A brooch also known in ancient times as a fibula, and more commonly referred to as a broach) is a decorative jewellery item designed to be attached to garments. It is usually made of metal, often silver or gold but sometimes bronze or some other material. Brooches are frequently decorated with enamel or with gemstones and may be solely for ornament (as in the stomacher) or sometimes serve a practical function as a fastening, perhaps for a cloak.
The earliest known brooches are from the Bronze Age. As fashions in brooches changed rather fast, they are important chronological indicators.
The fibula or fibulae (plural) is an ornamental clasp used by Romans, Greeks and also by Celts and migratory tribes in Europe from the Early Bronze Age. They may have replaced fibulae made of more perishable Neolithic materials, such as bone to as late as 800 AD. Fibulae are useful type-objects: carefully catalogued local typologies, dating and distribution of fibulae can help date finds where neither numismatic nor ceramic materials provide a secure date. Fibulae were shaped somewhat like a large safety pin and were used to hold clothing together. They came in many varieties and held prominent significance for the identity of the wearer, indicating ethnicity (until local costume became Romanized) and class. Elaborately designed fibulae were an important part of Late Antique dress, and simpler ones were part of Roman military equipment.
The same types of fibulae can often be found on either side of the Roman limites, both among “Roman” and “barbarian” populations. The cultural interplay of elite objects designed to show status can be quite complex. For example, Lawrence Nees, Early Medieval Art notes fibulae depicted in ivory diptychs of Stilicho and his entourage:
“The type of fibula worn by Stilicho and his son, and by Turcius Secundus, occurs also among metal works of art commonly termed barbarian, as new Germanic figures usurped the symbols of imperial authority. It is likely that this type originated among Celtic groups and came to be adopted as an exotic fashion by Roman aristocrats, becoming ‘naturalized’ as an important Roman emblem, and then exported”.
They were usually made of bronze and sometimes of precious metals and infrequently had encrusted gem stones. Eagle fibula, often worn in pairs, commemorate the worship of the Sun, common among the pagan tribes.