Fibulae & Buttons
Roman Brooches - Antique Buttons
Romans usually wore a tunic with a cloak, which they wrapped around their bodies in an artful and effective way. Brooches skilfully held it together.
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General information about fibulae
The word fibula comes from the Latin fibula (to clasp). It refers to metal pins used in the Middle Ages (14th century) to fasten clothing. They were used to hold dresses, coats and cloaks together. The oldest finds date back to the Bronze Age (2200-800 BC).
They consist of a pin and a shackle or lid. More recent examples also have a springy spiral or hinge to connect the pin to the shackle. The most obvious comparison is with today's brooches or safety pins. The advantage over earlier simple clothing pins was that the lockable fibula did not slip out of the garment as easily and the risk of injury from the covered needle was not as great as with earlier variants. In ancient times, fibulae were gradually replaced by buckles. But it was not until the High Middle Ages that they were completely replaced by the button.
Fibulae were part of both men's and women's clothing. As such, they were often used as jewellery or as a symbol of social status. Depending on how much the fibula could cost, who wore it and what it was used for, it could be plain or richly decorated with beads, ornaments and tiles. Different metals were also used: Bronze, or iron for the very simple, to fibulae made of pure silver or gold. It was not uncommon for fibulas to be used as talismans: their special ornamentation was intended to ward off evil and bring good luck to the wearer.
Fibulas were used all over Europe. There are great regional and temporal differences, especially in the design of the bow. This is what makes them so interesting to archaeologists. They serve as 'guide fossils', an important clue to date other finds more accurately and possibly to classify their regional origin more precisely. The uniformity of the shapes, the large number of pieces found to date and the widespread distribution of individual shapes suggest serial production. The large number of brooch shapes with regional and temporal differences makes it possible to establish a typology of the different brooch shapes in their chronological sequence.
In many cases the brooch is named after its shape:
Spectacle brooch, bow brooch, dragon brooch, disc brooch, etc.
Often details of workmanship or ornamentation are used for naming: Eye, buckle, ring and beak fibulae, for example.
More rarely, fibulae are named after individual sites: Dux fibulae, Meldorf fibulae, Nauheim fibulae, etc.
Other but rare forms of classification are according to the presumed maker or the period of manufacture.
Forms of Roman fibulae (0-400 AD)
Especially in the 400 years of the Roman period after Christ, the so-called Late Antiquity, there was a whole series of different fibula shapes. Some of these were the Romans' own developments, but some were due to the influence of the Germanic tribes, especially the Celts. In this case, it was the Roman soldiers on the frontiers who came into contact with the Germanic variants of the fibula, adapted them and were responsible for their spread throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. The following is a brief overview of the main types.
During the Republic, the simple Alesia fibula was used in many ways. It is a forerunner of the Aucissa fibula described below. Different metals were used depending on the type, but bronze was the most common. It consisted of a simple pin connected by a hinge to a lid, usually triangular in shape. Depending on the wearer, the lid could be richly decorated.
Usually made of bronze, the buckle takes its name from the sharp bend in the bow that distinguishes it from its predecessors. They were widespread both in the Roman provinces and in Germania. The main areas where it has been found are around the Rhine, Meuse and Moselle rivers. It was in fashion between about 10 BC and 50 AD. Three types of fibulae can be distinguished: Fibulae with a semicircular head plate, with an angular head plate and with a spiral casing.
Double button fibula
In the 1st and 2nd centuries, this type is particularly typical of the Roman provinces of Noricum and Pannonia, the area of present-day Austria and the western Balkans. It is named after the two button-like thickenings on the arch of the fibula.
The needle holder is strongly embossed and may have large perforations or be punctured. They range in size from about 3 to 17 cm, with wing fibulae reaching lengths of up to 21 cm. The wing fibula has only one loop button, which is spanned by two wings decorated with two, three or four small buttons, depending on the shape.
It was given this name because its shape is very similar to a trumpet. It originated in Britain during the Roman invasion of the islands from 43 AD and reached its greatest popularity during the Roman Empire from about 70 AD to the 2nd century AD.
There are many variations of the trumpet fibula, including magnificent examples with gold inlays or enamel decoration. Many specimens have an eyelet attached for the attachment of a chain.
Although this form is also known as a trumpet brooch, it would be more accurate to call it a disc brooch with trumpet ornamentation. On the back of the openwork brooch plate is a hinge with a movable needle and needle holder. It was also made in Britain in the 2nd century. This form shows that the Germanic-Celtic motif of the trumpet was very popular with the Romans and spread throughout the Roman Empire with the Roman legionaries who came from Britain.
Like the trumpet brooch, the triquetra fibula is also strongly influenced by Celtic art. It is characterised by a highly openworked shape with three trumpets in the form of a triskele. This is a variation on the trumpet motif that was very popular with the Romans in early Late Antiquity. A needle is attached to the back.
The pelta fibula is also a disc brooch. It consists of the actual brooch plate with a needle attached to the back.
It was very popular during the Roman Empire and was also widespread in many parts of the Germanic provinces.
Peltas are mainly found in the military sector. They are also often found on belt fittings and pendants. It takes its name from the Greek for the crescent-shaped shield it resembles.
From the 2nd century onwards this type appeared increasingly in Mecklenburg, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, especially during the Migration Period. The swastika fibula occurs with both right- and left-turning spiral arms. In some examples the arms end in horse heads. This type of fibula was often decorated with pressed silver overlays.
The animal fibula is also a disc fibula that appears in many variations and was very popular in the Roman area in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The motifs are usually hares, dogs, birds or horses. Animal brooches in particular are thought to have had a ritual or protective significance for the wearer.
Many brooch forms of the Imperial period developed through Celtic, Germanic influence. The so-called Dragonesque fibula, however, is a completely original development.
Its shape is vaguely reminiscent of a seahorse. This unusual fibula also developed as a Romano-British feature after the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century AD.
In addition to its unusual shape, the Dragonesque fibula is characterised by its enamelled decoration. Unlike ordinary fibulae, the highly curved needle is passed directly over the fibula. It is clamped behind the fibula plate for fixation.
The knee brooch dates back to 550-500 B.C. It became widespread again during the Roman Iron Age in the 2nd-3rd centuries, throughout the Imperium Romanum and also in the free Germanic territories.
The knee brooch is a subspecies of the crossbow brooch. Here the stocky bow was bent sharply at the transition to the fibula head. This gives the impression of a knee or leg.
The spiral of the fibula is covered by an angular or semi-circular head plate. In some specimens it is also enclosed in a kind of sleeve.
In the Hadrianic and Antonine periods, the knee brooch was frequently used by Roman legionaries in the Germanic-Rhaetian area. There are even isolated records from the Alemannic period in the 4th century. However, by this time it was usually only used on women.
Highly contoured fibula
The so-called strongly profiled fibula is a type of crossbow fibula. It is characterised by a relatively short, strongly widened, curved head. There is usually a support plate underneath to hold the spiral coil. Its size ranges from 4 to 7 centimetres.
In the later forms of the so-called strongly profiled fibula, the support plate of the spiral roll may be completely covered.
This type of fibula was widespread in Roman times. Especially in the East Germanic area, but also in Northern Germany, Upper Italy and the Eastern Alps, this type is common.
The highly profiled fibulae without a support plate were particularly common among the West Germanic tribes around the Elbe. Many finds show a bead wire as decoration.
The highly profiled fibula type was very long-lived and is found in the area of present-day Austria as late as the fourth century.
The eye fibula is a variation of both the crossbow fibula and the highly profiled fibula, and is therefore quite similar to both. The eye fibula was one of the most common types of fibula in Roman times. It is characterised by two circular openings at the head of the bow. These two openings represent the so-called eyes. The eye fibula was in use during the 1st and 2nd centuries in free Germania as well as in the Roman provinces. It can be found in different variations as far as Scandinavia.
This type of fibula also belongs to the category of crossbow fibulae. Widespread in northern Germany and Danish Jutland, it is clearly of Germanic origin, but was also used by the Romans in the frontier areas.
It is named after the characteristic design of the bow cover, with two semicircular caps covering the spirals. A semicircular bow button with bead wire or notch decorations is also very typical. Another important design feature is a hook at the end of the bow to hang the string of the spiral. It was mainly made of bronze and silver, but there are also examples made of iron. The older scroll brooches date from the first half of the 1st century AD.
The omega fibula belongs to the ring fibula type and is an independent fibula construction. It has no hinge or spiral. To close it, the movable pin is pushed through the opening of the omega-shaped ring of the fibula and the ring is turned to close it. The omega brooch is one of the oldest and most widespread types of brooch. This type of brooch appears as early as 1300 BC. It was most commonly used by soldiers, as this solid fibula was also used to close the legionary's heavy woollen cloak, the sagum. In Roman times, the omega brooch was usually made of bronze in sizes ranging from 2 to 6 cm.
In the Imperial period, the omega brooch is characterised by the backward pointing ends, which are often spherical in shape.
Another variant of the Roman-Germanic ring brooch has an angular extension and is completely closed. There is an elongated groove in the projection for the needle to pass through. These fibulae were particularly popular in Late Antiquity at the beginning of the Migration Period.
Onion button fibula
The onion-button fibula developed during Late Antiquity from variations of the hinged fibula. It was particularly popular among legionaries in the 4th and 5th centuries.
The name "onion button fibula" is explained by the three onion-shaped ends of the bow head and the cross arms of the fibula. These fibulae were usually made of brass or bronze and could be gilded or enamelled, depending on the class to which the wearer belonged. Even pure silver and gold pieces have survived.
The onion-button fibula was mainly worn as a badge of status in the costume of late Roman soldiers and the clothing of late Roman officials. It was used to close a heavy woollen cloak on the right shoulder.
The onion-button brooch enjoyed a long period of popularity and is still found in the tomb of the Germanic Merovingian king Childerich at the end of the 5th century.
Like many other Roman fibula types, the Aucissa fibula, also known as the soldier's fibula, evolved from the original Celtic fibula types. Its design is quite simple. It takes its name from the name of its maker, "Aucissa", which has been found stamped on some originals.
The typical hinged brooch was in use in various forms from early Augustan times until the end of the 1st century and, like the more recent knee brooches, was mainly used by the military, hence the name soldier's brooch.
The hinged brooch was used to hold together the heavy Roman legionary cloak over the right shoulder, which is why the Aucissa brooch is characterised by a particularly high bow that was able to grip the thick layers of wool of the legionary's cloak.
Towards the end of the 2nd century, hinged fibulae evolved into longer-armed bow fibulae, until the so-called onion-button fibula appeared in the final phase at the beginning of the 4th century.
Fibula with folded foot
The folded foot fibula is also a variation of the crossbow fibula. It dates back to Late Antiquity, at the beginning of the Migration Period, where it was originally widespread among the Germanic peoples of the southern Russian regions between 200 and 400 AD, then adopted by legionaries and spread throughout the Roman Empire.
This type of fibula had two parts, i.e. it consisted of an individually cast shackle and a needle.
A continuation of the Late Antique fibula with a folded foot is found in the bow fibula of the Migration Period.
Fibula with high needle holder
I n the late Roman period, mixed forms developed from the Germanic "fibulae with a folded foot" and the fibulae common among the Romans. These are called crossbow fibulae with a high needle holder and were also used outside the Roman Empire.
Buttons were not known in early history. The Romans used fibulae to close robes, cloaks and coats. Because of their construction, with a shackle, spiral, needle and needle holder, and their function, they can be compared with today's safety pins. In addition to their practical importance for holding together garments such as cloaks or capes, fibulae also had a high decorative and representational value. There were simple, inexpensive fibulae made of metals such as iron or bronze, and richer, more elaborate ones made of gold and silver. These were also richly decorated. The shapes and ornamentation of fibulae were always subject to fashion trends. The shape, form and decoration of fibulae changed with the times. This fact makes it relatively easy today to date a fibula fairly accurately and to place it geographically, which in turn provides further information about the rest of the finds.
Important fibula collections can be found, for example, in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne.
Roman and Early Germanic fibulae and the Hellweg Museum in Geseke: more than 250 medieval fibulae (6th to 13th century) from Westphalia.
A needle for decoration
The fibula (Latin: fibula' needle), a metal clothing pin based on the principle of the safety pin, whose first forms can be traced back to the Bronze Age and were in use until the High Middle Ages, was also used in ancient times for more than just pragmatic purposes. For the Romans, fibulae were jewellery, and finds show that they can certainly represent the concept of jewellery! Fibulae were part of the costume of both Romans and Roman women. The jewellery usually consisted of a needle and a ribbon or cloth. The oldest fibulae are in two parts; in more recent examples, the needle and bow are joined together by a springy spiral or by a hinge, like a brooch. A fibula is best compared to a modern pin or safety pin - and these also exist in ornamental form as artistic brooches.
Tunics were knotted and fastened with belts, but it was also common to fasten them with fibulae - a kind of pin or safety pin. This was also the case for other items of clothing, such as the stole or men's robes. Fibulae can still be used today to hold and decorate clothing. Examples based on antique examples are convincing to wear for decoration!
Fibulae as an art form and symbol
The Romans used fibulae mainly to hold dresses, cloaks and coats together - to fasten garments. They were part of the ancient costume and were the only clothing fasteners in Central Europe until the High Middle Ages. Fibulae only gradually fell out of fashion with the invention of the button (which began in antiquity). Apart from their purely practical function, they also served as jewellery. Fibulae were therefore often decorated with elaborate pendants (pendilia). Fibulas also carried symbols, such as insignia of rank, or were used as talismans with special ornaments to ward off evil. The fibulae are as impressive in their workmanship as they are in their beauty! The jewellery box of ancient fibulae invites you to rummage and marvel!
There are also important collections of fibulae in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne (Roman and early Germanic fibulae) and in the Hellweg Museum in Geseke, where more than 250 medieval fibulae from the 6th to the 13th century from Westphalia are on display.
Onion button fibula, Roman fibula, Noric-Pannonian two-button fibula
The onion-button fibula has a long tradition. Officials and soldiers used them to indicate the status of the wearer. Precious metal pins were a sign of great honour, as they were presented by the emperor himself. It is made of real bronze and a steel pin with tension. Measuring 90 x 55 cm, it shows the finest craftsmanship combined with a historical journey back to the 3rd century. The use of the Roman fibula can be traced back to ancient Rome. Decorative and effective, this metal brooch was used to fasten clothing and as a lucky charm to ward off evil. A replica based on a Germanic original, silver-plated in bronze and elaborately worked. A Noric-Pannonian two-button brooch takes its name from former Roman regions. As a single brooch it was used to close peplos, cloak-like coverings. A later custom required two of these fibulae to be worn on the shoulder of women's costumes. It is made of bronze and was produced in an elaborate metal casting process. A detailed replica of the 1st century AD.
Profiled Fibulae, Roman Disc Fibulae, Gladiator Fibulae
A replica of Germanic value, unique as an original. Two profiled fibulae of the Romans, explaining the jewellery and the clasp at the same time. Cast in solid bronze, with a wide ornamental spiral and a pin under tension for absolute safety, this ornamental clasp takes its wearer back in time. The pelta fibula is of Greek origin. It is characteristic of the multiple protection that was predestined in ancient times. In Roman times, it was the only way to close a garment tightly, an expression of simple elegance that also symbolised protection. The Roman disc brooch with four skins dates from the 3rd century AD and is made of bronze. The gladiator's fibula was a symbol of the fan culture of the ancient world. Wearing such a fibula was an expression of their attachment to gladiatorial combat. A unique piece from the past, made in modern times. Polished bronze, with a sturdy pin mechanism for security.
Ornate onion head fibulae, Roman knee fibulae, hinged fibulae
Based on the 2nd/3rd century original, the solid cast bronze also shows the period of use. Highly crafted, it is a cross between a safety pin and a brooch. The onion-head fibula, with its curved decoration and numerous ornaments, is both a garment fastener and a piece of jewellery. The Roman knee brooch, with its engraved head plate, is an exact replica from Roman antiquity. High needle holders and sinew hooks combine with a multi-part spiral construction. Solid bronze casting completes this high quality unique piece. The hinged bronze fibula originates from the Roman fort of Saalburg. The surface is highly polished and the safety pin is made of sturdy stainless steel. With a length of 65mm, this is a very functional and decorative pin.
Anchor fibula, omega fibula, rabbit fibula
Replicas from the 1st and 2nd centuries, polished to a high gloss and produced in an elaborate metal casting process, reflect the period in a striking way. In the case of the Anchor Fibula, high quality bronze is combined with a strong locking pin, which is slightly rounded for safety. With a diameter of 40mm, this is an outstanding and ornate individual piece. Ring brooches are a testament to lasting value. Passed down from generation to generation, the Omega fibula is an ancient landmark dating from the 2nd to 3rd centuries. Solid cast bronze and full functionality enhance this 33 mm diameter jewellery and garment pin. The surface is polished to a high gloss. Venus, the goddess of fertility, reflects the symbolism of the hare. She is realistically represented in the hare's fibula. In Roman times, young women were adorned with such a pin to enhance their femininity. Beauty, creativity and fertility come together here. High quality craftsmanship and bronze casting add to the exclusivity. Ancient Roman craftsmanship is combined with faithful replicas. The result is a unique composition of decorative brooches and pins. Gifts that women love because they are as unique as the woman herself. Give the gift of personality: you are sure to hit the mark with these exceptional pins!
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