Fibula

A type of ancient garment-fastener brooch consisting usually of a straight pin (acus) that is coiled to form a spring and extended back to form a bow and a catch-plate to secure the pin (the most common form of which resembles the modern safety-pin).

The early form had no catch and was used by passing the pin twice through the fabric and then bending it upward behind the head to secure it. Mycenaean and later examples were made with the pin coiled at one end to form a spring for a more secure fastening. Later they were made of two pieces of metal with the pin hinged to a bar having around it wire coils attached on each side of the hinge (a double-twisted or bilateral spring); this type was the precursor of the safety-pin invented in the 19th century.

Later the bow and the catch-plate were highly ornamented. Examples of the fibula have been made in gold, silver, and bronze. Some have been found at Etruscan sites in Italy, attributed to the 7th/5th centuries BC; it has been suggested that some of these were probably made locally, albeit some have also been found in the Illyrian region (now Jugoslavia).

Many fibulae have been ascribed to Anglo-Saxon make, an example with triple pendants has been recorded of Byzantine make, and there are a number of varieties from Romano-British sources.

A fibula is sometimes referred to as a ‘safety-pin brooch’. The term ‘fibula’ has been sometimes loosely used to refer to any type of ancient brooch, and conversely the term ‘brooch’ has been sometimes used to refer to a fibula; but clarity would be better served if the two terms are respectively confined to the two basically different types of fasteners.

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