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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. 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.
The first fibulae appear in Mycenaean Greece in the 12th(?) century B.C. 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 fancy 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.
Part of the difficulty in identifying fibulae is due to the confusion over fibula names. There is no naming standard for fibulae. Some types, or groups are identified with several different names.
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 studied 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.
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 articulated with either a spring or a hinge.
For details about basic fibula parts, designs, construction, materials see the Fibula Construction page.
Click on each of the three classes to see the types and sub-types within each class. The essential form of penannular fibulae and bow fibulae is readily apparent, but many so-called plate fibula are not quite plate-like. 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. For practical purposes, we classify any fibula that is not clearly a penannular fibula or bow fibula within the plate fibula class.
Fibulae are classified by time period as follows:
Roman Era Fibulae, c. 50 B.C. - 400 A.D.
We do not have a page for Roman era fibula because most fibulae are Roman era. The pages above highlight the exceptions. While determining the date range of a fibula is essential to its proper identification and description, a purely chronological system for organizing fibulae as successive types is impossible. Many types overlap in time.
Fibulae can be divided and subdivided by Culture. A list of the main Cultures that made and used fibulae included the following:
Roman Fibulae (no page)
Some fibula types were widely distributed across the Roman Empire. Other types were restricted to more specific locations or regions. Regional fibula types are identified for the following areas:
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.
Ambroz, A. Fibuly yuga evropejskoj chasti SSSR. (Moskva, 1966).
Bavdek, A., C. Radovan & M. Pokrajinski. 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). [In Italian. The fibula in history: fibulae from Istria, Carso, Inland Carniola and Isontino between prehistory and the early Middle Ages.]
Bayley, J. & S. 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, H., et al. Fibel und Fibeltracht. (Excerpt from the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde.) (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.]
Benes, Z., P. Hornik & F. Kašspárek. "Rozrušený soubor z pohřebiště a sídlištĕ z nebovid okr. Kolín" in Studia Archaeologica Suebica I (Olomouc, 2011).
Binding, U. Band 16: Studien zu den figürlichen Fibeln der Frühlatenzeit. (Bonn, 1993). [In German. Very detailed study of La tene (pre-Roman) fibulae in animal form or with animal features.]
Blinkenberg, C. [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, A. "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, D. Rimske Fibule Singidunuma. Muzej Grada Bograda Serija - Zbirke i Legati Katalog XII. (Beograd, 1983).
British Museum. Guide to Anglo-Saxon Antiquities. (London, 1923). [In English. Small finds and a few fibulae.]
Buora, M. Fibule antiche del Friuli. Cataloghi E Monografie Archeologiche Dei Civici Musei Di Udine. (Rome, 2008).
Collingwood R. & R. Wright. "The Roman Inscriptions of Britain" in volume II Instrumentum Domesticum, 1991.
Curta, F. Not 'Slavic' after all: Bow Fibulae of Werner’s Class IIA. (Bucharest, 2010).
Curta, F. "The Jägala Fibula revisited, or remarks on Werner’s Class IID" in Estonian Journal of Archaeology, 2012.
Curta, F. & A. 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, P. "Idiomatic and Mainstream: The Technical Vocabulary of a Late Roman Crossbow Fibula" in Metropolitan Museum Journal 35, 2010.
Davidson, G. 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 terracotta and metal figurines, metal dishes and furniture fittings, buttons, buckles, gems, stamps, etc.] Available Online
Dizdar, M. & A. Tonc. "Finds of fibulae from 1st century BC in Croatia: Trade and exchange between Eastern Alps, the Danube and the northern Adriatic area before and during Roman conquest" in Proceedings of the International Conference from 27th−29th April 2011 in Innsbruck. (Innsbruck, 2013). PDF
Egan, G. & F. 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, K. "Die provinzialrömischen Emailfibeln der Rheinlande" in Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission, 1941.
Feugere, M. Les fibules en Gaule meridionale de la conquite a la fin du Ve sicle apres J.-C. (Paris, 1985). [In French. The fibulae of the conquerors in southern Gaul at the end of the 5th century AD.] Online
Genceva, E. 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 Bulgaria from the late 1st century BC to the end of the sixth century AD.] PDF
Glogovic, D. Fibeln im kroatischen Küstengebiet. (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, C. 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.]
Gustin, M. "La Tène Fibulae from Istria" in Archaeologia Iugoslavica 24 (1986), pp. 43-56.
Guzzo, P. Le Fibule in Etrurio dal VI al I Secolo. (Firenze, 1972).
Hattatt, R. A Visual catalogue of Richard Hattatt's Ancient Brooches. (Oxford, 2000). [In English. The only commonly available English language book on fibulae. Good for basic identification and rough dating only.]
Hattatt, R. 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 objects. This volume includes a "visual catalog" of line drawings from the four volumes.]
Hattatt, R. 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, R. 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, R. 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, W. Die römischen Fibeln aus Lauriacum. (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.]
Korzukhina, G. Russian Treasures IX to XIIIth Centuries. USSR Academy of Sciences. (Moscow, 1954).
Lokosek, Ivo. "Lučne fibule na samir's devine igle iz Arčeološkog muzeja u Splitu" in Vjesnik za arheologiju i historiju dalmatinsku (VAHD), issue 81, 1988. [In Croatian. Onion fibulae [..] from the Archaeological Museum in Split in the Journal of Dalmatian Archeology and History.]
MacGregor, A. 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. Focused on post-Roman "Dark Ages" material. Divided by country of origin and not by item type.]
Marin, E. (ed.). Longae Salonae (2 volumes). (Split, 2002).
Masyakhin, V. "Roman Fibulae and Parts of a Belt-Set from the Zavetnoe Necropolis" in Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 15, 2009.
Matouschek, J & H. Novak. "Unpublizierte Hasten- und Hundefibeln aus österreichischen Privatsammlungen. Mit Nachtrag von Pferde- und Reiterfibeln" in Römisches Österreich. Jahresschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Archäologie, 9/10, (1981 - 1982). [In German. Unpublished rabbit and dog fibulae from Austrian private collections, with supplement of horse and rider brooches.
Matouschek, J & H. Novak. "Unpublizierte Tierfibeln und Fibeln mit theriomorphen Gestaltungselementen aus österreichischen Privatsammlungen. Mit den Nachträgen: Pferde- und Reiterfibeln. Hasen- und Hundefibeln und deren Kombinationen" in Römisches Österreich. Jahresschrift der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Archäologie, 13/14, (1985 - 1986). [In German. Unpublished animal fibulae and fibulae with theriomorphic design elements from Austrian private collections. With the supplements: horse and rider brooches. Rabbit and dog fibulae and their combinations.
Milavec, T. "Crossbow fibulae of the 5th and 6th centuries in the southeastern Alps" in Arheološki Vestnik 60, 2009.
Mills, N. Celtic and Roman Artefacts. (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.]
Nickel, C. Martberg - Heiligtum und Oppidum der Treverer II: Die Fibeln vom Martberg, Altfunde Privatsammlungen, Feldfunde, Grabungen. (Koblenz, 2011). [In German. Martberg - Sanctuary and Oppidum of the Treverer II: The fibulae of the Martberg, old finds Private collections, field finds, excavations.] PDF
Orlic, L. "Željeznodobne fibule s nalazišta Četvrt Sv. Teodora u Puli / Iron Age fibulae from the site of St. Theodore's Quarter at Pula" in Histria Archaeologica 42 (Nov 1912), pp. 185 - 215. PDF
Papesa, A. "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 Die Neufunde seit 1975. (1994).
Robinson, D. Excavations at Olynthus X. Metal and Minor Miscellaneous Finds. (Baltimore, 1941).
Sapoura-Sakellarakis, E. "Die Fibeln der Griechischen Inseln" in Prähistorische Bronzefunde Abt. XIV, Band 4, 1978.
Sellye, I. "Ringfibeln mit Ansatz aus Pannonien" in Savaria 19/1 (Szombathely, 1990). pp. 17 - 106.
Schleiermachen, M. "Die Romischen Fibeln von Kempten-Cambodunum" in Cambodunumforschungen V. (Kallmunz, 1993).
Separovic, T. "Aucissa fibule S natpisom iz zbirke Muzeja hrvatskih arheoloških spomenika" in SHP III/125 (1998).
Shopland, N. 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. 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, V. 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, A. Elementa na germanskiya fibulen kostyum na jug ot dunav. (Sophia, 2012).
Tezak-Gregl, T. "Rimske provincijalne fibule iz Arheološke zbirke u Osoru" in Ž. Rapanić (ed.), Istraživanja na otocima Cresu i Lošinju, Izdanja Hrvat-skog arheološkog društva 7, (Zagreb, 1982). pp. 99-111. [In Croatian. Roman provincial fibulae from the Osor Archaeological Collection.]
Vaday, A. "Cloisonné brooches in the Sarmatian Barbaricum in the Carpathian Basin" in Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 2003.
Van Buchem, H. De Fibulae Van Nijmegen. (Nijmegen, 1941). PDF
van der Roest, J. Die Römischen Fibeln von “De Horden”, in Berichten van de Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek. 1988.
Wiewegh, Z. "Rimske prstenaste fibule iz antičke zbirke Gradskog muzeja Sisak" in Godišnjak Gradskog muzeja Sisak III–IV, Sisak, 2003, pp. 75-90. [In Bosnian. Roman ring fibula from the antique collection of the City Museum of Sisak.]
Winter, H. "Römische Hakenkreuz Fibeln von österreichischen Fundstellen uas Privatbesitz" in Römisches Osterreich 9/10 (1981/1982), pp. 231 - 251. [In German. Roman swastika brooches from Austrian private collections.]
Anglo-saxon plate fibulae
Bayley and Butcher
BMC Iron Age
Bronze Age Fibula
Collingwood and Wright
Curta and Gandila
Egan and Pritchard
Enamel plate fibula
Geometric plate fibula
Inscribed Roman Fibula
Iron age fibula
La Tène Fibula
Letter plate fibula
Mogorjelo Fibula Collection
Openwork plate fibula
Roman bow fibula
Roman plate fibula
Round Head-Plate Knee Fibulae
Skeuomorphic plate fibula
van der Roest
Zangenfilben (Pincer Fibula)
Zoomorphic plate fibula