Fibula: Not to be confused with the bone, a fibula is an ancient brooch use to clasp or fasten clothing together. While they were used primarily by 7th century Greeks and Romans, fibula brooches were created as early as the Bronze Age to as late as the Middle Ages. The Celts and the nomadic tribes of Europe have also made and used fibulae. Fibulae are made from a variety of materials, including: bronze, iron, ivory, silver, gold, and even bone. On a rare occasion, one will find a gem embedded in the metal. Essentially, fibulae function exactly like a safety-pin, and people generally stopped using these brooches after they invented the button.
What fascinates me is the amount of detail, care, and love that these artisans put into the creation of a single fibula. As an artist, I know when someone has taken a long time to create a work of art, and it’s obvious that these artists spent months perfecting these tiny pieces of metal, despite the fact that these fibulae would end up in the back of someone’s dresser. Many fibulae are ornate and are decorated with images of golden animals and human figures. Despite centuries of wear, the details carved into fibulae are still intact, making these pieces of jewelry valuable.
However, I discovered that a fibula serves a cultural purpose. Specifically, a fibula was used to indicate one’s social status; an elaborate fibula made from precious materials indicates a high status in society. Also, some pagan tribes decorated their fibulae with images of their gods. For example, a fibula decorated with eagles commemorates the Sun god. Fibulae are common artifacts that reflect the trends of a particular time period, and therefore can be used to date a historical site.
The image below is that of a horse-head fibula made in the 5th century. It was photographed at the Walters Art Museum at Baltimore, Maryland, by mharrsch.
Fibulae are beautiful pieces of jewelry that allow anthropologists to study past cultures and civilizations.