, but is clamped. The needle has the same shape as in group 5. Sometimes, however, it has no thorn-like projection to push the needle outward so security measures to keep the needle in the catch-plate were necessary. The fibulae of group 6 are, with a few exceptions, showing high needle holders with disc or foot-shaped feet. This construction is characteristic of the late Roman period.

Tubular fibula pin hinge (6), a sample of bow fibula group B6 (Riha group 6) from Riha, E. Die rmischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

Bow Fibula Types - Page Links in Alphabetical Order

Aesica Fibula
Alesia fibula
Almgren fibula
Aucissa fibula
Augen fibula
Bagendon fibula
Bent-foot fibula
Boat fibula
Burr-Shaped Fibula
Cap fibula
Carnuntum Hybrid Fibula
Certosa fibula
Crossbow fibula
Dacian molded bow fibula
Dagger fibula
Double knot fibula
Eingliederige fibula
Enameled bow fibula
Fantail Fibula
Group B3 fibula
Headstud fibula
Hod hill fibula
Hrusica fibula
Knee fibula
Knick fibula
Kraftig profilierte fibula
Langton-Down fibula
La Tne fibula
Lattice fibula
Lauteracher fibula
Leech fibula
Lion Bow fibula
Nauheimer fibula
Onion button fibula
Polden Hill fibula
Roman Bow fibula
Rosette Fibula
Round Head-Plate Knee fibula
Serpent Fibula
Simple arch fibula
Tall-catch crossbow fibula
Thistle fibula
Trumpet fibula
T-shaped fibula
Two-plate bow fibula
Tubular hinge
Unclassified bow fibulae
Wing fibula


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Exner, K. "Die provinzialrmischen Emailfibeln der Rheinlande" in Bericht der Rmisch-Germanischen Kommission, 1941.
Feugere, M. Les fibules en Gaule meridionale de la conquite a la fin du Ve sicle apres J.-C. (Paris, 1985).
Fischer F. "Frhe Fibeln aus Aquileia" in Aquileia Nostra (1966), pp. 8 - 26.
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