What is Fibula in Jewelry? A Guide

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The fibula is the term used for a type of medieval brooch. Originally, the fibula was used by Greek and Roman soldiers to hold their capes and cloaks in place, mostly placed on the right shoulder.  

Much like safety pins, the fibula was also both functional and decorative. Between 500-800 C.E, ornate fibula became a thing as is evidenced in findings from archeological digs.  

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Let’s take a look at the origins and components of the fibula and where you can find these brooches today. 

Parts of A Fibulae 

Most fibulae were made of iron or bronze. However, sometimes wealthy people had their fibula made of precious metals such as gold and silver.  

No matter the metal used, it was common for fibula to be decorated with coral, enamel, glass, bones, or even semi-precious stones. Moreover, each fibula was usually composed of a body, a pin, and a spring/ hinge. 

Large bronze fibula
Large Bronze Fibula by Viking Age Store. See it here.

While fibula came in a large variety of designs, they all tend to have the same features. These include:  

1. The Body 

Depending on the type and form of the fibulae, the body could either be a bow or a plate. The former is long, narrow, and arched, while the latter is wide and flat. The body was often characterized by decorations.  

The side where the pin closes is known as the foot while the side with the spring and hinge is the head and can be worn facing up, down, or sideways depending on the culture in question. 

2. The Pin 

This could either be a continuation of the body or a separately attached piece. When the pin is connected to the pin rest or the catch plate, the fibula is held in place.  

3. The Spring 

This was a part of earlier designs of the fibula and was where the body met the pin. There are two types of fibula springs; unilateral springs and bilateral springs.  

Appearing in the 14th Century BC., unilateral springs were the earliest types and were characterized by a one-direction swing.  

Replica of a Noric-Pannonian fibula
Replica of a Noric-Pannonian Fibula by Pera Peris. See it here.

Bilateral springs on the other hand had multiple loops going over the pin and across or under the body. They came into being in the 6th Century BC and remained the consistent design. 

Around the 1st Century AD, some fibula designs replaced the spring with a hinge, giving birth to the famous crossbow hinge, but the hinge design later died out leaving the use of spring as the dominant design.  

Why and How to Wear a Fibula? 

While the name fibula might sound fancy and foreign, we’re referring to what’s essentially a brooch. If you’re interested in wearing fibula inspired by ancient designs, you can always wear it like you would a brooch.  

Celtic brooch with Celtic knot pattern
Celtic-inspired fibula used to hold a scarf. See it here. 

It’s unlikely that you would need to wear a fibula to keep your robes in place, so while you might only be thinking of the decorative elements, a fibula is also perfect for holding items like scarves in position.  

When choosing a design, you might want to pick a fibula that has ties to your heritage. For example, if you’re Irish, Celtic fibula might be more meaningful for you.  

Types of Fibula for Jewelry  

There is a vast variety of fibula based on their historical period, the material used, the geographical area they were discovered in, and the culture and function associated with them. 

Scottish fibula with thistle pin
Scottish Fibula With Thistle Pin by Jewel Beetle Vintage. See it here.

It’s also important to note that some cultures designed different fibula with status and profession in mind. For example, men had different designs from women, as did married women from single women. There were also specific designs for warriors, chiefs, high-ranking officials, and so on. 

1. Bow Fibula  

Hand Forged Brass Fibula
Modern Hand Forged Brass Bow Fibula by Tuatha. See it here.

The bow fibulae is the oldest design consisting of a body, pin, and a catch plate. These were more often than not decorated with incised geometric designs.  

Over time, the bow fibula underwent variations of designs creating families of styles. For example, between the 7th and 5th centuries BC., the foot of the fibula lengthened compared to the original design, whereby it stopped at the end of the arch.  

This development gave rise to Kahn and Pauken types of fibula. 

Other variations included the fattening of the bow, enlarging of the catch plate, and the use of bilateral springs rather than unilateral ones. 

2. La Tène Fibula  

This type dates back to the 1st Century BC and is characterized by the attachment of the foot of the body by casting, rather than wrapping it around the bow.  

The La Tene Fibula also underwent several modifications creating the Nauheim type where the bow widened into a diamond shape, and the Schussel type whereby the bow, ribbon in shape, widened and rounded into an arrow-shaped head that covered the spring. 

It’s important to note that it’s the variations of the La Tene that eventually gave rise to zoomorphic patterns, also known as animal designs. With this technique, artists made fibula resembling horses, birds, and other commonly known animals. 

 3. The Fantail Fibula  

Traced to the 2nd century AD, the Fantail fibula was introduced to the Romans by the Germans who served as their auxiliaries. It was characterized by a short bow attached to a flat and wide foot.  

The most common variation of Fantail fibula was the Augen, also known as the eye fibula. These were a longer version and had their flat foot decorated with two ringed dots resembling eyes.  

4. Byzantine Fibula  

A variation of the crossbow fibula, the Byzantine was made of gold and was decorated with a cross and floral scrolls that seemed to spring from acanthus leaves. This design was symbolic of salvation and paradise. Additionally, the incised cross symbolized the triumph of life over death. 

5. Ring Fibula and Penannular Brooches

Snake penannular brooch
Snake Penannular Brooch by Troll Hill Forge. See it here. 

The ring fibula featured for a long time from the 2nd to 14th century AD. These can be very hard to place but the decorations on them differentiate them from either the Roman era or the medieval time.  

Penannular brooches, a variation of the ring fibula which composed of an incomplete ring and two ends. These were worn as a mark of status in the post-Roman period. 

6. Lombardic Fibula  

This design is traced to Slovenia formerly known as Kranj and is a more stylized version of the crossbow fibula. It has on one end a semi-circle from which emanate rectangular forms with spheres on top.  

Lombards are coated with gold and adorned with a black metal called niello. They were worn as a statement of power. 

7. Frankish fibulae 

This design was of barbaric art and was partitioned and decorated with semi-precious stones. The top end carried shapes of eagle heads (a symbol of the Roman empire), and the main body was decorated with shapes of fish.  

For the eagles, garnets were used as eyes while other stones were used to decorate the rest of the fibula. 

8. Visigothic Fibula 

Modern Visigoth fibula
Modern Visigoth Fibula by Anew Again. See it here. 

Also a form of barbaric art, the Visigothic fibula were made in the form of eagles. These pieces were decorated with colored glass and gems like amethyst and garnets. They gain their name from the place they were discovered, and that is the Visigothic grave. 

9. Tizerais Fibula 

These triangular-shaped fibulae are arguably the most popular jewelry from the Berber community of North Africa. They are reportedly big and heavy. One of the variations of the Tizerais found in Kabylie, Algeria is heavily decorated with a blend of yellow, green, and blue enamel. 

Fibula In the Contemporary World 

Even though the safety pin is the most commonly used item to fasten clothes in today’s world, they are merely functional and hardly decorative.  

The fibula, however, comes in different sizes, designs, and colors. They are available in the market and serve as great accessories to garments for both men and women.  

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