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p531 Fibula

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp531‑532 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FIBULA (περόνη, περονίς, περονητρίς: πόρπη, ἐπιπορπίς: ἐνετή), a brooch consisting of a pin (acus), and of a curved portion furnished with a hook (κλείς, Hom. Od. XVIII.293). The curved portion was sometimes a circular ring or disc, the pin passing across its centre (woodcut, figs. 1, 2), and sometimes an arc, the pin being as the chord of the arc (fig. 3). The forms of brooches, which were commonly of gold or bronze, and most rarely of silver (Aelian, V. H. I.18), were, however, as various in ancient as in modern times; for the fibula served in dress not merely as a fastening, but also as an ornament (Hom. Od. XIX.256, 257; Eurip. Phoen. 821).


[image ALT: An engraving of seven brooches, 2 of them of the 'plate' type, 1 of the 'bow' type, and 4 of the 'buckle' type.]

Women wore the fibula both with the Amictus and the indutus; men wore it with amictus only. Its most frequent use was to pin together two parts of the scarf, shawl or cloak [Chlamys; Peplum; Pallium], which constituted the amictus, so as to fasten it over the right shoulder (Soph. Trach. 923; Theocrit. XIV.66; p532Ovid, Met. VIII.318; Tacit. Germ. 17) [Woodcuts, pp2, 117, 213.] More rarely we see it over the breast. [Woodcut, p218.] The epithet ἑτερόπορπος was applied to a person wearing the fibula on one shoulder only (Schol. in Eurip. Hec. 933, 934); for women often wore it on both shoulders. [Woodcuts, pp136, 243, 257.] In consequence of the habit of putting on the amictus with the aid of a fibula, it was called περονήμα or ἐμπερόνημα (Theocrit. Adon. 34.79), πορπήμα (Eurip. Elect. 820), or ἀμπεχόνη περονήτις (Brunck, Anal. II.28). The splendid shawl of Ulysses, described in the Odyssey (XIX.225‑231), was provided with two small pipes for admitting the pin of the golden brooch; this contrivance would secure the cloth from being torn. The highest degree of ornament was bestowed upon brooches after the fall of the western empire. Justin II (Corippus, II.122), and many of the emperors who preceded him, as we perceive from the portraits on their medals, wore upon their right shoulders fibulae, from which jewels, attached by three small chains, depended (Beger, Thes. Pal. p407, 408, &c.).

It has been already stated that women often wore the fibula on both shoulders. In addition to this, a lady sometimes displayed an elegant row of brooches down each arm upon the sleeves of her tunic (Aelian, V. H. I.18), examples of which are seen in many ancient statues. It was also fashionable to wear them on the breast (Isid. Orig. XIX.31);º and another occasional distinction of female attire, in later times, was the use of the fibula in tucking up the tunic above the knee.

Not only might slight accidents to the person arise from wearing brooches (Hom. Il. V.426), but they were sometimes used, especially by females, to inflict serious injuries. The pin of the fibula is the instrument, which the Phrygian women employ to deprive Polymnestor of his sight by piercing his pupils (Eurip. Hec. 1170), and with which the Athenian women, having first blinded a man, then dispatch him (Herod. V.87; Schol. in Eurip. Hec. 934). Oedipus strikes the pupils of his own eyeballs with a brooch taken from the dress of Jocasta (Soph. Oed. Tyr. 1269; Eurip. Phoen. 62). For the same reason we find that περονάω meant to pierce, since περόνη was properly the pin of the brooch (περόνησε, "pinned him," Hom. Il. VII.145; XIII.397).

Brooches were succeeded by buckles, especially among the Romans, who called them by the same name. The preceding woodcut shows on the right hand the forms of four bronze buckles (4, 5, 6, 7) from the collection in the British Museum. This article of dress was chiefly used to fasten the belt [Balteus], and the girdle [Zona] (Virg. Aen. XII.274; Lydus, De Mag. Rom. II.13). It appears to have been in general much more richly ornamented that the brooch; for, although Hadrian was simple and unexpensive in this as well as in other matters of costume (Spartian. Hadr. 10), yet many of his successors were exceedingly prone to display buckles set with jewels (fibulae gemmatae).

The terms which have now been illustrated as applied to articles of dress, were also used to denote pins variously introduced in carpentry; e.g. the linch-pins of a chariot (Parthen. 6); the wooden pins inserted through the sides of a boat, to which the sailors fasten their lines or ropes (Apoll. Rhod. I.567); the trenails which unite the posts and planks of a wooden bridge (Caesar, B. G. IV.17); and the pins fixed into the top of a wooden triangle used as a mechanical engine Vitruv. X.2).

The practice of infibulating singers, alluded to by Juvenal and Martial, is described in Rhodius De Acia and Pitiscus.


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