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Viking Fibulae

This section requires a list of fibula types of the Viking cultures, as well as other using similar fibulae - i.e. Baltic.

"Viking was never an ethnic designation, even if modern authors imagined them geographically in the south and west, not so much in the east of Scandinavia. 

The Vikings began to spread at the end of the 8th century, the "Viking Age" lasted about 300 years. The goal of the inhabitants of what is now Norway (who traveled to Ireland and the western Atlantic) and what is now Denmark (who traveled to the British Isles, the southern North Sea and the Mediterranean) was to gain living space and settle the conquered countries or to integrate into the local population. The Swedish Vikings, also called Varangians, had their focus on trade. They reached Eastern Europe via Lake Ladoga and, in the course of several generations, went as far as Constantinople. 

Due to the origin of the Vikings and influenced by the areas they reached, different brooch forms have developed. In the trade today, many things are attributed to the Vikings, but in fact such pieces are very rare to find outside museum collections

The type list follows more or less Petersen (1928)

supplement: "Viking" Penannular brooches with triangle legs 

Oval Brooches (or Tortoise brooches)

Viking women wore an apron-like skirt with staps (Hangerock) that was probably fixed below the shoulders with Oval brooches. This type of brooch was a typical component of Viking-era women's costume between 700 (Vendel time) and 1000 AD in the entire Scandinavian region, although there were some special forms on Gotland as well as in the Baltic region and in Karelia. The first types were undecorated and quite small (about 6 cm), later ones were covered with animal and floral patterns and evolved ones were put together from two layers. Then the bottom layer was undecorated, the top one covered with openwork. They were up to about 11 cm long.

Usually the type was worn in pairs, often connected by a chain with glass beads and completed with a plate or an equal arm brooch. Baltic women had long metal chains instead of the beads.

Oval brooch drawings taken from Montelius (1874). The right specimen is shown with a side view, its about 7 x 11 cm, all found in Scandinavia.

photographer: Tveit, Terje - license: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 - items no.: S3026S1656S3255  source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norwegian museums

This jewellery set was found in southern Norway. The gilded oval brooches are double layered types with the pin pointing upwards as usual. In the upper third or at the upper tip there are often holes for attaching the threaded beads, or the thread was held in place by the pin. The trefoil brooch is one of several possible brooch types with which the garment was closed, sometimes the beaded strand is also attached to it.

Livian suspension-plate with oval brooches and metal chains, 2th century, findspot Latvia (Aizkraukle), British Museum number 1852,0329.129 Copper alloy brooch and chain ensemble continued: pair of suspension plates; type as no 5; sub-triangular open-work with lobed edges; punched decoration; linked direct by horizontal chain of wire double-links; chains, nine, of wire double-links., overall length: 87 cm, license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 

Equal armed brooches

The Equal armed brooches were usually made of bronze, sometimes completed with gilding oder partial white metal layers and decorated a figural style, with small, naturalistic animal figures, or chip-carved.

The type was worn by women on the chest. In graves, they are found in horizontal, vertical and diagonal positions near the neck as well as in between Oval brooches. Probably they were used to close the costume or to keep bead the strands that linked an Oval brooch pair. Quite often, they have one ore more holes. 

Equal armed brooch drawings taken from Petersen (1928). The right specimen is shown with a side view, its about 5,3 x 11,5 cm, all found in Scandinavia.

Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE  inv. no.: SHM 34000 and reverse, found in Uppland, north of Stockholm

 Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 5560 and reverse, found in stergtland in southern Sweden

Trefoil brooches 

As characteristic Viking jewellery, the trefoil brooch has its origin in Carolingian mounts from armoury harnesses that arrived in the north as booty. The oldest brooches were strap distributors, which were converted into men's cloak brooches and worn individually.  At the middle of the 9th century, they became typical women's equipment and also worn singly, fastening a light shirt to the neck or taking up chain strands from oval brooches

They were not only found in Scandinavia, but also in Iceland, the British Isles, as well as in Poland and Russia. While the Carolingian floral motifs were copied at the beginning, there were later also pieces decorated in the Nordic style with animal depictions. In Denmark they already went out of fashion at the end of the 9th century, in the rest of Skandinavia in the 10th century.

Trefoil brooch images taken from Petersen (1928). The left specimen is probably an import of Frankish / Carolingian origin, its size is about 5,2 x 11,5 cm, the piece left of it is most likely an early Viking product, all found in Scandinavia. See the uni entry of the small one (4,7 cm) here.

Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE left: inv. no.: SHM 34000 Bj 466 and reverse, found in Uppland, north of Stockholm area center: inv. no.: SHM 34000 Bj 839 found in Uppland, north of Stockholm area right: inv. no.: SHM 5208 68 and reverse, found in Uppland, north of Stockholm area no information on sizes available

Round brooches

This is a very varied group. There are small and large ones (approx. 2-6cm), simple and elaborate ones, with cast ornaments of various styles or a sheet metal overlay, decorated with enamel, gems or filigree. They were worn by both men and women as single specimen.

Big round brooch, ca 6,5 cm big, 10th century, two layers, Borre style. It has an additional lug (now broken) and a hole through both layers to attach a pendant or to be used as one
Left image: Petersen (1928) no. 116
photos: Helgeland, Kirsten  - license: license:
CC BY-SA 4.0 - items no.: C757 source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norvegian museums

Round conic brooch 6th -9th century (Vendel time)
photographer: Tveit, Terje - license: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 - item no.:
S12346  source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norvegian museums

Anglo-Saxon South Scandinavian Cloisonne Fibula
Known in Scandinavia and in England, but not in widely distributed. In Norway, very few specimens are known. The brooches generally show a large variation in decoration in the enamelled part and are dated to the end of the 10th and beyond the 11th century.
photographer: Perlik, Dusan - license: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 - item no.: Ts15195  source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norvegian museums

Round Filigree brooch
Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 7858 and reverse, south Scandinavian type, silver, plate with impressed decoration and filigree, found near Helsingborg in Sweden

Small round buckle brooch
Statens Historiska Museet (SHM)- license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 34000 Bj 967, Borre style type, gilded bronze with iron pin and loop, found in Uppland, north of Stockholm

Other plate brooches

Other types are known, for example rectangular and tongue-shaped brooches, or in the form of birds. Occasionally, booty objects such as book fittings were reworked to make brooches.

Particular Gotland type 1: Animal head brooches

Between the 9th and the 11th century, women on used Gotland fix and embellish their costume with animal head brooches, probably a cloak. They were worn in pairs.

Animal brooch drawings, see Montelius (1874). The dotted specimen has about 5,3 cm, the right one is shown with a top view, all found on Gotland. 


Chest jewellery of a Gotland woman of the Viking age, see A free womans grave on flickr, CC BY 2.0, image resized

Particular Gotland type 2: Box brooches

Animal brooch drawings taken from Montelius (1874). Developed from plate brooches, these were worn by women on Gotland as singles along with animal plate brooches on the chest and suitable to keep small items. See A free womans grave on flickr, CC BY 2.0 and above.

Penannular brooches (see the main article on them here

Two different style groups of these do exist in area of influence of the Vikings: the Norwegian and Irish types, and Baltic Sea types which are rare in the Swedish mainland, most of the finds are originating from the island of Gotland (the Varangian traders home). The assignment can only be made very roughly because parts of the population were constantly on the move and there was thus a lively exchange with the population of other regions of Europe. Especially small, simple ring brooches are suitable for many purposes and are not dependent on the costume (calf wrap holder, buckle, attaching pendants to it). In general, it can be said that large ring brooches belonged to the equipment of men and usually held a cloak on the shoulder, whereas small ones were mostly worn by women.

Irish / Norwegian penannular fibulae

Two Ring brooch type images taken from Petersen (1928). The diameter of the rings is about 8-10 cm, both used by men to fix a cloak on the shoulder. These are probably Norwegian products, but they show British and Irish influence. The pins of these are quite long.

Left: photographer Tveit, Terje - license: CC BY-SA 4.0 - item no.: S5510 source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norvegian museums - Ring pin in gold-plated and silver-plated bronze, found in Hjelmeland, southern Norway, ring size 9,4 cm, 800-1050 AD

Right: photographer Tveit, Terje - license: CC BY-SA 4.0 - item no.: S5510  source: unimus.no, a collaborative database of Norvegian museums - Ring pin in gold-plated and silver-plated bronze, found in Hjelmeland, southern Norway, ring size 9,4 cm, 800-1050 AD

Baltic Sea penannular fibulae

These types are found in Sweden, most of them on Gotland and Birka, in Finnland and the Baltic coast. Theyre rarer in the South-East. The pins arent much longer than the ring, the terminals are coiled, are faceted cubes, a rectangular block, poppy-head shaped or decorated with more or less stylised animal heads. Theyre made from iron, bronze or silver. The bronze pieces have an angular ring quite often, the others are round usually. Types from Finland often have edgy terminals, poppy-head ones are more often found in the Baltic area.

The most widespread type is the one with the rolled terminals. The reason is simple, they are easy to make and versatile. The first penannular brooches with rolled terminals (of the omega type, rolled outwards) were found in Skythian graves of the 4th and 3rd century BC and made their way to the Oka region, taken there probably by the Zarubincy culture shortly after the year 0. The details are uncertain, links are missing. In the 6th century, they became popular in Latvia from were they spread in the 8th century. The Baltic countries remained the core area. Other regions of which it can be said on the basis of the finds that this type was very popular, apart from Scandinavia, were areas of the Rus in present-day Belarus, the area around Lake Ladoga and the Finno-Ugric tribes in Russia. 

Left to right (similar pieces were found in Sweden, on Gotland and frequently on other spots near the Baltic sea as well):
British Museum number 1852,0329.147, findspot Latvia, 11th - 12th century Cast copper alloy penannular brooch is composed of a circular section and has poppy-head terminals. The pin-head is formed of a coiled strip., diameter: 6,30-7,0 cm, license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
British Museum number 1852,0329.469, findspot Latvia, 12th - 13th century Copper alloy penannular brooch; type as no 443; circular section with heavy spiral ribbing; punched decoration; terminals in form of animal heads, or upstanding leaf tendrils; flat triangular pin-head with median rib and punched decoration., diameter: 4,0 cm, license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
British Museum number 1852,0329.148, findspot Latvia, 10th - 11th century Copper alloy penannular brooch, cast. Hexagonal in section with incised linear decoration; terminals a rectangular block surmounted by a diamond-shaped plate; pin-head a coiled strip., diameter: 8,70 cm, license: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

left and centre: Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 10459, Bronze and silver ring brooch. One eye of the animal's head is made of glass, the other has fallen out., found on Gotland, diameter about 9 cm
right: Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 323063, silver, found on Gotland

left: Statens Historiska Museet (SHM)- license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 16098, copper alloy, rolled terminals, found on Gotland
right: Statens Historiska Museet (SHM) - license: CC BY 2.5 SE inv. no.: SHM 19701, silver, rolled terminals, found on Gotland

The brooches with the rolled terminals have remained unchanged in their area of distribution for a number of centuries. Without a reliable find report, it is not possible to assign them to a time, a culture or a region. They are often referred to as Viking brooches, which is possible regarding the style and Scandinavian finds, but in view of the rare finds, especially in Scandinavia, this is unlikely. In most cases pieces that lack the finding details probably originate from a Finno-Ugric context. 

"Viking" Penannular brooches with triangle legs

image: Vikhlyaev  (2019)

Penannular brooches with triangle legs are often attributed as "Viking" although they are typical Finno-Ugric jewellery and clothing accessories. The pieces in the bottom row can be dated to the 13th - 19th century. See East European Fibulae for more information.


Petersen, Jan (1928): Vikingetidens smykker : utgit av Stavanger Museum. Stavanger: Dreyer (Stavanger Museums skrifter, 2).

Montelius, Oscar (1874): Sveriges forntid. Frsk till framstllning af den svenska fornforskningens resultat. Stockholm: Norstedt. PDF 

Arwidsson, Greta (Ed.) (1984): Birka. Untersuchungen und Studien. Systematische Analysen der Grberfunde. Kungliga Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell (II:1).

Vikhlyaev, Viktor I.; Kemaev, Evgeny N. (2019): The Syul'gamas With Triangular Blades as Ethnicity Marking Indicator of Medieval Mordovian Culture. In Поволжская Археология 4 (30), pp. 110118. DOI: 10.24852/pa2019.

Viking brooches in the British Museum collection

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