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Fibula Parts, Design, and Construction

This page details the basic parts of a fibula, the design and construction of fibulae (bow, plate, spring, hinged, etc), and the materials used to make and decorate fibulae.



From Busuladzic, A. Zbirka antičkih fibula iz Franjevačkog samostana u Tolisi / The Collection of Antique Fibulae from the Franciscan Monastery in Tolisa. (Sarajevo, 2014)., p.31 (modified) PDF

Fibula Head

The head is the end of the fibula where the pin is articulated by either spring or hinge. Based on sculpture, mosaics and other depictions, fibulae were usually (always?) worn with the head down. Head is, of course, a modern name for this fibula part and, although it is apparently not appropriate, it is the correct term.

Fibula Pin Connection
                      


From Riha, E. Die römischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF

See the Fibula Pin Connection page for more information.

Fibula Foot

The foot is the opposite end from the head and is where the pin is closed in a pin-catch or pin-rest. Based on sculpture, mosaics and other depictions, fibulae were usually (always?) worn with the foot up. Foot is, of course, a modern name for this fibula part and, although it is apparently not appropriate, it is the correct term.

See the Fibula Foot and Pin Catch Types page for more information.

Fibula Pin Catch

The pin-catch, or pin-rest, is where the end of the pin is fixed when the fibula is closed. It is on the underside of the foot. It can be at the beginning, middle or end of the foot, or extend along the entire foot. The shape of the catch is often used to identify fibula types and dates. The catch is often a flange extending along the bottom of the foot and is bent over at the bottom to create a channel for the pin to rest in. Different forms include a hollow channel in the side of a thick foot (as found on many late crossbow types) or a narrow hook set perpendicular to the bow.

See the Fibula Foot and Pin Catch Types page for more information.


Image:  The catch on this knee fibula is a hook set perpendicular to the axis of the bow.  (SC Collection)

Fibula Pin

The pin, whether part of the fibula body (one-piece) or separate (two-piece), is a pointed wire used to fasten the fibula to fabric. It starts at the head, where it is articulated by a spring or hinge, and ends at the catch, where it is fixed when the fibula is closed. A few fibula types have two pins, running parallel on either side of the bow and ending in a tray-like catch.



Fibula Construction Material

Material of the Fibula Body

The body of the fibula was usually made of a copper-alloy such as bronze, brass/orichalcum, alloys like modern gun-metal or even pure copper. Iron fibulae are common among many Celtic and Germanic groups, but are rare for the Greeks and Romans proper. Silver fibulae were used by many cultures, though in small numbers. Gold fibulae, generally limited to museum collections, were used in the late Roman era and by a few other cultures.

Image: This Germanic Almgren 101 type trumpet fibula is made entirely of silver. As is usual for silver fibula the fibula pin (and spring) and the axis-pin are in silver as well as the body.


Material of the Pin, Spring and/or Hinge Axis-pin 

The pins were usually made of the same material as the fibula body though sometimes copper-alloy fibulae are found with iron pins.

Hinge axis-pins can be iron or copper-alloy.


Decoration

Copper-alloy fibulae bodies can be decorated with gold gilding, silvering or tinning. They may be inlaid with niello (a lustrous black paste made from silver sulphide) or enamel. They may have small pieces of glass-paste, glass, millifiore glass, bone, coral, semi-precious or even precious stones attached. Some Greek fibulae had bone, amber or stone discs fitted around a narrow bow.


Image:  This early tied-foot fibula has a simple incised decoration on its bronze bow.  It has three circles at each end and a rayed central design that might be a galley.  (SC Collection)

 

Image: This Roman plate fibula is decorated with enamel and with millefiori glass


Silver fibulae are occasionally gilded and can have neillo or, more rarely enamel inlay. Iron fibulae are usually not decorated but can have silvering. Some post-Roman East Germanic fibulae have gold, silver or copper wire inlay.


References

Busuladzic, A. Zbirka antičkih fibula iz Franjevačkog samostana u Tolisi / The Collection of Antique Fibulae from the Franciscan Monastery in Tolisa. (Sarajevo, 2014). PDF
Genceva, E. Les Fibules Romaines de Bulgarie de la fin du 1er s. av. J.-C. ā la fin du VIe s. ap. J.-C. (Veliko Trnovo, 2004). PDF
Kovrig, I. Die Haupttypen der kaiserzeitlichen Fibeln in Pannonien. (Budapest, 1937). PDF
Riha, E. Die römischen Fibeln aus Augst und Kaiseraugst. (1979). PDF
Van Buchem, H. De Fibulae Van Nijmegen. (Nijmegen, 1941). PDF